The likely future of Voter ID laws


 
“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal”

It’s way too early to forecast the fate of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, the federal legislation introduced Thursday in response to the United States Supreme Court’s decision last June in Shelby County v. Holder which struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. This sensible new measure has bipartisan support. But already there are grumblings on the right that the bill either isn’t necessary or that it too boldly protects the rights of minority citizens to be free from…discriminatory voting practices…

But it’s not too early to know that state voter identification laws will have an exalted place of protection in the Congressional response to Shelby County no matter what the final legislation looks like. In an effort to garner bipartisan support, that is to say in an effort to appease Republican lawmakers, the bill’s sponsors specifically exempted state voter ID laws from the litany of discriminatory voting policies and practices that would count under the new “coverage formula” contemplated by Section 4 of the proposed law. It’s like proposing a law to ban football and then exempting the Super Bowl.

The VRAA tells us that it will be left to state and federal judges around the nation to render their own judgment about the constitutionality of voter ID laws. And right on cue, the day after the federal measure was introduced on Capitol Hill, a judge in Pennsylvania did just that. Following a lengthy trial last summer, and six months of agonizing delay, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley on Friday struck down Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law as violative of the constitutional rights of state voters…

The ruling is significant on its own terms, of course; it’s a major victory for voting rights advocates and a setback for vote suppressors in the state and everywhere else. As a matter of politics the import is clear. Pennsylvania is an eternal swing state—although it has swung blue most recently in national contests—and it is still considered a must-win for Democratic candidates for president. By blocking a law that would have erected practical impediments to mostly poor, young, old, and minority voters, Friday’s ruling makes it more likely that those likely Democratic voters will have their votes counted in 2014, at least…

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Republican Party wants to repeal law against offshore tax dodgers

The Republican Party is expected to approve a resolution this week, calling for repeal of an Obama administration law that is designed to crack down on offshore tax dodging…In what would be the party’s first appeal to scrap the law…

True to their dedication to time-wasting, we can expect 47 more attempts to follow another failure to make 19th Century capitalism the state religion.

Approved in 2010 after a tax-avoidance scandal involving a Swiss bank, FATCA requires most foreign banks and investment funds to report to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service information about U.S. customers’ accounts worth $50,000 or more…

Repeal seems unlikely, but more political heat from Republicans could further complicate and delay implementation, said financial industry lobbyists…

Defending the law, Treasury Department spokeswoman Erin Donar said in a statement: “FATCA continues to gain momentum and international support as we work with partners around the world to fight offshore tax evasion.”

In the tradition of rightwing politicians in American history, today’s Republicans want armies stationed around the world, highway and rail systems to move industrial products to market, a certain level of education [albeit minimal] and obedient Bob Cratchit-level bureaucrats to run the infrastructure – paid for exclusively by taxes on workingclass families, our ever-diminishing middle class. No taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations.

Perish the thought Republican family values include honesty, responsibility, paying your own way.

Tax haven banks agree to share account details with the IRS

Cayman Romney

The United States has signed agreements with the Cayman Islands and Costa Rica to help those countries’ banks comply with an anti-tax evasion law starting next year…

The deals are part of the US effort to enforce the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act…which was enacted in 2010 and is set to take effect in July 2014. FATCA requires foreign financial institutions to tell the US Internal Revenue Service about Americans’ offshore accounts worth more than $50,000. It was enacted after a Swiss banking scandal showed that 17,000 US taxpayers had hidden substantial fortunes overseas…

With these two deals, both signed this week, the Treasury has now finished 12 FATCA “intergovernmental agreements”…which help countries’ financial institutions comply with the law…

The trading of financial information, though not part of the Cayman Islands deal but included in many of the other 11 FATCA agreements, has rankled US banks. In April, the Texas Bankers Association and the Florida Bankers Association, both industry groups, filed a lawsuit attempting to block a Treasury Department rule that would allow the IRS to send certain bank account information to foreign governments.

Looks like Romney, his Republican peers in the billionaire boys club will have to put their sleazy tax accountants to work again – searching out places to hide their funds from any responsibility to pay taxes in the United States.

It’s always preferential to hide your money rather than run the risk of leaving it inside countries that may have favorable taxation plans for foreigners; but, still let the IRS know how much you have inside their borders. Or so I’ve been told. Never had enough money to worry about.

Republican moneybags Sheldon Adelson loses libel lawsuit

Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and prominent Republican donor, has lost a $60 million libel lawsuit in which he claimed a Democratic group spread a false accusation that he had condoned prostitution in his casinos in Macau.

At issue was an article published on July 3, 2012 by the National Jewish Democratic Council on its website that sought to dissuade then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other Republicans from accepting Adelson’s allegedly “dirty” and “tainted” money.

