Monday, May 4, 2015

The Scientific Consensus on Guns

An article with that title recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times, written by David Hemenway, who is a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. He was motivated by a conversation with a journalist who told him that the media only abandoned their balanced coverage of a controversial scientific issue--like global warming--"when objective findings indicated that the overwhelming majority of scientists thought climate change was indeed happening, and that it was caused by humans." So Hemenway decided to "determine objectively, through polling, whether there was a scientific consensus on firearms." The results, he found, "won't please the National Rifle Association."

Accordingly, his first step was to compile "a list of relevant scientists," who had published articles on firearms in a peer-reviewed scientific journal within the past four years. Most of the qualifying scholars came from the disciplines of political science, criminology, economics, public policy, or public health. His graduate assistants eventually identified 300 such people and found more than 280 email addresses. Beginning last May, they began sending them short, monthly surveys composed of three basic questions. The first asked how much the respondent concurred with a specific claim related to firearms, while the other two asked them to rate the quality of the scientific research and to state their level of familiarity with the scientific literature on that particular topic.   

One question asked whether having a gun in the home increased the rate of suicide--84 percent of 150 respondents answered YES. This result squares with the findings of numerous area-wide studies that "the differences in rates of suicide across the country are less explained by differences in mental health, suicide ideation or even suicide attempts than they are by differences in levels of household gun ownership." It also agreed with a 2014 meta-analysis conducted by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, and with a 2012 study by the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention from the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Ditto a report by the Surgeon General which concluded "firearm access is a risk factor for suicide in the United States."

Responses to other Hemenway questions: 72 percent agreed that a gun in the home increases the risk that a woman residing there will be the victim of a homicide; 64 percent concurred that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be (only 5 percent said that it made the home safer); 73 percent agreed that guns are used more frequently in the commission of a crime than in self-defense; 62 percent conclude that more permissive gun carrying laws have not reduced crime rates; 71 percent, on to the contrary, agree that stronger gun laws reduce homicide. 

While acknowledging that scientific consensus on any topic is not necessarily always right, he concludes that they are" our best guide to understanding the world." Hemenway concludes with a reasonable request: "Can reporters please stop pretending that scientists, like politicians, are evenly divided on guns. We're not.         

For a closely related Op-Ed Piece, see Robert J. Spitzer, "Stand Your Ground Makes No  Sense," in the May 4 edition of the New York Times.

JDB                     

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Get your billions back, America!!

If you watch TV at all, you have undoubtedly been assaulted by the ad in which an irritating little man in the GREEN (How subtle can you get?) bow tie screaming that mantra. It is a great idea, only it is directed at the wrong target. To hit the right target, read LEGALIZED TAX FRAUD: HOW TOP US CORPORATIONS CONTINUE TO PROFIT THROUGH OPFFSHORE TAX HAVENS, a report from Senator Bernie Sanders, ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee. If it doesn't galvanize you to demand real corporate tax reform, check your pulse to make sure that you are still alive. 

The data in the report is based on a study of the Business Roundtable (BRT), a coalition of the CEOs from 201 of the nation's wealthiest corporations, who are, among other atrocities, on record for raising the eligible age for Social Security and Medicare to 70, cutting The benefits of both programs, lowering the corporate tax rate (its true that the US rate is one of the highest in the world, except that almost nobody even comes close to paying at that level. In fact, as this study blatantly documents, some corporations don't pay any income taxes at all!!), and adopting a "territorial" tax system that exempts their offshore profits entirely.

At least 111 0f the 201 use offshore tax havens to avoid paying some $280 billion in taxes on assets of $1,000,000,000.

Twenty-one of these corporations have disclosed that if they brought their collective $235 billion in offshore profits to the US, they would owe taxes of $65 billion--28 % of the total. THE REST OF THEM DO NOT DISCLOSE THIS INFORMATION.

Since they are allowed to deduct whatever income taxes they have paid to foreign governments, they are paying these tax haven levies at a rate of about SEVEN PERCENT.

At least 81 of these BRT corporations who are supposed to pay US federal corporation income taxes have been profitable for five years and yet almost none are paying anywhere near the official rate of 35%. From 2008 through 2011, these 81 companies have received a total of $188 billion in tax breaks--the difference between the 35% that they should have paid and what they actually paid. They have actually paid US corporate income tax at an average rate of 18.1 percent--slightly more than one-half of what they should have paid.

Several of these "fortunate" 81 BRT corporations--American Electric Power, Boeing, Corning, Duke Energy, General Electric, the Interpublic Group. NextEra Energy, PG&E Corporation, Tenet Healthcare, and Verizon--HAVE ACTUALLY RECEIVED REFUNDS!!

111 of these BRT corporations have disclosed ownership of subsidiaries in countries designated by the Government Accountability Office as "offshore tax havens."  Most are banks, technology, and pharmaceutical companies, but the list also includes Catepillar and other manufacturers.

Many of the rest are highly profitable "C companies," which are required to pay US corporate income taxes, but which actually manage to avoid paying most of the statutory 35 percent. That list includes manufacturers, energy companies. utilities, and FedEx.

The report describe the profits earned by many BRT corporations as "officially" held overseas "because much or most of their profits are actually earned in the US or other countries where actual business is being carried out and then manipulated through accounting principles so that they appear to be earned in countries with no corporate income tax at all." They claim to generate more profits in tax havens, MANY OF WHICH ARE TINY COUNTRIES WITH VERY SMALL POPULATIONS AND  MUCH HIGHER PROFITS  THAN COULD POSSIBLY BE EARNED THERE." One of the most egregious examples are corporations is Bermuda, where BRT companies regularly report to the IRS earnings "EQUAL TO 16 TIMES THE ENTIRE GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT OF Bermuda." The profits they report to earn in the Cayman Islands "EQUAL 20 TIMES THE GDP OF THAT TINY COUNTRY." Countries like Ireland, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg "provide LOOPHOLES AND SPECIAL DEALS so that profits can be moved through them and into the zero-tax countries like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands."

