Tuesday, November 21, 2017

It Makes Perfect Census

Even Politico sounds the klaxon on Trump's leading pick to run the 2020 Census as it's the man who literally wrote the book on why and how Republicans should be using modern gerrymandering and redistricting tactics to ensure a permanent GOP majority.

The Trump administration is leaning toward naming Thomas Brunell, a Texas professor with no government experience, to the top operational job at the U.S. Census Bureau, according to two people who have been briefed on the Bureau’s plans.

Brunell, a political science professor, has testified more than half a dozen times on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts, and is the author of a 2008 book titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.”

The choice would mark the administration’s first major effort to shape the 2020 Census, the nationwide count that determines which states lose and gain electoral votes and seats in the House of Representatives.

The fate of the Census under Trump has been closely watched by voting-rights advocates worried that the administration — which has already made unsupported claims about voter fraud — might nudge it in directions that over- or under-count some Americans. Subtle bureaucratic choices in the wording and administration of the Census can have huge consequences for who is counted, and how it shifts American voting districts.

The pick would break with the long-standing precedent of choosing a nonpolitical government official as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The job has typically been held by a career civil servant with a background in statistics. It does not require Senate confirmation, so Congress would have no power to block the hire.

If you're thinking that Republicans would do everything in their power to use the 2020 Census to remove several Congressional districts from large blue states like California, Illinois and New York and give them to red states like Texas (or more likely, take those blue state districts away and "round up" and distribute an extra district to lower population Midwest/Rocky Mountain red states like Utah, Arizona, Kansas, and/or Oklahoma) then you're right on the money.

The 2010 apportionment was a major blow to Democrats just based on demographics, but 2020 could be far, far worse.  Imagine the Census Bureau saying California and New York "massively overcounted illegal immigrants previously" and you get the idea.  Also, keep in mind population counts in many cases for dollars for federal programs and federal funding for things like education and Medicaid.  Knocking the blocks out from under blue states on that would mean de facto austerity cuts in the billions.

So yes, this is going to be bad but "control of the 2020 Census" was yet another reason why I voted for Clinton in 2016 while others said "We have to teach the Democrats a lesson".

Taxing Our Patience

As Francis Wilkinson over at Bloomberg notes, the IRS "scandal" over "targeting conservative groups" quietly died earlier this month with the on-schedule resignation of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, and the suddenly "tax-reform" minded GOP has let it die because suddenly under Trump, the IRS is working for "We The People" again.

Shortly before Koskinen left office, the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration released the (presumably) final report on the scandal. Like a previous Inspector General report, it tried to soothe Republican feelings – the IRS really, really should’ve handled things differently -- while utterly refuting Republican charges about what had transpired.

The story told by Republicans is so well known that it substitutes for fact. In the first years of the Obama administration, Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations rose up to defy the government. When the groups sought IRS approval for their designations as “social welfare” organizations under the tax code, the IRS targeted them with burdensome queries, harassing the groups while slow-walking reviews of their applications. In this telling, it was a political vendetta – carried out against conservatives by a government agency that many anti-government, anti-tax conservatives especially despised.

Republicans claimed the IRS served as an attack dog for the Obama White House. But inquiries by the House Ways and Means Committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the Justice Department all failed to produce evidence of political interference.

Perhaps it was because the premise of the scandal -- that Obama’s political team would want to destroy local Tea Party groups -- was absurd. For Democrats, local Tea Party groups were a political Giving Tree, bearing glorious, loopy fruit such as Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin, Tea Party candidates who managed to lose crucial Senate campaigns that a competent Republican – perhaps anycompetent Republican -- would’ve won.

What’s more, none of the groups actually needed IRS approval to operate. “These organizations didn’t have to wait for the IRS to tell them anything to go into business,” Koskinen said in a telephone interview last week.

Yet the IRS clearly applied extra scrutiny to groups that it thought might be engaged in too much politics to warrant the preferential tax designation. One way IRS personnel did that was to look for key words, such as “Tea Party.” Other words that triggered IRS scrutiny included: “Occupy,” “green energy,” “medical marijuana” and “progressive.”

Contrary to the Republican story, the IRS never targeted conservatives. The IRS targeted politics, which was pretty much what it was supposed to do.

And frankly, they got away with it.  Now, the IRS is okay again because Trump has "drained the swamp" and your taxes will be "so easy you can do them on a postcard".  None of that is true of course, but the IRS is no longer a convenient target for the Party of Trump now that they're in charge of it.

Trump has appointed an interim IRS Commissioner, who for some weird reason is still holding his current post as Assistant Treasury Secretary because somebody told him it would be a good idea.  It's not. David Kautter is Treasury's point man on the Trump tax plan, and trying to both write tax reform and run the IRS at the same time is basically impossible.

But it's interesting to note that like Benghazi, this died as soon as attacking the government as incompetent and cruel meant attacking Trump.

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