[The conversations represented here took place over the last week and are compressed for your reading pleasure. My husband and I are real people and said the things represented here. The rest of the dialogue is provided by intentionally fictionalized[...]
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The United States Congress is outraged. Russia, it seems, may have wrongly imprisoned, tortured, and murdered a whistleblower. In the land of the free, our good representatives are outraged, I tell you. And not just I. NPR will tell you. This[...]
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In today's New York Times, Mike McIntire reports on the link between ALEC and state legislators. I've covered ALEC and Mississippi legislators before in the posts linked below. I recommend the New York Times article, as it does a good job describing how ALEC works. Here are previous Cottonmouth posts on ALEC:
Tax showdown: Dante Atkins v. Mitt RomneyWhen Ted Nugent saw the title of this week's endeavor, he was momentarily excited. Until, that is, he found out that the last words were "class tax return" instead of "school girl." But I digress.
On April 17, millions of Americans found themselves relieved?not just of the burden of having to worry about tax returns for another year, but also of some of their money, which was due and payable to the Internal Revenue Service. Others, perhaps more fortunate, found themselves filing returns documenting the refunds owed to them. Tax policy has, of course, become a frequent public policy discussion recently: terms like "effective tax rate," "Buffett Rule," and "payroll tax extension" keep on being thrown around, and those of us with less familiarity than others may have a hard time understanding what it's all about. So in honor of tax day, I shall use my own tax return to document why progressive tax reform is exactly what we need right now. As a side benefit, I also get to have a head start on releasing my tax returns for when I run for president in 20 years (just kidding). And along the way, we get an answer to the question: who paid a higher share of his income in taxes? Dante Atkins, or Mitt Romney?
I'm what could be considered a typical middle-class taxpayer. Last year, I used a form 1040A to process my federal tax return. I use this form because my taxes are too complicated to use the much shorter 1040EZ, but not so complicated as to need the full form 1040. Last calendar year, I made a total of $49,500. Most of this income came from two jobs. In addition to that, I received a comparatively much smaller amount in what's called "non-employee compensation." What's the difference? Well, when you're a regular employee of a business, you automatically have income and payroll taxes deducted from your regular paycheck. When you're an independent contractor, you don't. That income is still taxable, but you just have to count on paying whatever taxes are owed when you file your return, as opposed to having it withheld for you by your employer. But the bottom line is, I had three "jobs"?which, in the words of George W. Bush, makes me uniquely American.
I'm just a renter, so I don't get to claim the types of mortgage-interest deductions that homeowners use to significantly lower their tax bills?I get to claim the so-called "standard deduction" that just about everybody gets, and that's about it. After factoring that in, the IRS said that for the year, I owed $5,256 in federal income taxes. Fortunately for me, my employers had withheld much more than that from my paychecks over the course of the year and sent it to the IRS on my behalf: a total of $6,074. This means that whenever the IRS gets around to processing my return?and provided I did all of my math correctly?I will end up receiving a refund of $818, and will end up having paid a hair over 10.6 percent of my income in federal taxes.
But that's not the end of the story?it could have been substantially higher. You see, during the course of the year, I had saved up enough to be able to contribute $3,500 to an Individual Retirement Account, or IRA for short. Because of how the tax code works, any amount I contribute to an IRA every year (in my case, up to a limit of $5,000 for the 2011 tax year) is deductible from my income, meaning I don't have to pay taxes on it. These IRA's can usually be invested either in FDIC-insured cash deposits or in securities, as you see fit. Put another way, the government will pay you to put more money in the hands of the banks?money that I won't be able to access without penalty for another 30 years, but that the banks can use right away to make more money for themselves. Consequently, even though I made $49,500 last year, I only owed taxes as if my income were $46,000. The difference between those two tax bills? $875. The government literally paid me $875 to invest my own money. If I hadn't made those IRA contributions, I would have ended up owing money, instead of getting back a comparatively substantial refund?and I would have ended up paying around 12.4 percent of my income in federal taxes.
