What are the Great American Scandals we ignore?

President Barack Obama speaks on April 10, 2013 about the FY 2014 proposed budget. Image: Video still from whitehouse.gov

President Barack Obama faces the first serious scandals of his presidency.  Are they the right scandals? Image: Video still from whitehouse.gov

I’ve been as captivated as anyone by the sudden burgeoning of scandal in Washington.

Until this month, the Obama administration seemed to skate almost effortlessly above the morass that eventually sucks up most White Houses, from Richard Nixon’s Watergate to Ronald Reagan’s Iran Contra to Bill Clinton’s Whitewater-Lewinski mess.

Those accusations that did get lobbed at Mr. Obama — from Solyndra to death panels to the Fast and Furious probe — were often more politics than substance.  They just didn’t seem to resonate outside the AM talk radio culture on the right.

But now we have a little bit of blood in the water for everyone to target.

Liberals are furious about the Justice Department’s probe of Associated Press reporters — a probe that included tapping phone records and monitoring contacts with sources.

Conservatives are furious about Benghazi, which involved a deadly security lapse in Libya that left four US officials dead.  The White House’s handling of the attack was, at the very least, muddled and unfocused.

When a fuming Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is demanding answers from a Democratic president, you know it’s not pretty.

Finally, there’s the scandal that everybody wants a piece of — the IRS’s probe of conservative (and apparently, also, liberal) groups to determine whether their political activity violated their tax status.

Mr. Obama has acknowledged that the behavior was outrageous and has forced out a top official, but this one is likely to percolate through the summer.

So as we wade into the pool of muck that Washington DC loves to create for itself, I thought it would be good to highlight five other scandals that probably should be getting talked about — around the watercooler, if not in congressional hearings.

1.  The epidemic of rape and sexual abuse in the US armed forces.  This is making headlines and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is making noises about re-educating service members.  But some lawmakers, including New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, think we need a more major overhaul of the military’s justice system.  In the House, the response has been more ho-hum.  “The House Armed Services Committee hearing into the scandal was sparsely attended and top military officials left before victims’ testimony,” reported NPR’s Here & Now.

2.  US drone attacks on civilians around the world.  Yes, unmanned drones have killed top Al Quaeda leaders and are a potent weapon.  But they’re also killing a lot of civilians (roughly a thousand by conservative estimates, including as many as 200 children) and four US citizens have been killed by drone strike without a trial or any kind of legal process.  “Farmers are on their way to tend their crops when a missile slams into their midst, thrusting shrapnel in all directions,” reported CNN.  “A CIA drone, flying so high that the farmers can’t see it, has killed most of them.”  If a foreign military or spy plane were operating over our air space, blowing up our farmers, I think we would at the very least want a big public discussion about it.

3.  The Great African American Depression.   The overall unemployment rate in the US is on the mend, dropping to 7.5%.  But the truth is that for whites joblessness is a comfortable 6.1%, while for blacks it’s a community-ravaging 13.2%.  That’s just about exactly the same unemployment rate as in 1937, during the Great Depression.  Blacks are most likely to be stuck in long-term unemployment.  One liberal group found that the unemployment rate for young black men who don’t finish high school tops 50%.  “This is an emergency, this is a catastrophe [but Washington is] not rating it as a catastrophe,” said the report’s editor, Craig Gurian, in an interview with conservative news site The Daily Caller.  Seems like someone should be grilling the White House about this.

4.  Guantanamo Bay.  The US is holding roughly 166 people in our detention center in Cuba.  No one is suggesting that high profile terror suspects be released.  But by some estimates as many as half of the detainees have been cleared for release by US intelligence and military agencies.  To be clear, none of these inmates have received any kind of independent judicial process.  Yet even the national security personnel in charge of their fates have determined that they should be let go.  Yet the Obama administration, which promised to fix this mess, continues to hold them, without trial or due process or much explanation.  Imagine how we would feel if a foreign country decided to hold more than a hundred of our citizens indefinitely, even after their own officials had determined that there was no valid reason to do so?

