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“Only A Suggestion”: Joe Ricketts Demands Massive Taxpayer Subsidies For Baseball Stadium

This week, the New York Times reported that Joe Ricketts, a right-wing billionaire and founder of TD Ameritrade, is soliciting multi-million dollar ad proposals to attack President Obama. One such proposal, leaked to the paper, was a $10 million, racially-charged campaign entitled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End his Spending for Good.” The proposal, which center on Rev. Jeremiah Wright, suggests hiring an “extremely literate conservative African-American” to break down Obama’s image as a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.”

Ricketts moved quickly to publicly reject the plan after it leaked. His spokesman said it “reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion.” (The statement seems somewhat disingenuous as the Ricketts had already given “preliminary approval” for the $10 million concept after seeing a separate ad about Jeremiah Wright.) Nevertheless, Ricketts’ spokesman confirmed his intention spend money attacking Obama through an organization he controls called “Ending Spending Political Action Fund.”

There is one area, however, where Ricketts is much more open to government spending. He’s seeking a massive government subsidy for the Chicago Cubs, which he owns with his family, to renovate Wrigley Field. Here is the deal the Ricketts family is seeking, via Crain’s Chicago Business:

That means $300 million is needed for the ballpark proper.

Half would come from the team, presumably in increased revenue from more signage inside Wrigley and retail and other entertainment in what amounts to a game-day carnival on Waveland Avenue on Wrigley’s north side and Sheffield Avenue to the east.

And half would come from $150 million or so in bonds to be retired with increased revenue from the existing city and Cook County amusement taxes on ticket sales. Specifically, debt service would get the first 6 percent in growth above a base level of around $15 million a year now.

But it’s a little more complicated than that.

The team also wants a 50 percent cut of any increase in amusement tax revenue growth above 6 percent. And unlike the bonds, which would be retired in 30 or 35 years, that would be forever.

So Joe Ricketts and his family not only want a $150 million subsidy directly from taxpayers but also a large chunk of tax revenue from the city in perpetuity. In other words, taxes from the City of Chicago would no longer go to roads, schools and police officers but also into Joe Ricketts pocket. Without this taxpayer welfare, the family will presumably let Cubs, which they acquired in a highly competitive bidding process in 2009, play in a stadium that is falling into disrepair.

Ricketts negotiating position seems completely at odds with his public stated political views. In a video posted by another organization he controls, Taxpayers Against Earmarks, Ricketts says “I think it’s a crime for our elected officials to borrow money today, to spend money today and push the repayment of that loan out into the future on people who are not even born yet.” Of course, that’s what he is attempting force the taxpayers of Chicago to do for the benefit of his team and his family.

At the same time, Joe Ricketts has plenty of disposable income available to attack Obama. A Ricketts spokesperson said future attacks on Obama would “be focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy.” Joe Ricketts, however, may want to focus on the fiscal policy of his baseball team. In 2011, the Cubs were “one of nine franchises in violation of MLB’s debt service rules.”

By: Judd Legum and Josh Israel, Think Progress, May 19, 2012

May 20, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Darkest Art Of All”: Mitt Romney’s Character Assassination Game

The secret of Republican political success since the rise of the right is not, as many liberals believe, that they play no-rules hardball. Instead, it’s their skill at projection—at accusing Democrats of doing what they are doing themselves, or are planning to do, or have done. That’s the real Rosetta stone. And that’s what Mitt Romney did this week when he called Barack Obama’s tough, but hardly extraordinary, ads about Bain Capital “character assassination.” He’s trying to make it so that Bain as a subject becomes off limits, and he’s laying the groundwork for later, when the real character assassination starts—and I hope your memory isn’t so short that you forget that he knows a thing or two about the topic himself.

