Nel's New Day

February 13, 2019

Tax Cuts Go to Wealthiest, Others Angry

Almost 14 months ago, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) promised people would pay $4,000 less on their taxes this year and “have a nice, simple form.” Neither is true. An additional ten percent of tax filers will owe the IRS money since the “tax reform,” and average refunds were 8.4 percent smaller, down to $1,865 because of the same “tax reform.” And that’s from a week ago. In addition, filing taxes is as complicated as in the past. IRS refunds sent out are also down about 24 percent because of the shutdown.

People hoping to pay for their cars will be disappointed. Seven million people are at least 90 days behind on their car loans, a record and a red flag for the economy. Auto loans are the first payment that people make; delinquencies show serious economic problems for low-income and working-class people in the U.S. The nation suffers from more than a million more “troubled borrowers” now than in 2010 when unemployment hit ten percent and the car loan delinquency rate peaked. After George W. Bush’s recession, the government restricted mortgages so that people could make the monthly payments, but car financers could continue predatory practices because they have few restrictions . Subprime borrowers with low credit scores, increasing from 28 percent of the market in 2009 to 39 percent in 2015, may pay interest rates between 14.5 and 20 percent.

Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, wrote about people plan buying big purchases or paying off large debts with their refunds. Some are so desperate that they pay extra to get advance lending on their refunds. Last year, 102 million taxpayers received an average of $2,778 in tax refunds, and most people spent this money, helping the U.S. economy. Lower refunds mean less spending and a shrinking economy. If people use their refunds for necessities, problems are worse than a slowing economy.

Fox & Friends told their watchers to stop whining about owing money to the government because they should have taken out more withholding—for a tax cut. The government’s guidelines did provide for less withdrawals from wages to get people to vote for Republicans in the midterm elections, a ploy that failed for many House members. But the reference to everyone’s “fatter paychecks” by Fox & Friends’ hosts applies primarily to higher income earners: most people didn’t see a significant increase in their paychecks.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), lead author of the tax bill, told taxpayers to be grateful for much smaller or no refunds because they have nothing to do with their overall tax bill. He falsely claimed that 90 percent of the middle class got a $2,100 average tax cut. Another tax cut backer, Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), tried to convince people that refunds are less because most people “owed less income tax.” The Tax Policy Center estimated that earners in the bottom 20 percent might each see a total of $60 less tax for the year, and the next 20 percent might expect a $380 total cut. The top 0.1 percent of people in the U.S. saved an average of more than $190,000—each.

Meanwhile, the government ran a $14 billion deficit in December—just one month—as we lost revenues because of the “tax reform” law. The U.S. has run into the red by $319 since the beginning of the fiscal year in October, up 41 percent from the $225 deficit of the same time period last fiscal year. Corporate taxes fell 17 percent, and those from individuals dropped by 4 percent. We’re not spending more: we just aren’t collecting money partly because of the tax cuts for the wealthy and big businesses, ending in a larger deficit for the previous fiscal year—almost $900 billion added to the debt. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said that “nobody cares” about the debt.

DDT’s supporters are learning that the Democratic position on the failure of tax cuts was right and that Republicans lied. Most of the people aren’t getting any extra $4,000, businesses haven’t changed their capital investment and hiring, and tax breaks for the wealthy and big businesses aren’t paying for themselves. In addition, the economic growth is slowing instead of building. The GOP promised that corporate tax breaks wouldn’t go into stock buybacks; they did, which is the only reason that the stock market has not gone much below its level a year ago.

Instead of putting their tax breaks into higher wages for employees, companies in the S&P 500 spent almost $800 billion of their tax windfall on buybacks for the 2018 fiscal year that started nearly three months before the tax “reform” bill passed into law. The Dow Jones spiked until it went back to the same level as the beginning of 2018. The 2019 buyback projection is about $900 billion, almost all one third of all corporate cash spending and up 25 percent from 2017.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) co-authored an op-ed for the New York Times with former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that criticized the tax law and suggested the prohibition of a public company from buy back shares “unless it invests in workers and communities first, including things like paying all workers at least $15 an hour, providing seven days of paid sick leave, and offering decent pensions and more reliable health benefits.” They also suggested other ways to require companies to invest in workers, including a change in tax rates on dividends.