So there’s my back-of-the-napkin list of other things I’d like to see the White House press corps shouting about next time they gather with administration spokesman Jay Carney.

Yes, let’s get some answers on Benghazi, the IRS and the AP phone taps.

But let’s also talk about some of these other issues that raise equally troubling questions about foreign policy judgment, civil liberties and economic fairness.

How about you?  When you think “scandal in Washington” what are the issues that you think should be at the top of the list?  Climate change?  Gun control?  Abortion?  Chime in below.

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32 Comments on “What are the Great American Scandals we ignore?”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Not really interested in anything but do believe it is time to eliminate tax breaks for all, including all not-for- profits. If anyone gets paid anything in any organization, the organization (including churches and political parties) should pay taxes.

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  2. Agreed, Pete Klein. Especially churches, since so many of them are quite political. It’s their right to be political. They don’t have a right to be tax-exempt. It’s a privilege.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 12 Thumb down 10

  3. PNElba says:

    It’s ironic that the law that may have been broken in the IRS scandal are likely civil rights law. Do teapartiers support civil rights laws?

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 8 Thumb down 8

  4. newt says:

    Don’t forget Obama’s war on whistleblowers. His administration continues to prosecute people like Thomas Drake. Drake, a former National Security Agency executive who gave leaked information to a reporter about government inefficiency and waste in security systems that might have contributed to the success of the 9/11 attacks. http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2011/05/obamas-war-whistle-blowers/38106/. Most prosecutions are carried out under the Espionage Act of 1917, which was intended to protect against enemy spies, not the U.S. news media. These prosecutions far exceed anything the Bush, or any other recent administration, attempted to suppress and intimidate patriotic whistleblowers.

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  5. Peter Hahn says:

    How about the scandal that none of the bankers that brought down the world economy went to jail.

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 5

  6. Mayflower says:

    My scandal of choice: The on-going and coordinated effort to restrict both the right to vote and the power of the ballot. Note, across the country, growing restrictions on voter registration and reductions of places and hours that citizens may cast their ballots. And if those citizens do manage to register and then to find a polling place with open doors, their vote is likely to be discounted by gerrymandering which negates entire voter blocks.

    Scandalous indeed.

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 5

  7. Zeke says:

    $600 hammers comes to mind. In general the military industrial complex. Forcing the pentagon to take military hardware they blatantly say they do not wantis nothing short of a scandal.

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  8. JDM says:

    Scandal #1 – Obama’s admitted incompetence.

    Imagine admitting to not knowing what your Justice Department is up to.

    Imagine admitting to not knowing (as of Friday) that your White House Counsel’s office was notified 3 weeks ago about the IRS scandal.

    Imagine admitting that 4 months after Benghazi, you’re still “looking into” who gave the stand down order.

    Imagine having to be defended by Axelrod’s statement, “this government is too big for the president to handle”.

    Hey, Obama, move over and let some else run this government who thinks they can handle it.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 9 Thumb down 15

  9. Peter Hahn says:

    How about the scandal that the Republicans/conservatives are more interested in scandals than they are in governing?

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 9

  10. dave says:

    I think the real “scandal” of our time is the hijacking of the American political process via filibusters and gerrymandering and what it means for democracy and our nations’ progress. Our ability to self govern and solve problems appears to be at stake, and yet I’m unaware of any commissions or hearings or investigations into these things.

    But I recognize that that is a tough and complex issue and not easy to distill down into snippets that are easy to understand and politicize.

    So that in mind, I think the big scandals that are going relatively unreported are some of the things that Elizabeth Warren – and only Elizabeth Warren, it seems – is uncovering about our financial systems and their oversight… or extreme lack of oversight, as it turns out.

    US Banks were found to have been laundering money for drug cartels… over and over through the years… and they were caught doing it, warned not to do it, but kept doing it, and they…. paid a fine. A fine!?

