Beyond Tea-Party Somnambulism!

Archive for the ‘Corporatism’ Category

Organizing for Social Justice Continues

The need to organize for social justice continues to be crucial in the efforts to win over money’s influence.

BY JUDY OF OCEAN CITY, MD ON JUNE 7, 2013

This month we remember the lives of Senator Robert Kennedy and Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medgar_Evers).  Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated forty-five years ago, on June 6, 1968, and Medgar Evers was killed on June 12, 1963.

Medgar Evers is remembered for his brave fight for racial equality. He served in the U.S. Army during WW II and was the first NAACP field secretary for Mississippi. The mission, “Jim Crow Must Go”, resonated through the South during his efforts to end racial discrimination and injustices.

New York Senator Robert Kennedy sought to “address the needs of the dispossessed and powerless in America – the poor, the young, racial minorities and Native Americans”. (rfkcenter.org) At the age of 42, Senator Kennedy lost his life, fighting for social change.

This article, written by Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP (naacp.org),  demonstrates the need to continue organizing for social justice. Money cannot win over dedicated citizens who “step up” to have their voices heard.

http://flcourier.com/2013/06/06/organized-people-can-beat-organized-money-every-time/

The IRS Scandal – A Different Perspective!

The following is a letter-to-the-editor of the Daily Times, Salisbury, MD.  It was written by attorney, Mike Pretl and he has given us permission to post it on Delmarva Progressive.  It is an authentic appeal to look at the IRS issue with a fresh face and to realize that when dealing with the IRS, there are no good guys and bad guys, only well-documented applications and questionable ones.         

Perhaps I am the last person who should be coming to the defense of the Internal Revenue Service, and its Exempt Organization office in Cincinnati.  I have had numerous legal battles – detailed requests for information, and a few arduous audits, initiated by overzealous agents at that office.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that the current “scandal” is overblown and purely political in nature.  I find it incredible therefore that Administration officials are grumbling excuses and apologies, rather than defending themselves by explaining clearly what that office does every day, and is supposed to do.

In 40 years as a Maryland attorney, I have been pleased to create more than 75 nonprofit, tax-exempt corporations.  I have represented nearly all pro bono (without fee).  With few exceptions, all of these groups operate at the progressive end of the spectrum – environmental activists, health care reformers (pre-Obamacare), community organizers, juvenile service providers, charter schools, church-affiliated entities, and “friends” of a scout troop and  child advocacy center.  Exempt status has been sought under various sections of the Internal Revenue Code, chiefly Sections 501(c)(3), (c)(4), and (c)(6).  Perhaps half of all the applications were greeted with IRS questions — a “request for further information” – sometimes elementary, and often  detailed and onerous.  In the past I would tell my clients to expect a determination letter in about 120 days. More recently I have had decisions delayed for months, or for a year or two, always without explanation.

And I repeat, these are virtually all liberal advocacy organizations, and the hassles and delays have occurred during the last seven administrations – four Republican and three Democratic.

In my ongoing role as unpaid counsel to these groups, it is my duty not only to collect data and file IRS applications, but to advise what they can and cannot do to retain their exempt status.  Many leaders of (c)(3) charities are surprised to learn that they may lobby the legislature to a limited extent, in support of their goals, but of course cannot engage in elective politics.  The (c)(4) (“social welfare”) entities are told that they may support candidates who support their goals, but under the IRS Code, elective politics cannot be their “primary” activity, or a “substantial part” of their daily efforts.

Which brings us back to the current “scandal.”  Despite some apparent excesses and unfortunate statements, it appears that the IRS agents have been caught doing just what they are paid to do – enforcing the Code.  Following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2009, numerous organizations were formed, most of them on the right, and sought (c)(4) status so their contributors need not be disclosed.   Many Tea Party chapters and similar groups did not disguise their role as primarily political efforts, however, so the non-political career employees at IRS marked them presumptively ineligible for exempt status.  The agents perhaps went overboard in a few cases – but that zeal hardly suggests a conspiracy.

A final personal story:  A few years ago, the leading Maryland handgun control advocacy group –which had established separate (c)(3) and (c)(4) entities — was wrongly accused of improper election-year activity. IRS auditors promptly served each entity a series of 82 detailed document requests.  The IRS agents were far from friendly, and we spent nearly a year in proving our client not at fault.  At the end, however, we explained to our volunteer board of directors that occasional scrutiny, often unpleasant, is the price we must pay, to secure the invaluable benefits of tax-exempt status.  Perhaps Congressional investigators will soon  get the same message.

 Mike Pretl is a semi-retired attorney, residing in Riverton, in Wicomico County.

The Working Poor…Not Looking For Hand-Outs!

