What’s so bad about the IRS investigating nonprofit applications? That’s their job. The real scandal is that the ensuing hubbub will discourage them from doing it again, writes Ken Stern.
Over the last week, commentators have expressed great outrage over the handling by the IRS of applications by Tea Party groups and others for 501(c)(4) status. In the haste to trigger the next administration-crippling “gate,” these analyses have largely ignored one of the most surprising aspects of this entire episode—that the IRS was actually trying to do its job.
The Internal Revenue Service headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post, via Getty)
A little context is warranted. There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in this country, a number that reliably grows by more than 50,000 each year. It’s an incredibly important sector of our economy—not just because it represents more than $1.5 trillion in annual revenues and close to 15 percent of the American workforce, but also because nonprofits dominate critical fields such as education, health care, social services, arts, and, yes, politics. Yet, despite the critical nature of these organizations and their services, the Exempt Organizations Division, the group within the IRS charged with regulating the field, plays only the most passive of roles with respect to the nonprofit sector.
How passive? The approval rate for applications to form public charities (and charities account for more than two thirds of the nonprofit sector) stands in excess of 99.8 percent. It takes little more than a reasonable facility with government forms, a small check, and the patience to wait a few months to start a federally approved charity. And the problem has only grown worse in recent years, as the IRS budget and staffing have been repeatedly pruned (by more than $1 billion) and the number of applications for nonprofit status has continued to surge. The IRS’s role in the review process is almost entirely ministerial: a quick review of forms, a flurry of stamps and signatures, and a letter of endorsement.
Fifty years after Betty Friedan’s landmark book, how close are women to living her feminist dream? Writers Anna Quindlen and Gail Collins talk about how far we’ve come.
In the 50 years since Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, women’s lives have been transformed, almost entirely for the better. The college-educated suburban mothers that Friedan focused on suffered from a problem that had no name, a kind of malaise that stemmed from stunted ambitions. Family life wasn’t all that fulfilling, they wanted more, and they felt guilty for feeling that way. Friedan’s book let women know they were not alone, that what they were experiencing was universal, and that was hugely liberating for the women of America.
It was like a match dropped on dry tinder, igniting what we know as the women’s movement. Seldom does a book interact so powerfully with an historical moment, says New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins. Women went crazy for Friedan’s book. She would be criticized for not including women of color or poor women, but that was the strength of The Feminine Mystique, says Collins. “It was one primal howl” from a particular segment of society, middle-class women who had gone to college and were mad as hell about shelving their degrees.
Writer Anna Quindlen remembers seeing her mother reading a paperback copy at the kitchen table. “I’m 12, it was just so unusual,” she says. “My mother was a very quiet, somewhat anti-intellectual person, and to see her that engrossed in a book” challenged Quindlen’s view of the woman she assumed was content in her role as mother of five. The sense that there was something else going on “beneath the bedrock of our life” was both deeply troubling and exciting, says Quindlen. Years later, after her mother died, her father pointed out the draftsman’s table in the basement.
Quindlen’s mother had been the first and only female draftsman at General Electric, and she held on to the dream of someday going back to work. “This woman I always thought of in a maternity smock ironing was a draftsman,” Quindlen marvels. “But there was never any question that she would get married and have children,” she adds. It’s the classic dialectic, says Quindlen, with the thesis “wife and mother,” the antithesis, “no wife, no mother, just working people,” and maybe finally “synthesis where women can choose one from Column A and one from Column B.”
With the global war on terror officially over, it’s worth recalling that she was probably the most prescient person in post-9/11 Washington, says Michael Tomasky.
Now that the “global war on terror” is officially over, as President Obama declared yesterday, I think back to those fevered days after September 11 and wonder whether the whole thing wasn’t ridiculous or worse. Back then, if you didn’t support the war in Afghanistan, you were written off as a nutcase, an abject pacifist, or a freedom-hater. But 12 years later, who can seriously say that the war was such a great idea? Maybe fighting terrorism should have been a “police matter” all along. Two things are for sure. The first is that the country and the world would be a hell of a lot better off if we’d followed Barbara Lee’s advice instead of Paul Wolfowitz’s. And second is that the foreign-policy establishment of Washington, including loyalists of both parties, will never, ever, ever, accept the first fact, which dooms us to unending expense, death, and tragedy.
Jim Young/Reuters, via Landov
Who’s Barbara Lee? She’s the Democratic congresswoman who represents Berkeley. On September 14, 2001, with the World Trade Center ruins still asmolder, the House of Representatives considered House Joint Resolution 64, the authorization of the use of military force against the terrorists involved in 9/11 plus their aiders and abettors. It passed 420 to one. Lee was that one.
Of course she was mocked at the time. Mocked? Worse than that. For a spell, she needed around-the-clock bodyguards. Such was the atmosphere created by the Bush administration, the right-wing agitprop media, and, one might add, the craven opposition that accepted nearly all of Bush’s war on terror premises.
