John Lewis sponsors a bill providing low income taxpayers some relief

The news …

U.S. Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, appears to have some bipartisan support for a tax bill he announced earlier today.  The chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee along with the ranking member, U.S. Representative Mike Kelly, introduced the Taxpayer First Act.   Mr. Lewis and Mr. Kelly appear to have done a good job of putting together bipartisan sponsorship getting 26 other Democrats and Republicans to give their support.

The bill seeks to do or improve the following:

  • Improve the independent appeals process;
  • Limit the capacity of private debt collectors to target low income citizens by not allowing collection activity by private debt collectors against taxpayers whose income does not exceed 200% of the poverty level;
  • Prohibits collection of fees associated with the filing of an offer-in-compromise on taxpayers whose income does not exceed 250% of the poverty level;
  • Excludes from collection under qualified collection contracts taxpayers whose income consists substantially of disability insurance benefits; and
  • lengthens the time to pay taxes under an installment agreement from the current five years to seven years.

My initial thoughts …

I’ve visited the Internal Revenue Service office on West Peachtree Street in Atlanta a number of times.  Mostly the non-affluent are there trying to work out our tax issues.  Life happens and when you have to make decisions between paying rent and caring for a family or sending the IRS a check, family and rent will take precedent.

Under all the glitter of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”, the movie and music production scene, and the high-end cars you may see whizzing around the city is a population under stress.  By one account the poverty level in Atlanta is approximately 22.4% meaning that almost 100,000 people in Atlanta live under the burden of poverty. You can hear the stress on the buses and trains as poor people head to work.  You can hear the financial stress in consumers’ voices as they express their concerns about food prices and the choices between one item and the other.

I don’t believe the bill goes far enough.  If Mr. Lewis is really concerned about the stresses of tax payment on the poor, he would add language that gets rid of the interest that accumulates on tax bills.  Poor people will never get from under the stress of late tax payments of they have onerous interest being added to their tax bills.  This only compounds the stress from owing student loans, taking care of sick family members, or trying to put children through college.

What’s next …

This is the second go-round for the bill. An original version of the bill (H.R. 1957) was passed by the House last April but issues regarding whether the IRS could dismantle a Free File Program caused an impasse in the Senate and a decision was made to remove the bill from Senate consideration and re-introduce a bill without the Free File Program.

 

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Gentrification is white nationalism that may be vanquished by monetary and fiscal policy

The Eye Catcher …

This morning I listened a bit to an interview conducted on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal with Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  Ms. Clarke’s purpose for appearing on the show was to discuss the rise in white nationalism in the United States.  As I listened to the discussion I found no new foundation for Ms. Clarke’s concern.  The concerns regarding white nationalism, as expressed by Ms. Clarke and other civil rights advocates, have always come from a place of fear, pain, and suffering: the fear of physical violence perpetrated by a racial majority on a racial minority; the pain of past and perceived current wrongs; and the suffering endured as a result of discriminatory practices in housing, financial services, the labor markets, and the legal system.

Another eye catcher was the diverse group of constituents Ms. Clarke’s organization represents.  About 25 years ago, I visited a friend who worked for Lawyers’ Committee.  She proudly showed me around the office, sharing a little of the history of the organization’s founding; sharing with me that its roots stemmed back to a civil rights initiative by the late President John F. Kennedy to strengthen the legal protections for black people.  That initiative seems to have changed and all for the worse for blacks.

Today, the Committee’s agenda seems to have expanded.  Their agenda has broadened to include every group under the sun that claims to be marginalized: white women, the LGBTQ community, Asians, etc.  I would hazard an ironic guess that if you looked at the wealth accumulated by each of these groups in comparison to blacks that blacks would still be on the bottom of the totem poll.

When this expanded agenda combines with the factors of fear, pain, and suffering, they create a weak platform from which to launch any initiative toward black empowerment.  The platform is weak because of the limits it places on blacks. Fear does not embolden. It causes you to hesitate.  Worse, it may cause you to rely on others, particularly those others who claim that they, too, suffer from inequality, but whose agenda, history, and lineage differ from yours so drastically that when they, these other groups, see progress, they will quickly abandon you.

