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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Otto: Washington’s ‘debris ball’ keeps growing

It was a remarkable week in Washington, where sequestration and polarization have rendered government all but frozen. The administration (you don’t know whether to call it a lame-duck administration or just a sitting duck) withered as three potential scandals — Benghazi, the FBI’s secret surveillance of The Associated Press and the IRS intimidation of conservative political groups — all exploded onto the national scene. In the bitter stalemate that distinguishes the current government, the rich opportunities for political hay are the first thing you look at, wondering what is real and what is so much “Sturm und Drang” of emotional gas in any of this. In other words, in President Barack Obama’s parlance, is there a there there?
I think so. Any one of these stories goes beyond the normal political sniping that has come to define the way government functions anymore. Together, along with a growing list of examples of dysfunctional government, they have formed a “debris ball” that is moving just ahead of a disaster. To be honest, I’d never heard the term “debris ball” until last week when a weatherman describing the track of a tornado across northern Texas pointed out a spot that preceded the tornado on the radar screen and said it was a mass of trees and other debris scooped up into the air as a part of the advancing storm, called a “debris ball.” Maybe I’m stretching it when I see what’s happening in Washington as some kind of political debris ball piling up in front of a looming disaster. But I don’t think so. On the surface, the three matters are unrelated. Benghazi is a tale of bungled security and lack of leadership followed by a scrambling political cover-up that only would be embarrassing if not for the fact people died. The Associated Press affair is a creepy attack on the press and the First Amendment. To those of us in the business its implications are ominous and far-reaching. The president has risen to its defense, suggesting the motives were to save lives by uncovering leaks. Considering the scope of the governmental snooping and the way it was done, that one is equally difficult to swallow. And, of course, the most disturbing of all three is the IRS story, with its implications of government intimidation. If there is no confidence in the neutrality of the tax collectors, there is no confidence in the validity of government to function fairly if at all. None of this can be good when most Americans already look at the federal government as dysfunctional at best. About the only arena where things appear to be functioning is the investigative division, where it seems as if half of Congress is investigating something the other half has done wrong. Apparently this is all going to continue until someone finds out where that elusive buck is — the one in front of which everything is supposed to stop. Of course that would mean standing up and taking responsibility for something, and I’ll believe that one when I see it.

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