| April 24, 2014
Rand Paul Pulls a Romney on Abortion
At an event this week at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, 2016 White House hopeful Rand Paul came face to face with the inescapable conundrum for any Republican seeking the presidency. Hoping to secure the nomination of a party whose platform calls for a "human life amendment" banning abortion even in case of rape and incest, Paul nevertheless wants to avoid scaring the bejesus out of pro-choice general election voters. To walk that tightrope, the Kentucky Senator proclaimed his own personal belief that "life begins at the very beginning" before making this promise (around the 42:00 minute mark).
"We're not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise."
If that dodge sounds familiar, it should. Mitt Romney used the same moratorium scam on abortion law to win the 2002 governor's race in Massachusetts before doing a U-turn just in time for the 2008 Republican primaries.
During his 2002 campaign, Romney used a televised debate with Democrat Shannon O'Brien to declare:
"I promised that if elected, I'd call a truce - a moratorium, if you will...I vowed to veto any legislation that sought to change the existing rules...I fully respect and will fully protect a woman's right to choose."
Of course, Romney had to say that he would "sustain and support" Roe v. Wade, and not just because liberal Massachusetts voters would demand it. After all, he had promised Planned Parenthood that he would. And during a Boston television interview with his wife Ann, Mitt emphasized that "so when asked will I preserve and protect a woman's right to choose, I make an unequivocal answer: yes." Worse still, And during his failed Senate run against Ted Kennedy 8 years earlier, the private equity titan revealed that preserving the right to choose was deeply personal to him:
"Many, many years ago, I had a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that."
But like John McCain before him, Mitt Romney underwent a conversion on the road to Des Moines. It's no wonder his own strategist Mike Murphy acknowledged Mitt had "been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly."
As a roundup of conservative reaction over at Hot Air shows, right-wingers are apoplectic at Rand Paul's apostasy. They needn't be, as Ramesh Ponnuru explained at the National Review. "Paul is the lead sponsor of the 'Life at Conception Act,'" which would "implement equal protection under the 14th article of amendment to the Constitution for the right to life of each born and preborn human person."
Given the right-wing fainting spells over Paul's performance at the U of C, it's safe to expect he won't be saying anything more about "not changing any of the laws" before he's won the 2016 Republican nomination for president. What happens afterwards in the general election is another matter.
| April 23, 2014
Mitt Romney's Lesson for Cliven Bundy
food stamps for cows." Which is why having your well-armed militia supporters threaten federal officials with violence when they come to collect what you owe doesn't just make you a deadbeat, it makes your mob domestic terrorists. (You don't have to take Harry Reid's word for it; just ask the Bush administration.)
All of which is why Cliven Bundy and his gun-toting backers might want to pick up and head to Mitt Romney's posh Republican retreat in Park City, Utah starting June 12. There, Bundy can learn the lesson of Romney's own riches-to-more riches story:
If you're going to redirect millions of dollars from the United States Treasury to your own, make sure it's legal first.
As I documented two years ago in "How We Built Bain Capital," Mitt Romney's stratospheric earnings as a leveraged-buyout pioneer would not have been possible without his uncle. Uncle Sam, that is. Your United States tax code doesn't merely allow the "carried interest exemption" that enables the likes of Mitt Romney to pay a lower rate than many middle class families. Without the public subsidy that is the corporate debt interest deduction, there might not be a Bain Capital--or a private equity industry as we know it--at all.
In 2012, Matt Taibbi explained how federal tax law made it possible for Mitt Romney to become a $250 million man:
Essentially, Romney got rich in a business that couldn't exist without a perverse tax break, and he got to keep double his earnings because of another loophole - a pair of bureaucratic accidents that have not only teamed up to threaten us with a Mitt Romney presidency but that make future Romneys far more likely. "Those two tax rules distort the economics of private equity investments, making them much more lucrative than they should be," says Rebecca Wilkins, senior counsel at the Center for Tax Justice. "So we get more of that activity than the market would support on its own."
And much more debt than many of the takeover targets of the LBO kings could afford. But by insisting these companies immediately begin paying them dividends and management fees, private equity parasites like Mitt Romney realized they could win big even when the firms they acquired failed.
The Economist explained how the perverse incentives work:
From 2004 to 2011 private-equity firms piled more debt onto their companies so they could take out $188 billion in dividends to pay themselves. The deals got bigger and bigger. The largest ever, in 2007, was the $44 billion purchase of TXU, an electricity company. The market worries the company will go under.
