Trump Family And Elite Corruption

Here we are, nearing the end of Donald Trump’s administration. He may have only been a one-term president, but he has left quite a wake in his passing through the halls of power (not unlike Merry Brandybuck tossing stones into the lake beneath the western walls of Moria). It might not settle back down very quickly, if it settles down at all. Now the Clinton Democrats, for good or ill, will be back in power. Joe Biden, no stranger to D.C., is Trump’s replacement. He brings much political and personal baggage with him, as the campaign season demonstrated. The focus on his son, Hunter Biden, didn’t cost him the election. But it didn’t help either, considering his weak victory against a weak incumbent (similar to the Fellowship of the Ring escaping the Watcher in the Waters by running into the caves of Moria).

The recent focus on the Hunter Biden scandal re-opened some dark corners from the previous scrutiny into Ukraine, including bringing to light the fact that John Kerry’s stepson, Chris Heinz, was working with Hunter at Burisma — the cronyism is widespread. Most importantly, it brings back to mind the investigations into the bipartisan collusion involving Ukraine and Vladimir Putin (John Podesta, Clinton Democrats, and Ukraine). The topic remains as relevant as ever. But, as expected, the years of scandals and investigations get lost in the shadows as the glare of political theater and media melodrama takes center stage. It’s not clear what more is known now than in previous years. There have been so many scandals and allegations that it’s hard to keep track of them all. If you want a quick summary, there is a decent piece by Joseph W. Kopsick, Evidence of the Trumps’ and Clintons’ Possible Collusion with Russia and Ukraine (Incomplete). However, he doesn’t link to any sources of evidence or quotes. It is a summary of accusations made, not a summary of the arguments for and against the question of the validity of the accusations.

Some accusations are weak and invalid. Consider how Joule Unlimited and Rusnano is used to claim a direct connection, possibly a point of corruption and collusion, between John Podesta and Vladimir Putin. There is much criticism about the perceived lack of compelling evidence (Travis Gettys, Fox News hypes WikiLeaks claims about Clinton’s ties to Russia — just as Trump asks followers to watch). Is it possible? Sure. But is it proven? Not even close. Then again, such a hypothetical link is not implausible, considering we know Podesta’s brother had no problem knowingly working with an organization involving someone backed by Putin. Still, speculation is not enough to justify an accusation. Just because I don’t trust the Clinton Democrats doesn’t mean I trust the slanderous agenda of Fox News and Trump. Outrage for the sake of outrage is not my cup of tea.

Besides the implications of bipartsan collusion are much more compelling and damning. But neither side wants to touch that or even acknowledge it. This is why Democrats want to implicate Trump in the crimes of Paul Manafort. The fact of the matter is Manafort’s main guilt, at least in terms of Ukraine, involved acts prior to his becoming Trump’s campaign manager. Sure, they had some business associations in the past and they ran in the same social circles, at least since the Reagan era. But even Trump should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Anyway, if one wants to paint Trump as a Russian asset or otherwise compromised, it’s not hard to do. He has been in the immediate orbit of those like Vladimir Putin for decades, along with personal connections and business dealings with Russian oligarchs and Russian mafia figures, often tied to Putin. The sale of property far below market prices implicates Trump in money laundering with the Russian mafia.

The potential wrongdoings that could be investigated and prosecuted are numerous. This corruption is an open secret. If you’re interested in the detailed case against Trump, check out Jay McKenzie’s series: Trump, Putin and the mob. Research collection. Part 1: Trump campaign connections.Part 2: #BudapestBridge and the Hungarian connection to TrumpPart 3: Ron Lauder, Bibi Netanyahu and their friends at Breitbart; Part 4: Paul Manafort was the Kremlin’s point man on the Trump campaign; Part 5: Twitter, Russia and Silicon Valley’s “Persian Mafia”; & Part 6: Trump, Felix Sater and their ties to mafia Don Semion Mogilevich. Agree or disagree in the significance of the entanglements of Trump and his minions, one thing that can’t be doubted is the existence of corrupt cronyism, not to mention the geopolitical power and financial profit of their machinations. Nonetheless, that is a far cry from proving Putin got Trump elected. But it sure does corroborate how enmeshed he was with complex webs of unsavory figures.

One might add that Paul Manafort wasn’t a nobody who just showed up on Trump’s doorstep right before his campaign began. They may have not been close friends and Trump may have had a genuine senior citizen moment in his claiming to not have immediately remembered Manafort, but their relations were far from distant or superficial. Their dealings go back to the 1980s when Trump, as with Ronald Reagan, was one of the first clients of Manafort’s firm. Whatever other associations they may have had over the decades, six months before joining Trump’s campaign in March of 2016, here is what was going on: “Felix Sater and Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, work together on a Trump Tower Moscow deal. Donald Trump signs a letter of intent on the deal in October of 2015.” Then three months in as campaign manager, Manafort was at the “meeting held at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives” (McKenzie, Part 4). One can sense underlying connections.

Keep in mind that Manafort was involved as a foreign agent in Ukraine for at least a decade. He may have been there as early as 2004 during that country’s presidential election (Mustafa Nayem, AMERICAN SPIN-DOCTORS ON YANUKOVYCH’S SERVICE; from ACTION UKRAINE REPORT – AUR – Number 833, U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC)) or, according to another source, even earlier in 2003 (Yulia Tymoshenko and John Does 1 through 50 v. Plaintiffs; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York). Certainly, he was a notorious and powerful Ukranian actor beginning at the latest during 2005.

