Nel's New Day

June 2, 2019

Catching Up on the Last Few Weeks

Looking through my files, I see information about events that has fallen through the cracks. Here’s a bit of “catch up” with links for readers who want to read more about the subject. 

Tariffs/Taxes:

Solar energy, responsible in 2016 for 43 percent of employment in electric power and twice as much as the fossil fuel industry, has lost almost 20,000 jobs since DDT’s inauguration, much of the loss from tariffs.

Increasing tariffs to 25 percent on some Chinese goods could annually tax a family of four $767 and destroy over 934,000 jobs. Tariffs on all Chinese imports, as DDT threatens, would annually tax families $2,294. The combined $72 billion for all DDT’s tariffs constitute one of the biggest tax increases since 1993, and that amount doesn’t include his new tax on all goods from Mexico. People, not companies or countries, pay for tariffs making them a tax increase, the equivalent of a ten-percent increase in Social Security tax for an average family. DDT plans to annually cost every family $100 annually and add to health problems and death rates with enhanced pollution by erasing efficiency standards for light bulbs and causing LED bulbs to be much more expensive. Since President Obama’s action, LED bulbs, which last ten years, dropped 90 percent in price to about $1.

According to DDT’s Commerce Department, the $891 billion merchandise trade deficit last year is the largest in U.S. history, and the trade deficit with China hit a record high of $419 billion after DDT’s tariffs. The 19-percent jump from November and December 2018 to $59.8 billion made the highest monthly trade deficit in 10 years.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), ready to declare war on Iran, told farmers that they’re making far less sacrifices by losing their farms from tariffs than soldiers “in Arlington” make. DDT calls farmers losing everything from his tariffs as “patriot farmers.” Did they know that they were signing up for the war by growing food? Meanwhile, GOP senators up for re-election in agricultural states are getting nervous.

DDT’s tariffs are closing down a South Carolina plant that assembles televisions using Chinese parts with a loss of 126 jobs.

Climate/Pollution:

Earth’s concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) has reached 415 parts per million ( ppm). The first 280 ppm took 5,000 years until the Industrial Revolution; the last 5 ppm took two years. Ninety percent of all global fuel emissions have been released in the past 85 years. Excess carbon dioxide is causing men’s testicles to shrink from shortage of sperm. (Chemicals are also shrinking penises.)

The U.S. is one of two nations out of 189 to control movement of its waste across national borders, leaving the U.S. no place to send contaminated and plastic waste without other countries’ consent. 

Of the world’s 425,000 electric buses, China has 421,000. The U.S. has 300.

DDT may be able to escape any climate change penalties on the federal level, but New York is levying millions of dollars against his business because of pollution from DDT’s buildings. Without making improvements, DDT will pay annual fines of $2.1 million from 2030.

Not only has DDT failed to create more coal jobs, but he’s also losing the ones that existed when he was inaugurated. One-thousand jobs are at risk as the third-largest coal company declared bankruptcy because of a weak market, and over 50 coal plants closed under DDT’s leadership. A court ruling voided union contracts for another coal company, and lack of federal funding jeopardizes pensions of $600 a month for almost 100,000 workers. Transition to other jobs is highly problematic because coal workers aren’t well enough to work after leaving the mines.

Data:

DDT’s attempts to control the census by asking about citizenship isn’t the only way that he plans to skew information: poverty and pollution in the U.S. will be less severe once he changes all the numbers. After the EPA reported that DDT’s new energy policy to replace President Obama’s Clean Power Plan kills an additional 1,400 people, DDT ordered the number to be fixed.

DDT will allow oil and gas industry to drill places not within the safe drilling margin through the draft of guidelines that weren’t included for public comment last year.

Legislation:

DDT and the GOP hate net neutrality, which keeps prices lower for internet use, but love the idea of 5G wireless phones to speed up all those tweets. The result may be a 30-percent inaccuracy of weather forecasts because of interference, taking predictions back four decades. That means fewer days to prepare for hurricanes and incorrect tracking of storms’ paths to land. NOAA reported that the proposed 5G system would lose 77 percent data from its satellite’s passive microwave sounders. The FCC continues to auction off wireless spectrum, already making almost $2 billion.

