Originally Published: 5/18/2013
IRS-gate: You’ve heard about the IRS scandal, haven’t you? Though many reports are that the IRS was “auditing” conservative groups, that’s not exactly true. What they were doing was scrutinizing applications for 501(c)(4) status to assure that they were truly “social welfare” groups according to the law. The first problem that has come to light is that the law states that an organization given 501(c)(4) status must be a social welfare group, “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” (IRS) However, the IRS has interpreted the law to mean groups had to be “primarily” engaged in social welfare. (Tax Almanac) And, in response to questions about the issues, the IRS put out a Q&A sheet in which it’s stated that these organizations “may only engage in a limited amount of political activity.” With this kind of confusion and an increase in applications, it’s no wonder that workers tried to find some way to do their jobs. Let me point out that a not-for-profit organization, any organization, is being subsidized by you and me. They don’t pay for their public services; we do. And when it comes to real social service organizations, we’ve decided as a society to take this responsibility. But with this kind of use of 501(c)(4)s, you and I are subsidizing political pay-outs. Also, you may ask why there’s been an increase? Because 501(c)(4) organizations are not required to disclose their donors. So these organizations can collect massive amounts of money, pay themselves hefty salaries, and give tons away to political endeavors without disclosing where the money came from like they’d have to do with PACs. The NY Times has a great editorial on this. Now, back to the so-called scandal.
While using any method to “target” certain applications for more scrutiny may be understandable as a way to manage the workload, it is still reprehensible. However, it did not result in any harm. In fact, two-thirds of those applications scrutinized were not Tea Party groups. (Brad Blog) And the only application that was denied was a liberal group. (Bloomberg) Mother Jones has a great synopsis.
But there’s another issue that few are talking about. It’s the effect of Citizens United and the secret money influencing elections. Thanks to Citizens United, the amount of money that people and corporations can give is now unlimited. Being an anonymous donor of millions of dollars is a good deal for the likes of the Koch brothers. Ari Berman at the Nation lays it out nicely and Chris Hayes has an amazingly understandable explanation. (Raw Story)
Finally I have to remind you of all the IRS audits (not application reviews) that were done on liberal groups under Dubya’s administration. (Salon) I find Republican outrage quite disingenuous.
Records Seizure: Earlier this year the Department of Justice (DOJ) seized 2 months of phone records of more than 20 reporters and editors at the Associated Press, including office, home, and mobile phones. The records were seized without notice. It’s related to its coverage of the CIA’s disruption of a Yemen-based terrorist plot to bomb an airliner last spring. The AP broke the story but held off publishing it for several days at the request of the White House “because the intelligence operations were still unfolding.” (NY Times) This all began last year when 31 Republican Congress critters made a special request that the DOJ investigate security leaks. (The Hill) Rep. Trey Gowdy (R, SC) said in an interview with Greta Van Susteren: “But the Supreme Court has said if there is a compelling interest, which there certainly is in national security cases, and the information is relevant, which it has to be to justify a subpoena, and you have no alternative means of getting the information, then the Department of Justice had no choice. . . Think back a year ago. We had the attorney general and other Department of Justice employees, and we grilled them over national security leaks. And here they are doing what we asked them to do, investigate the leak.” (Fox News)
Benghazi-gate: “Republicans have charged that the State Department under Hillary Clinton was trying to protect itself from criticism. The White House released the real emails last Wednesday. Here’s what we found when we compared them to the quotes that had been provided by Republicans.” What did they find? That Republicans has “misquoted” what was in the emails. (CBS News)
EU Import Duties: Unlike the U.S., the European Union is determined to protect its industries. The member countries have agreed on a punitive import duty on solar panels from China “in a move to guard against what it sees as Chinese dumping of cheap goods in Europe.” (Reuters)
Arizona: Under new immigration rules, people brought to this country as children who meet certain criteria can apply for a work permit for a renewable period of 2 years. (TWW, Arizona, 12/8/12) Most states and the District of Columbia are acknowledging these people’s status and granting them driver’s licenses. But Arizona and Nebraska have specifically excluded them. In Arizona it was done by executive order and suit was brought. Plaintiffs sought a block to the executive order while the case is working its way through the courts. But U.S. Federal Judge David Campbell refused, saying that, while it was likely that the young immigrants would prevail on their constitutional equal protection arguments, they would not suffer irreparable harm by not have licenses as the case proceeds. (Guardian)
Arkansas: U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright has temporarily blocked enforcement of the state’s new law banning abortions at the 12th week of pregnancy, “saying the law was likely to be declared unconstitutional.” The law was scheduled to take effect on August 16th. (NY Times)
Indiana: Governor Mike Pence signed a bill that will reshuffle Marion County government “and eliminate 4 Democratic-held council seats.” (Indy Star)
Minnesota: It became the 12th state to embrace marriage equality. (NY Times)
