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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Accelerating to the Future


In 1994, I attended an event at the Waldorf Astoria in New York to discuss the Internet and what was its future.  There were many of the players in discussion forums like Bill Gates, Steve Case, Larry Ellison, etc.

The keynote speakers were the Futurists, Alvin and Heidi Toffler.

In 1970 they wrote a book called Future Shock.  Tofflers' main point was that the world was going through wrenching change from an industrial to a post industrial or technology society.  Decades latter the book holds up well.  One of their arguments is that the rate of change is accelerating.  In other words, if you think the world is transforming fast now, just wait; soon it will be happening faster.

The Tofflers' concept of accelerating change is most pertinent to Silicon Valley and technology, which drive so much of the transformation in our economy but are also vulnerable to the forces they describe.  How can such business retain their customers when there are always newer, shinier competitors coming along?

Tofflers' concept, Desynchronization, which they describe as “businesses and family structures are transforming at a much more rapid rate than are reforms in our education, political, and legal systems.”

During the event, Steve Case said Tofflers’ The Third Wave, published in 1980, was instrumental in his thinking while he created AOL.  Ted Turner credited the Tofflers' with inspiring him to start CNN.  Bill Gates said the Internet was not going to work and left, but we continued with the rest of the sessions.

In the summer of 1996, I went to work in Seattle as the Acting COO and CIO for Multiple Zones, the direct marketing company that produced The PC Zone and The MAC Zone catalogs, selling hardware and software from Microsoft and Apple.

During this period, I worked with Microsoft to beta test the ability to sell and download software over the Internet.  Bill Gates changed his mind.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Friday, July 18, 2014

New Ways to Propose Legislation to Your Lawmakers


Politicians have long been scratching their heads on how to restore the increasingly fractured relationship with constituents.  So as more Americans migrate online, lawmakers are experimenting with crowdsourcing as a means to better understand voter needs and to create policy that answers their concerns.

In states such as New York and California, code repositories such as GitHub and writing workspaces like Wikispaces are fast becoming mediums for politicians to field feedback or help drafting legislation, Government Technology reports.

In fact, California Democrat Assemblyman Mike Gatto gained great fanfare for his Wikispaces initiative, which enlisted residents to help draft legislation on probate law.  The measure, which enables a court to determine who becomes guardian of a deceased person’s pet, may have been a small contribution to the state, but it motivated Gatto to further pursue the idea of crowd sourcing policy.  Gatto contends that crowdsourcing could bridge the longstanding gap between elected officials and frustrated constituents.

“When you put out a call like I did and others have done and say ‘I’m going to let the public draft a law and whatever you draft, I’m committed to introducing it, I think that’s a powerful message,” Gatto said.  “I think the public appreciates it because it makes them understand that the government still belongs to them.”

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos uses GitHub to collect public commentary on much of his technology-related legislation.  Kallos finds crowdsourcing as an empowering tool that creates a different sense of democracy, he told Government Technology.

The Catwaba Regional Council of Governments in South Carolina and the Centralia Council of Governments in North Carolina are surveying local insight how leaders should plan for growth in the area.  Earlier this year, residents were given iPads at a public forum to review four ideas for growth and provide feedback.

Of course, there’s a chance that special interest groups can manipulate these digital tactics to dictate how policy is shaped.  Crowdsourcing expert Trond Undheim cautions that while the concept is great for public engagement, lawmakers should be careful with whom is influencing how laws are written.  But Gatto maintains that Wikispace provides safeguards about editing a crowdsourced bill if it is apparent someone is changing legislation for the wrong reason.

“I think as long as there is sufficient participation, and that’s the big key, then I don’t think anyone can pull a fast one,” Gatto said.

But perhaps that’s the point of crowdsourcing: underscoring the very idea of democracy and giving everyone an opportunity to speak up

But there are potential problems to overcome.  Who will have access to an online system, who monitors the production of a bill, and how is the potential constitutionality maintained?