Medea Benjamin has spent a lifetime confronting powerful people, so she was a bit baffled when Obama called her a ‘young lady.’ She talks to Caroline Linton about interrupting the president’s speech on Thursday—and what she would have said if she hadn’t been kicked out.
Medea Benjamin wasn’t even sure she was going to get into the building on Thursday, let alone hear President Obama say she is a “woman worth listening to.”
Medea Benjamin interrupts President Obama's speech on Thursday.
The 60-year-old had been given a pass by a friend to the president’s counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University, in which he was expected to address major new reforms in his foreign-policy strategy. A well-known antiwar activist and frequent heckler of powerful people, she wasn’t sure she’d get past security.
“If he had indeed made significant policy changes, I wasn’t going to say anything,” Benjamin, the founder of Code Pink told The Daily Beast on Thursday evening. “I would have preferred that option, but given that he didn’t make those kind of changes I was looking for, I was glad to be given the opportunity to speak out.”
In a classified hearing, a House panel is trying to figure out how the attack transpired. Did the attackers know that secret location, or did they learn it that night? By Eli Lake.
More than eight months after the 9/11 anniversary attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, the CIA is still trying to find out how the attack that killed two former Navy SEALs at the agency’s annex transpired.
The CIA knows more than they're letting on about the attack on the consulate building in Benghazi last September. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)
The attack on the CIA base came more than seven hours after an armed mob stormed the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, setting the compound ablaze and killing U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and Sean Smith, a State Department communications officer who was with him.
On Wednesday, Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell—along with CIA officers who were at the agency’s Benghazi base on the night of the attack—testified at a classified hearing before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In the closed hearing, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the proceedings, Morell was asked by Republican members about how the second wave of attackers knew to go to the CIA annex, which was a mile away from the diplomatic mission. Morell responded that at this point the CIA did not know whether the attackers had known the location of the annex or learned about it on the evening of the attack, according to these sources.
Early on, the president promised to shutter the prison in a year’s time. Then a plan came late and Democratic allies were abandoned. What’s different this time? By Josh Rogin.
President Obama called today for a renewed effort to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But back in 2009, the White House dropped the ball on closing the controversial military prison by failing to come up with a plan in time, refusing to help House Democrats who were fighting for its closure, and then abandoning the plan altogether and blaming Republicans.
President Obama blamed others for Guantanamo staying open during a national security speech at the National Defense University on May 23. (Michelle Shephard/Toronto Star/AP;Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
In a speech at the National Defense University in Washington, Obama said his Jan. 21, 2009, executive order to close the prison was never implemented because House Republicans placed funding and legislative restrictions on moving suspected terrorists from the facility and blocked efforts to shut it down. But he didn’t mention his own administration’s missteps in not shutting down the prison in one year’s time, as he had promised.
“As president, I have tried to close Gitmo,” Obama said. “I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense.”
With top national-security envoys soon to be enlisted, will the president have the political wherewithal to get the prison closed this time? By Daniel Klaidman.
The most highly anticipated part of President Obama’s counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University today was what he would say about the future of drones. The administration’s aggressive campaign of targeted killings—and the secrecy that has surrounded it—has generated enormous controversy around the world and at home. Obama and his national-security team have spent more than a year working on a new set of policies to constrain the use of drones and place the program on a firmer legal foundation.
President Barack Obama speaks about Guantanamo and national security at the National Defense University on May 23. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
But, in a way, the most surprising aspect of the speech was Obama’s rededication to shutting down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. As commander in chief, Obama can unilaterally restrain the military or the CIA’s use of lethal force. But to shutter Gitmo, he will need Congress to work with him. That means Obama will have to demonstrate that he has the will to get the job done—to spend the political capital that many supporters of Guantanamo’s closure say he has thus far been unwilling to do.
To be sure, lawmakers have made it extremely difficult, throwing multiple roadblocks in his way—and demagoguing the issue. But Obama has also fallen short, sometimes flinching when the politics seemed too tough. So a looming question for him is what, if anything, will be different this time around.
How the military tried to get more control over drone targeting decisions—and lost. By Daniel Klaidman.
At a highly anticipated speech on counterterrorism this afternoon, President Obama announced reforms that would dramatically ratchet down the administration’s drone program. But one thing that will not change, two highly placed administration sources tell The Daily Beast, is Obama’s singular involvement in making individual kill decisions—this despite the fact that the military made an aggressive push to wrest back control over final targeting calls from the commander in chief.