Republicans have perfected many a dark campaign art over the years, from racial nudging and winking to suggesting that we’ll all be killed by terrorists if voters elect Democrats. But projection is the darkest art of all. And it’s so simple! When Republicans are acting like a mob—down in Dade County, for example—they accuse the Democrats of having a mob mentality. When they’re planning on blowing holes in the budget deficit bigger than the one the iceberg laid on the Titanic, via Paul Ryan’s budget and tax cuts for the rich, they stand up and accuse the Democrats of blowing holes in the budget. It works pretty well, too. All the conservative blogs pick up on it, and Fox and so on. And then, when the mainstream media sit down to write about the subject at hand, stories will note that “The GOP has been saying for months…”

This is what is happening here. Romney is trying to do two things. First, he’s trying to make any criticism of his Bain record out of bounds. Aware of course that he’s been forced by reality to revise downward from “more than 100,000” to “thousands” the number of jobs he helped create at Bain, he knows that he can’t use Bain as a plus to the extent that he wanted to. Think about it—the cornerstone of his career, the thing he spent 15 years of his life doing, the business he built (with Mr. Bain’s blessing and seed money)—pretty much out the window now. So that being the case, he needs to eliminate it as a minus. See if the referee will toss it out, if the judge (the media) will rule it inadmissible.

The obvious way to do that is to call any mention of it character assassination. Are those ads really character assassination? Do they say, for example: “Mitt Romney must be a really terrible and malevolent human being to have thrown those poor steel workers out on the street”? Because that would be an attack on Romney’s character. But no, they do not. They say Mitt Romney did us dirt. They’re emotional, sure. And if you want to say emotionally manipulative, all right by me. And yes, Joe Biden took it all a step or two further with his Ohio speech, saying Romney doesn’t understand the rest of us and so on.

But come on. That’s politics. Those aren’t character attacks. They’re salvos in a debate about what kinds of capitalism are good for regular people and what kinds aren’t. Campaigns Democratic or Republican don’t exactly elevate debates, Lord knows; but if we’re going to have arguments about how our society works, that’s a pretty useful one to have.

But the character-assassination label will come in handy—and this is Romney’s second purpose—when the Republican attacks on Obama really start. Maybe Romney is telling the truth, and his campaign will be all about how Obama promised nice things and seems like a nice young man but failed to deliver on them. His polling tells him he has to campaign like that for now, because Obama is far more likable to more people than he.

Something tells me, though, that the Romney campaign will eventually lower the boom. One might argue that it has already. What’s “apologizing for America,” after all? Aside from being a cheap and contemptible lie, is it not a kind of assault on the character of the president of the United States to accuse him of doing something that he hasn’t done, especially when the accusation is obviously meant to carry treasonous connotations? Romney’s “apologizing for America” line has always told us a great deal about character—Romney’s, not the president’s.

Don’t forget, finally, that Romney is pretty adept at character assassination himself. What do you call it when in those crucial primaries that he barely won against Rick Santorum—Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin—he was outspending Santorum six and nine and 12 to one with incredibly negative ads? Or the “tsunami of sleaze,” as my colleague John Avlon put it at the time that the Romney campaign dumped on Newt Gingrich in Florida, where 92 percent of the aired TV ads were negative? Those gutter attacks, aired over and over and over, are, it is worth remembering, the main reason the guy is the nominee. He was tied or behind in all those states until he emptied the trash. He wasn’t winning them over with his wit.

So it’s a bit rich to hear him saying now that he’s sad to see Obama in the gutter and he’s going to keep it on the up and up. But at some point, he’ll attack. And when he does, he’ll sigh sadly and say that he was forced into this position by that mean Obama, and he’ll count on everyone to forget the primary season, the foulest one by far in the modern history of American politics, for which the man who neither drinks nor swears bears the vast majority of the blame. That, come to think of it, is a “character” issue too.


BY: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 19, 2012

May 20, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Preying On The Poor”: How Government And Corporations Use The Poor As Piggy Banks

Individually the poor are not too tempting to thieves, for obvious reasons. Mug a banker and you might score a wallet containing a month’s rent. Mug a janitor and you will be lucky to get away with bus fare to flee the crime scene. But as Business Week helpfully pointed out in 2007, the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them.

The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators. Employers, for example, can simply program their computers to shave a few dollars off each paycheck, or they can require workers to show up 30 minutes or more before the time clock starts ticking.

Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest. When supplemented with late fees (themselves subject to interest), the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.

It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor. Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license. And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell.

The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009 for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay. Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration.

