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Is Our Obesity Epidemic a Result of the War on Wages?

America has a growing obesity epidemic. This we know for certain. We also know that obesity is far more prevalent among poor Americans and that more and more Americans are slipping into poverty.  Real, inflation adjusted wages have been stagnant for over 30 years. Current wages are in decline and the number of people below the poverty line is near an all time high. 


What is the link between poverty and obesity?  It is a fact that the five states with the greatest obesity levels are also among the ten poorest states.  They are also among the states with the lowest life expectancy. One theory as to why the poor are more likely to be obese is that they don’t have access to healthy foods in poor neighborhoods. 

In April of this year the New York Times published an article highlighting two recent studies that looked at whether people in poor communities had access to stores and supermarkets that sold fresh, healthy foods. These  two studies found that the poor have as much, or more access to stores selling healthy foods. One study found that poor neighborhoods have twice as many fast food restaurants and corner stores, but almost twice as many supermarkets as well. So the “food desert” theory of why poor American are more obese appears to be false. 

A second theory on the connection between obesity and the poor is that they can’t afford to eat healthy. This is the “calories are cheap, nutrition is expensive” theory.  Supporting this notion a recent American Journal of Clinical Nutrition  study that found  $1 could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips but just 250 calories of vegetables and 170 calories of fresh fruit.  An excellent CNN article recently reported that:

“Ground beef that is 80/20 is fattier but cheaper than 90/10. Ground turkey breast is leaner than the other two but is usually the more expensive. And many of us can’t even begin to think about free-range chicken and organic produce — food without pesticides and antibiotics that’ll cost you a second mortgage in no time at all.”

And the cost of groceries is rising.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated the weekly grocery bill for a family of four was about at $134.50 in 2010 and $141.20 in 2011. An extra $7.00 per week is a lot for families living below the poverty line, especial when family incomes are in decline.

Other recent research also suggests a strong link between poverty, obesity and US food policy.  While genetics may play a role in obesity, socioeconomic class may be a better predictor of obesity.

AcademicEarth.org has posted a brief video on their Website explaining this link that also relates it to current U.S. food policies.  They report that Americans today eat 25% more calories than they did in the 1970’s (the same time period when hourly wages stopped rising with hourly productivity).  The additional calorie intake is skewed towards lower income families.  This important video federal food subsidies and other U.S. policies may be directly contributing to the current obesity crisis.  Please view the video here:   http://academicearth.org/electives/the-economic-cost-of-obesity/.


Created by AcademicEarth.org


Teen Pregnancy and the Bible Belt

What does the following two graphic images have to say about teenage pregnancy and religion? It might be a coincidence that the most conservative religious states have the most teenage pregnancies, but it might also be that both of these factors are related to some other factor.  The researchers who studied this data suggest that it may be conservative religious views on birth control (and abortion?) that are causing this result. What can be said for sure is teenage sexual activity doesn’t appear to be less prevalent in more religiously conservative areas of the country.



Religiosity and teen birth rate in the United States

Joseph M Strayhorn1,2* and Jillian C Strayhorn3




The children of teen mothers have been reported to have higher rates of several unfavorable mental health outcomes. Past research suggests several possible mechanisms for an association between religiosity and teen birth rate in communities.


The present study compiled publicly accessible data on birth rates, conservative religious beliefs, income, and abortion rates in the U.S., aggregated at the state level. Data on teen birth rates and abortion originated from the Center for Disease Control; on income, from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, and on religious beliefs, from the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey carried out by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. We computed correlations and partial correlations.


Increased religiosity in residents of states in the U.S. strongly predicted a higher teen birth rate, with r = 0.73 (p < 0.0005). Religiosity correlated negatively with median household income, with r = -0.66, and income correlated negatively with teen birth rate, with r = -0.63. But the correlation between religiosity and teen birth rate remained highly significant when income was controlled for via partial correlation: the partial correlation between religiosity and teen birth rate, controlling for income, was 0.53 (p < 0.0005). Abortion rate correlated negatively with religiosity, with r = -0.45, p = 0.002. However, the partial correlation between teen birth rate and religiosity remained high and significant when controlling for abortion rate (partial correlation = 0.68, p < 0.0005) and when controlling for both abortion rate and income (partial correlation = 0.54, p = 0.001).


