Democracy Is Rising In The States

Madison. Occupy… Now in North Carolina it’s Moral Mondays. In Texas it’s a filibuster, hundreds of thousands watching online, and the spectator gallery goes nuts when Republicans try to shut down the speaker. In Pennsylvania low-wage workers are sleeping in teh capitol. In Nebraska it’s Pipeline Fighters. What’s happening in your state?

Madison

Corporate-funded Republicans took over in Wisconsin and passed laws restricting democracy and unions. People turned out at the state capitol in protest. Here are Wisconsin protesters chanting: “Tell me what democracy looks like. THIS is what democracy looks like!”

[youtube]http://youtu.be/4M7e-gVNEGU[/youtube]
[youtube]http://youtu.be/Hy3yxP5prdI[/youtube]

Occupy

Then people started showing up for Occupy. All over the country in late 2011 people were showing up at thousands of Occupy events across the country.

I was in Oakland when tens of thousands of people turned out for a day of protest in that city.

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The IRS “Scandal” Was A Set-Up

I have been writing about the so-called IRS “scandal.” It turns out the whole thing was a set-up from the start. Republicans told the Inspector General to make it look like only conservative groups received scrutiny from the IRS, but all groups received the normal scrutiny. And no one was “targeted” for “extra scrutiny.”

In the post The Latest Lie: IRS Targeted Conservatives I noted that the original IG report only focused on the use of names like “Tea Party” and did not say if “progressive”-sounding names were checked.

According to the report, the swamped IRS group involved in this came up with ways – “criteria” – to identify groups that really needed to be checked further because it was possible they might be engaged in the kind of political activity that would exclude them from getting the special tax status. … Some groups were chosen to receive the required scrutiny because they had “political-sounding” names. Some of the “political-sounding names” included the words “tea party.” Others included “We the People” and “Take Back the Country.” (The inspector general’s report does not disclose if or which other “political sounding names” were also used as criteria.)

And now we know that groups with “liberal-sounding names” were also checked. NY Times, Documents Show Liberals in I.R.S. Dragnet,

The instructions that Internal Revenue Service officials used to look for applicants seeking tax-exempt status with “Tea Party” and “Patriots” in their titles also included groups whose names included the words “Progressive” and “Occupy,” according to I.R.S. documents released Monday.

The documents appeared to back up contentions by I.R.S. officials and some Democrats that the agency did not intend to single out conservative groups for special scrutiny.

Again, the whole scandal was because the name “Tea Party” was one of the names used to identify potential political groups, meaning they should not get special tax status. “The inspector general’s report does not disclose if or which other “political sounding names” were also used as criteria.” But what really happened was that all groups applying for special tax status are supposed to be checked. The IRS was swamped with applicants after Citizens United, and underfunded, so they had to let some groups off from the usual scrutiny, and came up with shortcuts to look for potential political groups that should not receive the special tax status. That’s the whole “scandal” — not that some groups received “extra” scrutiny or were “targeted” but that some groups didn’t receive normal scrutiny while political-sounding groups got the normal scrutiny.

Here is why the inspector general’s report did not disclose whether other groups were scrutinized (never say “targeted.”):

The Hill: IG: Audit of IRS actions limited to Tea Party groups at GOP request

The Treasury inspector general whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.

A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked – by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) – “to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations.”

Got that? Republicans told the IG to limit it to conservaitve sounding names, and then when the IG report only mentioned conservative-sounding names, they blasted out this “scandal” to the media.

It was a set-up from the start. And the media completely fell for it. If you hear anyone say that “the IRS targeted conservatives” please let them know this is not what happened — not at all.

See also:

The Latest Lie: IRS Targeted Conservatives

The Latest Lie: “IRS Targeting Was Broader Than Thought”

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

“Democracy Has Been Stolen And We Have To Take It Back”

“Democracy has been stolen and we have to take it back.” – Senator Merkley (D-OR) at Netroots Nation.

We have to end the filibuster, at the very least for nominations, if not for everything. This has to happen because Republicans are now obstructing everything, and agencies of our government are going to start shutting down over this summer. Without action the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) closes its doors at the end of August and not long after that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will be without a director. These are just some of the nominations being obstructed — filibustered — in order to block these agencies from operating.

It is not right that anyone is able to just keep our government from operating, for any reason. It is time to end the flibuster. Visit Fix the Senate Now.

Also please visit Communications Workers of America (CWA)’s Give Us Five! news page and GIVE US FIVE! campaign.

