No Prosecution For Obvious Bribery?

A Virginia state senator took a bribe to resign, thereby throwing control of the state Senate to the other party. In exchange for this scheme he got a nice job and his daughter received a judgeship.

This was big news last week.

So … will he be prosecuted for taking a bribe, or not? What is the public to think if he is not prosecuted?

After all, it’s not like the guy is a banker or anything.

Good Lord, Republicans STILL Pretending There Is An “IRS Scandal”

It has become a “truth” on the right that the IRS “targets” conservative “political” groups. Here is what is going on.

Sea Of Smear Ads From Anonymous Donors

Who is providing the sea of anonymous money behind the nasty smear-campaign ads in local, state and national elections? You might (not) be surprised to find out that these ads are from “social welfare” organizations! These organizations don’t have to disclose their donors because they are tax-exempt nonprofits that, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), “must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare.”

That’s right, your community, state and nation elections are being flooded with nasty, political, smear-campaign ads from organizations that claim to “further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” and have no involvement with political campaigns.

Social Welfare Organizations

Here are the technical details. A 501(c)(4) charity is a group that does not have to disclose its donors to the public. The law says these groups must operate “exclusively” as “social welfare” organizations and not political organizations. They “must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.” (Disclosure: The Campaign for America’s Future operates as a 501(c)(4) organization; its sister organization, the Institute for America’s Future, is a 501(c)(3) organization.)

But government agencies have to “interpret” laws when it comes to their own day-to-day operating rules, and there are grey areas between activities that could be seen as “social welfare” and activities that could be seen as electoral politics. Is voter-registration a general social welfare activity or a political activity? Is issuing a well-researched policy paper on the effect of a higher minimum wage on poverty a social welfare activity or a political lobbying activity?

So years ago the IRS decided that these social welfare groups could spend “up to 49%” of their efforts in politically related activity.

“Congressman Bob Bobson Eats Babies” Is Not A Political Ad?

Obviously these groups are not supposed to be running campaign ads. But a smear ad appearing a week before an election that says “your member of Congress Bob Bobson eats babies” but not “vote against Bob Bobson for eating babies” has been “interpreted” to be a social welfare activity and not a political ad.

Because of this huge, vast, gaping loophole a number of (mostly Republican) political election campaign-related organizations that wanted to hide their donors figured out they could become “social welfare” organizations to run these campaign ads. Then “the Republican majority” on the Supreme Court as E.J. Dionne calls them, allowed billionaires and corporations (even foreign-owned corporations) to put unlimited sums of money into politics. This opened the floodgates of influence-buying – the more money you put into politics, the more tax breaks, contracts, subsidies, monopoly protection, etc. you get back – and a race was on.

Keeping Campaign Donors Secret

Corporations and billionaires that wanted to keep their influence-buying secret could put money into these “social welfare” organizations (and the people running these organizations could make themselves a fortune), so there was a flood of applications to the IRS to start conservative, tax-exempt, “social welfare” nonprofit organizations.

At the same time, Senate Republicans also filibustered the DISCLOSE Act that would let the public know who was funding all of these smear ads.

The Phony IRS “Scandal”

Republicans charge that the IRS is “targeting” conservative “political” groups when they look to see if “social welfare” groups are actually illegally engaging in election-related politics. It has become a “truth” on the right that “the government” is “harassing” conservatives for their politics. They say the IRS is “intimidating” them by looking into “their political activities.”

This all feeds into the Republican/Fox News/Wall Street Journal/talk radio/blog “scandal machine.” For example, the Wall Street Journal today has this “story” today, “GOP Report on IRS: Only Tea Party Groups Received ‘Systematic Scrutiny’.” The party issues a “report” and the conservative media machine blasts the “findings” around the wingnutosphere, and the “outrage” ensues.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have been holding hearings intended to drive this idea of IRS “harassment” out to their followers. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has his Oversight and Government Reform Committee holding televised (FOX) “hearings” that haul people before them to be yelled at by various Republicans. One person, threatened by Republicans with prosecution and jail, was advised by her attorney to assert her Fifth Amendment rights, so Republicans made her appear for hours, repeating again and again that she was “pleading the Fifth.” Now Republicans plan to vote to hold her in “contempt” for asserting her constitutional rights, and have even created a logo advertising the contempt vote:

Here’s The Thing

The IRS is required by law to look at all applicants to see if they are engaged in impermissible political activity. If they are engaged primarily in political activity, they are neither “charities” nor “social welfare” organizations and, by law, are not supposed to receive special tax status allowing them to keep their donors secret. That alone should tell you that something is fishy with the corporate/conservative accusation that the IRS is “targeting” conservative “political” groups. The IRS is required by law to see if groups are “political.”

