Does Rising Star Equate to Rising Ratings?

It was just a matter of time before advertisers tossed in their way of offsetting the modern marvels of fast forwarding through commercials in our favorite TV shows. There has been no better invention than DVRs. It’s better than peanut butter on pancakes. Unless you’re in the advertising industry.

Now, though, we’ve begun to see a number of shows with live voting opportunities for viewers. Here’s the deal they offered: watch our shows live and you can log in and vote on matters such as, “Is she cray-cray for taking him back?” Your options being “yep” or “nope”. Nothing like a bit of modern slang, right? On the other hand, if you could care less who she chooses to break up with or if it matters little whether he admits to cheating, those polls that gobble up about one-third of your TV screen are nothing more than annoyances.

capture-20140623-055252As of tonight, ABC has upped the ante. Sort of. Because there simply aren’t enough singing contests on TV, the network caved in to advertisers whose hard work was being zoomed past, courtesy of the fast forward option on our DVRs, and introduced the next wave of modern viewing. We now have “The Wall”. And it’s live, apparently.

Rising Star is similar to The Voice in that we have the obligatory rapper, hysterical country swooner and “girl who plays by her own rules”. Oh, and we also have Josh Groban. Josh Groban! Using that formula, Blake Shelton’s role is filled by Brad Paisley, CeeLo and Usher are now Ludacris and the Christine Aguilera/Shakira combo has now morphed into Kesha. Admittedly, I know nothing about Kesha, but I have to say, Paisley, Ludacris and Groban? Doesn’t get much better than that.

In order to prove that it’s live TV, Groban was told right before going live to toss in a current event that was unfolding. That current event was, of course, the men’s national soccer game between the U.S. and Portugal that had just ended in a tie. OK. We’re convinced it’s a live TV show.

The fact that the advertisers are Nintendo, pushing its latest attraction for elementary age kids; Kraft Mac & Cheese (again, with an elementary age kid touting the message) and the new Fall lineup for ABC, you have an idea of who the show is targeting for those ever-important votes.

ABC was pushing for a fresh approach, but how fresh can it be when it’s been done to death? We have the tearjerker stories, the 15 year old kids whose lives are over if they don’t win and the awkward comments made by the hosts/judges/experts/whoever they are (I’m really not sure what role Ludacris, Paisley and Kesha play except to vote for those they really like). My favorite awkward comment so far: Paisley retells a conversation he had recently with President Obama. He explains the 70% mark each contestant must hit, only to have the prez say, “I’d be happy with 45% approvals.” But it didn’t stop there – Groban then turns to Kesha and says, “Have you ever hung out with a president?” She gets out, “Not yet,” before Paisley says, “I think Bill Clinton’s her type.” Did I mention how much I adore Brad Paisley?

I’m not sure how ABC or any network handles bummer live shows. Do they have to continue the season if it’s a fail? After all, they’ve brought all of these singers with big dreams into the mix. What happens if ABC cuts off life support? I say put them out of their misery sooner rather than later. You can be sure it’s the Paisley/Groban/Ludacris combo that pulls this through past, let’s see, the 4th of July. Anyone care to put money to it?

Besides, what network would actually cut a series that has powerful story lines and opt to run with another show that doesn’t hold a candle?  Betrayal was a far better choice for the network – and I’d even be willing to forgo the DVR and actually watch the commercials if they’d bring it back.

Oh and if you’re wondering what the best Josh Groban song might be – check out the video. This is right up there with Julian Lennon’s Valotte and Ty Herndon’s Hide. Nothing better than a man who plays piano.

An Occupy founder says the next revolution will be rural

Donna:

The After Party – has great potential, built on a solid foundation and with the right motives.

Originally posted on Grist:

In a boarded-up hotel along a windy country road, a couple dozen activists are gathered for a workshop. They are mostly women, and mostly over 40. The workshop is being held by Micah White, one of the instigators of Occupy Wall Street.

After the dust settled from Occupy, White packed up his bags in the Bay Area and moved here to Nehalem, a small town in one of the poorest counties in rural Oregon. Nehalem sits on the Pacific Coast, in the shadows of popular vacation destination Manzanita. But White isn’t here for a vacation, and he came to town with a mission.