Timothy Walter/U.S. Navy/AP
In fact, it is likely that Obama’s role in deciding who will die and who will be spared will actually increase over time. That is because Obama has decided to transfer the CIA’s targeted-killing program to the U.S. military. Since the beginning of Obama’s presidency, the government has run parallel programs, one housed at the CIA and the other run by the Pentagon. While Obama had broadly signed off on the CIA’s targeted-killing program through a presidential finding for covert action, he did not authorize individual killings except in rare instances. But from the outset of his presidency, Obama personally insisted that he make the final decision on the military’s kill or capture orders, so-called direct action operations. Obama wanted to assume the moral responsibility for what were in effect premeditated government executions. But sources familiar with Obama’s thinking say he also wanted to personally exercise supervision over lethal strikes away from conventional battlefields to avoid getting embroiled in new wars. As responsibility for targeted strikes in places like Yemen, Somalia, and, over time, Pakistan shifts to the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, Obama will be the final decider for the entire program.
Obama’s new policies on targeted killings grew out of a yearlong process known within the administration as “institutionalization.” The effort to codify rules of the road for drones was led by John Brennan, who had been Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser in the White House and is now CIA director. Sources familiar with the process say no issue was more contentious than the question of what role the president should have in final killing decisions. The uniformed military, including the joint chiefs of staff, pushed to take the president out of the process. Once the president approved a particular battle plan in a country, individual targeting decisions should be left up to the regional commanders, they argued. Officials at the CIA, who had fought successfully to maintain control over its own targeting in the early days of the administration, backed the military. At one point last year they appeared to have prevailed in the interagency wrangling. A draft version of the new institutionalization policy, known informally as “the playbook,” even contained the proposed change, the sources say. But after an intense counteroffensive by officials at the State Department and Justice Department, the status quo was restored. According to one official who participated in the discussions, it came down to a question of what level of accountability was required when the government was making grave killing decisions far from the traditional battlefield: “It didn’t make sense that while we were on the one hand raising the bar for these decisions, we would also remove the president from the decision-making chain.”
Naming a special prosecutor would destroy Obama’s presidency, says Michael Tomasky.
Now that we’ve been through the first round of hearings on the IRS matter, it’s apparent that there are a few things Barack Obama should do. Yes, he should move to fire Lois Lerner. I wrote on May 13, the day of the press conference at which he first addressed the matter, that he should vow that some heads would roll. He should also—and this won’t placate the right; far from it, in fact, but so be it—explain to the American people the reasons this controversy is being overblown. But there is one thing that he absolutely must not do, and that is pay the least bit of attention to these calls for a special prosecutor. That will be the end, either literal or metaphorical, of his presidency, because of the ceaseless bad faith of the people trying to elevate this thing to Watergate proportions. Just say no, and say it firmly.
Ousted IRS Chief Steve Miller, left, and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman arrive on Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Finance Committee. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
In substantive terms, this “scandal” consists of bureaucratic bungling, and apparently really stupid bureaucratic political tone deafness. But a conspiracy organized from the White House? Please. The Treasury Department Inspector General report that came out May 14 said that of the 296 “potential political cases” reviewed up through December 2012, the dispositions were as follows: 108 applications approved, 28 withdrawn, 160 left open for a lengthy period of time, and zero denied. That’s right. Zero. Now, you could say that there’s a problem with those 160, and I wouldn’t deny it. Something was broken, something needs fixed. Everyone acknowledges that. But what sort of conspiracy to silence Tea Party groups ends up denying zero of their applications? It’s an absurd claim.
Now we get to the politics. Darrell Issa claims election-season cover-up. But he knew about the IG probe in the summer of 2012, and then received a letter in July confirming it. So one aspect of this that greatly confuses me is why Issa didn’t go public with his accusations then. His spokesman, whom I emailed over the weekend, told me that it was because Issa kept asking the IG for more information, but the IG didn’t give any. Fair enough. But that still strikes me as an unusual degree of discretion on Issa’s part. He needed to know all the details before going public with something that might have helped his party’s presidential candidate in a pretty big way? If that’s the case, he is an unusual Republican indeed.
The IRS has money and management problems that made a scandal “inevitable,” one of Lois Lerner’s predecessors tells Caitlin Dickson.
Since dropping the bomb that her division of the IRS had been improperly giving extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, Lois Lerner, head of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, has kept quiet. Tuesday, she made it official, pleading the Fifth Amendment at a House Oversight Committee.
Lois Lerner is currently facing the scrutiny of the government and the press. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via Getty)
But as the scandal over the organization singling out groups with “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9/12” in their names has grown—after initially denying knowledge, the Obama administration has acknowledged it knew of the tax agency’s actions during the election—former IRS leaders were at once unsurprised and sympathetic to Lerner’s plight, pointing to structural problems at the IRS that have nothing to do with politics.
“It was inevitable something was going to happen,” said Marcus Owens, who served as director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division from 1990 until he retired in 2000. That was the same year that the 1998 IRS Restructuring and Reform Act was implemented, ushering in, he said, a culture of disorganization and miscommunication.