A divided Congress with a Republican president can’t pass these laws, but the ideas have generated discussion. Lloyd Blankfein, former head of Goldman Sachs, tweeted that money doesn’t vanish with stock buybacks, that money “gets reinvested in higher growth businesses that boost the economy and jobs.” Sanders retorted that Blankfein was right in his claim that money “doesn’t vanish” but it Mr. Sanders quickly responded on Twitter that Mr. Blankfein was correct that the money buybacks “doesn’t vanish” but it “increases the wealth of billionaires” like Blankfein.

Republican leaders who financially benefit from the buybacks lambasted the buyback proposals as “socialism.”  The GOP case against “socialism” ignores the difference between pure socialism and “Democratic socialism.” Republicans plan to use the term as a one-word meme slamming Democrats during the 2020 election campaign after they failed with “witch hunt.” Today, the White House blared the headline, “Not one more person should suffer under socialism.” Republicans’ definition for socialism may be anything that doesn’t benefit themselves. [In the chart to the left, you could add flood protection, sports coliseum, “freedom of religion,” a 40-hour work week, child labor laws, Social Security, Medicare–the list is quite long.]

Axios chief financial correspondent Felix Salmon asserts that the tax cuts will never pay for themselves and no one ever believed that they would. The increase in the national debt is faster than pessimists predicted at the time the GOP pushed through the cuts, and the CBO estimates that the annual deficit will top $1 trillion beginning in 2022. It’s almost there now. DDT campaigned with the promise that he would immediately eliminate the deficit, but in two years, he’s increased the national debt from under $20 trillion to $22 trillion. Salmon added that the nation is “awash in debt” with trillions in student loans, credit card debts, and car loans. Asked about the debt, DDT said that he’ll “get rid of” the entire debt “fairly quickly,” “over a period of eight years,” “paying off that debt like water.”

DDT plans to unleash predatory payday lenders on the majority of people receive less in tax refunds by gutting rules from President Obama’s era that shield people from “easy” loans with interests over 400 percent. If people borrow the money for the two weeks between paychecks, they pay $75 for a $500 loan. Over 60 percent of 12 million borrowers took out seven or more consecutive, digging themselves deeper and deeper into debt, and a majority of borrowers paid more in interest than the money borrowed.

In charge of making these changes is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which Budget Director Mick Mulvaney destroyed before he moved on to help DDT spike the national debt and works at failing as acting chief of staff. Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, described the result of the change in rules for payday loans:

“This decision will put already struggling families in a cycle of debt and leave them in an even worse financial position. This administration has moved the CFPB away from protecting consumers to protecting the very companies abusing them.”

Almost 80 percent of people in the U.S. live from one paycheck to the next, and wages remain stagnant when inflation is taken into consideration, even dropping in the second quarter of 2018. Almost all the gains in the country go to the top—chief executives of big companies, financiers, and creators in the digital world. If the average wages go up at all this year, it will be due to the 18 states that raised the minimum wage although the increases in almost half these states were $.20 or lower—about 2 percent.  The GOP system makes the vast majority of people in the United States more and more desperate.

February 26, 2014

What the Do-Nothing U.S. House Is Up To

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:26 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress helped people—create jobs by improving the infrastructure, keep families together by not sending small children back to Mexico when they don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language, etc.  But in the U.S. House, Republicans have announced that they are through legislating until after the 114th Congress arrives in 2015.

Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) hasn’t quit yet. He’s introduced a bill with the optimistic name of “Save American Workers Act” designed to change the definition of “full-time” from 30 hours to 40 hours a week in the Affordable Care Act. Young thinks that corporations that have more than 50 employees are cutting their hours below 30 hours a week to avoid paying health insurance on them. Although there has been no large-scale shift in hours, Young maintains that companies shouldn’t have to pay health insurance for employees working 39 hours a week or less.