And by 2006, when living in Trump Tower, Manafort was “hired by Oleg Deripaska and paid $10 million a year to improve Vladimir Putin’s image with the west” and “to lobby directly for Vladimir Putin” (McKenzie). Also, “Paul worked closely with, at least, two Russian intelligence officials in Ukraine — Viktor Medvedchuk and Manafort’s assistant, Konstantin Kilimnik. Manafort worked with Kremlin propaganda there to help elect a pro-Putin candidate, which, we now must admit, is exactly the situation we saw in Donald Trump’s campaign.” Essentially, “Paul Manafort was Putin’s employee for several years.” It’s hard to imagine Trump was clueless of the existence of Manafort and all that he was doing.

Here is McKenzie’s description of the decade spent in service to Putin and his minions, overlapping with the work he began doing with Trump prior to the campaign: “Consider the amount of work Manafort did from 2005 onwards with the men involved in the 2004 election rigging. Also remember that Manafort’s allegiances did not shift. He began work with Oleg Deripaska in 2000–01. He was introduced to Yanukovych by Deripaska. Manafort began to work with Putin directly in 2006, and Paul continued to work for Yanukovych until 2014, when he fled Ukraine and began living in exile in Moscow.” Manafort had a well known reputation for the work he had done there. It was as significant as his reputation in New York City and Washington, D.C.

It wasn’t only that Trump had to know the kind of people he was getting in bed with. He was already in bed with them. When pointing to them being part of the same social circles, this includes Putin himself and numerous Russian oligarchs, the latter only allowed to be in that elite position because they worked for Putin or otherwise served his interests. As a conclusion, McKenzie states that, “Who is the most common and recurring link between Firtash, Mogilevich, Deripaska, and Fred Trump’s former righthand man? Simple, it’s former Trump campaign chairman and Trump Tower resident Paul Manafort.”

Not even Fox News is able to deny the obvious: “Investigating the business ties between Russia and those in President Donald Trump’s orbit is a legitimate exercise. One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was an advisor to the pro-Russian Ukrainian president. Former Trump advisor Carter Page had energy deals involving Russian companies. Former National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn gave a nicely paid speech in Moscow as a private citizen and was less than complete in explaining his conversations with Russian officials. And then there is the simple fact that Attorney General (former senator) Jeff Session, while a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, communicated with the Russian Ambassador” (Peter Schweizer, Trump vs. Clintons’ Russia ties (guess who always got a free pass)).

Of course, Fox News tried to downplay the import with lesser evilism, a tactic also used by DNC-aligned media. But it doesn’t feel overly satisfying to argue about whether Putin, as geopolitical puppet master, has reached further up the asses of the Trump gang or the Clinton gang. A political independent and equal opportunity critic has a hard time making sense of most of it. All that becomes clear is that the halls of power and financing are flooded with devious and sinister actors, and very little of it has to do with partisan politics. One begins to sense what is meant by references to the shadowy deep state.

To suggest that the Russian and related investigations were partisan fake news is total bullshit. The conflict certainly was spun by corporate media for the purposes of corporatist politics, but both sides participated in the staged production because both sides hoped to keep the real issues out of the limelight. Maybe it all comes down to power, as spoken through the language of wealth. Money knows no party lines nor national boundaries. Whether Republicans or Democrats hold the presidency, those benefitting from American business interests always seems to somehow involve profit for Putin-backed companies and Russia oligarchs. This was seen with uranium during the Obama administration (Democrats, Russians, and Uranium). And it was seen with steel during the Trump administration (Steve Horn, Behind Trump’s Push for “American Steel” in Pipelines, Another Russian Company with Putin Ties Stands to Benefit).

For many years, there were those who rightly pointed to the legalized bribery as a means for powerful interests to buy access and benefits. Besides the Uranium One scandal, this also included the Saudis having donated to the Clinton Foundation to ensure they would receive a generous arms deal from Hilary Clinton when she was Secretary of State (Clinton Foundation–State Department controversy). Those involved all operated within the letter of the law and maintained careful divisions to allow for plausible deniability, but any honest observer would admit that it is bribery and corruption. This was the infamous pay-to-play. This subverting of democracy is so normalized as to hardly be scandalous at all, at least to the mind grown cynical.

Donald Trump, in many ways, maybe doesn’t get criticized as harshly as one might expect. Everyone already knew he was a sleazy businessman before he was elected. Well known is his having run businesses into the ground, declared bankruptcy over and over, evaded debt collectors, cheated business partners, refused to pay contractors, and mistreated employees. Then there are outright scams like Trump University. Only his wealth and high-powered lawyers have saved him from the consequences and punishments that he deserves. All of that is on top of a lifetime dwelling in the swampy waters of the elite, from New York City to Washington, D.C. to Moscow and beyond. Surely, his close ties to the political elite in both parties, including the Clintons, helped protect him and his business interests.

Trump and his entre family were born in the swamp and have flourished there. The Trumps, in ever seeking profit, haven’t even pretended to care about democracy, but that is no surprise to their supporters and so outrage is limited. No one, Republican or Democrat, ever expected Trump to be anything other than a slimy swamp creature. In fact, Trump proudly campaigned on being corrupt, arguing that only someone as corrupt as him could fight corruption, as strange as that might sound to a mind not totally demented by the brutal logic of power. With such open corruption, it’s hard to attack Trump’s corruption as a weakness or a failure. It is simply who he is and why a certain kind of person voted for him, not that this minority of supporters exactly gave a public mandate to be wantonly corrupt. Still, it must be admitted that he was, in his own way, honest about his dishonesty.

