President Obama attacked the pursuit of "phony scandals" as distracting the nation. When pressed for how the IRS scandal is "phony," when it is clear that the IRS was wasting tax dollars asking illegal questions of many groups, such that Obama himself said this was a major problem that needed to be fixed, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said this weekend that the phony part was trying to claim that top political officials were influencing the IRS malfeasance. But the overwhelming majority of work by Congress on the issue is just trying to uncover the facts, facts which have been protected by Obama's own people pleading the Fifth.
Calling it a phony scandal because a tiny minority of people and effort is spent on political office motivations for the scandal is nonsense, designed to fool people who don't know better into thinking the whole thing is phony, while retaining "plausible" (in the minds of the media, anyway) deniability that he is saying what he said.
Also this weekend, and along similar lines, Lew was talking about the great progress we've made in cutting the deficit. In response to interviewer Chris Wallace's question about how the President can work with Republicans on spending money on more programs while the Republicans still think we have a deficit problem, Lew said: "Chris, I think that if you look at where we are today, you have to realize we're not where we were in 2011. We've actually worked together, it's been a messy process, but we've worked together and we've reduced the deficit considerably. In the Budget Control Act, we reduced the deficit on the discretionary spending side. This year, at the beginning of the year, we enacted some tax legislation that raised the tax rate of the very top for the highest income."
Note that the cited Budget Control Act was what implemented sequestration. His point was that the two sides have both worked to accomplish the goal of deficit reduction, and even though it wasn't the best way to do it, it got done, and they should move on and start spending money again.
Lew later in the interview said, regarding the exact same Budget Control Act: "The surprising thing is, that, you know, a couple of years after, everyone agreed this was bad policy, there are people who are now claiming credit for things that were designed to be bad policy and senseless across the board cuts. That's truly surprising."
Yeah. That just happened. Lew claimed credit for making progress on cutting the deficit with the BCA, and then said it is surprising that anyone is taking credit for the BCA.
Shifting gears slightly, Glenn Greenwald, the sworn sword of Edward Snowden, attacked the intelligence establishment again, in reference to the response to Snowden's claim that "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email." The establishment called it a lie, and Greenwald says, no, it is true, because, "all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it ... searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored ... with no need to go to a court. ... There are legal constraints for how you can spy on Americans. You can't target them without going to the FISA court, but these systems allow analysts to listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft Word documents."
So what Greenwald is saying is that, in fact, Snowden did not have the authority he claimed. He had the ability, he had the power, he had the capability, but he did not have the authority. And Greenwald, a lawyer, knows the difference between authority and capability, and even used the word properly elsewhere in the interview ("the NSA has exceeded even the legal authority that it acknowledges it has").
I am not saying the intelligence officials aren't lying. We know they have lied, and it seems that they have claimed that Snowden did not have such "capability," which by Greenwald's reporting is false. Indeed, Senator Chambliss remarkably said, "... I have been assured ... that there is no capability at NSA for anyone without a court order to listen to any telephone conversation or to monitor any e-mail." But that makes no sense, because the capability has to exist without the court order, unless you build a system where the court order literally unlocks access the specific part of the database the court order refers to, and we have no indication such a system exists at any level of government.
But even Greenwald's own claims back up the idea that Snowden did not, as he claimed, have the authority to do what he said.