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Brian Powell

Author ››› Brian Powell
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer Misses The Mark On Kasich's Fracking Tax Proposal

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    In Sunday's Cleveland Plain Dealer, Statehouse Bureau Chief Reginald Fields penned a 1600+ word article describing Ohio Governor John Kasich's (R) new proposal to impose a modest tax on fracking and give a personal income tax reduction that would be tied to the amount of natural gas production. Fields cited seven conservative or Republican sources, framing the controversy around a largely manufactured conflict between Kasich and the anti-tax conservatives of his political base. Meanwhile, Fields entirely ignored any discussion about the public health and environmental costs of Kasich's plan. Fields also failed to acknowledge ethical concerns over linking Ohio citizens' financial well-being with the potentially dangerous industry practice of fracking.

    Fields summarized the bill:

    Ohio Gov. John Kasich will propose a new tax on a form of oil and gas drilling known as horizontal fracking and then use the fresh revenue to give a personal income tax cut to Ohioans, The Plain Dealer has learned.

    The complicated plan also would make changes to various existing taxes petroleum companies pay for pumping out oil and natural gas from beneath Ohio. And it even contains a tax break for some smaller operators, according to documents obtained by The Plain Dealer and confirmed by the governor's office.


    The revenue would go into a newly created fund requiring legislative approval, which would be used to support the tax cut. The income tax cut would apply when there is annual growth on revenue of at least one-third of 1 percent. If there isn't sufficient growth, Ohioans wouldn't get the tax cut, but the pool of money would carry over to the next year.

    The governor's office is projecting the first income tax cuts could come in calendar year 2013, but they are more likely to start in 2014 -- the year Kasich is up for re-election.

    So, the amount of the income tax cut would be tied the amount of oil and gas extracted and according to market prices for those products.

    Fields claimed that Kasich's plan is "expected to get a heap of criticism from conservatives who see it as nothing more than a tax hike," but the sources he used to back this up don't bear out that narrative. He quoted a spokesman for Ohio House Speaker William G. Batchelder (R), who is reserving judgment until he can "see what the actual language of the bill is," and briefly noted that Senate President Tom Niehaus (R) is "said to have" concerns about the plan. Meanwhile, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, which was "consulted" about the proposal, is tentatively approving the tax plan and giving Kasich the "benefit of the doubt" regarding any potential concerns about increased taxation. This lukewarm reaction to Kasich's proposal hardly qualifies as "a heap of criticism."

    Fields did note real criticism coming from the Oil and Gas Association, whose members would face a slight increase in the cost of drilling in Ohio. But this predictable position adds little to a serious policy discussion.

    Fields gave little attention to voices who believe that a policy discussion on fracking should be a little broader than the question of 'a nominal tax vs. no tax at all.' The article gave a cursory nod to two House Democrats proposing an alternative plan to tax the industry at a higher 7%, but was entirely devoid of any discussion about the external costs of fracking that will be borne by taxpayers. The practice of fracking may be responsible for toxic drinking water and increased earthquakes. If Ohio's taxpayers are footing the bill for public health hazards and infrastructure damage, among other costs, then a couple extra bucks off their income tax won't mean much.

    Nor did Fields give any attention to the ethical dilemma behind the policy Kasich is proposing. By tying the natural gas industry's output to income taxes, he would provide the Ohio electorate with a perverse choice: accept the risks that fracking poses to the environment, public health and worker safety -- or pay higher taxes.

    Ohio is just beginning to address the impending explosion of fracking in the state. Hopefully, the Cleveland Plain Dealer will provide a more balanced discussion of the facts in the months ahead.

  • CBS Affiliate Follows Sheriff Joe's Birtherism 'Into Another Atmosphere'

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Thursday, infamous Maricopa County, AZ sheriff Joe Arpaio held a press conference to reveal the results of a 6 month-long "investigation" into the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate, which he accused of being fraudulent. The birther pageant was a new low for Arpaio, who – along with his deputies – was recently found by state law enforcement agencies to have failed to investigate hundreds of sex crimes and is currently under federal investigation for alleged "discriminatory practices" that include profiling Latinos.