The Congressional Budget Office has weighed in on the bill’s effects. Making “full-term” 40 hours would kick about one million people off health insurance. Some of them might find Medicaid in the states that provide this or be able to pay less for insurance through the marketplace tax credits, but almost 500,000 wouldn’t fit into these categories. Another impact would be a $73-billion cost to the government over a ten-year period, adding this amount to the deficit.

Young’s bill had 208 co-sponsors in the House—at least before CBO came out with its numbers.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has decided to again question Lois Lerner, former IRS official, who was already interrogated about the myth that the agency audits targeted Tea Party groups. Congress came up with nothing the last time. The FBI came up with nothing. Journalists came up with nothing. House GOP members have paid $14 million in their attempt to create a scandal that wasn’t. A letter from the IRS reports that 255 IRS workers spent 97,542 hours responding to congressional investigations. It also stated that the $14 million didn’t include work by the offices of Legislative Affairs, Public Affairs, Human Capital, and the Executive Secretariat.

This is the background of the investigation costing $14 million. After over 5,000 applications for 501(c)(4) status swamped the IRS within the two years after SCOTUS’s ruling in Citizens United, the agency was falsely accused of giving “heightened scrutiny … to non-profit applications from Tea Party-affiliated groups.” Before this decision, organizations had to report who gave money and how much. After Citizens United, 501(c)(4) organizations could keep all donors secret as long as the groups claimed to be at least a little bit for “social welfare.”

The Revenue Act of 1913, the law that covered this situation before Citizens United,” required that earnings be “devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.” In 1959, the IRS adopted a new regulation by adding that this “exclusively” devotion be also “primarily engaged.” Thus Citizens United went with “primarily” which morphed into “somewhat” or “a little bit.”

In June 2013, the Inspector General for Tax Administration sorted out 298 cases of the 5,000 political organizations, none of which was denied 501(c)(4) status. Of these, 96 were identified by “Tea Party,” “9/12,” or “Patriots.” Thus fewer than one-third of the identified cases appeared to be right-wing groups. All of these groups are violating IRS regulation because of the “devoted exclusively” part of the policy.

Today the House voted 243-176 to pass Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI)’s bill to block any new IRS regulations and make it illegal for the administration to follow the law. “Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014” would keep the IRS from defining political activities for “social welfare” groups. Fourteen Democrats joined all 229 to vote for the measure.

Camp used the First Amendment in his bill, calling on free speech rights that have nothing to do with 501(c)(4) groups. No regulations prevent the people in these organizations from saying whatever they want with the usual restrictions. The tax-exempt status of organizations is a government subsidy; political campaigning in secret does not receive these subsidies. Up from $1 million in 2006, one-fourth of the $1 billion spent in 2012 came from these groups, some of it illegally provided by foreign donations.

Not satisfied with attempting to ignore existing law by controlling IRS regulations, Camp has released a monumental tax reform plan of almost 1,000 pages. His actions go against the wishes of party leaders who consider—correctly—that this overhaul will endanger the GOP in an election year. One of the most vivid parts of Camp’s plan is his slaughtering the sacred cows of deductions for home mortgage interest and carried-interest tax breaks for hedge fund managers. Deductions for state and local taxes also disappear in the plan. Credit unions would keep their tax exemptions. Banks would gain a tax, but only 0.035 percent.

On the side of the wealthy, the proposal lowers the corporate rate to 25 percent, whacking off 2 percent each year for five years. Taxation on most offshore income that corporations have stashed away would also be limited.

As Politico wrote, the proposal “includes something to offend seemingly everyone: manufacturers, the poor, Wall Street banks, governors and deficit hawks.”

I’m with Kevin Drum when he writes about the nuggets in the long document that make for fun reading.

