Retiring One Halloween Election Boogie Man: ACORN!

cover-boogeymanNew Orleans   With the election here, the voter registration period is pretty much over in most states, except for those favored few who have same day registration, so it’s safe to finally talk about it a bit more and make some notes about some of the things that make 2014’s midterms different from elections over the last half-dozen years.

One difference that has been huge is that the Republican Party’s voter suppression effort has been so successful in some many states that even the fire breathers at Fox News and what’s left of the Tea People and other far right zealots seem to have finally slacked off on their efforts to make ACORN the boogieman for this election.  Google Alerts on ACORN have finally calmed down to a low murmur, rather than the high pitched roar of recent years. Of course James O’Keefe, the video-scammer is still trying to get a free lunch from ACORN and announced that he had set up an election PAC this season, but it was quickly buried in a universal yawn that escaped from the now perpetual sneer which now seems to be the universal response from the American public to his perpetual shenanigans.

This season the big ACORN news from the Google team was the splash made by Ottawa ACORN on their candidates’ forum!  By the way did any of you even realize the Toronto mayor’s election happened and the Ford family finally lost?

Of course it’s not completely over.  Some old reliable sources still take their best shot, but it is more often now on local races.  The New York Post wanted to make sure their readers knew that the “re-branded ACORN” New York Communities for Change was active in setting up a campaign committee in conjunction with New York State unions to impact the election of friendly legislators to implement their programs.  An ACORN-fixated blogger took a stab at trying to link another rebranded ACORN affiliate in Missouri to the Ferguson controversies, but never got traction there either.

Part of this trend is something less than good news.  The progressive forces are now seen more aggressively in local and state campaigns and less on the national arena perhaps where ACORN was a factor, particularly with its massive voter registration efforts. Races like the campaign in Richmond, California where city councils and mayors are trying to forge new public policies and take on corporations, like Chevron, are increasingly important.  Interviewing Tom Butt, a 19-year city councilman and now candidate for Mayor on Wade’s World  on KABF, recently, it was easy to feel the excitement.  Seeing the role of the Working Families Party aligning itself with Mayor de Blasio and a number of progressives and labor unions to remake the state legislature is vital and exciting.  There are a number of state minimum wage campaigns which could play important roles in turnout though no one seems to be watching this as closely as they might.

There’s still a huge gap with the absence of ACORN in the United States, but seeing the action on some of these political struggles and the inability of the right to continue to scare organizers and others by simply calling up the ACORN boogieman this Halloween, gives all of us more hope for the future


Please enjoy the Song of the Month from Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay, Si Kahn’s Mount Polley

Si Kahn’s Mount Polley – On August 4, 2014, the containment dam at Mount Polley Mine, British Columbia breached sending 2.64 billion gallons of wastewater and 1.36 billion gallons of solid tailings with a smorgasbord of toxins into local waterways. The facility that failed was designed by the same firm that is working on Pebble’ Mine’s tailings dam. The Mount Polley environmental catastrophe serves as a direct warning to us.

Tide Turning on Voter ID Suppression


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New Orleans   As long as Republicans realize that their appeal is to a minority segment of the United States population, but fortunately for them, one that votes more steadfastly that Democrats, they will try to erect barriers in the road to voting since we do not have automatic suffrage.  You would think that would be matched with constant efforts by the Democrats to expand the electorate and lower barriers, but who knows if that’s true?  But no matter, as long as it all works this way, the push and pull to limit and expand voting access will be a constant in the political wars, democracy be damned.

The far right though seems to be having some particularly bad problems with voter identification.  Courts seem to be clearer and clearer that it’s just plain not legal.

Recently a Wisconsin federal judge ruled that voter IDs so clearly and overwhelmingly targeted minorities in that state that they ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act in addition to the 14th Amendment.

An Arkansas judge threw out voter IDs as well.

In Pennsylvania after several tries at mandating voter IDs, despite there never having been a single case of in-person voter fraud in the state, the Governor has now announced that he will not appeal his most recent loss in court at trying to establish voter IDs.

It’s hard not to conclude that at least the voter ID part of the voter suppression effort is increasingly a losing cause.

Now no less than Tea Party darling, libertarian Republican, and possible Presidential candidate, Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky, has cautioned his Republican buddies that it’s time to drop the voter ID obsession from their program.  He says it’s hurting the party.  He even stated in Memphis, where he continues to try to distance himself from earlier remarks he has made indicating tepid support, if not opposition, to previous civil rights legislation, that the voter ID campaign is alienating African-Americans.

Voter suppression is no doubt alive and well, but you don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing, and with the momentum gaining in the courts and politicians now feeling the breeze, finally voter identifications, a well-recognized suppression-only effort often called a “solution looking for a problem,” may be fading from the conservative top ten.

Subverting Competition in Healthcare May Force Price Controls

ruralhealthclinic-jeuaNew Orleans   There are obvious glitches in the Affordable Care Act that the politicians will handle.