The demise of Occupy left everyone with one question: “Now what?” Almost three years later, White is helping the founders of Occupy, US Uncut, and others to launch The After Party, a new political party on “a mission to restore democracy” and occupy the ballot box…

View original 592 more words

Hits & Misses Part 2

Hits & Misses Part 2

Earlier this week, I posted on a few of the TV hits so far this season. There’s a lot of great TV – a lot of talent. There are also those relatively newer series that might have been impressive in their first season, but somehow, just haven’t kept up the momentum. And then there are those that just missed. Plain and simple – they didn’t deliver.

The Haves and Have Nots

The incredible talents of Tyler Perry came through the moment the first episode of The Haves and Have Nots hit the airways. The fact is, the cast is one of the most talented – if not the most talented – you’ll find in TV today. Crystal R. Fox is brilliant as Hanna Young, the hardworking and faithful woman who has a son she adores and a daughter she can’t stand. I think one of the most powerful moments in the series so far is the delivery of her grief and the way she expresses it in the hospital chapel. This comes after her son’s mowed down by a speeding car with a driver under the influence of drugs. The entire second season has been focused on that storyline. It’s strong enough to do that, too. Renee Lawless fills her role like nobody’s business.

The only trouble with this series is the excruciatingly manner in which the characters’ conversations can sometimes become dull. There are so many pauses and one-word conversations between the characters. They just…stall, somehow. I wish I’d saved an episode on the DVR for a specific example, but consider a 2 minute conversation between 2 characters with something like this:

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These actors deserve better – far better. Why those dull conversations make their way into nearly every episode is beyond me. Despite that, more than a few of those actors deserve a bit of Emmy love. If there’s any justice in the world, they’ll get it (then again, Sons of Anarchy still hasn’t received its just rewards either). Hopefully, when the series returns in May, the viewers will notice fewer of those shallow time-passers.

Note: Not sure if it’s a new season or just a split season, but new episodes are slated for May.

Whether you “have it or have not” it – follow on Twitter: @tylerperry @only1CrystalFox @MsReneeLawless

Revenge

I loved this show in its first season. Its second season showed weaknesses and now that we’re a few seasons in, it’s time for it to go away. It’s become unbelievable, silly and frankly, it’s become exhausting trying to keep up with who’s sleeping with whom. All of the random characters that come and go – it’s just annoying. We watch TV, knowing deep down that it’s not serving a purpose, but also knowing it’s an escape. When you find yourself Googling the past plot line because it’s become so disjointed, it’s time to call it a day. Between the “milked to death” infinity symbols, the breathy whispers of, “I’m gonna kill ‘em all” and the inability to keep up with who fathered which child, this is one show that’s not on my DVR as of this past week. Seriously – we know that Victoria’s (Madeline Stowe) three children have three different fathers, with one of those kids suddenly re-emerging and worked into an already overloaded story line. We know that the now-dead Amanda/Emily (Margarita Levieva) married Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler) and he’s now a widower raising a baby that’s not his. As of last week, we learn Jack’s real mother is Conrad’s (Henry Czerny) ex-wife. And seriously – how many murders can one series have?

Time to retire this one, ABC.

Revenge: Sundays 9 pm CT

Bates Motel

I very much wanted A&E’s take on Psycho to maintain a bit of the original storyline, which, understandably, would be challenging for any writer to fill Hitchcock’s shoes. The first season was a homerun. It maintained some of the integrity of the original capture-20140319-205926storyline, the acting was solid and the plot is suspenseful and intriguing. With its second season well on its way, it’s clear the writers have pulled off something many of their counterparts can’t seem to manage: a strong second season. I think part of the attraction is the dark house – which is remarkably similar to what we saw in the original film and the cheap hotel, complete with those inky black corners and clouds and shadows. It’s as though the motel sat empty ever since Anthony Perkins was sent to a psych ward, only to have our contemporary Norman Bates open the doors for the first time. The house and the motel are kitschy – when lends to a sense of authenticity. Not only that, but the peripheral plots aren’t overwhelming the heart of the story, which is both important and rare.

