Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Campaign Rules Proposed for Tax-Exempt Nonprofits

The Obama administration on Tuesday moved to issue new rules that would curtail political activity by tax-exempt nonprofit groups, with potentially significant ramifications for one of the fastest-growing sources of campaign spending.
The proposed rules, announced by the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service, would expand and clarify how the I.R.S. defines political activity and then establish clearer limits for how much activity nonprofits can engage in. Such a change — long urged by government watchdog groups — would be the first wholesale shift in a generation in the regulations governing political activity.
The move to curtail nonprofits follows years of legal and regulatory shifts, such as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, that have steadily loosened the rules governing political spending, particularly by big corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals.
The rules would not prohibit political activity by nonprofit organizations. But by establishing clearer limits for campaign-related spending, the new rules could have a significant impact on the big-spending nonprofit groups that have played a central role in national politics in recent years, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on political advertising and voter outreach.
The administration’s proposal would apply to nonprofit groups organized under Section 501(c)4 of the tax code, which are permitted tax exemption in exchange for devoting themselves primarily to the promotion of “social welfare,” which under current rules can include some political activity.
The largest political nonprofits — such as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, co-founded by Karl Rove, the Republican operative, or Americans for Prosperity, backed by the conservative philanthropists Charles and David Koch, have exploited that provision to spend heavily on election-themed advertising.
But the proposed guidance, a broad swath of campaign-related activity — including any ads that mention a candidate within 60 days of an election — would be excluded from the definition of “social welfare.”
“Depending on the details, this could be dramatic,” said Marcus S. Owens, a former chief of the I.R.S.'s exempt organizations division.
The rules would also effect political activity by conservative and liberal grass-roots organizations, including Tea Party groups whose complaints of aggressive treatment and harassment by I.R.S. employees led to the resignation of several high-ranking agency officials last spring.
More details of the proposal were scheduled to be released later on Tuesday. The final rules are unlikely to be issued until after the 2014 election, after a lengthy public comment period, possible hearings and more deliberation by the agency.
“This proposed guidance is a first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by tax-exempt social welfare organizations,” said Mark J. Mazur, the assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy.
Unlike candidates, parties and “super PACs,” such groups do not have to disclose donors, giving rise to the label “dark money” for organizations that spend heavily on elections but claim to be engaged in promoting social welfare.
The vague — and inconsistently enforced — rules for political nonprofits, along with the anonymity they offer donors, have made them the vehicle of choice for wealthy individuals, corporations and unions seeking to influence elections in secret. From 2006 to 2012, election spending by tax-exempt groups rose to more than $300 million from less than $5.2 million.
Read more in The New York Times

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Max Bus Service is a Feeble Beginning

