Saturday, March 01, 2014

Music Pick: John Lennon - post Beatles

John Lennon (1940-1980) wrote and recorded a number of good tunes during his post Beatles decade, including 'Imagine', 'Give Peace A Chance', 'Instant Karma', 'Mother', 'Woman is the Nigger of the Wo...rld', 'God' and 'Jealous Guy', but my favorite is the feature 'Watching the Wheels'. It was his last single and last hit, released posthumously in 1981. Though directly addressing Lennon's response to criticism of his 1975-1980 switch from rock superstardom to househusband raising son Sean with Yoko, 'Watching' has a universality that can and should appeal to everyone. Great tune; great lyric; message to ponder.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Roskam's false IRS attack tears at politial fabric

The latest email to constituents from my Illinois Sixth District Congressman Peter Roskam, is so blatantly false, misleading and destructive of good governance that it deserves a reply. First here is what Congressman Roskam frightened his 700,000 constituents about:

"Don't Be Silenced, Fight the IRS Regs

For too long the IRS has had the American people on their heels, coming after individuals based on their political beliefs and bringing the full weight of the federal bureaucracy to bear on people whose only crime was wanting to participate in the debate of ideas we cherish as central to our democratic process.
And now, the IRS has proposed new regulations that would place much more stringent restrictions on 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups’ activities, forcing many conservative groups out of the public debate."

That would be extraordinarily alarming if true, but it is a figment of Congressman Roskam's vivid Tea Party imagination.

First a little history. The Fat Cats with their millions and billions have always been allowed unlimited use of their wealth in the political arena via 527 organizations. The problem was 527's were required to identify who contributed and how much, a huge inconvenience to folks wanting to hide from the public which politicians they were buying. Enter the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision which, in one fell swoop, redefined cash as free speech. This opened the floodgates for political organizations to set up 501(c)(4) organizations to skirt the disclosure requirement. Note Roskam calls them "nonprofit groups". That is a Whooper the size of which you'll never see at Burger King. Here's how US Code defines a 501(c)(4):

26 U.S.C., Title 26 Ch. 1, Part 1, sec. 501(c)(4)…. [Internal Revenue Code]

(4)(A) Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality, and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes. [emphasis added]

(4)(B) Subparagraph (A) shall not apply to an entity unless no part of the net earnings of such entity inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.

You see nothing about political activity there because its not to promote or allow political activity. It's designed for provide tax relief to non-profit groups "operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare...the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes".

So how do 501(c)(4)'s get to use hundreds of millions of dollars to promote primarily conservative political causes? An obscure 1959 IRS regulation redefined "operated exclusively" as "An organization is operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare if it is primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community." That's a loophole you could fly a 747 through. It may be utterly illogical and contradictory but there was no problem for half a century till, with Citizens United, itself a 501(c)(4), leading the way, thousands of new 501(4)(c)'s sprung up to funnel anonymous dark political money to candidates and causes under the guise they were "primarily" engaged in legitimate non-profit activities (with a little bit of politicking on the side). By 2012, the IRS had been swamped with over 5,000 new requests which required IRS scrutiny to ensure they were complying with the watered down version of "primarily, (exclusively) non-profit work. Only 298, less than 6%, even identified themselves as "Tea Party" applicants. Total Tea Party and other applicants who tax exempt status was denied? Zero, nada, zilch! So much for putting Americans "back on their heels" or "forcing conservative groups out of the public debate" as Congressman Roskam falsely, and outrageously charges. What the Congressman won't tell his constituents is that 501(c)(4) spending went from $1 million in the 2006 election cycle to $250 million in 2012, because Citizens United and an IRS unwilling to challenge fake non-profits that have gamed the system for the wealthy to buy the electoral process. Not only can they hide their donations, they get tax exemption to boot.

The proposed new regulations Roskam is hysterical about are simply a feeble attempt to bring a semblance of fairness and balance to the outrageous abuse of the 501(c)(4) non-profit concept. They are feeble and insufficient because they don't define what "primarily" means, so there's no guideline for how much political activity is too much. In addition, the IRS is so shell shocked by budget cuts, layoffs and vicious, relentless attacks by Congressman Roskam and every Republican leader, that it dares not do the critical job of non-profit scrutiny the law and good governance require.

