"Ya think, DiNozzo?" Gibbs responds on NCIS when Agent Dinozzo offers something totally obvious. Today's question might better be, "Just what were they thinking?"
Two recent headlines create the suspicion that all may well not be right. For me, the stories generate wonder about the culture, the mindset of the Obama administration. Both touch New Mexico.
The old news is the Internal Revenue Service using tax rules to intimidate conservative advocacy organizations. IRS games with the Albuquerque Tea Party reportedly started in late 2011. The IRS sought all sorts of documents from the group, including emails between board members.
I have seen bureaucratic intimidation. A classic was the member of Albuquerque's zoning board, the Environmental Planning Commission, instructing a developer to plant a tree in the front yard of every home in his subdivision. Other developers have muttered between their teeth about petty changes perpetually required that eventually destroy a project.
The new story, which broke May 13, is the federal Department of Justice's stealth seizure, presumably from phone companies, of Associated Press staff members' telephone records over four weeks. The AP story I saw about the situation did not say when the feds got the records, but the AP finally got notification via letter on May 10. Needless to say, all sorts of things hit the fan at the AP.
Another instance of funny (strange) Department of Justice behavior has to do with the dropping of a lawsuit against St. Paul, Minn., by Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division. President Obama has nominated Perez for Secretary of Labor. DOJ is resisting release of emails concerning the matter.
Lest one wish to dismiss the AP situation as a big city national politics situation, take a quick look at Argentina. The Kirchner administration uses a variety of tools, including the government's $100 million ad budget to lean on the independent press nationwide.
Around here, our community newspapers are a big part of the independent press.
Back in New Mexico, a recent op-ed from J. Dee Dennis Jr., superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department, piously lists what Dennis sees as the department's recent accomplishments without bothering to refute lawsuits and news reports about various departmental sins. Ignoring the charges reminds me of President Obama simply dismissing charges of a cover up of the Benghazi disaster.
Though community newspapers in New Mexico are far from the scale of the Washington Post and Associated Press, their function is equally vital, only at the local level. Community newspapers provide an important element binding the community: information, both through news reports and advertising, unavailable elsewhere. Even more important, as necessary, they ask the crabby questions, especially of government, required for keeping the community steady.
What exactly happened with all this bad behavior will be untangled. But another "what" question is more important: What was it in the culture that allowed middle and senior managers to pursue these actions? There is also a "why" question. Why did they do it?
My guess is that when one casts oneself into an environment with the fundamental premise that government action is the answer to everything, then jumping to unethical and even criminal behavior becomes easy.
The "concern" about the IRS situation expressed by three of our four congressional Democrats offers a nice, "progressive" limp reaction appropriate from people with love of government bound into the DNA. Rep. Steve Pearce, ever definitive, offered a better word, "Nixonian."
Harold Morgan has tracked the New Mexico economy for decades. He was editor for 20 years and publisher for four years of Progress, a business newsletter and was the founding editor of the New Mexico Business Journal.