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kansas Looking at Repealing the 17th Amendment


On July 12, at Wichita State University, an event was held in Kansas to promote Republicans.  The brain-trust in attendance represented the ideas of Kansas conservative future: Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, current sitting Representative from District 4, Todd Tiahrt, the Republican who is running against Mike Pompeo (frmr. US House of Rep), and Milton Wolf, candidate for US Senate.

The gathering, sponsored by The Kansas Fairtax group, an organization who has as a chief goal the abolition of the IRS took time on Saturday to explain to Kansans why they too should be clamoring for and end to the IRS.

One notable Kansan that was pee-announced as a potential attendee who did in fact not attend became the launching point for a new discussion.  Pat Roberts, sitting US Senator elected not to attend.  His lack of attendance led the Fairtax organization to an entirely new discussion, the repeal of the 17th Amendment, or the Popular Vote for US Senators.

There are some ideas that on first blush when you are told about them you have to laugh.  They seem as though they represent the opinion of the absolute fringe.  In 2004, Republican Candidate Alan Keyes brought up the idea of ending the common election of US Senators, reverting it back to the prior method, having the statehouse chose the two representatives.

In 2004, when Keyes made his pitch, most thinking people wrote it off as quackery.  Even his fellow Republicans on stage were not impressed.

The 17th Amendment, which provided a direct election of senators by the populace was designed to help combat the wealthy from buying political power.  In the era of Citizens United that may seem a stretch, but we have to go back to history and remember what it was like before the 17th Amendment.

On Saturday, repeating the Alan Keyes talking points, Republicans in Kansas reminded us of the powerful senators who were selected prior to the 17th Amendment... Henry Clay, Calhoun and so on.

As Republicans speakers advocated getting rid of the democratic process in selecting a sitting US Senator, at one point yelling from the stage that: It is time for us to return to our constitutional government!  As it was originally imagined by our founding fathers!

This new call to repeal the 17th Amendment has apparently become a calling card for the Tea Party.  As more conservative rallies address the idea and speak of it glowingly.   The audience was asked again in Wichita:

"Do you want the government our founders imagined?"

Which of course delivered the expected cheers.  What kind of government is that though?  That repealing constitutional amendments is now a part of their rally cry toward their base.

While Republicans from the stage were keen to promote the idea of federalism and why the Senate was supposed to be 'The States House" they failed to mention exactly what precipitated the 17th Amendment.  It's funny, especially in Kansas, as the conviction of Joseph R. Burton for taking direct checks as an act of bribery happened right in their backyard.  That's right, one of the last senators sent to prison is the one that helped the push for the 17th, came from Kansas.

Intimidation and bribery marked some of the states' selection of senators.  Nine bribery cases were brought before the Senate between 1866 and 1906.  In addition, forty-five deadlocks occurred in twenty states between 1891 and 1905, resulting in numerous delays in seating senators.  In 1899, problems in electing a senator in Delaware were so acute that the state legislature did not send a senator to Washington for four years.

This included Senators who made their way into office after specifically bribing statehouses, and parties who intentionally refused to select.  This led to Grover Cleveland referring to the Senate as the "Robber House".

Still, nothing stopped Kansas Republicans from taking up the new talking point: Repeal the right of a popular vote.

Because as we all know, the greatest problem facing our country is there is just too darn much voting.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Oregon Will Have a Top-Two Primary Initiative on the Ballot


Oregonians could dramatically alter the way they choose candidates if a ballot initiative to open the state's primary elections passes in November.

The Oregon Open Primary Initiative qualified for the November ballot with 91,716 valid signatures, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

The measure would create a new, nonpartisan primary election process where candidates from all parties appear on a single ballot.  The two candidates who received the most votes in that election would advance to a general election.

Supporters of the measure point to the rising number of Oregonians who choose not to register as a Republican or Democrat as a sign the mood is shifting.  Nearly one-third of the state's voters currently belong to a minor party or have no party affiliation.

