QUOTATIONS AS SENATOR.
No black and white and Latino America. “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there's the United States of America.” July 27, 2004.
Increasing debt limit ‘weakens us.’ “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. And over the next 5 years, between now and 2011, the President’s budget will increase the debt by almost another $3.5 trillion. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.” March 16, 2006.
Bush’s ‘surge’ won’t help Iraq. “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse. I think it takes pressure off the Iraqis to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that every observer believes is the ultimate solution to the problems we face there. So I am going to actively oppose the president’s proposal.” Jan. 10, 2007.
Five-days before presidential signings. “When there is a bill that ends up on my desk as the president, the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it.” June 22, 2007.
Won’t leave Iraq “precipitously.” “Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously. There are still going to be U.S. forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis.” July 19, 2007.
Ignore genocide after Iraq withdrawal. “Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done.” July 20, 2007, answering if he would change course if U.S. withdrawal from Iraq led to genocide and a bigger war.
Law not subject to whim. “The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example to the world that the law is not subject to the whim of stubborn rulers.” Aug. 1, 2007.
No more spying on Americans. “That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime … No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient.” Aug. 1, 2007.
Health law will be written in the open. “I respect the fact that Senator Clinton and President Clinton attempted in ’93 to get health-care reform passed, but I do think that they did it in the wrong way because it was behind closed doors and it did not enlist the American people in the process.” Jan. 21, 2008.
Average savings on health. “And if you’ve got health care, we’re going to work with your employer to lower your premiums by $2,500 per family per year.” March 14, 2008. Later: “I also have a plan that would save the average family $2,500 on their premiums.” May 3, 2008.
Marriage means a man and a woman. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. For me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union.” April 17, 2008.
Won't use signing statements. “What George Bush has been trying to do as part of his effort to accumulate more power in the presidency is, he’s been saying, well, I can basically change what Congress passed by attaching a letter saying, ‘I don’t agree with this part or I don’t agree with that part. I’m going to choose to interpret it this way or that way.’ That’s not part of his power. I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress.” May 19, 2008.
Cuba policy will be for ‘libertad.’ “My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: ‘libertad.’ The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair. That is my commitment.” May 23, 2008.
Slow the rise of oceans. “If we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.” June 3, 2008, accepting Democratic presidential nomination.
Bring a gun to a knife fight. “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun. Because, from what I understand, folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.” June 13, 2008, in Philadelphia.
Fatherlessness leaves ‘hole in your heart.’ “If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that too many fathers also are, is missing — missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. … You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled — doubled — since we were children. We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it. … We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. … I know the toll that being a single parent took on my mother — how she struggled at times to the pay bills; to give us the things that other kids had; to play all the roles that both parents are supposed to play. And I know the toll it took on me, not having a father in the house, the hole in your heart, when you don’t have a male figure in the home that can guide you and lead you and set a good example for you. So I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle – that if I could do anything in life, I would be a good father to my children; that if I could do anything, I would give them that rock – that foundation – on which to build their lives. And that would be the greatest gift I could offer them.” June 15, 2008.
$4 trillion debt unpatriotic. “The problem is that the way Bush has done it in the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion from the first 42 presidents. No. 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome. So we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back. $30,000 for every man woman and child. That’s irresponsible. That’s unpatriotic.” July 3, 2008.
I’ll leave Iraq ‘carefully.’ “To achieve that success, I will give our military a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war. Let me be clear: we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.” July 14, 2008.
Afghanistan war must be won. “As President, I will make the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.” July 14, 2008.
Iraq surge worked beyond dreams. “The surge has succeeded in ways that nobody had anticipated, by the way, including President Bush and some of its other supporters. It has gone very well. … I’ve already said it’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Sept. 4, 2008.
No more secrecy. “When I am president, meetings where laws are written will be more open to the public. No more secrecy. That’s a commitment I make to you as president. When there is a bill that ends up on my desk as President, you will have five days to look online and find out what's in it before I sign it.” Sept. 22, 2008.
We can’t ignore genocide. “When genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening … and we stand idly by, that diminishes us.” Oct. 7, 2008.
Balance new spending with cuts. “I’m a proponent of pay-as-you-go. Every dollar that I’ve proposed, I’ve proposed an additional cut, so that it matches.” Oct. 15, 2008.
I’m better than my staff. “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” November 2008.
Projects are shovel-ready. “We’ve got shovel-ready projects all across the country that governors and mayors are pleading to fund. And the minute we can get those investments to the state level, jobs are going to be created.” Dec. 15, 2008.
No kicking the debt can. “What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further. We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else’s.” Jan. 15, 2009.
QUOTATIONS AS PRESIDENT.
‘American exceptionalism’ has limits. “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this [NATO] summit [in France] and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that. And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional. Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries.” April 4, 2009.
Keep your health plan. “If you like your private health insurance plan, you keep your plan, period.” Aug. 21, 2009. He made similar statements at least 36 times. More than 1 million Americans lost their plans and had to pay more for a new plan.
You can keep your doctor. “No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.” June 15, 2009.
An IRS audit will teach foes. “President [Michael] Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS.” May 13, 2009, joking about Arizona State University’s refusal to give Obama an honorary doctorate.
Not ‘lie’ that health bill excludes illegals. “There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” Sept. 9, 2009, in an address to Congress on proposed health care reform. The statement prompted U.S. Rep. Addison “Joe” Wilson to shout, “You lie, you lie!” And Obama replied, “That’s not true.”
Law will cut health costs. “Everybody who’s looked at it says that every single good idea to bend the cost curve and start actually reducing health care costs are in this bill…. This is paid for and will not add a dime to the deficit. It will reduce the deficit.” March 20, 2010.
Solyndra for prosperity. “It’s here that companies like Solyndra are leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.” May 26, 2010. A year later, Solyndra, a maker of solar panels, defaulted on its $535 million government loan, laid off 1,100 workers and closed.
U.S. can ‘absorb’ another terror attack. “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.” July 2010.
Republicans take back seat. “We don’t mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they got to sit in back [of the car].” Oct. 25, 2010.
‘Can't drill our way’ out of costly gas. “We can’t just drill our way out of the problem [of rising gasoline prices, which were averaging $3.98 a gallon]. If we’re serious about addressing our energy problems, we’re going to have to do more than drill.” May 6, 2011.
Border fence is complete. “The fence is now basically complete.” May 10, 2011, five years after Congress passed a law to build a double-layer fence. Just 36.3 miles of the 652-mile fence really was complete.
Projects weren’t shovel-ready. “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” June 13, 2011.