Judy Davis, an activist from Worcester County, MD, is involved with important issues in our state. She recently participated in the Marylanders Against Gun Violence rally, in Annapolis, MD and is a participant in the Emerge program, which trains women around the country to take more active roles in leadership positions in their communities.

It would be hard to ignore the working poor, while living in a seasonal beach town, as I do. Although many unskilled jobs are filled with visiting foreign-exchange students, “locals” hold about half of those positions.  These “locals”, some of who are lifelong residents, live in the area year-round and find that they’re without work when the businesses close for the season. The fortunate ones are able to receive a modest unemployment check, twice a month. Renting in our area is expensive and lodging is only available in the off-season. Those that choose to remain in a year-round room/apartment, pay much higher rent than a comparable living space, elsewhere.

During a recent conversation I had with two local business owners, I heard claims that people are living off “the system”, wanting “hand-outs”, and “those people” are not properly planning for emergencies or their retirement. When I asked how anyone, especially those of advanced years, could pay for living expenses at wages of $7.25 hour, there was no response.

Our society’s perception of the working poor has deteriorated, from one of providing an honest day’s work, to one of expecting entitlements and being shiftless. According to Charlie White (Think Reality: Wealth Inequality in America), 15.1% of the U.S. population (approximately 47 million people) lives below the Poverty Line.  An average worker needs to work one month to equal one hour of income that an average CEO earns. That equates to about 160 hours to 1 hour.  Some figures have shown that to be as high as 400 hours to 1 hour!

The working poor have no discretionary income. If they are lucky enough to own a vehicle and a tire goes flat, the choice is between buying groceries to feed their family or purchasing another used tire.  Trying to save money for deposits on utilities, medical emergencies, gasoline, school supplies, clothes or other basic needs, is impossible, as there isn’t enough money to cover everything. Many parents go without, in order to provide the very minimum subsistence for their children.

The frustration of “just scraping by” impacts a person’s self-worth, causing a cyclical, downward spiral, which is difficult, if not impossible, to recover from.  Don’t forget who also suffers, aside from the parents: Approximately 19% of children in my county live below the Poverty Line (One Maryland: The Plight of Maryland Distressed Jurisdictions).

Rather than blaming the working poor for their situation, how about giving a “hand-up” to help people have their basic needs met, especially where they are desperately trying? In my county, over 25% of female-headed households make just $14,900 per year. Most of our lives would look very different if we suddenly became unemployed, developed significant health issues, needed elderly care or had another traumatic event crossing our paths. Instead of criticizing and demeaning people who are dependent on some form of assistance, in order to survive, their critics should be saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I!”

The following is a video that clearly explains wealth distribution in America, including how Americans think it is, how they think it should be, and finally, the reality of the way it really is.  It will open your eyes and may, in fact, surprise even the most conservative among you!

V

ALEC Is At It Again!

The following is submitted by Guest-Blogger, Burkely Hermann, from Baltimore. He is an online blogger, in his own right, and a student who writes about National, State and International issues, in order to educate the public and motivate us to act.

I just realized something horrifying. Remember the campaign I was trying to start against the bill to raise the corporate tax rate? Guess what? ALEC is involved. First I wrote about how Senator Brinkley and Delegate Schultz were funded by big business, telling people to email their state representatives in response. Then, I launched the #STOPBS campaign, creating a new petition. Finally, I wrote an article in the DelMarva Progressive about this topic, detailing specifics, including the hearing in the Ways and Means Committee, scheduled for February 26th.

Republican Sen. David Brinkley

Republican Sen. David Brinkley

Then, today, I was trying to do some research for a Twitter battle, and I stumbled across ALEC again. ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, according the Center of Media & Democracy: is not a lobby; it is not a front group. In reality, it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators changes to laws they desire, that directly benefit their bottom line or cause. Along with legislators (State and Federal), corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces, and vote with legislators, to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate Governing Board, which meets jointly with the legislative board. (ALEC says that corporations do not vote on their Board.)

Corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly, Conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in Statehouses, across the land, as their own “brilliant” public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization. We agree. It is as if a State legislature had been reconstituted, yet corporations had pushed the people out the door.

How does such an organization factor into this bill, you might ask? Consider that, of the 28 Republican sponsors in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates (27 in the House and one in the Senate) 10 are ALEC members.  That’s more than 35.7% of all sponsors!

Conservative Del. Kelly Schulz

Conservative Del. Kelly Schulz

This is a good chunk of all the ALEC legislators in the State. I have an article on the way about the other co-sponsors. As for this bill, in particular, it is in line with other ALEC “model” bills, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes:

“The specific policies include deep cuts in income taxes, particularly for affluent households and corporations…While pushing policies that would weaken or dismantle state revenue systems that finance key public investments, ALEC promotes [things like]…Mechanisms that would reduce funds for services.”