Without legislation, Congressional Republicans will cause these catastrophes: lack of disaster aid; budget caps starting on September 30; not raising the debt ceiling resulting in calamitous financial crisis by the end of summer; government shutdown without passage of 12 appropriation bills by October 1; continued disintegration of infrastructure; no funds for Violence against Women Act which expired three months ago; no defense authorization or flood insurance which depends on the disaster bill; and lack of surveillance from sunsets on gathering metadata on domestic text messages and “roving” wiretaps—which might not be too bad.

DDT doesn’t think his ideas to use public-private relationships for infrastructure improvement “will work.

When the House passed the Equality Act, 173 Republicans voted in favor of discriminating against LGBTQ people. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and house, and one of those states permits public accommodation discrimination. One Republican legislator compared LGBTQ people to Nazis.

IRS:

Every year, the IRS loses hundreds of auditing agents, so they pursue the poor rather than the wealthy. In 2018, millionaires were 80 percent less likely to be audited than in 2011, but the 43 percent of people receiving the earned income tax credit are audited at a higher rate than anyone except the richest. Highest audit rates are in poor, rural, mostly black, and Southern counties.

 Over 1.3 million college students on scholarships are taxed at higher rates than billionaires, including DDT, thanks to the new GOP “tax cut” law. High tax rates have also hit tribal funds paid to Native American youth for education or living expenses. Republicans have not only fixed the problem but seemed to have deliberately created it.

Education Department:

Republicans plan to renew investigations into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for her emails although she recorded all of them. The GOP will undoubtedly ignore Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s use of personal email accounts for government businesses and her failure to properly save the messages. The practice is common for Republicans, and DDT fails to preserve public records.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that the Education Department is blocking efforts to police the student loan industry and costing borrowers thousands of dollars for those who owe over $1 trillion in these loans by refusing to share information.

As DDT wants to increase the charter school budget, the Network for Public Education reported how charter schools have scammed the federal government for over $1 billion in nonexistent or short-lived schools. With no adverse consequences, one in three schools that have received $4 billion closed, never opened, or hadn’t yet opened. Other charter schools fall short of the charter program’s promise of “high-quality” schools for disadvantaged students.

Ignorance/Bigotry:

Fifty-six percent of people reject the idea of teaching “Arabic numerals”—like 56.

DDT:

DDT likened himself to Hungary’s far-right authoritarian leader Prime Minister Viktor Orbán because of his being “respected all over Europe” and doing a “tremendous job.” 

At this time, 138 nominees are awaiting confirmation in the Senate, and another 132 positions have no nominees. The reason comes from overwhelming turnover in the past two years.

Condo sales in Trump Tower have plummeted, some of them as much as 20 percent, compared to 0.23 percent of Manhattan homes. Occupancy rates dropped even with lower than average rents; net income is 26 percent below banks’s expectations in 2012. DDT still made $434 million last year, especially from the D.C. hotel.

DDT said that he will not use any campaign dirt on his opponents from foreign companies—if he gets the opponents he wants.

DDT’s trial balloon of getting another two years with no election because he was treated “unfairly” has failed: 77 percent of the people don’t agree. Only seven percent of respondents think that he should ignore the 2020 election if he loses, and 90 percent believe that the “peaceful handover of power after elections” and “both parties respecting the results of elections” were essential for the “healthy functioning of American democracy.” Large majorities agree that DDT “does not respect the customs or traditions of the Presidency” and “the laws of the United States.”

March 7, 2014

Travesties in Congress: Issa, Sexual Assault in the Military, Abegdile

More negative news came out of Congress last week, including the House’s 229-183 to pass the Electricity Security and Affordability Act. If the bill became law, big companies would be more secure because the EPA could no longer place any rules on coal-fired electricity plants. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has introduced its companion in the other chamber.

