Thursday, September 20, 2018

Note regarding 287

We inadvertently posted a preliminary version of No. 287. The final version will be posted within a few days. We apologize for the error.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

No. 286: Stephen R. Leimberg Speaks Out

Stephen R. Leimberg is a professional fine art, portrait, and wildlife photographer in Amelia Island, Florida. He previously taught law at Temple and Villanova University Schools of Law in their Tax Masters programs. He is a good friend of mine. He shared with me an item he had prepared in July for possible publication in his local newspaper. I thought the item deserved wider circulation. I requested, and he granted, permission for me to provide it to my readers. I edited it lightly.

by Stephen R. Leimberg

Take It Back
Republicans—Take back the Grand in your Old Party—before it is unrecognizable. Recover Abraham Lincoln's honesty and integrity and Theodore Roosevelt's care for our land. Retake the principles that the federal government should not play a big role in people's lives, that there should be less government intervention in business and the economy, that the deficit should be kept as small as possible, that good government is based on the individual, and that each person's ability, dignity, freedom, and responsibility must be honored and recognized. Demand equal rights, equal justice, and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed, age, gender, or national origin. Restore tolerance and inclusiveness and respect for different points of view. All those noble Republican principles are in great and imminent danger—not from others but from within.

The Environment
Car fuel economy and power plant emissions standards and research have been cut back. We no longer have a role in the Paris Agreement. The EPA has been emasculated—all but abandoning its stated purpose of protecting our air, water, and peoples' health and preventing toxic pollution. Sweeping cuts to research on renewable energy are proposed. What is most dangerous in all of this is the tampering with, denying, or ignoring of scientific evidence and data. The current administration continues to deny climate change—even in the face of extreme weather such as hurricanes, wildfires, rising seas, and poor air quality events. FEMA has stricken climate change from its strategic plan. The EPA's web content on the topic has been removed. Climate change is no longer listed by our government as a national threat—even though catastrophic events and their costs continue.

Consumer Protection
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau isn't. It is dropping payday lending protections and suits against online loansharking—thus encouraging unfair, deceptive, and abusive business practices. Key consumer rules and regulations dealing with everything from credit access to car loans to baby crib safety and big bank abuses and student loan frauds by for-profit colleges have been delayed. Enforcement actions against shady financial practices have been dropped or dismantled. Labor Department protections for mom and pop investors have been gutted or delayed. It is almost as if the Great Recession had not occurred; the oversight to protect the most vulnerable is being stripped and our watchdogs deliberately defanged.

Tax Law
George Will, long-time staunch defender of conservatism, said of House Speaker Paul Ryan, "He sold his soul for a tax cut." And as most economists predicted, this huge tax cut (mainly enjoyed by our most affluent individuals and big businesses) resulted in stock buybacks making the richest richer. But it has not unleashed promised post cost-of-living increase wage growth for most people. To the contrary, the massive corporate tax breaks, coupled with multi-million-dollar estate tax exemptions for the ultrarich, have racked up almost $2 trillion—in national debt! Add this to the indirect tax the tariff war will impose on consumer goods, $12 billion in emergency bail-out relief for farmers (with taxpayer dollars), and income/wealth inequality continues to rise even as real wage growth stagnates, health care costs rise, and safety-net cuts accelerate.

Regardless of one's position on admission of new individuals to citizenship in our country, separating parents from children in the heartless and incompetent way this current administration did and failure to work toward immigration legislation resulted in a shame we will all long have to carry.

Astoundingly, even the far-right Koch brothers slammed the current administration's protectionism as causing long-term damage to our country. "When in order to win on an issue somebody else has to lose, it makes it very difficult to unite people." Other Republicans vented frustration at Republican leaders who voted for a whopping $1.3 trillion spending bill, calling it "crazy." Rather than bringing the country together, the head of the current administration acts as the prince of polarization, the ally of animosity, "the apostle of anger," the Arctic bear of bullies, the deacon of divisiveness, the denunciator of the press and "elites" (people who read and write?), and the comforter and encourager of supremacists and others who promote hatred, prejudice, and discrimination. Russia's Putin has been defended but fights have been picked with our allies Canada, England, France, and Germany. Our own intelligence, diplomatic, justice department, and FBI communities have been ignored, insulted, and alienated.

Faustian Compact?
Have wealthy Republicans—as George Will said—sold their souls for tax cuts? Have we abandoned environmental safety for the sake of higher corporate profits? Has the segment of our population who fear pluralism made a deal with the devil to gain a president who will state—from the Oval Office—that it is okay to be bigoted? Has the religious right closed their eyes to moral and ethical debasement and corruption to further their goals?