 

  • It’s highly specific: One of the deductions to be dropped is “preventing makers of violent video games from qualifying for the R&D tax credit.”
  • The language doesn’t always sound like a Republican: The plan makes references to “Wall Street tycoons” and proposes to end tax breaks that allow university presidents to live tax free in mansions.
  • The cuts go across the board: On the one side, he cuts the Earned Income Tax Credit; on the other he wants to get rid of the NFL’s tax exemption on their annual $9 billion take.

 

The House also passed a bill yesterday allowing owners of cell phones to unlock them for personal use but not for resale. It looks as if the House has pretty much quit—at least for now.

They should look at Michigan to see a legislature that passes bills. The extreme GOP legislature has joined with the state’s right-wing governor, Rick Snyder, to pass the emergency manager law allowing the governor to replace any elected official with his own man, the so-called “right to work” law that passed after voters were locked out of the capitol, the “rape insurance” bill requiring women to purchase this insurance separately from other health insurance, and the fanatic anti-abortion legislation. The most recent bill, that gives every indication of passing is a daily $1,000 fine for picketing workers. Any labor organization leading or organizing a strike will be fined $10,000 a day.

Since the GOP took over, Michigan has joined the South in poverty. Its average income ranked 35th in the nation in 2012. Personal income between 2000 and 2010 increased 18.5 percent compared to 45.2 percent for the United States, a state growth that ranked 50th out of 50 states over a 30-year period.

This is what the United States could become if the Republicans take over as they did in Michigan.

August 30, 2013

Bullying Has Long-lasting Effects

safe spaceYou’d think that school officials would want to protect all of their students, wouldn’t you? You’re wrong, at least in Rutherford County (TN). When the national and state ACLU asked that students and teachers be permitted to hand “Safe Space” posters, the school board turned them down. Vice Chairman Wayne Blair said that there is no need for the posters.

GLSEN’s 2011 survey showed that at least 90 percent of students in Tennessee heard the word “gay” used in a negative way or other homophobic remarks. They also heard negative remarks about a person’s gender presentation. Students weren’t the only ones talking like this; 30 percent of students heard the school staff commented negatively on an individual’s gender expression, and 23 percent heard the staff use homophobic remarks.

Many Tennessee students are also verbally and physically bullied: 88 percent of LGBT youth were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 64 percent were harassed because of their gender presentation. Worst of all, almost no LGBT youth had access to necessary support at school. Only 3 percent attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying program that specifically includes LGBT youth. While 87 percent could identify one supportive staff member, only about a third could identify many.

Posters won’t solve all these problems, but the school board refused even this small attempt at helping LGBT youth because of the terms “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” stating that they were of an inappropriate sexual nature. The school board’s attorney also accused the terminology of being inappropriately political.

Without any school support, LGBT youth may have nowhere to go for help. A 2011-2012 survey shows that approximately 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT: of those, 68 percent said they had experienced family rejection, and 54 percent said they had experienced abuse in the family.

The bullying that the school board denies has far-reaching effects for both the bully and the victim. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, bullies who were also victims have the biggest problems as adults—14.5 times more likely to develop panic disorder and 4.8 times more likely to experience depression. are 18.5 times more likely to have had suicidal thoughts, and females are 26.7 times more likely to have agoraphobia.

Previous research from Finland found the same adverse long-term outcomes, particularly anxiety for victims and antisocial personality disorders for bullies.

A newer report in Psychological Science shows the same affects as well as difficulty in keeping a job and poor social relationships. Because they had greater difficulty saving money, they were more likely to be poor. Those who were both bullies and victims are six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness or psychiatric disorder and to regularly smoke. Bullies also have a greater chance of riskier behavior and criminal records.

The hatred for LGBT rights from the religious right and schools was evidenced in a hate crime last Sunday in Orlando (FL). Three men taunted a women walking along a sidewalk, calling her “lesbian” and “dyke” before they got out of the car and raped her. One of the men supposedly said, “I’ll show you how a real man feels.”