Because they tend to share his broad outlook on politics, too many journalists for too long have been in the tank for Obama, writes Nick Gillespie.
The press-punishing, speech-chilling, and unabashedly overreaching actions by the Obama administration against the Associated Press and Fox News Channel’s James Rosen lay bare the essential dynamic between any president and a press that is always more prone to being lapdogs than watchdogs: the president feeds or punishes them as he sees fit, while chanting a bogus rosary about “national security.”
President Obama holds a press conference April 30 in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. There are many reasons to assume the Obama administration is secretly spying on journalists and organizations. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)
In the case of the AP, the Obama administration secretly subpoenaed phone-call logs and other information from an office where over 100 journalists worked. Officials were on the hunt for the sources that cooperated with the AP on a story about a failed terrorist plot in Yemen. As AP head Gary Pruitt has put it, the administration’s subpoena was “so secretly, so abusively and harassingly and over-broad ... that it is an unconstitutional act.” As important, Pruitt says that the subpoena revelation has already chilled even routine news gathering, as government officials have become paranoid—with reason, perhaps—about sharing even banal sorts of information.
To make matters worse in terms of press freedom, there are many reasons to assume the Obama administration is secretly spying on many other journalists and organizations. With Fox’s Rosen, the administration got an actual warrant to read his email and contends that he has committed crimes by pursuing and publishing a story about North Korea, even though the story apparently doesn’t include any classified information per se. Rosen hasn’t been legally charged as of yet, but as Glenn Greenwald notes, the accusations against Rosen parallel government charges against WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange. “Under U.S. law,” writes Greenwald, “it’s not illegal to publish classified information,” so the Obama administration is claiming that it’s illegal for journalists and publishers to “solicit” such information. That doesn’t simply fly in the face of the First Amendment and Vietnam-era rulings guaranteeing press freedoms, it declares “war on journalism” by essentially criminalizing the very act of investigative reporting.
After a sex scandal, a onetime fighter for the middle class learned to love crony capitalism.
Just because you have nothing to lose doesn’t mean you deserve to win.
A shameless Anthony Weiner entered the New York City mayor’s race Tuesday with a web video fueled by naked ambition, released at the very unmayoral hour of 1 a.m. Maybe his email was hacked.
But the carefully choreographed video—beginning with closeups of his young child, and ending with his long-suffering wife, Huma, giving a Nancy Reagan–esque adoring gaze—was anything but a mistake. In between the images intended to inoculate him from the scandal, Weiner made clear he wants to pick up where his nearly successful 2005 insurgent campaign left off, as a “fighter for the outer-borough middle class.”
Watch our annotated version of Anthony Weiner's campaign ad.
The dissolution of our civic culture isn’t an easy subject for a journalist to successfully tackle, but in his new book George Packer mostly pulls it off, says Michael Tomasky.
How does a writer tell the story of America since the meltdown? No, not just since the meltdown, but since the unraveling first started, really—since deindustrialization, 50 percent divorce rates, the culture wars, the red-blue split, the era of the Wall Streeter or athlete worth more than some countries; since the evanescence, through these means and countless others, of the old common civic culture?
It’s a big job, and a dangerous one. If the writer’s intent is lamentation for the purpose of awakening his countrymen to the moral precipice on whose edge society teeters, the work product can turn mawkish and sentimental in a hurry. And even sympathetic readers can be forgiven for feeling they’ve heard this before. The writer of such a chronicle sets a very high bar for himself. What separates a work of true moral seriousness from, say, a lachrymose TV news magazine feature about a community’s devastation when the plant pulled up stakes?
George Packer, the New Yorker writer who’s written powerful nonfiction books about the Iraq war and the tribulations of modern liberalism as well as two novels, mostly surpasses that bar in The Unwinding, and sometimes does so magnificently. The unwinding of his title is the dissolution of those old civic bonds, and the steady work and ticket to middle-class security they provided for two or three post-war generations of Americans. The unwound, so to speak, are some citizens he found and spent time with, people from a range of backgrounds and regions who symbolize this American nightmare.
Eric Nordstrom, who worked at the Benghazi consulate on the day it was attacked, choked up during Wednesday's hearings. 'It matters,' he said, that the committee investigate what happened before, during, and after the siege.
Corry Booker’s the hero mayor of Newark, and, yes, he’s running for Senate. By Lloyd Grove
The president’s push for $9 an hour has the GOP on the defensive. Eleanor Clift on the strategy behind the move. But this push could take the politics out of the perennial argument.
Meet the new Treasury secretary, same as the old Treasury secretary. Lloyd Green on nominee Jack Lew.
For John Kael Weston and other men on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes raise many uncomfortable questions. He writes on why we need clearer policy and guidelines for these silent killers.