One of them, as I’ve argued before, is going to be extending the deadline for enrollment to escape penalties past March 31, 2014, and that assumes that the government doesn’t waive the penalties entirely for the first year, which will more likely be the action taken if there continue to be huge systemic problems in enrollment.  The reasons are simple.   Politicians won’t take the heat from something that is obviously not fair to their citizens.   It is equally obvious as President Obama has argued that come hell or high water, they will fix the online process.   This is his legacy program and he does not want the enrollment problems to be in his official biography and eventual obituary.

Interestingly, there is another huge political problem looming in the Senate that perhaps was not as anticipated, but may have been the most effective obstacle created by the continued Republican rearguard actions, especially at the state level where half of the governors and their state legislatures have blocked Medicaid expansion and state managed marketplace exchanges. That problem, as a recent New York Times article indicated, lies in the widely disparate pricing for policies in rural areas, where healthcare is scarcer anyway.   No matter how urban the country is now, we have become no small number of Tea Party Congresspeople coming from areas where rural interests still dominate, and the weight of more rural states is still strong in the Senate where population is irrelevant to voting strength.

Talk about the irony of being hoisted by your own petard!  We have a private insurance company dominated healthcare model in the Affordable Care Act, because ideologically the notion of government managed and run healthcare like Britain or Canada was past the pale.  Our system would privilege private insurers and get the job done through the almighty power of free competition, by God!  Well, it turns out, not surprisingly, when politicians refuse to expand the insured base through Medicaid expansion and delay the marketplaces, then private insurers don’t want to come into those states, and these same market forces leave one or two companies in those situations with a virtual monopoly for providing the coverage, and prices do not go down, but in fact even in some situations increase.  So from place to place in rural areas, rates for the same coverage may be three and four times higher.   You can feel the political heat from here!

The solution would be that the government caps prices, but price controls might even be more inflammatory for the real conservatives than the problem they have now created, probably inadvertently given the low level of economic education even by supposed free market advocates.   As conservatives get over the fact that they can kill Obamacare and are forced to reckon with the ongoing reality of its impact in their districts, this will be a problem they will not be able to avoid.   It’s going to be interesting to hear the contorted arguments and watch the policy gyrations as they argue against price controls that would balance the cost for all Americans, and try to figure out a way to put the government’s finger, if not whole fist, on the scale to get some cost balance, since that’s only fair and their constituents are going to be calling for it, and loudly.

Obama Right to Refuse to Negotiate with Himself

2obama1-popupNew Orleans   For five years whenever I’ve been asked for advice from various national campaigns whether immigration reform or healthcare or living wages or whatever, when it’s come to how to move President Obama, I’ve always argued, don’t lobby, don’t email, don’t tweet, point all the heat you can generate directly at him.  His record has always been that he will make some concessions.   None of my advice is meant to  be disrespectful nor to imply that pressure will guarantee the precise results sought, but nonetheless any analysis of his record of response and reaction to hard heat, is that he always gives up something, and often way more than he should have.   Unfortunately, watching the Tea Party, the shutdown mess, and the rearguard attack on the Affordable Care Act, no matter how quixotic and improbable, it’s fairly clear that the Republican Taliban also had about the same analysis and more will than progressives to make the fight.

            Now it’s with real pleasure that I can say that finally I’m wrong, and President Obama is holding the line by finally wisely reckoning that since he is unable to negotiate without giving concessions to opponents committed to bargaining in bad faith, the best strategy is to refuse to negotiate at all.   Yes, this is a dangerous strategy, but, damn, that’s why he gets paid the big bucks for his work in the trenches and not for his speech for the Nobel Prize.  

            It could blow up in Obama’s face, and there are still signs of sniveling everywhere for example in the reports of  little toehold compromise discussions on special interest pieces of the Affordable Care Act to curry favor from medical device manufacturers, fans of Cadillac policies including some unions, and various delays.   Hopefully Obama will hold the line there as well, since the real changes that are needed are on closing the big loopholes like the fact that rip-off, high deductible policies are being approved for big companies, and family members are being trapped outside of the exchanges by these same pretend-policies.

            This Administration has a couple of years left.  There’s no question we are in for a horror show for another year through the mid-term elections, but the only chance Obama has or any of us have who support progressive policies, is if the President holds the line for a change, and manages to rewrite the narrative so that what is won is finally done, and we can move forward, not keep failing to have a “meeting of the minds.”


Bloomberg News: ACORN was Target of IRS

acornNew Orleans   The headline in the New Orleans Times-Picayune read, “ACORN, based in N.O., was a target of IRS,” so it caught my eye.  The story to no surprise concerned revelations of recently available unedited documents from the IRS released by Congressman Elijah Cummings from Maryland and others that ACORN and its successor organizations were lined up for extra scrutiny.  This doesn’t mean that many did not receive the IRS designations they sought and in fact to my knowledge all of them did, but there were delays, additional questions, and hoops to crawl through. 