N.B. This report relies on data compiled by the US Public Interest Research Group and Citizens for Tax Justice from companies' public filings with the SEC comparing disclosed offshore subsidies with the list of tax havens used by the GAO in its 2008 report. Companies are required to disclose only "significant subsidiaries," so many have stopped revealing 99%  of their subsidiaries, rather than actually shutting down or divesting them.

Despite claims by the BRT that lower taxes will provide investment and job growth, "THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT CORPORATIONS WITH LOWER TAX BILLS CREATE MORE JOBS THAN THOSE WITH HIGHER TAX BILLS." A December 2013 report by the Center for Effective Government compared 30 of the higher taxed corporations with 30 of the lowest taxed  and "found that the high-tax group created almost 200,000 jobs between 2008 and 2012, while the low-tax group collectively REDUCED EMPLOYMENT BY 51,999 JOBS."    The "clear winner" is VERIZON, which has eliminated 62, 338 jobs since 2008, despite having an effective income tax rate of TWO PERCENT!

The remainder of the report is a detailed analysis of each of the BRT companies taking advantage of offshore tax havens, ranging in alphabetical order from CITIGROUP to THE WILLIAMS COMPANIES, INC, revealing each one's taxpayer bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department during the financial crisis of 2008 to 2011, its number of subsidiaries in offshore tax havens in early 2014, its profits officially held offshore by that date, and the amount of federal income tax each would have to pay--at 27 percent--if those profits were brought to the US. Each example concludes with the charge that "there is strong EVIDENCE that many American corporations are simply choosing NOT to disclose as many of these subsidiaries as they had in the past."

For those who prefer to ingest their poison in tabular form, there is a four-page appendix detailing that information for each of the BRT companies.

If you have not yet filed your 1040 forms for 2014, I would recommend doing so before reading this report. Afterwards, you probably won't want to.

Keep on keeping on, JDB
     
  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Does Social Security Work? You Betcha!

Will Social Security "be there for me" when I need it?  That is the ultimate question, so far as most people are concerned. What about all those predictions that the system is on the verge of "bankruptcy," or that it is nothing but a glorified "Ponzi scheme"? Does it need to be "privatized" in order to survive?

Whenever anybody tries to persuade you of any such claptrap, simply tell them to read Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn't Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All, written by Nancy J. Altman and Eric R. Kingson. and just recently published by The New Press. She is a former faculty member of both the Harvard University Law School and its Kennedy School of Government, She is currently a member of the Boards of the National Academy of Social Insurance and the Pension Rights Center and is the author of The Battle for Social Security: From FDR's Vision to Bush's Gamble. He is a professor at Syracuse University's School of Social Work, and the co-author of four books on Social Security and Medicare, including Ties That Bind: The Interdependence of Generations.   

The book is divided into five parts: The Facts; The Challenges; The Solution; The Threats; and Next Steps. Each part includes two or more essays:

I.   Facts: The Changing  Conversation; Social Security Works For All Generations.
II.  Challenges: The Precarious Lives of Today's Old; The Coming Retirement Income Crisis; The
                          Debt Owed To Those Who Care; The New Gilded Age
III. Solution: Expand Social Security For All Generations and Paying the Bill
IV. Threats: The Billionaire's War On Social Security; The Conventional "Wisdom" Is Just Plain
                      Wrong
V. Next Steps: There They Go Again: Why the Supporters of Social Security Must Remain Vigilant;  
                        Passing Social Security Forward: A Legacy For All Generations 
 
The book also includes four appendixes:

A: Additional information About How Social Security Works
B. Additional Information About The Social Security Works All Generations Plan and Other    
Proposals, including Cost and Revenue   
C. Descriptions of Various Social Security Expansion Legislative Bills and Organization's Plans
D. Leading Organizations Working to Expand Social Security 


The entire book is a treasure trove of reason and truth, with reams of statistics, so I will highlight a few of my favorites. For example, The Coming Retirement Crisis reveals that the "difference what people have saved for retirement and what they should have at this point--is a staggering $6.6 trillion, and half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings."

According to a poll conducted by National Academy of Social Insurance in 2013, 89 percent of respondents believe that " S.S. benefits are more important than ever," 84 percent did not mind paying its payroll tax "because it provides security and stability to millions," and 75 percent believe "we should consider increasing S.S. benefits."  Even 81 percent of Republicans agree with statement #1, 74 percent agree with statement #2, and 62 percent agree that we should consider raising benefits. Broken down by generation, the positive responses to #1 ranged from 84% of "Generation Y to 93% of "baby boomers"; by family income, the positive range is 87% for those in the $75,000 to $99,999 bracket to 93% for those  making between $30,000 and $49,888.  On "consider raising benefits," the lowest positive response is 72% for the "silent generation;" 67% for those making $100,000 or more; and 62% for Republicans.

SO WHERE DOES THE "CONVENTIONAL WISDOM" COME FROM AND WHY DO SO MANY PEOPLE REGARD IT AS "SOMETHING EVERY KNOWS, LIKE THE SUN RISING IN THE EAST (WHICH OF COURSE IT DOESN'T REALLY?).