Reclaiming Our Democracy

The Netroots Nation session, “The Three Keys to Reclaiming Our Democracy” took a look at the filibuster and other structural impediments to democracy. On the panel were CWA President Larry Cohen, NAACP President Ben Jealous, Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford, Citizen Action NY Executive Director Karen Scharff and Senator Jeff Merkley. The panel was hosted by Salon’s Joan Walsh

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So IRS DIDN’T “Target Conservative Groups” After All

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Yep, we were “O’Keefed” again. It turns out that the IRS really was just doing its job — scrutinizing all kinds of groups applying for special tax status, not “targeting conservatives” as has been widely reported. Of course anti-government scandal-mongers are trying to make this sound bad, saying this means the “targeting” was “broader” than first thought. That’s like saying people are “targeted” to pay their taxes on April 15. Anyway the “scandal’s” purpose was achieved: the IRS is going to give corporate-funded political groups a pass now and let them “self-certify” that they aren’t breaking the rules.

Scandal Frenzy

Back in May the media was in a scandal frenzy, echoing a right-wing lie that the IRS was “targeting conservative groups” that applied for special tax status. The NY Times even claimed that “audits” were going on, as part of the “Internal Revenue Service’s effort to target conservative non-profit groups for scrutiny.”

But anyone who actually spent the time to read the official report on this “scandal” would have learned that was just not what happened. The IRS is supposed to scrutinize all groups applying for special tax status to make sure they are not violating tax rules by engaging in political activity. Because of Citizens United and typical underfunding the IRS couldn’t check every group so they tried to find shortcuts to pick potential political groups. ne of those shortcuts involved looking for political sounding names of organizations. That is the entire “scandal” – they let some groups out of the usual scrutiny, but still looked for groups that might be engaged in politics.

The Original Report Said No Scandal, Too

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report titled Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review made it clear that there was no “targeting.” In the report was a chart showing that ony 1/3 of the scrutinized groups were conservative, saying

“According to the Director, Rulings and Agreements, the fact that the team of specialists worked applications that did not involve the Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 groups demonstrated that the IRS was not politically biased in its identification of applications for processing by the team of specialists.”

It was right there in the report.

In my May post on this, The Latest Lie: IRS Targeted Conservatives, I pointed out,

The inspector general’s report does not disclose if or which other “political sounding names” were also used as criteria.

Conservatives NOT Targeted

It took two months, but now we know for a fact that “liberal” names were also used.

NY Times, Documents Show Liberals in I.R.S. Dragnet,

The instructions that Internal Revenue Service officials used to look for applicants seeking tax-exempt status with “Tea Party” and “Patriots” in their titles also included groups whose names included the words “Progressive” and “Occupy,” according to I.R.S. documents released Monday.

The documents appeared to back up contentions by I.R.S. officials and some Democrats that the agency did not intend to single out conservative groups for special scrutiny.

New Lie: “Scandal” Was “Wider” and “Broader”

So … no “targeting” and no scandal. And no “broadening” of the scandal, as the corporate media is now trying to claim.

From an AP report on the disclosure that conservative groups were not targeted:

The Internal Revenue Service’s screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency acknowledged Monday.

Interestingly, the AP report insists this was part of “the IRS targeting of conservative groups”:

The lists were dated between August 2010 and April 2013 — the month before the IRS targeting of conservative groups was revealed.

They just can’t let go of “IRS targeted conservatives,” it’s like their brains are wired to say that.

Corporate Conservatives Get Their Way Anyway

But the truth doesn’t matter. The fact that there was no “targeting of conservative groups” doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t get their way. Even though the whole “ACORN scandal” turned out to just be a lie, Congress defunded ACORN anyway. Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod were both fired after right-wing media launched smear and lie campaigns. And this time the administration immediately caved to the right and fired the head of the IRS. This of course amplified the right’s “targeted conservatives” accusations and whipped the media into a full-blown scandal frenzy.

And the clincher: the IRS has issued new rules, offering corporate-funded political groups a “fast track” to getting their special tax status.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy explains, in IRS Offers Fast-Track for Advocacy Groups Awaiting Tax Exemptions. All they have to do is self-certify that they won’t break the rules, and Bob’s your uncle.

Organizations that have applied to the IRS for status as social-welfare groups but have faced inordinate delays because of the political scrutiny that engulfed the tax agency in controversy now have recourse: They can win tax-exempt status within two weeks if they pledge not to devote more than 40 percent of their time and money to partisan activities.

The IRS announced the streamlined process on Monday as part of its 83-page report, shown below, on how the agency is overhauling its process for reviewing applications for tax-exempt status. By setting the 40-percent marker, the organization for the first time was explicit about how much advocacy is acceptable for a group that has 501(c)(4) status.

So they win.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

6 Unbelievable Ways the Big Banks Are Scamming You

I wrote this for AlterNet:

6 Unbelievable Ways the Big Banks Are Scamming You

Five years since the crash, the big banks continue to screw over their customers.