Besides, it’s not like Trump is an anomaly. This is a family of corruption with a dishonorable legacy that goes back generations. Trump and his siblings, when they were still young, initially inherited money from their father, Fred Trump, as part of various illegal tax evasion schemes. And this continued into the 1990s (David Barstow, Susanne Craig & Russ Buettner, Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father). Their wealth was built on real estate and construction in New York City, but it was initially accumulated by the grandfather, Friedrich Trumpf, who made his first fortune by running an illegal brothel during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon. It was in New York City, though, that the family more fully got involved in corruption and criminality. That place was infamous for its machine politics that was well oiled with bribery, kickbacks, and graft; cronyism, favoritism, and nepotism.

The Trump family fit in perfectly well. New York City politics and big biz was enmeshed in Tammany Hall, along with boroughs and municipalities run like fiefdoms, not to mention powerful organized crime that controlled the construction industry. One didn’t become a wealthy businessman, particularly in real estate, in that climate without being a criminal and working with criminals. The evidence points to both Donald and Fred having bought politicians. This behavior became far darker as Donald began working closely with the local mafia, such as laundering money, a practice that he did with foreign organized crime as well. There was also mortgage fraud and much else that ties him to the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the closest cronies of the Trump family. This corruption was later joined with that of Jared Kushner’s family by way of marriage to Ivanka Trump.

That decadent culture of open corruption is probably why Trump is so cavalier about his own malbehavior, with a confidence that people like him are above the law because they have deep pockets to buy the legal outcomes they so desire. Such vast moral depravity was normalized for him in childhood when he got his first taste of American-style capitalism. It was only natural for him to continue this behavior once he formally entered politics, although he had been closely tied to the political elite his entire life. As promised, President Trump ran the country like a business and, in his experience, that means corruption by default. He doesn’t know how to run a business honestly, an alien concept to his mind.

Only part way through his term as president, there was documented 2,000 instances identified as “conflicts of interest between his business interests and his duty to the country as president” (Gretchen Frazee, Trump criticizes the Bidens, but his own family’s business raises questions). That happened in less than three years and he was only warming up. He really upped his game in this last year when he knew he was running out of time before the scam would be up and he has ended up adding more than another thousand conflicts of interest (Julia Conley, ‘An Astonishing Rate of Corruption’: Trump Has Amassed 3,000 Conflicts of Interest Since Taking Office). Also, that is only looking at the conflicts of interest, not the hundreds of other forms of corruption such as selling key political positions to private power, as seen with a tidal wave of regulatory capture. Then, on top of that, there are the near endless activities of his own family the he nepotistically inserted into power while they continued to push various family financial interests, often using their political position to ensure backing and funding or else to promote products.

So, why haven’t the Trumps been nailed for their known illegal actions? And why hasn’t Trump been impeached, as impeachment doesn’t even require proving criminality? “THE DEFENSE GOT ONE THING RIGHT at Donald Trump’s Senate trial,” writes Jim Lardner (Mapping Corruption: Donald Trump’s Executive Branch). “The case against him was thin, his team kept saying; and so it was, compared to the enormity of this administration’s other offenses.” It makes one wonder why the DNC and deep state that is portrayed as hating Trump chose such a weak case that would guaranteed he would get away without punishment. There were so many crimes that, if prosecuted, could land Trump and family in prison. The defenders of the Establishment wanted to put on a good show for the viewing public and they wanted to send the clear message to Trump that he needed to back down, but actually destroying one of the highest and most powerful of the ruling elite would set a dangerous precedent.* The weakness of that particular legal case, though, should not be taken as innocence, as Lardner makes clear:

“Set aside the hate-mongering and the stream of conspiracy theories and demagogic bombast. Trump has sowed corruption of a breadth and brazenness unseen in the far-from-innocent annals of our nation’s history. In three years as president, he has transformed the executive branch into a giant favor factory, populated with the agents or willing partners of virtually every special interest. Add up all the routine, daily outrages—the quasi-bribery and quasi-extortion, the private raids on public funds, the handouts to the undeserving, the massive flow of cash, jobs, and freebies back in return—and Trump’s attempt to squeeze a little re-election help out of the fragile government of a desperate Eastern European country does not loom particularly large in the reckoning.

“Adding it all up is a challenge, though. It’s hard to fathom the depths of the kleptocracy when there’s so much happening on the surface to divert us. The corruption most directly in our faces involves the looting and skimming and self-dealing of the president and his family. Our first hotel-owning president has inspired a parade of foreign diplomats and domestic lobbyists to pay tribute with overnight stays that are functionally indistinguishable from bribes. The Secret Service has blown over half a million dollars on golf carts protecting a leader who has spent nearly one out of every three days of his first term at one of his resort properties, which get free advertising on top of the revenue from lodging his guards and retinue. Ivanka Trump snags a valuable set of Chinese trademarks on the same day she dines with Xi Jinping. Kellyanne Conway hawks Ivanka’s products in TV interviews.

“But the personal corruption of the Trumps themselves perversely masks the sliminess perpetrated by literally thousands of presidential appointees, from Cabinet officials to obscure functionaries. Amid all the distractions, it’s hard to focus on the more consequential crookedness and follow out the plotlines of all the sordid stories, and grasp the brutal consequences visited upon countless people. We lunge from scandal to scandal without ever filling in the bigger picture, or taking proper account of all the knaves, thieves, and corporate stooges and their handiwork.”