With data aggregated at the state level, conservative religious beliefs strongly predict U.S. teen birth rates, in a relationship that does not appear to be the result of confounding by income or abortion rates. One possible explanation for this relationship is that teens in more religious communities may be less likely to use contraception.

GOP Doubles Down with Cynical Student Loan Bill


Posted by Nick Marcelli on June 18, 2013

Today, House Republican Leadership held a press conference to discuss the steps the House has taken to avoid the doubling of student loan rates on July 1. The House has already passed a solution to avoid the doubling of student loan rates that echoes the President’s own plan. It is time for the Senate to act.



Take a closer look at what the GOP and Eric Cantor are touting as a positive step to help students pay for college.

Stafford Loan – Current fixed rate for this student loan is 3.4% and it is scheduled to double in July to 6.8%.  The House GOP just passed the Smarter Solutions for Students Act (SSSA) which would end the fixed rate and calculate a variable rate at 2.5% points over the 10 year Treasury Bill rates, with a cap of 8.5% on Stafford Loans.  The average 10 yr T bill rate so far this month is 2.66%, so the current Stafford Loan rate would be 5.16%.

While the 5.16% today is better than the 6.8% rate beginning in a few weeks, the variable rate cap of 8.5% is 1.7% higher than the fixed rate would be. So Congratulations to the House GOP for passing a plan that would both lower and raise student loan rates at the same time.  If this isn’t cynical enough for you, add the SSSA’s current student loan rate of 5.16% today with the cap rate of 8.5% and then divide by two. This gives us the variable rates mid-range of 6.83%, nearly identical to the higher fixed rate as of July.  So for bankers this is a revenue neutral proposal over a range of years while current college students get only a 52% rate increase as of July.  For future college students the rate can more than double the current 3.4% fixed rate.

A look at the other provisions of the bill reveal similar findings. This could be a bill written by the student loan industry to squeeze more out of students without appearing to be quite as greedy.

Below is an analysis that (also cynically) does not assess the financial impact if the current 3.4% rate is allowed to stay the same.

H.R. 1911, Smarter Solutions for Students Act

cost estimate

may 20, 2013

read complete document  (pdf, 28 kb)

As ordered reported by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on May 16, 2013

H.R. 1911 would change the interest rates for all new federal loans to students and parents made on or after July 1, 2013, from a fixed interest rate set in statute to a variable interest rate, adjusted annually. Under the bill, interest rates for all new subsidized and unsubsidized student loans would be based on the interest rate on a 10-year Treasury note plus 2.5 percentage points, with a cap of 8.5 percent. (Borrowers pay no interest on subsidized loans while enrolled in school or during other deferment periods but are responsible for interest at all times on unsubsidized loans.) The interest rate for all new GradPLUS and parent loans would be based on the interest rate on a 10-year Treasury note plus 4.5 percentage points, with a cap of 10.5 percent. The bill also would eliminate the cap on the interest rate on all new consolidation loans (multiple loans for a single borrower combined into one loan) originated on or after July 1, 2013.

Under current law, all subsidized and unsubsidized loans originated on or after July 1, 2013, will have a fixed interest rate of 6.8 percent, and all GradPLUS and parent loans will have a fixed rate of 7.9 percent. In addition, the interest rate on all consolidation loans is capped at 8.25 percent.

CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 1911 would reduce direct spending by about $1.0 billion over the 2013-2018 period and by $3.7 billion over the 2013-2023 period. Enacting the bill would not affect revenues. Pay-as-you-go procedures apply because enacting the legislation would affect direct spending. Implementing the bill would not have a significant impact on spending subject to appropriation.

Wealth Inequality and Our Brewing Social Crisis

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Wealth disparity has a profound, relativistic impact in human societies and this is worth understanding. Even in the most egalitarian societies where everything is shared, there are subtle differences in the distribution of goods and services. These small differences convey powerful social messages that are keenly felt by all its members. These messages impact social interactions and the social order. Wealth distribution has powerful symbolic meaning in every society, large or small, rich or poor.


Wealth Disparity is Worse Than You Think – Business Insider

When the actual material differences in wealth are subtle, the costs or benefits conferred by wealth distribution are limited to social perceptions and its impact on social order or governance. These material differences are not existential threats to the socially disadvantaged. However, as the actual material differences between members of society grows, the scarcity of essential resources for some may follow. This becomes ever more consequential as it increases the efforts needed to assure survival. It introduces more uncertainty and decreases the sense of  personal control. Distribution induced disparity can grow to the point where it can even become life threaten. Additionally, the social power differential grows to the point where social relationships by the advantaged towards the disadvantaged can become exploitive and extractive.

