As Jerry Falwell Jr. spoke on the Republican convention’s final night, longtime observers of the Christian Right movement, of which his father was a founder, had to shake their heads in wonder. Gone was the usual claim that the Republican candidate was a Man of God motivated by profound faith and humbled by a sense of religious duty. Gone was any long recitation of Christian Right issue positions or accomplishments. Gone, perhaps most significantly, was any reminder of the covenant between conservative Christians and the Republican Party in which the former took the spiritual risk of political engagement in exchange for the latter’s promise to turn back the cultural clock.
Instead, Falwell emphasized Trump’s pledge to change the half-century-old IRS rule in which nonprofit groups (including churches and other religious institutions) were told they had to choose between tax-exempt status and the ability to endorse political candidates and engage in direct electioneering activities — a pledge the tycoon made in a recent meeting with conservative Evangelical leaders designed to win them over. Like many of these leaders, Falwell, who endorsed this Philistine at the very beginning of the 2016 cycle, has in a crude, transactional manner sold out, like a ward heeler with a constituency that needs favors from the Boss.
Yes, Trump has also gone to some lengths to promise judicial appointments sure to support reversals of the constitutional right to abortion and same-sex marriage. And, even more important, he’s made the Christian Right’s enemies his own — the “elitists” and “cultural relativists” of the secular left and mainstream media, the Muslims that deny Jesus as the exclusive Way, and the disparagers of Israel’s biblical role in the Last Days. Going along with this politician’s ambitions is a small matter of overlooking his crudity and egoism; his instrumental treatment of other people (especially women); his deep involvement in the Babylon of mass popular culture; and his “populist” manipulation of very un-Christian racial and ethnic resentments.
It’s hard to know what goes through the minds of people who consider themselves followers of a messiah who preached love for one’s enemies as they cheer Trump’s declarations that he wants to torture and kill terrorism suspects and their families, and deport millions of Christians and their children into destitution and violence, and reverse years of conservative Christian investment in criminal-justice reform, and intimidate other countries into letting America always be first. Like Falwell, they do mostly refrain from claiming that Trump — who has not been able to bring himself to admit the need for divine forgiveness — is himself a man of faith, though the Christian Right warhorse tried to suggest he was a “Baby Christian” who had only recently found God. But for the most part, they implicitly treat him as the Scourge of God (as Attila the Hun was once described), a pagan sent to smite the wicked.
Some conservative Christian leaders may simply emulate other conservative ideologues who, as a purely practical manner, have decided to go along with the Trump candidacy in hopes of inheriting the GOP after he loses, or cashing in chits if he wins. Or perhaps they are just following their flocks, unlike some (notably Southern Baptist spokesperson Russell Moore and longtime Christian Right and homeschooling advocate Michael Farris) who have made a prophetic stand against Trump. As longtime observer of Christian conservatives Sarah Posner noted:
A July 13 Pew Research Center survey found that 78 percent of white evangelicals intend to vote for Trump — meaning Trump will likely match the level of support among white evangelicals enjoyed by George W. Bush in 2004, when white evangelicals made up 23 percent of the electorate, and were an essential 36 percent of all Bush voters.
This is obviously not the first time in Western history that religious people have followed irreligious politicians who promise to fight against the forces of cultural change that threaten all entrenched sources of privilege. But it must be painful to some to observe that, despite the trappings of religious invocations and the country musicians touting their Bible-believin’ (along with their trucks and their guns) as tokens of defiance toward liberals, this has been a profane convention celebrating profane values. Farris recently said the acceptance of Trump represented the “end of the Christian Right.” That may overstate the case, but the days when the GOP could comport itself as the Christian conservative party are gone for the immediate future. Conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthat read the draft of Trump’s speech tonight and tweeted: “The speech is basically Buchananism without the religion.” That means culture war with no restraint, and perhaps no survivors. And that’s scary.
By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 21, 2016
“The Real Welfare Cheats”: The Big Problem Of Welfare Dependency In America Now Involves Entitled Corporations
We often hear how damaging welfare dependency is, stifling initiative and corroding the human soul. So I worry about the way we coddle executives in their suites.
A study to be released Thursday says that for each dollar America’s 50 biggest companies paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2014, they received $27 back in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.
Goodness! What will that do to their character? Won’t that sap their initiative?
The study was compiled by Oxfam and it comes on top of a mountain of evidence from international agencies and economic journals underscoring the degree to which major companies have rigged the tax code.
O.K., O.K., I know you see the words “tax code” and your eyes desperately scan for something else to read! Anything about a sex scandal?
But hold on: The tax system is rigged against us precisely because taxation is the Least Sexy Topic on Earth. So we doze, and our pockets get picked.
John Oliver has a point when he says, “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.” The beneficiaries of tax distortions are counting on you to fall asleep, but this is a topic as important as it is dry.