The answer is "THE BILLIONAIRES' WAR AGAINST SOCIAL SECURITY," along with the obviously intertwined circumstance "that much of the press has reported only one side of this story using "facts" that are misleading or flat-put wrong while ignoring others." This litany of despair "has resulted from a deliberate campaign, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars and a cottage industry of academics who have built their careers on criticizing Social Security. Together, these forces have brought a veneer of respectability to claims that Social Security is unsustainable, in crisis, and spawning  competition and conflict between generations." <Or as the pompous governor of my home state has openly bragged on numerous occasions: DIVIDE AND CONQUER!>

Broadcasting that campaign "have been journalists and politicians who have either willingly advanced an anti-Social Security agenda or have fallen prey to myths, half-truths, and a few outright lies that have been masquerading as incontrovertible facts." Their three-decade long assault is a "tale of three commissions: " the one chaired by Ayn Rand devotee Alan Greenspan in the early 1980s, the Bipartisan Commission on "Entitlements" and Tax Reform of the 1990's  which branded S.S., Medicare, and Medicaid combined as one humongous "entitlement crisis," and the Obama administration's  National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. In the process, S.S. was calculatedly transformed from a program of social insurance paid for by a carefully calibrated "payroll tax" on employers and employees over the entire work-life of the latter to an unearned "welfare handout," whose escalating cost would bankrupt not only the system itself, but the entire United States. (The same slight-of-hand stigmatized the Affordable Care Act as "Obamacare.") The "money behind the campaign" that effected the triumph of that "Big Lie" has been primarily that of Peter G. Peterson, former Nixon Secretary  of Commerce, one-time CEO of Lehman Brothers, and the 147th richest American, with a reported net worth of near $3,000, 000,000. He has bankrolled several foundations dedicated to obliterating Social Security, including Fix The Debt, of which his son Michael is president and whose board of directors includes both Bowles and Simpson.

In an absolutely mind-blowing table titled THE RETIREMENT SAVINGS OF SOME FIX THE DEBT CEOS WHO WANT TO CUT YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY spells out in graphic detail their "Total CEO Retirement Assets," "Estimated CEO Monthly Pensions," and "Employee Pension  Deficit Fund." The list includes the CEOs of 13 of the nation's richest corporations. It could just as well be captioned " The Personification of Greed and Hypocrisy." (See p. 155). Their total CEO retirement assets range from a "low" of $20,677,631 to a high of $78,084,417, while their estimated monthly pension benefits range from a "low" of $113,363 to a high of $428,092. <The average monthly Social Security benefit is $1,294; for "widowed caregiving parents with two children" it is $2,593.> Estimated employee pension fund deficits range from $454,000,000 at Corning to $21,756,000,000 at General Electric. "Independent Living" accommodations at the newly-opened Primrose Retirement Community" in my hometown start at $2,695/monthly for a one-bedroom apartment; $3,595 for "assisted living.">

The best feasible "SOLUTION", according to Altman and Kingson, is the "Social Security Works All Generations Plan,"(SSWAGP)-- " a comprehensive package of benefit and revenue changes that expands Social Security's protections in important ways."
1. Increase benefits for current and future beneficiaries by 10%, up to a maximum of $150 monthly
2. To prevent erosion of benefits over time, use the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly
3. Minimum benefit of 125% above poverty for those reaching retirement age after 30 years work
4. Twelve weeks of family leave upon birth or adoption of child or illness of covered worker
5. Up to five years of SS benefit credits for care of one or more children under age 6
6. Restore student benefits up to age 22 in case of death or disability of covered parents  
7. A new benefit of $1,000 upon birth or adoption of a child
8. Eliminate maximum taxable wage base, giving credit for those contributions
9. Dedicated 10% marginal income tax on those with income more than $1,000,000
10. Gradually increase contribution rate by 1% for both employers and employees
11. Gradually diversify SS portfolio by investing 40% of its reserve in broad-based equity funds
12. Treat all salary deduction plans the same as 401(k) with respect to definition of SS wages
13. Combine OASI and DI Trust Funds

The authors' assert that, except for modest in the SS premium rate, these revenue sources "would have no impact on the vast majority of Americans." The existing refundable Earned Income Tax Credit could be expanded to offset any increased burden on lower income workers.  These various revenue sources could be "mixed and matched depending upon how substantially the nation want to expand SS," and phased in gradually to blunt impact on individuals."  They would build upon SS "existing financing and retain premiums as the primary source of income, consistent with the earned-benefit nature of Social Security."  They also provide precise estimates of how much each of their proposals would cost in the taxable payroll and in percent of GDP. In almost every case, the increased cost would amount to considerably less than 1% of either one. They are all "fully affordable." So what's the hang- up? "Standing in the way, they state flatly, are determined, powerful, and well-financed foes," which they spell out in frightening detail as "THE BILLIONARIES WAR AGAINST SOCIAL SECURITY"             
         
This is most definitely a war and one which the vast majority of Americans are losing! The ammunition for mounting a successful counter-offensive lies clearly between the covers of SOCIAL SECURITY WORKS! 
               
 

 

Friday, September 5, 2014

What's The Reason It Isn't Treason?


"Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason." Words of wisdom from Sir John Harrington (1561-1612), Elizabethan Era courtier, affectionately known as the Queen's "saucy Godson," until he fell out of her good graces by penning a political allegory and coded attack on the monarchy titled A New Discourse on a Stale Subject in 1596. He is perhaps better known, appropriately, as the inventor of the flush toilet.

And, indeed, "it" does prosper. What's it? "It" is pseudo-Americans depriving the nation of untold billions of dollars in revenue by hiding much of their income in secret bank accounts in Switzerland and the Caribbean, and by practicing "inversion": partnering with foreign companies to avoid paying their fair share of U.S. income taxes. "It" is ersatz Americans reaping obscene profits by enjoying the manifold benefits and protections of U.S. citizenship, while not contributing their fair share of the costs.