While this bill, its current form, does not conform to any of the “models” described directly, the bill, itself, still benefits corporate power and financial goals. So, lets come together and #StopAlec from giving these corporations a tax break they don’t deserve! As a start, sign my petition. Then, contact your State Senator and Delegate, stating your position against this legislation.  Afterwards, stay tuned for further information, updates and suggestions for other actions to take.

The Fight To Keep Corporations Paying A Fair Share!

The following is submitted by Guest-Blogger, Burkely Hermann, from Baltimore. He is an online blogger, in his own right, and a student who writes about National, State and International issues, in order to educate the public.

Recently, on my blog, I launched a campaign to combat, what I believe, is a bad proposal that will harm Maryland. Its called the #STOPBS campaign, which comes from the first letters of the sponsors of companion bills in the Maryland House and the Senate. It aims to make the bill that seeks to lower corporate income tax rates in the State, die, effectively telling legislators “it’s not okay.”Most already know that on the Federal level, politicians are trying to lower the Federal corporate income tax rate. But right now, it is happening in people’s backyards, in State legislatures across the country.  Senator David Brinkley (R-Dist. 4), who proposed SB 34, seeks to lower Maryland’s corporate income tax rate from its current 8.25% to 6%, a 2.25% drop! Brinkley, who has gotten campaign contributions, since 2005, from corporate giants, like Bank of America, Comcast, BGE and Constellation PACs (among many others), as I detailed on my blog, believes that such a tax break will make Maryland competitive with the State of Virginia. The sponsor of the same bill in the House, concurs.  HB 261 is sponsored by Del. Kelly Schulz (R-Dist. 4A). Hearings in the House Ways & Means Committee are scheduled for February 26th.

Republican Sen. David Brinkley

Republican Sen. David Brinkley

Conservative Del. Kelly Schulz

Conservative Del. Kelly Schulz

In order to denounce such arguments for this tax break, one must look at what this bill actually does. The net loss in tax revenue for Fiscal Year 2014 would be over $381 million dollars. These cuts in Fiscal Year 2014 would include a decrease in funds for transportation by $63.1 million, most of which goes to the State transportation budget, a decrease in funds for Higher Education by $22.9 million, and a decrease in revenues from local highway users, by  $6.1 million. As a result, the current State budget deficit, which is already insurmountable, would increase, and $37,000 dollars would be needed just to notify the 62,000 corporate filers in the State about the new rate reduction. All of these numbers are thanks to a report by the Department of Legislative Services on the matter. To summarize, these cuts would hurt students, as well as reduce the amount of money going to maintain an already failing infrastructure, which will make matters worse, and local governments, which are already feeling budget cuts.

Michael Hudson explained this in a CounterPunch article he wrote last August: “Unlike the U.S. federal government, most states and cities have constitutions that prevent them from running budget deficits. This means that when they cut property taxes, they either must borrow from the wealthy, or cut back employment and public services…Cities are defaulting from California to Alabama…This has become the main cause of America’s rising unemployment, helping drive down consumer demand… Most urban revenue is a free lunch created by taxpayer-financed roads, schools, sewers and water systems….State and local pension funds are $3 trillion behind because they are only making 1% returns these days…Debt-ridden austerity and downsizing government is being urged as if it is inevitable, not a policy choice to put bondholders and the 1% over the 99% – a reward for the lobbying money it has spent on buying politicians and misleading voters, to believe that cutting property taxes and cutting taxes on the rich will help the economy.” Hudson proposes that we default, but I believe there is something more imperative that we must deal with.

Times are tough for Americans. Nearly half of America is at or near the poverty level.  Cases of individuals suffering from depression have increased in areas affected by SuperStorm Sandy. Youths, from 5th to 12th grades, are optimistic about their future, but adults are not so sure, according to recent Gallup polls. This is not the time for corporations to get a tax break. People are suffering and justice is not furthered by corporations not paying a fair share in taxes. Simply put, it is matter of fairness, equity and justice. They can cough up the money. They can stay afloat. There is no danger there. Over the past few years, corporations have been hoarding cash, and now hold more cash than ever before.

This is why I urge you to help spread this message, far and wide, across Maryland, by signing this petition, telling your legislators you want corporations in Maryland to pay their fair share of taxes and not to reduce the current tax rates. Share this with your friends; tell everyone you know about it. If enough people are mobilized, we can stop this in its tracks and let legislators know that now is the time to create jobs, invest in schools and improve infrastructure, not lower taxes for corporate entities!

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