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“The Stench Of Sulfur”: It’s Time To Call A Satan A Satan

I do not lead a partisan organization, but I do lead a faith-rooted organization that has a long history of speaking out on matters of public concern.

Here is why speaking out rather bluntly at this time seems necessary to me: Unless I have misread or misheard the news lately, the GOP majority in the House of Representatives holds roughly these positions on key issues:

Immigration Reform: No bill, or else a bill with no path to citizenship.

Farm Bill: Subsidies for fat-cat Agribusiness operators but no renewal of food assistance for the urban poor—which has long been the traditional rural-urban tradeoff in enacting compromise farm bills.

Student Debt: Let the financial markets decide, and we are not concerned with the actual devastating burden laid upon the future workforce. (In fairness, here the Wall Street Democrats are also a big problem.)

Universal Health Care: Hell no! Just repeal the damned thing!! If it is implemented it might actually allow poor “takers” to live a little bit longer than is convenient for us “makers,” who no longer require a large low-wage labor force—in the United States, that is.

Women’s Health: Whatever can you mean? You must mean infanticide??

Religious Liberty/First Amendment: We believe that any employer’s “religious convictions” should trump all civil rights and equal right protections under established law. Do we need to remind you that the Constitution was written by Christians and for Christians in particular?

Energy/Climate: I’m not that hot—are you? We in the One Percent will manage to stay cool by any means necessary as the rest of you suffer.

Regulation More Broadly: You can catch up with our death-and-debt-dealing corporate friends AFTER the damage is done, OK? That’s the American Way.

That’s the House Republicans. And on the Senate side:

Presidential Appointments:  It is our firm intention to thwart and destroy this president; effectively nullifying his power to make appointments forms a central part of that effort. (Please go ahead and do that Google search on earlier nullification fun times in US history.)

If I am misrepresenting these positions, by all means call me on it. But if I describe them accurately, don’t we have a responsibility to say that these positions have the sulfurous stench of Satan about them?

Not in precisely those words, perhaps. But we have many valid ways—and many long-accepted homiletical, liturgical, and hermeneutical means—to get the primary point across. And to repeat, these are ways and means that do not cross red lines for 501(c)3 charitable or religious organizations.

The IRS language for what “charitable” means is worth reviewing:

The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged…eliminating prejudice and discrimination; [and] defending human and civil rights secured by law.

The radical Republicans in Washington and in many statehouses want to further punish and distress the poor; they want to enshrine prejudice and discrimination; they want to shred human and civil rights that are currently secured by law.

We not only have the freedom to say that; we have a responsibility to say it.


By: Peter Laarman, Religion Dispatches, July 12, 2013

July 13, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“An Untenable Position”: How John Boehner And Republicans Helped Create The IRS Scandal

The political powers the IRS was recently accused of abusing to harass Tea Party groups were given to it against its will by Congress — including some of the agency’s biggest critics today — over 10 years ago, according to documents and a former senior tax official. The revelation, which has been missing in most if not all of the commentary on the scandal, adds a key bit of context to it.

In a half-measure effort to strengthen campaign finance disclosure laws in 2000, Congress put the IRS, effectively for the first time, in the awkward position of having to make judgment calls about whether nonprofit advocacy groups would be required to disclose their donors because too much of their activities crossed the theoretical line between “issues advocacy” and “political campaign intervention.” It’s a messy and inherently subjective business, and something officials did not want to get more involved in, predicting it would lead to exactly the kind of controversy we just witnessed. “The IRS would inevitably be subject to claims of discrimination and political bias for actions taken or not taken,” an internal memo from the Treasury Department’s office of Tax Policy sent in June 2000 and obtained by Salon reads.

“The fuse was lit in 2000 with this law, which put the IRS in an untenable position. It’s almost surprising it didn’t explode on them earlier,” Steven Arkin, a former senior Treasury and IRS official, who proceeded Lois Lerner as the director of rulings and agreements for the IRS’ tax exempt organizations office, told Salon.