Time for Assad to go. “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. … For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Aug. 18, 2011.
Iraq is stable, self-reliant. “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home. This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making.” Dec. 14, 2011, as he announced the withdrawal of the last U.S. combat troops from Iraq.
Same-sex marriage is OK. “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” May 9, 2012.
Red line for Assad. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Aug. 20, 2012.
I ended the Iraq war. “Four years ago I promised to end the war in Iraq. We did.” Sept. 8, 2012.
Mustn’t slander Islam's prophet. “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” Sept. 25, 2012, two weeks after four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. The Obama administration said the Sept. 11, 2012, attack was the unpredictable reaction to a video making fun of Muhammed.
Russia flexibility vow. “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility” to abandon missile defense for eastern Europe, he says to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in remarks accidentally heard over an open microphone, March 26, 2012.
Iraq 2011 pullout wasn’t ‘tragic.’ “FACT: President Obama kept his promise to end the war in Iraq. Romney called the decision to bring our troops home “tragic.” — Barack Obama (@BarackObama)” On Twitter, Oct. 22, 2012.
‘I ended’ the Iraq war. “You know I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I said I’d end the war in Iraq. I ended it.” Nov. 4, 2012.
‘Absurd’ not to raise debt ceiling over $16.4 trillion. “To even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. The issue here is whether America pays its bills.” Jan. 14, 2013, as Congress threatened that, unless the president agreed to a spending reduction plan, it would reject Obama’s proposal to raise the national debt limit above $16.4 trillion. In February 2014, Congress did raise the debt ceiling to $17.2 trillion, and the borrowing and spending continued. In March 2015, the ceiling was raised to $18.1 trillion, allowing even more debt, never paying the government’s bills with a balanced budget. (See the July 3, 2008, quote by Senator Obama.)
‘Peace in our time’ from tolerance and justice. “And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice -- not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.” Jan. 20, 2013.
Cynics accomplish the least. “The cynics may be the loudest voices -- but I promise you, they will accomplish the least.” May 5, 2013.
‘Most transparent administration.’ “This is the most transparent administration in history. I can document that this is the case. Every visitor that comes into the White House is now part of the record. Just about every law that we pass and rule that we implement we put online for everyone to see.” Feb. 14, 2013.
IRS targeting of conservatives ‘inexcusable.’ "I've reviewed the Treasury Department watchdog's report, and the misconduct that it uncovered was inexcusable. It's inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I'm angry about it." May 15, 2013, as he announced the resignation of interim IRS Commissioner Steven Miller.
Inaction on Syria is bad signal. “It’s important for us to recognize that when over 1,000 people are killed, including hundreds of innocent children, through the use of a weapon that 98 or 99 percent of humanity says should not be used even in war, and there is no action, then we’re sending a signal that that international norm doesn’t mean much. And that is a danger to our national security.” Aug. 30, 2013.
Want change? 'Win an election.' "You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don't break it. Don't break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That's not being faithful to what this country's about." Oct. 17, 2013.
Take Mandela seriously. “There are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.” Dec. 10, 2013.
ISIS is JV team. “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” Jan. 4, 2014, dismissing the threat of ISIS, which had just captured Fallujah in Iraq.
Not going to wait for laws. “We are not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help that they need. I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone. And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions.” Jan. 14, 2014.
No IRS corruption. “Not even mass corruption -- not even a smidgen of corruption” in the IRS, which illegally delayed applications of conservative and independent political groups that sought IRS approval. Feb. 2, 2014.
Russia’s Ukraine invasion on ‘wrong side of history.’ “I think the world is largely united in recognizing that the steps Russia has taken are a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Ukraine’s territorial integrity, that they’re a violation of international law. I think the strong condemnation that it has received from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia is on the wrong side of history on this.” March 3, 2014.
ISIS not going to cut off heads in U.S. “They’re not coming here to chop our heads off.” Speaking to Valerie Jarrett in summer 2014, when ISIS was cutting off heads in Syria.
Leaving Iraq in 2011 wasn’t my decision. “What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision.” Aug. 9, 2014, with ISIS holding at least a quarter of Iraq’s territory.
We have to destroy ISIS. “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.” Sept. 10, 2014.
Blame me if Iran gets bomb. “Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” talking about pending Iran nuclear deal. May 21, 2015.
Listen and argue, don’t silence. “I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I’ve got to tell you I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree that when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say. That’s not the way we learn.” Sept. 14, 2015.
Russia needs ‘consequences’ for Ukraine invasion. “We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is violated. If it happens without consequences in Ukraine, it can happen to any nation here today.” Sept. 28, 2015, at the United Nations, six months after Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Left power vacuum in Libya. “Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind.” Sept. 28, 2015.
Syria slaughter is against humanity. “Nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria. When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs -- it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all.” Sept. 28, 2015.
We have contained ISIS. “I don’t think they’re gaining strength. What is true is that from the start, our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them.” Nov. 12, 2015, speaking of ISIS, which the very next day carried out an attack that killed 130 and injured 350 in Paris, France.
We will destroy ISIS. “We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.” Dec. 6, 2015.
Iran won’t get nuclear bomb. “Under the nuclear deal that we, our allies and partners reached with Iran last year, Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb.” Jan. 17, 2016.
Libya failure is Europe’s fault. “I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up. We actually executed this plan as well as I could have expected. … And despite all that, Libya is a mess … a shit show.” Early March 2016.
Need for Middle East smart autocrats. “All I need in the Middle East is a few smart autocrats.” Joking, early March 2016.
U.S. ‘a force for good.’ “For all of our warts, the United States has clearly been a force for good in the world. If you compare us to previous superpowers, we act less on the basis of naked self-interest, and have been interested in establishing norms that benefit everyone. If it is possible to do good at a bearable cost, to save lives, we will do it.” Early March 2016.
Cuba should consider democracy. “Cuba has a one-party system; the United States is a multi-party democracy. Cuba has a socialist economic model; the United States is an open market. Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual. … So let me tell you what I believe. I believe that every person should be equal under the law. Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads. I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. … And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections. Not everybody agrees with me on this. Not everybody agrees with the American people on this. But I believe those human rights are universal. I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people, and people around the world.” March 22, 2016.
Hillary Clinton knows stuff. "She's not always flashy. And there are better speech makers. But she knows her stuff." July 22, 2016.