But though the private-equity people may have walked off with the loot, America's tax code was partly to blame, because it encourages this behaviour. The tax deductibility of interest payments on debt gives private-equity executives an incentive to pile extra debt onto the companies they buy, thereby risking the health of these firms for the sake of a tax benefit and the prospect of higher returns.
"In the majority of these deals," Lynn Turner, former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission explained, "the tax deduction has a big enough impact on the bottom line that the takeover wouldn't work without it." And that interest," Turner said, "just sucks the profit out of the company." As Taibbi rightly noted, "You almost have to start firing people immediately just to get your costs down to a manageable level."
"Traditionally," Josh Kosman noted in 2009, "cash-rich public companies have paid dividends to lure and reward investors." But private equity firms, he explained, stand this process on its head. "Fourteen of the largest American private equity firms had more than 40 percent of the North American companies they bought from 2002 until September 2006 pay them dividends," Kosman pointed out, adding, "In thirty-two of the eighty-three case, 38 percent, they took money out in the first year." And the innovator behind the business model?
Mitt Romney was a pioneer of this strategy. His private equity firm, Bain Capital, was the first large PE firm to make a serious portion of its money not from selling its companies or listing them on the stock exchange, but rather by collecting distributions and dividends, which in this context is the exact opposite of reinvesting in a company. Bain Capital is notorious for failing to plow profits back into its businesses.
So much for candidate Mitt Romney's 2007 claim, "Don't forget that when companies earn profit, that money is supposed to be reinvested in growth."
During his tenure as CEO from 1984 to 1999, Bain invested in 40 companies in the U.S. While seven later went bankrupt, in June the New York Times reported that "In some instances, hundreds of employees lost their jobs. In most of those cases, however, records and interviews suggest that Bain and its executives still found a way to make money." That mirrors a January 2012 analysis by the Wall Street Journal, which revealed:
Bain produced stellar returns for its investors--yet the bulk of these came from just a small number of its investments. Ten deals produced more than 70% of the dollar gains.
Some of those companies, too, later ran into trouble. Of the 10 businesses on which Bain investors scored their biggest gains, four later landed in bankruptcy court.
Put another way, Mitt Romney's investing was almost risk-free. He won when his portfolio companies won and often when they lost. Thanks in large part to the dangerous incentives unleashed by the U.S. tax code. With the policy choices of our elected United States government, Mitt Romney simply would not have gotten nearly as rich as he did at Bain Capital. As Matt Taibbi put it, "the way Romney most directly owes his success to the government is through the structure of the tax code."
In other words, the government actually incentivizes the kind of leverage-based takeovers that Romney built his fortune on. Romney the businessman built his career on two things that Romney the candidate decries: massive debt and dumb federal giveaways. "I don't know what Romney would be doing but for debt and its tax-advantaged position in the tax code," says a prominent Wall Street lawyer, "but he wouldn't be fabulously wealthy."
And Cliven Bundy, it's all legal. So, vote. Win elections. Even get the American people to change the Comstitution if need be. Then, like Mitt Romney, you can really start rounding up the cash.
First Lady Laura Bush Spoke at Tornado-Ravaged Alabama High School Graduation
Last week, the Topeka Unified School District in Kansas invited First Lady Michelle Obama to deliver the May 17 commencement address at a first-ever combined graduation event for four area high schools. Some students and parents aren't happy out of concern that there won't be enough tickets to accommodate all of their family and friends at an 8,000 seat arena. Others, like the mother who complained "They've taken the glory and shine from the children and put on Mrs. Obama," apparently are motivated by something else.
While district spokesman Ron Harbaugh assured residents that discussions to resolve the logistic issues are underway, on one point all Americans should be able to agree. When the President or First Lady of the United States of America delivers a commencement address, it is rare opportunity for the students and their families to hear words of inspiration, commemoration and celebration from the nation's elected leaders. It is altogether fitting that First Lady Michelle Obama do this to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that began the desegregation of Topeka's--and America's--schools. Altogether fitting, that is, just as it was when First Lady Laura Bush addressed the graduates of tornado-ravaged Enterprise, Alabama.