Of course, every American schoolchild knows that the Constitution defines "Treason" very narrowly and precisely:Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or to adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.    

The use of them is perplexing. It seems to indicate a pre-Constitution mind-set that the United States means the States that happen to be United, which sounds like the nature of the Union as set forth in the Articles of Confederation and the Ordinances of Secession proffered by southern slave states in 1861. In any case, that fiction was obliterated by the preamble to the Constitution and a plethora of Supreme Court decisions.: "We the people of the United States...In order to form a more perfect Union." So who is them? The States or The People? Whose "ox is being gored"? Who or what is the victim of Treason? Can the "victim" and the "perp" be one and the same? The Civil War and the 14th Amendment (which obviously came much later) supposedly settled that question in favor of the people, but many of "the Makers" seemingly meant the States.

That aside, the Constitution defines Treason itself "levying war against them" or "giving them Aid and Comfort." The first offense clearly means taking up arms in a "shooting war" against the U.S. You could possibly interpret what these "tax dodgers" are doing as waging metaphorical "war," but that would be quite a stretch, one which their army of obsequious attorneys would have no difficulty in laughing out of court.  <I have always assumed--obviously naively--that  paying one's fair share of legally constituted taxes is one absolute and irreducible principle of true citizenship and patriotism. Apparently not everyone agrees! To clarify that issue, it would probably take a constitutional amendment--one that would obviously be vehemently opposed by the nation's most rich and powerful. But something very similar was accomplished during the Progressive Era, when a broad-based, painstakingly constructed nationwide coalition eventually overcame the adamant opposition of the "robber barons" and "malefactors of great wealth" to enact the Sixteenth Amendment and the federal income tax. [See  my The Income Tax and the Progressive Era  (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.,1985).

That signal achievement took from 1895 until 1913, and survived a veritable tsunami of attacks and challenges, but it finally succeeded! Whether the construction of such a coalition is even a remote possibility today seems highly problematic, but what is the alternative? I seriously doubt that any of todays' "malefactors of great wealth" would ever "confess in open court," but they might possibly be convicted by the testimony of millions of witnesses.

To quote Senator Elizabeth Warren, "these companies are renouncing their American citizenship, turning their backs on this country, simply to boost their profits." To stop this nefarious and unpatriotic practice, she and fellow Senator Sander Levin have introduced the "Stop Corporate Inversions Act," which allows American corporations "to renounce their citizenship only if they truly give up control of their company to a foreign corporation and truly move their operations overseas." These corporations, Senator Warren correctly charges "are not actually leaving America behind. They just don't want to pay for it." America, she boldly asserts, "is a great place to do business because of the investments we have made together." Those investments, she insists, include public education to produce millions of skilled workers, the infrastructure of roads, bridges, and ports that make it possible to move products to market, and scientific and medical research giving American  corporations access to the most innovative and cutting-edge technologies.

How absurd can it get? In the Wisconsin State Senate, minority leader Peter Barca has managed to hoist Governor Scott Walker on his own petard, so to speak. Barca has introduced a bill that would prevent firms "offshoring" jobs from receiving state money and tax incentives. Since Walker is normally one of the big supporters of permitting Wisconsin corporations to "offshore" everything, it would follow that his administration would fight Barca's proposal "tooth and nail." BUT, it turns out that one of his biggest attacks on his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Mary Burke, is that her jointly-owned company--Trek Bicycles--has, in fact, "offshored" some of its jobs. So Walker, the candidate, had no choice but to publicly support Barca's bill, thus enraging the very companies that  Walker, the governor, relies upon for campaign contributions and other considerations. Irony doesn't even begin to describe his dilemma!  So now Walker, who, from day one, has alienated most of the state's  moderate to liberal voters, is also getting some flak from the right. This "flip flop" is even more problematic than insisting that he has fulfilled his pledge to create 250,000 private sector jobs, when he has clearly failed to produce half that number (and has eliminated tens of thousands of public sector jobs in the process.)

Like the reactionary, corrupt, racist Senator Billboard Rawkins in Finian's Rainbow, Walker is boldly leading Wisconsin FORWARD--FORWARD TO YESTERDAY!!!! 


   

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We Need a 28th Amendment--NOW!!!!!!

To save what little semblance of democracy we still have left, we absolutely need to overturn Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC. According to Public Citizen News, 83 percent of Americans favor limiting the amount of money that corporations and other organizations can spend on elections. By its calculations, about $7 billion was spent on the 2012 federal elections--most of it due to Citizens United, which permits corporations and the wealthy to spend unlimited amounts of money on ads and other campaign activities. The elimination of the old $123,000 limit in  McCutcheon enabled the 600 individuals who exceeded that amount to funnel up to $5.9 million into the political process. What can we do about, while we still have the machinery---even if not much of the substance of---the democratic process?

One of the most effective strategies is for progressives everywhere to throw their support behind S.J. Res.19, which has been in the works for four years. It was introduced by U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and it would overturn not only Citizens United and McCutcheon, but also Buckley v. Valeo,  a 1976 Supreme Court decision that established the doctrine popularly called "money equals people." On June 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the proposed amendment, which would give Congress and the states the authority to regulate and limit campaign spending, including expenditures by, in support of, or to oppose candidates in federal elections. Before the hearing even began, a number of progressive organizations delivered a petition in support of the amendment signed by more than two million people from throughout the country. It pledged the support of sixty progressive organizations including Public Citizen, USAction, Common Cause, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the NAACP, and the Communication Workers of America. Speaking for them, Public Citizen President Robert Weissman proclaimed that "this is an historic moment.This amendment will help restore the most basic meaning of democracy--rule by the people."

