Friday, June 1, 2012

DOMA goes down

The 1st U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals (last stop before the Supreme Court) has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

This is the act passed in 1996 that said that states did not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states where it was legal.   Even more important, however, was that the federal government also came under its rules, meaning that no benefits -- taxes or special treatment for married couples, including those serving in the military -- could apply to same-sex couples.

Last year, the U.S. Justice Department stated that several constitutional scholars have given an opinion that it was unconstitutional and therefore, the Justice Department would no longer defend the law.

Whereupon, House Majority Leader John Boehner assembled a group of Republicans who vowed to supply that defense, if the DoJ was not going to.    Trouble with that was they authorized about $1.5 million of taxpayer money to do so.

Now we see how that money was wasted -- as everyone knew it would be.   Blame the Republicans for frivolous spending.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Citizens United: a crack in the wall?

The U. S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case and thus allowed to stand a District Court decision that upheld the ban on campaign finance spending by non-citizens.  In this case, it was a Canadian citizen who is also a Harvard Law School graduate and lives and works in the United States;  but because he is not a U. S. citizen, he may not vote -- and now it has been clarified that he cannot make monetary contributions in U. S. elections.

Well, yes, I would say that makes sense.   However, how does it square with the SCOTUS' Citizens United decision that allows corporations to make campaign contributions without even being identified?   How do we know that the corporation is not owned by non-citizens?  What if 50.01% of the stock was held by non-citizens?  

It is conceivable that an election could be swayed by foreign nationals hostile to the United States, and we would not even know where the money came from.   Because, at this point, SuperPACs are not required to disclose the source of their contributions.   So a terrorist organization, or a hostile government, could form a U. S. corporation, keep the owners' identity secret, and sway a close election with huge financial contributions to a SuperPac.

This is what Justice Samuel Alito mouthed "Not true" about when President Obama made such a claim in his State of the Union Speech.   But neither Alito nor any of the other Justices have explained why it is "not true."

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, who strongly opposed the Citizens United decision and voted against it, has since his retirement made it a cause that he speaks about frequently.   This is the troublesome question that he is raising.  How is it possible that Citizens United protects the "campaign speech' (money is defined as speech here) of some non-voters (domestic corporations) more than other non-voters (individual foreign nationals).

His further point is that, in order to explain this, the Justices are going to have to carve out an exception and so state it -- and thus it opens cracks in the wall that could bring the whole thing crumbling down.   But it may take years.

Since they passed up this opportunity with this case of the Canadian Harvard graduate lawyer, they don't seem inclined to revisit the decision.

Too bad.  It was a terrible decision.   And we are seeing the consequences.    It is now estimated that conservative billionaires are amassing a billion dollar war chest to use against Obama.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Poor Romney . . . with friends like this

Romney is all set to clinch the GOP presidential nomination tonight, as soon as the Texas primary voting polls close.

So what does he have to contend with?   Donald Trump -- with whom Romney is appearing at a fund-raiser tonight in Las Vegas -- is making the headlines doubling down on his birther conspiracy theory.

That's right.   Instead of playing second fiddle to the newly anointed candidate, while using his celebrity to raise money, The Donald is grabbing the headlines, speaking to reporters on the phone, appearing on national television interviews, claiming that Obama was really born in Kenya.

And all the Romney campaign has been able to offer in defense is that Romney himself believes Obama is a natural born citizen and that he can't control what all his supporters say.

All I can say is, if that's what Romney wants, he is welcome to him.   May he have many more such friends.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Legislative chicanery on school vouchers - 2

In today's AJC, Maureen Downey further discusses the tax credits for school voucher programs and their misuse.   If you had any doubt that Republicans are pulling a fast one, think about what Downey writes:
Reports that private school parents were making donations to schools that were then repackaged as "scholarship" for their own kids have been made to the Georgia General Assembly to no avail.  In fact, all lawmakers did was make it a crime to release key scholarship data to the public.
In other words, given evidence of a problem with the program, all the lawmakers did was write in a cover-up law that made it a crime to disclose just such misuse.  Because, to them, it wasn't a misuse;  it was what they intended.  But now they knew they had to try to conceal what they were doing.