Government Joins the Looters of the Poor

You might think that policymakers would take a keen interest in the amounts that are stolen, coerced, or extorted from the poor, but there are no official efforts to track such figures. Instead, we have to turn to independent investigators, like Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America, who estimates that wage theft nets employers at least $100 billion a year and possibly twice that. As for the profits extracted by the lending industry, Gary Rivlin, who wrote Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. — How the Working Poor Became Big Business, says the poor pay an effective surcharge of about $30 billion a year for the financial products they consume and more than twice that if you include subprime credit cards, subprime auto loans, and subprime mortgages.

These are not, of course, trivial amounts. They are on the same order of magnitude as major public programs for the poor. The government distributesabout $55 billion a year, for example, through the largest single cash-transfer program for the poor, the Earned Income Tax Credit; at the same time, employers are siphoning off twice that amount, if not more, through wage theft.

And while government generally turns a blind eye to the tens of billions of dollars in exorbitant interest that businesses charge the poor, it is notably chary with public benefits for the poor. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, for example, our sole remaining nationwide welfare program, gets only $26 billion a year in state and federal funds. The impression is left of a public sector that’s gone totally schizoid: on the one hand, offering safety-net programs for the poor; on the other, enabling large-scale private sector theft from the very people it is supposedly trying to help.

At the local level though, government is increasingly opting to join in the looting. In 2009, a year into the Great Recession, I first started hearing complaints from community organizers about ever more aggressive levels of law enforcement in low-income areas. Flick a cigarette butt and get arrested for littering; empty your pockets for an officer conducting a stop-and-frisk operation and get cuffed for a few flakes of marijuana. Each of these offenses can result, at a minimum, in a three-figure fine.

And the number of possible criminal offenses leading to jail and/or fines has been multiplying recklessly. All across the country — from California and Texas to Pennsylvania — counties and municipalities have been toughening laws against truancy and ratcheting up enforcement, sometimes going so far as to handcuff children found on the streets during school hours. In New York City, it’s now a crime to put your feet up on a subway seat, even if the rest of the car is empty, and a South Carolina woman spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay a $480 fine for the crime of having a “messy yard.” Some cities — most recently, Houston and Philadelphia — have made it a crime to share foodwith indigent people in public places.

Being poor itself is not yet a crime, but in at least a third of the states, being in debt can now land you in jail. If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage — a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: “sewer service.” In a sequence that National Public Radio reports is “increasingly common,” a person is stopped for some minor traffic offense — having a noisy muffler, say, or broken brake light — at which point the officer discovers the warrant and the unwitting offender is whisked off to jail.

Local Governments as Predators

Each of these crimes, neo-crimes, and pseudo-crimes carries financial penalties as well as the threat of jail time, but the amount of money thus extracted from the poor is fiendishly hard to pin down. No central agency tracks law enforcement at the local level, and local records can be almost willfully sketchy.

According to one of the few recent nationwide estimates, from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 10.5 million misdemeanors were committed in 2006. No one would risk estimating the average financial penalty for a misdemeanor, although the experts I interviewed all affirmed that the amount is typically in the “hundreds of dollars.” If we take an extremely lowball $200 per misdemeanor, and bear in mind that 80%-90% of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, then local governments are using law enforcement to extract, or attempt to extract, at least $2 billion a year from the poor.

And that is only a small fraction of what governments would like to collect from the poor. Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimates that “deadbeat dads” (and moms) owe $105 billion in back child-support payments, about half of which is owed to state governments as reimbursement for prior welfare payments made to the children. Yes, parents have a moral obligation to their children, but the great majority of child-support debtors are indigent.

Attempts to collect from the already-poor can be vicious and often, one would think, self-defeating. Most states confiscate the drivers’ licenses of people owing child support, virtually guaranteeing that they will not be able to work. Michigan just started suspending the drivers’ licenses of people who owe money for parking tickets. Las Cruces, New Mexico, just passed a law that punishes people who owe overdue traffic fines by cutting off their water, gas, and sewage.

Once a person falls into the clutches of the criminal justice system, we encounter the kind of slapstick sadism familiar to viewers of Wipeout. Many courts impose fees without any determination of whether the offender is able to pay, and the privilege of having a payment plan will itself cost money.

