Friday, May 31, 2013

State of the States…or a Word to the Wise

I can’t remember an election, general or mid-term, that someone didn’t say would be the most important in our history and I’m certain next year’s will be the same. 

But there is a serious difference this time in the dramatically increased importance of state elections. Not all of them of course! What happens in Massachusetts and Texas is predictable. But control of governorships and state legislatures in six states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia and Florida could affect America for years to come, and not for the better.

It’s common knowledge that Republican governors in these states, with sympathetic legislatures, were considering reapportioning the state’s votes in the Electoral College by Congressional Districts rather than popular vote. This is perfectly legal and is he law in Maine and Nebraska. But had it been the process last year Mitt Romney would be president today.

One of these governors, Michigan’s Rick Snyder, publicly flirted with the idea before speaking against it. Of course he finally publicly rejected it. Why tell the world what you’re planning nearly two years before an election in which the seats of state legislators whose votes are needed will be at risk? There’s little public support for a state electoral college to add to the already unpopular federal version.

 I think and hope Republicans screwed up by mentioning the subject so early.  Governors in three of these six states were more circumspect during their election campaigns, saying nothing about their drastic plans for labor. This should not be forgotten!

This ugly possibility is a direct consequence of the Tea Party inspired Republican landslide in 2010. Being a census year the Congressional maps of the states became etched in stone for ten years. As I see it the repeal of the Bush tax cuts should have been put to the Senate then, not two years later. The decision was made by party leaders in that body. But I strongly suspect the president was influential, preferring to postpone the issue until his reelection year.

Granted my opinion is debatable.  A presidential election trumps all others and Democrats might have lost both if they’d done as I’d hoped. But having been warned now there’s no excuse now for them not to make this a major issue in next year’s state elections. A word to the wise should be sufficient.


Monday, May 27, 2013


Among the “scandals” plaguing the Obama administration the one that interests me at the moment concerns the scrutiny given applications from right wing “Social Service” organizations for tax exempt status. A logical place to start is with the rules, or law if you prefer, as written by Congress in 1954. It states that for an organization to be eligible for tax exemption it must be “not organized for profit but operated exclusively(italics mine) for promotion of Social Welfare.” This rule is still on the books. In 1959 the IRS, on no authority other than its own, changed the wording of the practice, not the law, from “exclusively” to “primarily.”

A change from zero tolerance to a theoretical 49% makes it harder for the IRS inspectors to monitor this requirement which involves more than a random selection of audits. Some groups are statistically more likely to cheat than others. Outfits with letterheads including the words “Tea Party” and Patriot” are suspect, particularly when they debut in an election year. These are mostly small operations. Serious righties like Karl Rove use non-committal letterheads like “Crossroads.” Words like “minority rights” or “choice” would also draw red flags. But either there are fewer of them, or lefties are more subtle.

This unique IRS interpretation has been with us for more than half a century and wasn’t as much of a problem until Citizens United. Now corporations as “people” also qualify for this tax exemption, so the agency’s work load has increased considerably while Congress has cut its budget.

Whoever is to blame for what has happened, the solution is obvious. Simply enforce the law as it stands. No legislation is needed and no potential filibuster stands in the way. Many Americans, possibly a majority, oppose public financing of political campaigns. Something on the order of “what, my tax money being spent to pay for these crooks’ elections” is common parlance. Yet this is precisely what is happening with as much as 49% of many “charitable” donations and more in some cases. These organizations cannot be primarily and legallylegitimate unless they are runexclusively for social service.



Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Michelle Bachman was being pursued by a gaggle of reporters asking about the most recent misadventure in her struggle with logic. Most politicians in these situations are silent. But Ms. Bachman shouted “Benghazi” several times. Apparently like many other Republicans, she felt that the mere mention of this city has something of a Pearl Harbor, Maine or Alamo feel to it. Then there is “shazam” for captain Marvel readers.

Some full throated Republican Congressman was all over TV news recently claiming that this event was the worst thing that has happened to this country since9/11. Even If one overlooks the competition for this honor from intervening events, like say the Iraq war, isn’t it a bit hyperbolic to equate the death of four Americans doing government service in a country engaged in a civil war with that of nearly three thousand people at their jobs in downtown Manhattan? As I recall there was some property damage too.

It’s no secret that the target is Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State at the time and now a likely presidential candidate in 2016. Benghazi wasn’t a big issue before the last election. Was her predecessor, Condoleeza Rice better informed about security at our far flung diplomatic posts? Apparently not since the occurrence of these incidents was more frequent while she was serving under Bush. Her qualifications for State were evidently enhanced by having been National Security Adviser on 9/11, for which she and her boss accepted no responsibility as Hillary has for Benghazi.

We have a lot of people around the world representing our interests, not all of which coincide with the interests of a good part of the native populations. Our people know that there is additional risk in many of these jobs. Were our ambassador not among them, the murder of four diplomatic workers in the Middle East would normally have been stuff for a slow news day.

However I must confess feeling that information released by the Obama administration was something less than forthcoming. Granted, with a presidential election less than two months away, any incumbent administration would do its best to divert an investigation into something potentially damaging. I’m embarrassed at having to resort to “they all do it,” a Republican battle cry that has served the party well in all its scandals since Watergate. What makes this case different is a lack of proportion, for example the numbers 4 and 3000.