Forty eight representatives and 11 senators earn an "F" on a new report card that ranks lawmakers based on how well they address income inequality. All of the failing grades went to Republicans.
The "Inequality Report Card," published today by the Institute for Policy Studies, looks at how lawmakers voted on dozens of bills that would, among other things, raise taxes on the wealthy, restrict the use of offshore tax havens, increase the minimum wage, and strengthen labor unions. The report gives the worst combined grade to Arkansas' congressional delegation and the best to Vermont's. Too bad Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, isn't as exportable as Bill Clinton.
None of the senators earning an "F" grade come from the nation's five most equal states.
Lawmakers' scores on the report card correlate loosely with how much income inequality exists in their home states. California and New York rank among the highest for income inequality but employ lawmakers that earn, on average, a B- for their friendliness to the middle class. None of the senators earning an "F" grade come from the nation's five most equal states.
The report also looked at whether rich members of Congress tend to favor the 1 percent, but it seems that their votes depend more on party than pocketbook. The 10 wealthiest Democrats earned grades ranging from a "B" to "A." The best grade earned by a wealthy Republican was a C-minus.
Talking birtherism, chupacabra denial, and toxic flouride with the only libertarian running in TX-14.
Josh HarkinsonSep. 28, 2012 6:00 AM
Libertarian congressional candidate Zach Grady Grady for Congress
Sadly for the Ron Paul Revolution, neither the Democrat nor Republican angling to replace the retiring Texas Congressman ascribe to his brand of libertarianism. But fear not, freedom lovers! Zach Grady has got you covered. The HVAC repairman from Alvin is seeking Paul's seat on behalf of the Libertarian Party, which, after all, has much more in common with the 77-year-old Republican than the GOP does.
As a politician, Grady shares with Paul's son, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), a libertarian worldview and a willingness to take the movement in a slightly different direction. But the similarities end there. While Rand has pushed the revolution towards the GOP mainstream, Grady wants to pull it deeper into Ron's lacunae of conspiracy theorists and cranksters. These are people who liked Ron Paul mostly because he was an outsider, or because he never denounced them, or because they shared his fear of the federal government. They will probably like Grady too, because he's one of them.
Photographs on Grady's campaign website show him wearing a popular birther t-shirt (see above). "Barry Soetoro" is the name birthers claim appeared on the president's 1981 Columbia University student ID, identifying him as a "foreign student"—the ID has been widely exposed as a fake. Yesterday, Grady told me over the phone that the president "was probably born here, but who knows? These people are so weird and so secretive, you know, it's tough to say." He added cryptically that he was still suspicious about Obama's true origins because of "the way his family has ties to intelligence agencies—his grandmother and his mother."
The biggest domestic oil and gas boom in a generation is going unpoliced by regulators in many states, according to a report released today by the environmental group Earthworks. Since 2005, the United States has increased oil production by about 10 percent and gas production about 20 percent, largely due to technological advances in horizontal drilling and fracking. Meanwhile, enforcement actions in six major oil and gas states have not kept pace with all the new drilling.
The report, "Breaking All the Rules," examined oil and gas regulation in Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. It found that in recent years the number of oil-and-gas-related enforcement actions and total dollar amount in penalties in each state have either remained fairly constant or dropped. The only exception was in Colorado, where penalties increased because the state addressed a backlog of old cases.
One reason enforcement hasn't kept pace with drilling could be that regulators are overwhelmed. In Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, there are more than 2,000 wells for each oil well inspector (there are nearly 4,500 wells per inspector in New Mexico). In 2010, the report found that some states inspected only 1 in 10 oil and gas wells to determine whether they complied with state rules. Here's a chart of the percentage of oil and gas wells that went uninspected in the each state:
When inspectors in these states do discover violations of the law, their findings often don't get recorded, or don't lead to penalties, or result in penalties that are too small to deter bad behavior, according to Earthworks. For instance, an oversight commission in Texas recently found that state regulators take "relatively few enforcement actions, resulting in a lack of deterrence for future compliance." In 2011, Pennsylvania collected about $1.3 million in total penalties related to oil and gas violations—a drop in the bucket considering that a single Marcellus Shale well on average grosses $2.9 million.*
Of more than 3,300 oil spills in North Dakota since 2009, the state has issued only 45 citations.
To be sure, the Earthworks report does not offer a complete picture of the industry. Most notably, it doesn't examine oil and gas regulation in North Dakota, Alaska, or California, which are, respectively, the second-, third-, and fourth-largest oil-producing states. Those three states have better inspector-to-well ratios than the states in the Earthworks report, with North Dakota leading the pack with a ratio of 1 inspector for every 368 wells. Yet even that number has not translated into a stellar record of environmental enforcement. Despite more than 3,300 oil spills in North Dakota since 2009, the state's industrial commission has issued only 45 enforcement citations. This recent ProPublica story exposed many of the gaping holes in North Dakota's oversight of its booming Bakken oil field.
The environment is not the only victim when states fail to hold the oil and gas industry accountable. The other casualty is often the governments of those states, as we've seen in the Middle East and Africa. People in the United States still "believe that rules matter—that after the rules are created, the government will enforce them," Earthworks points out. But "in the case of state oil and gas rules, that is simply not true."
Correction: Due to errors in the embargoed version of Earthworks' report, the original version of this article stated that Pennsylvania levied about $1 million in oil and gas fines in 2010. The actual number is $4 million. It also incorrectly stated the year that Chesapeake Energy received a record environmental fine in Pennsylvania. The fine was levied in 2011.
The considerable Romney assets that don't show up on most measures of his wealth.