Now, even 12.4 percent doesn't seem very high. So given my income tax rate, why would someone like me complain that when someone like Mitt Romney pays an effective tax rate of about 13.9 percent? The answer lies in the fact that federal income taxes aren't the only federal taxes I pay. Like most everyone else who gets paid wages, I also pay Social Security and Medicare taxes?payroll taxes, for short. The tax rate for these doesn't fluctuate: it's 4.2 percent for Social Security, and 1.45 percent for Medicare. Not that these taxes are equitable either: In 2012, only the first $110,100 of wages will be taxed for Social Security and Medicare. That means that I pay payroll taxes on all of my income, but someone who makes a million a year pays those taxes on only a tenth of that.
All in all, I ended up paying $2,754.38 in payroll taxes in 2011. When you combine that with the income tax owed, you end up with $8,010.38, resulting in a total effective tax rate of roughly 16.2 percent.
Let's finalize this point: as it is, I pay a larger share of my income in federal taxes than does Mitt Romney. Remember that Mitt Romney pays virtually nothing in payroll taxes, because the type of capital gains income that Mitt Romney makes isn't taxed for Social Security and Medicare. Even worse, that discrepancy would have been even larger if the government hadn't paid me to set aside my money in ways that allow people like Mitt Romney to grow even wealthier. That system is fundamentally unfair. This is exactly why we need fixes like the Buffett Rule and the payroll tax extension that President Obama fought so hard for: the average American taxpayer deserves to know that someone in Washington realizes that Mitt Romney shouldn't be paying a smaller share of his income than someone like me.
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Playing the refs during elections is nothing new, and that's more or less what Mitt Romney might have been doing when he told Breitbart TV Tuesday there was a "quote, vast left wing conspiracy" shifting the winds of media coverage toward Barack Obama.
Excuse me while I howl with laughter for a minute.
There, that's better. Now Romney was being asked about Media Matters at the time. You know Media Matters, right? They clip actual words that actual people say on the air and broadcast out to viewers. They either let the clips stand as they are or sometimes post a little explanation about how wrong they are. And all the Breitbart TV interviewer was doing was offering up an invitation for Mitt to join the "revoke Media Matters' tax-exempt status" gang on the right. Media Matters is the left side's answer to the right's Media Research Center, and it does great work, but it isn't "media."
Mitt chose instead to criticize all media everywhere for their alleged bias toward the President, which really did a wonderful job of highlighting Howard Kurtz' uselessness for everyone to see. I see at least two important points to make here.
First, if the media was actually doing their job, they'd start calling Mitt and Ann Romney the liars they are. They lie about everything from important policy choices to minor things like the dog on the roof. They lie about what they said, they lie about what they believe, and they do it knowing full well a record is out there contradicting their position of the day.
They can be this cynical because the mainstream media lets them be. They don't actually use the word "lie." They use other, kinder forms to describe what Romney does. I am not talking about things that are at all vague. These are lies like "I never said that the economy got worse under Barack Obama" when he had just said it the day before. The shifting sands under his feet kind of lies that change depending on who his audience is. Those kinds of lies, which get reported as "Did Mitt Romney Misspeak?" or something equally full of milquetoast.
Yet no one in the media, critic or otherwise, will actually step up and call a lie a lie. In fact, US News & World Report claimed the "Etch a Sketch" story was proof positive of bias against Romney, despite the fact that it confirmed the cynical lies this campaign feels comfortable shooting into the mainstream.
Also this week, Mitt lied about his relationship with SB1070 author Kris Kobach, trying to distance himself from Kobach's radical, draconian immigration law and his cozy relationship with ALEC. Yet again, we hear nothing from Kurtz about this, even after Romney somewhat reluctantly admitted that yes, Kobach was an advisor to his campaign.
My second point is this: What happened when Hillary Clinton suggested there was a 'vast right wing conspiracy'? Kurtz himself belittled Clinton's candidacy for the 2008 nomination moaning that they'd "have to endure" all of it over again, including the "vast right wing conspiracy."
Wingers had a field day, courtesy of the mainstream press. Clinton was belittled, ridiculed, and bedeviled by those words, despite the fact that she was right.
