Far too much media coverage of politics focuses on the horserace angle--who's ahead, who's behind, who's up or down. It relies on false equivalency: if Politician A says X, then the reporter goes to Politician B, who's sure to say Y. That's lazy journalism, and it doesn't actually inform the public about which position (if any) is actually true, or adheres to the facts as we know them. At TWiA, our mission is to discuss politics through the prism of policy--to look, in other words, at the real-world implications of the things that politicians say and do, to make connections others might miss, and to explain it all in language a lay person can understand. Also to offer suggestions of how you can help somebody in need, to report on what's awesome, and to keep tabs on bears. If you like TWiA, share or repost or tell a friend, and be sure to leave comments, even if they're arguments. Especially if they're arguments.
This Week in Last Friday
There's a time-honored tradition in politics called the "Friday night news dump." When a politician needs to release news that he or she really doesn't want you to see, it goes out to the press on Friday night. The thinking is that most people are busy doing more interesting things than paying attention to the news, and by Monday it will have been surpassed by other, newer news.
Last Friday, after TWiA was put to bed, the Republican-led House Select Intelligence Committee released the results of the eighth or ninth or fiftieth investigation into the Benghazi incident of Sept. 11, 2012. Conservatives, remember, have been trying to make Benghazi into a scandal for two years. Our position has always been that the scandal is the shameful effort to make political hay off the deaths of four Americans, including brave and respected Ambassador Chris Stevens.
What did the committee find after its two-year investigation? The Associated Press puts it this way: "A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees."
But the report can speak for itself:
"The Committee first concludes that the CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA facilities in Benghazi....Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the Committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support....
"Second, the Committee finds that there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks. In the months prior, the IC provided intelligence about previous attacks and the increased threat environment in Benghazi, but the IC did not have specific, tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.
"Third, the Committee finds that a mixed group of individuals, including those affiliated with Al Qa'ida, participated in the attacks....
"Fourth, the Committee concludes that after the attacks, the early intelligence assessments and the Administration's initial public narrative on the causes and motivations for the attacks were not fully accurate....There was no protest. The CIA only changed its initial assessment about a protest on September 24, 2012, when closed caption television footage became available on September 18, 2012 (two days after Ambassador Susan Rice spoke)....
"Fifth, the Committee finds that the process used to generate the talking points HPSCI asked for—and which were used for Ambassador Rice's public appearances—was flawed....
"Finally, the Committee found no evidence that any officer was intimidated, wrongly forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement or otherwise kept from speaking to Congress, or polygraphed because of their presence in Benghazi. The Committee also found no evidence that the CIA conducted unauthorized activities in Benghazi and no evidence that the IC shipped arms to Syria."
The report refutes every point that the right has been trying to sculpt into a scandal. There was no stand-down order, the military and US officials did everything they could in response, there was no way to get reinforcements to the scene in time to make a difference, the White House didn't formulate the talking points that Susan Rice used on the talk shows that weekend. Everybody did their jobs.
There is no scandal there.
So that's it, right? Case closed?
We wish. All the other investigations have reached the same conclusions. The Republican response has always been to launch yet another investigation. The House's Select Committtee on Benghazi is still doing its own investigation. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R/SC) responded to the Intelligence Committee's report by saying, "I think the report is full of crap." He added, "That's a bunch of garbage. That's a complete bunch of garbage."
Yes, Graham has always been a classy guy.
Expect other voices on the right to chime in with the same thing. Benghazi is a key issue for them, because Ambassador Stevens worked for Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time. Although every report concludes that Clinton did everything in her power, they're not going to stop trying to tar her with the brush of scandal, even when that scandal is a lie. The conspiracy theories are going to continue. Fox "News" is already pushing an extremely misleading view of the report online (note the headline here) and has mostly ignored it on the air.
But the rest of us should remember that they're nothing but politically motivated nonsense, intended to discredit Clinton before her expected White House run.
This Week in Black Friday
Millions of Americans will go shopping this weekend, many--probably most--at a handful of big-box retailers (yes, including us). In recent years, as this study from Demos describes, spending on campaign donations by those same retailers has increased dramatically. Why? The case of Walmart explains a lot (Walmart is one of the biggest political donors in the country, and far and away the biggest among retailers). For its contributions, Walmart wants--and gets--tax breaks to protect the earnings of its owners, while pushing the bill for supporting their business onto regular taxpayers. Walmart's tax breaks amount to $1 billion a year, and the $21.4 billion they have parked offshore doesn't get taxed. Meanwhile, the rest of us are on the hook for $6.2 billion a year in food stamps for Walmart employees who don't earn enough to feed themselves. In some states, Walmart employees comprise the single largest group of food stamp and Medicaid recipients, so we're also subsidizing their health care. If the corporate tax rate is cut to 25%, then Walmart will save another $7 billion over the next ten years. Numbers like those make it well worth throwing around tens of millions of dollars in political donations. It's only too bad their employees don't have similar access to elected officials (or, you know, a union).
Next time you shop at a big-box store, think about how much of what you fork over goes to Washington to ensure that you'll have to fork over still more at tax time.