On this installment, we will discuss the death of Trayvon Martin. Senseless tragedy, avoidable event, travesty of local justice, criminal act, or parts of all? Take part in the discussion.
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Letters to the Editor from The Wall Street Journal:
Your editorial ignores a fundamental reality that is reshaping the business and political landscape: Americans' growing distrust of corporations. That distrust is based on, in many cases, the perceived lack of transparency and disclosure by companies of all sizes. Disclosure of corporate political contributions has nothing to do with unions or activists using it as a "PR club to harass companies until they stop donating." Rather, it is a smart business practice in an age when this information is likely to leak out anyway (think WikiLeaks, Anonymous and the like).
Companies should not be afraid of disclosure so long as it is done in a strategic and responsible manner. Unfortunately, all too often businesses only disclose information when they are forced by reason of ignorance or found to be engaging in unethical or illegal practices. This is no way to run a business, and it does little to allay the public's growing trust issues with corporations.
Gerard F. Corbett
Chair and CEO
Public Relations Society of America
It would be a sad commentary on the state of our democracy if companies concluded that shareholder value can best be advanced through secret political spending. Secrecy exposes companies and our democratic institutions to serious risks that are exacerbated today by the growing trend of outsourcing political spending to third-party advocacy organizations often associated with powerful political figures. Companies can find themselves exposed to political shakedowns and the danger that their money will be used for purposes that conflict with their values and objectives. Without disclosure, it is difficult for companies, their shareholders and the public to monitor this. Companies can protect themselves by adopting disclosure and board oversight of their political spending.
John Milton Cooper Jr.
by CORA CURRIER, ProPublica
In Florida, once self-defense is invoked, the burden is on the prosecution to disprove the claim.
Most states have long allowed the use of reasonable force, sometimes including deadly force, to protect oneself inside one’s home — the so-called Castle Doctrine. Outside the home, people generally still have a “duty to retreat” from an attacker, if possible, to avoid confrontation. In other words, if you can get away and you shoot anyway, you can be prosecuted. In Florida, there is no duty to retreat. You can “stand your ground” outside your home, too.
Florida is not alone. Twenty-three other states now allow people to stand their ground. Most of these laws were passed after Florida’s. (A few states never had a duty to retreat to begin with.)
by PAT GARAFALO, Think Progress
Thanks in large part to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the debilitating effects of income inequality have been hoisted into the national spotlight. But in addition to killing economic growth and economic mobility, income inequality also exacerbates political inequality.
"Lessig says we need to look beyond the Supreme Court"
A movement is growing. People are angry. Across the country, they’re organizing to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision to end the corrupting influence of money in politics.
That’s not enough, says United Republic ally and Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig in an “open letter” to the citizens against Citizens United. [MORE]
by SUZANNE MERDELSON, Web Editor, United Republic via Huffinton Post
It's been widely reported today that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy corporate front group that unites state lawmakers with corporations to pass state laws favorable to corporate interests, helped pass the law that might allow Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, to escape prosecution. Florida's "Stand Your Ground," the law that might help Zimmerman to claim self-defense (despite evidence to the contrary) is just one of many state laws that is nearly identical to ALEC's model Castle Doctrine Act. The Florida senator who introduced the law, Durell Peaden, was also a member of ALEC. The law passed in 2005.
According to the Center for Media and Democracy, 98 percent of ALEC's revenues come from corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations. Each member pays annual fees of between $7,000 and $25,000. ALEC is also supplemented by direct grants. We don't know all the details about all of ALEC's funders and members. Here's a partial list of what we do know about the corporations and foundations who helped fund the group that drafted the law that keeps Trayvon Martin's killer free -- and put more guns on our streets:
Can forceful advocacy for same-sex marriage and appeal to blue collar swing voters go hand-in-hand?
By STEVE KORNACKI, Salon
Generally, it’s not news when a Democratic candidate for office in Massachusetts speaks out in favor of same-sex marriage, something that’s been legal in the state for nearly a decade now. But if the candidate happens to be running in the most closely watched Senate race in the country and publicly takes her party’s president to task for not sharing her position on the issue, it becomes a national story.
“I want to see the president evolve,” Elizabeth Warren said in an interview with the Washington Blade that went viral on Thursday, “because I believe that is right; marriage equality is morally right.”