Under conditions of extreme wealth disparity there are  physical and psychological impacts on both the powerful and less powerful. The Socially disadvantaged undergo significant stress and will exhibit all the symptoms and conditions associated with chronic stress (alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, maladaptive behaviors, obesity, child abuse, poor health outcomes, etc.). What is important to understand is that it is the disparity in wealth that induces social stress, not the absolute measure of wealth. Extreme wealth disparity becomes pathological in all societies, both rich or poor. This appears to have been true throughout history. Evidence of the corrosive effects of social disparity has even been demonstrated in research studying the impact of dominance on subordinate primate populations, so this appears to be a natural phenomenon.

Extreme wealth disparity is a threat to society. This fact is underappreciated by many. And distribution induced shortages don’t need to be at starvation levels before reaching critical mass, especially in wealthy countries like ours. Pundits have used this starvation metric or comparisons of our poverty to that found in poor countries to dismiss the current threat we face from rapidly growing wealth disparity. A better measure of our social instability is the health and welfare of the nation’s poor. The ranks of the poor are growing and their welfare is rapidly deteriorating. Here we find a conspiracy of silence in the main stream press. The symptoms of poverty induced stress have been reinterpreted as moral weaknesses and personal failings for which the poor have no one but themselves to blame. Both the unfair distribution of current wages and the redistribution of wealth through taxes to assist the poor are almost taboo subjects. To raise these issues is to be accused of inciting class warfare, which is exactly what has been raging for decades to bring us to this point.

The last time America experienced such enormous wealth disparity we were fortunate that the worst consequence was the Great Depression and not a total social collapse. The Great Recession of 2008 is an early warning of what will happen if we don’t correct our current wealth imbalance. So far the alarm bells are ringing but the public address system is still on mute.

1st Qrt Report: Wages Sharply Down, Bank Profit at Record High

This is an mportant story that I want to share with readers of this blog.  I encourage everyone to watch the video. Feel free to add your comments.

The Real News Network

Bank Profits Soar, Wages Suffer Sharpest Decline in 60 Years

 Bill Black: The economy is recovering – unless you work for a paycheck. –   June 9, 2013

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to the latest edition of The Black Financial and Fraud Report with Bill Black, who now joins us from Kansas City, Missouri.  Bill is an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He’s a white-collar criminologist and former financial regulator. And he’s the author of the book The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One.

 Thank you for joining us, Bill.


NOOR: So, Bill, what can you tell us about this latest news from the first-quarter? Bank profits soared to record levels while wages suffered their sharpest decline since 1947.

BLACK: What it all adds up to, of course: it is a very good time and a very good country to be a plutocrat, because the rich are getting richer at a staggering rate and poor people are actually getting poorer, just like the same saying goes.

So we’ve got a series of news that it has just come in this week. One thing shows that we have the largest decline in wages. Boy, that’s a big win. And that follows–that’s for the first quarter of 2013. And that follows what was a huge quarter for income in the fourth quarter, in other words the last three months of 2012. But, of course, there’s a footnote on that. And that huge quarter at the end of last year was to beat the tax increase. So that was the massive payment of bonuses to the wealthiest Americans. So they made sure the wealthiest Americans got their money before the tax increases kicked in.

And what happened as soon as we got back to the regular economy? Well, wages haven’t simply stalled; they’ve actually gotten negative. And productivity is up, which is supposed to mean that wages are up, but wages have gone in the opposite direction. So that’s the news on the wages front.

On the bank profit front, hey, we’ve got the highest reported profits ever for the first quarter of this year. Now, the twist in all of this is that the statistics, when you look at them closely, show the banks weren’t all that profitable in their regular operations, because, of course, they’re not making all that much in the way of loans and such. They’re mostly sitting on their money.

So how did the banks report record profits, but when they were doing their day-to-day business they weren’t earning all that much in the way of super profits? And the answer to all of that is that they reversed out a whole bunch of reserves for future losses, which is the same game they played leading up to the crisis. So reserves for those massive future losses, they’ve made them lower and lower. At the end of 2006, they had gotten to the lowest level of reserves against future losses in history since the savings and loan debacle. And we all know how disastrously this ended. Well, guess what? We’re at the record low again in 2007.