On March 1, 2007, a tornado levelled Enterprise High School (EHS), killing eight students. While a message from President Bush was read to the 2007 graduating class, on May 29, 2008 First Lady Laura Bush delivered the commencement address in person to the 300-plus students who had to complete their classes at a nearby community college. During the ceremony, "Bush shook hands with each of the graduates as they accepted their diplomas, and the school gave her a small piece of the rubble from the old high school as a token of gratitude." As one excited student put it, "To have one of the most influential people in the world come down to little ol' Enterprise, that was pretty amazing."
Confirming her appearance only a week before the event, Mrs. Bush on behalf of the American people told the graduates of the still-recovering town:
As you graduate tonight, take with you memories of your teachers' and classmates' support after the storm, the blue and white worn by students at rival schools, and the donations that came pouring in from around the country. Take with you memories of the great sacrifices your teachers made to create a positive learning environment, and how your families supported you in these very difficult times. Use these memories as inspiration to move forward with the same great dignity you have used and shown since last year's storm.
America will be made a better place because of the lessons you've learned as Enterprise Wildcats, and then taught the rest of our country by your good example.
Hopefully, their good example will be followed by the families of Topeka, who have the rare honor of marking--and making--history with the First Lady of the United States. Sixty years after Brown, Let's hope that the school district, the students and their parents work through any logistical issues at a pace faster than "all deliberate speed."
| April 21, 2014
The Real IRS Scandal That's Costing Uncle Sam Trillions
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is facing a crisis, just not the one many pundits and most conservatives think.
To be sure, the Republican excavation project to unearth the smoking gun proving the agency targeted right-wing "social welfare organizations" over their non-profit status will continue. As Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus described his party's lawsuit this week, "We're done playing footsie here with the IRS."
But the real scandal is that Republicans and their conservative amen corner have already done something much worse to the IRS. After their successful 1990's crusade to gut the Internal Revenue Service, the GOP is once again slashing its budget, demonizing its employees and even questioning the legitimacy of its mission. With its funding cut by Congress for four years in a row, the agency now has 10 percent fewer agents and officers than five years ago and fewer agents auditing returns than at any time since at least the 1980s. One result is that the "tax gap"--the difference between what the American people and U.S. businesses owe the federal government and what they actually pay--has mushroomed to an estimated $500 billion from $195 billion in 1998. To put that in context, that's more than the entire projected federal budget deficit for this year.
Before looking at the frightening numbers behind today's sad state of the IRS, it's important to recount the history of how the GOP became, as Jonathan Cohn aptly put it, the "pro-deficits, pro-tax evasion" party.
For starters, the GOP's best and brightest have ridiculed the very notion that the richest Americans can even be asked to pay higher taxes. "It's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally," South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham declared in defense of Mitt Romney in 2012, adding:
"It's a game we play. Every American tries to find the way to get the most deductions they can. I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game."
A game, that is, that will be won by the well-to-do, since apparently they are the only ones financially qualified to play it. In rejecting a small increase in gilded class tax rates, President George W. Bush summed up the rules by explaining that "the really rich people figure out how to dodge taxes anyway." Supply-side snake oil salesman Arthur Laffer agreed:
"You really can't collect much money from upper-income people. They know how to get around taxes."
Their task is made even easier if the Republican Party convinces a wide swath of the American public that the Internal Revenue Service is, as Maine Governor Paul LePage claimed, "the new Gestapo" which is "headed in the direction of killing a lot of people." As it turns out, LePage was only regurgitating 20-year-old GOP talking points.
As David Cay Johnston explained in his 2003 classic Perfectly Legal, the GOP during the Clinton administration waged an all-out war on the IRS, turning the priorities for auditing Americans upside-down. Then as now, GOP spinmeister Frank Luntz framed the issue for his Republican allies: "Which would you prefer: having your wallet or purse stolen or being audited by the IRS?" As Senator William Roth's Finance Committee held hearings in 1997 and 1998, Mississippi's Trent Lott decried the IRS' "Gestapo-like tactics" while Alaska's Frank Murkowski protested, "You don't need to send in armed personnel in flak jackets." Former Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma simply raged, "The IRS is out of control!" Congress went on to pass and Bill Clinton to sign the IRS Reform and Restructuring Act in 1998.
Even as then-IRS Director Charles Rossotti warned Congress about an epidemic of tax cheating, Senator Phil Gramm in May 1998 denounced the agency. Peddling myths of jack-booted IRS agents tormenting American taxpayers, Gramm called on Rossotti to fire his 50 worst employees. Gramm concluded:
I have no confidence in the Internal Revenue Service of this country. You do not have a good system. This agency has too much unchecked power.