Most times I believe this “We are in the same boat” argument is nothing but a delay tactic, keeping the weaker group distracted long enough until the weaker group is not even left with crumbs.

Blacks are too easily distracted by emotional buzzwords ….

Groups like the Lawyers’ Committee, National Urban League, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have played expertly on the fear, pain, and suffering of the black community.  They have defined “white nationalism” in emotion-invoking terms, where minorities are expected to shudder in the face of hateful language or crime.

It is expected that threats of physical harm would invoke fear, but what social justice organizations and white liberals fail to accept is that blacks can effectively defend themselves against white nationalism, and that the United States was founded on the principle of acquisition by discovery where European philosophy was deemed so superior that indigenous tribes in North America could be cleared away like so much brush.  White nationalism is global and has been handed down over the last 520 years from the original European settlers of North America to their descendants via various institutions that create the platform for this current political economy.

Yes, white nationalism is about members of the “white race” asserting their dominion over a particular political and geographical space.  But if this behavior is so offensive to blacks to where changes in that behavior is requested, then becoming emotional about whites yelling hateful words and expressing a desire for a “whites only” country won’t get blacks very far.  It is time for blacks to apply critical thinking and develop and promote legal and public policy frameworks for addressing white nationalism.

Gentrification is white nationalism …

One form of white nationalism that Blacks can cut their teeth on is the concept of gentrification.  Gentrification is more than just whites and other non-blacks moving into formerly black neighborhoods.  Gentrification is the result of favorable monetary policy that has driven down interest rates making cheap credit available while increasing the value assets such that these assets support the issue of new debt.  Rising home values and the increased down payments required for mortgages squeeze blacks out of home ownership.  The result is the creation of an environment where whites can leverage cheap capital to increase wealth through property ownership while blacks are forced, via higher property values, rents, and property taxes, to move out.

Toward a legal framework to battle poor monetary policy … 

Rather than having existing black members of Congress lead fruitless emotional belly-ache charges in the media about affordable housing, private citizens should explore and initiate where feasible the legal action necessary for modifying how the Federal Reserve, the Congress, and the Executive are regulating the economy.

For example, the Full Employment Act of 1946 as amended by the Humphrey Hawkins Act of 1978 places the responsibility of managing the American political economy in the hands of the Federal Reserve, the President, and the Congress.  Are these institutions meeting their goals pursuant to the Act? Have fiscal and monetary policy as implemented by the Federal Reserve, the President, and the Congress resulted in increased burden on black citizens?  Should there be remedies?

Conclusion: It will take bravery …

The current initiatives by so called civil rights groups are not aggressive enough.  They are driven by emotion and aim more for symbolism than substantive results.  A more robust legal approach to wealth creation is necessary if blacks are to carve out a sustainable economic niche in America.

 

 

Blacks need a new political law game

The political battle between the Executive and the Congress has been intense to say the least over the last twenty-seven months since Donald Trump took office.  With post-Mueller report hearings ramping up next week, the saga only promises to continue way into campaign season.

My friends and family have expressed varying degrees of interest, with a significant number of opinions fueled more by emotion and less by critical thinking.  For example, the constant reference to “collusion”, a term that has no legal meaning, is disconcerting because it provides an example of how people are ignoring the particulars (even when readily available for examination) and rolling with the globs of misinformation thrown onto the plate most times by the mainstream media.

Black congressional leadership wasting political power …

What should also be disturbing is how two of the highest ranking blacks in the Congress, Maxine Waters and Elijah Cummings, are spearheading the charge in the impeachment debate.  Their distaste for the sitting president is evident, but what is less evident is how the use of a potent political law instrument as impeachment is supposed to translate into any increase in political power, wealth, or capital for black people.

If anything, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed caution about pursuing impeachment, appreciating the argument from some inside her party that pursuing impeachment could have a negative impact on the Democrats’ ability to oust Donald Trump from the Oval Office in November 2020.  Mrs. Pelosi’s hesitancy on impeachment should have provided Ms. Waters and Mr. Cummings an opening to show leadership and go against the impeachment grain, not because it would be in line with Speaker Pelosi’s sentiment, but as a signal that the energy expenditure behind impeachment does nothing for their prime constituency: black people.