Vera Farmiga is one hell of a Norma Bates, partly because she’s able to keep her secrets of her true motives. It’s a great move on behalf of the writers because she’s certainly strong enough to shoulder what’s certainly a heavy burden – and she does it well. Set your DVR for this one – it’s here to stay.

Book your room at Bates Motel: @insidebates @aetv @verafarmiga

Bates Motel – Mondays 9 p.m. CT

Naked and Afraid

Discovery touts it as a “breakout series”. There is something so peculiar about this show – and I’m hooked. I’ve asked myself a million times if what happens is being accurately portrayed to viewers. Then, they aired the Louisiana swamps locale. If you’ve never been to southern Louisiana, with all of its swamps and dangerous critters, it’s hard to appreciate the potential for tragedy (and really, its beauty too). Last season, we saw two participants weather the brutal and unpredictable swamps – with hundreds of moccasins and gators and mosquitoes – it was brutal. After that, I didn’t really question the authenticity because it was obvious to me that it rings true.

A 90 minute season premiere – magical. We saw in the first half hour two brave souls that just couldn’t make it through. The last hour was dedicated to the two new people, who as it turns out, weren’t new at all. Two of the success stories from last season came in and owned the Amazon. Discovery has discovered gold.

Naked & Afraid – Sundays 8 p.m. CT

Discover the magic – @NakedandAfraid @LauraZerra @EJSnyder333 (these were the two returning survivalists who pulled off surviving the Amazon in Season 2 premiere)

Scandal

This one’s going to be painful to write, but someone needs to say it: Olivia Pope needs to encourage the men in her life to keep their ponies in the barn. Seriously, she’s sleeping with, what? Two, three men? The worst part is she’s going back and forth between them. Pick one, for the love of God – just pick one. At this point, no one even cares if it’s the married president. I’m so confused with this show. It’s lost its appeal.

Who was possessed to rewrite Quinn’s character? She’s not enough of a bad girl to be a bad girl. The show’s saving grace? Mellie. The forever traumatized first lady who’s well aware of her husband’s love for Olivia Pope. I wish we could see one good wop upside the head, delivered by Mellie to Olivia. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of Kerry Washington, Tony Goldwyn and Guillermo Diaz, but here’s a tip: When the actors start whispering their lines (Revenge writers should also take note), the creativity’s gone. It’s time for Fitz and someone to kiss and make up, lose the election and go on about their merry way.

Scandal – Thursdays 9 p.m. CT

The Short Notes:

Hell’s Kitchen’s back – there’s something so…I don’t know…something about Gordon Ramsay. Pretty sure he gets me. Well, you know…if he knew me.

Crisis premiered this week, so far so good. And hey – am I the only one who thinks Gillian Anderson and Virginia Madsen could pass as sisters? Take a look –

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The New TV Season: Hits & Misses

There’s one thing that can be said for the efforts networks make every season: they all promise big. What I find most interesting are the best new shows are the ones that are least publicized. The biggest disappointments are the ones that are hyped months in advance, only to deliver what was not advertised. And by the way – I’ve about had a bellyful of these abbreviated seasons. There was a time in TV land when a season ran 7 or 8 months, reruns in the summer with a new season about the time kids returned to school. Note to the networks: it wasn’t broke, so why’d you fix it? I know things have changed. Back then, we typically had three networks to choose from. These days, we have hundreds, which to me, would seem like most networks would try to keep viewers for as long as they can. But what do I know, right?

Let’s take a look at some of the true “must-see” series and those that only disappoint big.

Showing the love first…

There’s a lot to be excited about – two words, y’all: Mema. Chrisley.