This is really about Republicans trying to stop the IRS from policing the big right-wing political groups that are using special tax status to mask their donors. This is an intimidation tactic; it’s an attempt to keep the IRS from seeing if these groups are engaged in political campaign activity and shut down the ones that are, all in an effort to mask their billionaire/corporate and foreign corporate donors.

See also:

The Latest Lie: IRS Targeted Conservatives

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

The IRS “Scandal” Was A Set-Up

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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

Why Did We Invade Iraq?

With the Russian takeover of Crimea we are seeing just a bit of the damage done to the world by the invastion of Iraq. We used to be able to say, with some authority, “This is wrong, you shouldn’t do it.” But now everyone can say, “What are you talking about? You invaded Iraq based on a bunch of obvious lies.”

We the People have a right to know why this all happened, don’t we? We need a Truth Commission that investigates how the Bush administration led us to war, how the media was complicit, who made money from it, who tortured people, who allowed “contractors” to act with impunity, etc.

Also, there’s this: Why We Did It, a Rachel Maddow documentary:

Close The Loophole That Lets Companies Avoid Paying Taxes

Big companies have discovered a loophole that lets them avoid paying their taxes. These tax-dodgers are holding $2 trillion-plus of taxable profits outside of the US, on which they could owe as much as $700 billion in taxes. What could our country do with this $700 billion it is owed? Why won’t Congress just make them pay what they owe?

These companies discovered that they can move jobs, factories, labs, call centers and profit centers out of the country and by doing that they can avoid paying U.S. corporate taxes. Instead of figuring out how to get these companies to pay the taxes they owe, Congress is considering proposals to reward them and encourage more companies to do this.

The Loophole That Lets Companies Avoid Paying Taxes

Current tax laws let companies defer paying the taxes they owe on profits made outside the country until they “bring the money back.” The reason for this is that some companies want to use this money to expand, leading to increased future profits. This is good for these companies and our country because they expand profits and the country gets additional tax revenue later.

But more and more companies have been cheating, using this “deferral” to avoid paying taxes at all. They are holding profits outside of the country simply to avoid taxes and not to invest and expand, even though this is not the intent of this tax rule. Some companies are even inventing ways to make it look like their US profits were made outside of the US so they can take advantage of this mistake in the tax laws. Other companies actually move jobs, factories, call centers and profit centers out of the country to take advantage of this loophole.

$2 Trillion!

It has gotten so bad that U.S. companies are holding as much as $2 trillion or more outside of the country. If this were taxed at the top tax rate of 35 percent, that would mean $700 billion in taxes is already owed, but is being kept away from being used to fix bridges, improve schools, pay judges and the other things We the People (government) do to make our lives better. Also those profits are being kept away from use investing in the US, as well as from shareholders.

Meanwhile companies that keep jobs and production inside the U.S. and don’t cheat on their taxes are at a clear disadvantage. They have to compete with companies that lay off U.S. workers and close U.S. factories, and get to not pay their taxes because they did that. And, of course, they have less money to use for bribes lobbying to get what they want.

Here are the proposals currently being discussed in Congress to address this:

  1. Make these companies just pay the taxes they owe and stop moving jobs and factories, etc. out of the country. (No one is actually suggesting this, these companies are very powerful and spread a lot of bribe lobbying and campaign money around.)
  2. Let them just keep doing what they have been doing, which encourages more companies to move jobs, factories, etc. out of the country. This is the current status quo.
  3. Let them off the hook and have a “tax holiday” that lets off the hook for some or all of the taxes they owe. There are proposals before the Congress to do this. (Too bad for those companies that actually paid their taxes.)
  4. Change the tax laws so companies that move jobs, factories, call centers and profit centers out of the country don’t have to pay taxes. This is called a “Territorial Tax System” and there are proposals before Congress to do this. (Too bad for companies that don’t want to move jobs, factories etc out of the country, they won’t be able to compete.)