Last week’s big news about the House, however, was Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) continuing vendetta against President Obama via the IRS. The chair of the Oversight Committee spent last week bragging that he would make former IRS official Lois Lerner will talk to his committee about the non-existent IRS corruption.

Issa’s plans went awry, however, after he tried to close down the hearing because Lerner answered his questions by asserting her Fifth Amendment rights. When Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD),  ranking member, tried to speak because he had information from Lerner’s lawyer, Issa literally cut him off by shutting off his microphone. No Democrat was allowed to speak at the hearing. After that, the story became all about Issa because the Ethics Committee tried to censure him.

At first, Issa demanded an apology from Cummings. Later Cummings said that Issa had apologized, and Cummings had accepted it. Issa still blamed Cummings for having a “hissy fit.”

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) demanding that Issa be removed as chair, the Black Caucus pointed out that Issa had not only broken the House rules on civility but also failed to allot each committee the requisite five minutes for questioning witnesses. In a party vote, a resolution to chastise Issa was tabled, killing the move.

The day after Issa’s hearing, the Senate rejected independent oversight of prosecution of sexual assault in the armed forces.  Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand’s bill received 55 votes—which these days does not constitute a majority of the 100 Senate members. The bipartisan bill is supported by conservatives Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Supporters of the bill have argued that military commanders cannot be unbiased because they know both the victims and the accused abusers. In some circumstances the commanders are actually those being accused.

On the same day that Gillibrand’s bill was filibustered, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was accused of twice forcing a female captain to perform oral sex and threatening to kill her family if she told anyone about their three-year affair. He confessed to three lesser charges: adultery, asking junior female officers for nude photos and possessing pornography while deployed in Afghanistan.

The Army is also investigating its top sex crimes prosecutor, Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, for allegedly groping a female lawyer at a sexual assault conference in 2011.  Morse, who supervised 23 other special-victims prosecutors, was removed but not charged.

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called the Senate actions part of “a frustrating pattern” because it “has chosen to keep the status quo.”

In opposing Gillibrand’s bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made the accusation that “this [bill] is about liberal people wanting to gut the military justice system.” Eleven GOP senators supported  the proposal including conservative Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Rand Paul (R-KY), and David Vitter (R-LA).

adegbileAnother low point for the Senate was the rejection of Debo Adegbile to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Unfortunately, it was expected because the Fox network waged a vicious campaign against the nominee for over a month and Adegbile has proved to be a master lawyer in the field of voting rights. President Obama called the vote “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

abuSenators focused almost entirely on Adegbile’s defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund had taken the case before Adegbile joined them. His only part of the case was to file a motion in 2009 claiming that the jury was discriminatory. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling agreed with the NAACP lawyers that the trial judge’s jury instructions violated Abu-Jamal’s rights, but the conviction remained. Abu-Jamal is still in prison for life without parole. Fox inflamed its audience by concentrating only on this one issue, consistently referring to Abu-Jamal as “cop killer” and showing his photograph while discussing Adegbile which gave the impression that the man in prison was the lawyer involved in his case.

One of the seven Democrats who voted against Adegbile, Chris Coons (D-DE), did so although he found Adegbile to be qualified because he wants someone who can get along with the police. He, Mark Pryor (D-AR), and John Walsh (MT) are up for re-election this year. The other four Democrats aren’t: Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Bob Casey Jr. (PA.).

People in the United States have a long history of respecting lawyers who advocate for justice, working to ensure that the American criminal justice system is fairly and constitutionally administered. Attorney John Adams defended the soldiers who killed his fellow Bostonians in the 1770 Boston Massacre before he went on to be elected the president of the United States. He called this defense “one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.”

John Roberts was confirmed as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after he defended a murderer who killed eight people, including a teenager.