Now Or Never
Republicans, take back the Grand in the Old Party. Repudiate the ugliness. Protect civil liberties and the rule of law! Silence is complicity. If inaction is your choice, the GOP's future is bleak. Choose your legacy. Stand up and demand a leadership with spine and integrity who will in turn insist upon what George Herbert Walker Bush called for, "A kinder, gentler America," and what Ronald Reagan wanted, "a shining city on a hill."


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

No. 285: The Public Citizen/Corporate Research Project Joint Report

In July 2018 two nonprofit organizations based in Washington, DC released a major joint report. It is entitled Corporate Impunity: "Tough on Crime" Trump Is Weak on Corporate Wrongdoing.

The Executive Summary
The one-page Executive Summary consists of two extraordinary tables. They compare, for twelve federal agencies, the aggregate dollar amounts of financial penalties imposed for wrongdoing and the number of enforcement actions taken during President Obama's last year and President Trump's first year. As examples, the three agencies where the aggregate dollar amounts of financial penalties declined by the largest percentages were the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Communications Commission. Aggregate financial penalties imposed by EPA declined from $23.870 billion to $1.460 billion (minus 94 percent), by DOJ from $51.506 billion to $4.898 billion (minus 90 percent), and by FCC from $257.034 million to $39.631 million (minus 85 percent). [Blogger's note: I question whether it is fair to compare the first year of a new administration with the final year of an established administration. In other words, it might have been better to compare the first year of the Trump administration with the first year of the Obama administration.]

The Introduction
The Introduction consists of six pages. Here, without footnotes, are the second and third paragraphs:
Americans are virtually united in support for regulatory enforcement. Polling shows Americans favoring tough regulatory enforcement by an 87-12 margin. Democrats (89), Republicans (85), Independents (87) all agree, as do Americans from all parts of the country: Northeast (86), Midwest (88), South (88), West (84). In focus groups, Americans connect proper and fair enforcement of the rules to concerns about a rigged political and economic system. They favor enforcement to ensure that everyone has a fair shot in society. They want assurances that weak regulatory enforcement does not enable corporations and the rich to play by a different set of rules—with everyday people held to account, but the powerful able to disregard the rules because they know they won't be enforced against them. These views are durable, and withstand counter-messaging. Indeed, Americans express overwhelming support for stronger regulatory enforcement.
Americans' overwhelming support for tough law-and-order against corporate wrongdoers reflects three interconnected understandings. First, basic standards of justice require that the rules be enforced equally against powerful corporations as they are against vulnerable individuals. Americans of all political stripes perceive that the system is rigged, creating both a crisis of political legitimacy and a pervasive sense of injustice. Second, justice requires that wrongdoers be punished—and corporate violators, who can inflict damage on a scale vastly greater than street criminals, must be punished commensurate with the scale of the harms they impose. Americans of all income brackets, for example, expressed strong support for prosecuting and seeking jail terms for high-level Wall Street executives in connection with the 2008 financial crash. Third, strong enforcement is needed to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations that protect Americans' quality of life, from clean air safeguards to protections against predatory lenders.
Body of the Report
The body of the report consists of four major sections. They are Law Enforcement, Consumer and Worker Protection, Environmental Protection, and Financial Regulation. I think the report is well worth reading. The full report is offered at the end of this post.

The Two Organizations
Public Citizen is a national nonprofit organization with more than 400,000 members and supporters. It represents consumer interests through lobbying, litigation, administrative advocacy, research, and public education on a broad range of issues including consumer rights in the marketplace, product safety, financial regulation, worker safety, safe and affordable health care, campaign reform and government ethics, fair trade, climate change, and corporate and government accountability. [Blogger's note: In the interest of full disclosure, Public Citizen Litigation Group, a unit of Public Citizen, represented me pro bono several times over the years.]

Corporate Research Project is a nonprofit center that provides research assistance to organizations working on a wide range of corporate responsibility issues. It produces public resources such as a guide to online corporate research; Corporate Rap Sheet profiles of more than 70 large and controversial companies; and Violation Tracker, a database containing more than 300,000 entries relating to corporate regulatory violations and other forms of misconduct. Corporate Research Project is an affiliate of Good Jobs First, a national resource center on economic development accountability.

Availability of the Report
I am offering a complimentary 104-page PDF containing the full joint report prepared by Public Citizen and Corporate Research Project. Email and ask for the July 2018 report on Corporate Impunity.