And this is how the accounting works. Every dollar they take out of reserves for future losses is an additional dollar they can pay in bonuses to the top executives. So the wealthier are getting wealthier at a record rate in banking as well.

So what else is happening? Well, we have record stock market appreciation. In fact, there’s a neat headline that says that when you disregard inflation–which of course you can’t–the losses that people suffered in the Great Recession have now been made back. It took a lot of years to do it, but they’ve made it back. But, of course, there’s a footnote, and the footnote says this: well, regular people haven’t, but people who own stock have made out like bandits. They’ve had a recovery measured by $1.5 trillion, and 80 percent of that gain goes to the 20 percent of richest Americans. So, hey, stock market–great news for the wealthy.

Well, but there was also some potential good news. So housing prices have finally started to go upwards. And that’s good news for all kinds of Americans who own their homes. But, again, there’s a little hitch in all of this, ’cause it turns out that for the first time in American history, a huge portion of these gains are going to massive corporations and investment firms and hedge fund types, and they are because they’re making massive purchases of homes at distressed prices to serve as what we call in the trade vulture funds and to sell it back to regular folks when those housing prices have appreciated. So a lot of this gain in housing prices is not going to regular people; it’s going to go to the hedge fund executives, who are already the wealthiest people in the world.

And how does all of this sum it up? Well, I did a paper recently on the Nobel Prize awarded to Mr. Myerson. Dr. Myerson got this award in 2007 when the world was blowing up, and he got the award for proving that fraud couldn’t exist in the financial sector. And he proved this by assuming that fraud couldn’t exist. And his mechanism for assuming that fraud doesn’t exist is plutocracy. And indeed he says the great advantage of the market system compared to socialism is that we have billionaires, and he says that people who are not that rich, in other words, ordinary multimillionaires who are CEOs, if they act rationally–that’s his word–will loot their corporations. And so the only safe thing we can do is to make some segment of Americans billionaires–in fact, probably multibillionaires–so they can run our largest corporations and made–be made into mega-billionaires. So you get a Nobel Prize for creating a system that leads to recurrent intensifying financial crises that caused $10 billion in losses in the United States and the loss of $10 million jobs. And we are told that we’re supposed to be happy and bless the system because it creates plutocrats who have incomes in the multibillion dollars who, when there is a crisis–in the words of Myerson in another article, people who are poor should pay taxes to bail out billionaire bankers, because that will be good for the poor people. That’s the status of economics in the modern era.

NOOR: So, Bill, it would seem like the dominoes are in a row for another massive financial meltdown. Would you disagree?

BLACK: No, that’s exactly what they’re putting in place. And they’re going to make the folks wealthy on both ends, right? We’re told that they have to be made billionaires so that they can invest prudently during the expansion phase of the bubble. And as soon as they destroy the economy, we’re told that we have to bail them out and make them ever wealthier. And the way we do all of these things increases the rewards to fraud and reduces the penalty to fraud, and especially in the modern era where you can dilute with impunity under the administration’s too-big-to-prosecute-or-even-indict standard.

NOOR: And finally, Bill, where are the movements that are challenging these policies?

BLACK: Well, they’re certainly not in either of the major parties. There are, of course, progressives within the Democratic Party, and they do some things, but in truth, both parties’ leadership are heavily dependent on funding from the largest banks and from other plutocrats. You’ve just seen the the Obama administration put a Pritzker in a cabinet position where the Pritzkers have a terrible reputation. And you saw that the Republicans, who usually block anyone that Obama nominates, were more than happy to have one of those wealthy folks, who is one of their kind, in a cabinet position.

So the dissent remains on places that are not typically found in the mainstream media, the Occupy movements and such. And, you know, it’s going to be the next crisis before there’s any serious chance of serious reform.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us, Bill.

BLACK: Thank you.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

Bio – William K. Black, author of THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE, teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). He was the Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention from 2005-2007. He has taught previously at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and at Santa Clara University, where he was also the distinguished scholar in residence for insurance law and a visiting scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Black was litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, deputy director of the FSLIC, SVP and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and senior deputy chief counsel, Office of Thrift Supervision. He was deputy director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement. Black developed the concept of “control fraud” frauds in which the CEO or head of state uses the entity as a “weapon.” Control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime combined. He recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and served as an expert for OFHEO in its enforcement action against Fannie Mae’s former senior management.