When you are marginalized, you agitate …

With at least 51 voting members in the U.S. House, blacks in the Congress are in a position to be the pivotal swing vote on a number of issues including impeachment. Numerically, black members of the House, where articles of impeachment would originate, could clog the wheel by holding back approximately 20% of the Democratic vote.  With this leverage, black congressmen could attempt concessions from either the House leadership or from President Trump, though it is less likely that the black caucus would try to negotiate with the President for fear of becoming a pariah in the Democratic Party.

Therein lies a telling dilemma. If the premier block of black congressmen cannot leverage numerical strength without fear of reprisal, what good is their strength?  Another irony is that for a group of congressman that represent a marginalized group, their fear of marginalization within Congress does not put them in a position to do more for their black constituents.

Maybe the answer is to stay outside the box …

On the other hand, maybe blacks, particularly those who embrace their status as marginalized, need an approach to political law that allows them to carve out their own independent niche; one that unapologetically finds the seams or openings in the political economy in order to access capital or create substantive platforms for constructing true communities. Current black leadership is too afraid to do that.

Congress hasn’t determined the artificial intelligence behavior it wants to regulate

Congress’ attempt at AI legislation

The 116th Congress has three bills or resolutions of note sitting in a number of committees that attempt to address the use of artificial intelligence in American society.  H.Res. 153 is intended to support the development of guidelines for the ethical development of artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile,  HR 2202 seeks to establish a coordinated Federal initiative to accelerate artificial intelligence research and development of the economic and national security of the United States, while H.R. 827 is concerned about training and retraining workers facing employment disruption by artificial intelligence.

The bills and resolution are more exploratory versus regulatory in nature.  They don’t expressly get at any behavior that needs to be regulated.  The nascent characteristic of artificial intelligence development along with government’s inability to keep regulation at the same pace as technology development may be in part the reason for the “let’s see what we have here” stance of early regulation.  In other words, Congress may just be getting a feel for what AI is while taking care not to interfere with the innovation needed to further develop the technology.

On the other hand, these bills could help Congress get ahead of the issue of labor disruption. Workers read about AI’s capacity to replace jobs that are more pedestrian or mundane; jobs currently occupied by lower income workers.  The prediction about labor disruption won’t leave certain higher-waged jobs untouched either as AI platforms, data mining, and machine learning threaten professions such as accounting or law.  By determining the data needed to thoroughly analyze the impact and growth of artificial intelligence; identifying the industries that will benefit most from or be harmed the most by AI; and comparing today’s existing job skills with the job skills that will be needed in order to work alongside AI, Congress contribute to alleviating labor force disruption.

The Human-Machine Relationship

Unlike a number of dire predictions of the emergence of “SkyNet” and terminator-like machines subjecting humans to slavery or worse, most analysts and commentators see AI as a tool that augments human capabilities, making humans better or more productive.  The emphasis will be on collaborative intelligence, with human and machine working together.  And how well that relationship works depends on how well humans program the machine.

Another consideration is artificial intelligence’s ability to self improve.  The goal of AI development is to build an artificial intelligent agent that can build another AI agent, preferably with even greater capabilities.  The vision is to move from AI’s narrow, single-task capabilities to a more general AI, a concept that sees AI exhibiting greater abilities across multiple tasks, much like humans.

Possible targets of legislation or regulation

If legislation or regulation is to target the machine-human relationship, elected officials and regulatory heads will have to consider their policy initiatives impact on:

  • the ability of humans to train machines;
  • the ability of humans to explain AI outcomes;
  • the ability of machines to amplify human cognitive skills;
  • the ability of machines to embody the the human skills necessary that lead to the extension of human physical capabilities;
  • the ability of artificial intelligence to self-improve;
  • the difference between “safe” AI (the ability to maintain consistency in AI outcomes) versus “ethical” AI (ensuring that AI platforms are not a threat to human life.

Conclusion

Just like the application of artificial intelligence, Congress’ foray into regulation of AI is nascent.  This is the time for AI’s stakeholders to either begin or maintain efforts to influence all levels of government on AI’s use in the commercial sector.