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Reelz Channel

Hollywood Hillbillies: I love Mema in one of those “get a protection order” kind of ways. If you’ve not seen this Reelz Channel hit, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. On the surface, it seems like this might be another “I’m going to Hollywood to make it big” story, but it so not that. If you’re a YouTube junkie (and really, who isn’t?), odds are, you’ve seen The Angry Ginger. Michael is a sweet kid, from Georgia, who’s everything kids today aren’t. He’s close to his family, he’s smart, trusting and hilarious as all get-out. The best part? It comes natural. He travels to Hollywood after a Hollywood heavy-hitter, David Weintraub, sees his YouTube videos and thinks there just might be a bit of magic there. My guess is he thought he and Michael would take Hollywood by storm. What he wasn’t counting on (or so it seems as the season unfolds) is the whole family coming along to ensure Michael’s not been being taken advantage of. Mema is Michael’s grandmother and I swear, she is my own Maw Maw Nellie’s long lost sister. The things she says are unexpected, hilarious and trust me – there’s no way to rehearse that kind of southern wisdom. You either have it or you don’t. Maw Maw Nellie…er….I mean…Mema has it in spades. The family’s rounded out splendidly with Aunt DeeDee, Uncle Big John and Patsy, who shares an ex-husband with Mema.  Side note: DeeDee is the one to watch. She’s a genuinely warm and likeable person. You can’t not see her honest kindness and think, “I need to be nicer to people”.

Get your Hillbilly on via Twitter: @hwdhillbillies @coppercab @hillbillydeedee @hillbillymema

Hollywood Hillbillies: Tuesdays at 8 p.m. CT Reelz Channel

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USA Network

Chrisley Knows Best: I know what you’re thinking – I’m from the south, so I’m drawn to shows about southerners. That might hold water, except for the fact that these two families are as different as Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush (two more southerners,
I’ll have you know). I know I like someone when I instantly dislike and adore them at the same time. Todd Chrisley succeeds in that. His family? God love them, you just want to plan their escape for them. I’ve already done it my mind- I’ll lock the family patriarch in his closet, which by the way, is about the size of my house and tell each of his beautifully coifed children and sweet wife – “Run! Run now and don’t look back!”  But they’d not only look back, but they’d come back as soon as Todd escaped, probably through some secret door. He’d check his GPS on all of their cars, (any of which cost more than my house), cut their credit cards and dare them to make it on their own. Somehow, though, it just doesn’t feel dysfunctional to me. It’s just funny and at times, really sweet. I know….sounds contradictory, but this is one show USA’s pegged beautifully.

Follow the folks on Twitter: @chrisley_usa @toddchrisley @juliechrisley

Chrisley Knows Best: Tuesdays at 9 p.m. CT USA Network

Resurrection: This has been one I’ve really looked forward to seeing. I should mention that I was hooked on the first season of The Returned on Sundance Channel. I’m going to just put it out there: a network has far more to do with the success or failure of a series than we realize. In The Returned, we get the whole shebang. The disturbing story lines, the hokey human nature that we all have and because it has fewer limitations than a national network, it allows the viewer to really explore the topics of coming back after death. The fact that it’s in French (with subtitles) really adds to the beautiful presentation. I think, too, that Americans who’ve never been to France are able to peek into this spectacular country (it was filmed in Annecy). The sets are truly spectacular – with the center focused on the huge dam (which plays a significant role in how the first season played out). The music is haunting and for me, the “gave me goose bumps” moment came when Camille, who died at 15 and returned, thought back to the day she died. The viewer is standing in the kitchen, with what we think is Camille’s back to us, looking out the window. As soon as her parents and sister come into view, you realize it’s Camille who is being watched. The girl standing in the window turns around after watching her family leave and once again, you see Camille. And then it hits you: they’re twins. Camille returned as the same 15 year old she was when she died, but her “big sister” aged, as normal.

OK, so enter Resurrection. Omar Epps is a strong actor and ideal for the role he’s playing. So far, we know of two “returned” – an adorable kid named Jacob and a young father, whose story we don’t know yet, but who’s returned to adult children. The second episode aired last night and the ratings are pretty strong. Its downfall, and I hope writers avoid this, is some other silly “monster” show. They’d do well to follow The Returned’s qualities: keep it believable for adults. Your audience isn’t a group of 12 year old kids. If they can keep the rich story line going without falling into a ridiculous theme that steals the “what if” factor from an adult audience, they may have a homerun.

Resurrect your fear via Twitter: @resurrection @tahitismith @omarepps

Resurrection: Sundays 8 p.m. ABC

OK – so up next, the “go away for the love of all that’s good and right in this world” TV shows and a look at a few familiar shows that have just begun their new seasons – can they keep up the momentum?