 In a prepared statement, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev), the Senate Majority Leader, testified that "American families cannot compete with billionaires, Our involvement in government should not be dependent on our bank account balances." On June 18, the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee approved a revised version that simplified and shortened  the amendment's language. This version contains slightly more than 100 words stipulating that "to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections." In addition, it empowers Congress and the states to "distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections." On July 10, the full committee voted to send the revised version to the Senate floor, where it is scheduled for a vote this fall. So far, 47 Senators have signed on in support.

In urging support for the amendment, Weissman proclaims that "the American people know that the current system is failing them. They desperately want action. They believe passionately in ensuring that their speech--not that of any one select group, but the speech of We the People--matters. They are clamoring for the 28th Amendment."

In his brilliant treatise Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change The Constitution, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens makes a compelling case for a "Campaign Finance" amendment. (the others are the "Anti-Commandeering Rule, Sovereign Immunity, Political Gerrymandering, the Death Penalty, and Gun Control.)  In this succinct 177 page treatise, Justice Stevens argues that the first four "would nullify judge-made rules, the fifth would expedite the demise of the death penalty, and the sixth would confine the coverage of the Second Amendment to the area intended by its authors." Over time, he contends that the "soundness of each of my proposals will become more and more evident, and that ultimately each will be adopted." The purpose of this book, he states flatly is "to expedite that process and to avoid future crises before they occur." In support of the amendment regarding campaign finance, Justice Stevens quotes from President Theodore Roosevelt 1905 annual message to Congress:
                 All contributions by corporations to any political committee for any
                political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be
               permitted to use stockholders' money for such purposes; and, moreover,
              a prohibition of this kind would be, as far as it went, an effective method
              of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts.   

Two years later, Justice Stevens argues, " Congress passed a statute banning all corporate contributions to political candidates. For decades thereafter, Congress, most state legislators, and members of the Supreme Court apparently agreed that it was both wise and constitutional to impose greater restrictions on corporate participation in elections than on individuals." That consensus maintained until 1990, when Justices Anton Scalia and Anthony Kennedy wrote a dissenting opinion in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce. The majority upheld the constitutionality of a Michigan statute prohibiting corporations from making any expenditure in connection with an election campaign for state office. The dissenting opinion written by Scalia, who argued that "corporate speech, like other expressive activities by groups of persons, was entitled to the same First Amendment protection as speech by an individual." Fast forward to 2011 and Citizens United v. FEC, in which the Scalia-Kennedy interpretation became the majority opinion (5-4), and "the rest is history," at least until the present.

Stevens does not "fast forward," but traces the devolution of campaign finance regulation from Austin  to Citizens United, step-by-step. He also points out that campaign contributions by labor unions have been seriously restricted since the Court upheld that limitation as part of the infamous Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Stevens also pointedly argues that most members of the TV viewing public "share my opinion that at least 75 percent--perhaps even 90 percent--of the campaign commercials could be omitted without depriving viewers of any useful data." He goes on to say that the decision in Citizens United took a giant step in the wrong direction by "giving corporations an unlimited right to spend their shareholders money in election campaigns." < Isn't it odd that corporations that always insist that their primary (only?) responsibility is to their shareholders, as opposed to labor, consumers or the general public, feel empowered to spend their shareholders money on political action without having to get their permission?>  A constitutional amendment allowing Congress and the states to place "reasonable" limits on campaign expenditures "would allow corporations to make public announcements of their views but would prohibit them from engaging in "the kind of repetitive and excessive advocacy that the candidates typically employ." 

In conclusion, Justice Stevens even provides the exact language that such an amendment should take: Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this constitution shall be construed to prohibit Congress or any state from opposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters may spend in election campaigns. Of course. there will be intense disagreements over the definition of "reasonable." That is what is normally called POLITICS!!!     

JDB

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The "Do-Even-Less-Than-Nothing" Congress

Way back in 1948 President Harry Truman immortalized the 80th Congress as the "Do-Nothing Congress." By hammering away at that theme, HST was able to pull victory from what almost all Pols and Pundits predicted would certainly be the "jaws of defeat." The Chicago Tribune was so certain that it made "Dewey Wins" the gigantic front-page headline of an edition that they were quickly forced to retract. Whether or not Truman's assessment was categorically true, he pulled off what is still almost universally regarded as the greatest upset in the history of presidential elections, and used it as a goad to press the 81st Congress to enact several parts of his Fair Deal platform.  (I actually held a copy of the Trib in my hot little hand when one of the parish priests at St. Pats interrupted our touch football game to teach us a couple of lessons about hubris in real world politics.)

Memories of that "do-nothing 80th Congress came flooding back to me when I read two articles in the opinion section of the New York Times. One was headed "The Do-Even-Less Congress" and written by Charles W. Blow. the other was "What the Republicans Failed to Accomplish" by David Firestone. As of the end of July, Blow asserted, "the current Congress had enacted 142 laws, the fewest of any Congress in the past two decades over the equivalent time span," and only 108 of those were substantial pieces of legislation. Most of the rest involved the renaming of post offices, anniversary commemorations, and other purely ceremonial acts. President Obama has found it necessary to veto only two bills, fewer than and president since James Garfield in 1881--and his term lasted only 200 days before he was assassinated. (Now that paucity of vetoes might signify a high level of agreement between the executive and the legislature, but anybody with a breath in her or his body knows how ridiculous that conclusion would be.) Perhaps we should be grateful that the House is scheduled to be in session 135 days, which works out to 942 hours, an average of about 28 hours per week. Even the most low-paid member of the House scores $174,00 a year, plus a benefit package to die for. That is about the only thing that Democrats and Republicans agree upon, besides the conviction that it should be more. (Don't even attempt to calculate pay per hour. It would only drive you crazy, suicidal, or better yet, homicidal). The average full-time worker logs in more than 1,700 hours per year, for a comparative pittance.