    Or how about his one. The Banks that were directly responsible for the economic collapse, due to dangerous and often illegal practices, were never taken to court and were instead offered sweet heart settlements that did not even include an admission of guilt.

    This is some heavy stuff, and it is really at the core of SO many of the conversations we have on this very blog. We phrase it in terms like, “The North Country’s Economy”, or “Local Jobs”, or “Young People Leaving to Find Work Elsewhere”… but we don’t live in a vacuum. Our country’s economic systems broke down and people like us, we are STILL paying the price for that. Yet the people and institutions who were actually responsible for it, are not. And it turns out our government did, and is doing, nothing about it.

    If that is not a scandal, I don’t know what is.

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  11. Mayflower is spot on. For all the outrage on alleged attacks on the right to bear arms, the relentless assault on the right to vote has passed with not much notice. To use the same logic, why do we need voter ID laws? It will only punish law-abiding citizens. Though Newt’s and Peter Hahn’s are worth noting too.

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  12. Brian Mann says:

    I think it is interesting how the left and the right defend various civil liberties with various amounts of interest and zeal.

    On the right, obviously, 2nd amendment rights, a freedom from unfair scrutiny by the IRS, a lot of upset about airport screeners, the rights of the unborn, deregulation of private enterprise and so on.

    On the left, Gitmo, expansion of police surveillance powers, women’s rights, freedom of speech and press freedom, and consumer protections from corporations are major causes.

    The two do seem to meet on certain issues. Both sides seem increasingly uncomfortable with provisions of the Patriot act, for example,

    But there are also many places where they are in direct conflict in their read of what “freedom” means, voting rights and union organizing being two obvious examples.

    Funny how the fundamental idea is the same — civil liberty and personal freedom — but the interpretations are so bitterly at odds.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  13. PNElba says:

    It’s also ironic that one of the scandals of scandalmaniagate 13 concerns the investigation of possible leaks by the lame stream media.

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  14. newt says:

    Brian, one area where the left and right agreed for a while was the financial bailout. I recall that the first Tea Partyers were outraged at both what they considered government excess, and, like progressives, the sweetheart deals handed by Washington to the banksters. But after a little bit we stopped hearing from the Tea Party about the bailout sellout, only, ever more vehemently, the evils of the government. I wonder why (seriously).

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  15. Mervel says:

    1)The arrest in the US of an anti-Muslim film maker after his film caused riots in the Muslim world.

    The guy had other legal issues, but was only pursued and arrested after his film went out; he was for all practical purposes jailed for speech.

    2) Not one major player in the securities or banking industry prosecuted or investigated for the largest fraud in US history that was a primary cause of the 2008-2012 recession/depression.

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  16. The GOP demands kangaroo courts… I mean… investigations for IRS and Benghazi but is silent on the lies… I mean… “erroneous information” that was used to peddle the aggression against Iraq which caused exponentially more death and carnage.

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  17. Peter Hahn: for their elephant tribe, scandal mongering is far more important than governing. For the donkey tribe, it’s reflexively defending the president. Of course as soon as the elephant tribe gets back the White House, they will flip flop scripts, like they did during the Bush regime. And Greens, Libertarians and others with an ounce of actual principle will continue to be frozen out.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

  18. The Original Larry says:

    What a bore it is to read the same tired, re-heated crap from people who don’t understand the difference between scandal and the idees fixes they hold so dear. Come up with something new before we all fall asleep.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 6 Thumb down 11

  19. dave says:

    Scandal: An action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.

    The scandals mentioned in these comments may not meet the low standards of tabloid political theater, but most of them are in fact scandals… some of them much more so than what is taking up press space right now.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Emerging scandal:
    Republicans Altered Benghazi Emails, CBS News Report Claims

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  21. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I don’t know about everyone else but I’m bored with petty scandals. The game is over, the ultra-wealthy control everything they really care about and the only chance the little people (98% of us) have to set things right is to band together. Ha! Fat chance.

    Everyone who thinks they are going to keep tyranny at bay with their gun or their freedom of speech or their freedom of the press is simply deluded.