U.S. elections can’t be rigged. “If whenever things are going badly for you and you lose, you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job [the presidency]. There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s elections.” Oct. 18, 2016
I ‘have not had a major scandal.’ “Here’s a guy who called my administration perhaps the most corrupt in history, despite the fact that actually, we have not had a major scandal in my administration." Oct. 23, 2016, speaking of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who investigated Obama's IRS obstruction against non-Democrats trying to organize politically; the VA's falsified documents covering up how it allowed military veterans to die without care; the coverup of the Democrats' principal role in wrecking the economy with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's unsound home-loan standards; the failure to save four Americans under attack for hours in Benghazi and the dishonesty about the 2012 incident; the State Department's bribe-seeking machine run by Hillary Clinton and the deleted emails to cover that up; the Fast and Furious sting operation that put guns in the hands of Mexican drug dealers; the deceptive way the Affordable Care Act was passed with the false promises that no one would have to switch health plans and that average health insurance prices would fall; the drone strikes that, without legal due process, targeted and killed American Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011 and inadvertently killed six other Americans overseas from 2011 to 2015; the Solyndra Inc. campaign donations that led to a $535 million federal "stimulus" loan for the solar panel company that promptly went bankrupt and laid off its 1,100 workers; the Justice Department's telling a court that Fox News reporter James Rosen was a potential criminal conspirator under the Espionage Act as the FBI spied on Rosen to find out where he got a 2009 story on North Korea; the DOJ's 2013 subpoenas of two months of phone records of 20 Associated Press reporters; and the Justice Department lawyers’ 2015 falsehoods, assuring a federal court that Obama had halted a plan to allow extended benefits to certain illegal immigrants when, in fact, Obama was signing up 108,000 illegal immigrants for those benefits at that time, among other scandals.
Trump’s victory part of ‘zig zag’ of history. “Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country.
“That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That’s what the country needs ― a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other. I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition, and I certainly hope that’s how his presidency has a chance to begin. …
“So this was a long and hard-fought campaign. A lot of our fellow Americans are exultant today. A lot of Americans are less so. But that’s the nature of campaigns. That’s the nature of democracy. It is hard, and sometimes contentious and noisy, and it’s not always inspiring. …
“Sometimes you lose an argument. Sometimes you lose an election. The path that this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag, and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back. And that’s OK. I’ve lost elections before. …
“That’s the way politics works sometimes. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right. And then people vote. And then if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection, we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena. We go at it. We try even harder the next time.
“The point, though, is, is that we all go forward, with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens ― because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world. That’s how we’ve expanded the rights of our founding to reach all of our citizens. It’s how we have come this far.” Nov. 9, 2016.
It wasn’t enough that Fidel Castro’s socialism impoverished and imprisoned Cuba for more than a half century.
It wasn’t enough that Hugo Chavez, Castro’s ally in Venezuela, tried but failed to prop up the Cuban socialist hell and then created a Venezuelan socialist hell.
It wasn’t enough that Castro dismissed his own socialist health-care system when he took ill in 2006 and called in a doctor from Spain to save him.
'Caravan of liberty.' But this weekend, the official socialist Cuban jeep-like vehicle pulling Castro’s ashes broke down in the socialist’s memorial procession.
After a final farewell early in the week at Havana’s Revolutionary Square, the former president’s remains, placed in a small, glass-encased casket, began moving east in a cross-country cortege through towns, cities and listless countryside. The state called it “The Caravan of Liberty,” the same name the guerrillas called the journey they made from Santiago to Havana to topple the Batista regime in 1959.
It didn’t all go well despite the state’s attention to details: at one point, soldiers were forced to push the jeep towing the remains when it broke down, fitting for a country where vehicles creak along.
There’s a pattern to all of this, but socialists never seem to catch on.
No real caravan of liberty is led by a socialist vehicle.
* * *
With the death of Cuba dictator Fidel Castro, his 11 million slaves finally have a chance to claim the freedom that is their right.
Just yesterday, I said I wanted to return to Cuba when it is free. I think that day of liberation is coming soon.
* * *
My Oct. 3, 1999, news article on a visit to Cuba in May of that year:
Leaning against Havana's sea wall on a muggy, moonlit night, a bicycle taxi driver sums up his politics.
"Fidel Castro eats well," the Cuban tells us American visitors in Spanish. "We don't eat well."
The driver is a thin man, about 30 years old. In a nation of pesos, where U.S. dollars buy the best food, almost everyone is thin.
The man's three-wheel vehicle is parked at the curb on the Malecon, the city's promenade along the restless Florida Straits. Dark waters pound the rocks beyond the wall.
"What about the U.S. economic blockade, the bloqueo?" one of us asks. "Isn't that hurting Cuba?"
"Bloqueo, bloqueo, blah, blah, blah," the driver answers. Cuba's problem isn't the blockade, he says. It's Castro, the island's dictator since 1959.
The conversation surprises us, both for the depth of this Cuban's anger and for his readiness to complain about Castro to total strangers.
It is one of many surprises Cuba has for American tourists who, despite U.S. travel restrictions, are visiting the Caribbean island in growing numbers every year.
During this visit in May, I was struck first by the nation's poverty. The average Cuban makes the equivalent of $10 a month. Everything from toilet paper to medicine is in short supply.
Yet I was enchanted by the history and beauty of the land, the classic American cars driving ancient cobbled streets, and the friendliness of the Cuban people. And every step of the way, I was intrigued by the politics of Fidel Castro.
I traveled in a group of eight -- four from California, two from New England, one from Michigan and me from Pennsylvania -- who went to Cuba with Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based travel agency that regularly takes Americans to third-world nations.
We flew in through Cancun, Mexico. U.S. law doesn't allow tourists to fly directly from the United States to Cuba.
In our 10-day tour, we saw the cities of Havana and Matanzas. Our two government-approved guides took us to clinics, museums, schools and agencies of the Communist Party. We also were allowed to look around on our own.
* * *
In Havana, we woke up to roosters crowing among the homes and palm trees around our hotel, the Kohly, just west of the Almendares River. Then we took a tour bus eastward into the light traffic of Central Havana.
We passed smoke-belching motorcycles, Cameo buses packed full of commuters and compact cars made in the former Soviet Union. The Chevys, Dodges and Pontiacs of the 1950s were rolling along, too. They accounted for about one-fifth of the traffic and nine-tenths of the chrome.
In Old Havana, we strolled the narrow Spanish Colonial streets. Here was a treasure of handsome buildings, many with iron balconies, colorful awnings and terra-cotta roofs. Graceful as they were, most of the structures were in desperate need of a coat of paint.