A gay Iraq war hero was booed and shouted in San Antonio for supporting anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation and gender identity. A Tennessee church expelled an entire family because they wouldn’t reject a lesbian daughter. Bryan Fischer, American Family Association spokesman, wants the United States to follow Russia in its anti-LGBT laws which arrest and imprison people even for appearing to be or supporting of LGBT people.

Ex-gay therapist Jerry Mungadze continues the cruel stereotypes with his system of determining who is gay or possessed by demons by asking people to use crayons to color in a picture of the human brain. Black, gray, or brown—that’s possessed. And—of course!—pink proves a person is gay.

In Virginia, gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, currently the state’s AG, wants to bring back the anti-sodomy law. Tom Tomorrow’s black humor shows how doing so would impact people:

comic

After a Pennsylvania county clerk issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Gov. Tom Corbett filed a legal brief against the action—because the state AG refused to stop the licenses. The legal team compared these licenses for LGBT couples to allowing 12-year-old children to be married. As usual with gaffes like this, Corbett has called the analogy “inappropriate,” according to Corbett’s spokesman.

Even after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA as unconstitutional, the Veterans Administration refused to provide federal benefits to veterans’ legally married spouses. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said that the law explaining these benefits define spouse and surviving spouse as someone of the opposite sex. Fortunately, a federal judge in California, Consuelo B. Marshall, declared the VA’s decision is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court didn’t even begin to overturn the 1,038+ unconstitutional federal laws that discriminate against same-sex couples. At this time, Social Security will give benefits only to married same-sex couples who live in states and other jurisdictions that recognize marriage equality. State and federal government will continue to model bullying for everyone in the United States, costing taxpayers a millions of dollars.

Even Wal-Mart has decided to allow health benefits to same-sex partners of its 1.3 million workers, in keeping with 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies. The VA might take note.

Note: The IRS is following the spirit of the Supreme Court anti-DOMA ruling. Legally married same-sex couples in the United States have achieved marriage equality for federal tax purposes no matter where they live even if they reside in a state that does not recognize the union. U.S. Treasury secretary Jacob J. Lew issued the following in a press release:

“This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change. Under the ruling, same sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. The ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA, and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.”

Refund claims can still be filed for 2010, 2011, and 2012, and some people may have special circumstances that allow them to file such claims for earlier years. Earlier today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that legally married same-sex couples will receive the same treatment under Medicare as opposite-sex couples.

June 14, 2013

Six Months since Newtown Massacre

Twenty-eight people died of gun violence because of one armed young man only six months ago today. The flurry of attempts to reduce further gun violence in the United States gave some people hope that it would happen, but NRA knew that interest would fade if they stood their ground. Yet the people in Newtown (CT) where 20 children and six educators were gunned down in that massacre haven’t quit. Today they held a remembrance that included reading the names of the more than 5,000 people in the country killed with guns which is expected to take 12 hours.

Mayors against Illegal Guns has launched a bus tour through 25 states during the next 100 days to build support for expanded background checks for gun buyers, the legislation that failed in the Senate two months ago. Relatives of victims have gone to Washington, D.C. to lobby for gun control legislation although some of the legislators refuse to meet with them.

NRA has Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in their sights with an ad campaign telling people to phone his office and tell him “to honor his commitment to the 2nd Amendment.”

The gun organization has a strong supporter in convicted felon Gary W. Bornman who wrote from a federal super-maximum security prison in Colorado to his Connecticut hometown newspaper, The Hartford Courant  expressing his gratitude to the pro-gun lawmakers and NRA for giving him the ability to easily get guns when he’s released. As he pointed out in the letter, without the NRA and these legislators he could not easily buy weapons before he reaches Connecticut with its restrictive laws so that he can “resume my criminal activities.” He finishes the letter:

“And so, a heartfelt thank you to the NRA and all those members of Congress voting with them. I, along with tens of thousands of other criminals, couldn’t do what we do without you.”

This isn’t the first time that Bornman has written letters to the public. In a 1999 letter to the LA Times, he wrote:

“In little more than 14 months, in all probability I’ll commit murder, perhaps even mass murder. That’s when I’m due to be released from federal prison where I’m serving a seven-year sentence for bank robbery.”