    Phoenix's major local news affiliates approached their coverage of the spectacle in different ways. The CBS affiliate (CBS 5) dedicated over nine minutes Thursday to a series of straight-faced (and apparently ongoing) segments they titled "Investigating the President." Despite the far-out, conspiracy-laden claims made at the birthers' presentation, CBS treated the participants and their assertions in an unduly serious fashion. The network's segment served primarily to amplify the arguments and opinions of Arpaio's "lead investigator" Mike Zullo, who is featured in a softball interview and in lengthy clips from the press conference.

    Furthermore, the extremely limited sourcing of counterpoints used by CBS in the segments (anonymous detractors, a year-old Obama quote, and a brief, almost neutral, statement from an AZ congressman) gave the impression that vocal critics of the birth certificate circus were hard to come by -- a scenario that seems improbable at best, given the birther movement's rich history of making false claims.

    Watch the CBS report:

    In contrast, the Phoenix FOX affiliate (FOX 10) reported on the absurdity of the day with a responsible degree of scrutiny, making the story about the reasonableness of the county sheriff's involvement in the charade. The segment begins with an incredulous anchor throwing to some brief interviews highlighting opposing viewpoints on the issue. It continues with a one-on-one interview with Arpaio and FOX anchor John Hook, in which Hook questions the legal standing, fiscal responsibility and political sanity of the decision to, as Arpaio puts it, take the birthers' investigation "into another atmosphere."

    The FOX report:

  • J. Christian Adams Compares Civil Rights Advocates To Nazis

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    J. Christian Adams must feel like his star is fading. The former DOJ attorney hired under President Bush's politicized regime was once a favorite fear-monger of the right. Sixteen months ago, Adams was bursting onto the national scene with appearances on Fox News to hype the phony New Black Panther Party controversy, and now he's muttering George Soros conspiracies in the obscure back pages of In what must be a desperate last gasp for attention, Adams is now resorting to the worst of the forbidden rhetorical devices: Nazi comparisons.

    For Adams, a speaker's use of the phrase "God is on our side" at a civil rights rally in Florida apparently evokes Nazi imagery. From his November 10 post at PJ Media, describing a small rally of African American community members protesting the arrest of some elected community officials on suspicions of election fraud:

    The rally begins by singing revered hymns such as "We Shall Overcome." The speakers claim the accused were arrested because of "racism." Like the German Army belt buckle, the speaker says the accused will be victorious "because God is on our side." The bloody shirt is waved - "they thought they forever would be in charge." The criminal accusations are "nothing but mud thrown on the wall," followed by a disturbing call and response evidencing genuine lawlessness beyond just the speakers.

    The "German Army belt buckle" Adams links to bears the Nazi iron eagle with swastika and the German phrase, "Gott mit uns" - God with us.

    So to clarify for the record, J. Christian Adams sees a small gathering of African American civil rights activists citing their commonly-held belief that God is present and supportive in their lives during a protest, and Adams immediately thinks they resemble Nazis. It's tempting to delve into a Freudian analysis of Adams' psychological associations, but instead it's probably sufficient to note that his flawed simile doesn't even begin to scratch at the realm of rational thought.

    Yes, it's true that the Nazis engraved "God with us" on their belt buckles; but the sentiment that "God is on our side" is no more symbolic of Nazism than eating sauerkraut or driving a Volkswagen. The belief that a particular culture, activity or way of life is favored by divine interests is prevalent everywhere from the pre-game prayers by local high school football teams to the governing philosophies of American presidents like George W. Bush. The notion that it's some unique and recognizable Nazi chant being invoked by black community members on the steps of their local church is absurd.

    What's more appalling is the failed judgment by Adams' editors at PJ Media. Either they didn't read the post before applying their stamp of approval, or they agree with the assertion that these civil rights activists are comparable in any respect to Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

    J. Christian Adams is truly struggling for attention and relevance now that his book is receiving little fanfare and his voice is drowned out within the ranks of the other faceless ideologues at PJ Media. Otherwise, why go through with such a despicable race-baiting Nazi comparison in just his second column?