Mr. Blow cites a June report by the Pew Foundation that found "Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines.....and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive than at any point in the last two decades." In my view, this is more about "partisan antipathy" than ideology.
Neither party wants to tackle the real "hot button" issues, such as immigration, inversion, inequality, and "too big to fail." The more liberal Democrats and right-wing Republicans are obviously poles apart on these issues, but the leadership and majority in both parties does not want to touch any of these because of their potential for real ideological disputation. Better to ignore them and rest comfortably in the status quo. Better to sling vitriol back and forth than engage in serious negotiations on any of these "elephants in the room." Republicans blame Obama and Democrats blame Republican intransigence. As Mr. Blow concludes: "Legislation is only a hobby for members of this Congress. their full time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar on acceptable behavior."

Mr. Firestone elaborates upon the same theme: "The failure of this Congress (principally the House) to perform the most basic tasks of governing is breathtakingly broad." To prove his point, he appends "a catalog of the vital tasks the House was unable to accomplish before taking an unnecessary recess."
1. Failure to pass a full set of appropriations bills for the 2015 fiscal year of a continuing resolution to keep the government open past Sept. 30. Haven't we seen this movie before? It should be a real bloodbath!
2. Failure to enact a long-term transportation bill. The current one expires in ten months and is full of gimmicks necessitated by the failure to raise the gasoline tax
3. Failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform
4. Failure to renew the Import/Export Bank and terrorism risk insurance
5. Failure to raise the minimum wage
6. Failure to extend unemployment compensation
7. Failure to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
8. Failure to enact the Paycheck Fairness Act
9. Failure to fix the Voting Rights Act after it was gutted by the Supreme Court
10. Failure to pass any measure imposing background checks on gun buyers
11. Failure to enact any long-term legislation to stimulate the economy and create jobs

"But there is one thing House Republicans did enthusiastically before pack their bags. They voted to sue the president for taking executive actions they disliked ---actions that were necessary because Republicans failed to do their jobs.

What is a voter to do? One good suggestion comes from Ann McFeatters of the McClatchy-Tribune News  Service:
Voters, return to your senses. Do not elect or reelect anyone who wants to refuse to pay debts America has already incurred. Do not pull any lever for someone who proudly promises never to compromise (without it politics is meaningless). Do not send to Washington anyone who tells you how much he/she hates government. Do not give your precious vote to anyone who labels the other side evil, treasonous, demonic, or stupid. (Well, stupid is OK.)   

Keep on keeping on.

JDB

Monday, June 23, 2014

Republican's Own Data Proves "Voter Fraud" is a Myth

Well, the smell (stench) of Republican campaign propaganda is once again in the air. Can specious claims of "Voter Fraud" be far behind? As if any further proof that "Voter Fraud" is a cynically constructed "Myth" is needed, the re-release by Cornell University Press of THE MYTH OF VOTER FRAUD by Lorraine C. Minnite should do the job. The author is political scientist at Barnard College of Columbia University and a senior fellow at DEMOS. Most of her data comes from the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR), a Republican sponsored "think tank" founded in 2005, specifically to dig up evidence of voter fraud. It disbanded in frustration in 2007. That should be a real clue, in and of itself.

According to the author, the book "began as a response to a simple question from Miles Rappaport, the director of Demos, a democracy reform research and advocacy organization in NYC. When he was Connecticut Secretary of State, Rappaport found that his efforts to lower barriers to voting were routinely opposed with arguments that such reforms would only open the door to more "voter fraud." He wanted to find out how big the problem actually was, so that Demos could develop an agenda for electoral reform. So motivated, Minnite "spent a number of years engaged in painstaking research, aggregating and sifting all of the evidence that I could find." The results of her quest are spelled out in the book's chapters, but she "can short-circuit the suspense"--voter fraud is rare. It cannot compare in magnitude to the multiple problems in election administration, which present a far greater threat to the integrity of elections.

This exercise led her "to explore why these allegations are made when the facts do not support them, and why they succeed in influencing electoral rules." To answer that question, she contends, we first need to get "the best estimate" of the incidence of voter fraud, and "to know WHY the myth of voter fraud can be so successfully rejuvenated in the political culture to the point that all it takes to recall it is a wink and a nod--and maybe a little bullying." She declares unequivocally that VOTER FRAUD IS A POLITICALLY CONSTRUCTED MYTH! She begins by discussing a couple of high-profile fraud allegations as examples that have influenced the national election debate, and demonstrating "how they fall apart when we interrogate them." Voter fraud politics are so enduring "because they capitalize on general and widely held folk beliefs <urban myths> that are rooted in in facts and real historical experience, notions such as corruption in party politics and government but also stereotypes and class-and racially biased preconceptions of corruptions among groups by their marginal or minority status in U.S. history. (As a student of American political history, I am well aware that the charges being levied about African Americans, Latinos, and recent immigrants are almost verbatim those made against almost every minority ethnic group throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I also know that many of those holding such biases today are the descendants of those who were once the victims of those very same injustices. I am also aware that
such prejudices against African Americans are more deep-seated and persistent than those levied against any other ethnic group.)