At Cathedral Square, we found the Catedral de Habana. Crowds filed in to admire its baroque swirls, massive doors and two bell towers, one famously thinner and taller than its pair. On the other side of the plaza, a guitarist and a violinist played "Guantanamera." They played it all day, every day.
Around the corner, we stopped at O'Reilly's tavern, where we debated NATO involvement in Kosovo.
Joseph Mutti, our British-born tour guide, declared that Yugoslavia never engaged in ethnic cleansing. The Kosovo Liberation Army, not the Serbs, started the killing, he said.
Mutti had moved to Havana a year earlier for what he called "political reasons." The Cuban government hired him to be an English-language news reporter on Radio Havana, from which he now broadcast the anti-NATO viewpoint.
To most of us, Mutti's position seemed extreme. "What about the mass graves?" we asked. "You don't know there are mass graves," he said.
"What about the Serb army raping Kosovar women?" "All armies rape," he said.
The argument was fueled by our mojitos, the mixed rum drinks that were a favorite of former Cuban resident Ernest Hemingway.
No topic was off limits during our tour, but occasionally we held our tongues.
At dinner, Mutti commented on the four Cuban dissidents who were sentenced March 15 to 3-1/2 to 5 years in prison. The members of the Internal Dissident Working Group had disputed the Cuban Communist Party's version of history and called for free elections.
"I agree with jailing them," Mutti said, "but not for such long sentences." He said the timing of their trial was bad, just before a meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. On April 23, the commission voted to demand an end to human rights abuses in Cuba.
None of us said anything to challenge Mutti's support for jailing democrats. Instead, we told ourselves we were in Cuba to listen, or we were trying to be polite, or perhaps we were thinking about where those dissidents went.
Mutti assured us that, after Castro leaves power, "Nothing will change; the Revolution has been built over 40 years." I doubt any of us believed him, but again we were silent.
On the porch of a Havana mansion owned long ago by a sugar millionaire, we met with Eduardo, a retired Communist economist who didn't give his last name. Eduardo said Castro has given tourism the highest priority since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Tourism has advantages. We can sell Cuban products without them ever leaving the country," he said. Already, tourism is Cuba's top industry, he told us. It brings in $2 billion a year -- far more cash than sugar, tobacco or nickel.
Cuba has had international aid to develop its tourism. Last year, Canada built the sprawling, modern Jose Marti Airport in Havana. Other foreign investors are lining up to build ocean-front hotels.
Eduardo noted that, in each of these deals, Cuban laborers must do the actual construction. The investors pay the Cuban government in dollars, and the Cuban government pays the laborers in pesos. Of course, the workers would rather have U.S. currency.
Cubans have been allowed to accept dollars since Castro legalized their circulation in 1993, but in most homes the coveted greenbacks remain scarce. Tourists are the only regular source of dollars -- as we could tell.
Everywhere we went, Cubans encouraged us to spend. What for us seemed a few dollars here and there for a meal, a ride, a trinket or a tip could amount quickly to several months' pay in Cuba. And some enterprising Cubans were making small fortunes.
Virginia Kohfeld of Santa Monica, Calif., asked Mutti whether Cuba's emphasis on tourism is creating two classes of Cubans, the rich and the poor. She saw similarities to the conditions that brought down former dictator Fulgencio Batista.
"Isn't it like Batista, when Cuba became the playground for the rich? Why wouldn't there be another revolution?" she questioned.
The situation is completely different, Mutti insisted. The Cuban people understand why their government is trying to attract dollars. Tourism helps pay for the free health care and free education so popular in Cuba.
Mutti denied that Cuba enforces a "tourism apartheid," keeping average Cubans away from the hotels and beaches where foreign tourists frolic. But official policy or not, most Cubans don't use those hotels and beaches. They simply can't afford them.
* * *
The divide between tourists and Cubans became starkly clear the night of May 3, when the Cuban national baseball team played the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore.
Kohfeld, her husband, Jim, and I went to the Casa Che, a Havana boardinghouse, to join about 10 Cubans watching the game on television. With them, we enjoyed some beisbol heroics, then headed back to our hotel.
The game was still going as we walked in the dark. Through open windows and doorways along the streets, we could see the families of Havana huddled around their TV sets. From the nearby high-rises, we heard the happy voice of the Cuban play-by-play announcer.
Then we heard the distant thump-thump-thump of music. The beat grew louder as we continued on. Finally, we discovered that the offensively loud music was coming from the walled-off outdoor dance area at our own hotel.
It was Cher's recent hit song, "Believe."
All of Havana was watching the game. The Kohly Hotel was blaring Cher for tourists.
* * *
The Cubans were so friendly I began to imagine I could speak Spanish. Even away from our translators, it was never difficult to communicate.
One Havana family invited me to their apartment for a cup of black Cuban coffee. We were strangers, and yet we managed a wonderful conversation. I knew some Spanish verbs. That helped.
In fact, Cubans have many things in common with Americans. With its eternal summer, Cuba has baseball all year. On TV, they watch American movies with subtitles.
The children are well aware of U.S. culture. Many wore T-shirts of "The Simpsons" and the Los Angeles Lakers. At the Corynthia Elementary School in Matanzas, a girl dressed as Princess Jasmine and a boy as Aladdin sang a Spanish-language version of the Disney song "A Whole New World" for us.
* * *
In Matanzas, we saw some of Cuba's strengths and shortcomings up close. This city 50 miles east of Havana had doctors and dancers aplenty, but some basics of modern life seemed scarce.
While the city had an abundance, perhaps a surplus, of physicians, the healers we met had few supplies to work with. At a neighborhood emergency clinic, the doctors told us they had a severe shortage of antibiotics, high blood pressure medicine and birth-control pills. They also had aging X-ray equipment and little X-ray film.
But the doctors said they live in the neighborhoods they serve. They seemed to have a good rapport with their patients.
At a clinic for alternative medicine, magnets seemed the treatment of choice.
In one room, a doctor showed us two women lying on tables. One woman had a metal device the size of a toaster on her chest. The other had a similar device on her lower back. The magnets relieve pain, the doctor explained. In a hallway, lunchbox-size magnetic arches sat on the floor. On one, an elderly woman rested her aching feet.
The clinic also offered sonic therapy, light therapy, mud therapy, herbs, tai chi, nutrition counseling and psychological counseling.
At Matanzas' Teatro Sauto, we enjoyed excellent ballet in a sweltering hall. The 19th century theater had no air conditioning, at least none that worked. And there wasn't a single electric fan anywhere.
For us tourists, the performance cost $6 a seat. The Cubans paid 2 pesos, about 10 cents. The sticky heat was free.