The law, a stand-alone bill numbered H.R.4762, had the best of intentions, but backfired thanks to an enormous loophole. After a comprehensive campaign finance bill failed, reformers pushed a narrow bill to increase disclosure of groups organized under section 527 of the tax code. That was reserved for groups primarily involved in electoral politics — but before this law, 527s that didn’t engage in explicit electoral intervention didn’t have to file any paperwork of any kind with the IRS. They incorporated as legal entities in their states, and that was that. No information on donors, expenditures or even their existence needed to be made public. If they did engage in electioneering, they would have to disclose that information to the FEC, but only for each specific activity. Thanks to the lax standards, these groups earned the moniker “Stealth PACs” and became the bane of campaign finance reform advocates.

When lawmakers brought up a bill to force 527 groups to disclose their donors just before Congress was about to go on its July 4 recess in 2000, they made a concession to skeptical Republicans and some Democrats who were looking out for liberal nonprofits: 501(c) groups — business leagues and the so-called social welfare organizations at the center of this year’s IRS controversy — would not be included. This didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, since almost everyone who wanted to meddle in politics organized as a 527 and not a 501(c)4. Both types of groups are tax-exempt, but 527′s had free rein to engage in electoral politics, while 501(c)4′s are limited to spending less than half their money on it. Social welfare and other groups are permitted to engage in unlimited issue advocacy, so long as their efforts to elect or defeat particular candidates were not their “primary” activity.

But former Sen. Russ Feingold, a staunch campaign finance reform advocate, saw what would happen if you cracked down on 527′s and not 501(c)4′s. “By only focusing on disclosure in one type of tax-exempt organization and not on others, we leave open the use of the other type of tax-exempt organizations by those who want to hide their contributions and activity behind the cloak of anonymity that these tax-exempt organizations provide,” Feingold warned on the floor during the Senate’s very short debate. He added that he was concerned that the IRS was “not prepared” to take on this burden, given the administration’s concern.

Sen. John McCain, the Senate sponsor, said that while it would be nice to do all groups, “focusing narrowly on 527 organizations” was necessary to “ensure that the legislation survives a constitutional test.” In the House, Wisconsin Democrat Tom Barrett, acknowledged that “this bill is not perfect” since it exempted social welfare organizations, but said including them might be “poison pill provisions” that would “scuttle this important reform effort.”

The bill passed overwhelmingly in both chambers. In the House, it was 385-39, with the “yay” column including Republican Reps. John Boehner, Dave Camp, Paul Ryan, Jim DeMint and many others who would later make hay of the way the IRS regulated 501(c) groups. Meanwhile, the Senate approved it 92-6, with McCain, Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum and many others voting in favor. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a longtime opponent of campaign finance reform, voted no, but said, “I recommend to my Republican colleagues that they vote for this bill,” calling it “relatively benign and harmless.”

The fallout was not particularly surprising. Two months after the law went into effect, the Washington Post reported that “instead of complying with the new law, a number of groups are instead reconstituting themselves under other provisions of the tax code that do not force them to reveal their donors.” Ben Ginsberg, a prominent GOP election lawyer, told the Post he couldn’t keep up with with his clients’ requests to convert. “We’d be running out of fingers and toes” just to count them all, he said. Claiming to be new groups, they reorganized as 501(c)4′s, which can do basically all the same things the old 527′s did, just under a different section of the tax code. So in the end, Congress swapped out 527 “Stealth PACs” for 501(c)4 “Dark Money” groups.

But while the change seems banal, it effectively transferred oversight of this species in the campaign finance ecology to the IRS, an agency less well equipped to handle delicate political questions than the FEC, which was designed with a bipartisan commission and other features precisely to handle touchy political issues, including fundraising matters impacting members of Congress themselves.

“The proposals to amend the Internal Revenue Code would put the IRS in the position where it, rather than the FEC, must become the “watchdog,” the Treasury Department memo, first reported by Sam Stein at the Huffington Post, warned before the law passed. “Imposition of such a burden on the IRS would be an administrative nightmare for the agency.”

“It never should have been given to the IRS,” said Arkin, the former tax official.