Speaking of good governance, Congressman Peter J. Roskam's false and politically motivated attack on the IRS is any thing but. It is disgraceful sophistry which tears at our fragile political fabric. It should stop.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Texas court overshadows Brewer gay discrimination veto

Wednesday was not a good one for the homophobes and religious zealots embedded in the Republican Party. First Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer, as expected, vetoed the bizarre, disgraceful Republican bill which would legalize discrimination by businesses based on sexual orientation. Gov. Brewer didn't wait till the Saturday deadline to ...stop the bleeding to the Republican brand being pummeled by all decent people and groups deeply offended by this effort to legalize discrimination. As I've been arguing for some time, its really up to the decent Republican souls to savage their party from becoming a 21st century version of the Whig Party. Both Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, urged Brewer to veto the bill and applauded its demise. Three of the GOP Arizona legislators who voted for the bill also "came out" and urged its veto. Apparently, the Stupid Pills they took before the vote wore off, bringing them back to reality and decency.

But the really big civil rights news occurred in Texas. US District Court Judge Orlando Garcia, struck down Texas' law preventing Texas gays from marrying. While he stayed his decision pending appeal, this decision is far more important than the Arizona brouhaha because that bill would never have survived a Constitutional challenge had it gone into effect. Gay marriage bans affect gays much more than a lunatic state law daring to legalize the right to refuse goods and services to gays. Its another gigantic nail in the coffin of homophobia infecting the 33 states still outlawing gay marriage. Texas is now the sixth state in the last two months to have had a state ban on gay marriage overturned. Incredibly, four of them are in deeply homophobic red states. Texas joins Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, as well as Ohio and Virginia which now sets the stage for a Supreme Court ruling to hopefully, legalize gay marriage homophobia in all 50 states.

This long overdue civil rights revolution can be achieved faster if more sensible Republicans like senators McCain and Flake will step forth to purge their party of the haters and the ignorant keeping America from truly representing the best of humankind. Sadly, dead end Texas dinosaurs Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott vowed to appeal Judge Garcia's ruling. They probably didn't ponder the wise words of Judge Garcia in striking down this reprehensible Texas law: "Today’s court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent. Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our U.S. Constitution.”

Amen, Judge.

Why is Sen. McCain pallin' around with neo-Nazis in Ukraine?

Poor Sen. John McCain simply can't get his bad guys straight. Last May, McCain sneaked into Syria to meet with Syrian rebels, some of whom are members of terrorist organizations who don't look fondly on Uncle Sam unless he's helping them overthrow the elected Syrian President. Then last December McCain travelled to Ukraine to meet with opposition leaders of the elected Ukrainian government which was eventually toppled this month. McCain met with Ukrainian government leaders as well but gave his endorsement to the pro-Europe faction which contains some pretty nefarious characters. He even mounted the stage in Independence Square and stood with Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the anti-Semitic Svoboda Party.  This ultra-nationalist group was formed in 1995 under the name Social National Party of Ukraine, using a swastika style logo. Sound familiar? In 1999, a Tel-Aviv University report called it "an extremist, right-wing, nationalist organization which emphasizes its identification with National German Socialism ideology.  Changing its name a decade ago to "Svoboda" which means freedom, and purging many of its most virulent extremists, Svoboda still rattles extremist sabers. In 2004, McCain's newest pal Tyahnybok gave a speech attacking "the Moscow-Jewish mafia ruling Ukraine". He also railed about the "Moskali, Germans, Kikes and other scum who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state." That didn't stop readers of the Ukrainian news magazine Korrespondent from naming him Person of the Year for 2013.

McCain was apparently so impressed by Svoboda's strong pro Europe, anti Russia stance he simply had to drop his Senate duties fixing America's problems to hop the first plane to a new world trouble spot for a grandstand photo-opt. In recent years, this has become the signature McCain governance style. As old as he is McCain wasn't around when our first President admonished future American leaders to beware of "foreign entanglements". At 77, its unlikely we can get Sen. McCain to change his travel habits. With a little luck we might be able to convince him to check the armbands of the folks he appears with first.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sen. John McCain: A Paladin for our times

Watching Sen. John (Bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran) McCain traipsing around Ukraine, hogging camera time with the thugs revolting against the duly elected thugs, I'm reminded of one of my favorite shows from the Golden Age of Television: 'Have Gun Will Travel'. In it a Civil War veteran with the mysterious moniker 'Paladin' is a sophisticated, debonair gun- for-hire in the Old West. Working out of a fancy San Francisco hotel, Paladin, played by the great Richard Boone, took on a new and dangerous mission each week for 225 episodes between 1957 and 1963. At some point in each show we'd see the enigmatic business card which told us all we needed to know about Paladin's motivation for a new road trip to mayhem and adventure: HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL - WIRE PALADIN - SAN FRANCISCO.