For the last two Democratic presidents, the Senate has fought nominees with strong civil rights backgrounds. President Clinton lost two nominees, Lani Guinier and Bill Lann Lee, because they defended minorities when they worked for NAACP. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) went so far as to claim that Lee’s work for NAACP made him biased. George W. Bush’s appointees created a “significant drop in the enforcement of several major anti-discrimination and voting rights laws,” according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

During the confirmation of former Supreme Court Justice David Souter (October 1990), Sen. Orrin Hatch was the voice of reason. When critics opposed Souter for defending literacy tests in his home state of New Hampshire, Hatch pointed out the Souter did this because they were law. Souter was required to defend the law.  In Souter’s defense, Hatch said:

“It is not right to go back in hindsight and say he should not have done that; that that shows something wrong with him. Come on, that is what advocates do. If we are going to start using a nominee’s briefs against him in the confirmation process, we are going to be setting a shocking precedent. It would be a very, very dangerous message to send to lawyers: If you have any ambition to be a judge, you lawyers, do not represent controversial clients and be careful what you say on behalf of a client because you might be held responsible for the fact that the law was as it was at the time you made the statement.”

Hatch, all the other GOP senators, and seven Democratic senators are now sending that dangerous message to lawyers. House Speaker John Boehner and 211 GOP members of the House have spoken, saying that committee chairs are not required to follow House rules. And military commanders can continue to sexually abuse members of the military either themselves or by overlooking these tragic events. This past week has been very sad for people’s constitutional rights.

June 27, 2013

Senate Moves, House Sits, Texas Goes Backward

The Senate actually did something, which happens occasionally. This afternoon it passed its immigration reform bill with a vote of 68-32. Not that this is necessarily a good thing because of the emphasis on border security and the requirement that all employers used the error-ridden E-Verify to check up on any applicants. Of the 32 GOP senators who opposed the bill, two were presidential wannabes, Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY). No GOP Senate leader voted in favor of the bill.

At least the Senate did something.

On the House side, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that they would create their own immigration bill. Thus far they’ve made no move toward it. They also haven’t done anything about the doubling of interest on student loans this Monday or overcome the sequester that’s biting into the economic recovery. Their only actions have been to re-overturn Obamacare and pass another anti-abortion bill, neither of which the Senate will support.

The House is also avoiding climate change. In describing his agenda for this , President Obama said, “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” Majority House Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) switched the subject to jobs, complaining about the president is “harming innovation [in a] direct assault on jobs.” No answer from the House about how to provide more jobs.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is hiding from the IRS debacle. The GOP has continually whined about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups. Yet Issa asked that the IRS limit its information to these audits, requesting investigators to “narrowly focus on tea party organizations,” according to spokesman for Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George.  Progressive groups got the same treatment as conservative Tea Party groups. The liberal group Catholics United, for instance, waited seven years before receiving tax exempt status, far longer than any tea party group had to wait.

There is a question about whether Issa was the instigator in concealing information from the public about the “inappropriate criteria” used to single out tea party groups–so-called “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) memos–that also singled out progressive and “Occupy” groups.

George, a George W. Bush appointee, may be at fault. When asked last month if any progressive groups were targeted, he said that the IRS had not. Since then, he’s changed his mind. Also one of the main author’s of George’s report was relieved of his previous position as head of the special investigations unit at the Government Accountability Office because he wrote an incomplete report and was accused by a colleague of “pursuing overly sensationalist stories.”

After Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel appeared at the House Ways and Means Committee today, all the Democrats on the committee sent a letter to House Republicans demanding that they call the author of the audit report to return and testify under oath to explain why the report failed to tell the House that progressive groups were also targeted.

Issa has abandoned the IRS scandal that he created and gone back to investigating Benghazi.

Yesterday’s ruling that struck down DOMA has energized at least one member of Congress. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) claims that he and other lawmakers will revive the Federal Marriage Amendment. “A narrow radical majority of the court has, in my opinion, substituted their personal views for the constitutional decisions of the American voters and their elected representatives,” Huelskamp said. It’s almost a case of “the pot calling the kettle black” except the obstructionist GOP “narrow radical majority” isn’t really the majority—just the vocal.