It’s because the issues seem arcane that corporate lobbyists get away with murder. The Oxfam report says that each $1 the biggest companies spent on lobbying was associated with $130 in tax breaks and more than $4,000 in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.
And why would a humanitarian nonprofit like Oxfam spend its time poring over offshore accounts and tax dodges? “The global economic system is becoming increasingly rigged” in ways that exacerbate inequality, laments Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.
One academic study found that tax dodging by major corporations costs the U.S. Treasury up to $111 billion a year. By my math, less than one-fifth of that annually would be more than enough to pay the additional costs of full-day prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds in America ($15 billion), prevent lead poisoning in tens of thousands of children ($2 billion), provide books and parent coaching for at-risk kids across the country ($1 billion) and end family homelessness ($2 billion).
The Panama Papers should be a wake-up call, shining a light on dysfunctional tax codes around the world — but much of the problem has been staring us in the face. Among the 500 corporations in the S.&P. 500-stock index, 27 were both profitable in 2015 and paid no net income tax globally, according to an analysis by USA Today.
Those poor companies! Think how the character of those C.E.O.s must be corroding! And imagine the plunging morale as board members realize that they are “takers” not “makers.”
American companies game the system in many ways, including shifting profits to overseas tax havens. In 2012, American companies reported more profit in low-tax Bermuda than in Japan, China, Germany and France combined, even though their employees in Bermuda account for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of their worldwide totals.
Over all, the share of corporate taxation in federal revenue has declined since 1952 from 32 percent to 11 percent. In that same period, the portion coming from payroll taxes, which hit the working poor, has climbed.
Look, the period of the Oxfam study included the auto and banking bailouts, which were good for America (and the loans were repaid); it’s also true that the official 35 percent corporate tax rate in the U.S. is too high, encouraging dodging strategies. But we have created perverse incentives: C.E.O.s have a responsibility to shareholders to make money, and tax dodging accomplishes that. This isn’t individual crookedness but an entire political/economic system that induces companies to rip off fellow citizens quite legally.
It’s now widely recognized that corporations have manipulated the tax code. The U.S. Treasury, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and professional economic journals are all trying to respond to issues of tax evasion.
Bravo to the Obama administration for cracking down on corporations that try to move abroad to get out of taxes. Congress should now pass the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, and it should stop slashing the I.R.S. budget (by 17 percent in real terms over the last six years).
When congressional Republicans like Ted Cruz denounce the I.R.S., they empower corporate tax cheats. Because of I.R.S. cuts, the amount of time revenue agents spend auditing large companies has fallen by 34 percent since 2010. A Syracuse University analysis finds that the lost revenue from the decline in corporate audits may be as much as $15 billion a year — enough to make full-day pre-K universal.
Meanwhile, no need to fret so much about welfare abuse in the inner city. The big problem of welfare dependency in America now involves entitled corporations. So let’s help those moochers in business suits pick themselves up and stop sponging off the government.
By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Columnist, The New York Times, April 14, 2016
So the first impulse is to discuss these Panama Papers in terms of the big crooks like Valdimir Putin. But let’s hope they get some traction on the presidential campaign trail and put the issue of tax havens at the center of the debate.
Yeah, we all know about Swiss banks and the Cayman Islands, and just figure that rich people have this wired and this is how it will always be. But it doesn’t have to. In fact, it has changed a little bit for the better recently. Wanna take a guess who’s been trying to do the changing, and who’s stood in the way?
First, a little background. The best estimate for the kinds of tax havens discussed in the Panama leaks is that they drain about $165 billion a year from federal revenue coffers. Gabriel Zucman, a leading expert on them, estimates that the U.S. government loses $35 billion from individual tax evaders, and $130 billion from corporate evaders. (His new book was just well-reviewed by Ethan Porter in Democracy, the journal I edit.)
One hundred and sixty-five billion dollars is a fair amount of money—more than you and I shelled out for any of the following categories of federal expenditure in 2015: health care and health research ($122 billion), transportation ($107 billion), education ($90 billion), or science-environment-energy ($70 billion). So we could use it.
In Europe, efforts started in the aughts to do something about this. The Bush administration wasn’t going to do much, of course. But after Barack Obama came in and the Democrats had control of both houses of Congress, Democrats—notably Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, but others too—sought to move legislation to address tax evasion.
And… they did! You probably didn’t hear about it at the time, because the effort didn’t generate nearly as many headlines as the Democratic effort to reform the financial system, address climate change, or pass a health care reform law. But note: The Democrats used their brief two-year period of total control of both the White House and Congress to address head-on about a half-dozen problems, and tax evasion was one of them.