It cited reports about an accusation that the Las Vegas Sands Corp chief executive “personally approved of prostitution” in his Macau properties.

U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken in Manhattan on Monday said the article constituted protected speech and was not libelous.

That accusation, which Adelson has denied, surfaced in a lawsuit brought against him by Steven Jacobs, a fired Las Vegas Sands executive. The allegedly libelous material contained a hyperlink to an Associated Press article that discussed Jacobs’ lawsuit.

Adelson…is worth $28.5 billion and the 11th-richest American, Forbes magazine said this month, and donated tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates and organizations in the 2012 election cycle…

…In a 57-page decision, Oetken said Adelson failed to show that the defendants, which also included NJDC Chairman Marc Stanley and former NJDC President David Harris, acted with actual malice or reckless disregard of the truth.

The judge said the expressions “dirty money” and “tainted money” were imprecise and could not be proven true or false, and in context constituted protected expressions of opinion.

He also said the use of the hyperlink was proper, and that the defendant’s reliance upon an article from a “reputable” news organization precluded a finding of liability.

Oetken also ordered Adelson to pay the defendants’ legal fees.

Couldn’t have happened to a juicier target. Although Adelson handed out money in million-dollar chunk$, he stood to get multiples of it back in tax breaks from the Republican candidates he supported. Aside from ideology already pretty sleazy, the bucks he stood to gain from Romney’s election would have been enough to make the Sphinx blush.

Banks leaving Switzerland as the end of secrecy hurts tax dodgers

For European lenders with private-banking aspirations, a presence in Switzerland used to be a must. Now, with bank secrecy eroding and rising compliance costs chipping away at profits, more are saying adieu.

The number of foreign-owned Swiss banks fell to 129 by the end of May from 145 at the start of 2012, according to data from the Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland. Assets under management slid by a quarter to $921 billion in the five years through 2012 as clients withdrew money or paid taxes on undeclared accounts…

…While Switzerland remains the biggest center for global offshore wealth with $2.2 trillion or about 26 percent of the market…departures may further chip away at the Alpine republic’s status.

“There will be a bit of a shakeout among private banks,” said Felix Wenger…co-head of the private-banking practice at consulting firm McKinsey & Co…“Specifically for Switzerland, some foreign players might conclude that an exit is a better option…”

The U.S. has been investigating Swiss banks and units of foreign banks in the country, including that of London-based HSBC, after UBS AG (UBSN) in 2009 avoided prosecution by admitting it fostered tax evasion and delivering data on about 4,700 accounts of Americans. France and Germany have been searching for tax dodgers using data stolen from Swiss banks and also sharing some of the information with authorities in other European countries.

Agreements with the U.K. and Austria to collect taxes on behalf of those countries on accounts held in Switzerland have been in force since January, and Switzerland is in talks with other European countries on taxing secret accounts. The country will join the international push against tax dodgers and help develop global standards allowing banks to share customers’ details to combat tax evasion, Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said in June…

Everyone is so nice and polite. Fact is we’re discussing corruption and theft, money owed to any number of nations. Looks like Mitt Romney will have to move a couple of chairs over to make room in the Cayman Islands for more of his cheapskate buddies to move in from Switzerland.

How one of Mitt Romney’s etch-a-sketch tax proposals can save us from the fiscal cliff

Elections have consequences. And the big consequence of the 2012 election looks to be higher taxes for the rich. With President Obama still in office, that’s what will happen on January 1, 2013 when the Bush tax cuts expire, whether John Boehner likes it or not. The big question is whether Obama and House Republicans can make a deal undoing the rest of the so-called fiscal cliff.

They can. If they listen to Mitt Romney.

Romney got some well-deserved criticism for his chronically math-challenged tax plan, but he did have a very clever idea when it came to tax reform. Rather than take on specific tax deductions — and the constituencies ready to defend them — he would limit overall deductions. Such a cap raises revenue without raising marginal tax rates, and it raises the most revenue from the rich…

See the tax changes for people making less than $200,000? Of course not. That’s because the Romney’s tax plan would hardly raise their taxes. But households making between $200,000 and $500,000? They would pay a couple thousand more in taxes. Millionaires could wind up paying almost a hundred thousand dollars more…

The wealthiest households not only pay more than others under the cap, they pay most of the cap. In other words, households making a million dollars or more would pay 73 percent of the $59 billion a $50,000 cap would raise in 2015 if tax rates stay the same. Middle-class households mostly wouldn’t get hit because they mostly don’t take itemized deductions, and when they do they rarely take anywhere near $50,000 worth of them. Take a look at the chart below to see just how progressive a $50,000 cap would be.


Click on graph to enlarge

The idea is fiscally valid – meets the approval of the other geeks with whom I discuss topics like business and banking.