The Real IRS Tax Scandal

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Here is the Internal Revenue Service controversy in a nut shell. Rank and file IRS agents used search terms such as “tea party” to triage a mountain of applications for tax exempt status. What the agents were trying to identify were applications where the purposes of the organizations were primarily political. Under IRS regulations, organizations applying for 501(c)(4) tax exempt status must primarily be involved in social welfare activity. All the triaged applications were eventually approved. Virtually everyone agrees the IRS must be politically neutral, so the methods the agents used to organize their workload is not an acceptable practice.

This principle and these core facts are not in dispute by anyone familiar with the details. The partisan contentions understandably arise from the lengthy inaction by senior IRS officials to end this practice. Were senior managers incredibly blind to what agents were doing or did they turn a blind eye?  If it was the latter, did they ignore the practice for practical reasons or political reasons?  Who up the political chain of command knew of the practice and when did they learn about it?

As happens often in today’s politically charged atmosphere, the partisan conflagration set off by the revelations is sucking all the oxygen out of the room leaving no one to explore why these practices developed in the first place.  The “scandal” is a media induced distraction from much more serious problems under the surface.  Among the questions we should be asking are these:

Is there an increase in tax exempt applications and is the increase asymmetrical?

Probably so, although the assessment of this is indirect.  According to an analysis of data released by the IRS in response to the criticism, Martin A. Sullivan of TaxAnalysitst.org found that among the tax exempt applications approved by the IRS about two-thirds were submitted by conservative organizations.  The remainder were either liberal leaning organizations or politically neutral.  According to Professor Rob Reich in the April/May Boston Review, there has also been an unprecedented growth in the number of charitable foundation, or 501(c)(3) organizations. He attributes this to the growing wealth of the richest Americans. They are establishing foundations to leave a legacy and project their political influence on society from beyond the grave.  So far, according to the IRS and other sources, there does appear to be a sharp increase in 501(c)(3) and (4) applications for tax exempt status. It also appears that this increase in applications are skewed towards conservative organizations and wealthy donors.

Is there a problem with tax exempt 501(c)(3) and (4) organizations being too overtly political, and if so, is the problem asymmetrical?


Image of Karl Rove by chicagopublicmedia/Flickr

According to some sources, since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case there has been a  growing number of wealthy people and corporations creating charitable foundations and social welfare organizations through which predominantly political messages are being delivered to the public, tax free.  Just as we have increasingly been subsidizing big business through corporate welfare, we may now be subsidizing political messaging campaigns directed at us.

Here is an experiment readers can replicate for themselves. Type “left wing organizations” in a Google search. You will see that two right wing organizations and one left wing organization pop up. The first of these is discoverthenetwors.org, a “Guide to the Political Left” put out by David Horowitz’ Freedom Center Foundation. This guide is an alphabetical listing of allegedly left wing organizations, but looking down the list you will see it lumps together such “subversive” left wing organizations as the AARP and Abu Nidal.  Abu Nidal is a Middle-East, “Spinoff of the Palestine Liberation Organization… [that] Has killed or maimed more than 900 people in over 20 countries.”

According to it’s mission, “The David Horowitz Freedom Center combats the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror.”

Painting the American left as affiliates of Islamist terrorists (or other notorious dictatorships as seen in on other sites) is a common theme on some conservative websites.  This information is what passes as a public educational service justifying tax exempt status.  Additionally, the site contains ads, which may or may not be paid advertizing.  The site does claim to be 501(c)(3) tax exempt and solicits the viewers tax exempt donations.

The next organization on the search list is the Western Center for Journalism.  It bills itself as a 501(c)3 tax exempt foundation and accepts tax exempt donations, yet it describes itself as a conservative organization and promotes a book written by the organizations current president, Floyd Brown.  Brown’s latest book, “Obama Enemies List: How Barack Obama Intimidated America and Stole the Election”, was released  in January 2013. Virtually all of the contents on this site are partisan in topic and perspective.  One article by Steve Baldwin, for instance, starts out this way:

Very few Americans realize there exists a large network of far left philanthropists and foundations in America dedicated to destroying the American way of life, our Christian-based culture and our free enterprise system. They seek to remove America from its constitutional foundations and move it toward a European-style socialism. Much of this effort is coordinated by a little known group called the Tides Foundation and its related group, the Tides Center.”