  • Von Spakovsky Hawks "Voter Fraud" Snake Oil On C-SPAN

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    The Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky has been on the media circuit this week in a desperate effort to convince the American people that expensive and unnecessary voter ID laws are necessary to prevent widespread voter fraud from corrupting our democracy. After appearing on CNN Saturday morning, von Spakovsky was hosted on C-SPAN Tuesday morning to debate the matter with Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. His misrepresentations about the prevalence of voter fraud in America began almost immediately.

    When pressed about the claim that there is very little evidence of voter fraud in America, von Spakovsky cited as the perfect example of why Mississippi and other states need to pass voter ID laws the case of U.S. v. Brown, a lawsuit prosecuted by the Justice Department against Ike Brown, the Democratic leader in Noxubee County, MS. But it's hard to see how the voter ID laws could have prevented Brown's crimes.

    VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, let's talk about Mississippi where they're voting today in a referendum about voter ID. Anyone who has any doubts about this can pull up a case called U.S. v. Brown, it's a lawsuit that was won under the Voting Rights Act in 2007 by the Justice Department, and the defendant in that case was convicted of all kinds of violations of the Voting Rights Act, discrimination, also he was engaging in voter fraud. And there was testimony in that case, cited in the court decision, by a former deputy sheriff, an African American, about how he witnessed the defendant in that case outside a polling place, telling a young black woman that she should go into the polling place and vote, that she could use any name, no one would question her about it. And how could she do that? Because Mississippi doesn't have a voter ID law.

    One woman trying to vote under another name (and there's no evidence in the judgment against Brown that she either attempted this or was successful at it) is the least of their problems in Noxubee County. The complaint against Brown and the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee accused the parties of, among other things, recruiting unqualified African American candidates from outside the district to run against white candidates, excluding white people from participation in Democratic Executive Committee activities/decisions, manipulating voter rolls, prohibiting white people from voting, and rejecting valid absentee ballots.

    The Mississippi law being supported by von Spakovsky would require voters at the polls to present a government issued photo ID before being permitted to vote. The former DOJ attorney suggests that a voter ID requirement would prevent Brown's crimes. But how? Brown was running the polling operations in the voting district - he seemed to have no trouble picking and choosing which laws to follow, so why would von Spakovsky expect him to honor the voter ID restrictions? In fact, it stretches the boundaries of reason to believe that any laws on the books would have prevented Brown from committing the crimes of which he was found guilty.

  • 'Voter Fraud' Hucksters Try To Tap Dance Around The Truth

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Based on the attention paid to the over-hyped threat of voter fraud in the 2012 election cycle, observers of Fox News, the right-wing blogosphere, and Republican state legislatures might believe that double-voting, fraudulent absentee ballots and undocumented aliens casting votes on Election Day is such a frequent phenomenon that the very foundation of our democracy is being pulled out from underneath us. As many states look to pass controversial voter ID laws that make it more difficult to vote, right-wing commentators like the Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky and The American Spectator's John Fund are pushing the voter fraud agenda to the public. When questioned about the vote-suppressing effects of these laws and the absence of any evidence of widespread voter fraud in America, however, voter ID proponents slip on their dancing shoes.

    Von Spakovsky, in a November 5 segment on CNN Saturday Morning, was pushed by host T.J. Holmes to explain the justification for these laws, given the lack of evidence that any widespread voter fraud exists. Spakovsky, who last month admitted that there is no massive voter fraud problem in America, dodges answering twice and argues that whether voter fraud is widespread or not isn't important.

    HOLMES: What evidence do you have that that's happening on a widespread level?

    VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, you don't need it on a widespread level. As the U.S. Supreme Court said when it upheld Indiana's voter ID law, that kind of fraud can make the difference in close elections. And you know, in Missouri, where Ms. Lieberman is from, we had an election just two years ago that was decided by one vote. And if I may say, what's said is Ms. Lieberman has been misled by her attorneys. She is exempt from the voter ID law that Missouri is going to have go in place if it is approved in a referendum. That law, which was passed a couple of years ago, specifically says anyone born before 1941, and that includes her, is exempt, as are people with physical and mental disabilities.