But the theater itself was a work of magic -- its gilded ceiling decorated with images of the nine Greek muses, its stage high and deep, its acoustics quite fine. One look at the Cuban women flapping fancy hand fans in the balconies, and we were transported back 100 years.
The dancers, all local, were marvelously well-trained, and the crowd seemed to have a sophisticated appreciation of their performance.
At intermission, I went to the men's room. I discovered that public toilets in Cuba have neither toilet seats nor toilet paper. Guests are expected to carry their own stash of tissue.
Despite the ubiquitous billboards declaring "Viva La Revolucion" and "Patria O Muerte" (Our Country or Death), the Cubans we met were short on fervor for Castro's political and economic system.
Officials at the Union of Artists and Writers told us that Cuban artists expressed affection for the Revolution in the early years, but they've avoided the subject lately. Now artists talk more about themselves and the problems of the individual.
At the Young Communists League, a woman described how League members come up with new inspirational slogans every year. The organization seemed out of its era. Castro is 73, and the Revolution is old and tired.
For their part, the Cuban people are generally optimistic. At times, they grumble. The Havana bicycle taxi driver wasn't the only malcontent we heard. But most Cubans look forward to something better. Many study English.
In the Cuevos de Bellamar, caverns just outside Matanzas, Jesus, the cave guide, told us he learned English by listening to "American Top 40" radio announcer Casey Kasem, beamed in from Miami.
Jesus even quoted Kasem's motto: "Keep your feet on the ground, and reach for the stars!" The words echoed off the stalactites and stalagmites.
That was the ultimate in optimism -- a man in a cave speaking so hopefully of stars.
* * *
On one of our last mornings in Havana, we visited the National Museum of the Literacy Campaign. Dumpy and inconspicuous, it looks more like a convenience store than a national museum. But more than any other place we went, this little building revealed the heart, soul and musty dreams of the Cuban Revolution.
Its pamphlets, records, uniforms and thank-you letters tell the story of youngsters in 1961 traveling to remote mountains and valleys to teach farmers how to read and write. To Castro's opponents, these young tutors represented the enemy, and some were murdered, martyrs to the Revolution.
One of the slain teachers was a young man named Manuel Ascunce Domenech, a distant relative of our Cuban guide, Alberto Domenech. Manuel's picture appears in at least three prominent places in the museum.
Our tour bus driver, Francisco, was one of the thousands tutored during the literacy campaign. When a museum official heard this, he dug up an old record book, and Francisco proudly showed us, on a page that certified he could read, a 1961 photo of him as a 16-year-old.
Cubans still argue about how much of their population was literate before Castro's reign. Communists and dissidents have widely differing statistics on the number of Cubans Castro's teachers taught.
Whatever the true number, the Literacy Museum reflects the idealism and great expectations of so many Cubans two years after Batista fell.
The exhibits remind visitors of an inspired time, a time when Castro himself called for free elections. And 40 years into his dictatorship, the aging artifacts invite the question: What have you done for Cubans lately?
* * *
See also: "Castro and the magic billboard."
The Carmike movie theater chain is canceling its showings of the "The Interview," after defenders of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un hacked into Sony's computers and objected to the movie's insults of Kim and its fictional depiction of Kim's assassination.
Then, as threats were reported and investigators confirmed that North Korea is behind the Sony hacking, Sony canceled showing the movie at any theater, which was supposed to open Christmas Day.
The turn of events shows just how daring Charlie Chaplin was with "The Great Dictator" in 1940. How often do we see a motion picture mocking a living dictator?
President Barack Obama said at Fort Bragg on Dec. 14, 2011, that the United States was “leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.”
Today, I’ve come to speak to you about the end of the war in Iraq. Over the last few months, the final work of leaving Iraq has been done. Dozens of bases with American names that housed thousands of American troops have been closed down or turned over to the Iraqis. Thousands of tons of equipment have been packed up and shipped out.Tomorrow, the colors of United States Forces-Iraq -- the colors you fought under -- will be formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad. Then they’ll begin their journey across an ocean, back home. Over the last three years, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq. And over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of that country.Some of them are on their way back to Fort Bragg. As General Helmick said, “They know that the last tactical road march out of Iraq will be a symbol, and they’re going to be a part of history.” As your Commander-in-Chief, I can tell you that it will indeed be a part of history. Those last American troops will move south on desert sands, and then they will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high.One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end. Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people. America’s war in Iraq will be over. AUDIENCE: Hooah!THE PRESIDENT: Now, we knew this day would come. We’ve known it for some time. But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long. Now, nine years ago, American troops were preparing to deploy to the Persian Gulf and the possibility that they would be sent to war. Many of you were in grade school. I was a state senator. Many of the leaders now governing Iraq -- including the Prime Minister -- were living in exile.And since then, our efforts in Iraq have taken many twists and turns. It was a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate. But there was one constant -- there was one constant: your patriotism, your commitment to fulfill your mission, your abiding commitment to one another. That was constant. That did not change. That did not waiver.It’s harder to end a war than begin one. Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq -– all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering -– all of it has led to this moment of success.Now, Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home. This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making.And today, we remember everything that you did to make it possible. We remember the early days -– the American units that streaked across the sands and skies of Iraq; the battles from Karbala to Baghdad, American troops breaking the back of a brutal dictator in less than a month. We remember the grind of the insurgency -– the roadside bombs, the sniper fire, the suicide attacks. From the “triangle of death” to the fight for Ramadi; from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south -– your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it.We remember the specter of sectarian violence -– al Qaeda’s attacks on mosques and pilgrims, militias that carried out campaigns of intimidation and campaigns of assassination.And in the face of ancient divisions, you stood firm to help those Iraqis who put their faith in the future. We remember the surge and we remember the Awakening -– when the abyss of chaos turned toward the promise of reconciliation. By battling and building block by block in Baghdad, by bringing tribes into the fold and partnering with the Iraqi army and police, you helped turn the tide toward peace.And we remember the end of our combat mission and the emergence of a new dawn -– the precision of our efforts against al Qaeda in Iraq, the professionalism of the training of Iraqi security forces, and the steady drawdown of our forces. In handing over responsibility to the Iraqis, you preserved the gains of the last four years and made this day possible. Just last month, some of you -- members of the Falcon Brigade --AUDIENCE: Hooah!THE PRESIDENT: -- turned over the Anbar Operations Center to the Iraqis in the type of ceremony that has become commonplace over these last several months. In an area that was once the heart of the insurgency, a combination of fighting and training, politics and partnership brought the promise of peace.And here’s what the local Iraqi deputy governor said: “This is all because of the U.S. forces’ hard work and sacrifice.” That’s in the words of an Iraqi.Hard work and sacrifice. Those words only begin to describe the costs of this war and the courage of the men and women who fought it. We know too well the heavy cost of this war. More than 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq -- 1.5 million. Over 30,000 Americans have been wounded, and those are only the wounds that show. Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice -- including 202 fallen heroes from here at Fort Bragg -- 202. So today, we pause to say a prayer for all those families who have lost their loved ones, for they are part of our broader American family. We grieve with them.We also know that these numbers don’t tell the full story of the Iraq war -– not even close. Our civilians have represented our country with skill and bravery. Our troops have served tour after tour of duty, with precious little dwell time in between. Our Guard and Reserve units stepped up with unprecedented service. You’ve endured dangerous foot patrols and you’ve endured the pain of seeing your friends and comrades fall.You’ve had to be more than soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen –- you’ve also had to be diplomats and development workers and trainers and peacemakers.Through all this, you have shown why the United States military is the finest fighting force in the history of the world.