Trump was never going to drain the swamp, no more than Trump’s cronies in D.C. were going to take down Trump. Here is the difference that is offered to the American public, typically framed as ‘lesser evilism’. The Trumps will punch you in the face and kick you in the balls to get what they want and then walk away with piles of money, whereas the Clintons will put a friendly arm on your shoulder and look you in the eyes as they slip a hand into your back pocket (maybe while starting another war to profit the military-industrial complex, a war that the corporate media won’t report on). Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

With Trump as patriarchal mob boss, the blatant thievery and thuggery is the supposed ‘honesty’ that Trump supporters so adore. This administration’s corruption has become so bold that it defies any need to be hidden, any pretenses of respectability. It might not be long before other politicians follow the example of the Trumps, as the entire elite loses all shame and fear. Then it will be normalized and full-on fascism can begin. This means that the equivalent of Manafort and the Podesta brothers could operate out in the open where eventually not even Federal investigators might be able to touch them.

All of that said, in the end, is Trump’s misbehavior really worse than the decades of conniving that built the American Empire in the first place such that it could be taken over by someone like Trump? The American ruling elite have been undermining democracy and overthrowing democratic governments for more than a century. Are we surprised that democracy here at home has suffered in our being publicly shamed on the international stage by Trump’s buffoonery? When Democrats had the presidency and majority control, did they constrain executive power according to the Constitution, instead of expanding it further? Of course not. We never would have had a Trump presidency without the Clinton dynasty and the Bush dynasty, without the systemic moral rot of administration after administration.

So, here we are. President elect Joe Biden will cobble the pieces back together, smooth over the threatening fractures, make the American Empire respectable again. This will inevitably fail in the long run, as democratic reform can only be delayed for so long before something else forces change. The corruption will continue to get worse, as will the public outrage. Next up might be a truly competent dictator, maybe sooner than some expect. Then Democrats will speak nostalgically of the Trump era when things weren’t so bad.

* * *

* Then again, some argue that, once the Trump family is out of power, they could become less protected from a deep state that may perceive them as having gone too far and so potentially could use them to set an example to keep the rest of the oligarchy in line. And the other oligarchs might not feel forgiving toward the Trumps in having threatened the Establishment with dangerous political games. Even the most horrific of crimes can be tolerated, as long as they are in defense of power itself. Trump’s presidency, instead, has left that system of power in shambles and that harms the interests and agendas of many people who otherwise would be extremely tolerant of the shenanigans of someone like Donald Trump. This plutocratic family might find it’s luck has run out.

“Trump is more vulnerable to prosecution,” Jon Schwarz explains, “than other presidents because he’s engaged in so many potential nontraditional presidential crimes. With the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush committed what the Nuremberg trials referred to as “the supreme international crime” of initiating a war of aggression. But there was never any chance that he’d be punished for this, because the entire U.S. power structure agrees that American presidents have the right to do it. Same for conducting thousands of drone strikes or torturing people around the globe. By contrast, Trump has engaged in many comparatively small, shabby, possible criminal activities outside of his presidential duties” (Losing Could Expose Trump To Prosecution For Any Number of Crimes).

This probably won’t happen. But it could. No president has ever attacked the deep state before, even if it was merely political theater. The deep state doesn’t like to be forced out into the open through involvement in partisan fights and campaign rhetoric. Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon who will shrink away into the shadows after being ousted from power. And in finding his entire family having gained the status of pariah, Trump’s antics as an attention whore could get worse. Various actors in the Establishment might decide that it will need to fully and finally put the uncouth Trump clan back into its place. If the Trumps fight back, they might just make it worse and force empty threats to become real prosecutions. They’d be wise to tread lightly until events cool back down. Those in power would prefer that Trump simply concede power and just go away.

* * *

As the main target of hatred for nearly the entire political right, along with more than a few on the political left, there has been decades of criticism, analysis, and investigations about the Clintons and their cronies; not to mention the endless conspiracy theories. But now the Trump dynasty is in the spotlight. For those interested, there has been an unsurprising increase of investigating reporting on the details of depravity for this scandalous family:

What is the IRS ‘scandal’ about?

An Almost-Final Word On The IRS’s Alleged Tea Party Targeting

This all goes back to the scrutiny the IRS gave to politically active “social welfare” organizations between 2010 and 2013. Conservatives allege that mainly Tea Party groups were targeted. The controversy led to a housecleaning at the top of the IRS — also, to a collapse in the agency’s already feeble attempts to enforce its existing rules on political activity by 501(c)(4) social welfare groups.

The numbers and budgets of politically active social welfare groups have soared since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, especially among conservatives. SuperPACs, which are also used by both sides, must disclose their donors, while 501(c)(4) groups have no disclosure requirement.

Facebook, the IRS, and the GOP’s Bullshit Feedback Loop

In reality, the IRS “scandal” was the unhappy byproduct of an agency being tasked with determining the validity of claims to non-profit status, but lacking the proper resources to do it or clear guidance on how. The fact that new Tea Party groups, many with dubious claim to non-profit status, had flooded the IRS with applications compounded the difficulty. The agency thus used watchwords like “tea party” and “progressive” to, in its words, triage the workload.

For the purposes of ginning up voters, that story is much less useful than one in which a liberal agency leader masterminded a sabotage campaign against patriotic conservatives trying to rescue the country from Obama. And so the IRS scandal was born.

Report On IRS Targeting Of Conservatives – No Christmas Pony For Darrell Issa

Now if both sides were doing it equally, it would be possible for the IRS to approach the matter in an even handed manner. As it turns out, unlike the remarkably similar activities of the Kriegsmarine U-boats in the Atlantic and the US Navy submarines in the Pacific, “dark money” is more of a conservative thing . According to Open Secrets in the 2010 election cycle conservative non-disclosure spending was $119.9 million and liberal non-disclosure spending was $10.7 million. In the 2012 election cycle it was $265.5 million conservative versus $33,6 million liberal. The gap starts closing in 2014 but remains wide with $192.8 million conservative and $54 million liberal.