Here’s a hint: There were two new series, both about Nashville, both now cancelled, but one that really had a great momentum going. Crazy Hearts Nashville, airing on AETV, to me, offered a strong foundation that could have been built upon. Viewers just weren’t tuning in. On the other hand, that ridiculous follow to the new season of Dallas on TNT: Private Lives of Nashville Wives was embarrassing to watch.  Christ Almighty, we already have too many pompous, arrogant and narcissistic housewives who fake being wealthy. TNT usually pegs it, this time, they failed. Miserably.

Careful, Gov. Barbour – Some Have Long Memories

Back in 2003, during the Mississippi governor’s race, I was working for the state’s second largest employer, Howard Industries. One morning, I had a big group coming in for meetings with my boss. It was already hectic as there were a lot of moving parts in getting it coordinated and when Security called me and said there was a problem, I immediately went into the lobby to see what the brouhaha was about. Turns out, then-Governor Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, was making a campaign stop. I walked to the capture-20140222-085906receptionist’s desk to see what she knew. There were a few people standing around, but none were paying attention to me (or so I thought). When she told me that the governor was making a campaign stop, I said, “Oh, hell. Seriously? Clearly someone forgot to tell him he’s a has-been”. This look came across her face and by the time I’d made it back to my office, she was calling to tell me one of the women standing around was the governor’s campaign manager. I was aggravated enough already and so I said, “You should’ve told me that. I’ve been wondering if they made it to the coast for a campaign stop at Ingalls. I’d like to know how he survived that one!” Ingalls Shipbuilding (now Northrop Grumman) was the state’s largest employer and Democrats weren’t having much success when it came to Naval shipyards. I know this because I was employed by Ingalls during the Clinton Administration.

Haley Barbour Takes Office

So, when Haley Barbour beat Ronnie Musgrove, he became only the second Republican governor to represent Mississippi in many years. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, he’d been in office for only a year and half, but his way of handling the historic crisis was quite impressive. I was proud to say I’d voted for him. He made the tough calls, including decisions to not accept certain federal monies for rebuilding the state. Many didn’t understand that with those federal dollars came big tradeoffs. Ultimately, because of his in-depth understanding of how the federal game works, he was able to secure more than $25 billion in federal money that didn’t require unacceptable political compromises in the process. Because of his hardline approach, he truly made big differences in how the state rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.

Impressive Strides by Barbour

Barbour accomplished many good things for our state. He remains the only governor to have balanced his state’s budget in his first year with no new taxes or as he called it at the time, “funny money”. He made great strides for women and minority owned businesses in the state and he played a pivotal role in reducing the red tape for larger corporations wishing to do business in our state. An impressive record, by any standards.

The Stupidity in Some Decisions

What really boggles the mind, though, was what he did as he was leaving office. He (and for reasons most of us still don’t understand) granted pardons to more than 200 convicted felons, some of which were convicted killers and many of whom went missing as soon as they were released. It was ridiculously stupid to do so, especially since he touted his “Christian beliefs” (and that’s another story) as his justification. There was absolutely no warning made to the victims of these criminals. It remains as controversial today as it was then. That, and his choices as one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington, has sullied his otherwise impressive political record. This week, he added to that tarnished reputation.

Cochran’s Threat: Chris McDaniel

There’s a heated debate going on in the Mississippi GOP primary race between Senator Thad Cochran and state Senator Chris McDaniel. The big controversy right now (and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better – which might be a good thing) is focused on Hurricane Katrina relief funds and whether McDaniel would have supported any kind of legislation that included $10 billion in aid to the state after the hurricane. McDaniel paused briefly. It wasn’t a classic “political pause” where a candidate is wondering what the right answer is, it was more of a pause that allowed him to carefully consider his words to keep the debate clean (as one person said, “Cause you know it ain’t gonna stay clean for much longer”).

McDaniel no doubt was considering the careful path laid by Barbour and his healthy dose of caution regarding federal funds when he was the one in that position. Barbour didn’t want to accept the money with a lot of political strings attached. At the time, Mississippians provided their governor a bit of leeway and as a result, they benefited from his caution. Now, suddenly, both Haley Barbour and McDaniel’s opponent, Thad Cochran have jumped on his “pause” and have begun accusing McDaniel of not caring about the voters. It’s hypocritical – it is exactly what Haley Barbour did – he paused in 2005. Yet, now that another candidate – in the same party, I might add, is showing a bit of restraint, it’s a curse that’s sure to knock Mississippi on its Magnolia-scented butt.