Today, the U.S.-Iraq partnership looks like the U.S.-South Vietnam partnership of 1974 or the U.S.-Rwanda partnership of 1994. We're looking the other way.
You don't just unilaterally declare an end of a war. The forces of freedom have to back each victory by continuing to stand up against the tyrants and terrorists.
When Chinese art students designed the Goddess of Democracy for Tiananmen Square back in 1989, they said they wanted her to look different from the Statue of Liberty. They wanted the statue to represent China, not America.
France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1886 to recognize America’s place as a beacon of freedom to the world. One hundred and three years later, obviously, even the Chinese didn’t see China as a champion of liberty. Their Goddess had to say something else.
In New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty looks to the east, her right hand holding the torch of enlightenment high over her head. The flame is far from her eyes, and yet she knows what she carries -- freedom -- and she’s telling the world of its protective, creative and healing power. She is stepping ahead, crushing shackles in her path.
In tyranny’s face. In Tiananmen Square, the Goddess of Democracy faced north. She clasped her torch in two hands, not one. She held it out slightly forward, just above eye level and to her right. Her eyes looked ahead, the flame not far from her line of vision. Like the Statue of Liberty, the Goddess stepped forward.
In Beijing, perhaps accidentally, the Goddess of Democracy faced the traditional photograph of Mao Zedong on the Tiananmen Gate. It was as if freedom were confronting the tyrant. The Goddess held out the light of liberty as if to say, “Behold what we have been denied these many centuries.”
The Statue of Liberty celebrates the freedom the United States already has. The Goddess of Democracy celebrated freedom only as an ideal, a right yet to be claimed.
A lasting message. Today, the Goddess of Democracy has been gone from Tiananmen Square exactly 25 years. Yet the symbol represents the same ideal. All over the world, replicas of the original statue honor China’s most courageous democrats of June 4, 1989.
When she returns in grand form to a permanent place in Beijing, the Goddess of Democracy will say something different from what she said in 1989.
Towering above the Tiananmen Gate, that future Goddess will say, “We have our freedom at last, and we will never let it out of our sight. Until the end of time, each one of us will hold on to our liberty with both hands.”
* * *
This was first posted June 4, 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Serious journalists are going after the rampant corruption at the IRS. I look at CNN as the round-the-clock IRS Scandal Network but, funny, they always have breaking news to interrupt.
In Brussels, Belgium, yesterday, President Obama explained the clear distinction between the U.S. invasion of Iraq, to free a nation of 25 million from a totalitarian dictatorship, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea, to annex land and 2.5 million people into Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship.
Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true that the Iraq War was a subject of vigorous debate not just around the world, but in the United States as well. I participated in that debate and I opposed our military intervention there. But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people and a fully sovereign Iraqi state that could make decisions about its own future.
It is true that Crimea voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine, but secession is illegal in every nation without approval of the legislature, or, in dictatorships like Russia, without approval of the dictator.
It’s too late now to reverse the annexation of Crimea. The West’s complacent fantasies made it easy for Putin to get away with this international crime. The saddest part is, for the adult population of Crimea, that referendum probably was the last time they’ll ever see an election that gives them more than one option.
[From] Inspector General for Tax Administration
Department of the Treasury
Washington, D.C. 20005
June 26, 2013
[To] The Honorable Sander M. Levin
Committee on Ways and Means
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515-6348
Dear Representative Levin:
This letter is in response to letters dated June 24, 2013 and June 26, 2013 regarding our recent audit report entitled "Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review." We appreciate the opportunity to clarify our recent report in response to your questions.
TIGTA’s audit report focused on criteria being used by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) during the period of May 2010 through May 2012 regarding allegations that certain groups applying for tax-exempt status were being targeted. We reviewed all cases that the IRS identified as potential political cases and did not limit our audit to allegations related to the Tea Party. TIGTA concluded that inappropriate criteria were used to identify potential political cases for extra scrutiny - specifically, the criteria listed in our audit report. From our audit work, we did not find evidence that the criteria you identified, labeled "Progressives," were used by the IRS to select potential political cases during the 2010 to 2012 timeframe we audited. The "Progressives" criteria appeared on a section of the "Be On the Look Out" (BOLO) spreadsheet labeled "Historical," and, unlike other BOLO entries, did not include instructions on how to refer cases that met the criteria. While we have multiple sources of information corroborating the use of Tea Party and other related criteria we described in our report, including employee interviews, e-mails, and other documents, we found no indication in any of these other materials that "Progressives" was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention.
Based on the information you flagged regarding the existence of a "Progressives" entry on BOLO lists, TIGTA performed additional research which determined that six tax-exempt applications filed between May 2010 and May 2012 having the words "progress" or "progressive" in their names were included in the 298 cases the IRS identified as potential political cases. We also determined that 14 tax-exempt applications filed between May 2010 and May 2012 using the words "progress" or "progressive" in their names were not referred for added scrutiny as potential political cases. In total, 30 percent of the organizations we identified with the words "progress" or "progressive" in their names were processed as potential political cases. In comparison, our audit found that 100 percent of the tax-exempt applications with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were processed as potential political cases during the timeframe of our audit.
The following addresses the specific questions presented in your June 24, 2013 letter:
• Please describe in detail why your report dated May 14, 2013 omitted the fact that "Progressives" was used.