So I looked into the Tides Center and found it to be a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to fund projects related to:

Art & Film, Civic Engagement, Civil Discourse, Community Development, Disability Rights, Economic Justice,’ Economic Opportunity, Education/Training, Environmental Sustainability, Faith & Spirituality, Food & Agriculture, Health Services/Healthcare Reform, HIV/AIDS, Housing/Homelessness, Human Rights, Immigration, International Development, LGBT Issues, Media ,Native Communities, Nonprofit Spaces, Peace & Conflict Resolution, Professional Development, Racial Justice, Reproductive Justice & Health, Technology, Women & Gender, Youth Development & Organizing”

Donations to the Tides Center are tax exempt, but other than its support for some issues unpopular with conservatives you will find nothing overtly political on the web site.

The third organization on the Google search list is the RightWingWatch.org operated by People for the American Way.  This is a liberal organization.  RightWingWatch was on the search list in connection with an article refuting a claim by Rick Joyner that Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City Bomber) was actually a left wing radical, not a right wing terrorist.  Rick Joyner is the founder and executive director of MorningStar Ministries and Heritage International Ministries. He is also the Senior Pastor at the MorningStar Fellowship Church, a tax exempt organization.

People for the American Way bills itself as a 501(c)(4) organization, but they don’t use our tax money. When you donate you get this disclaimer:

Because we lobby Congress, donations to People For the American Way, a nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization, are not tax deductible.”

In contrast, Freedom Works Foundation is a conservative non-profit organization. It is currently headed by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Republican. The site say it is inspired by the leadership of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.  It’s content is distinctly and exclusively conservative. If you press the icon to donate to the foundation web site you are taken to the donation page for Freedom Works (without the word “foundation”) which is a political action organization. There you will be given a choice to donate, “… where my donation will be used directly in the fight in Washington,” or “… where my donation will be 100% tax deductable and will be used for education, research and other efforts.” So the Freedom Works Foundation, which is tax exempt, shares the donation page of Freedom Works, which isn’t tax exempt.

Now, for symmetry sake, Google “right wing organizations.” The first three organizations (excluding the C.S. Monitor) on the search list are People for the American Way (or RightWingWatch), which does not count donations as tax deductions, the PublicEye.org operated by a tax exempt group named Political Research Associates, and Common Dreams, also tax exempt.  The Common Dreams link is to a three paragraph article on the resignation of the IRS commissioner.  It isn’t particularly political.  The People for the American Way provides an extensive list of right leaning organizations with detailed information on each.  Unlike the David Horowitz Freedom Center, this list appears to contain only US organizations.  There is no attempt to link these groups to foreign or domestic terrorist organizations. The site describes their effort this way:

“Right Wing organizations come in all shapes and sizes, from think tanks to legal groups, local and national lobbying organizations, foundations and media forums. At any given moment, the Right is at work in our public school systems, courthouses, in Congress and state assemblies. At the same time, right-wing groups are reaching huge audiences through media outlets they own or influence — promoting regressive policies that seek to drive wedges between and among Americans.”

So regressive policies and promoting division among citizens is the worst this group has to say about right wing organizations.

Political Research Associates also provides a list of right wing organizations similar to the one at the PFAW. This list is far less detailed.  It doesn’t include foreign or terrorist organizations.  There are no militia groups, or hate groups or overtly raciest organizations on the list as far as I can tell.  It doesn’t include the Aryan Nation or the Klu Klux Klan, for instance.

This isn’t an exhaustive survey, of course.  It’s just an exercise. But on the face of things it does appear that some tax exempt organizations have a very political agenda.  It also seems that conservative leaning non-profits are more overtly political and include more information of questionable educational value. The problem of political activity among tax exempt groups seems asymmetrical.  The added value to the public worthy of extending tax credits to these, or to any overtly political organization is dubious.


Does the IRS have the personnel and resources to properly handle their workload?

According to the IRS, the answer is no. IRS funding was held flat for three years between FY 2005 and 2007. There was a 2.5% cut in its 2012 budget and now it is being squeezed by budget cuts and the sequestration, prompting protests by IRS personnel. There is also this summary of the IRS situation prior to the last two years of budget cuts:

The most serious problem facing U.S. taxpayers is the combination of the IRS’ expanding workload and the limited resources available to the IRS to handle it. Among the consequences:

•       the IRS is unable to adequately meet the service needs of the taxpaying public. [it’s only funded at an 80% level for this service.]

•       the IRS is unable to adequately detect and address noncompliance, requiring honest taxpayers to shoulder a disproportionately large share of the tax burden.