In a study of 15 states, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found 14 of them contained jurisdictions that charge a lump-sum “poverty penalty” of up to $300 for those who cannot pay their fees and fines, plus late fees and “collection fees” for those who need to pay over time. If any jail time is imposed, that too may cost money, as the hapless Edwina Nowlin discovered, and the costs of parole and probation are increasingly being passed along to the offender.

The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty.” Poor people are more far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private-sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.

Once you have been deemed a criminal, you can pretty much kiss your remaining assets goodbye. Not only will you face the aforementioned court costs, but you’ll have a hard time ever finding a job again once you’ve acquired a criminal record. And then of course, the poorer you become, the more likely you are to get in fresh trouble with the law, making this less like a “cycle” and more like the waterslide to hell. The further you descend, the faster you fall — until you eventually end up on the streets and get busted for an offense like urinating in public or sleeping on a sidewalk. 

I could propose all kinds of policies to curb the ongoing predation on the poor. Limits on usury should be reinstated. Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net. Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.


By: Barbara Ehrenreich, Mother Jones, Originally Published on the TomDispatch website, May 18, 2012

May 20, 2012 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hiding In The Shadows”: A New False Equivalency About That So-Called Obama “Enemies List”

TNR’s Alec MacGillis comments on Kimberly Strassel’s silly Wall St. Journal article, “The President Has a List,” which likens one of the Obama campaign’s websites posting of “A brief history of Romney’s donors” to Nixon’s ‘White House Enemies List.” According to Strassel,

In the post, the Obama campaign named and shamed eight private citizens who had donated to his opponent. Describing the givers as all having “less-than-reputable records,” the post went on to make the extraordinary accusations that “quite a few” have also been “on the wrong side of the law” and profiting at “the expense of so many Americans.

In other words, “Gasp….How dare they rat out our rich donors!”

MacGillis has a little fun with Strassel’s warped reasoning, and notes,

Got that? Identifying on a campaign Web site the people who are giving to the opponent’s super PAC in six and seven-figure increments is the equivalent of Nixon’s enemies list, which, as John Dean explained it at the time, was designed to “screw” targeted individuals via “grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.”

Nixon’s white house enemies list was about harassing citizens who dared to publicly criticize the President. Outing fat cat donors who hide in the shadows is not quite the same thing. MacGillis explains it well, along with citing the hypocritical double standard of the GOP and their media defenders:

When you are giving at levels hundreds of times larger than the $2,500 maximum for a regular donation to a campaign, or thousands of times larger than the size checks regular people send to candidates, then you are setting yourself apart. And the only thing that the rest of the citizenry has left to right the balance even slightly is to give you some added scrutiny–to see what personal interests, biases, you name it, might be prompting you to influence the political system in such an outsized way. It’s all we’ve got, really–the Internet, the phone call, the visit to the courthouse. And yes, this applies to everyone. Why does everyone on the right know so much about George Soros? Because they were outraged at the scale of his giving in 2004 and 2006 and dug up everything they could on him. As is only right and proper. And now people are going to look into Frank VanderSloot, Harold Simmons and Paul Singer and the rest of Romney’s million-dollar club.

Fair enough. If rich donors want to use their wealth to influence elections, the notion that they should have their anonymity in doing so protected is not likely to win much sympathy outside their ranks.

By: The Democratic Strategist, Staff, May 17, 2012

May 20, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No More Tax Cuts For The Wealthy”: As Debt Battle Looms, No Option But To Raise Taxes

 President Obama and Republican leaders in Congress made history of sorts last year when they agreed to a 10-year plan to reduce annual deficits with spending cuts and no tax increases. Mr. Obama vows not to let it happen again.

Both he and Speaker John A. Boehner put down their respective markers this week, suggesting a potential replay of their damaging showdown over the debt ceiling last summer. On Tuesday, the speaker reiterated what has become known as the Boehner Rule: House Republicans will not increase the debt ceiling again without spending cuts of a greater amount. Mr. Obama, on Wednesday, told him Congress must pass a “clean” debt-limit increase to cover the nation’s obligations; there will be no more deficit deals, he said, without higher tax revenues from the wealthiest Americans.

While the Republicans largely prevailed last year, this time the Obama administration believes it has the greater leverage. The pain of the reductions is being felt as House Republicans advance the annual spending bills; already they have proposed to raise the spending caps for the military, and they are squabbling over domestic programs.