Fast forward to 2012, and here's what we get from the so-called objective media: Crickets. Here's what we get from the right-biased media:
Some media critic you are, Howie. There's a special place in hell for people who are too cowardly to call a lie a lie, and instead play the "everyone does it" game.
Jennifer Granholm's War Room stepped it up several noches Friday night with a superb episode on the crisis of global warming.
Ignore the cringe-worthy intro with Al Gore; the discussions with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Jeffrey Sachs are superb and inspiring.
Kennedy explains the often-overlooked connection between Big Oil campaign money and anti-climate votes in Congress and says the best thing you can do to stop global warming is "change your politician."
Economist and global poverty gadfly Jeffrey Sachs says the best way to get people engaged and active to stop global warming is to show them real solutions and concrete action.
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Independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman on Sunday insisted that President Barack Obama and the White House should be held accountable for a sex scandal within the Secret Service and for lavish spending at the General Services Administration (GSA).
"It would be unfair to hold President Obama responsible for this outrageous behavior at the Secret Service and the GSA, but it is fair to hold the president accountable," Lieberman told Fox News host Chris Wallace. "What do I mean when I say the president should be held accountable? The buck stops at the president's desk. He's the leader of our government. He now has to be acting with a kind of relentless determination to find out exactly what happened and to make sure the people who work for him at the Secret Service and the GSA and everywhere else in the government don't let anything like this happen again."
The Connecticut senator also called for an investigation to determine whether White House staff were involved in the incident where Secret Services agents allegedly solicited prostitutes in Columbia ahead of the president's recent visit there.
"I'd say it's a reasonable question," Lieberman explained. "I think the White House ought to be conducting its own internal investigation of White House personnel who were in Cartagena just to makes sure that none of them were involved in this kind of inappropriate behavior."
"I understand a White House advance person doesn't have quite the same range of responsibility as a Secret Service agent does. On the other hand, a White House advance person knows exactly where the president is going to be at any time. ... So, that's an important question and the White House ought to be taking [Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck] Grassley's inquiry not defensively, but making sure they answer the questions."
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ALEC Democrat, state Sen. Ophelia Ford, Harold crooked aunt
Yesterday we focused in on one especially "bad Democrat," corrupt Blue Dog Tim Holden. His old pal Jack Abramoff, who paid him bribes to vote for his corporate clients' agendas, in defining bribery (in his book, Capitol Punishment, summed up Tim Holden's shameful career in DC:
[C]ontributions from parties with an interest in legislation are really nothing but bribes. Sure, it's legal for the most part. Sure, everyone in Washington does it. Sure it's the way the system works. It's one of Washington's dirty little secrets-- but it's bribery just the same...
A progressive group is again taking on some Democratic state legislators, calling on Friday for them to drop their membership or association with the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ALEC bills itself as a think tank and research resource that brings together state legislators and private business leaders. It says it does not lobby, but holds meetings which bring together legislators and business leaders, as well as provides draft legislation and research to state policymakers.
While the organization says it is bipartisan, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee says it would be "a sham to project that it has a bipartisan nature."
On a Friday conference call with reporters and supporters, state legislators aligned with the PCCC called on their Democratic colleagues to part way with the organization, citing its involvement in legislation with which they disagreed.
Some, including New York state assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who called the group a "sham," were critical of ALEC's role in "stand your ground" legislation, a law brought to national prominence in the February shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
"No Democrat should give aid and comfort to this organization by participating in it, to promote its alleged 'bipartisanship,'" Jeffries said. "It is very important that members of the Democratic Party, who traditionally have stood for enfranchising voters and have stood for promoting the rights to organize and for sensible gun laws should withdraw from an organization that that pushes an agenda that is exactly the opposite."
Others criticized the organization's role in education and voting legislation and accused it of helping corporations "boost their bottom line at the expense of the American people."
After successfully pressuring an influential conservative legislative group to pull back its involvement in social issues, liberal groups are launching the next iteration of their fight against the group, known as ALEC.