One faint gleam of hope appeared after SCOTUS erased the Voting Rights Act  two days ago. Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), instrumental in the 2006 VRA, is urging his colleagues to restore the provisions to protect voters. GOP Reps. Steve Chabot (OH) and Sean Duffy (WI) have declared support for a renewed VRA. After the Democratic caucus met to discuss the possibility of a new Section 4 to VRA, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that she likes naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

One of the 13 original Freedom Riders in the early 1960s, Rep. Lewis (D-GA) was beaten by angry mobs, arrested, and sent to jail—several times. In response to the egregious SCOTUS decision giving all states the right to discriminate in any way that the GOP leaders wish, Lewis said:

“These men that voted to strip the Voting Rights Act of its power, they never stood in unmovable lines. They never had to pass a so-called literacy test. It took us almost 100 years to get where we are today. So will it take another 100 years to fix it, to change it?”

At the same time that state GOP legislators are working day and night to alienate women through their anti-abortion bills, the Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus is kicking off an initiative tomorrow that he says is “designed to advance the role of women within our party.” He will be joined by a few female lawmakers—perhaps because he could find only a few female GOP lawmakers.

Called Women on the Right Unite, the project was announced the same day that a Texas GOP lawmaker described state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) and her allies as terrorists. Davis’ act of terror was to filibuster an evil anti-abortion bill during a special legislative session. The GOP lawmakers failed to get the bill passed before the deadline so they lied about when the vote was completed.

The GOP refuses to change its policies of similar legislation in other states and at the federal level. Republicans won’t stop mandating unnecessary medical procedures not recommended by women’s physicians, making idiotic comments about rape, and opposing pay equity. The party wants women to buy into their antediluvian view of the differences between the genders. While the GOP talks about uniting women behind their view, they will also continue to drive more and more women into poverty. That, however, won’t be part of the discussion.

According to the press release, tomorrow’s news conference will follow a strategy session at RNC headquarters, where committees and elected officials will discuss “how to better engage and support Republican women.” I’m guessing that there are several hundreds of women in Texas who could contribute to this discussion.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also took on Davis in his halting speech at the National Right to Life Conference when he described her as a teenage mother and the daughter of a single woman. “It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters,” Perry said.

As governor, Perry executed his 262nd person, a 52-year-old woman, yesterday.  On the same day he signed into law the new gerrymandered map redistricting the state so that minorities can be disenfranchised.

Three cheers for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) after Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto accused her of declaring a “war on men” and trying “to criminalize male sexuality.” McCaskill’s sin, according to Taranto, was to put a hold on Lt. Gen. Susan Helms for vice commander of the Air Force Space Command because Helms had reduced the conviction of aggravated sexual assault to an indecent act without having watched the trial. Taranto blamed the assaulted women for drinking and then getting into a car with a man; the columnist claimed that she “acted recklessly.”

Current military law allows Helms to substitute her personal judgment for that of a jury that she selected. As McCaskill wrote Taranto:

“What [Helms] did was not a crime. But it was an error, and a significant one. I’m hopeful that our work this year will remove the ability of a commander to substitute their judgment, and sometimes also their ingrained bias, for that of a jury who has heard the witnesses and made a determination of their credibility and the facts of the case.”

The entire letter is well-worth reading because it shows how well the people of Missouri are represented by this senator.

Another woman to watch is Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) when she takes down federal contractor, Braulio Castillo, who claimed his foot injury (possibly sprained ankle) at a military prep school gave him special status as a “service-disabled veteran-owned small business.” Some of you may remember that Duckworth lost both her legs in the Iraq War when her helicopter was shot down.

Castillo’s company, Strong Castle, won contracts with the IRS worth as much as $500 million. Duckworth’s disability rating is 20 percent; Castillo gets (at least until now) a 30-percent disability for his twisted ankle.

The tape is 8 minutes long, but it shows how well another Democratic woman serves the country.

June 21, 2013

The IRS Argument Deflates

The GOP has been working the IRS manufactured scandal hard for the past month, trying to convince people that President Obama was directly responsible for the use of the term “tea party” to audit organizations in the 501(c)4 category.  Fox and GOP minds ignored the fact that many other organizations—including progressive ones—were audited,  many of the groups audited were certainly political, and that Fox was so eager to disenfranchise progressive groups with the IRS that they asked viewers to file fraudulent complaints.