“It’s not reasonable or right for there to be another discussion of a spending-only package” for reducing deficits, said Jacob J. Lew, the White House chief of staff and former budget director. “When you look at how we got into the hole we’re in, it’s very clear that tax cuts for the wealthy were part of contributing to the deficits we’re now trying to close.”

Mr. Obama’s position leaves open the question of whether election-year politics will play to his advantage among voters who do not like deficits or the measures needed to reduce them. Neither party expects the fight to be resolved until after the election, the results of which will determine who actually has the upper hand in a lame-duck Congress. The debt limit must be raised by early 2013, Treasury has said.

The two budget deals last year — the deficit-reduction compromise in August and a smaller agreement before that — called for cutting $1.7 trillion from so-called discretionary spending, which covers the bulk of federal programs whose budgets Congress controls annually, including air-traffic control, the military, education, research and much more.

Those deals left unscathed the entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which, given the growing aging population, are driving projections of unsustainable deficits.

And those deals, because of Republicans’ resistance, did not raise taxes, unlike the deficit measures of the 1980s and 1990s.

“Tax hikes destroy jobs,” Mr. Boehner said in his speech on Tuesday.

But veterans of past budget wars say that discretionary spending for domestic programs, which make up just 15 percent of the federal budget, cannot continue to bear the brunt without significant implications for government services. “They’ve gone way past fat and are cutting into muscle,” said Bruce R. Bartlett, who was a Treasury official in the Reagan administration.

Nor, these people say, would the public support the deeper reductions that would have to be made in programs like Medicare if taxes are not part of the mix.

“That’s basically why I, and a very large number of other people, conclude that you do need some additional revenues,” said Rudolph G. Penner, a Republican who headed the Congressional Budget Office in the 1980s and was co-chairman in 2010 of a blue-ribbon panel that proposed a debt-reduction plan.

“I’ve been kind of surprised at these recent agreements, where almost all of the reduction comes from discretionary programs over 10 years,” he said. “What you’re talking about is a very large number of years of austerity — through various Congresses, elections and possible natural disasters and terrorist attacks and on and on, which is just not plausible to me.”

Barry Anderson, a former deputy director of the White House and Congressional budget offices, said, “Eventually you’re going to have to increase taxes across the board” — not just for the wealthy — “by at least a third.”

Former Senator Pete V. Domenici, who was the chairman or senior Republican leader on the Senate Budget Committee from 1981 to 2007, said in an interview, “Adequate projections of revenues and expenditures have to be put on the table. Everything has to be on the table.”

Senator Domenici, with Alice Rivlin, a former budget director for Congress and the Clinton administration, was chairman of a panel in 2010 of former lawmakers, administration officials, academics and executives, that produced a blueprint for debt reduction. It came just before a roughly similar plan from a majority on Mr. Obama’s fiscal commission, which was led by Alan K. Simpson, a former Senate Republican leader, and Erskine B. Bowles, a businessman and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.

All three recent debt proposals — Bowles-Simpson, Domenici-Rivlin and that of Mr. Penner’s group, sponsored by the National Research Council and the National Academy of Public Administration — recommended trillions of dollars in savings, both from higher taxes and reduced entitlement spending. Yet it is those two sources that the White House and Congress have avoided, given Republicans’ opposition to tax increases and Democrats’ to cutting Medicare unless taxes are raised.

Tax increases were part of nearly every significant deficit-reduction measure of the 1980s and 1990s, including the 1982, 1984 and 1987 packages signed by Ronald Reagan, the 1990 accord under George H.W. Bush and Mr. Clinton’s 1993 measure. The exception was a deal in 1997, though by that agreement Congressional Republicans ratified Mr. Clinton’s 1993 tax increases that they had vowed to repeal.

Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Mr. Lew, participated in most of those deals, as an aide to House Democratic leaders and then as Mr. Clinton’s budget director.

“The history of dealing with big problems like this is, almost in every case, it’s been a balanced package” of taxes and cuts in both discretionary and entitlement spending, Mr. Lew said. “So it’s not like it is some radical Democratic position.”


By: Jackie Calmes, The New York Times, May 18, 2012



May 20, 2012 Posted by | Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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