Sunday, June 04, 2006

more on the estate tax

From an Op-ed in the Post Gazette:
Only 1 percent of the country -- amounting to a handful of ultra-wealthy individuals -- would benefit from estate tax relief, since they're the only ones who are currently subject to the tax. In contrast, the cost of repeal would be significant economic damage to our nation's charities and foundations -- institutions whose sole purpose is to advance the common good here in America, and around the globe.


The House has already voted to repeal the tax permanently. That would cost about $1 trillion in federal tax revenues in the first 10 years it would be fully in effect, once the added interest on the federal debt is taken into account. In today's terms, repeal would cost roughly the same each year as everything the federal government now spends on homeland security, and more than it spends on education. Revenue losses this big would significantly worsen the already severe federal budget problems the nation faces.

And that is to say nothing of the potential negative impact on state budgets. Close to half the states currently levy estate or inheritance taxes that bring in approximately $4.5 billion annually. Repeal of the federal estate tax would put this revenue --used to fund education, health care and other vital social services -- at considerable risk.

John Conyers - Patriot

NSA's Illegal Warrantless Wiretapping Update
Recently we have learned some pretty alarming details about the National Security Agency's (NSA) illegal domestic spying. A May 11th USA Today story revealed that the warrantless wiretapping program is far broader in scope than the President has previously claimed. Tens of millions of Americans' phone records have been compiled into the largest known database in the world.

As reported in the USA Today story, this in direct violation of the Telecommunications Act. Section 222 of this Act prohibits telephone companies from revealing information about their customers' call history including who is called and how frequently. Inbound and outbound calls, wireline and wireless services are covered by this Act.

Underscoring the seriousness of these privacy protections, the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to levy fines up to $130,000 per day per violation. While this is capped at $1.325 million per violation, these penalties are intended to deter phone companies from revealing private consumer data.

The day that this news came out was also the day we learned that the Department of Justice abruptly cancelled its investigation of the NSA warrantless wiretapping.

Now with former NSA Director Bobby Ray Inman publicly declaring that "this [NSA] activity is not authorized," it is all too clear that we must take every means possible to halt this assault on the privacy of Americans.

To halt this illegal warrantless wiretapping, 71 Democratic Members of Congress joined me in filing an amicus brief in support of two lawsuits against the government. We made very clear in our brief that warrantless wiretapping is covered by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The NSA itself helped promote the passage of that bill in 1978 seeking to recover from the devastating revelations that the agency had been conducting surveillance on U.S. citizens for decades. The FISA Act provides the comprehensive and sole authority under which Americans may be wiretapped in the fight against terrorism.

The two cases for which these amicus briefs were filed, ACLU v. NSA and CCR v. Bush, are pending in Detroit and New York respectively. The plaintiffs in both cases are seeking to halt the program immediately through summary judgment and an injunction. The government is due to file its responses at the close of next week.

Republican traditions....

.....of making the rich, richer. Question is, what will the Dems do?

Estate tax debate a chance for Democrats to pounce

By Robert Kuttner | June 3, 2006

NEXT WEEK, the Republican leadership in the US Senate will attempt to ram through a permanent repeal of the estate tax. A companion bill has already passed the House.

Under the Bush administration, the estate tax has been cut to the point where less than one estate in a hundred pays any tax. The revenue loss is one big source of the mounting national debt.

The recent cuts in the estate tax expire in 2011. Republicans, who expect to lose seats in November, want to enact permanent repeal now, while they still have the votes.

If they can't find the votes for total repeal, they at least want to further cut the rate to something like 15 percent and raise the exemption to at least $3.5 million for an individual and $7 million for a couple.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, getting rid of the estate tax altogether would cost the Treasury a trillion dollars over 10 years. The ``compromise" would cost about $500 billion to $600 billion.

Republicans also want to get this done fast before the newly appointed Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson, chief executive of Goldman-Sachs, faces potentially embarrassing confirmation hearings. Paulson is allegedly a deficit hawk. With a personal net worth of about $700 million, he's also a poster child for why the super-rich can well afford to have their estates taxed.

As the Bush people searched for a new Treasury secretary to restore its tattered credibility in financial markets, Washington observers noted that the administration was having trouble, because no serious person from Wall Street would defend the Bush deficits. Paulson's story is that we should reduce the deficit by reining in spending. But domestic spending has already been cut to the level of the 1950s, and Paulson is not about to cross his commander-in-chief on war spending.