It is going on five years since the financial crash and three years since President Obama signed the meager Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and the big banks are still scamming and conning and ripping off their customers. What a huge surprise.

After the financial crash, we heard about a laundry list of abuses and frauds that ranged from small things, like hidden fees, to pushing minorities into subprime loans and then switching them into more expensive mortgages at signing time, to huge things like selling trillions of dollars in complicated CDO schemes and making bets on derivatives of derivatives without having the reserves to pay off what they owed when the bets went bad.

Of course, no one at the top was prosecuted and the banks were allowed to settle a host of charges (which meant that their shareholders, not the executives who made the decisions, paid the fines). The bad behavior gave these giants a competitive advantage, driving out what good companies there were. So the costly and destructive bad behavior, schemes, cons and scams continue.

1. Falsifying Paperwork, Blitzing, Lying About Payments to Force Homeowners Into Foreclosure

Read the rest at AlterNet

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North Carolina State Senator Calls ‘Moral Monday’ Protesters ‘Moral Morons’

“The appeal for each Moral Monday has been the same: urging legislators to govern for the good of the whole, rather than for the wealthy.”
— Rev. William Barber.

Since April, North Carolina citizens have been gathering at the state capital in Raleigh for “Moral Monday” rallies and acts of civil disobedience to protest the the cruel things Republican legislators are doing to the people of the state. This week, despite tornado warnings, more than 1,400 protesters gathered for the sixth week’s protests, and more than 80 were arrested, including one reporter clearly wearing news credentials. A week ago Monday, 151 were arrested. Arrests for this and recent Moral Mondays now total 388.

This video is from the June 3 Moral Monday rally:

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Austerity Is Dead – So Can We Fix The Infrastructure NOW?

You might have heard that “austerity is dead.” You’ll certainly be hearing it, and with good reason: the U.S. deficit is down more than 50 percent from what President Bush left behind, projections of the rise in medical costs that drove future deficits are way down, the “intellectual foundation” that justified the push for cutting government has collapsed (as if it ever existed), and the European experiment has shown that budget cuts really just make things worse – much, much worse – and cause misery and suffering to boot. Meanwhile we have two real problems to worry about: unemployment and crumbling infrastructure. So can we hire people to fix the infrastructure now?

Economists Had Learned How To Revive A Falling Economy

Before the financial collapse economists had nailed down the way to get out of an economic crisis: Government has to spend to pick up the drop in demand caused by businesses and consumers cutting back. This investment into the economy causes businesses to hire again, which helps people to be able to spend again, and after things recover the resulting growth pays off that investment.

The Great Depression in particular had taught us that a downward spiral could develop in which a drop in demand caused businesses to cut back, lay people off and/or cut wages, and of course this caused people to have to cut back, which meant demand dropped even more so businesses laid off more people, so demand dropped more, etc.

The FDR administration tried various things to stop this spiral and found that programs that injected money into the economy, such as unemployment benefits and other assistance, direct hiring, investments in infrastructure, etc., could turn things around. And then after things turned around we had all that new, modern infrastructure driving continuing economic growth!

We also learned the hard way. In 1937 the government cut back too soon, and the economy sank into recession again. Then World War II came along, the government spent massively, and the economy grew so much that the ratio of debt to the size of the economy shrank dramatically. We had it figured out.

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Block Fast Track To Fix Or Stop The Trans-Pacific Partnership Corporate Takeover

You know how big-company lobbyists get some states to pass laws that block cities and counties from doing something about problems like tobacco or guns? Well there is a “trade” treaty called the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the works that sets down international rules that would keep our Congress and our states from regulating the giant multinational corporations. If we can keep Congress from being stampeded into passing “Fast Track” maybe we can stop this corporate takover — or at least get the terms changed in our favor.

I hosted an FDL Book Salon yesterday, over at firedoglake (FDL), named FDL Book Salon Welcomes Lori Wallach, The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority. In the setup for the conversation I wrote,

You think trade is complicated, technical, boring, so you tune out and don’t pay attention to the issue… And then BANG, you’re told they are moving the facility where you work out of the country and you are going to be laid off, but if you want your severance and the chance to collect unemployment you have to train your replacement. Not long after that, in other factories and offices everyone is told to accept wage and benefit cuts or they’ll move that facility out of the country, too.

… After a year you finally land a job! The job is you have to dress up like a duck and stand on a corner waving a sign. These are the things that all of this arguing about trade is about. Welcome to the new America.

Fast Track

Lori Wallach’s book talks about a process called “Fast Track” which means Congress agrees to drop that pesky “checks and balances” thing in our burdensome Constitution. They agree not to make any amendments to trade agreements, not to allow any filibusters, and agree to vote in a serious hurry once the agreement is ready. It also is the only time the executive branch writes laws instead of Congress, so we don’t have those pesky transparent hearings or those pesky citizens weighing in.