As the New York Times recounted that spring, the plan to gut the IRS advocated by Phil Gramm and his allies was a popular political gambit, but almost certain to create incentives for tax evasion:
Mr. Gramm spoke at length of how he had ''no confidence'' in the I.R.S., remarks that were in sharp contrast to those of every other senator, who emphasized that the majority of I.R.S. workers were honest and most taxpayers law-abiding.
A variety of tax experts have said in recent weeks that attacks on the I.R.S., which polls show are a potent device to win votes and contributions for Republicans, give comfort to tax cheats and discourage honest taxpayers.
Which, of course, is exactly what happened. IRS staffing was slashed and audits of the wealthy dropped precipitously. As Johnston explained:
In 1999, for the first time, the poor were more likely than the rich to have their tax returns audited. The overall rate for people making less than $25,000 a year was 1.36%, compared with 1.15% of returns by those making $100,000 or more...Over the previous 11 years audit rates for the poor had increased by a third, while falling 90 percent for the top tier of Americans.
By 2006, as the New York Times reported, "Over the last five years, officials at both the I.R.S. and the Treasury have told Congress that cheating among the highest-income Americans is a major and growing problem." As former Reagan administration official Bruce Bartlett explained in 2012, "As the I.R.S. data show, noncompliance increased between 2001 and 2006, a period in which a substantial number of tax cuts were enacted." All told, according to the IRS estimates, the tax gap for 2006--that is, revenue lost to evasion, fraud and underreporting--reached $385 billion. That's $95 billion more than in 2001 and almost double the $195 billion Rossotti warned Congress about in 1998.
By 2010, other projections put the tax gap as high as $500 billion a year, a sum equal to about 15 percent of the entire federal budget.
Nevertheless, the Republicans' anti-IRS drumbeat continued unabated. Even with 20,000 fewer total employees than in 1992, Bartlett lamented, "Republicans have been treating the IRS like a political punching bag for years, cutting its personnel and restricting its ability to do its job." Like a punching bag, even when IRS workers were killed for just doing their jobs.
Declaring, "Well Mr. Big Brother IRS Man, let's try something different, take my pound of flesh and sleep well," disgruntled taxpayer Joseph Stack in February 2010 flew a small airplane into the IRS office in Austin, Texas. His suicide attack killed IRS employee and Vietnam veteran Vernon Hunter. But instead of producing universal revulsion, some Republicans in Congress essentially blamed the victim. As Rep. Steve King (R-IA) put it:
It's sad the incident in Texas happened, but by the same token, it's an agency that is unnecessary and when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it's going to be a happy day for America.
(Three years later, Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz echoed that line, announcing, ""We ought to abolish the IRS and instead move to a simple flat tax, where the average American can fill out our taxes on a postcard.")
Newly elected Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown similarly seemed to show King's sympathy for the devil:
I don't know if it's related, but I can just sense not only in my election, but since being here in Washington, people are frustrated. They want transparency, they want their elected officials to be accountable and open and talk about the things that are affecting their daily lives. So I'm not sure that there's a connection, I certainly hope not. But we need to do things better.
One person who had been doing things better was President Barack Obama. In his first two years in office, Obama's administration began to level the playing field for the IRS versus the tax cheats. The agency finally reversed its decade-long bias for the wealthy. The agency offered the carrot and stick of an amnesty program and prosecution for Americans hiding unreported offshore bank accounts. A new whistleblower program also began to pay dividends: in 2011, the IRS paid an accountant $4.5 million for tipping off the agency that his employer was cheating the American people out of $20 million owed in taxes. As the AP reported in December 2009, in its efforts to recover some of the nearly half-trillion dollars in revenue lost to cheating, the IRS was less likely to audit those earning below $200,000 a year:
IRS enforcement numbers, released Tuesday, show that returns under that amount have a 1 percent chance of getting audited.
Returns showing income of $200,000 and above have a nearly 3 percent audit chance. The percentage jumps to more than 6 percent for returns showing earnings of $1 million or more...
The number of audits jumped 11 percent from 2008 to 2009 for returns with earnings of $200,000 or more, but rose 30 percent for returns showing earnings of $1 million or more. For those under $200,000 the number of audits remained steady.
But just four short years later, the progress has started coming undone, thanks to a new wave of Republican attacks on the IRS budget. As the Washington Post reported last week, "As millions of Americans race to meet Tuesday's tax deadline, their chances of getting audited are lower than they have been in years." And as National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen acknowledged with great regret, customer service has suffered greatly.
