Barack Obama may dismiss them as "phony," but the NSA and IRS scandals are back in the headlines. News broke yesterday that congressional investigators have discovered e-mails from the Federal Election Commission to Lois Lerner at the IRS inquiring about the tax status of several conservative organizations.
No doubt you will recall that Ms. Lerner is at the center of the IRS scandal and recently refused to testify about her knowledge of the government's harassment of conservative and Christian organizations. But Lerner also served at the FEC and had a very controversial tenure there too.
These e-mail exchanges may prove to be completely innocuous. But given Ms. Lerner's role in the IRS scandal and her refusal to cooperate, we should assume the worst -- that the targeting of conservative groups likely extended beyond the IRS and into other government agencies.
Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has sent a letter to the acting IRS commissioner demanding all e-mail exchanges between the IRS and the FEC from 2008 to 2012.
As for the NSA, first there was Prism. Now there is XKeyscore, which according to leaked documents allows the government to know virtually everything anyone does online.
The Guardian reports that the program gives NSA analysts the ability to "search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats [including social media such as Facebook] and the browsing histories of millions of individuals."
In fact, the amount of information the program collects is so vast that it is often impossible to store it all for more than a few days. However, the report suggests the NSA has developed several databases to store much of the data.
The intelligence community insists these programs are essential tools in the war against terrorism. But few are questioning the usefulness of such powerful programs. Instead, it comes down to a matter of trust, specifically a growing lack of trust in this government. Given the administration's reckless disregard for the law and the IRS scandal, that is not surprising. (See next item.)
For the first time in its polling, the Pew Research Center finds that Americans are more concerned that anti-terrorism policies are restricting their civil liberties (47%) than that the government is not doing enough to protect the country from terrorism (35%). And here's the most damning finding from the poll: 70% of the public "believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism."
For years now movement conservatives have been raising concerns about Obama's authoritarian tendencies. The left's totalitarian impulse has been a frequent topic in this daily report. Establishment journalists react with raised eyebrows and immediately dismiss such concerns. But now even buttoned-down commentators like the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger are taking notice.
In a column today, Henninger notes how frequently Obama is saying in his speeches, "I'm going to act on my own. I won't wait for Congress." Despite our system of checks and balances, these are big applause lines for his "progressive" audiences.
Henninger writes, "Mr. Obama is rebalancing the system toward a national-leader model that is alien to the American tradition." Indeed, Obama often conducts himself more like a Latin American "strongman" than the president of a constitutional republic.
You may recall that in 2008 Barack Obama ran against George W. Bush's alleged abuses of power -- his executive orders and signing statements. Obama has eagerly embraced those tactics. And he far exceeded them when he ignored laws on marriage and immigration and sought to regulate a cap and trade scheme that failed to pass Congress.
Henninger concludes his column by arguing that respect for the rule of law and our system of checks and balances and co-equal branches of government should be a major issue in the next election. He writes, "If … incumbents or candidates … think voters should accede to a new American system in which a president forces laws into place as his prerogative rather than first passing them through Congress, they should be made to say so." Otherwise, Henninger warns that an "unchecked, unbalanced presidential system will finally arrive."
Government Gone Wild
The debate continues within Republican ranks over whether to shut down the government in an effort to defund Obamacare. Reasonable people can disagree about strategy. But maybe we should shut it. Here are a few vignettes about what your government is doing when it is open.
- According to the Washington Times, "The Homeland Security Department has lost track of more than 1 million people who it knows arrived in the U.S. but who it cannot prove left the country." And yet we're being told to trust this government with another massive immigration reform plan.
- A new Government Accountability Office report finds that there has been "a 26% increase in misconduct among TSA employees" in the past three years. While some TSA agents are groping you, others are stealing from your luggage, sleeping on the job or just not showing up at all.
- And it has been reported that the FBI, an agency I have always had the highest respect for, has been unable to locate the prime suspect in the Benghazi attacks. But CNN did find him and interviewed him for two hours! Can the FBI find CNN?