Allowing all registered voters from a district to be involved in selecting the general election candidates is one of the strongest arguments for the initiative, said Edwin Dover, a political science professor at Western Oregon University.  He also said the initiative could be a workaround for gerrymandering, which is a way of drawing districts so they favor one party over another.

The campaign has received more than $500,000 in donations, according to online records from the Secretary of State's Office.

"I've seen a number of ballot measures defeated and come back and win," Dover said. "I think there is a general disgust with the legislative process in the country that could push this idea over the top."










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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When Inversion Becomes Evasion




Big Business is eagerly demanding and acquiring rights meant for people.  But when it comes to the duties shared by members of a thriving society, corporations are increasingly skipping town.

Some American corporations are essentially renouncing their citizenship so they can stop paying U.S. Corporate taxes, even as they benefit from innumerable advantages of doing business, and making record profits, here.

This corporate ploy is called “inversion.”

A better word might be “evasion.”

Inversion is when an American corporation seeks out and merges with a (usually smaller) foreign business, then uses the country where that business is located for tax purposes, thereby avoiding U.S. corporate taxes.

For example, Walgreens — the American drugstore chain — has begun the process of merging with a Swiss company and may reincorporate in Switzerland, a well-known tax haven.  If Walgreens goes through with this tactic, it could cost our economy nearly a billion dollars a year in lost tax revenue.

We have to stop this trend before it spins completely out of control.

Walgreens — like most American corporations — relies on public resources like roads to move its products around the country, police to protect its stores from crime, and schools to develop its workforce.  And about 25% of Walgreens’ business comes from taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Dozens of large corporations — including pharmaceutical Pfizer and agribusiness behemoth Chiquita — have already completed or considered this unpatriotic maneuver.

Big Business wants all the advantages of operating in America.  But it expects the rest of us to pick up the tab, even as it sees record profits.

Join Public Citizen and USAction in saying “No!” to Corporate America’s sneaky, unpatriotic scheme to skip out on its financial obligations here at home.

If you agree, add your name right now to the petition to stop the inversion evasion.

CLICK HERE to sign the petition to stop Big Business from setting up sham headquarters in tax havens to dodge their tax obligations here in America.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Justice Department Joins Voting Rights Cases In Wisconsin and Ohio


Attorney General Eric Holder revealed the Justice Department will sign on to lawsuits challenging new voting restrictions in Wisconsin and Ohio.

"We have already filed suit in Texas and North Carolina," Holder said.  "I expect that we are going to be filing in cases that are already in existence in Wisconsin as well as in Ohio."

Holder said "the right to vote is the most basic of all our rights," and that he will "use every power that I have, every ability that I have as Attorney General to defend that right to vote."

The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups are challenging restrictions passed in Ohio that cut early voting days, ended same-day registration and removed early voting on Sundays and weekday evenings.  A federal judge restored early voting that takes place on the last three days before the election in June.  However, the other restrictions will still go into effect.

Civil rights proponents say such restrictions disproportionately affect groups including minorities, students and seniors.

They charge in their complaint filed July 1 that the new restrictions would "directly deny the franchise or otherwise make it significantly more difficult for tens of thousands of Ohioans to vote," asserting that the changes "will be felt most keenly among lower-income voters who are predominately African-American."

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker(R) signed a bill in March limiting early voting in the state.  In April, a federal judge struck down the state's law requiring voters to produce state-approved photo identification cards at the polls.

Such legislation could have a significant impact on turnout leading up to and during November's general election in states with competitive gubernatorial contests.  Democratic gubernatorial candidates in both Ohio and Wisconsin said they were cheered by Holder's comments Tuesday.

"I'm pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice will be joining the fight to protect voter rights in Ohio," Democratic gubernatorial nominee and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald said in a statement.  "Under Governor Kasich, access to the polls has significantly decreased for hardworking Ohioans across the state.  Voting is a fundamental right and, as Governor, I'll do everything in my power to protect it."

Businesswoman Mary Burke, who is challenging Walker, also heralded Holder's move.