How bad have things gotten? Forty percent of calls to the IRS for help will go answered. The 60 percent they do get through have to wait 25 minutes on average, compared to just 10 minutes in 2010. In 2014, the agency provided in-person help to only 5.6 million people, compared to 6.5 million the year before. As Fierce Government explained in February, there is no secret as to why:
Fiscal 2014 IRS appropriations are $11.29 billion - almost a billion less than it was in 2010 and the fourth year in a row funding has declined, Koskinen told the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on financial services and general government.
The IRS budget has been cut by 7 percent total over the last four years, he said, despite a 4 percent rise in total tax filings.
Cut, despite the testimony by Koskinen and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew that for each additional dollar invested in the IRS, the agency will deliver $6 in new revenue. (Cut, too, despite the Republicans' endless repeated mantra that the United States is becoming like Greece, where tax noncompliance is essentially a national pastime.) As Koskinen summed up the impact of the cumulative effects of the House GOP's $600 million cut in 2011 and the 2013 budget sequester:
"If you gave us the $500 million of our sequester funds (slashed under automatic spending cuts) we would have given you back $2 to $3 billion more, and people shrug and move on," he said. The agency now employs 10,000 fewer people and receives $900 million less in federal funds than it did four years ago.
The last time the IRS analyzed the tax gap based in 2006 data, the agency concluded that the nation's 114 million households had to pay the equivalent of a "noncompliance surtax" of nearly $3,400 each. But with the taxpayer population now at 141.2 million, economist Benjamin Harris of the Brookings Institution estimated the total tax gap could range from $410 billion to $500 billion. "You could go a long way toward solving our budget mess by closing the tax gap," Harris said. "But the problem is, it's not easily closed."
Especially if, as Republicans demand, you don't even try.
As Bartlett notes, "Information reporting and withholding are the I.R.S.'s principal lines of defense against tax cheating," especially by small businesses, yet "previous efforts by Congress to do so have been met with huge political resistance." But those policy moves aren't as counterproductive as cutting the agency's ability to enforce the law at all. As Ezra Klein pointed out when House Republicans first slashed the IRS budget in 2011:
Converting dollar bills into $10 bills is an excellent way to pay off your credit card. Except, it seems, if you're a House Republican.
Especially if you're a House Republican trying to make hay over a supposed scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service's handling of 501c(4) political groups. As The Hill reported in July 10, 2013:
House Republicans are going on offense against the Internal Revenue Service with measures to slash the agency's spending and reform what they say has become a culture of abuse.
The House Appropriations Committee released a measure on Tuesday that would roll back the IRS budget by $3 billion -- a cut of roughly a quarter -- in direct response to the agency's targeting of tax-exempt groups.
Such a step, which even Charles Krauthammer called "silly and small," would make Uncle Sam's tax gap dramatically worse. But for today's GOP, that's no problem. As IRS chief Koskinen recently warned Congress, "I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not."
And that's the real scandal.
(This piece first appeared at Dailykos.)
Bush Administration Labeled Bundy Ranch-Style Outlaws Domestic Terrorists
The Bundy Ranch controversy has now divided Nevada's two United States Senators. While Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) referred to Bundy's armed supporters as "domestic terrorists," his Republican colleague Dean Heller praised them as "patriots."
Their disagreement begs the question: What do you call someone who owes the United States government a million dollars and threatens violence against federal officials seeking to collect it? Whatever you may believe, for the Bush administration there was no doubt about the answer. The likes of Cliven Bundy and his gun-toting militia allies would indeed be considered domestic terrorists.
That's the inescapable conclusion from the FBI's report, "Terrorism 2002-2005." The document didn't merely define "domestic terrorism" as "the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives." The Bureau also provided some helpful histories of domestic terrorism the FBI successfully prevented.
For example, consider the 2003 arrest of David Hinkson, a tax evader who owed the IRS over a million dollars. As the FBI's terrorism report summed it up:
On April 4, 2003, the FBI arrested David Roland Hinkson, a constitutionalist and tax protestor, for attempting to arrange the murders of a federal judge, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and an IRS Agent whom he blamed for his legal problems regarding a tax evasion case against him. Between December 2002 and March 2003, Hinkson offered two individuals $10,000 for committing all three murders. On January 27, 2005, Hinkson was found guilty on three counts of solicitation to commit murder after a three week jury trial in Boise, Idaho. On June 3, 2005, Hinkson was sentenced to 43 years in federal prison.