By Faith Chatham - Arlington, TX - Nov. 21, 2013
RIDE THE MAX is a two-year pilot program linking Arlington to the Dallas DART and Fort Worth T Systems. It is a controversial start to mass transit service for Arlington, Texas. I see it as necessary, but feeble beginning.
Currently there are two MAX bus stops in Arlington for the service operated by DART which connects Arlington with the TRE at the Centerpoint Rail Station. The service runs 5 days a week, Monday through Friday. It does not run on Saturday when most of the games are played at the Dallas Cowboy Stadium.
The Entertainment District stop was only added Nov. 4th. The location, in my opinion, is wrong. It is located at Andrews and Collins, where there are no benches and no covered shelters. Andrews is four blocks North of the Cowboy Stadium and about a block South of Lincoln Square.
In our neighborhood, two blocks west of the Cowboy Stadium on Webb Street near Randoll Mill Road, there are twelve benches and four shelters. This infrastructure already exists and Arlington taxpayers have already paid for them. I wonder why we have to stand out in the rain and don't have a bench to sit on while we wait for the bus when there is existing under utilized infrastructure on another near-by street!
During the week, when the MAX buses run, these benches and shelters on Webb Street, and the adjacent Cowboy Stadium parking lots, are TOTALLY deserted This already existing public infrastructure (facing an Arlington street and situated on public right-of-way) is very under- utilized. These benches and shelter are used, at the very most, three to five hours a week during football season.
The benches and shelters on Webb Street are two blocks from the Cowboy Stadium, one half block from Randoll Mill Rd, two blocks from Walmart, one block from Walgreens and are adjacent to neighborhoods which have numerous apartment buildings and small single-family homes and duplexes. This is my neighborhood.
,Many of the residents of my neighborhood favor mass transit because we need it. Some of my neighbors have cars which cannot stand up to regularly commuting to Dallas or Fort Worth. Riding an affordable bus with connections to the .TRE and DART or T systems can open up better job opportunities for many people. Better jobs for Arlington residents means more money to spend locally, and that improves our city's economy!
I am a MAX bus rider. Like many of my neighbors, I can walk to the benches at Webb Street, but current bus stop is seven blocks farther away, and that is much harder for me and my neighbors. As a mobility impaired person, I have to have a place to sit down while I wait for a bus or I wait for Handitran to pick me up and take me home..
Richard Webber and other critics of the MAX service have pointed out that the AISD charter bus contract is for $70.00 an hour while the DART contract for MAX service is $150.00 an hour. When accounting for the value of the service, I think it is important to consider that the DART contract includes fares for passengers' connecting service to the TRE and either Fort Worth T systems or the Dallas Dart systems. The AISD contract only includes payment for where the bus goes -- and does not include the right to connect to the T or DART system. You cannot weigh the per hour charge between the AISD Charter Contract and the MAX contract because they are not similar services. One is only for the bus transportation. The other is for the bus transportation and for transportation on the TRE Train and 24-hours of connecting service with the Fort Worth T and Dallas DART systems.
There is a very organized group of Arlington citizens who oppose mass transit of any kind. There are as many, probably more, Arlington citizens who favor it. However, those who favor it are unorganized and not as vocal as the opponents.
The opponents frequently argue against any subsidy of mass transit. They claim, as tax payers, they deserve to be able to drive their cars without having buses on "their streets." They fail to acknowledge that every taxpayer in Arlington subsidizes them when they put their automobile onto a public highway or city street. Their car taxes, gas tax and inspection fees do not generate enough money for the State of Texas, U.S. Government or City of Arlington to build and maintain pubic streets. Transportation is already subsidized  for people driving private automobiles.
It is past time for Arlington to join the modern world and and create a mass transit system which will augment existing modes of transportation (currently only private automobiles). This system must move more people more efficiently between where they live and work, worship, serve, and go to school and  play! We cannot afford to continue exercising public domain to acquire more right-of-way to expand more roads and streets. We cannot afford the pollution from more and more automobiles. We cannot afford the time spend in gridlock because there are too many cars for the capacity of our streets and highways.
Arlington's golden days were the 70ies and 80ies when its location between Dallas and Fort Worth on the DFW Tollroad and its proximity to DFW Airport were it's major selling points. Few other adjacent cities had mass transit then. Now Arlington is the only major city in the region (except for Grand Prairie) which does not have mass transit. Today, it is less attractive to industries seeking places for expansion or plant relocation.
When visitors come to Arlington one of the first questions they usually ask is "Why don't you have mass transit!"  We need to solve this so that when they come here, they'll see what we have instead of being bewildered about why we don't have a system which will efficiently move people throughout the city and connect to other places in the region.
It is time that Arlington moves beyond the resistance of the nay sayers and we roll up our sleeves and seriously find a solution that will allow us to fund a mass transit system which will serve all quadrants of the city.  The MAX is a beginning. It's a feeble beginning, but it is a beginning.
I ride it several times a month. Today there were ten people plus the driver on the bus. My $2.50 gave me a ride on MAX from the Entertainment District to the Centerpoint Station. It allowed me to ride the TRE train to and from Dallas. If I'd wanted to, I could have connected to any DART bus or rail line and ridden all day. If I had wanted to, I could also have ridden the TRE to Fort Worth and gone anywhere on the T System all day. As a rider, it was affordable and a good deal.
Usually I am riding with people who are going to work, going to college in Dallas or Fort Worth, or are going to a museum, sports event or concert.   I'd like to see the MAX service expanded to include days when the Cowboys and Rangers are playing. The more people who come on buses, the less traffic we have in our neighborhood.
Connecting bus service on the weekends between Arlington and Centerpoint could help  attract more hotel guests. As it is, guests who stay in Dallas or Fort Worth hotels can easily travel to sites throughout the Metroplex without taking Taxi cabs or Limos or renting a car. There are no mass transit options for Arlington hotel guests cannot get into or out of Arlington on the weekends to visit tourist sites in neighboring cities or for hotel guests of other cities to come here. Arlington would get a better share of the tourist dollars which are being spent in the restaurants, malls and shopping centers in neighboring cities. if it made mass transit, easy and accessible seven days a week. For Arlington to regain its edge of being conveniently located between Dallas and Fort Worth it must have a mass transit system. Without mass transit in 2013 Arlington is between Dallas and Fort Worth but it is  no longer convenient and it certainly is not competitive!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