That makes it impossible for IRS action or non-action to not have political effect. Now if we had really wise leaders, they would have gotten together and said that the country needs good tax administration and the Republicans would have agreed to ease up on pushing the envelope so much and the Democrats would not have pressed the IRS to worry so much about a matter that was not contributing to the tax gap. Probably too much to ask for. Instead we’ve got “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

New Records: IRS Targeted Progressive Groups More Extensively Than Tea Party

A series of IRS documents, provided to ThinkProgress under the Freedom of Information Act, appears to contradict the claims by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that only Tea Party organizations applying for tax-exempt status “received systematic scrutiny because of their political beliefs.” The 22 “Be On the Look Out” keywords lists, distributed to staff reviewing applications between August 12, 2010 and April 19, 2013, included more explicit references to progressive groups, ACORN successors, and medical marijuana organizations than to Tea Party entities.

Donna Brazile: No conspiracy here, IRS targeted liberals, too

In fact, a few months after the story of the report broke, new documents came to light showing more of the extent of scrutiny of progressive groups. At the time, Alex Seitz-Wald described the landscape this way.

But now, almost two months later, we know that in fact the IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; that the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive ones; that many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the line; that the IG’s report was limited to only Tea Party groups at congressional Republicans’ request; and that the White House was in no way involved in the targeting and didn’t even know about it until shortly before the public did.

Needless to say, especially disturbing is the idea that Issa conveyed to the IG his wish that the investigation focus on conservative groups to the exclusion of progressive ones. The IG later said that initial report was inaccurate, but he didn’t say what was inaccurate about it or offer any explanation of why his spokesperson would have said Issa told them to produce a one-sided report.

New Documents Show the IRS Targeted ‘Progressive’ and ‘Tea Party’ Groups for Extra Scrutiny

Arguably, ThinkProgress’s report implies, the IRS focused on giving extra scrutiny to groups on the left longer than it did to groups on the right, Issa’s colleagues across the aisle on the Oversight Committee have long noted that Issa has yet to produce evidence supporting his repeated claims that the IRS was acting as part of an anti-GOP political conspiracy. These documents, which ThinkProgress notes were also produced for “investigating congressional committees,” are certainly not that evidence. Here’s a list of some of the groups that show up on the full BOLO watch lists (viewable here):

  • “Progressive” groups, especially those with words like “blue” in the name
  • “Tea Party” groups
  • Not exclusively educational “medical marijuana” groups
  • Groups believed to be “successors to ACORN”
  • “Open source software” organizations
  • “Green energy” organizations
  • “Occupied territory” advocacy organizations

On the “emerging” section on one of the distributed lists, the BOLO lists contains this downright bipartisan warning:

Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, Social economic reform/movement

Anyway, Issa already has a response to that non-specific language. The political watch list language was “changed to broader ‘political advocacy organizations,’” he wrote in a committee report, adding that he believes “the IRS still intended to identify and single out Tea Party applications for scrutiny.” Even though it looks like progressive groups may have ended up on the watch list before the Tea Party started popping up.

Senate Report Confirms That Republicans Lied About The IRS Only Targeting Conservatives

A newly released report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations confirms that both liberal and conservatives groups received the same bad treatment and were targeted by the IRS. In short, Republicans lied about the IRS only targeting conservatives.

The Executive Summary section of the report put the Republican IRS conspiracy down for the count,

The Subcommittee investigation has reached many of the same conclusions as the TIGTA audit of the 501(c)(4) application process. The Subcommittee investigation found that the IRS used inappropriate screening criteria when it flagged for increased scrutiny applications based upon the applicants’ names or political views rather than direct evidence of their involvement with campaign activities. The Subcommittee investigation also found significant program mismanagement, including years-long delays in processing 501(c)(4) applications; inappropriate, intrusive, and burdensome questioning of groups; and poor communication and coordination between IRS officials in Washington and Cincinnati. At the same time, like TIGTA, the Subcommittee investigation found no evidence of IRS political bias in selecting 501(c)(4) applications for heightened review, as distinguished from using poor judgment in crafting the selection criteria. Based on investigative work that went beyond what TIGTA examined, the Subcommittee investigation also determined that the same problems affected IRS review of 501(c)(4) applications filed by liberal groups.

In addition, the Subcommittee investigation found that, by focusing exclusively on how the IRS handled 501(c)(4) applications filed by conservative groups and excluding any comparative data on applications filed by liberal groups, the TIGTA audit produced distorted audit results that continue to be misinterpreted. The TIGTA audit engagement letter stated that the audit’s “overall objective” was to examine the “consistency” of IRS actions in identifying and reviewing 501(c)(4) applications, including whether “conservative groups” experienced “inconsistent treatment.” Instead, the audit focused solely on IRS treatment of conservative groups, and omitted any mention of other groups. For example, while the TIGTA report criticized the IRS for using “Tea Party,” “9/12,” and “Patriot” to identify applications filed by conservative groups, it left out that the IRS also used “Progressive,” “ACORN,” “Emerge,” and “Occupy” to identify applications filed by liberal groups. While the TIGTA report criticized the IRS for subjecting conservative groups to delays, burdensome questions, and mismanagement, it failed to disclose that the IRS subjected liberal groups to the same treatment. The result was that when the TIGTA audit report presented data showing conservative groups were treated inappropriately, it was interpreted to mean conservative groups were handled differently and less favorably than liberal groups, when in fact, both groups experienced the same mistreatment. By excluding any analysis of how liberal groups were handled and failing to provide critical context for its findings, the TIGTA audit inaccurately and unfairly damaged public confidence in the impartiality of the IRS.