As the ADL reported in 2005, Hinkson then like Bundy now refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the federal claims against him, claims up upheld by U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge:
The tax case against Hinkson stemmed from his failure to pay almost a million dollars in income taxes between 1997 and 2000 and for refusing to file tax returns or to withhold income tax from the salaries of employees working for his multi-million dollar business, Water Oz, which sold dietary supplements. Hinkson often paid his employees in silver dollars (some anti-government extremists considered paper money illegal and unconstitutional).
An IRS investigation, which began in the summer of 2000, ended in a raid on Hinkson's house and his arrest in 2002. Referring to the raid, Hinkson later wrote that "I believe that...[government officials] orchestrated the raid on Water Oz and my home for the sole purpose of murdering me and ending the lawsuit that was filed against them by me." Hinkson did sue the two officials, and several others, but the suit was dismissed--by Judge Lodge.
As it turns out, President Bush's FBI didn't take too kindly to those, like the militia member at Bundy Ranch, "overheard boasting that he had two agent[s] in his gun sight and could 'take them down.'" A year after Hinkson's arrest, federal officers apprehended members of the Project 7 Militia based in Flathead County, Montana:
On May 6, 2004, several extremist members of the Project 7 Militia were arrested following an extensive investigation into the group by FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and local police. Investigation had identified leader David Burgert and five other members of the Project 7 Militia as having committed various violations of federal law in furtherance of violent plans targeting law enforcement officers and other government officials. Burgert, along with Tracy Brockway, James Day, John Slater, and Steven Morey, pled guilty to various federal weapons charges, including possession of machine guns and other illegal weapons as well as conspiracy to possess illegal weapons. On November 12, 2004, Burgert received an 87 month prison sentence for his role in the plotting. In early 2005, the four other members who entered guilty pleas received sentences ranging from 18 to 37 months in federal prison. A sixth subject, Larry Chezem, was convicted in a federal trial of conspiracy and was sentenced on September 30, 2005, to 15 months in prison.
In a 2007 New Hampshire episode not covered by the FBI report above, another million-dollar tax cheater turned terrorist when Uncle Sam came for his money. That June, Ed Brown and his wife Elaine, already sentenced to 63 months in absentia for failing to pay his $1 million tab, vowed "that he and his wife would fight U.S. marshals to the death if they tried to capture them." As ABC News reported at the time, the Browns had support from many of the usual suspects:
The couple, however, insists that there is no law that requires citizens to pay income tax.
"There is no law. We looked and looked," Brown told the press.
Brown and his supporters, including Randy Weaver, leader of the 1992 standoff with ATF agents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, told the press that the government has unlawfully tricked people into believing they have to pay income tax, knowing full well that such a law would be unconstitutional.
"We will defend it to the death. This is 1776 all over again. You cannot tax someone's labor because that is slavery," Brown said.
Ultimately, Ed and his dentist wife ended up in prison for a lot longer than five years after they bunkered down in their 100-acre compound stocked with weapons:
At trial, the couple was found guilty of numerous charges including plotting to kill federal agents during the 2007 standoff; conspiring to prevent federal officers from performing their duties; conspiring to assault, resist or impede federal officers; using or carrying a firearm or destructive device during a violent crime; possessing a firearm or destructive device, being a felon in possession of a firearm; obstruction of justice; failing to appear at sentencing. Mr. Brown was also charged with failing to appear at trial.
Edward Brown was sentence to 37 years, and Elaine Brown, 35 years.
Now, Cliven Bundy, backed by his well-armed well-wishers, claims he "a citizen of Nevada and not a citizen of the territory of the United States." Of course, he is a United States citizen, one who owes the government of his 317 million fellow citizens a million dollars for the privilege of receiving what it is, after all, "food stamps for cows." At best, that makes Bundy a deadbeat. And by threatening federal officials just trying to collect the long overdue payment on the money he owes, Bundy and his Bundy Ranch gunmen make themselves domestic terrorists.
At least according to President Bush's FBI.