An almost equal source of the author's passion was the "Alice-in-Wonderland" election of 2000, in which "the candidate with the most votes lost and the Supreme Court declared the winner." For those of you too young to have experienced that "sleight-of-hand" in person, this was the "election?" that sentenced us to eight years of George W. Bush. Interest in the "deadening minutiae of election administration, never before a subject of so much spilled ink, captured the attention of the public, the press, and academia." Interest in election law, "a subject about as sexy as patent law, has exploded and the field has suddenly earned some respectability, with academic centers, institutes, and journals all its own."  The issue of election fraud, "an obsession of reformers and muckrakers in a bygone era <read Gilded Age and Progressive Era>, returned to the fore." Concerns ranged from felons' illegally voting, to Democratic ballot count observers' eating chads, and Al Gore operatives among Florida canvassing boards double-punching Palm Beach ballots to invalidate votes for George W. Bush or Pat Buchanan." In arguing for counting overseas military absentee ballots that lacked postmarks or failed to comply with the template. the Bush team waxed patriotic: "To not do so would disenfranchise patriotic soldiers and sailors."

"Epidemics" of voter fraud  broke out all over. Especially suspect, at least to right-wing Republicans, were  nationwide Democratic registration drives, bounty programs, and transportation schemes to get the maximum number of voters to the polls. Republicans had countered with "task forces" of lawyers and volunteer poll watchers "to root out what they were convinced was fraud endemic to the Democrats' efforts and the electoral process itself." What she found in several cases is that "the Republican antifraud campaigns appeared to be directed at suppressing the minority vote and tipping the election to the Republican candidate. In Jefferson County, Arkansas, where African Americans are 40 percent of the eligible voters, a group of predominantly black voters trying cast their ballots during the state's "early voting" period were confronted by Republican poll watchers who photographed them and demanded to see ID. One even stood behind the desk in the county clerk's office and photographed voter information on the clerk's computer screen.

 In South Dakota, the minorities in question were Native Americans on federal reservations who were mobilized by the SDDP, United Sioux, and other tribal councils. About a month before the election, local election auditors in counties on or near reservations reported irregularities in voter registration and absentee balloting. The charges were directed at a single contractor hired by the SDDP, who was immediately fired.  The federal and state's attorneys, with the cooperation of the SDDP, uncovered several hundred registration and absentee voter irregularities. The Republican state's attorney found only two cases where criminal law may have been violated. He concluded that "I just don't want the suggestion out there that there is widespread fraud when we don't have any evidence of that." No matter! Right-wing pundits, including Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and John Fund of the Wall Street Journal  jumped all over the case to arouse their readers and listeners. What happened next, Minnite declares, "reveals the power of the perception of voter fraud to justify electoral and law enforcement policies that strategically advantage one party over the other." They succeeded in "embedding a campaign strategy in the voting rights enforcement routines of the U.S. DOJ." It consisted of aggressively investigating Democrats and their allies, on the barest of evidence, to use the media to create the impression of widespread violation, and to keep those investigations open long enough to influence the 2002 elections. To give the charges even greater currency, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft proclaimed a Voting Access and Integrity Initiative that involved the creation of several "task forces," consisting of 94 assistant U.S attorneys and numerous FBI officials "to deter and detect discrimination, prevent electoral corruption, and bring violators to justice." The statewide South Dakota phone number for reporting such alleged election fraud received only one call!!  The DOJ opened only sixteen investigations in the month before the election, none of which were carried to conclusion. The entire fiasco, in the author's judgment, was reflective of "an evolving pattern of conservative thinking and political strategy: conservatives are victimized by the liberal agenda, whites suffer discrimination than blacks, and the rich unfairly get less from government than the poor." They obviously live in an alternate universe!

Ignoring obvious reality, escalating allegations of voter fraud after 2002 had a profoundly negative effect on the mechanics of voting, one that threatens to undo the progress toward real democracy that it has taken more than 200 years of dedication, courage, and struggle to achieve. It has been "the justification for the erection of much of the convoluted electoral apparatus that plagues the electoral process today." More than a century ago, during the Progressive Era, "the threat of voter fraud was the rhetorical rationale for the very invention of voter registration rules, and each of the major national efforts at election reform since then....has been seriously compromised by an organized party-based opposition warning of the dangers of voter fraud." <Always remember that it is the individual states that set voting requirements and procedures. For details see my post of November 26, 2012: "Why We Need A National Election Law.">    

Easily her two most informative and fascinating examples of fabricated voter fraud are: 1) the myth that several of the 9/11 bombers were able to become eligible voters, and 2) the saga of the abortive and surreal American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR) . The former dates from the publication, in 2004, of Stealing Elections by John Fund, a regular columnist for the Wall Street Journal, in which he charged that several of the 9/11 hijackers were registered to vote. <Considering that they planned to crash their planes well before the next election would seem to make registering to vote unnecessary in the extreme, as well as a waste of valuable prep time, since they also had to learn to fly a jumbo jet airplane, but what the heck?>  Fund's book asserts that "at least eight of the nineteen hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were actually able to register to vote in either Virginia or Florida <both states noted for their "squeaky clean" elections> while they made their deadly preparations for 9/11." Fund bases his claim solely on a December 22, 2002 interview that he conducted with Michael Chertoff, then attorney general in charge of the Justice Department Criminal Division, and we all know how well he did on that job prior to 9/11. Note that Fund writes that they "were actually able to vote," not that they did register or that they were registered. Of course, we all know that every state--even Virginia and Florida--requires that every voter be a "citizen of the U.S." Several other right-wing pundits uttered lots of variations> on the same theme, but Republican Senator "Kit" Bond of Missouri took it to the point of absurdity by claiming---on the Senate floor, no less--that a Pakistani citizen in Greensboro, North Carolina, "with links to two of the September 11 hijackers was indicted by a federal grand jury for having illegally registered to vote." When asked during  a CNN interview with Lou Dobbs on October 24, 2004, if he meant that eight of the hijackers could have registered, Fund corrected Dobbs by insisting that they did register. Fund and others extrapolated from the well-known fact that several of the hijackers had obtained driver's licenses and were therefore able to apply for voter registration under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993. Obviously, being able to apply to register to vote because you obtained a driver's license is not the same thing as being able to register, let alone able to vote. As Minnite carefully points out, Fund, Bond, and their cronies were really trying to discredit the NVRA by "talking in code." The 9/11 Commission did find that several of the hijackers ""manipulated in a fraudulent manner," made detectable false statements on their visa applications, and gave false statements to border officials in order to gain entry," and obtained driver's licenses or state ID cards in California, Florida, Maryland, and Virginia, making them, hypothetically, eligible to register at the same time. But there is no evidence that any of them actually did. To do so would, of course, subject them to closer scrutiny--the last thing in the world they wanted.Therefore, Minnite asserts that "in the absence of any affirmative evidence from state or federal law enforcement officials, it is highly unlikely that any of the hijackers was registered to vote.