Our audit did not find evidence that the IRS used the "Progressives" identifier as selection criteria for potential political cases between May 2010 and May 2012. The focus of our audit was on whether the IRS: 1) targeted specific groups applying for tax-exempt status, 2) delayed processing of targeted groups' applications, and 3) requested unnecessary information from targeted groups. We determined the IRS developed and used inappropriate criteria to identify applications from organizations with the words Tea Party in their names. In addition, we found other inappropriate criteria that were used (e.g., 9/12, Patriots) to select potential political cases that were not included in any BOLO listings. The inappropriate criteria used to select potential political cases for review did not include the term "Progressives."
The term "Progressives" appears, beginning in August 2010, in a separate section of the BOLO listings that was labeled "TAG [Touch and Go] Historical" or "Potential Abusive Historical." The Touch and Go group within the Exempt Organizations function Determinations Unit is a different group of specialists than the team of specialists that was processing potential political cases related to the allegations we audited.
• Did you investigate whether the criteria "Progressives" in the BOLO lists was developed in the same manner as you did for "Tea Party"? If not, why?
TIGTA did not audit how the criteria for the "Progressives" identifier were developed in the BOLO listings. We did not audit these criteria because it appeared in a separate section of the BOLO listings labeled as "Historical" (as described above) and we did not have indications or other evidence that it was in use for selecting potential political cases from May 2010 to May 2012.
• Please also explain why footnote 16 on page 6 was included in the audit report.
Footnote 16 was included in our report because TIGTA was aware of other named organizations being on BOLO listings that were not used for selecting cases related to political campaign intervention. TIGTA added this footnote to disclose that we did not audit whether the use of the other named organizations was appropriate. Following the publication of our audit report, we communicated information regarding other names on the BOLO listings to Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel, and, to the extent authorized by Title 26 U.S.C. § 6103, the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Ways and Means.
• If your organization overlooked the existence of the "Progressives" identifier, please describe in detail the process by which your organization investigated the BOLO lists created and circulated by the EO Determinations Unit.
As part of our audit, we reviewed the section of the BOLO listings that related to the specific criteria that the IRS stated were used to identify potential political cases for additional scrutiny. TIGTA also found that certain criteria (e.g., Patriots, 9/12, education of the public by advocacy/lobbying to "make America a better place to live," etc.) used to select potential political cases were not in any BOLO listings.
• Your report states that TIGTA "reviewed all 298 applications that had been identified as potential political cases as of May 31, 2012." (See page 10 of your report.) Your report includes the following breakdown of the potential political cases by organization name: (1) 96 were "Tea Party," "9/12," or "Patriots" organizations; and (2) 202 were "Other." Why did your report not identify that liberal organizations were also included among the 298 applications you reviewed?
TIGTA did not make any characterizations of any organizations in its audit report as conservative or liberal and believes it would be inappropriate for a nonpartisan Inspector General to make such judgments. Instead, our audit focused on the testing of 296 of the 298 potential political cases (two case files were incomplete) to determine if they were selected using the actual criteria that should have been used by the IRS from the beginning to screen potential political cases. Those criteria were whether the specific applications had indications of significant amounts of political campaign intervention (a term used in Treasury's Regulations). For 69 percent of the 296 cases, TIGTA found that there were indications of significant political campaign intervention, while 31 percent of the cases did not have that evidence. We also reviewed samples of 501 (c)(4) cases that were not identified as potential political cases to determine if they should have been. We estimate that more than 175 applications were not appropriately identified as potential political cases.
TIGTA’s audit report determined that certain cases were referred for potential political review because their names used terms in the IRS selection criteria. We could not tell why other organizations were selected for additional scrutiny because the IRS did not document specifically why the cases were forwarded to a team of specialists. TIGTA recommended that the IRS do so in the future.
• Why did your testimony before the Committee on Ways and Means, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee not include a discussion of this aspect of the 298 applications?
When I testified, I attempted to convey that our report did not characterize organizations as conservative or liberal and I believe it would be inappropriate for a nonpartisan Inspector General to make such judgments.
• In the course of your audit, what did you discover about the processing of cases with the "Progressives" identifier? Were the cases processed in the same manner as the cases with the "Tea Party" and associated terms identifiers? Or were they processed differently?
TIGTA's audit did not review how TAG Historical cases (including the "Progressives" identifier) were processed because we did not find evidence that the IRS used the TAG Historical section of the BOLO listings as selection criteria for potential political cases between May 2010 and May 2012.
• If you are now auditing or investigating the processing of tax-exemption applications with the "Progressives" identifier, please provide the date that you started the audit or investigation and documentation to support this assertion. We also would like to know if you have briefed and alerted anyone at the IRS or Department of Treasury of such audit or investigation.
TIGTA’s Office of Audit made a referral to our Office of Investigations on May 28, 2013 stating that our recently issued audit report noted the use of other named organizations on the BOLO listings that were not related to potential political cases reviewed as part of our audit. TIGTA's Office of Audit requested the Office of Investigations investigate to determine: 1) whether cases meeting the criteria on the "watch list" [a particular section of the BOLO listings] were routed for any additional or specialized review, or were simply referred to the same group for coordinated processing; 2) how many (if any) applications were affected by use of these criteria; 3) who was responsible for the inclusion of these criteria on the BOLO lists; and 4) whether these criteria were added to the BOLO for an improper purpose.
TIGTA also discussed the BOLO listings with the Acting Commissioner of the IRS on May 28, 2013, and expressed our concerns and the importance of the IRS following up on this matter. We notified the Acting Commissioner of our review of this matter on that date. In addition, I informed the Department of the Treasury's Chief of Staff and General Counsel about this matter.
Pursuant to authorization under Title 26 U.S.C. § 6103, we also provided these BOLO listings to House Ways and Means Committee Majority staff and the Senate Finance Committee Majority and Minority staff on June 7, 2013. We spoke to staff from House Ways and Means Committee Majority staff on the BOLOs on June 6 and June 11, 2013, and Senate Finance Committee Majority and Minority staff on June 10, 2013. We informed the staff we met with of our ongoing review of this matter.
Because of Privacy Act and Title 26 U.S.C. § 6103 restrictions, TIGTA cannot comment specifically on the status of any ongoing investigation. TIGTA will continue its efforts to provide independent oversight of IRS activities and accomplish its statutory mission through audits, inspections and evaluations, and investigations of criminal and administrative misconduct.
In your June 26, 2013 letter, you raised concerns about statements attributed to TIGTA sources by members of the media. Many of the press reports are not accurate. Please rely on our statements in this letter, my testimony, and our published materials for an accurate portrayal of our position.