It’s a fitting coda to the IRS scandal that the problem was largely created by the people most outraged by it.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, July 11, 2013

July 13, 2013 Posted by | Internal Revenue Service | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A National Disgrace”: Federal Health Officials Warn The Number Of Kids Getting Murdered By Guns Is Rising

The number of U.S. youth getting murdered by guns is rising, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control. In the last 30 years, nearly four times as many kids were killed by guns than by other violent methods like stabbing, strangling or poisoning — and researchers noticed that proportion rose significantly during the end of the three decade time period.

Although the youth murder rate did hit a 30-year low in 2010, federal health officials are concerned about the rise in gun violence and its contribution to kids’ early mortality rates.

“We’ve demonstrated that we’ve made a lot of progress in reducing youth violence, but the study also points out that this progress is slowing and homicide is still a leading cause of death,” Corinne David-Ferdon, a behavioral scientist in the CDC’s Violence Prevention and Injury Center, told Reuters. “It’s important we get these programs in place early in young people’s lives to help disrupt the development of violent attitudes and behavior in early childhood and middle childhood.”

In the past several months, particularly after a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary killed 20 young students and seven adults, there has been a renewed push to protect children’s health by preventing gun violence. Thousands of Americans have gone onto be killed by guns after the Sandy Hook tragedy, including many very young children accidentally shot by firearms kept in their homes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — the nation’s largest group of pediatricians, representing over 600,000 doctors across the country — has pressured Congress to enact stricter policies to combat gun violence, pointing out that guns are the leading cause of death among minors. But the NRA isn’t particularly interested in efforts to frame gun safety as a public health issue. The powerful lobbying group actively works to discredit the AAP’s work around gun control, and has blocked scientific research into the health effects of gun violence for years.

A separate study released this week found that the youth who own firearms are far more likely to end up in the ER with assault injuries than the youth who aren’t gun owners. Treating wounds resulting from gun injuries costs Americans an estimated $5.6 billion in medical bills each year.


By: Tara Culp-Ressler, Think Progress, July 12, 2013

July 13, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Logic Of Profiling?”: What The Zimmerman Trial Was All About

A three-week long legal spectacle involving life-size human cutouts, a block of concrete, a forensic dummy, and a poorly considered knock-knock joke can be distilled down to two statements from the trial’s closing arguments: the prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda telling the jury that Trayvon Martin was dead because Zimmerman had profiled him as a criminal, and Mark O’Mara, one of George Zimmerman’s defense attorneys, saying that Trayvon Martin, unfortunately, fit the description of people arrested for burglaries in the retreat at Twin Lakes. The State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman is about many things: what constitutes self-defense, the echoing consequences of an increasingly armed public, the enduring and toxic way that race stains the most basic interactions. But, most fundamentally, it’s about what we’ve decided to do with our fear.

Before the trial began, Judge Deborah Nelson forbid use of the term “racial profiling” in the courtroom. At first, it seemed that the order would insure that throughout the trial race would be addressed the same way it was outside her courtroom—that is, by talking around it. Instead, it meant that by the closing arguments it was easier to recognize that race is just part of the problem. The logic of profiling itself is on trial.

Without a racial element the trial would never have happened. Not just because George Zimmerman, like so many others, probably wouldn’t have registered a white teen-ager as a criminal threat but also because a brew of vicarious grief, common experience, and the history of race in this country is what drove the crowds to don hoodies and gather around the country. It’s not simply that if President Obama had a son he’d look like Trayvon—it’s that millions of us have sons, brothers, and cousins who already do.

By degrees, we’ve accepted profiling as a central aspect of American life. Last month, I listened to Heather MacDonald, of the Manhattan Institute, argue that, though the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk policy may be inconvenient for the many law-abiding black and Latino men it targets, it is ultimately necessary to make business owners feel safe. Surveillance has become a fact of life for unknown numbers of Muslims in this country. Our recent debates about the N.S.A. and the hazily expanding parameters of its surveillance programs center around this same question of profiling. If the majority of the public supports electronic eavesdropping, it’s because of the assumption that profiling will exclude them from suspicion. For anyone who’s known what it means to “fit the description,” the calculation is not nearly so simple.