Two of the proposal in front of the Congress include,

  • Republican Rep. Dave Camp’s House Ways & Means proposal gives a tax holiday to companies that owe taxes (#3), and then cuts taxes on profits made from moving jobs and production out of the U.S. by 90 percent (#4). Finally it would cut top U.S. corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 25 percent.
  • The Partnership to Build America Act (sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.)) would let companies that owe taxes bring home offshore profits tax-free (#3) if they use some of the money to buy bonds in an “infrastructure bank.” This would be a loan, so the companies get even this money back, with interest.

Call your member of Congress and ask them to just make these companies bring those profits home and pay their taxes, period. Tell them no “tax holidays” and no “territorial tax.” Just make them pay their taxes.

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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

Economic Sabotage: Republicans Obstruct Infrastructure Work

There is consensus across the (sane) spectrum that the country absolutely needs to repair and modernize our infrastructure. There is widespread agreement this will help the economy now and in the future, and will create jobs. But Republicans in Congress refuse to allow infrastructure projects to proceed. Why? Because doing so will help the economy now and in the future, and will create jobs. Republicans in Congress are committing economic sabotage, and they know it.

Consensus

There is a bipartisan consensus — it even includes the Chamber of Commerce! — that the country has fallen behind and must maintain and modernize our infrastructure for the good of our economy.

President Obama talked about infrastructure in Jacksonville in July, saying,

We know strong infrastructure is a key ingredient to a thriving economy. That’s how the United States became the best place in the world to do business.

On the other end of things the Chamber of Commerce’s “Jobs & Growth Agenda” includes a section on “Reliable and Secure Infrastructure.” The Chamber says,

The U.S. Chamber is leading the charge to improve the quality of America’s infrastructure—whether it’s transportation, energy, or water networks—all of which directly impact our ability to compete in the global economy.

By modernizing our national infrastructure, we can improve commercial efficiency, increase U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, and create much-needed jobs in the near term.

Here are just a few of the other voices supporting a boost in infrastructure spending:

USA Today, USA’s creaking infrastructure holds back economy

Fareed Zakaria, Fixing infrastructure would help fix economy

Alliance for American Manufacturing, How Infrastructure Investments Support the U.S. Economy: Employment, Productivity and Growth

Business Insider, STUDY: Every $1 Of Infrastructure Spending Boosts The Economy By $2

Consensus vs. Obstruction

The Chamber of Commerce might say they are “leading the charge” but the Republicans in the Congress are obstructing the troops.

After the President asked for just a bit more infrastructure work, please, the Senate Republican leader responded, “No!” The House Republican leader has said that fixing the infrastructure is “more stimulus spending doomed to fail.”

The kook right (perhaps that should read “Koch right”) that really “leads the charge” for Republicans these days says Infrastructure Spending Is Not the Federal Government’s Business or that infrastructure spending is just more “big government.” Heritage Foundation claims here that government spending on infrastructure “takes money out of the economy”. Some of the (Koch-funded) kooks even actually claim that investing in infrastructure hurts the economy.

Obstruction Agenda Is Sabotage, Not Ideology

Look at this chart from the Financial Times’ FT Alphaville, The collapse of US infrastructure spending, charted:

This looks like lots of other recent charts, like the ones that show consumer confidence plunging in the face of Republican obstruction of everything (and especially their repeated hostage-taking over the debt-ceiling and their shutting down the government.) It is clear all of these things hurt the economy, and they continue to do them.

Maintaining the infrastructure is not about ideology. Even the conservative Chamber of Commerce understands that you have to maintain the roads and bridges, etc., and that it damages the economy if you don’t. And yet we don’t, and the obstruction continues.

So this is about a different agenda. Paul Krugman says it best at his blog,

This kind of behavior — ever-shifting rationales for an unchanging policy (see: Bush tax cuts, invasion of Iraq, etc.) — is a “tell”. It says that something else is really motivating the policy advocacy.