Bornman’s public defender, Gary Weinberger, thinks that his client is not really that dangerous.

When Bornman is released from the Colorado prison, he can drop into adjacent Nevada, where the state legislature just passed a bill to close the gun-show loophole by requiring background checks on gun purchases, including private transactions. They followed the wishes of 86 percent of people in Nevada. Bornman could get a gun in Nevada, however, because Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed the bill, claiming it would do “little to prevent criminals from unlawfully obtaining firearms.” Another provision of the vetoed bill would require Nevada courts to submit information about mentally ill legal defendants to a national clearinghouse for all new gun purchases within five business days after the finding.

Some gun enthusiasts claiming that the Second Amendment gives everyone the right to own guns and ammunition are trying to stop the U.S. government from having them. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), chair of the House Homeland Security oversight subcommittee, is confused about why IRS law enforcement agents would train with AR-15 rifles. He said, “It’s been bugging me for weeks now, why IRS agents are training with a semi-automatic rifle AR-15, which has stand-off capability. Are Americans that much of a target that you need that kind of capability?” These are exactly my sentiments for the ordinary U.S. citizen.

The tax agency’s explanation:

“As law enforcement officials, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agents are equipped similarly to other federal, state and local law enforcement organizations. Special Agents receive training on the appropriate and safe use of assigned weapons. IRS Criminal Investigation has internal controls and oversight in place to ensure all law enforcement tools, including weapons are used appropriately.”

Fighting potentially violent criminals has been part of IRS agents’ job for 90 years; their jurisdiction includes “tax, money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act laws.”  The IRS guidelines for training its agents on semi-automatic rifles occurred in 2003 under George W. Bush’s watch.

Since the Newtown massacre, the House has passed one piece of gun control legislation.  By a vote of 234-192, the House voted last week to stop DHS from buying any more ammunition until they submit reports on the need for this to Congress. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has proposed a similar measure in Congress’s other chamber.

During the past six months, gun violence has killed an average of 28 people each day, more than the number of U.S. military members killed during the Iraq War. In the last 30 years, 62 mass shootings occurred in thirty different states, making an average of two each year. Twenty-five of them happened since 2006—seven of them last year with 140 victims. Mother Jones has tracked these on an interactive map.

During the past four years, the U.S. averaged over one mass shooting per month. In the last six months, there have been at least 14 mass shootings—over two each month. An interactive map of the nation, pinpointing these shootings, is available here.

An analysis of the 62 mass shootings shows the following:

Weapons: The killers possessed 143 weapons, more than three quarters obtained legally, including dozens of assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines.

Locations:  More than half of the cases involved school or workplace shootings (12 and 20, respectively); the other 30 cases took place in locations such as shopping malls, restaurants, and religious and government buildings.

Killers: Forty four were white males; only one was a woman. The average age of the killers was 35, with the youngest 11 years old. A majority had demonstrated being mentally troubled before they killed.

Not once was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. In other recent rampages, civilians who tried to intervene not only failed but also were seriously wounded or killed. Even the police don’t have a good record: New York City police officers trained in counterterrorism wounded nine innocent bystanders when confronting a gunman at the Empire State Building.

Without registration, no one knows exactly how many guns are in private hands, but estimates indicate about 200 million privately-owned guns in 1995, a number that has increased 50 percent in the past 18 years to 300 million. During the same time, the U.S. population grew by only 20 percent. Yet fewer households have guns: 40 percent of them had weapons in the past decade compared to 50 percent in the 1980s.

During the last four years, the NRA and its political allies have pushed through 99 laws in 37 states making guns easier to own, carry, and conceal from the government. Eight states permit guns in bars, even when the carrier is intoxicated. Five states allow concealed weapons on college campuses. Kansas permit holders can carry concealed weapons inside K-12 schools, and Louisiana permits guns in houses of worship. Eighty percent of states now recognize handgun permits from at least some other states.