So IRS Didn’t ‘Target Conservative Groups,’ After All

It turns out that the IRS really was just doing its job — scrutinizing all kinds of groups applying for special tax status, not “targeting conservatives” as has been widely reported. Of course anti-government scandal-mongers are trying to make this sound bad, saying this means the “targeting” was “broader” than first thought. That’s like saying people are “targeted” to pay their taxes on April 15. Anyway the “scandal’s” purpose was achieved: the IRS is going to give corporate-funded political groups a pass now and let them “self-certify” that they aren’t breaking the rules. […]

But the truth doesn’t matter. The fact that there was no “targeting of conservative groups” doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t get their way. Even though the whole “ACORN scandal” turned out to just be a lie, Congress defunded ACORN anyway. Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod were both fired after right-wing media launched smear and lie campaigns. And this time the administration immediately caved to the right and fired the head of the IRS. This of course amplified the right’s “targeted conservatives” accusations and whipped the media into a full-blown scandal frenzy.

And the clincher: the IRS has issued new rules, offering corporate-funded political groups a “fast track” to getting their special tax status.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy explains, in IRS Offers Fast-Track for Advocacy Groups Awaiting Tax Exemptions. All they have to do is self-certify that they won’t break the rules, and Bob’s your uncle.

Organizations that have applied to the IRS for status as social-welfare groups but have faced inordinate delays because of the political scrutiny that engulfed the tax agency in controversy now have recourse: They can win tax-exempt status within two weeks if they pledge not to devote more than 40 percent of their time and money to partisan activities.

The IRS announced the streamlined process on Monday as part of its 83-page report, shown below, on how the agency is overhauling its process for reviewing applications for tax-exempt status. By setting the 40-percent marker, the organization for the first time was explicit about how much advocacy is acceptable for a group that has 501(c)(4) status.

So they win.

House Republicans pretend IRS ‘scandal’ still exists

Just so we’re clear, these House Republicans still haven’t uncovered any evidence of official wrongdoing, and they didn’t accuse Koskinen of having any role in “targeting” anyone. Rather, the GOP lawmakers are convinced Koskinen hasn’t done enough to help them find evidence to substantiate allegations that fell apart two years ago.

Or put another way, they want to fire the IRS guy who replaced the other IRS guy who was fired over a “scandal” that never really existed in the first place.

There is, of course, no reason to believe Koskinen’s job is in jeopardy, which is probably why House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) raised the prospect of holding the IRS commissioner in contempt of Congress, because, well, why not? It’s been months since House Republicans held an Obama administration official in contempt of Congress, they’re arguably overdue.

Fox News’ phony scandal: The truth about the fictional “plot” to suppress conservatives

Absent campaign-finance law, and with a deadlocked Federal Election Commission incapable of acting, the IRS was the last defense against opaque and unrestricted political money. Yet as Republicans in Congress blocked efforts to address campaign-finance transparency, nonprofits were inundating the IRS with applications for tax-exempt status, many for social-welfare groups. And media outlets were focused on “Tea Party” groups forming around the country.

Against this backdrop, one IRS case manager in the Los Angeles office forwarded an application to the agency’s Cincinnati office for review, expressing concern that the organization applying for nonprofit status was not being established for social-welfare purposes, but instead for political campaign activity. The Cincinnati office, which oversees nonprofit applications, agreed to review the case.

That questionable applicant was a Tea Party group, whose application triggered the reviewer’s concern over its involvement with direct campaign activity relating to specific candidates.

As applications stacked up, the IRS identified areas with potential for abuse, and began to flag applications that followed a similar format, issuing a “BOLO” (Be On the Lookout) alert for new applications with similar features or organizations with similar names.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, the IRS continued to wrestle with how it should handle these organizations in general (and Tea Party applications in particular), while the agency faced mounting pressure from House and Senate investigative committees concerning tax-exempt organizations and donor identities. Tea Party applications were particularly problematic, because the term “Tea Party” was identified with groups backing specific candidates or opposing the policies of the Obama administration.

Such activities are not covered by the “primary purpose” rule applicable to social-welfare groups, which restricts tax exemption (and freedom from disclosure requirements) to organizations that “operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.”

In September 2010, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) wrote to then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, asking him to conduct a survey of major 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) organizations involved in political campaign activity to see whether they were in compliance with the “primary purpose” rule. He also requested that the IRS look at whether the organizations “were acting as conduits for major donors advancing their own private interests regarding legislation or political campaigns.”

In 2012, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) made a formal request for the IRS to produce specific information on the activity of several high-profile organizations, including Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the liberal group Priorities USA, Americans for Prosperity, and Patriot Majority USA. As dark money spending increased in 2012, Levin pressed harder, criticizing the IRS decision to interpret the word “exclusively” to promote social welfare as “more than 50 percent” of the organization’s activity. He wanted to know how many tax exemptions had been audited to see if organizations engaged in excessive political activity.

After the 2012 elections, the IRS found itself caught between mounting pressure from Congressional Democrats and from groups receiving information requests from the IRS but no letters approving their tax-exempt status. The agency was requesting that applicants provide all donors’ names and addresses (presumably to satisfy the Baucus inquiry), sparking outrage among conservative groups asked for that information.

UNBRIDLED FREEDOM

At the same time, Congressional Republicans began to hear from big donors who were concerned about the loss of anonymity—and the tax deductions that some of the nonprofits provided. And from “grass roots” groups impatient with the IRS.

