God help us

Latest “scandal“?  Obama had marines hold umbrellas over him and the Turkish Prime Minister during an outdoor news conference:

It was a lighthearted moment in the midst of a grim few days for the White House. But in a week of Benghazi e-mails, Justice Department subpoenas and Internal Revenue Service targeting, some of the administration’s critics saw another example of overreach.

“Obama breaches Marine umbrella protocol,” read the headline on one conservative blog.

Per Marine Corps uniform regulations, the men are not allowed to carry or use umbrellas while in uniform. Female Marines can carry “an all-black, plain standard, or collapsible umbrella at their option during inclement weather,” and only with service and dress uniforms…

“Obama expects our troops to hold damn umbrellas rather than go inside: It’s disrespectful, inconsiderate, classless,” tweeted Lou Dobbs.

“Mr. President, when it rains it pours, but most Americans hold their own umbrellas,” former Alaska governor Sarah Palin addedon Facebook.

The conservative Move America Forward PAC likened the umbrella-holding to what conservatives view as Obama’s weak response to September’s attack in Benghazi, Libya. A fundraising e-mail from the group read, “Rain: ‘Hold My Umbrella.’ Benghazi: ‘Stand Down.’ ”

Just pathetic.  But, wow, I love that little anecdote about the gender divide within Marine regulations.  I had no idea holding an umbrella was so un-manly.  From now on I’ll just come to class soaking wet on rainy days and feel secure in my manhood.

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Photo of the day

Big Picture has a “Sugar and Salt” theme.  Heck, should have just made it salt, sugar, fat.  I do find the manufacture of salt quite fascinating:

Pools of salt form patterns at the Maras mines in Cuzco, Peru on August 29, 2012. (Janine Costa/Reuters)

As and added bonus, here’s the “How it’s made” on road salt:

Scandal in name only

Ezra takes a nice comprehensive look about what we know about all these “scandals.”  Actual common theme: there’s no there, there.  There’s simply absolutely no evidence of wrong-doing at the White House in any of these so-called “scandals.”   Not to say there couldn’t be in the future, but isn’t the whole point of a scandal that the president actually did something wrong, and not just “whoops” wrong, but subverting democracy wrong.  And, again, so far there is zero evidence of that.  I lie his conclusion:

And then, of course, there are all the other problems Congress is ignoring, from high unemployment to sequestration to global warming. When future generations look back on the scandals of our age, it’ll be the unchecked rise in global temperatures, not the Benghazi talking points, that infuriate them.

Meanwhile, EJ Dionne, more explicitly takes on the media narrative driving this:

I know, I know: This “confluence” of “scandals” spells “trouble” for the Obama administration. Well, sure, this has been hell week for the president. But what spells trouble for our country is our apparent eagerness to avoid debate about discrete problems by sacrificing the particulars and the facts to the idol of political narrative. It’s a false god.

And finally, on the IRS aspect, clearly there was wrong-doing, but it really is quite scandalous in itself what political groups are able to get away with due to lack of IRS enforcement:

The real scandal is not that the IRS made inquiries to ensure political groups were not benefiting improperly from 501(c)(4) status, it is that the agency fails to enforce the law even against the most blatant violators. Federal law states that these groups must operate “exclusively for purposes beneficial to the community as a whole,” but IRS regulations allow groups “primarily” engaged in social-welfare activities to take advantage of tax-exempt status. Based on this misreading of the law, many 501(c)(4) groups have interpreted this to mean they can spend up to 49 percent of their funds on political activities. Some groups, such as AAN, willfully violate even this standard with no apparent consequences…

Sadly, the byproduct of the IRS’ bungling efforts to follow the law likely will result in diminished enforcement. Opportunists will use this imbroglio to bolster arguments that a crackdown on social-welfare groups abusing their tax status is political; a weakened IRS will simply fold. We saw this in 2011, as social-welfare organizations began raking in secret donations made with the intent of influencing the 2012 elections. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, one of those leading the charge against the IRS now, railed against the agency for attempting to enforce a law requiring those who contribute to 501(c)(4)s to pay gift taxes. In short order, the IRS retreated, effectively allowing donors to ignore the law.

As Congress holds hearings and demands answers from the IRS, members on both sides of the aisle should consider a solution to this problem: banning political spending by 501(c)(4) groups. The effect of such a change would allow the IRS to get out of the business of attempting to ascertain the goals of these organizations, without impairing groups’ participation in the electoral process.

NC: the big picture

The N&O had a story earlier this week ostensibly about the legislature’s attempts to override local smoking bans, but it was really a nice take on the big picture of the over-reach of the Republican legislature:

The clash between state lawmakers and local governments had become readily apparent earlier this session.

Republican legislative leaders pushed to approve measures to void the city of Raleigh’s lease on the Dix property, transfer control of the Charlotte airport to a regional authority, redraw Wake County school board districts, give the state all environmental regulatory power and limit local governments’ ability to impose design standards on homes.

House lawmakers continued the effort this week, giving final approval Tuesday to a measure that limits the ability of cities and counties to ensure the safety of low-income housing and crack down on neighborhoods with high crime rates.

A day earlier, the House passed legislation 73-41 to prevent local governments from automatically deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks, a move that would affect firefighters and police officers.

Another provision in the bill restricts a locality from requiring a business to assume any liability for its carbon footprint. If approved, it would end Durham County’s commuter ordinance that requires businesses to implement plans to manage its employees’ transportation needs.

“There is no apparent limit to the micromanaging that this legislature will consider,” said Russell Killen, mayor of Knightdale, which recently voted to ban smoking at a 70-acre park it plans to open this summer. “I simply cannot understand why this legislature appears to want to remove all local control and have legislators from Manteo to Murphy making all of the decisions on how … self-reliant small towns shape their communities,” Killen said.

Municipal leaders for months have argued – to little avail – that local governments represent the will of their communities better than larger government bodies.  [emphasis mine]

And, of course, that’s an argument we’ve been hearing Republicans make for as long as I can remember.  The Wrightsville Beach case is quite instructive:

Wrightsville Beach leaders point to a recently passed anti-smoking referendum as a perfect example.

In November, Wrightsville Beach residents voted by nearly a 2-1 margin in favor of a measure to ban smoking on the town-owned shorefront.

“This wasn’t the decision of a board majority,” said Tim Owens, town manager for Wrightsville Beach. “This was the direct will of the people.”

The smoking legislation would affect 15 county governments, 41 municipal governments and 35 of North Carolina’s 58 community colleges that prohibit smoking on all outdoor public grounds, according to the state Division of Public Health.

Republicans often accuse the federal government of “arrogance,” but it is truly hard to imagine more arrogant government policy-making than what we’ve been seeing here in NC.

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