At least one educator is making a different in the gun control issue. Believing that children who play with toy guns become desensitized, making it easier for them to use real guns later, Strobridge Elementary School (CA) Principal Charles Hill organized a toy gun exchange. Gun rights enthusiasts claim that toy guns are painted in “bright colors,” making it impossible for them to be mistaken for a real gun, but “real guns” are also painted in such colors as bright pink and blue. About 75 children traded their guns for books and a chance on four bicycles.

Until 1996, Australia had the same lax attitude toward gun ownership that the United States does. After 35 people were killed in a massacre on April 28 of that year, Australia passed restrictive gun controls, requiring a “genuine reason” for permits and prohibiting gun ownership for convicted felons and those with mental illness. The rate of homicides involving firearms per 100,000 population in 2009 was 0.1 in Australia, as compared with 3.3 in the United States.The rate of unintentional deaths involving firearms in 2001 was 0.09, compared with 0.27 in the United States. Only Latin America has a higher death rate from guns than the United States.

May 31, 2012

ALEC Continues Downhill Slide

ALEC used to be the secret right-wing group that provided millions of dollars to write conservative laws such as “stand your ground,” voter repression in the name of identifying fraud, and unconstitutional anti-choice laws. I say “used to be” because  the American Legislative Exchange Council was forced out of the closet into the light of media’s day last month. Until today the list of corporations running away from ALEC had included 19 large corporations such as amazon.com, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield have dropped from ALEC. Nonprofits like the gigantic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also separated themselves from the far-right Koch-sponsored organization. Today both retail giant Wal-Mart and Medtronic, a medical device company, dumped ALEC.

ALEC has more than 2,000 legislative members, primarily Republican, from all 50 states, nearly one-third of all sitting legislators and more than 85 members of Congress and 14 sitting or former governors who are considered “alumni.” Approximately 300 corporate, foundation, and other private-sector groups are other, higher paying, members. ALEC’s chair, currently David Frizzell (IN)  rotates with a new legislator appointed to the position each year.

Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker is the poster-child for ALEC with its anti-consumer, union-busting, voter-repression laws while giving huge tax cuts for corporations and the richest of its citizens. Of the 132 legislators, 49 are ALEC members, including top leadership in both houses.  Walker began his devastation with an ALEC “omnibus” tort bill, making it harder for Wisconsin residents to hold corporations accountable after dangerous products injure or kill people.

Another poster-child, albeit much quieter than Wisconsin, is Louisiana. Gov. Bobby Jindal used ALEC bills that advocate for the privatization of traditionally public services, like health care, prisons and education based on the misguided conservative belief that the results will be more efficient and competitive. Privatization is far more costly and less efficient as seen by the replacements in the military and prisons.

In Louisiana, laws were rushed through without any thought, for example the “parent trigger” law that allows a majority of parents connected with one school to change it into a charter school. There is no evaluation for the converted school, either before or after, and no way for failed charter schools to be “re-triggered.” Student placement is also limited. ALEC advice is to push a large quantity of bills very fast, to get them passed before people notice.

One influential trade association staying with ALEC is the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) that represents companies providing water services to almost 73 million people in the country. That’s almost one-fourth of the population. The goal of NAWC and ALEC is to legislate loopholes for water protections and federal oversight of fracking, a method of extracting oil that forces millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals into the ground. This practice not only puts drinking water resources at risk but also may be the reason behind the increasing number of earthquakes in the Midwest.

Another powerful corporation—and ALEC member—pushing for fracking is ExxonMobil. Model legislation from ALEC, based on a Texas law, gives guidelines for the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through fracking. The model bill has loopholes allowing energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, meaning that companies—like ExxonMobil—are then allowed to use any contaminants that they want without anyone knowing what these are.

One organization dropping ALEC last month is the national certifying body for teachers in the United States, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Supposedly a non-profit organization focusing on teacher certification, NBPTS also takes positions on political positions affect teacher certification.