One of these groups was KSP/True the Vote, a Texas-based voter-integrity organization originally known as the King Street Patriots—one of the nonprofit applicants selected by the IRS for closer scrutiny, based upon its application and media reports in 2010 in which KSP/True the Vote activists were accused of intimidating voters at the polls.

In 2010, acting under the name King Street Patriots, conservative Texas activist Catherine Engelbrecht accused a voter-registration group, Houston Votes, of being “the New Black Panthers office” in Texas. Claiming to have found thousands of fraudulent voter registrations in the Houston area, Engelbrecht appeared on Fox News, accusing Houston Votes of massive voter fraud. The King Street Patriots also produced a video that warned: “Our elections are being manipulated by the RADICAL LEFT.” Backed by an ominous soundtrack, the video also included a doctored image of an African American holding a sign that read: “I only got to vote once.”

Ironically, one documented case of voter fraud surfaced in Texas in 2010 when County Commissioner candidate Bruce Fleming, who had been endorsed by Engelbrecht, was found to have cast votes in Pennsylvania and Texas in the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections, boasting that he “had the chance to vote twice against Barack Obama.”

Indeed, KSP/True the Vote’s literature established that they were operating for campaign purposes, as evidenced by a self-published “Legislative Agenda for Texas” in 2011 and their lobbying for stricter voter-ID laws. The state Democratic Party sued, and in 2011 a Texas court ruled that the King Street Patriots was a PAC and not a nonprofit group. The group was ordered to reveal its donors and pay Houston Votes a substantial settlement.

Despite the court ruling and extensive news coverage, when news broke on May 9, 2013, that the IRS may have singled out conservative groups for scrutiny, Engelbrecht was prepared. On May 21, KSP/True the Vote filed a federal lawsuit against the IRS for targeting them. The suit was dismissed in late 2014.

Democrat Corruption? Liberal Scandals?

I’m an unrepentant liberal with strong interest in liberal views and interests. I do, however, go out of my way to try to see the world from other views as well. I check out the views of anarchists, libertarians, Tea Party protesters, rightwing bloggers, intelligent conservative news (such as Wall Street Journal), etc. I even stay moderately informed of what comes from Fox News reporters and pundits.

Still, I’m biased and I don’t hide my bias. Despite my liberal rants and complaints, I do believe that truth matters more than ideology. I consider my liberalism as more of an attitude than a specific position on political issues. I want to be fair and I try to be fair… but am I being fair?

I’ve recently noted many scandals involving Republicans and conservatives in general. Just this past week there has been some doozies. In order to be fair, I was trying to think of what recent major scandals have involved Democrats and liberals in general. Over the past year, there has been endless criticisms of supposed associates (past and present) with people deemed by rightwing pundits as socialists, communists, terrorists or whatever. These allegations have had some real world impact on the careers of certain people, but they’re not exactly scandals on the level of it being revealed that Bush covered up the fact that many Gitmo detainees were known to be innocent.

The two biggest alleged liberal scandals involved ACORN and the Climategate e-mails. However, both of those incidents were investigated and officials determined that no illegal or immoral activities happened with either. The real scandal about ACORN turned out to be the guy who made it all up by editing and splicing video. His moral character was made evident when he was caught doing some other illegal activities that sent him to jail for a time (the judge released him but required him to live with his parents).

So, where are the liberal scandals? Ignoring the empty allegations of a socialist conspiracy, where are the concretely proven failures of liberal and Democrat leaders? Am I missing something? Or have Republicans become more corrupt than Democrats?

Rightwing Madness

I read many comments online. I always wonder why many rightwingers have a tendency to make extreme statements

Whenever they disagree with someone or something, they say things such as:

  • Obama is the Anti-Christ, a Muslim, a terrorist, a Nazi, Hitler, Stalin, etc.
  • Obama isn’t American. Show me his birth certificate.
  • I hope Obama gets assassinated.
  • Jim Wallis is Satan.
  • Liberals are Communists.
  • Dr. Tiller got what he deserved and Roeder is a hero.
  • Overthrow the government!
  • He is an FBI operative.
  • FEMA will put us in concentration camps.
  • Violent militia groups are just defending their rights.
  • America is a Christian nation and the Founding Fathers meant the govt to be a fundamentalist theocracy.

They’re particularly obsessed with their xenophobia. They constantly live in fear of fags, blacks, and immigrants. They’re blind to their own bigotry and love to allege reverse racism. They conflate beliefs and facts, rhetoric and logic. They think the opinions of anyone else is equal to or greater than the opinion of the consensus of experts. They think they have the right to their own ‘facts’. They just know they’re right and you’re wrong. They often see conspiracies all around them:

  • New World Order
  • Liberal Elites
  • Hidden Communist conspiracy
  • Jewish Cabal
  • Immigrant invasion
  • Black helicopters

It’s not that all conservatives think and act this way, but there is a surprising number who do. More importantly, mainstream conservatives apparently are afraid of their own fringe. Conservative politicians and media personalities rarely criticize the fringe and often instead fan the flames instead. When a Tea Party leader asked about the fringe, he agreed they existed in the party but he thought they had a rightful place in the movement. They welcome the fringe and help give the extremists a voice. It’s not surprising that this filters into the mindset of the average conservative and so that is why you see all these crazy rightwing comments all over the web.