•       the IRS is unable to maximize revenue collection, contributing to the federal budget deficit. 

 —National Taxpayer Advocate, 2011 Annual Report to Congress

So the answer to this question seems to be no. This gives credence to claims that IRS line staff were triaging tax exempt applications to better handle their workloads. It also suggests that the problem of the huge collection gap, between what is owed and what is paid, won’t be fixed anytime soon. It has been estimated by the IRS’s own computer analysis that there are about a million tax returns each year that appear to contain fraudulent information but are not audited.  At a time when the federal government is starving for revenue the anti-tax sentiments in congress seem to extent to collection of legally due taxes, not just tax increases.

Finally, is IRS agents to determine the degree of political activity permitted by current IRS regulations an impossible job?

The answer to this last question is yes, it is absolutely impossible. In the increasingly polarized politics of today there are often disagrements on who is a liberal or a conservative. The two camps can’t even on a common set of facts for any given topic.  How can the IRS possibly create a suitable metric for deciding which 501(c)(4) organizations have crossed the political line. Even more importantly, why is the IRS even trying to make room for political activity for tax exempt organizations? The clear intent of the law excludes the  from any political activity at all.  This is what tax payers should demand in exchange for the tax break these organization receive from us.

Here then is the real scandal. The IRS, one of the most fundamental agencies in government, is under staff and without resources by congressional design at a time when it faces massive fraud and abuse, growing anti-tax sentiments and a groundswell of people and organizations trying to claim tax exemptions for overtly political purposes. It is trying to police this latter situation with an unenforceable and illegal regulation that it has been saddled with for over 60 years. Why isn’t this the real IRS scandal?

Virginia Gives Many Former Felons Permission to Vote

In Civil Rights Victory, Virginia Restores Voting Rights for Hundreds of Thousands Nonviolent Felons

In a major victory for voting rights, Virginia’s Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has announced he will automatically restore voting rights for people with nonviolent felony convictions. His decision will eliminate the two-year waiting period and petition process that currently disenfranchises thousands of nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences and satisfied all the conditions of their punishments. According to the Sentencing Project, 350,000 Virginians who have completed their sentences remained disenfranchised in 2010. We speak to Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of NAACP, which has been on the forefront of the campaign to restore voting rights to former felons. The news comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue a major ruling that could decide the future of the Voting Rights Act.  Please click here to see this video episode. It explains the issues behind this very welcome development. This is really great news.  It doesn’t, however, change Virginia’s constitution and it is based on an executive decree, which another governor can simply recind. So the title of the piece is a little misleading since it doesn’t change anyones voting rights, it simply restores the ability of a class of non-violent former felons to vote.
I have written extensively on voting rights.  What rights you have regarding voting is determined by which state you happen to live.  The federal constitution only limits the ability of states to discriminate based on age, race, gender and such. States’ constitutionally explicit voting rights are much vary greatly and are not as comprehensive as most citizens would believe.  What isn’t explicit in constitutional language, however, is usually provided in state statues so that voting in every state looks much more uniform and universal than it actually is.   For more on state-by-state constitutional voting rights, click here.
In addition to general voting rights outlined in state constitutions, most states have constitutional exceptions as to who may or may not be allowed to vote.  Below is a table which shows common voter qualification and disqualifications as contained in the state constitutions.
Number of States WithThis Right
Percent of US Population With ThisRight
Must be A US Citizen
Must be Registered to vote
State’s Deployed Solders Can Vote
Felony Exception
Treason Exception
Incarceration Exception
Mental Capacity Exception
Moral Conduct or other Exception
Restoration from Exception
No quartered solders
Right to Appeal Voter Ineligibility
The greatest variation among state constitutions involves voter disqualifications.  Thirty-seven states don’t allow felons to vote and twelve states also include treason as a voter disqualification, but there are differences in how broadly or narrowly these exceptions are defined. http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2012/04/can-convicted-felon-vote-major.html
State statute laws and policies create a certian amount of lattitude to manipulate the voter roles. This has become a problem in recent election cycles.  Here is just one example pertaining to felons that appeared in the Huffington Post prior to the last presidential election.
Posted: 07/12/2012 3:01 pm Updated: 07/12/2012 3:08 pm
Michael McLaughlin

“A record number of Americans with criminal records cannot vote in what is expected to be a tight presidential election, a new study says.