The bill was called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA; how they managed not to tag that final “T” on there at the end is beyond me, someone was really asleep at the wheel. But anyway it passed. In the Senate, it actually enjoyed a modicum of bipartisan support, as 11 GOP senators voted for it (as opposed to 28 who opposed; Democrats backed it 55-1). But in the House, not a single Republican voted for the bill, as Nancy Pelosi let 38 nervous blue-dogs go and join all 174 Republicans.
So what did the bill do? Well, a lot of complicated things, some good, some bad, but in the main, it gave the IRS more authority to look abroad through global financial databases and figure out who might be a U.S. citizen and if so, what they might be owing Uncle Sam that they weren’t paying. It also required foreign financial institutions to report such relevant information about U.S. citizen residents to the U.S. government.
Sounds like a pretty legit thing for the government to be doing, if you ask me. But it involved the hated IRS, so naturally, you had all these hideous predictions from Republicans and conservatives about what FATCA was going to lead to. It was going to make presumptive criminals out of all U.S. citizens living abroad. It was going to compromise the privacy needs of banks. Best of all, FATCA, once fully implemented in July 2014, was going to bring about the official demise of the U.S. dollar. Snopes.com rated that one false.
The charge is being led by just the people you’d expect. Sen. Rand Paul introduced the bill to repeal FATCA, and sued the Treasury Department over it. Utah Sen. Mike Lee went on a barnstorming tour of Europe to drum up momentum for a repeal (that doesn’t seem to have to worked too well—the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development issued its own tax-haven enforcement guidelines, which are for the most part tougher than FATCA’s).
But it isn’t just the fringy, von Mises-y, gold-standard crowd that’s worked up about FATCA. The Republican National Committee officially passed a resolution supporting its repeal (PDF). Interestingly, I looked at the RNC’s official resolutions from 2013-2016 inclusive, and for those four years, FATCA is the only piece of legislation singled out for a specific resolution of repeal. If that’s the case, FATCA must be doing something right.
FATCA and the OECD regs represent first steps in a process that’s going to take 20 or 30 years, if it succeeds even then. And the Democrats of course aren’t perfect on this. But at least most of them acknowledge this as an issue and are trying to do something about it.
On this point, I feel certain you’re going to be reading this week a lot about how Hillary Clinton supported a free-trade deal with Panama, the notorious tax haven whence these leaked documents came to us. This is true, but as a secretary of state working for a president who backed the deal, she could scarcely have done otherwise. And two other points are salient: one, trade deals are negotiated by the U.S. Trade Representative, not the Department of State, and two, the USTR did seek and obtain a tax information exchange agreement before the Obama administration was willing to cut the deal with Panama.
Obama’s not the enemy here. Nor is Clinton. The people on the wrong side of this one are the same people who always are, and whose dire predictions of economic catastrophe, whether about this or raising the minimum wage or anything else, almost never seem to come to pass.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 5, 2016
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump hasn’t offered much in the way of policy speeches since launching his campaign, so it was of great interest this week when Team Trump announced plans for a major foreign-policy speech, delivered from a decommissioned battleship. If you’ve watched the show this week, however, you know the speech didn’t quite live up to its billing.
Right off the bat, Trump’s speech on matters of national security had very little to do with national security. There weren’t even any references to ISIS. Military Times published a report noting that the remarks “featured few new ideas for military policy or Veterans Affairs reform but plenty of promises to crack down on illegal immigration and ‘make our country great again.’”
The GOP frontrunner did, however, vow to “come out with some plans in a very short time,” which struck an odd note given that this was supposed to be a speech about Trump’s plans.
And while all of this matters – presidential candidates with vague platforms who promise to deliver a major address on foreign policy should keep that promise – it’s not the most interesting part of the story.
As it turns out, the event aboard the USS Iowa was less of a campaign speech and more of a fundraiser for a group called “Veterans for a Strong America” – an organization that Trump claims represents “hundreds of thousands of veterans.”
As best as we can tell, Veterans for a Strong America does not, however, have a sizable membership base. In fact, as Rachel noted on the show on Wednesday, the group does not appear to have any members at all.
What’s more, the organization staff itself appears to consist of just one individual: Joel Arends of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
And Joel Arends of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has quite a political background.
In the 2014 election cycle, he worked with a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who was recently convicted on election-related crimes – which the candidate blames on advice she received from Joel Arends.
And just in case that weren’t quite enough, the Associated Press published this report Wednesday:
The Internal Revenue Service revoked the nonprofit status of the veterans benefit organization that hosted and sold tickets to a foreign policy speech by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump aboard a retired U.S. battleship, The Associated Press has learned. The group’s endorsement of Trump at the event also could raise legal problems under campaign finance laws.
So, taken together, this story raises some questions that deserve answers. A political operative facing some legal scrutiny appears to be the sole official at a group, Veterans for a Strong America, which, according to the IRS, has lost its nonprofit status for failing to file tax returns. And yet, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination headlined a fundraiser for the group this week – the organization sold tickets to Trump’s event for up to $1,000 a piece – and repeated a claim about the group’s dubious membership. How did this happen, exactly?