Whether dropping bombs from 40,000 feet on innocent Vietnamese in the 1960's, strolling a Baghdad market to showoff how stable we made Iraq after destroying it, meeting with the moderate Syrian rebels who just happen to include al-Qaeda, chatting it up with his new found friend Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi before signaling his overthrow, telling Georgian rebels "We are all Georgians", or now hobnobbing with some pretty violent Ukrainian revolutionaries, McCain is truly a Paladin for our times. It's stamped on his business card: HAVE MILITARY INTERVENTION WILL TRAVEL - WIRE MCCAIN - WASHINGTON DC.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Folks not high on legalized pot, not high on facts, logic either

My February 16th Daily Herald pro pot piece, 'One item left on state agenda: legalize pot', sure energized the anti-pot crowd. First, Terry Tallian huffed and puffed on how pot is so harmful we should consider giving it to Death Row inmates, allegedly, to hasten their demise. That gave me convulsive giggles I haven't experienced since...well never mind. I'm sure all 3,108 folks waiting to walk the Green Mile will be clambering to be the first to expire on pot instead of lethal injection, firing squad or gas. What is Terry Tallian smokin'?

Then Cheryle Ruceis weighed in with her claim  "Surprise, pot can be addictive, complete with physical withdrawal symptoms."   
That sure is a surprise, Cheryl. If you don't have first hand experience with it being addictive, with physical withdrawal symptoms, you are really not in any position to make that undocumented assertion. Untold thousands of folks kill themselves yearly imbibing too much alcohol and too much of the wrong foods. If they were ingesting pot instead they would not only be healthier, they'd be smiling more.

Both writers failed to learn from the folks who caused such damage to American society instituting Prohibition on a society in which alcohol consumption was embedded. It not only didn't work, it caused the most lawless period in American history as the "bad guys" got all the profits quenching Americans' thirst, while Uncle Sam spent endless billions trying to essentially put out a forest fire with a squirt gun. With roughly 40 million Americans smoking pot, it's nearly as embedded in our culture as alcohol was at the onset of prohibition. And just like with Prohibition, the "bad guys" are getting all the profits and we taxpayers are paying a fortune to put out another forest fire with another squirt gun.

Two states have turned on to reality and will reap endless millions with legalized pot. Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, needs to join Colorado and Washington at the 'head' of the legalized pot class. Maybe we can even change our state motto to 'Tune In, Turn On, Get Solvent.'

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer: Veto morally degenerate Republican anti gay legislation

Arizona governor Jan Brewer is in the national spotlight this week. She is facing a Tuesday deadline to either sign or veto Arizona Senate Bill 1062 which would allow Arizona persons and businesses to refuse service to gays on religious grounds. In a astounding twist of logic, Republican sponsor Steve Yarbrough argues the bill is "about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith".  Arizona Democrats, clearly not suffering from Republican moral degeneracy, point out the law institutionalizes discrimination and will be quickly ruled unconstitutional upon complaint if passed. They also point out Arizona will lose tourism and convention business from morally centered people and organizations. Sadly, tragically, the Republican Party is being hijacked by the most repulsive forces of hate and prejudice and stupidity that lurks in the darkest recesses of all our souls. Arizona is not unique among Republican controlled states. Idaho, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee are all considering similar legislation. The Republican controlled Kansas House passed a similar bill, but fortunately, enough Kansas Senate Republicans joined all Democrats to help reset Kansas' moral compass by defeating the House measure.
Let's hope Gov. Brewer will push the dark forces of hate, prejudice and stupidity from her soul and veto this legislative monstrosity.

As Republicans brace for the November elections, they should remember their pledge, after being trounced in the 2012 presidential election, to reach out to virtually every non white, non rich, non male group that abandoned them like the plague they are. Pandering to homophobic, religious bigots ain't the way.