    HOLMES: Well sir, a lot of people don't feel that way. And they feel like a lot of people just throw up their hands and say, 'ok, I can't deal with this and can't do this.' And you talked about the Supreme Court case with Indiana - yes, they ruled for Indiana, but also Indiana couldn't come up with a single case of voter fraud there, so I guess where do you see the voter fraud taking place that justifies states changing laws like this?

    VON SPAKOVSKY: Well look, I can't give you an inventory here today. I've written about a lot of case studies on various kinds of voter fraud.

    John Fund, editor of The American Spectator, was questioned by Media Matters at the Americans for Prosperity's "Defending the American Dream Summit" in Washington, DC where he defended von Spakovsky and struggled to rationalize the voter suppression laws he supports.

    MEDIA MATTERS: Hans von Spakovsky was quoted in The New York Times saying that there isn't massive fraud in American elections. Do you agree with him?

    FUND: Well, depends on how you define "massive." In some places, it's enormous. In some places, it's not a problem. In some places, it's minor. So it depends. Is there massive fraud throughout all 50 states? No. Is there massive fraud in many states where the elections are close and can decide the presidency? The answer is yes.

    MMFA: So you sort of agree with him, sort of don't?

    FUND: Well, you know, I think - remember, I talked to him. He was quoted out of context. Now, he did say that, and I would agree with that, but I think the context is important.

    While Fund claims that "enormous" fraud is taking place in some states, the record suggests. The Justice Department, for example, prosecuted only 17 individuals for casting fraudulent ballots from October 2002 through September 2005. During that period, DOJ charged a total of 95 individuals with "election fraud," convicting 55. Even Fox News, who has consistently over-hyped the menace of voter fraud, suffered a blow on the issue when America Live host Megyn Kelly was forced to admit that the problem of voter fraud is "not overwhelming."

  • Fox News' Megyn Kelly Admits Voter Fraud Issue Is "Not Overwhelming"

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Right-wing media, and Fox News in particular, love embellishing the terrifying specter of voter fraud as a way to support and justify restrictive voter identification and registration laws. It's hardly surprising -- the more restrictive the law, the fewer people vote; and when fewer people vote, more Republicans win elections. Unfortunately for the fear-mongers, study after study shows that cases of voter fraud are few and far between and fears of a massive-scale voter fraud effort are unfounded.

    Surprisingly, Fox News' Megyn Kelly now agrees. In a segment on voter fraud on the November 4 edition of America Live, Kelly admitted that the problem is "not overwhelming."



    KELLY: Well that's the classic debate. Because Democrats always say it's about disenfranchising, the Republicans always say it's about voter fraud. And you guys are never going to see eye to eye.

    ALAN COLMES: We don't have enough cases of fraud to make this a real issue. It's an invented issue.

    KELLY: Well, but there have been some instances, but you're right it's not overwhelming.

    Kelly's reality-based opinion about the state of voter fraud in the country is entirely inconsistent with her network's feverish, obsessive coverage of the issue. Before practically every election, Fox breathlessly warns of potential fraud; every vote is constantly in peril of being stolen. The network has even gone so far as to establish a voter fraud hotline:

    Fox News promotes voter fraud hotline

    Why would Fox News devote such resources to a problem that is "not overwhelming"? Because Fox is a GOP mouthpiece and the party benefits from driving their voters into a frenzy about supposed fraud and passing laws to suppress the vote.

  • J. Christian Adams Becomes A Made Man, Immediately Cries "Soros"

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    J. Christian Adams

    J. Christian Adams, the former Justice Department Civil Rights Division attorney and New Black Panthers fabulist who has accused the Obama DOJ of setting policies based on race, has finally received his conservative wings. After months of sporadic contributions and a recent tediously-stubborn non-story about DOJ hiring practices, Pajamas Media (now PJMedia) has officially made Adams a regular columnist in the conservative blogosphere.