Josh HarkinsonSep. 24, 2012 6:00 AM
Is Mitt Romney richer than he's letting on? It's generally agreed that, if elected in November, Romney would be the wealthiest president in American history, but the extent of his wealth goes well beyond what is normally reported in the press.
According to the Romney campaign's most recent disclosure of his personal finances, he's worth between $190 and $250 million. However, those figures only include financial assets such as stocks, bonds, and cash. Presidential candidates are not required to disclose a variety of other potentially high-value holdings, including family real estate and money in certain trusts and charities. Here are some of the Romney assets that don't show up in typical measures of his wealth:
Houses: +$18 Million
Romney's beach house in La Jolla, CaliforniaZillowUnlike most Americans, Romney keeps only a small portion of his wealth locked up in residential real estate—"small" being a relative term here. In 2008, the Romneys dropped $12 million on a beachfront house in La Jolla, California ($3.3 million more than it's valued for tax purposes). More recently he ordered a $55,000 "Phantom Park" car elevator— item 28 in our "History of Mitt Romney in 30 Objects"—to move their automobiles in and out of the home's basement garage. When in Massachusetts, the Romneys stay in an $895,000 townhouse condo. And come summertime, the family decamps to Wolfreboro, New Hampshire, where their $8 million lakefront compound includes a six-bedroom house, a horse stable with guest apartments over it, and a $630,000 boat house. In 2009, Romney sold a mansion in Belmont, Massachusetts, for $3.5 million and a 9,500-square-foot ski house in Park City, Utah, for around $5 million.
Water Toys: +$150,000
Rhea C./FlickrThis Fourth of July weekend, Romney was photographed outside his lake house driving his grandchildren in a 29-foot Sea Ray. It's most likely a Sea Ray 290 Select EX, which you could pick up used for $80,000 to $100,000. Romney's boat garage also houses two SeaDoo jet skis, a Boston Whaler, and a Malibu ski boat.
In February, Romney got in trouble for trying to ingratiate himself to Michigan voters by casually mentioning that his wife drives "a couple of Cadillacs." According to the campaign, they're SUV models worth between $35,000 and $49,000 each. Ann Romney keeps one on each coast. Romney also owns a 2005 Ford Mustang and 2002 Chevy pickup. Campaign lore, meanwhile, expounds the man's legendary thriftiness.
Mitt and Ann Romney are the sole donors to the Tyler Charitable Foundation, a tax-exempt charitable organization run by R. Bradford Malt, the high-powered attorney who also oversees Romney's investments. While money from the charity does not pay the Romneys' bills, it does sometimes fund causes that benefit the couple politically or economically. In 2010, for example, the foundation gave $100,000 to the George W. Bush library because, as a Romney adviser later explained, "Romney wanted to show his appreciation for George W. Bush." And a $10,000 donation the same year to the US Equestrian Team Foundation, which helps prepare the team for the Olympics, might have benefited Rafalca, the Romney-owned dressage horse that competed in this year's games. In 2011, according to Romney's newly released tax return, the family gave $4.1 million to charity, but only took a deduction of $2.5 million. Mother Jones' Adam Server argues that this was a deliberate move to raise his effective tax rate on paper, since Romney's far lower-than-average tax rate has made him the target of criticism that he's not paying his fair share.
Created 17 years ago to benefit Romney's five sons, the Ann and Mitt Romney 1995 Family Trust is worth "roughly $100 million," a Romney campaign official said a few months ago. The Romney campaign claims that its candidate did not pay gift taxes* on money in the trust, which, if true, would mean that Romney could have only funded it to the tune of $10.6 million, with the rest of its assets reflecting capital gains. Tax experts find that scenario unlikely, and argue that Romney might have made a low-interest loan to the trust, which the trust then used to make investments. Whatever the setup, Romney should have no trouble influencing how the money is allocated: The fund's sole trustee is R. Bradford Malt, Romney's financial adviser. It's also worth noting that Romney's affluent sons don't appear to need the money anymore. Theoretically, each son and his wife could gift up to $26,000 back to their father each year, tax free.
*Romney does, however, pay significant income taxes related to the fund. According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning financial journalist David Cay Johnston, this allows him to significantly increase his effective tax rate—a good thing when you're running for president. This and more on Romney's 2011 return here.
So what is Romney really worth?
Add together all of the above, and Romney is worth up to $378.3 million, some 50 percent more than the upper bound that typically gets reported.
Just how rich are the Waltons? According to the latest edition of the Forbes 400, released yesterday, the six wealthiest heirs to the Walmart empire are together worth a staggering $115 billion. This marks the first time in American history that one family has controlled a 12-figure fortune. While the nation's richest person is still Bill Gates, the sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-richest Americans are all Waltons.
To put that in perspective, here's a chart of things the Waltons could afford to pay for:
The Waltons' fortune might be something to celebrate if not for the fact that they've raked it in at our expense. Sasha Abramsky writes:
In 2004, a year in which Wal-Mart reported $9.1 billion in profits, the retailer's California employees collected $86 million in public assistance, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley. Other studies have revealed widespread use of publicly funded health care by Wal-Mart employees in numerous states. In 2004, Democratic staffers of the House education and workforce committee calculated that each 200-employee Wal-Mart store costs taxpayers an average of more than $400,000 a year, based on entitlements ranging from energy-assistance grants to Medicaid to food stamps to WIC—the federal program that provides food to low-income women with children.
The average Walmart worker earns just $8.81 an hour. At that wage, the union-backed Making Change at Walmart campaign calculates that a Walmart worker would need:
7 million years to earn as much wealth as the Walton family has (presuming the worker doesn't spend anything)
170,000 years to earn as much money as the Walton family receives annually in Walmart dividends
1 year to earn as much money as the Walton family earns in Walmart dividends every three minutes