Further, Downey describes that, to be eligible for the "scholarships," a student has to be enrolled in a public school.   But the bill's sponsor, David Casas, helpfully explains in a video, no less, how parents of private school kids can get around that.  He told a group:
"All you have to do is just do it -- sign up and get in line to take advantage of this opportunity," Casas says.  "The moment you enroll you're eligible for the scholarship."

When a father asks if it isn't a scam to enroll a child in a local public school with no intention of attending, Casas reassures him that the ruse met with lawmaker approval.

"Two governors signed this bill.  Two legislatures have passed the bill.  So, we all know what it says.  It's for you to take advantage of -- that is the purpose," he says.
So:  comfortable middle class families get another advantage to help pay private school tuition -- $146 million of what would have been tax revenue -- while public schools have to lay off teachers and cut enrichment programs because of slashed budgets for public schools, necessary because of declining tax revenues.

Of course, I'm strongly opposed to this whole voucher system, not just this particular bill and its intentional loopholes.  I would make one exception and allows vouchers where a child has special needs that can't be met in his particular public school.   We need to strengthen public education, not weaken it.   It is terribly short-sighted to undermine good education for all Georgia's children.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Legislative chicanery on school vouchers

That phrase, "legislative chicanery," comes from Jay Bookman writing in today's AJC about the scam that the Republican legislative majority has pulled off in Georgia.

The reason it's appropriate to call it a scam is that the bill was sold as a benefit to low-income families in Georgia by providing tuition vouchers for private schools.  In fact, the 2008 bill has wound up being used mostly by families with kids already in private schools.  One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. David Casas (R-Gwinnett), has said that was their plan all along.  Here's how Bookman describes it:
Under the law, a taxpayer or corporation can donate to a "student scholarship organization" and then deduct that same amount directly from what's owed in state taxes.  In effect, dollars that otherwise would be collected as state income tax are diverted into coffers of private schools.  By one estimate, it has provided a subsidy worth some $143 million to private school parents in the state.

But it's for a good cause, right?  Helping poor kids escape bad public schools?

Well, no.  That turned out to be a lie, one of several used to ease passage of the bill.  Instead of serving as a bridge to move low-income students out of troubled public schools, the program is actually an underhanded taxpayer subsidy for middle-class and upper-class parents whose kids were already in private school.

According to [Rep. David Casas, Republican sponsor of the bill] that had been the plan all along.  As he explained in a presentation captured on a YouTube video, he and others wrote a trick into the law that allows parents to donate money to the scholarship fund, take the tax credit, and then arrange for their child to receive a voucher or "scholarship" in that same amount.
Even for the Republican culture of "rob the poor to benefit the rich," this is a low-down deal.   They weren't even man enough to be honest about what they were up to.  Some states have similar laws, except that the benefits are limited to those under a certain income level.   But the Georgia Republicans deliberately wrote the law without income limits on who can benefit.   Since it's possible to have a donation used by a specific child, it's a cozy arrangement to benefit those who least need it -- and thus excludes those the plan was supposed to benefit.

Further, the law lacks any kind of accountability of schools that receive the "scholarship subsidies."   It even forbids any kind of oversight regarding what the schools teach or the effectiveness of their teaching or how they spend the state money.

In contrast, accountability requirements for public schools have been increased.  You get the picture.  This is part of a larger plan to set up the public schools to fail.

Have you no shame, you Republicans?


Been away

I spent the past couple of days in Sandersville, visiting my sister.   We attended two baseball games in which her 16 year old grandson, Nick Pullen, is the starting center fielder.   This was the final play-off series for their high school state championship.

They won both games by the same score (3 to 1) and are now the reigning baseball champions of class AA private high schools in Georgia.    Nick played all innings and scored one of the winning runs.  He's already a promising athlete in multiple sports besides baseball, and he still has two more years in high school.

Congratulations to Nick and the Brentwood Eagles, 2012.

Uncle Ralph