2013 is off to an exciting election year

By Faith Chatham - Arlington, TX - Nov. 21, 2013

I write when I have something to say. From 2011-present I didn't blog a lot. It was usually about the air, water or an EPA hearing. It was usually more germane to "About Air and Water" or "DFW Regional Concerned Citizens" of "Preventable Pipeline Hazards" so it went on those blogs. Even though a lot happened with insurance and healthcare,  my own hospitalizations and surgeries prevented me from covering those issues. But this is a new year. It's a new election cycle.

It is obvious that 2013 is off to an OUTSTANDING start. From the moment Senator Wendy Davis rocketed into the minds of people around the world standing in the Texas Senate in her pink running shoes, it has been obvious that this is definitely not a "business as usual, boring old election cycle."

More Democrats have declared for office in Tarrant County, especially in Districts in Arlington, than I have witnessed since Ronald Reagan took office! The caliber of expertise and credentials and campaigning skill displayed among most of the first-time candidates impresses me. The Republican Primary is also lively. Tea Party candidates are challenging Republican Incumbents. Non- Tea Party Republicans are challenging Tea Party incumbents. A lot of races this year are worth watching.

Some of my favorite candidates from previous election cycles have already declared their intention to run again. Maria Luisa Alvarado, 2006 Democratic Nominee for Lt. Governor is already campaigning hard. She launched her campaign website ONE TEXAS FOR ALL.NET.

 Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has announced for Lt. Governor. For the first time in the history of the Texas Democratic Party, two strong Texas women who are both proven leaders will b. e going head-to-head, each presenting her case as to why she is the best choice for Texans as Lt. Governor. I'm enthusiastic about this race. I expect both women to expand the base of people voting Democratic with their campaigns.

Dale Henry has decided to try again to show Texas voters why they should elect a person with his knowledge and expertise in preventing Oil and Gas spills and water contamination to the Texas Rail Road Commission instead of the people that Republicans have chosen to fill those slots for decades. Each time Mr. Henry has run, he has educated Texans on the industry and the importance of sensible regulation to prevent water depletion and /or contamination.

Reclaiming the Texas Turf and Grassroots News U Can Use are two blogs where we'll be covering some of these very interesting races. There are a lot of other progressive political blogs in Texas. Perry Dorrell's Brains and  Eggs is one of my personal favorites.  David Van Os blogs as Notes from a Texas Patriot.

When it comes to issues, there are a number of excellent environmental writers. Texas Sharon remains among the best with BlueDaze.  Here in the Barnett Shale, there are a number of citizens who have turned activist and are communicating by blogs. Some of the best include:  Westchester GasetteFishCreek MonitorFort Worth CanDo,   Dallas Drilling Blog, Dallas Residents At Risk Fort Worth Follies.

On transportation, there is the Texas Democratic Pork Barrel Caucus which is a private facebook group which Texans who vote in the Democratic Primaries can ask to  join. Out of San Antonio there is a "non partisan" pac lead by Republican Terry Hall called Texas Turf. In addition to some of Texas's "Innovative financing -leveraged toll projects proving to be unprofitable and projected to go "belly up" by the summer of 2014, there are other interesting developments with Texas Roads. The wear and tear from gas production vehicular traffic has worn out a number of Texas' Farm to Market Roads. TxDOT proposes to widen them and to convert paved roads to unpaved roads.  The folks who live on those roads and have to drive long ways to shop and go to work and to the doctor and to school are "none too pleased" to say the very least at the prospect of their roads being converted to a gravel like asphalt composite because the state has mis-managed the funds they charged the gas drillers and/or transferred those dollars to other uses rather than maintaining existing roads. We'll cover that in more depth later.