The short time before a vote enables giant corporations to do one of those multi-million-dollar “crisis” run-up campaigns they do to stampede Congress into something. While this is going on the lobbyists will argue that turning down the agreement will damage US credibility and foreign relations. They will argue that the agreement will “create jobs.” They will say and promise whatever they need to say and promise to get COngress to pass it.

Fast Track is part of how we ended up with our enormous trade deficit that is draining around $600 billion a year out of our economy. But here is the good news: Fast Track is not currently in place. It expired several years ago and Congress has not renewed it. But the new nominee for US Trade Representative said last week that he is going to push for Fast Track. (Please click through to see the charts.) So we have to keep this from happening.

If we can keep Congress from passing Fast Track then there is more time to build opposition to TPP as it look like now, and we can pressure Congress to either pass amendments that put protections for working people, consumers, the environment, smaller-than-giant businesses, human rights and other non-multinational-corporate interests into the agreement — or just block it if all else fails.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

The TPP is the big enchilada of trade agreements. It is an attempt by the billionaires and their giant multinationals to bypass the stirrings of democracy that have been taking place around the world. It is being negotiated of, by and for the giant multinationals with pver 600 corporate advisors involved — but not even our own Congress. In my CAF post, TPP: A Deregulation Treaty Not A Trade Treaty, I wrote about how the negotiating process itself is a setup,

“The upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is using a process that is rigged from the start. It is not being negotiated by governments for the benefit of their people, it is being negotiated by executives (or future executives/lobbyists currently in government) largely for the benefit of the giant corporations they serve. The process has these giant corporations “in the loop” but groups citizens, working people, consumers, the environment, human rights groups and especially democracy are not part of the process. That can only go one way: if you don’t have a seat at the table you are on the table — the meal.”

Got that? ONLY corporate representatives are party to the negotiations. Not even our Congress is a party to the negotiations, and the terms negotiated so far are being kept secret even from them!

Only a small part of this agreement is about trade. The rest is about things that are absolutely supposed to be done by our Congress – and only our Congress. “investor “rights — the rights of people with tons of money to get what they want — limits on regulations, things like that. Senator Elizabeth Warren has warned that it looks like Wall Street is trying to use TPP to make an “end-run” around American efforts to reign in the big banks.

This will limit by law what our democracy is allowed to decide! One example of the things these trade agreements do for the giant corporations that Lori pointed out in the FDL discussion was how a European firm is suing Egypt for increasing their minimum wage after Egypt’s revolution, because that costs that company money.

And the worst part is that it is being set up so that new trade agreements don’t even have to be negotiated,

What You Can Do

Forst and foremost, be aware of this upcoming TPP, and start learning more. Learn about Fast Track. Write and call and visit the office of your member of Congress and let them know of your concerns. (One of the problems is that many members of Congress are not well-informed about TPP and about the dangers of Fast Track.)

Ending the conversation, Lori wrote:

If you want to help stop Fast Track, please sign up for action alters on Fast Track and TPP at tradewatch.org At the bottom of the page you can sign up with your email.

You can also get regular news updates at our eyesontrade blog – follow the RSS feed! http://citizen.typepad.com/eyesontrade/

Also, check out http://www.ExposetheTPP.org it is a great action oriented site

So if you don’t want to end up having to dress up like a duck and stand on a corner waving a “car wash” sign just to get enough food to survive (but still sleeping in an old car) you need to pay attention to this. We have to stop TPP or get it changed to serve the people of the country, instead of the billionaires.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Apple

I checked out Apple’s announcements… They say a Maps app is coming to OSX — the computer OS. And they say that their map data is being fixed…

So I got out my iPhone and found where I had hidden the Apple Maps app. (I use the Google maps app, because it has accurate data, while the Apple app is grossly inaccurate. So I hid that app where I have little chance of accidentally using it by mistake.) Right there in the middle of Redwood City it still says “Downton Belmont.” I reported this immediately after the terrible Maps app came out, so it had to be close to the top of their user-reported “fix it” queue, yet nothing has been done.

For those not in the Bay Area, Belmont is two towns up from Redwood City, after San Carlos.

Im Hosting Lori Wallach At FDL Book Salon Today At 5ET / 2PT

I am hosting Lori Wallach for a discussion of her book, The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority. Here is the preview with publisher’s book notes: FDL Book Salon: The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority

It doesn’t go live until 5 so I can’t post a link to the conversation itself. Be at Firedoglake.com at 5:00pm Eastern to participate. If you want to ask a question, stop by a few minutes early and Register at the Log On and FDL will email you password to you.

http://firedoglake.com/
http://fdlbooksalon.com/