The Economy Hub
With Michael Hiltzik
Five years after Citizens United ruling, big money reigns

If you're wondering why issues favored by a majority of Americans such as raising the minimum wage, gun control and net neutrality get scarcely any attention in the halls of Congress, the Citizens United case is the reason.

The Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the infamous campaign finance case marked its fifth anniversary last week. By taking the reins off big-money electoral donations by corporations and labor unions, Citizens United has unmistakably broadened the political influence of the wealthy and powerful.

But the ruling's pernicious effect goes well beyond merely inviting more money into politics. It has opened the way to a debasement of our politics by narrowing the definition of political corruption that can be fought by campaign finance limits.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year termed Citizens United the worst of the current court's rulings. "The notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be," she told...

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Sen. Joni Ernst learned to 'live within her means' -- on the taxpayer's dime

It has almost become a cliche that the politicians who bray the loudest about cutting government waste and slashing "entitlements" turn out to have learned what they know about the government trough from the inside.

The latest example is Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who rode her tea party small-government platform to victory in the 2014 election. Ernst is viewed as such an appealing figure by her GOP colleagues that they chose her to deliver the party's official response to President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday. 

The public spotlight might not prove to be Ernst's best friend. The District Sentinel, a Washington, D.C., news co-op, reports that despite her campaign pitch that her parents "taught us to live within our means," her family members collected $463,000 in federal farm subsidies from 1995 through 2009.

The figures come from the Environmental Working Group's

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Intuit moves to mollify outraged TurboTax customers -- but is it enough?

Intuit, which is reeling from customer outrage over a surreptitious price hike this year in its market-leading TurboTax tax preparation software, has moved to quell the anger. But it may not have done enough.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company is offering customers a $25 rebate if they unexpectedly have to upgrade from TurboTax Deluxe to a higher-priced version in order to file any of several common tax forms dealing with non-wage income. Deluxe managed those forms without difficulty in previous years. 

"We messed up," reads an email going out starting Friday to millions of TurboTax users from Sasan Goodarzi, the general manager of Intuit's TurboTax team. "We made a change this year to TurboTax desktop software and we didn’t do enough to communicate this change to you as proactively and broadly as we could or should have. I am very sorry for the anger and frustration we may have caused you."

But Goodarzi still hasn't offered a coherent explanation for why TurboTax hollowed out...

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Disneyland measles crisis should wake up the anti-vaccination crowd

The rise of the anti-vaccination movement has shown that even affluent and well-educated parents can be dolts, and that school and public health officials can be inexcusably complacent. The Disneyland measles outbreak may finally give all these parties a much-needed jolt of reality.

As of Wednesday, according to my colleagues Rosanna Xia and Rong-Gong Lin II, the latest California-centered measles outbreak numbered 67 confirmed cases in nine California counties, four other states and Mexico. For a first-world country, an outbreak on this scale is shameful.

Of those cases, 42 have been linked directly to visits in December to Disneyland or Disney's California Adventure park, and some others to park visits this month. Of those whose vaccination status is known, 28 were unvaccinated. At Disneyland itself, five employees have come down with measles. Those who came in contact with them are being screened for their vaccination status.

The silver lining in this public health crisis is that it...

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Book publishing shocker: That boy didn't actually come back from heaven!

The secular world is having a good guffaw over the embarrassment of Tyndale House, a Christian book publisher that announced last week it was withdrawing from print its bestseller "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven."

The reason: The book's co-author Alex Malarkey, the "boy" of the title, has admitted that he did not die or go and come back from heaven. The book, co-written with his father, Kevin, and marketed as "a true story," purports to relate what happened after Alex suffered a car crash at the age of 6 that has left him a quadriplegic. On the Christian blog Pulpit and Pen, Alex, now 16, writes, "I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention." Tyndale seems to have dropped the book down the memory hole; on Wednesday, I couldn't find a single mention of it on the firm's website.

The reaction of the typically rationalist reader to this development is: "What kind of suckers would take a yarn like this seriously in the first place?" Or: "What evidence does it take...

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Here's Obama's best applause line (it wasn't the one about his campaigns)

President Obama packed so many proposals into his State of the Union address Tuesday night that it was hard to grab hold of each one before he careened on to the next. And that's not counting the occasional zingers, including his reference to his two presidential election victories in response to a brief outburst of grade-school hooliganism from the Republicans in the House chamber.

We've already reported on Obama's proposals for free community college education and for closing loopholes in the capital gains tax. On Tuesday he made a new pitch for an idea he's been pushing almost since the start of his first term: for more investment in America's infrastructure.

Wisely, he contrasted the urgency of that investment with the Keystone pipeline, the useless and dangerous project being pushed so hard by Republicans and Congressional Democrats alike. "Let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline," he said. "Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30...

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