The obvious significance of Warren’s comments is that they amplify the pressure on Barack Obama from liberals who believe he is personally fine with gay marriage and that only election year trepidation – what if it costs me two points in Ohio? – is holding him back from saying so. It’s still very likely that Obama will stick with his cautious posture at least through November, but marriage supporters in his party could make things awkward and uncomfortable for him this summer by forcing the issue as the Democratic platform is assembled. [MORE]
By HANNAH DREIER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
The California Assembly passed a resolution Thursday calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that corporations can spend unlimited sums to influence elections. [MORE]
2:30 pm ET, 11:30 am PT
WE ARE WOMEN has organized a nation wide action on April 28th. Women in Texas and other states have been fighting for Planned Parenthood. We interviewed Bonnie Ward, one of the Virginia 30, about her "storm trooper" arrest and detainment. Across the nation, lines are being drawn. What have you done? What will you do? Let's talk. [MORE]
Via J'nene Solidarity Kay
by JOE WEISENTHAL, Business Insider
It's hard not to think it's a big deal when a branch of the Federal Reserve system calls for the breakup of major American banks.
The bank has just released its annual report, and the title of the letter is: Choosing the Road to Prosperity Why We Must End Too Big to Fail—Now.
Here's the full letter from Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher, generally known as one of the most hawkish and conservative Fed Presidents:
Letter from the President
Memory fades with the passage of time. Yet it is important to recall that it was in recognition of the precarious position in which the TBTF banks and SIFIs placed our economy in 2008 that the U.S. Congress passed into law the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer ProtectionAct (Dodd–Frank). While the act established a number of new macroprudential features to help promote financial stability, its overarching purpose, as stated unambiguously in its preamble, is ending TBTF.
However, Dodd–Frank does not eradi- cate TBTF. Indeed, it is our view at the Dallas Fed that it may actually perpetuate an already dangerous trend of increasing banking industry concentration. More than half of banking industry assets are on the books of just five institutions. The top 10 banks now account for 61 percent of commercial banking assets, substantially more than the 26 percent of only 20 years ago; their combined assets equate to half of our nation’s GDP. Further, as Rosenblum argues in his essay, there are signs that Dodd– Frank’s complexity and opaqueness may evenbe working against the economic recovery. In addition to remaining a lingering threat to financial stability, these megabanks signifi- cantly hamper the Federal Reserve’s ability to properly conduct monetary policy. [MORE]
EDITORIAL, New York Times
Last week was a big one for the banks. On Monday, the foreclosure settlement between the big banks and federal and state officials was filed in federal court, and it is now awaiting a judge’s all-but-certain approval. On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve announced the much-anticipated results of the latest round of bank stress tests.
How did the banks do on both? Pretty well, thank you — and better than homeowners and American taxpayers.
That is not only unfair, given banks’ huge culpability in the mortgage bubble and financial meltdown. It also means that homeowners and the economy still need more relief, and that the banks, without more meaningful punishment, will not be deterred from the next round of misbehavior.
by SENATOR CHUCK GRASSLEY, Opinion, Politico
Since 1946, congressional lobbyists have had to register with Congress. Thousands of them are registered.
If a citizen wants to know which companies have lobbyists at work on the Hill, that information is available. Disclosure is ingrained, and no one seems to argue with its benefits to the republic or express concern that it interferes with the right to petition the government, as the Constitution safeguards.
This concept should apply to the growing industry of individuals who make their living gathering market-moving data from Congress and the executive branch for Wall Street firms, which then trade securities based on that information. While there is no official record of who these “political intelligence” gatherers are, we’re beginning to learn – by chance – how they buy and sell political intelligence at the expense of the average investor.
by LIZ KENNEDY, Policy Shop
The International Monetary Fund’s former chief economist recently described one of the world’s leading economies as fundamentally unsound because the political process is captured by financial firms. But he wasn’t talking about just any banana republic. He was talking about the U.S.A.
In the article “Why Some Countries Go Bust,” Adam Davidson discusses a new book in which economist Daron Acemoglu argues that “the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy.” In other words, economic inequality is itself predictive of economic decline. The book includes historical studies showing how “fairly open and prosperous societies can revert to closed and impoverished autocracies.”
It’s hard to read these sections without thinking about the present-day United States, where economic inequality has grown substantially over the past few decades. Is the 1 percent emerging as a wealth-stripping, poverty-inducing elite?
Well, maybe. . . .Simon Johnson, the former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, told me that financial firms have so thoroughly co-opted the political process that the American economy has become fundamentally unsound.“It’s bad and getting worse,” he told me. Barring some major shift in our political system, he suggested, the United States could be on its way to serious economic failure.
The book’s authors, too, expressed pessimism about the future of the United States, reportedly saying that Congress is too heavily influenced by the wealthy, and the advent of super PACs has only given elites more power. [MORE]
by FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN (video)
We’re going to hear a lot of polarized rhetoric over the next few months. The Republicans and Democrats will seem to disagree about everything. But there is one huge and important area where there is a possibility - a possibility - of bipartisan action and that’s tax reform.
Most Americans - Republicans and Democrats - dislike the tax code. They’re right to do so. America has what is arguably the world’s most complex tax code. The federal code plus IRS rulings is now 70,000 pages long. The code itself is 16,000 pages. The statist French, for example, have a tax code of only 1,909 pages - only 12% as long as ours. And then there are countries like Russia, the Czech Republic, Estonia that have innovated and moved to a flat tax, with considerable success.