Democrats could go to town on this issue. As Paulson makes his round of Senate courtesy calls, they should press him to oppose estate-tax repeal.

However, several Senate Democrats are wobbly on this issue. Max Baucus, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, is said to be negotiating with his Republican counterparts to enact the ``compromise."

Baucus, from Montana, inherited an 80,000-acre sheep ranch, one of the biggest in his state. He invokes the plight of family farmers, whose inherited homesteads are supposedly threatened by estate taxes. Yet the conservative American Farm Bureau Federation could not identify a single farm that had to be sold to pay taxes, even under current rates.

Republicans are confident that at least three other Democrats would follow Baucus's lead --Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Bill Nelson of Florida. Several other Democrats are still undecided on whether to hand the wealthiest one percent of Americans an even bigger break, at cost to fiscal solvency. The Republicans, with 55 senators, need at least five Democrats to help them get cloture on this vote.

The other shaky Democrats include Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington state. Cantwell was a well-off high-tech executive. Murray got elected as an ordinary mom ``in tennis shoes" who spoke for the common citizen. From 2001 to 2003, she chaired the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, courting wealthy donors.

Who exactly needs Cantwell and Murray to support another huge tax cut for the wealthiest? Their own families? Campaign contributors?

Three other wavering Democrats are Ken Salazar of Colorado, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. These ``red" states are conservative on social issues, but what does their average citizen gain from estate-tax repeal?

Where does Mary Landrieu think the money will come for Louisiana's flood defenses if Congress keeps gutting the tax code? The average Arkansan can only dream of worrying about the estate tax, but lead promoters of repeal are the Arkansas-based Walton family billionaires of Wal-Mart fame.

Here in New England, Maine's two Republican senators are undecided. You can count on Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to talk moderate but often help fellow Republicans when their votes are needed. Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee, who is in a tough reelection fight, is opposed.

The Senate is such a millionaire's club that more than half the senators should recuse themselves on this vote, which would personally benefit them.

With Bush's popularity ratings scraping bottom, if Democrats can't manage to embarrass Republicans on this one, you can understand why they're losing their historic role as the believable party of the common American.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

great opening line to this story

Dixie Chicks Return to No. 1 on Charts
By JOHN GEROME , 05.31.2006, 06:47 PM

The Dixie Chicks appear to be more popular than the president these days. President Bush's approval rating has plummeted, but the Chicks are on top of the pop and country charts with their first album since publicly criticizing Bush three years ago. - link

will the media pay attention now?

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. confirms what many of us have known for almost two years.

Was the 2004 Election Stolen?
Republicans prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from casting ballots or having their votes counted -- enough to have put John Kerry in the White House. BY ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.
Like many Americans, I spent the evening of the 2004 election watching the returns on television and wondering how the exit polls, which predicted an overwhelming victory for John Kerry, had gotten it so wrong. By midnight, the official tallies showed a decisive lead for George Bush -- and the next day, lacking enough legal evidence to contest the results, Kerry conceded. Republicans derided anyone who expressed doubts about Bush's victory as nut cases in ''tinfoil hats,'' while the national media, with few exceptions, did little to question the validity of the election. The Washington Post immediately dismissed allegations of fraud as ''conspiracy theories,''(1) and The New York Times declared that ''there is no evidence of vote theft or errors on a large scale.''(2)

But despite the media blackout, indications continued to emerge that something deeply troubling had taken place in 2004. Nearly half of the 6 million American voters living abroad(3) never received their ballots -- or received them too late to vote(4) -- after the Pentagon unaccountably shut down a state-of-the-art Web site used to file overseas registrations.(5) A consulting firm called Sproul & Associates, which was hired by the Republican National Committee to register voters in six battleground states,(6) was discovered shredding Democratic registrations.(7) In New Mexico, which was decided by 5,988 votes,(8) malfunctioning machines mysteriously failed to properly register a presidential vote on more than 20,000 ballots.(9) Nationwide, according to the federal commission charged with implementing election reforms, as many as 1 million ballots were spoiled by faulty voting equipment -- roughly one for every 100 cast.(10) -link