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  22. Walker says:

    Yes, when provisions like the “Monsanto Protection Act” can be inserted anonymously at the last minute into major legislation, and passed without most of Congress even knowing its there, then it really is game over– corporations own us lock, stock and barrel.

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  23. JDM says:

    [Off topic]

    What’s with the pink and yellow shading?

    Mervel’s comment, currently at 7 Likes and 2 dislikes is shaded yellow.

    khl’s comment, currently at 7 likes and 3 dislikes is shaded pink.

    Is Obama unfairly targeting blog posts? #newscandal

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  24. hermit thrush says:

    it’s explained right before “Like/Dislike” at the bottom.

    a comment with five more likes than dislikes is considered “Popular” and is shaded yellow.

    if a comment has enough total likes and dislikes (not sure what the threshold is), but #(likes) – #(dislikes) < 4, then it's deemed "Hot debate" is shaded pink.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  25. hermit thrush says:

    sorry, that was supposed to be less than or equal to 4 in the last sentence.

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  26. myown says:

    5 Worst Obama Assaults on Civil Liberties Besides the AP scandal

    Military Quietly Grants Itself the Power to Police the Streets Without Local or State Consent

    Why aren’t Republications outraged at these scandals?
    Wait, why aren’t Democrats?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  27. Ken Hall says:

    It would appear to me that one man’s scandal is another man’s reason for existence. My personal top of the heap scandal is the complacency with which a nearly unanimous majority of, as variously described, humans, homo sapiens, hairless apes, smartest creature in the Universe, man created in “god’s” image, ., ., ., allow, nay aid, in lockstep the destruction of the only refuge we have from the hard vacuum and near absolute zero cold of space; Earth! That this destruction is occurring as the result of one primary forcing function is not only ignored, it is absolutely denied, by virtually every human pairing who bring additional humans into existence, that forcing function is the exponential explosion of the human population.

    Far too many humans on this small planet we call Earth are the forcing functions for:
    1. Global Warming
    2. Worldwide the Sixth Mass Extinction or Holocene extinction event
    3. Worldwide land, sea and air pollution
    4. Worldwide Arable land resource depletion
    5. Worldwide Potable water depletion
    6. Worldwide Mineral resource depletion
    7. Worldwide Plant resource depletion
    8. Worldwide Fish resource depletion
    9. Worldwide Animal resource depletion

    In the 70+ years I have inhabited the Earth the human population has tripled from about 2.3 billion to 7 billion and the Earth continues to be encumbered by humans begetting humans at an ever increasing rate because many/most are convinced that they have the “god” given right to have as many children as they may desire. My take on it is that those humans who believe that way also must believe that they have the “god” given right to believe that stupidity and nonsense are equivalent to rational thought and science.

    Rational thinkers 100’s of years ago recognized that man needed to put the brakes on relative to his propensity to beget and science has been defining the perils of over consumption of the Earth’s resources for nearly as long. These are the centuries long scandals that roll over generational bounds and are so inconvenient to the human concepts of right and wrong that they are perpetually swept under the rugs!

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  28. Hoosier3 says:

    There’s smoke coming from OUR White House. It appears to be an oil leak. The Marxist machine in OUR White House is hemorrhaging oil and is about to blow a head gasket. It’s only a matter of time before the engine blows. Give a Marxist enough rope and eventually he/she will hang themselves. Let this be another history lesson. Anyone claiming they want to fundamentally transform OUR Republic must be eliminated at the polls by “We the People”! FLUSH THE SYSTEM!

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  29. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Thanks for sharing Hoosier!

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  30. Walker says:

    “Anyone claiming they want to fundamentally transform OUR Republic must be eliminated at the polls by ‘We the People’!

    Get a grip, Hoosier. We the People had their chance last November, and they decisively chose to continue the Obama administration. If I had to guess, I think it will be the more radical, obstructionist, Attempt-Obamacare-Repeal-Forty-Times Republicans who We The People will chose to flush in 2014.

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