But the House Oversight Committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) charged along, inciting the base and cheering them on.  On a Sunday ABC news panel before the case had been investigated, George Will promoted the idea of impeachment by equating President Obama and Richard Nixon and reading a passage from Nixon’s articles of impeachment. He wasn’t alone in his suggestion.

Issa thought he had the proof to back the president into a corner. Weeks ago, he promised to release the full transcripts from the IRS controversy hearings in the Oversight Committee. Then he leaked edited pieces and said he wouldn’t release the rest of them for a very long time, giving the impression that he didn’t have the goods to blame the president.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) took offense at the way that Issa was trying to smear the president with the edited transcripts and asked him to release the full ones. Issa sent Cummings a letter scolding him for getting out of line, Cummings responded by saying that Issa had to release transcripts by last Monday or he would, Issa didn’t do it, and Cummings released the full transcripts on Tuesday, leading to Issa’s anger.

The release of the full transcripts backed Issa into a corner. They show that the White House had no involvement in any of the audits.

Although Issa did start his attempt to make hay out of straw in the IRS controversy until a few weeks ago, he knew about the issue years ago. He also knew that a George W. Bush appointee was head of the IRS at the time that he raised the issue with the IRS. But nothing appeared before the presidential election last fall.

Issa’s recent history of manufacturing scandals in the hope of creating problems for President Obama include Solyndra’s loan guarantees, “Fast and Furious,” Benghazi—all Issa’s inventions. What many know less about is Issa’s past.

During his meteoric rise to wealth and power, he was indicted for car theft, arrested for illegally carrying a concealed weapon, and accused of arson. The accusations of deliberately burning down a building for profit and threatening a former employee with a gun did not result in formal charges, but there is enough information to substantiate some of his criminal actions. After Issa was in a car accident, he told the woman he had hit that he didn’t have time to wait and left before police arrived. The woman had to be hospitalized. There were no charges, but he made an out-of-court settlement after being sued.

The chair of the House Oversight Committee entrusted with investigating government wrongdoing and lying claimed to have the “highest possible” ratings during his Army career. In truth, he “received unsatisfactory conduct and efficiency ratings and was transferred to a supply depot.” He also lied when he said that he provided security for President Nixon in 1971 and won a national Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Once Issa’s allegations were punctured, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) picked up the IRS scandal banner.  At the conservative American Enterprise Institute today, he admitted the president was probably not directly responsible for the audits. Yet in covering for Issa, McConnell tried to connect the president with the so-called scandal by accusing President Obama—wrongly—of personally trying to prove he was innocent. Then McConnell claimed that the situation is part of a government assault on free speech as part of a “culture of intimidation.” Somebody has to be blamed for these audits, so McConnell picked the unions as the responsible party.

McConnell cherry-picks the Constitution like some people do the Bible. In his concern about free speech and intimidation, he ignored the House Rules Committee’s rejection of an amendment that would cut back the NSA’s ability to collect data on U.S. citizens. First Amendment protecting speech good; Fourth Amendment guarding against search and seizure bad—according to the GOP. Although the GOP isn’t happy with the other part of the First Amendment that protects freedom of religion.

The Tea Party bitterly complained—and the GOP House members picked up the cudgel—that more of them had been targeted than progressive organizations. That’s true, mainly because there were far more conservative groups wanting non-profit status for their political spending than progressive ones. The percentage for both sides was most likely the same. But conservatives have succeeded in making the IRS afraid. The GOP doesn’t want justice; it wants destruction of anyone who opposes it.

Now that GOP House members may have to give up salivating over the possibility that they could bring down President Obama with their IRS accusations, they should be concerned with IRS reform. After the Supreme Court gave people what seemed to be unlimited donation power with Citizens United, the criteria for 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofits got even fuzzier. Frustrated by the flood of applications from the so-called nonprofits, some IRS low officials decided that using terms to find these would be useful.