Joined by a handful of Democratic state officials, the grassroots organization Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) announced today it will be targeting "bad Democrats" who are affiliated with ALEC to drop their association with the group. Other organizations, like the civil rights group Color of Change, continue to pressure the corporate backers behind ALEC, which stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council.
States should be the laboratories of democracy, Democratic state Rep. Marko Liias of Washington said on a PCCC conference call. But "ALEC wants to turn our state capitals more into Dr. Frankenstein's lab," he said. "ALEC is where corporations go to quietly undermine the rights of working families."
ALEC, an association comprised of 2,000 state legislators from all 50 states and representatives of corporations, drafts templates of legislation for any state to adopt. It recently came under fire for pushing controversial measures like Florida's "stand your ground" law and voter ID laws. After liberal groups threatened to boycott its corporate sponsors, several companies like Coca-Cola and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association dropped their ALEC membership. ALEC subsequently decided to narrow its focus to economic issues.
John Adler (NJ)- $1,000
Jason Altmire (Blue Dog-PA)- $2,000
John Barrow (Blue Dog-GA)- $5,000
Melissa Bean (Chamber of Commerce-IL)- $21,000
Leonard Boswell (Blue Dog-IA)- $7,000
Allen Boyd (Blue Dog-FL)- $3,000
Bobby Bright (Blue Dog-AL)- $2,000
Debbie Halvorson (IL)- $7,000
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (Blue Dog-SD)- $4,000
Baron Hill (Blue Dog-IN)- $14,000
Tim Holden (Blue Dog-PA)- $1,000
Joe Lieberman (CT)- $11,000
Heath Schuler (Blue Dog-NC)- $2,000
(Manning Marable/David Shankbone)
I hope that the interest generated by the news will inspire younger generations of readers to explore the life history and political impact of Malcolm X, but that it will also serve to highlight Marable's work, as an historian, political thinker and one of the voices of the black left.
Marable, who died on April 1, 2011, at age 60, did not live to see his opus published just a few days after his death. As such, he was not available to either receive kudos, nor to respond to critics and the controversy sparked by the more than 600-page work.
Marable's political views and practice have also become part of the attacks by the right wing on President Obama, and at the time of Marable's death, right-wing sites had a field day spewing drivel about the POTUS being a "commie" or a "socialist" since the president has a familiarity with Marable's scholarly work, and Marable wrote and spoke extensively on the phenomena of Obama's election in the context of U.S. racial and social history. He articulated not only a left perspective on why he endorsed Obama for president, but what he saw the role of progressives should be in voting, and at the same time pressing the president and the Democratic Party from the left. In his interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, right after Obama's election , Marable discussed the significance of the election of our nation's first black president and the challenges this offers for leftists:
I think that the real challenge now is not so much what Obama does, but what do progressives do? Because we have ? we?re now in an uncomfortable and unusual situation, where, for many people left of center, we actually have a friend in the White House. You know, I can?t remember, during my lifetime ? and I?m fifty-eight years old ? where I can actually say that, that someone who understands clearly the positions of the left. Now, we had a lot of silly talk about Obama being a socialist during the last two weeks of the campaign. He?s not. He?s a progressive liberal. But for those of us who are indeed democratic socialists, those of us who are on the left, how do we relate to the government, where someone who ideologically is not an enemy, someone who understands the agenda and the issues that are of concern of the truly disadvantaged? How do we relate to that government? How do we relate to the politics of that administration? This is a real challenge for progressives.These views did not endear Marable to some of Obama's critics from the left, who may not have the analysis posited by Marable, who always explored the complex intersections of race and class in the context of American history and electoral politics. Marable, who as a Marxist, Democratic Socialist found plenty to critique in U.S. policy, was also clear about what he saw the role of those who consider themselves to be left of center should be, when confronted with the advent of the first black president, and where the left should situate itself. Marable was clear in understanding and calling out the rabid racism released during the Obama candidacy and presidency, along with the accompanying Islamophobia and xenophobia. He did not advocate for black Americans, or for the left to leave en masse to vote for a third party, even though he himself was elected chairman of the Board of Movement for a Democratic Society in 2007.
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