You have to understand, complexity equals corruption.
For those who despair at the role of money in politics, the simplest way to get the corruption out of Washington is to remove the prize that members of Congress give away - preferential tax treatment. A flatter tax code with almost no exemptions does that.
[MORE including video (following oil industry propaganda)]
Letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal, by RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO
Your editorial "The Corporate Disclosure Assault" (March 19) falsely claims that disclosure of corporate political expenditures is not in the best interest of all shareholders. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion in Citizens United, which upheld the First Amendment rights of corporations to make independent political expenditures, explicitly relied in part on the principle that "prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.''
Current law enables businesses to spend for many political purposes without disclosure, whether to the public or their shareholders. The editorial's suggestion that businesses should be able to conceal their political spending in order to avoid criticism or controversy disserves shareholders. As Justice Antonin Scalia recently observed in another case, Doe v. Reed, which rejected First Amendment-based claims for keeping secret the identities of ballot-petition signers, "Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed."
Unions have long been required to make public disclosures of their political and other spending. Corporations that spend to influence politics have no legitimate gripe against shareholder disclosure resolutions that would require them to publicly disclose that spending—and they have ample opportunity and resources to explain why that spending advances shareholder value and the public interest. [MORE]
by CHRIS ARNOLD, NPR
The two most powerful entities in the housing market — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — could be on the verge of a significant change regarding foreclosures. NPR and ProPublicahave learned that both firms have concluded that giving homeowners a big break on their mortgages would make good financial sense in many cases.
In these so-called principal write-downs, a portion of the loan is forgiven for someone who's having trouble paying. Many Democrats are pushing for this change. Most Republicans are against it. So far, a key federal regulator is blocking Fannie and Freddie from adopting the approach.
In recent days, financial executives at Fannie and Freddie have made presentations to their regulator saying that principal reduction for many homeowners would prevent larger losses and keep people in their homes. [READ MORE]
Excerpts from article by by LINTON WEEKS, National Public Radio
This might be the last election cycle in which we write about how the phenomenon of social media — interactive, friend-driven websites such as Facebook and Twitter — is affecting national politics, because next time around, the practice of social media may be such an integral part of the process we won't even notice it....
There is much talk among the panelists of "authenticity" — the notion that a candidate who sends out her own online messages and interacts with voters electronically is perceived as more real than a candidate who doesn't, or who leaves the tasks up to staff members.
One of the ironies of contemporary politics is that the more comfortable a candidate is with being virtual, the more real she seems to be.
"Very few congressional candidates are doing a good job using these tools" says Hindman, author of The Myth of Digital Democracy and, as described by moderator Smith, a "technoscold."
Hindman says he did a quick social media study of the dozen closest races and discovered that the median candidate has about 200 followers on Twitter and about 1,500 Facebook friends. The numbers did not impress him.
By JAMES B. STEWART, The New York Times
Having touched the third rail of American politics last year — proposed cuts to entitlements like Medicare — and lived to fight another day, Representative Paul Ryan was back this week with a revised Republican budget proposal and another storm of criticism. His budget “slashes the safety net to pay for tax cuts mostly for wealthy Americans” (a column in The Washington Post); is one in which “the rich pay less in taxes than the unfairly low rates they pay now” (an editorial in The New York Times); and “would shower the wealthiest few Americans with an average tax cut of at least $150,000” (the White House).
As I worked on my own taxes this week and realized I may be paying even more than I did last year, when I paid 24 percent of my adjusted gross income in federal income tax and 37 percent in combined federal and state — more, as I’ve reported, than the average 18 percent paid by the top 400 taxpayers earning an average of $270 million a year — I found it hard to believe anyone would seriously propose cutting the already-low tax rates of the ultrawealthy. With multimillionaires like Mitt Romney paying just 13.9 percent of his $21.7 million of adjusted gross income in federal tax, how much lower can their rates go? [MORE]
by VIVECA NOVAK, OpenSecrets.org
Thirteen bundlers who are lobbyists, including six new names, raised $545,000 for Mitt Romney's campaign in February. So far, 22 lobbyist-bundlers have raised $2.9 million for Romney.
The new bundlers include:
Romney is still disclosing only his bundlers who are lobbyists, which complies with legal requirements. However, in 2008, both Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, John McCain, released the identities of all their bundlers. Thus far in this election cycle, Obama is the only candidate following that practice. [MORE]
by Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking unemployment aid in the U.S. fell to a four-year low last week, bolstering the view that the job market is strengthening.
The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. That’s the lowest level since March 2008, just months into the Great Recession. The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, dipped to 355,000, matching a four-year low.