Some legislators seem incredibly naïve about how ALEC truly lobbies. For example, state Rep. Paul Bandy, co-chair of the New Mexico branch of ALEC, said in an interview that he didn’t solicit donations from ALEC, that money just appears in his mailbox from ALEC-connected corporations. I guess he considers himself really lucky. He did understand that the ALEC laws might not pass if people know their origin. Bandy opposes the use of tax-deductible money for political purposes but didn’t seem to object using ALEC’s tax-deductible money for political purposes.

The South Carolina legislature is so supportive of ALEC that it has created a special ethics exemption for the organization. Lobbying rules that govern how public officials can interact with lobbyists prevent legislators from having their lodging and transportation provided by lobbyists—with the exception of ALEC—because “the outings that ALEC organizes for politicians are essential to its influence. At these retreats, ALEC officials work with state lawmakers to craft new legislation.” They certainly do!

When ALEC’s activities became widely known last month, there seemed to be a slight bit of hope after the organization announced that they would eliminate its Public Safety and Elections task force. Hope was short-lived, however, after the task force’s chair, state Rep. Jerry Madden (R-TX) said many of the issues would be transferred to other committees. ALEC’s definition of “public safety” is passing laws allowing people to go after others if they “feel threatened” and kill them if necessary, as happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida a year ago.

Disturbed when ALEC dropped its voter suppression arm, the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) stepped in and formed a “Voter Identification Task Force.” The NCPPR also criticized ALEC for withdrawing the voter-oppression task force after losing only 11 corporate sponsors. Part of NCPPR’s past activities have been to help Jack Abramoff launder millions of dollars and to raise funds by “bombarding senior citizens with ‘fright mail,'” money used to do things like help Exxon Mobil oppose efforts to address climate change.

One organization is fighting back against ALEC through its fraudulent tax-exempt status. The watchdog Common Cause has obtained hundreds of pages of documents and shared these with the New York Times. They are also using these documents and public records to support its Internal Revenue Service complaint, stating that ALEC does not deserve its tax-exempt status because it is a lobbying organization. ALEC denies that it is writing laws, but its membership brochure bragged that the group introduces over 1,000 bills annually and passes about 17 percent of these.

ALEC also sends talking points to its lawmakers to use when speaking publicly about issues like President Obama’s health care law. Alan P. Dye, a lawyer for ALEC, acknowledged that the group’s practice of communicating with lawmakers about specific bills could meet the federal definition of lobbying. His justification is that these communications were a result of “nonpartisan research and analysis.” Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy disagreed, stating that as of last August, all but one of 104 leadership positions within the organization were filled by Republicans and that the policies ALEC promoted were almost uniformly conservative.

Common Cause has made progress in at least one state. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board will investigate ALEC for lobbying violations in that state. The board will likely address the complaint in July. In Minnesota, Common Cause also filed a complaint with state Attorney General Lori Swanson alleging that ALEC has misrepresented its role by filing as a 501 (c) (3).

The icing on the cake is within the IRS procedures: According to IRS policies, an analyst in the Whistleblower Office must consider the information provided by Common Cause. Common Cause could receive between 15 and 30 percent of any taxes, penalties and interest collected, if certain requirements are met. Only the IRS can challenge a nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt status because of court rulings.

The only thing better than ALEC having to pay taxes is for a watchdog organization to get some of it!

Civil Rights Advocacy

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

AGR Daily 60 Second News

Transformational News; What Works For Seven Future Generations Without Causing Harm?

JONATHAN TURLEY

Res ipsa loquitur - The thing itself speaks

Jennifer Hofmann

Inspiration for soul-divers, seekers, and activists.

Occupy Democrats

Progressive political commentary/book reviews for youth and adults

V e t P o l i t i c s

politics from a liberal veteran's perspective

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

Rainbow round table news

Official News Outlet for the Rainbow Round Table of the American Library Association

The Extinction Protocol

Geologic and Earthchange News events

Central Oregon Coast NOW

The Central Oregon Coast Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW)

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Over the Rainbow Books

A Book List from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: