Nothing to see here; what price speech?

Nothing to see here; what price speech?

May 1st, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

When In Doubt, Change The Subject

The Obama White House and the Chattanooga City Council had something in common Tuesday. When faced with potential embarrassment, they changed the subject.

We the people deserve better.

Conservative group Judicial Watch, through a Freedom of Information Act request, finally secured documents that prove the White House was directly involved in a campaign to portray the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as the fault of an Internet video instead of an attack it knew to be perpetrated by terrorists.

Among the documents, one newly declassified email from then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes to other administration public relations officials seeks to "reinforce" Obama and portray the attacks as "rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."

Among those who received the email in question was White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who in a press briefing on Sept. 14, said, "[The attack] is in response to a video, a film that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting. ... This is not a case of protests directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy."

A National Security Council spokeswoman's weak response to the revelation Tuesday fell back to the administration's oft-repeated line about the information being only "what the administration was saying at the time and what we understood to be the facts at the time," then changing the subject by criticizing those who "insist on politicizing the events in Benghazi" and attempting to take the high road by claiming "our focus remains on ensuring that a tragedy like this isn't repeated."

That wouldn't sound so bad if Judicial Watch hadn't been seeking the documents since Oct. 18, 2012, and that the administration's obfuscation came less than eight weeks before a presidential election.

In Chattanooga, meanwhile, City Council Chairman Chip Henderson dismissed warnings that city-owned utility EPB may have overbilled city taxpayers for millions of dollars in electricity related to street lights that was never consumed by saying the council had too much on its plate.

"Sometimes I relate it to shooting at deer," he said. "Most of the time when people miss, it's because they're looking at the whole deer. You've got to focus on just the part of the deer you want to hit."

Councilman Ken Smith, likewise, said looking into back bills would just prolong the city's plan of replacing its present lights with LED lights.

"It's taken long enough," he said. "I don't want to continue to delay it."

The overbilling, which was discovered in August by Global Green Lighting founder Don Lepard, was said by an EPB spokesman to have been corrected last year.

However, City Auditor Stan Sewell confirmed this week the discrepancies amounted to $5 million over the course of the $24 million streetlight replacement plan.

In the end, the council put off any more discussion of the streetlight replacement program for two weeks.

When it's all said and done, the City Council may be happy with the lighting deal originally made under the Ron Littlefield administration. But it shouldn't dismiss the possible over-billing of $5 million by offering the "move-on, nothing-to-see-here" defense.

Who Can Say What, When?

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling looks like the dumbest man in America right now. For making statements that were "contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league," he was banned for life from associating with his team and the league and was fined $2.5 million by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

If you weren't aware, Sterling made the remarks in the privacy of his home to a woman he didn't know was taping him. They surrounded his concern with her association with black people and his desire that she not associate with them.

The owner of a black-dominated team in a black-dominated league has no business making the remarks in the first place and deserves no sympathy, but where is speech safe if not in your home? And what if he had said "Christians" or "Republicans" instead of black people? Would he have been cheered instead of banned?

As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban noted, "It's a very, very slippery slope." To reporters, he wondered how the league would legislate other forms of discrimination.

"How many people are bigoted in one way or the other in this league?" he asked. "I don't know. But you find one, all of a sudden you say, well, you can't play favorites. ... Where do you draw the line?"

Where indeed?