Hypocrisy in Politcs? Never!

Barbour clearly supports Cochran, and that’s fine. But what Cochran said after McDaniel’s cautious reply speaks volumes to those of us who know what happened. He told the press on Thursday:

Natural disasters can strike at any moment, and it is critical that Mississippians can count on their elected representatives to help them in times of crisis. Our delegation worked together in a bipartisan manner to make sure Katrina relief legislation was passed. As I look at how local and state officials have used this money, I am proud of what we did.

Yes, sir you should be proud. You should be proud because your supporter and our former governor ensured there would be no repercussions nearly a decade later than would have us anchored to some unrealistic and unneeded federal program, courtesy of our now-president.

Yet that same then-governor and current senator are trying to turn what they did then into something seedy in current day.

I have only one question for Senator Cochran: Don’t you know you’re a has-been?

What’s Heating up Faster than Welfare Drug Testing?

capture-20140116-094513As different states continue to do battle over the constitutionality of welfare recipients being drug tested, there’s a far bigger problem on the horizon. Regardless of which side you fall on, you might want to consider the potential of this newest train-wreck-about-to-happen.

As we know, senior citizens who apply for Medicaid face a few hurdles, including the 5 year look back period and the “spend down” requirement. It’s been in place for several years and it’s always been controversial. We also know that under the new healthcare laws, there are now a staggering 3.9 million Americans who have begun receiving Medicaid. And these millions of people bombarded the system in just 90 days (since the law went into effect). Many of these people aren’t disabled, and in fact, may be considered middle or upper class by any other measure. If they don’t qualify for traditional insurance when they go through the ACA Marketplace, they’re added to Medicaid rosters.

Here’s the kicker – as millions of seniors find themselves spending down their retirement that they worked decades to save and as they endure the time consuming and invasive 5 year look back period, these younger, healthy people aren’t facing the same scrutiny nor must they meet the threshold for coverage. So not only is the government fighting states’ efforts to impose drug testing on those receiving public benefits, it’s also not holding them to the same standards as older Americans.

5 Year Look Back

This law was passed in 2006 and was designed to prevent older Americans from giving away their assets in order to qualify for Medicaid. The way Congress saw it, too many were unloading their assets and once they were covered by Medicaid, they would then reclaim ownership. To remedy that problem, an investigation into the previous 5 years is conducted by Medicaid and if certain assets changed ownership during that period, it could jeopardize an applicant’s coverage. For families who are really limited in their options and see no other alternative but to place a loved one in a nursing home, it often means they either must pay for nursing home coverage or wait. For instance, if a retiree gifted to his granddaughter, say, $20,000, and then four years later was diagnosed with dementia and would require around the clock care in a nursing home which cost $5,000 a month, Medicaid would likely not begin making payments until after the fourth month. He would have to pay the $20,000 himself and then Medicaid would kick in. There are a few exceptions, but it’s a very complex law many still don’t understand.

Spend Down

Instead of looking to the past like the 5 year look back, this rule focuses on a Medicaid recipient’s current income and assets. If his income surpasses the Medicaid threshold each month, he will have to apply that overspill (based on government calculations) to his care and treatment before Medicaid will pick up the remaining balance.

The New Face of Medicaid

So who are these young and otherwise healthy individuals who are qualifying for this government program? Convicts, single parents who are earning a good living, college graduates who can’t find a job in their chosen field and others.  And not a single one will feel the scrutiny that the elderly endure.

And if you’re wondering why lawmakers are uninterested in leveling the playing field, you should know, when it gets right down to it, no one cares. Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said, “They are really two different things…what we’re talking about now is providing health insurance to a new group of people to help them get on with their lives and accumulate enough savings and assets to care for themselves in their old age, contrasted with elderly people  who already benefit from Medicare hospitalization coverage and should be willing to spend down their assets to qualify for Medicaid coverage for long-term care.” Regarding the 5 year look back, these new recipients “don’t have a lot of money in the bank” and it’s “hardly worth the government’s efforts to try to document their assets”.