It is past time to argue that the Republican obstruction is hurting the economy, because it just is, and they know it. It is also past time to argue that they are doing this for some kind of ideological reason. Investing in infrastructure is not about ideology. Austerity is not about ideology.

Hurting the economy is not about ideology. There is a different agenda at work here. This is not an argument between differing visions of how best to help our economy. When this much is being done, hurting the economy again and again, and when the results of these actions are clearly that we are all being harmed, and yet it continues, this is not an accident. It is an agenda.

Economic Sabotage — Why?

So it is past time to argue if they are hurting the economy – that is settled. It is economic sabotage. There is no longer any question.

Now it is time to talk about why they are doing this.

Is it to damage Democratic election prospects? Are they betting that by making everyone feel enough pain, and blaming Democrats and President Obama, they can make people forget who got us into this mess? Do they think that economic sabotage will get them votes? That is the most charitable theory. Considering that much of the funding of the apparatus of the right that is behind this is secret, there are worse conclusions that could understandably be reached.

We Aready Know No One WIll Go To Jail

Because no one on Wall Street ever does.

Special Report: Pimco shook hands with the Fed – and made a killing,

* In December 2008, the Fed hired Pimco, along with three other big Wall Street firms, to implement enormous purchases of agency MBS to keep interest rates low and spur the U.S. economy.

* Over the next few years, Pimco repeatedly invested heavily in those same securities – far more than other big investors, even considering its size.

* Pimco’s mortgage plays in 2009 and 2012 – when Fed buying was heavy – handed the firm and investors in the Total Return Fund a gain of $10 billion, excluding net investment flows, according to Reuters estimates.

PS I also mean people at the Fed should go to jail for this.

But we already know they won’t.

Another PS – $10 billion could but nice things for We the People. But it won’t.

Government Hands $1 Trillion+ To Wealthy While Deficit Is $642 Billion

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While our government is laying off hundreds and hundreds of thousands and cutting services in the name of cutting deficits, a new report exposes that taxpayers are handing more than $1 trillion a year to the wealthiest.

DC Focused On Deficits Not Jobs

Instead of focusing on jobs, Congress and the White House obsess on how to cut the budget -– the things We the People do to make our lives and economy better. While the “sequester” has already cost 900,000 jobs — 1.6 million thru 2014 — Republicans are threatening to shut down the government and force the country to default on its debt as leverage to force even more cuts.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has repeatedly said the country is “broke.” For example, “We’re broke, broke going on bankrupt,” Boehner said Feb. 28, 2011. Here he is saying it on Dec. 11, 2012, “Let’s be honest. We’re broke.”

So we have to cut and cut and cut, even though the cuts are costing millions of jobs and damaging the economy and the prospects for our country and peoples’ future, because supposedly “we’re broke.”

New Report: More Than $1 Trillion Per Year Handed To Wealthiest

But a report out today from the National Priorities Project (NPP) shows that the country is handing more than $1 trillion to the already-wealthy.

That’s right, the government is cutting services and laying off hundreds upon hundreds of thousands in the name of cutting deficits, while handing more than $1 trillion a year to the wealthiest. The rest of us pay taxes and suffer cuts in jobs and services to make up this lost money.

According to the report, lots of 1%ers will pay no taxes at all this year, while the country cuts jobs and services in the name of cutting the deficit.

“Ten major tax breaks that together total more than $750 billion in tax savings in 2013 are tilted heavily in favor of the top income earners; according to the Congressional Budget Office, 17% of the benefits from these major tax breaks go to the top 1% of households. In fact, according to the Tax Policy Center, nearly 1.2 million taxpayers in the top 1% will owe no income tax at all in 2013, thanks in large part to tax breaks that help them reduce their tax liability down to zero.”

Two of the key findings in the report tell the story:

  • Corporate tax breaks will total $108 billion in FY2013 – more than 1.5 times what the U.S. government spends on education funding. Between 2007 and 2013, the revenue lost from U.S. corporations deferring taxes on income earned abroad rose 200%, going from $14 billion to $42 billion.
  • All tax breaks for individuals will exceed $1 trillion this year, with about 17% of the biggest individual tax breaks going to the top 1% of earners. In fact, many individual tax breaks disproportionately benefit wealthy households.