Tennessee: The state legislature passed an ag-gag bill. (TWW, Ag-Gag Bills, 4/13/13) Governor Bill Haslam vetoed it. (Softpedia)
Vermont: It became the 17th state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. (AFP)
Immigration Reform: We know that Silicon Valley is lobbying to get the immigration bill passed because it increases H-1B visas. (TWW, Immigration Reform, 5/11/13) But guess who else has lobbied, and gotten, what they want in the bill. Go ahead. Guess. Well, it’s South Korea, Ireland, Poland, and Canada. They lobbied, and got, provisions in the bill that gives their citizens “benefits not extended to most foreigners.” Ireland and South Korea “extracted measures” giving their citizens a fixed number of the highly sought special visas for guest workers seeking to come to the U.S. “Poland got language that would allow it to join the list of nations whose citizens can travel to the United States as tourists without visas.” Canada got special permission for their citizens aged 55 and older and not working to stay in the U.S. without visas for up to 240 days each year, up from the current 182. Some people are concerned that this will “create an influx of foreigners large enough to undermine American workers.” And they ain’t done. Tibet, Hong Kong, and parts of Africa are still lobbying. (NY Times)
Monsanto Wins: The Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in the Monsanto case. If you don’t know the issue, let me put it in a nutshell. Monsanto has developed genetically-modified seeds. A farmer bought those seeds and planted them. The farmer then used the seeds from the plants to plant another crop. Monsanto wanted payment for the second year’s seeds. The Supreme Court agreed. (Guardian)
KBR & Iraq: In 2001 KBR won “the largest government services contract in U.S. history” - $38 billion. Now it’s telling the Pentagon that it’s going to take another $500 million and 13 years for them to get out of Iraq. The Pentagon wants to settle the contract with payment for what’s left to do but KBR wants its original contract enforced. The Pentagon is suing. Charles Tiefer, professor of government contracting at the University of Baltimore and a member of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, has read the emails going back and forth between the 2 parties. He said: “The emails show that the Defense Department, in its dealings with KBR, feels like it’s wrestling with a giant python. The kind of willingness to work with KBR that you saw for a number of years during the Iraq War has completely gone.” (AllGov)
Obamacare: Once again House Republicans are taking up a bill to repeal Obamacare. I don’t know how many there have been now - 37, I think. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) was asked, once again, to estimate the costs and savings. CBO responded that it and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) couldn’t complete an estimate within the timeframe requested and pointed out the estimate they did last summer. At that time it was estimated that the elimination of the Affordable Care Act would save $1.2 trillion over the period 2014-2023 but it would cost $1.3 trillion over the period 2013-2022, but that the cost “would probably be greater this year - although CBO does not know the magnitude of the changes.”
Climate Change: Still a skeptic? This should clinch it. An analysis of the work of about 29,000 scientists published in 11,994 academic papers has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Of the published research where more than 4,000 papers that took a position on the causes of climate change, only 83 (.7%) disputed the scientific consensus that climate change is the result of human activity. 2.2% said it’s unclear. But 97.1% agreed that it is caused by human activity. (Guardian) So, when you hear climate skeptics say that the research is disputed you can say, “Naw. Not really.”
Ice On The Move: It’s unbelievable. Watch as this “wave of ice” hits homes in northern Minnesota, “swallowing up homes in an astonishing natural phenomenon.” It was estimated that the ice was moving up to 2 feet per minute. (Raw Story)
Overtime: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 brought us the 8-hour workday and the 40-hour workweek. It doesn’t prohibit employers from requiring more time, but requires employers to pay its workers time-and-a-half. It is an incentive to hire more people if the needed extra time isn’t just seasonal. This is also the law that gave us the minimum wage and outlawed child labor. Agricultural and domestic workers aren’t covered by the FLSA. (You might want to think about that one a bit.) The Working Families Flexibility Act passed the House with 220 Republican and 3 Democratic votes. It would remove the requirement of time-and-a-half for time worked over 8-hours a day or 40-hours a week and replace it with compensatory (“comp”) time. Now, do you think that employers may pressure workers to take comp time rather than extra pay? And this would probably remove the incentive to hire more workers. Here’s the big rub though. The bill does not require employers to actually give the comp time. Employees would have to request the time off and, of course, employers could deny it and put it off forever. So, the bill would effectively take away the 8-hour workday and 40-hour workweek. Maybe weekends will be next. Obama has threatened to veto the bill. A NY Times editorial has some scathing things to say about the plan.
Sports in America: Addicting Info has a great map of the U.S. that shows the highest paid public employee in each state, most of whom are sports coaches. “When a country places more importance on sports than on academic achievement, its decline is inevitable. The American Decline is real and this is where it comes from.”
Relaxing the Rules: “Under pressure from Wall Street” the Commodity Future Trading Commission is going to “soften a rule” which will “effectively empower a few banks to continue controlling the derivatives market, a main culprit in the financial crisis.” (NY Times) They caved in. Great.