The ambiguity of rules saying “social welfare” is okay but “political intervention” isn’t, gave a great deal of discretion regarding approval to these low-level staffers. The group can be tax exempt if political activity “less than primary.” Staffers had jurisdiction to decide what “primary” is. The inability of the Federal Elections Commission to be effective threw election law oversight into the IRS ball court.

What the GOP managed to largely conceal in all the discussion is that the groups claiming to be social welfare consistently got involved in politics with 80 percent of the advertising money from these groups going to Republican candidates and issues. No wonder, the House GOP has so diligently tried to protect them. In examining over 100 applications for IRS recognition, ProPublica found—surprise!—that the applications consistently said they were not spending money on elections and then did just the opposite. The American Future Fund, a conservative, self-identified nonprofit, spent millions of dollars on campaign ads since 2008—even before it mailed is fraudulent application.

The real disgrace—read “scandal” is not the Tea Party situation. It’s the fact that the IRS favors the wealthy. As Donald Dayen wrote in Salon:

“IRS audits of the largest and richest corporations have steadily declined since 2005, down 22 percent in the ensuing four years and even more from 2011-2013. In the same period, the agency accelerated its scrutiny of small and midsize corporations. Since 2000, the IRS has been more likely to audit the working poor, individuals and families making under $25,000 a year, than those making over $100,000 annually. The middle class received disproportionately more audits throughout the past decade as well. An IRS unit formed in 2009 called the Global High Wealth Industry Group, designed to give special attention to tax compliance of high-wealth individuals, performed exactly two audits in 2010 and 11 in 2011.”

Since 2002, the IRS budget has shrunk 17 percent while being saddled with more responsibilities, including Obamacare and offshore accounts. The indiscriminate 5 percent sequester cut will make the IRS problems only worse. One answer when employees are to do more work with fewer resources is shortcuts to keep up with the workflow. If the GOP wants the IRS to do their job, they should give them the funding to do this. The money spent in that area will help reduce the deficit. But the GOP wants to benefit the wealthy so they will keep the IRS from successful audits of them.

June 15, 2013

GOP Legislators Won’t Do Their Job

All month the media has bombarded people with sound bites about the National Security Agency surveillance. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) tried to make citizens aware of this for two years; Edward Snowden managed to do it in two minutes. Quick to blame President Obama—again—several GOP legislators in Congress have bitterly complained about being left out of the loop.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, organized briefings to better inform the senators. The most recent was last Thursday afternoon with NSA Director Keith Alexander, the FBI, Justice Department, FISA Court, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who denied in a Senate committee hearing only three months ago that there was no surveillance of the U.S. people. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) recessed the Senate for an hour so that everyone could attend this important briefing. Over half the senators left early on Thursday to catch their planes home. Only 47 of them attended the briefing.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) claimed that the administration is abusing the law through the NSA surveillance activities and expressed surprise at the extent of the surveillance, probably because he failed to attend any of the hearings during the last three years about NSA’s activities. Even more hypocritical, he has called himself the “author of the PATRIOT Act,” the law that makes all this surveillance legal and helped renew it in 2011.

Section 215 of his PATRIOT Act approves an FBI request for NSA to view millions of records from Verizon customers. It also allows the FBI to obtain any records from libraries without court orders. In a Connecticut case, FBI agents demanded “any and all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person or entity” that had used computers between 4 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. on February 15, 2005, in any of the 27 libraries whose computer systems were managed by the Library Connection, a nonprofit co-op of library databases. If the librarian told anyone about the letter that the FBI gave him, he could go to jail for five years. No court order was necessary.

Because he discussed the letter with three other librarians, all four of them were bound by the gag order, according to their attorney. They challenged the letter’s constitutionality and the gag order but couldn’t even attend the hearings because government lawyers declared that their presence posed a threat to national security. A year later when the PATRIOT Act was renewed, a federal court ruled that the letter was indeed unconstitutional, but the government appealed the ruling.