UPDATE: For more context on this discussion, it's worth bearing in mind that the FBI's definition of terrorism, whether foreign or domestic, has been essentially unchanged going back to the Clinton administration. In addition, the Bureau distinguishes between terrorist incidents which actually occurred (Oklahoma City bombing) versus those prevented (Hinkson, Project 7 militia). (On a side note, the same FBI report mentioned in the diary classifies abortion clinic bombers and their conspirators as "terrorists," something vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin among others rejected.) The larger point, for the likes of Fox News and its adherents, is that the classification of the Bundy Ranch crowd as "domestic terrorists" has been a bipartisan one.
| April 20, 2014
Epidemic of GOPer Virus Will Kill Thousands in Red States
Imagine that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warned that America was about to be hit by a preventable epidemic of a deadly, though curable, virus. In response, the federal government budgeted funds for each of the 50 states to purchase antidotes to save the afflicted and vaccines to immunize residents against future outbreaks. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the White House raised the revenue to completely cover the costs of the emergency program for three years and promised to pay 90 percent of the bill after that. Even having to pick up 10 percent of tab, most states would come out ahead by virtue of not having to pay for the care of the sick and the dying. All the 50 governors and state legislatures had to do to save thousands of their residents from needless deaths was to say one word to free money from Uncle Sam: Yes.
Now, imagine that 24 states simply said no, for no other reason than their leaders' dislike of the President and his political party.
If that sounds inconceivable, it shouldn't. It's actually happening right now. By rejecting the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid, Republicans are making the unconscionable routine by guaranteeing that thousands of their own constituents will die every year. Die, that is, from the GOPer virus.
That's not hyperbole, but a grim reality. Due to what might be the greatest act of political spite in modern American history, Republicans will needlessly leave millions of people uninsured, many hospitals on the edge of financial ruin and thousands of Americans dead, mostly in the states the GOP itself controls.
Here's how the Republicans' killer math works.
Prior to the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, studies from the Urban Institute, Families USA and Harvard Medical School estimated the numbers of preventable deaths among America's 50 million uninsured at between 22,000 and 45,000 a year. But as 25 plus million Americans gain coverage over the next decade (according to the nonpartisan CBO), that unnecessary death toll would drop dramatically. Just not, it turns out, in the GOP-dominated states that refused to accept the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid to millions of their currently uninsured constituents.
That's the conclusion a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School recently published in Health Affairs. The authors of "Opting Out Of Medicaid Expansion: The Health And Financial Impacts" tallied up the coming body count in the Republican states that rejected the ACA's extension of Medicaid to millions of their residents:
Nationwide, 47,950,687 people were uninsured in 2012; the number of uninsured is expected to decrease by about 16 million after implementation of the ACA, leaving 32,202,633 uninsured. Nearly 8 million of these remaining uninsured would have gotten coverage had their state opted in. States opting in to Medicaid expansion will experience a decrease of 48.9 percent in their uninsured population versus an 18.1 percent decrease in opt-out states...
We estimate the number of deaths attributable to the lack of Medicaid expansion in opt-out states at between 7,115 and 17,104. Medicaid expansion in opt-out states would have resulted in 712,037 fewer persons screening positive for depression and 240,700 fewer individuals suffering catastrophic medical expenditures. Medicaid expansion in these states would have resulted in 422,553 more diabetics receiving medication for their illness, 195,492 more mammograms among women age 50-64 years and 443,677 more pap smears among women age 21-64. Expansion would have resulted in an additional 658,888 women in need of mammograms gaining insurance, as well as 3.1 million women who should receive regular pap smears.
To put those findings in terms Republicans can understand, up to 3,000 of Rick Perry's Texans will needlessly die each year. Those dead will joined by up to 671 from Scott Walker's Wisconsin, 1,176 in Nathan Deal's Georgia, 2,221 in Rick Scott's Florida and 1,145 in Pat McGrory's North Carolina. It's no wonder Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich got biblical on Buckeye State Republicans to extend Medicaid coverage to 300,000 of their state's residents:
"When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he's going to ask you what you did for the poor. You'd better have a good answer."
Mercifully, it's not too late for Americans to immunize themselves. When they go to the polls in November, they can vote Democratic and kill the GOPer virus dead in its tracks.
For more background, see "GOP's Obamacare spite means death toll for red states."
| April 17, 2014
Mississippi GOP Shocked--Shocked!--to Find Neo-Confederates in Its Ranks
For pure political theater, it's hard to beat the Republican Senate primary in Mississippi. There, incumbent Senator Thad Cochran is trying to fight off Tea Party favorite and neo-Confederate State Senator Chris McDaniel. In the latest twist in this entertaining saga, Tea Party leaders called for the resignation of state GOP chairman Joe Nosef after the latter's call for McDaniel to cancel an appearance at event featuring a white nationalist leader.