Nevertheless, Fund's allegations have received wide and persistent currency among those opposed to any effort to make voting more accessible, especially to poor and minority voters. Charges based upon false or non-existent documentation have been entered into the Congressional Record, swayed lawmakers, and even persuaded Supreme Court Justices. On the evening of the 2006 Congressional elections, Fund told Fox News propagandist Glenn Beck that he still stood by his original accusation, and added that "Our registration rules have a lot of people on there who are dead, don't exist  or registered many times over." This ridiculous "folk myth," the author asserts, is an example of voter fraud politics: "the use of spurious or exaggerated voter fraud allegations to persuade the public about the need for more administrative burdens on the vote." In conducting case studies, she asks 1) who are the actors?; 2) who are the targets?; 3) what are the tactics deployed?; and 4) what are the tactics employed, and what are the factors that account for their success in maintaining barriers that "disproportionately affect certain Americans"? Voter fraud politics "is all about the behavior of partisans and their allies." While committing voter fraud is a crime, "falsely accusing someone of it is not." And therein, to quote Hamlet, lies the rub.

Even more categorical is the case of the report of the ACVR (see above) created on March 15, 2005 at the behest of Robert Ney (R-Ohio), then chairman of the U.S. House Administration Committee. During the course of its hearings, Mark F. "Thor" Hearne, founder and general counsel of ACVR testified that the Ohio NAACP had supplied cocaine to African Americans in return for their registering to vote.According to Murray Waas of the right-wing National Journal, Hearne was a quintessential Republican, who had served in the Department of Education during the Reagan administration, an attorney for the GOP during the 2000 Florida election fiasco, and a national counsel for the Bush-Cheney campaign. He reportedly founded ACVR "with encouragement from Rove and the White House." He has a long history of involvement in schemes to prevent potentially Democratic voters from exercising the franchise. Just days after the Administrative Committee hearings, an enterprising journalist reported that ACVR's address was a U.S. Post Office Box in Dallas, which it shared with a fund raising operation chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, the leader of the Bush-Cheney recount team. The same journalist also discovered that ACVR's internet domain was <av4vr.com>, and that its street address was supposedly 8409 Pickwick Lane 229, Dallas, 75225. That turned out to be the location of a UPS store!! Moreover, its Legislative Fund was a specious 501 (c) (4 ) organization, one of those eerie tax-exempt "social welfare" institutions. Obscured by several layers of phony shell organizations, the Fund had numerous ties to the GOP, the Bush-Cheney campaign, the National Rifle Association, and the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

The ACVR Legislative Fund released a self-commissioned report titled "Voter Fraud, Intimidation, and Suppression in the 2004 Presidential Election," which it claimed to be "the most comprehensive and authoritative review" of voter fraud during the 2004 election. Closer examination of its myriad claims, according to Minnite, "shows it to be little more than a pile of poorly scrutinized newspaper articles sensationalizing election shenanigans instigated in all but two instances by Democrats, who were accused of far more voter intimidation and suppression than Republicans. In other words, it is a piece of political propaganda produced by Republican Part operatives who veiled their work as civil rights advocacy." She includes a table summarizing the findings of the report and shows that "among the more than one hundred cited of alleged voter fraud implicating nearly 300,000 potentially fraudulent votes in the 2004 election cycle, only about 185 votes could be confirmed as possibly tainted by fraud. <For those of you without a handy, dandy calculator, that comes to .0006166 of one prevent.>

 Significantly, nearly all of these allegations involved cities with substantial black populations or in projected "swing states" for the upcoming 2006 elections. Incredibly, the report "achieved remarkable influence, promoting the idea that U.S. elections are riddled with voter fraud." in 2005 and 2006, ACVR advocated for photo IDs, earliest possible voter registration book closings, a one-week turnaround for the return of voter registration forms by volunteer groups, and more stringent list-maintaining procedures during the last months before an election. Significantly, ACVR "appeared and disappeared swiftly enough to evade the federal reporting requirements that might have revealed the true sources of its revenue."  But the "Report" itself is still out there, circulating, just like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or The Donation of Constantine.     

Of course, Minnite's impeccable credentials and exhaustive documentation still might not be enough to convince those get their political news and opinion from "Talk Radio" and Fox TV. They are so beyond the reach of rational thought that even contradictory evidence generated by the Republicans themselves intended to provide evidence of widespread voter fraud probably will not even penetrate their defenses. Nor would most of them even dare to tackle a scholarly work with more than 100 pages of charts and graphs and 43 pages of documenting "Notes."  Besides, it is a logical impossibility to prove the "non-existence" of anything.

That's all for now. Much of the book consists of the author's very insightful discussion of how and why. That is a subject for a later Post, but why not read Minnite's book yourself.

JDB