More than 5.85 million adults who’ve been convicted of a felony aren’t welcome at polling places, according to data through 2010 compiled by The Sentencing Project. That’s 600,000 more than in 2004, the last time the nonprofit group crunched the numbers.

“The vast majority of these disenfranchised adults have been released from prison. Sentencing Project researchers found more than 4 million Americans who cannot cast a ballot because they’re on probation or parole, or live in a state that withholds the right to vote from all ex-felons.


  • More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities.
  • For Black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day.
These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on
drugs,” in which two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. – The Sentencing Project


When Beauty is Average

Beauty is average. This is truly a paradigm shifting truth.  It is confirmed by both digital photography studies and new understandings of how our brains process information. It turns out Plato had it right when he said there was a place where ideal objects existed, he just didn’t know he was describing a function of our cerebral cortex.  The ideal table, for instance, is a mental construct or image in our brain that allows us to recognize infinite variations in size, shape, purpose, color, aspect, texture, design, etc.  as an object that is still a table. This is a remarkable fact in itself. But then comes the discovery that the most beautiful human faces ends up being the average face. This is mind blown.


individual face individual face individual face individual face individual face composite face
Individual Faces Composite Face

The idea that beauty is average comes from the digital age where photographs can be rendered in pixel formats.  The size of the pixels determines the resolution of the photographs.  High resolution photographs have many more pixels.  Some researchers got the bright idea of taking a lot of high resolution digital portraits of men and woman and then averaging the value of all the pixels that comprised the human male and female face to create a composite image.  The images they created of the pixel averaged faces for men and woman turned out to be strikingly beautiful.

Next the researchers took the composite images along with the digital photos of the faces that made up the composite face, and showed these to lots of people. They asked the subjects to rate or rank the beauty of the faces.  The researchers found that the average pixel face was most often rated the most beautiful.  And so we discovered that beauty is literally the average.

The researchers suggested that as a species the ability to identify beauty, or the average face, may have served a natural selection purpose.  They speculated that people with an exactly average appearance are more likely to be healthy, normal and able to have children.  Maybe so.  Who knows.

What the study also proved, but what the researchers didn’t highlight, is the amazing ability of the brain to identify the exact average of so many faces it encounters.  If you think of a bell curve from statistics, the exact average is a relatively small or thin line within the normal range while the normal range of human faces is huge.  Just look around and you will see tremendous variations of human faces and body types.  But the exact average, or median, of all faces or body types occurs in very few individuals within the population.  This fact preserves the truth that beauty is actually very rare.

If it seems like an impossible task for the brain to identify the approximate average human face, then recent understandings of the hierarchical nature of how our cortex processes data suggest how this is done.  It turns out that our cerebral cortex creates idealized images of every object we see in our world.   This allows us to  rapidly and correctly identify object no matter what portion of them we see or individual attributes they may have, such as  color, size, texture, composition, design, etc.  This attribute also allows us to create idealized images of a human face.

So beauty is average and our brains have a nearly universal sense of beauty.  We share this sense because we all have a similar pool of faces from which to identify the average face.

This has profound implications for the arts, but even more profound social implications.  It explains how in my desire to be different as a young man I found myself conforming to my peers.  When I was young and wanted to distinguish myself from my parents generation.  One way I did this was by crudely cutting off the legs off my jeans to create cut-off. It turns out everyone else in my generation was wearing them.  I was one of the crowd.  In trying to be different from my parents I conformed to others who, like me, also wanted to be different.  I identified with an image of who I wanted to be that happened to be the idealized, or exact average, of every other young person wishing to make the same statement.

As it turns out, this self-identified peer conformity is a ubiquitous feature of our human nature.  It is possible because of our ability to sort out and idealize groups of objects or people. If I asked you to imagine yourself as a Harley motorcycle biker, you would conger up an idealized version of a biker that approximately represents the average Harley biker.  If you acted on this image you might buy and personalize a leather jacket, and do the same for other garments and accessories, until you were satisfied that you fit in with the self-identified peer group of Harley bikers.

We almost effortlessly do this sorting and self-identifying all the time.  It explains how we are both so diverse and yet so conforming. We are always moving toward some idealized average image of the groups or things with which we identify even as those idealized averages are shifting over time.  But when it comes to thinking about beauty, there is something reassuring about the fact that what makes beautiful people so special is the fact that they are so average.  It somehow makes me more content being more or less “normal”.