As Rachel concluded, it now seems as if the Trump campaign “is either in on some kind of scheme with this group that is not a non-profit, or Donald Trump and his campaign got duped and taken for a ride by a guy who, you could suss out pretty easily, with literally one page of Googling and 30 spare seconds. In either instance, that is the kind of base-level failure in a presidential campaign that doesn’t bode well for the long-term viability of that candidate – just in terms of the basic functions of what it takes to run.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 18, 2015
The 16th Amendment to the Constitution, authorizing the federal income tax, was ratified in 1913. Still, every once in a while, the news will report the arrest of some right-wing kook who has failed to pay his income tax on the grounds that it’s illegal. Also in 1913, the 17th Amendment, requiring the popular election of senators (who before then were often appointed by state legislatures) took effect. And yet many conservatives still want to repeal it — and not just kooks, or at least influential kooks and not just completely marginal and obscure kooks. And those things happened more than a century ago.
So how long will the Obamacare resistance live on? A long, long time.
Obamacare has survived when it appeared to be dead in Congress in 2009, then even more dead the next year, and then survived a Supreme Court case, a presidential election, a rollout crisis, and another Supreme Court case. National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar has lovingly tended the flickering flame of health-care repeal for years. In 2013, he predicted that barring “an unlikely fourth quarter comeback,” Congressional Democrats would soon join with Republicans to repeal the law over a presidential veto. In the wake of the King v. Burwell verdict, Kraushaar regroups with a new column laying out a path. Kraushaar refers repeatedly to the law’s “unpopularity,” which is … barely correct:
Proceeding from this shaky premise, he argues that, if they win the presidency, enough Senate Democrats might join Republicans to create a filibuster-proof supermajority:
The third group, which Sasse labels the “Replacement Caucus,” would make significant changes to the law after campaigning on a reform-oriented health care agenda in the presidential election. That’s the most tenable approach — and the fact that Sasse, a hard-line Senate conservative, is calling for something other than outright repeal is telling. (Sasse still supports repealing the law but only with a replacement plan in hand.)
If Republicans win the presidency, the political momentum — and votes for rolling back core elements of Obamacare — would be in place. In that scenario, Republicans would have won three out of four elections, and a depleted Democratic Party would be in disarray. Republicans could credibly claim a health care mandate, given how prominently the issue played in recent elections.
Kraushaar allows that these “significant changes” to Obamacare would fall short of repeal, though he does not indicate what those changes would entail. He links to a National Review column by Republican Senator Ben Sasse, which also fails to describe what changes should be implemented. The closest Sasse comes to specifying a proposal is calling for an “understandable, common-sense, patient-centric alternative.” Of course, Republicans have been urging other Republicans to come up with a common-sense, patient-centric health-care plan since the health-care debate began six years ago. They have remained stuck in the same unsolvable problem: Their actual health-care policy ideas are either all less popular than the specific policies in Obamacare, unworkable, or both. When Republicans start naming actual policy changes they would implement, they would do things like let insurance companies deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions, or stop covering popular services like maternity care. That’s why the only specific partial changes Republicans actually want to vote on simply attack the law’s financing provisions. They’re not willing to eliminate Obamacare’s benefits, but they’re happy to stop paying for them. That plan (keep the benefits, oppose the taxes) is pretty much the party’s approach to other established social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security. If Republicans win the presidency, they may bite the bullet and repeal Obamacare because their base demands it, but they won’t have Democrats on their side and it won’t be popular.
Even farther into denial is Michael Cannon, a Cato Institute scholar who played a leading role in promoting the King v. Burwell lawsuit. The basis for that lawsuit was seizing on an errant line of text implying that tax credits would be available only for customers using state-established exchanges, ignoring many other parts of the law, as well as massive amounts of evidence before, during, and after the debate implying the opposite. For a while, Cannon, the founder of the anti-Universal Coverage club, nurtured hopes of un-insuring 6 million Americans. He finds himself in the position of a despondent young Montgomery Burns mourning the destruction of his biological weapon (“My germs, my precious germs! They never harmed a soul. They never even had a chance!”)
Cannon, unlike Burns, does not seem to be accepting defeat. His Twitter bio continues to describe him as “the man who could bring down Obamacare,” a now-moot prediction. His new column argues, “Even in defeat, King threatens Obamacare’s survival, because it exposes Obamacare as an illegitimate law.” Cannon bases this claim on the fact that he believes, or purports to believe, that Obamacare is not what the Supreme Court says it is but a chimerical, never-implemented, doomed-to-fail alternative that will live on forever in his dreams. A century from now, right-wingers will emerge from their fortified mountain compounds, clutching Cannon’s writings and claiming to be following the True Obamacare.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 10, 2015