There’s bad mathematics at the heart of this—a conflation of correlations and causations, gut instincts codified as public policy. To the extent that race factors into this equation, it’s in the way we selectively absolve, the way that no sum of actions by certain people quite reaches the bar of suspicion, the way that it becomes deceptively easy to surrender the civil liberties of others.

None of this could come up in closing arguments, yet it also seems certain that without understanding this idea we’ll reënact this drama at some future date under slightly different circumstances, but with a common pool of suspicions still present beneath the surface.

Throughout the sixteen-month-long saga that has led to a jury in Sanford, Florida deliberating the fate of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, repeatedly said that this case was not about race. That’s partly true. But it’s also true that we live in an era where we understand security as the yield of broadening suspicions, and that at our safest, almost all of us are Trayvon Martin to someone else.

By: Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker, July 12, 2013

July 13, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Self Delusional Party Of No”: Carrying On As If Whistling Past The Graveyard Were A Plan

Self-delusion is a sad spectacle. Watching Republicans convince themselves that killing immigration reform actually helps the GOP is excruciating, and I wish somebody would make it stop.

House Speaker John Boehner’s unruly caucus has been busy persuading itself not to accept or even modify the bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate. Rather, it wants to annihilate it. It’s not that these Republicans want a different kind of comprehensive reform; it’s that they don’t want comprehensive reform at all.

The Obama administration “cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill,” Boehner (R-Ohio) and the GOP leadership said in a statement. Instead, the idea is supposedly to deal with the tightly woven knot of immigration issues one at a time.

That’s like sitting down with a piece of cake and saying, “First I’m going to eat the flour, then the sugar, then the eggs.”

House Republicans think they can begin with “border security,” which would be laughable if the need for real immigration reform were not so serious. It is ridiculous to think the nearly 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico can be made impregnable.

The border, after all, was judged 84 percent secure last year by the Government Accountability Office — meaning that only 16 percent of attempts to enter the country illegally from Mexico were successful. Any improvement, at this point, would necessarily be fairly modest. Perhaps Republicans know of a border somewhere in the world that is 100 percent secure. I don’t.

And never mind that the flow of undocumented migrants is way down from its peak, while apprehensions of would-be migrants are way up. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill, if enacted, could slash illegal immigration in half. No realistic increase in border security would do as much.

So the House Republicans’ intransigence isn’t really about the border. It’s about avoiding the central question, which is what to do about the 11 million undocumented migrants who are here already.

In the view that has become far-right dogma, giving these people a path to citizenship “rewards bad behavior” and puts them ahead of presumably well-behaved foreigners who are waiting “in line” for admittance. For the most adamant House Republicans, giving the undocumented any legal status and permission to stay would amount to “amnesty.”

No legal status, of course, means no solution. Opponents of comprehensive reform should just come out and say what they mean: Rather than accept measures that studies say would not only reduce illegal immigration but also boost economic growth, House Republicans would prefer to do nothing.

This makes no sense as policy or as politics. Amazingly, however, some conservatives who should know better — magazine editors Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry of National Review — contend that the GOP would actually help itself politically by killing the Senate immigration bill.

This line of argument — I can’t call it reasoning — holds that the Senate bill must be killed because it does not end illegal immigration for all time, it does not fix the legal immigration system for all time and it is really long. The GOP should not waste time and effort chasing after Latino and Asian American votes, according to this view, and instead should concentrate on winning working-class whites with an economic message for the striving middle class.

As for the Senate bill, Kristol and Lowry wrote in a joint editorial that “House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart.”

Some House Republicans worry openly that giving undocumented residents a path to citizenship would eventually add millions of Democratic voters to the rolls. But they should be more concerned about the millions of Latino citizens who are unregistered or do not bother to vote. Democrats are making a concerted play for these people. Republicans are telling them they’d like to deport their relatives and friends.

Most House Republicans have nothing to worry about for the time being; their districts are safe. But the GOP’s fortunes in national contests — and eventually in statewide races — will be increasingly dim. Maybe they’ll wake up when Texas begins to change from red to blue.

In the meantime, it’s sad to see a once great political party carry on as if whistling past the graveyard were a plan.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 11, 2013

July 13, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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