I’m trying not to over-generalize here. I know there are intelligent and rational conservatives. There are some who will criticize the fringe sometimes. I give credit for Bill O’Reilly in that he will on occasion make attempts to distance himself from the crazies and he’ll even sometimes directly criticize them. I just wonder why the ‘normal’ conservatives tend to be so silent. Is it the same reason why average Muslims too rarely speak out against the violence and oppression of Muslim extremists? Is it fear to speak out or is there an element of complicit agreement?

There is always a way to rationalize away or ignore evidence to the contrary. The federal report about rightwing militias is a smear campaign, but when righwing militias start conspiring violence against the government it’s automatically assumed these groups have been innocently framed. ACORN and Climategate are liberal conspiracies and they must be destroyed. The conservative media goes batshit over it and gets the rest of the media to jump on the bandwagon. After organizations and reputations are destroyed, investigations conclude that all involved were innocent. The conservatives use lies and deceit to destroy their enemies, but they don’t care about the truth. Will ACORN and the CRU scientists get vindicated in the media? No, probably not. Scandals get attention, but innocent victims of rightwing hatred don’t make for entertaining news. So, the media waits to get carried away by the next ‘scandal’.

Why is it so rare than anyone gets held responsible for any of this kind of immoral behavior? Yes, Roder gets life in prison and the guy who slandered ACORN ended up in prison as well. But Dr. Tiller can’t be brought back to life and who knows how many women will die or suffer serious health conditions because there is now one less doctor to help them. ACORN is permanently villified in the public eye and the organization is no more. What about all the people that Dr. Tiller and ACORN helped? Why doesn’t the media obsess over the real victims?

I know that, in response, rightwingers will argue that leftwingers are just as bad. They’ll point out a couple examples they once saw in the news. That is fair in that there are extremists of all ideological varieties, but there is a difference that makes a difference. First, I doubt people toting guns and screaming racial slurs wouldn’t feel very welcomed at most liberal protest and I could imagine the politically correct police asking them to leave. Second, the loony left doesn’t get a platform from the “liberal media” in the way that loony right gets a platform from conservative media such as Fox News. All news have agendas, but Fox News takes it to a new level of outright political spin and propaganda. I’m not sure why a media corporation would want to fan the flames of rightwing fear and hatred. I suppose it must be serving some purpose of theirs or of the GOP.

There seems to be a different attitude between the left and the right. On the left, different opinions are embraced as long as they’re respectful. On the right, different opinions aren’t embraced, but as long as your remain within the in-group ideology it doesn’t matter if you voice your opinions respecfully. In fact, rightwingers seem to pride themselves on being disrespectful. Anger, hatred and bigotry are seen as strengthening and consolidating the group. It’s the us vs them attitude. As long as the disrespectful message is directed outside of the group at the enemy, it doesn’t matter what a rightwinger says or how they say it.

Part of why I bring all this up is because I’ve noticed how it’s changed me. I feel unable to let it just roll of me. I’ve never called George W. Bush the Anti-Christ or Glenn Beck the devil, but it has become more common for me to call someone an asshole when someone is being offensive or aggressive, when someone is acting righteous or bigoted. I’ve learned to respond this way because some people don’t seem to understand how mean-spirited their comments are until you confront them in a forceful manner. Why should I respect the opinion of someone who claims Roeder is a hero for committing murder and terrorism? If they want to say they’re against abortion fine, but there is no excuse for what Roeder did. What Roeder did goes against everything our country stands for. Why should liberals try to be understanding towards such hatred and violence? Why shouldn’t stand up for the rights of everyone? For that matter, why shouldn’t it be expected that conservatives should stand up for the rights of everyone?

This isn’t just about my being a liberal. What rightwing extremists are doing and what mainstream conservatives are (implicitly or explicitly) supporting is stupid just from the perspective of strategy. They’re turning a whole generation of youth against the conservative movement. All the shootings and militias are just going to deservedly bring down hard the hammer of the law. In their fear of the government, they’re forcing the hand of the govenment. It’s as if they want a war. The culture war has failed. So, what they couldn’t accomplish through politics they’ll now try to accomplish through violence. I don’t what strategy would work for conservatives trying to get their message out, but what they’re doing right now is not working. Yes, it feels empowering to rant and rave, to fear-monger and use hate speech, to brandish guns at political gatherings. But this sense of empowering is just reactionary, just a shortterm gain. Conservatives were successful in the past because they took the longterm view, but they seem to have forgotten the lesson of their past success.

If you’re a Christian and you don’t like another Christian’s views, don’t call them the Anti-Christ or the Devil. If you’re a libertaraian and you don’t like Democrats being in power, don’t call Obama Hitler or a Commie. If you’re worried about our employment or your economic security, don’t attack immigrants and blame the poor. If you want to make a difference, reach out to others and not just to the small group of people who are just like you.

I realize I’m offering you liberal advice. But guess what? The world has become a liberal place. We no longer live at a time when white Christians monopolize all power. We no longer live at a time when minorities, immigrants and the poor knew their place. It’s just a fact of life. Accept it or not, but the world isn’t going to return to simpler times. Anyways, your idealizing of the past is just a fantasy. It’s time to stop fighting the inevitable. Change happens and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You either join in and work together or else you become obsolete. It’s your choice.

When Obama voices bipartisan values, I don’t know if he actually means it or not. However, people voted him into office because they believed in the message. The young generation that voted Obama into office doesn’t want partisan bickering, doesn’t want angry ranting and fear-mongering. The young generation looks for what we all share in common and they don’t care about parties, they don’t even care about the Tea Party. Many liberals and many conservatives as well were inspired by Obama’s message of hope and change. This is what people want. Obama was voted in by a majority of Americans. He may not be living up to his speeches, but the point is that people want to believe in the vision he spoke of.