    Adams completed his transformation from wannabe whistleblower to right-wing pontificator by using his first official PJM column to cry "Soros," utilizing the well-worn right-wing shtick of connecting every liberal group or activity they despise back to the alleged manipulations of billionaire philanthropist/super-villain George Soros, as if Soros' involvement was, ipso facto, evidence of the groups' sinister intentions.

    In addition to invoking Soros, Adams used his first column to attack a number of voting rights groups, inflate the threat of voter fraud, and promote his new book. Adams writes:

    Last month, a collection of groups funded by George Soros held a conference on election law and the upcoming 2012 election. PJ Media has obtained details of the event from an attendee. Our eyes and ears are extensive. [...]

    These types of groups exist primarily to attack any effort to combat voter fraud or ensure the integrity of elections. As I write in my book Injustice, there is "an enormous and well-funded industry of voter fraud deniers that provides an intellectual smokescreen for this lawlessness."

    Deven Andersen [conference speaker], obviously a top-shelf racialist, casts all Tea Partiers and election integrity proponents as racists: "The Tea Party is a reincarnation of the White Southern Democrats. They want to turn the clock back to 1866 and make blacks second rate citizens again," he told the crowd. "Conservatives don't like people of color. They are stuck in 1866." Specifically, the nut Andersen named the King Street Patriots, a voter integrity effort in Houston, Texas. [...]

    While this meeting of nuts might sound fanciful to most Americans, it is indicative of the lengths the voter fraud deniers go to stoke up their base, and scare law enforcement officials from enforcing laws to ensure electoral integrity next year. But now, people are paying attention to their efforts to incite lawlessness.

    While "efforts to incite lawlessness" seems a little over-the-top as far as rhetoric goes, what's more important are the factual inaccuracies of Adams' contentions. Adams describes the conference attendees' concerns about new voting laws as nutty, but the serious truth is that a wave of new state voting laws amending identification, proof of citizenship, and registration requirements could disenfranchise millions of legal voters, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice.

    And while Adams bandies about the term "voter fraud deniers," the fact of the matter is that voter fraud is one of isolated anecdote, not widespread conspiracy-laden epidemic. A mere 17 people between 2002 and 2005 were convicted by the Justice Department of casting fraudulent ballots, according to a report by the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department. And the Brennan Center study notes that allegations of voter fraud "simply do not pan out." Even Adams compatriot Hans von Spakovsky has acknowledged that there is no "massive fraud in American elections."

    Adams will be PJ Media's go-to voice on election law going into the 2012 presidential election year. If these kind of fear-mongering inaccuracies are going to be the bread and butter of Adams' work, then - as with the rest of the posts at PJ Media - let the reader beware.

  • Fox News Attacks Green Loan To Steel Company Severstal

    ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    In its latest assault on green technology loans that have been supported by the Obama administration, Fox News is now targeting a loan to the Michigan-based steel company Severstal North America. According to the company and the Department of Energy, respectively, the loan will allow Severstal North America to create hundreds of jobs and help cut thousands of metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

  • Do Fox Pundits Even Know What Iran-Contra Was?

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    In their frenzy to take down Attorney General Eric Holder, right wing media pundits have started comparing the brewing Fast and Furious scandal, in which a failed ATF operation allowed guns to "walk" to Mexico in order to track their delivery into the hands of drug cartels, to Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.

    Naturally, the conservatives making this comparison believe Fast and Furious is much worse than Reagan's scandal, in which the Republican hero trafficked arms into the hands of a tyrannical Iranian government, negotiated with Hezbollah terrorists and funneled money and military equipment into the hands of violent revolutionaries in America's own backyard.

    Specifically, Fox News hosts are pushing the unlikely argument that Fast and Furious is worse than Iran-Contra because, as they put it, "nobody died" as a result of the latter scandal. The assertion -- that the Reagan administration's felonious dealings with terrorists and terror-sponsoring nations didn't lead to a single casualty -- is absurd to anyone with even the most elementary understanding of what Iran-Contra was or to anyone with access to the internet.