It wasn't so long ago that many viewed Germany's economic model as outdated and the country as the "sick man of Europe." These days, however, even the Americans have come to praise parts of it, though they still doubt whether they would be able — or willing — to adopt it wholesale.
by THOMAS SCHULZ, Spiegel International
The entryway to the neoclassical mansion on New York's Upper East Side betrays not a single indication of its inhabitant's name. A security gate is waiting behind the heavy metal door. Inside, one can see dark wood, marble and valuable paintings. From this base, Steven Rattner manages the private fortune of Michael Bloomberg. New York's mayor has entrusted his billions to Rattner because there are few as adept as him at multiplying money.
Rattner previously served as an economic adviser to President Bill Clinton. Barack Obama had been intending to make him a secretary in his administration, but then he assigned him the job of rescuing the American auto industry during the financial crisis. People in Washington are listening to what Rattner has to say on how things should go forward with the rest of America's stagnating economy. And Rattner is saying: "Germany is a model for the United States."
By now, Rattner has become quite knowledgeable about the issue, as well. He calls the German idea of Kurzarbeit "a model," referring to the "short-time work" program that the German government used during the crisis to avoid layoffs by encouraging companies to reduce workers' hours while making up for some of the workers' lost salaries and benefits itself. Likewise, he says that Germany's system for training skilled workers is a "clear role model for us or any other country" and that its intelligent industrial policies are also worthy of being imitated by Americans.
He also expressly praises the creative approaches of Germany's "Agenda 2010" program, the painful and unpopular reforms to the country's social-welfare system and labor market, and the achievements of Gerhard Schröder, the man who ushered in these reforms as Germany's chancellor between 1998 and 2005. Rattner says Schröder figured out how to steer Germany in the right direction so that a "developed contry could remain competitive even in a world where new economic giants, such as China, India and others, are emerging."
'One of the Wonders of the World'
Rattner isn't the only person who shares this opinion. US newsweekly Time writes that the wide range of German economic and social reforms have been "farsighted" and that German firms, together with those reforms, have forged "the most competitive industrial sector of any advanced economy." The New York Times, meanwhile, says that: "The German economy has been one of the wonders of the world over the last couple of years." [MORE]
by SALVADOR RIZZO, NJ.com
Let’s say you’re a state lawmaker, passionate about charter schools, and you want to turn this passion into laws that create social change. What you need are bills. And you want them fast — ready-made, just add water, written in language that can withstand partisan debate and legal scrutiny.
There is a place that has just what you want.
It’s called the American Legislative Exchange Council, a little-known conservative group headquartered in Washington, D.C., and funded by some of the biggest corporations in the United States — most with a business interest in state legislation.
ALEC has quietly made its mark on the political landscape by providing state governments with mock-up bills that academic and political experts say are, for the most part, tailored to fit a conservative agenda. In recent years, states — particularly those with new Republican governors and legislatures — have been flooded with ALEC’s model bills. Nearly 1,000 of them are introduced every year, and roughly one-fifth of those become law, according to ALEC’s own count. ALEC’s bills are especially attractive because they are written so they can virtually be copied and pasted onto legislative proposals across the land.
For lawmakers, it can be an irresistible service. [MORE]
by STEVE HORN, thesmogblog.com
The month of March has seen unprecedented heat and temperatures. A rational thinking, scientifically-grounded individual could only posit, "Well, hmm, I bet climate change has something to do with the fact that in Madison, WI, it is 80 degrees in mid-March. Sometimes it's 60 or 70 degrees colder than this!"
While that individual would be positing something that is the well-accepted scientific consensus, in some states, under law, that is only a "controversial theory among other theories."
Welcome to Tennessee, which on March 19th became the fourth state with a legal mandate to incorporate climate change denial as part of the science education curriculum when discussing climate change. [MORE]
by SOLEDBAD O'BREIN, CNN via The Daily Beast
What is the No. 1 issue for Latino voters in the 2012 election? According to actress and Obama reelection co-chair Eva Longoria, it's not immigration but the economy. However, Longoria told CNN's Soledad O'Brien, despite Mitt Romney's claim that his primarmy win in Puerto Rico is a sign that Latinos will help elect him president, the Republican frontrunner is "on the wrong side of every issue that is important to Latinos."
Not listed on the chart above: spending on education, transportation, foreign relations, energy, and the environment. ALL received less than 3 cents out of every dollar spent in 2011 federal budget. Compare this to the United States military budget (27 cents) and our health care costs (21 cents) by clicking HERE to see the expanded graphic.
From National Priorities Project:
On April 17, 2012, your 2011 federal income tax return is due to the IRS. Where did the federal government spend your income taxes during fiscal year 2011?
Federal income tax revenues totaled around $1.13 trillion in fiscal 2011, and this chart shows exactly where the federal government spent each one of those dollars.