We hope this information is helpful. If you or your staff has any questions, please contact me at 202-622-6500 or Acting Deputy Inspector General for Audit Michael E. McKenney at 202-622-5916.
J. Russell George
* * *
Rep. Dave Camp puts his April 9 referral letter in perspective:
Today [April 9, 2014], House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) announced that the Committee, acting under its authority granted in Sec. 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, voted out a criminal referral letter to Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorney General Eric Holder regarding actions taken by IRS employee Lois Lerner. Chairman Camp, in sending the letter on behalf of the Committee, urged Holder to take a serious review of the evidence uncovered through the Committee’s investigation to determine whether Lerner violated criminal statutes.
The Committee uncovered three specific acts undertaken by Lerner that may have violated one or more criminal statutes documented in the letter:
If convicted of these crimes, Lerner could face up to 11 years in prison.
Upon releasing the letter, Chairman Camp stated, “This investigation has uncovered serious, unprecedented actions taken by Lois Lerner that deprived conservative groups of their rights under the Constitution. Almost a year ago we learned that the IRS subjected certain groups to extra scrutiny because of their political beliefs. At the time, Lois Lerner shamefully attempted to blame the mistreatment on low-level employees in Cincinnati. The investigation to date has demonstrated that the targeting did not happen until IRS headquarters in D.C. intervened. Today’s action highlights specific wrongdoing for the Department of Justice to pursue. DOJ has a responsibility to act, and Lois Lerner must be held accountable. It is also important that the American people know what really occurred at the IRS, so this powerful agency cannot target American taxpayers ever again.”
The Internal Revenue Code explicitly provides a procedure for the House Ways and Means Committee to release taxpayer information to the House under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code. The letter to DOJ was marked up by the Committee in closed executive session. Upon approval of the letter, it was then made public to the House.
The letter to DOJ can be read here.
Timeline of Lois Lerner’s Targeting of Conservatives
January 21, 2010:
Citizen’s United Ruling : Supreme Court issues ruling in Citizens United case, which would lead to an active campaign by Democrats against conservative groups – a campaign Lerner was well aware of and reacted to.
January 27, 2010:
President Obama Goes on the Attack : In his State of the Union address, President Obama states: “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.”
IRS Targeting Begins : According to TIGTA, the IRS’s Determinations Unit “began searching for other requests for exemption involving the Tea Party, Patriots, 9/12 and IRC § 501(c)(4) applications involving political sounding names, e.g., 'We the People' or
'Take Back the Country.'"
September 26, 2010:
White House Steps Up Attacks: David Axelrod, then-senior advisor to President Obama, referred to Crossroads GPS and similar groups as “front groups for special interests. These are front groups for foreign-controlled companies, which would have been banned under the bill that we put through Congress, and they don't want the American people to know, and the American people ought to be alert to that."
October 12, 2010:
Democrat Leaders Join Attack: Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin urges the IRS to investigate the tax status of Crossroads GPS and “other orgs” – though no other organizations were named.
October 19, 2010:
Lerner on Alert: Speaking to students at Duke University, Lois Lerner states that 501(c)(4) organizations were spending money on campaign activity in the wake of the Citizens United decision and claimed, “[E]verybody is screaming at us, ‘fix it now before the election….”
Lerner Calls Conservatives “Dangerous,” Start to Take Control: Lois Lerner sends email to IRS employees “Tea Party Matter very dangerous ….Cincy should probably NOT have these cases.”
March 24, 2011:
Democrats Step Up Attacks : DCCC launches website to “expose donors of Crossroads GPS.”
June 3, 2011:
Congressional Inquiries Begin: Chairman Camp sends letter to Commissioner Shulman inquiring about IRS targeting of taxpayers who donated money to conservative groups, as well as information regarding audits of 501(c)(4) organizations.
June 19, 2012:
White House Continues to Attack: President Obama’s lawyer demands that Crossroads GPS disclose its donors, saying in a complaint to the Federal Election Commission that the group is plainly a “political committee” subject to federal reporting requirements.
February 1, 2012:
Democrats Continue to Attack : National Public Radio reports that Senate Democrats, led by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), want to investigate groups such as Crossroads GPS.
July 10, 2012:
Lerner’s Mindset Revealed : Lois Lerner, in response to a story sent to her regarding the complaint to the FEC against Crossroads GPS replies “Perhaps the FEC will save the day.”
July 17, 2012:
Lerner Starts to Prepare Cover Story : Lerner sent an email to Holly Paz and Nikole Flax offering comments on a talking point that referred to an “uptick in political advocacy cases,” drafted for then-Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement Steve Miller. However, Lerner admits that, “I know we don't have published SOI stats” to support such a claim." [See letter to DOJ]
July 27, 2012:
Democrats Attack, Again : Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) sends another letter to the IRS regarding Crossroads GPS and others, seeking a probe and status.
December 14, 2012:
IRS Leaks : Crossroads GPS’s application is leaked to ProPublica, though the tax-exempt status of the group had not been determined, a violation of federal law.
November 2, 2012:
Lerner Misleads TIGTA : Lerner sends misleading response to TIGTA investigatory audit questionnaire. [See letter to DOJ]
January 4, 2013:
Lerner Leaps Into Action : Lerner organizes a meeting with Democracy 21 and also with the Office of Chief Counsel and the Office of Tax Policy at the Department of the Treasury for January 4. This begins a series of specific actions by Lerner that targets only conservative groups. [See letter to DOJ]
January 4, 2013:
Lerner Pressures Review Committee : Lerner inquires to the status of Crossroads, and finds that the group had not been selected for audit. She subsequently sent an email to the Director of Examinations in Dallas, TX, Nanette Downing, demanding to know why the group had not yet been audited. In her email to Downing, she notes that she wants all moves regarding Crossroads to be coordinated in DC. [See letter to DOJ]
January 24, 2013:
Lerner Ponders Job for Obama Organization : In response to a news story about the formation of the President’s Organizing For Action, a 501(c)(4), Lerner remarked to EO Senior Technical Advisor Sharon Light, “Oh—maybe I can get the DC office job!” [See letter to DOJ]
January 31, 2013:
Lerner Attempts to Influence Independent Appeals Process : In an email to the Chief of IRS Appeals, Chris Wagner, Lerner offers unsolicited advice on the independent appeals process notwithstanding a prohibition against such contact. [See letter to DOJ]
May 10, 2013:
Lerner Misleads Public : At an American Bar Association function, Lois Lerner, director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, publicly apologizes for what she claimed were inappropriate actions by the Cincinnati office of the IRS to subject conservative groups to extra scrutiny.