"Scott Walker's refusal to drop his crusade for photo ID requirements is a slap in the face to Veterans, seniors and students," Burke Communications Director Joe Zepecki said in a statement.  "The costs associated with this ongoing legal battle are a waste of taxpayer money.  Mary Burke could not disagree with Walker more on this issue, she believes that every eligible voter who wishes to cast a ballot should have the opportunity to do so.  Which is why in addition to opposing photo ID requirements, she will seek to roll back Walker's restrictions on early voting."

The Justice Department is currently challenging voter identification laws and other restrictions in North Carolina and Texas.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Monday, July 14, 2014

IRS Changes 501(c)(3) Application Rules


Amid ongoing controversy over its scrutiny of nonprofits, the Internal Revenue Service has decided it will no longer screen approximately 80% of the organizations seeking tax-exempt charitable status each year, a change that will ease the creation of small charities while doing away with a review intended to counter fraud and prevent political and other noncharitable groups from misusing the tax code.

As of July 1, any group that pays a $400 fee and declares on a three-page online form that it has annual income of less than $50,000, total assets of less than $250,000 and is in compliance with the tax-code requirements of a charity will automatically be allowed to accept donations that are tax-deductible for the donors.  Previously the groups had to fill out a detailed 26-page form, submit multiple supporting documents and provide a narrative description of their intended activities.

IRS commissioner John Koskinen said the change would result in “efficiencies that will translate into a faster and better review” of bigger nonprofits, while clearing a 66,000-application backlog that has resulted in yearlong waits for groups seeking to start a charity.  He said the new short form comes with 20 pages of instructions that make clear the requirements and limitations of being a charitable organization.  Koskinen said that on the new short form, “people certify that they’ve gone through the instructions” under penalty of perjury.

Some charitable groups worry the IRS has opened the door to abuse of tax-exempt status that will undermine the credibility of legitimate nonprofits, which are allowed to accept deductible donations under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code.  “The Form 1023-EZ will increase opportunity for fraud,” said Alissa Hecht Gardenswartz, president of the National Association of State Charity Officials, and will make it harder “to protect charitable assets from fraud and abuse and to ensure that charitable assets are used for the purposes represented to the public.”

Others worry that charities, nominally barred from political activity, will come to serve the same purpose as the powerful nonprofit organizations known as 501(c)(4)s, whose donations cannot be deducted from taxes.  This could give an added tax benefit to donors who have recently funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into independent political campaign spending.  “What we’ll see is the so-called dark political money that flowed into the (c)(4) world is going to begin to flow into the (c)(3) world,” says Marcus Owens, who was the director of the exempt-organizations division at the IRS from 1990 to 2000, and is now in private practice at the law firm of Caplin & Drysdale.

While charity groups agree the old process for receiving tax-exempt status was too cumbersome, they and others worry that now organizations with no true charitable purpose will seek to become charities.  “It’s easier to get tax-exempt status under 1023-EZ than it is to get a library card,” says Tim Delaney, president and CEO of the Council of Nonprofits.  As a result, Delaney says, bad actors “will be able to operate in the name of the charity, and the IRS will never be the wiser because they’re not looking at the underlying documentation.”

Owens says the IRS may not be able to differentiate between truly small charities and those that knowingly plan to grow beyond $50,000 in annual income.  “I haven’t seen any mechanism where the IRS would be legally able to go after an organization that applied within the EZ process but then fortune shined on them,” Owens says.  He also says that because of outdated software, the IRS won’t be able to track active charities back from its master file to their originating documents.  An IRS official speaking on background acknowledged the software problem.

Charities complain that the change was made with little consultation from their representative lobbying organizations.  The IRS sped its enactment this year by routing the change through the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for public comment under the Paperwork Reduction Act, rather than through the normal public-comment process at the IRS, nonprofit officials contend.  “I just wish the IRS had used a more inclusive process from the beginning,” says Delaney of the Council of Nonprofits.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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