Join us and KEEP WATCHING! It's already off to an exciting year.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Superrich Don't Need Our Middle Class Infrastructure

Monday, 04 November 2013 09:25By Ronnie CumminsOrganic Consumers Association | Truth-Out, Op-Ed, Nov. 4,  2013,Read more: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/19794-millions-against-monsanto-five-lessons-from-the-battle-against-gmos

America is falling apart - and this nation's super-rich are to blame.
There was once a time in America when the super-rich needed you, and me, and working-class Americans to be successful.
They needed us for their roads, for their businesses, for their communications, for their transportation, as their customers, and for their overall success.
The super-rich rode on the same trains as us, and flew in the same planes as us. They went to our hospitals and learned at our schools.

Their success directly depended on us, and on the well-being of the nation, and they knew it.
But times have changed, and the super-rich of the 21st century no longer think that you and I are needed for their continued success.
And in some ways, they have given up on America, period.
As Paul Buchheit brilliantly points out over at AlterNet, "As they accumulate more and more wealth, the very rich have less need for society. At the same time, they've convinced themselves that they made it on their own, and that contributing to societal needs is unfair to them. There is ample evidence that this small group of takers is giving up on the country that made it possible for them to build huge fortune." 
Buchheit goes on to say that, "The rich have always needed the middle class to work in their factories and buy their products. With globalization this is no longer true... They don't need our infrastructure for their yachts and helicopters and submarines. They pay for private schools for their kids, private security for their homes. They have private emergency rooms to avoid the health care hassle. All they need is an assortment of servants, who might be guest workers coming to America on H2B visas, willing to work for less than a middle-class American can afford"
Unfortunately, these millionaires and billionaires who have given up on America and on the working class are in control of the political process in this country.
They have brainwashed Republicans into thinking that the success of working-class Americans no longer matters for the future of this nation.
As a result, Republicans are no longer investing in things that have traditionally made America - and the working-class - successful.
Take America's infrastructure for example - or lack thereof.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers annual report card on America's infrastructure, America's infrastructure is a mess. 
Our roads are falling apart, our transportations systems are in turmoil, and our energy and electrical systems are stuck back in the 1900's.
new graph released by investment research firm BCA shows why. 
Non-defense related infrastructure spending was around $325 billion per year when George W. Bush stepped foot inside of the White House.
Today, it's around $235 billion per year, a $90 billion drop in funding from when Bush took office.
Republicans, brainwashed by America's super-rich, have repeatedly refused to fund comprehensive infrastructure spending bills, all in the name of austerity.
But cutting funding to the nation's infrastructure isn't the right way to address American's debt or spending problems. And it certainly isn't the right way to rebuild this nation.
As Cardiff Garcia over at The Financial Times points out, "It's also likely that much of the investment that has been forgone in the name of fiscal consolidation will have to be made eventually anyways - only it will be made when rates are higher, exacerbating the long-term fiscal outlook rather than improving it. And as Think Progress points out, "continued underfunding in this arena over the coming years will cost businesses a trillion dollars in lost sales and cost the economy 3.5 million jobs." 
The Society of Civil Engineers says that it will take a staggering $3.6 trillion investment by 2020 - or $450 billion per year - to bring the American infrastructure into the 21st century, and to avoid risking a complete infrastructure collapse.
But the super-rich don't care about how much funding is needed to save this country, as long as they have their private schools, private hospitals, private airports and private places.
The super-rich in this country are bleeding working-class Americans dry, while destroying the infrastructure of the nation that has done so much for their success.
No matter what Jamie Dimon, Charles Koch, or Shelly Adelson will tell you, America's wealthy elite did not make their fortunes on their own.
Without a strong economy and infrastructure, America's millionaires and billionaires would not be where they are today. It's that simple.
So what can we do right now to rebuild America's infrastructure and give a boost to the American economy?
First, it's time to bring an end to globalization.
We need to be protecting American jobs, instead of letting the super-rich ship them overseas and build factories in China and third-world countries.
But more importantly, we need to roll-back the Reagan tax cuts, and make sure that America's wealthy elite are paying their fair share to support our economy and infrastructure.
Right now, the burden for rebuilding America is on the backs of working-class Americans, and that's just wrong.
It's ridiculous that working-class Americans struggling to survive day-to-day are paying more in taxes than billionaire banksters and oil tycoons.
A lot has changed in America over the past 100 years or so but one thing remains the same: The success of the super-rich still depends on the success of you and me.
The super-rich still need us for their roads, for their businesses, for their communications, and for their transportation.
Our infrastructure may be crumbling, but there's still time to get America back on the road to success.
We're all in this together.
This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication.

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