Heck, ACORN International is now in the second year of an interminable IRS investigation by a special forensic accountant based in the north Texas metroplex.  The fellow is likeable and relaxed, and so am I, so he’s got his job, and I’ve got mine, and eventually it will be finished without any big harrumph I assume, because both of us know that we’ve done nothing wrong, though we were late on some paperwork, and by god, he’s right, we need to do better.

Contrary to the Republicans and the Tea Party folks, I just assume that if you are going to do the work we do, organizing lower income and working families around the world for justice and power, this kind of governmental review comes with the turf.  Nonetheless, the more I read about their whining, the more they are about to convince me that maybe they are right, and folks doing what we do should not have a root canal kind of experience every time we interact with the government. 

            What do I know?  Anyway, checkout the original article from Richard Rubin of Bloomberg News entitled:

IRS Nonprofit Scrutiny Included Look for ACORN Successors

By Richard Rubin – Aug 20, 2013 Bloomberg News

The Internal Revenue Service told its employees to watch out for applications for tax-exempt status by successors to ACORN, the now-defunct Democratic-leaning community organizing group.

Congressional Democrats, who released the recently unredacted information today, maintained that such scrutiny undermines the idea that the U.S. tax agency’s policing of political groups was limited to Tea Party organizations.

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, disbanded in 2010 after hidden videos showed workers offering advice on opening a prostitution business.

“This new information should put a nail in the coffin of the Republican claims that the IRS’s actions were politically motivated or were targeted at only one side of the political spectrum,” Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement. “It is time for House Republicans to stop trying to score political points and start to focus on reforming the IRS.”

Republicans have insisted that Tea Party groups and other organizations that aid Republicans were subject to longer IRS delays as they awaited confirmation of their tax-exempt status.

The IRS disclosed in May that it had put Tea Party groups’ applications under extra scrutiny, and apologized. Since then, at least four IRS officials have been pushed out of their jobs, congressional committees have opened inquiries and the Justice Department has begun a criminal probe.

The information released today after the IRS relaxed its reading of privacy rules doesn’t explain in detail how ACORN-like groups were to be treated. ACORN conducted voter registration drives and helped prepare tax returns for low-income people.

The new information also shows that “Emerge” groups were subject to extra attention from the IRS. In 2012, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of affiliates of Emerge America, which trained Democratic candidates for office and was deemed too political to qualify for tax-exempt status.

The IRS’s treatment of Emerge shouldn’t be compared with how Tea Party groups were singled out by name, said Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“The fact that Emerge was initially approved for tax-exempt status, but had it revoked after its improper behavior came to light, underscores how much more stringent the IRS was with Tea Party applicants,” he said in a statement.


IRS Mainly Targeted Nonprofits on the Left

irsLittle Rock  According to IRS documents now released to the public, the Republicans and the right have been squealing like stuck pigs about being discriminated against on their applications for a free tax ride without any good reason, because the IRS was an “equal opportunity” discriminator targeting both the left and the right for special attention.  The IRS docs seem to back up their earlier contention that they were using “key words” to root out what they suspected might be political organizations hiding behind a social welfare cover story in order to con the tax man.  They not only pulled out Tea Party but also Occupy and Progressive in their searches.  There are lessons here, but I’m not sure any of them are all that good.

            According to a report in the New York Times, this name sorting attack went on until recent weeks.  Furthermore, the slap at the left was broader and more political than the conservatives have claimed.

One such “be on the lookout” list included medical marijuana groups, organizations that were promoting President Obama’s health care law, and applications that dealt “with disputed territories in the Middle East.”

            The IRS seems to be over the top in his ham-fisted appreciation of both foreign and domestic policy.   It will be interesting to see if Congressman Issa and his investigations committee will be as lathered up now that it is clear that the main targets were liberals and not conservatives.  I’m not holding my breath.

Clearly, they were out of control, but what’s new about that?

The IRS or the Service as it calls itself often believes there are no boundaries to the questions and information that they believe is relevant in an investigation.  Years ago I had a lawyer who referred to government investigators for the IRS and DOL as always looking for “booze, broads, and Cadillac’s,” but that’s way old school now.  They operate more like a Google search with an IRS ID-badge  believing that they have license to delve into anything they might have pulled up in a search, and, god knows, if you’ve ever been on the internet, you know there’s some crazy stuff out there about virtually everything and everyone.

The IRS needs to collect what taxes are due and make sure that there are no wolves in sheep’s clothing out there, but maybe they should go back to the old school and just go through one application at a time and get it right.  In the meantime anyone applying for a tax exemption would be wise to think very carefully about what name they call their outfit.  I would recommend plain vanilla like Institute for Social Welfare or Organization for the Good or something along those lines for a quick “yes” from the IRS.