The country’s budget shortfall is not from “entitlements” (things We the People are entitled to as citizens in a prosperous democracy) and “government spending” (the things We the People do to make our lives and economy better). The deficit is down to $640 billion while $1 trillion in tax breaks goes to the 1%. (Actually mostly the 1% of the 1%.)

Click through to read the entire NPP report, and here for a visualization of the impact.

Deficit Talk Is A Rigged Discussion

So why is the country terrified that budget deficits are going to eat us alive? Why don’t people know that the deficit is already down more than 50% from the levels Bush left behind and is falling at the fastest rate since the end of World War II? Why are Republicans able to get away threatening to shut the government and force the country into default in their drive to cut spending on the things that make our lives better?

The reason is that there is a massively-funded PR campaign underway to convince people of these things. Fix The Debt, for example, has pumped at least $60 million into a PR campaign to convince people that we have a deficit emergency and must therefore cut back on the things government does. Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson has pledged $1 billion toward the same end. These are just two sources of the massively-funded campaign to convince people that the government should be cut back, instead of hiring people to fix the infrastructure, instead of having universal health care, etc.

And those are just two examples. How many headlines like these has the public seen? Budget deficit reaching point of no return, 20 Must-See Charts On America’s Disastrous Level Of Government Spending, Budget, Deficit, Debt Disaster, Deficits Must Be Curbed or It’s Disaster For Economy: Study and on and on and on.

And now we learn that the government is handing more than $1 trillion to the 1% and their corporations, while the deficit in only $640 billion and falling.

A Corruption Spiral

We are witnessing here a corruption spiral. This is big money using money to influence the government to give them even more money. And they then use that more money to influence the government even more to give them even more more money. And they then use that more money to influence the government even more more to give them even more more more money. And they then use that more more money to influence the government even more more more to give them even more more more more money. And then …

[fve]http://youtu.be/Kp5nUQkgWIc[/fve]

What Can We Do About This?

This is about the powerful predatory pigs feeding at the trough and taking it out on the weak. It has to stop.

How do we stop the corruption spiral that is eating our economy, our jobs and the things We the People do to make our lives better? We must get the money out of politics — and out of the national discussion. Money is not “speech.” In a democracy each person having an equal say is “speech.”

Corporate money is supposed to be used to run the corporation, period. Corporations use their money to drive the purposes of the corporation. So corporations by definition cannot use their money without the expectation of getting something in return. Even the use of corporate money to fund a Little League team is for the purpose of advertising and “brand development.” So giving money to a politician is done with the expectation of getting a tax break, a contract, a patent or some other form of advantage over competitors or otherwise increasing its profits. According to the law giving anything of value to any public official with the intent of influencing that official is bribery. It is not speech to give money to a politician, it is bribery. It is corruption.

By the same token, corporations giving their money to lobbying operations is done with the same intent. It is done to influence politicians or use front groups to drive support to politicians (a thing of value) to get them to do something that financially rewards that corporation.

And of course those with the most money are able to have the most influence. Which brings them more money. Which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence. This increased influence brings them more money, which brings them more influence.

Again, a corruption spiral that eats our economy, jobs and democracy.

Corporate money must be banned from politics or otherwise influencing policy. Corporate money should be used to operate the corporation, period.

So how do we stop the influence of the billionaires? We just learned that the Koch brothers ran a group that pumped almost a quarter of a billion dollars into the last election (that we know of). Aside from that, according to the Sunlight Foundation, the 1% of the 1% funded a huge share of the election all by themselves.

The answer here is of course limiting the amounts individuals can put into campaigns and banning efforts to influence elections outside of campaigns themselves. This includes a complete crackdown on the use of special-tax-status organizations in election activities, front groups, etc.

These steps will at least be a start, and will give democracy a bit of breathing room. Then We the People might be able to figure out where to go from there.

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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

Gonna Go Make Some Money

There is a phrase I hear from DC people a lot: He/she is going to “go make some money.”

Usually this means that someone in government is going to take a job for a corporation, likely on Wall Street, “for a while” and then come back. It is, of course, collecting the payoff for playing along with the corporate agenda.

Of course, in progressive circles it means someone is going to find any old NON-progressive-organization job because that means actually making enough to live on…