I do wonder who suggested it to Romney. He isn’t capable of an original thought about the weather or sex – much less tax policy. Scott Galupo of the American Conservative thinks he stole the idea from an earlier suggestion by President Obama.

Sounds about right to me.

Unqualified!

Back during the late unlamented era after the Supremes installed W in the White House, it was common to hear assertions from the Beltway types to the effect that the effectiveness of the Bush political campaign demonstrated that the Bush team had the competence needed to run the country.

This was completely wrong-headed; many of the skills needed for campaigning have nothing whatsoever to do with governing. Smearing your opponent, flattering the news media, and suppressing the vote may work fine against hapless Democrats (back then they really were hapless in a way they no longer are); they’re no use at all in dealing with foreign governments and a troubled economy.

Yet there are some skills that do apply to both campaigning and governing — above all, an ability to face up to reality. And this, we’re now learning, was a skill that the Romney campaign utterly lacked. At least if postmortems are to be believed, they drank their own Kool-Aid, “unskewing” the polls and thus failing to understand what anyone reading Sam Wang, Drew Linzer, or Nate Silver knew.

Now, it’s one thing to do this and misjudge the prospects of rival American candidates. But suppose Romney had somehow ended up winning, and made the same kind of misjudgement of, say, Iran or al Qaeda — or of the economic outlook. Living in a bubble of conservative denial can lose much more than an election if it becomes a style of governing.

And look, we’ve already seen that play. Remember the Bush administration’s state of denial over the failing occupation of Iraq? (We were supposed to be welcomed as liberators, and the Bushies were the last to realize that it wasn’t happening). Remember how Bush’s aides ended up making a DVD of Katrina coverage to get his attention and convince him that Brownie wasn’t actually doing a heckuva job?

So this time the campaign was indeed an indicator of fitness to govern. Romney wasn’t ready, and neither was his party.

Bush came through his re-election [an affirmation of Confederate gullibility] prattling about political capital and how he deserved to spend it. The media barons lapped it up – as did most of Congress. The rest of us were reasonably distracted watching the 2nd Fall of Iraq and preparing for the collapse of the incredibly corrupt greed-bubble that resulted in the Great Recession.

So, Bush and the Republicans wrapped themselves in the incantations of Grover Norquist, Kool Aid drinkers became the Tea Party [along with millions in cash from industrial pigs] and almost everything that might be done to restore order to a broken economy was diminished before it began.

Anyone who pays attention to the same crowd – now that they’ve been thoroughly discredited and defeated – is a fool. The line forms on the Right.

Christian Conservatives couldn’t deliver enough angry white guys

Christian conservatives, for more than two decades a pivotal force in American politics, are grappling with Election Day results that repudiated their influence and suggested that the cultural tide — especially on gay issues — has shifted against them.

They are reeling not only from the loss of the presidency, but from what many of them see as a rejection of their agenda. They lost fights against same-sex marriage in all four states where it was on the ballot, and saw anti-abortion-rights Senate candidates defeated and two states vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

It is not as though they did not put up a fight; they went all out as never before: The Rev. Billy Graham dropped any pretense of nonpartisanship and all but endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Roman Catholic bishops denounced President Obama’s policies as a threat to life, religious liberty and the traditional nuclear family. Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition distributed more voter guides in churches and contacted more homes by mail and phone than ever before.

“Millions of American evangelicals are absolutely shocked by not just the presidential election, but by the entire avalanche of results that came in,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky., said in an interview. “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out.

“It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed,” he said. “An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them…”

Compared to the rest of the industrial, educated world, that is long overdue.

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Romney’s campaign staff reach the end of the trail


Don Emmert / AFP – Getty Images

From the moment Mitt Romney stepped off stage Tuesday night, having just delivered a brief concession speech he wrote only that evening, the massive infrastructure surrounding his campaign quickly began to disassemble itself.

Aides taking cabs home late that night got rude awakenings when they found the credit cards linked to the campaign no longer worked.

“Fiscally conservative,” sighed one aide the next day.

In conversations on Wednesday, aides were generally wistful, not angry, at how the campaign ended. Most, like their boss, truly believed the campaign’s now almost comically inaccurate models, and that a victory was well within their grasp…

Yesterday afternoon, campaign manager Matt Rhoades thanked the staff in one last meeting at the campaign’s Boston HQ, as did Romney and his wife, Ann…

After their speeches, Tagg Romney drove the former candidate and his wife home to Belmont.

The office at 585 Commercial St. was largely packed up by the close of business Wednesday (one aide said it looked like it had been sacked by Visigoths), but some staffers will return today to remove their things.

The Mitt Romney for President financial entity survives for as long as two more years, as bills are paid and FEC documents are filed.

In the meantime, lots of Marriott points will be cashed in.

He will not be missed. He wasn’t even as funny as George W.