Congressional legislators have also decided that it’s not their job to answer questions about Obamacare. They respond to such concerns from their constituents as Medicare, Social Security, and immigration, but they don’t like Obamacare so they won’t bother to provide any assistance. Some said they would flat-out refuse to give any answers while others, such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) said he would refer them to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said, “We know how to forward a phone call.”

House leaders have organized a group known as HOAP—the House ObamaCare Accountability Project—to organize a messaging strategy against the law that will trickle down to constituents. August recess will probably provide the kick-off for this sabotage when some Congressional members may hold town halls.

A recent poll about Obamacare found “a majority [54 percent] of Americans still oppose the nation’s new health care measure, three years after it became law.” Sound bites ignore the section of the poll showing that more than one-fourth of those who oppose think it doesn’t go far enough. Adding the 44 percent of those who support the law and the 16 percent of those who think it doesn’t go far enough means that people against it are actually in the minority of 35 percent. Half the people polled are unfamiliar with the law. All they know is what far-right conservatives and media have told them.

In looking at polls about the unpopularity of Congress, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) claims that Congress has always been unpopular. He’s wrong. Forty years ago, confidence in Congress was 42 percent, a far cry from today’s 10 percent.

confidence in congress

 

Steve Benen wrote, “I tend to think 10% confidence is a little on the high end. Indeed, I’m wondering what those satisfied folks are thinking.” The 112th Congress was the worst seen since the 1700s, and the GOP obstructionism is making the 113th Congress just as bad only six months into its two-year session. It can become much worse as the GOP threatens to intentionally crash the economy this fall in the next debt-ceiling crisis.

The solution to improving the Congress would be for the GOP to pass the immigration reform bill, stop the deliberately harmful sequester, reduce gun violence ever so slightly, perhaps debate a bill or two that could create jobs, and rein in Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) from his incessant manufactured “scandals.”

Conservatives, however, are sure to follow this recent advice from the Heritage Foundation, formerly a think tank and now a policy-making group:

“We urge you to avoid bringing any legislation to the House Floor that could expose or highlight major schisms within the conference. Legislation such as the Internet sales tax or the farm bill which contains nearly $800 billion in food stamp spending, would give the press a reason to shift their attention away from the failures of the Obama administration.”

[Note: The $800 billion covers ten years; using that amount makes it look much larger.]

Charlie Cook followed that up with a National Journal piece late Thursday:

“Republicans would be much wiser to pursue a third option: Dig up as much damaging information as they can about the Obama administration and leak it to reporters they know will write tough stories that won’t be traced back to the source. That way, the public won’t see the GOP as being obsessed with attacking the other side and playing gotcha at the expense of the big issues facing the country—the ones voters really care about.

“Meanwhile, everyone in Washington will watch polls for signs of blood in the water, indications that the controversies or scandals—depending upon your perspective—are taking a political toll on Obama’s job-approval numbers.”

Meanwhile, 70 GOP representatives, led by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), have set out to lower Congress’s popularity, and the Tea Party is cheering them on. Their goal is to make Boehner follow the “Hastert rule”: only bills with majority GOP support are allowed on the House floor.

There actually is no “Hastert Rule.” Its author, GOP strategist John Feehery, said that it is “situational advice, never a hard-and-fast rule.” He sees insistence on this “rule” as counterproductive for conservatives, encouraging ideological rigidity and eliminating any compromise with Democrats, meaning that Boehner must work with the opposing political party to pass any bills other than renaming post offices.

After Issa’s letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), scolding him for demanding the release of full transcripts of the IRS investigation, the Democrats on Issa’s House Oversight Committee responded. They set Monday as the deadline for Isssa to explain why he refuses to release these transcripts of witness testimony or they will release the transcripts themselves. Issa’s problem is that the transcripts will most likely indicate no evidence of White House involvement in the process of selecting IRS audits.

Issa is most likely looking forward to the August town hall meetings where he has total control. Recess will make little difference in the Congressional level of activity; it just means that they cannot do any harm.

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