But whatever the outcome of that imbroglio, it's awfully hard to take seriously Nosef's warning to McDaniel that "as a party we need to always be careful and focused and serious about what our views are and what our interests are." After all, Trent Lott and Haley Barbour--the Magnolia State's two most prominent recent Republican officeholders--traveled in the same neo-Confederate circles as Chris McDaniel.
As TPM recently reported:
McDaniel had been slated to be the keynote speaker at a combined Firearm Freedom Day/ Tea Party Music Festival in Guntown, Mississippi. That event featured a vendor who sold Confederate memorabilia and founded the Council of White Patriot Voters and the Confederate Patriot Voters United, which the Southern Poverty Law Center listed as an active white nationalist group. Organizers said McDaniel had been the confirmed speaker since February...
McDaniel's association to neo-Confederates has been called into question before. Last year he attended at least one neo-Confederate event in Mississippi.
That puts McDaniel in good company with Haley Barbour, former Mississippi Governor and RNC chairman. Briefly considered a contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Barbour has been associated with the CCC, the kinder and gentler update to the White Citizens' Councils of Jim Crow days. As the Southern Poverty Law Center documented, "Of the 38 current office-holders who've attended CCC events, 26 are state lawmakers -- most of them, 23, from Lott's home state of Mississippi." And among them, as the ADL noted in 2004, was Haley Barbour:
During the 2003 election, the CCC was at the center of another controversy involving the endorsement of a major politician. In July, Mississippi Republican gubernatorial nominee Haley Barbour, who served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997, attended a CCC-sponsored barbecue. Though the attendance of local Republican and Democratic office-seekers at political events partly sponsored by the CCC usually evokes little controversy, this year the group posted on its Web site a photo of Barbour at the barbecue (l. to r.: Mississippi GOP aide Chip Reynolds, State Senator Bucky Huggins, Ray Martin, Barbour, John Thompson, and CCC Field Director Bill Lord.)
Barbour's CSA cheerleading didn't end there. When Mississippi contemplated changing its Confederate state flag, Barbour proudly wore it on his lapel. And when former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell got into trouble over his 2010 Confederate Heritage Month declaration that omitted any mention of slavery, Haley Barbour rushed to his defense. Asked if McConnell's omission was a mistake, Barbour responded:
"Well, I don't think so...I don't know what you would say about slavery, but anyone who thinks that you have to explain to people that slavery is a bad thing -- I think it goes without saying...
To me it's a sort of feeling that it's just a nit. That it is not significant. It's trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't matter for diddly."
Apparently, it also didn't matter for diddly to Trent Lott, former Senate Minority (you can't make this stuff up). Lott was a speaker in 1992 at an event of the Council of Conservative Citizens, that same successor to the White Citizens' Councils of Jim Crow days. Among its offerings in seething racial hatred is a "Wanted" poster of Abraham Lincoln. Lott's also offered his rebel yell in the CCC's Citizen Informer newsletter and the virulently neo-Confederate Southern Partisan, where in 1984 he called the Civil War "the war of aggression." That was years before he lauded the legendary racist and 1948 Dixiecrat presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond:
"I want to say this about my state: when Strom Thurmond ran for President, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
But Strom Thurmond wasn't Lott's only choice as an ideal President. As the National Review recalled after the Thurmond incident in 2002, Lott had long made clear that Jefferson Davis would do quite nicely as well:
Mississippians sent Lott to the House in 1972. Six years later, his efforts restored Jefferson Davis's citizenship. Lott repeatedly lauded the former Confederate president, a man who endorsed not just segregation, but slavery. Lott crowed in May 1998: "Sometimes I feel closer to Jefferson Davis than any other man in America."
Lott told Richard T. Hines in the Fall 1984 Southern Partisan magazine, "I think that a lot of the fundamental principles that Jefferson Davis believed in are very important today to people all across the country, and they apply to the Republican Party." He argued that Americans in Biloxi, Mississippi and Los Angeles should be free to live their lives without undue federal pressure.
Given that background, the Mississippi Conservative Daily protested with good reason, Chris McDaniel shouldn't feel any pressure at all from the state GOP. Apparently, there is one thing Republicans in Mississippi can agree on: the old times there are not forgotten.