That’s too bad, because there are many who can relate to this example:

A 35 year old man loses his job. He owns his home and has plenty of equity in it; he also has a nicely padded bank account, but because he lost his job, odds are, he qualifies for Medicaid – with no spend down or look back stipulations.

The “domino effect” could be catastrophic to the healthcare sector, the economy and, of course, the political sector (which wouldn’t be a bad thing).

Finally, for those states that opted out of the Medicaid expansion the Obama Administration tried to shove down their collective throat, you can be sure this just might be the breaking point, followed by the rest of the states reaching their own breaking points.

Multi-Millionaire Congressmen Subject to IRS GHWI?

Last week, we learned that most members of Congress are multi-millionaires. While it’s not surprising, it’s definitely frustrating. There’s a new twist, though, and if this plays out like many are hoping, things could get a bit sticky for many of those wealthy career politicians.

As you read this, remember one very important fact: Only 11% of bills made it past a congressional committee and only about 3% of new laws across the board were enacted between 2011 and 2013. This will be important a bit later.

Congress by the Numbers

The Center for Responsive Politics announced last week that it had analyzed the personal finances of the 534 current members of Congress. It found for the first time the average net worth of those resting easy in their ivory towers is just more than $1 million.

But don’t let that tiny “1” ahead of the word “million” fool you: the reason that average is not higher is due to several of those in Congress who have no concept of budgeting their money. Many are in the red, including Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), who has an average net worth of negative $12.1 million. It’s said that the reasons are due to the many loans his family’s dairy farm owes.

Meanwhile, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, made millions in the automobile industry. He’s the wealthiest with a net worth of a whopping $464 million. Many Congress members have similar net worth amounts.

Stay with me – this all links together…

GHWI

In 2009, the IRS formed what it refers to as the Global High Wealth Industry, or GHWI. Its sole purpose was to increase the focus on those considered “high income earners”. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue was clear and his line drawn in the sand was definitive at that time, “Many high wealth individuals make use of sophisticated financial, business, and investment arrangements with complicated legal structures and tax consequences. Many of these arrangements are above board. Others mask aggressive tax strategies.”

According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers:

The focus of this group is primarily the IRS targeting hedge funds, private equity firms, real estate funds and venture capital funds (collectively, “Managed Funds”).

One guess as to what the investment of choice is for most of our elected officials. Turns out, the politicians are dropping big money back into the stock market. Their focus is mutual funds and managed portfolios, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

Here’s the kicker – remember all of those banking scandals that dominated the news in recent years? We’ve not heard much about them or their unethical CEOs and other financial leaders for one reason: the president’s healthcare reform was the priority. As such, that’s what the media focused on. You can be sure none of those scandals have been resolved; they’re quietly simmering in the background. Or maybe not. Take a look at this chart (which you can see in its entirety here):

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As you can see, the three biggest banks in the nation, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, all make the top ten most popular assets for those in Congress.

It’s not illegal, but it’s troublesome, especially when you consider:

JPMorgan Chase

Has there been a single week in the past few years that didn’t include news of yet another lawsuit against JPM? There are civil and criminal investigations that continue in the London Whale scandal. There’s another investigation into illegal energy trading in California, still another one in China over bribery accusations and, of course, the huge mortgage scandal that continues.

Don’t forget the harm done directly to its credit card customers. The bank was ordered to refund close to $310 million to those customers along with having to pay $80 million in fines due to identity theft protection that its card customers did not want. Just last week, the bank was ordered to pay a whopping $2 billion in its role with the Bernie Madoff scandal. These examples are the ones off the top of my head; you can be sure there are many more. See my infograph on JPMorgan and Jamie Dimon here.

Bank of America

Not to be outdone by its competitor, BoA has its own list. It includes big fines for minority discrimination. This was ordered when it was proven the bank charged higher fees and forced minorities into subprime loans when they might have qualified for better rates.

In 2009, it was fined nearly $3 million for overbilling its credit card customers. It then attempted to mislead an investigation into its contracting processes and was fined $137 million. Again, this is just a few of the recent scandals for BoA.

Wells Fargo

WF was hit with its own $85 million fine for “pushing subprime loans” to minorities. It was also fined for “selling complex investments without disclosing the risks”.  The judge in another suit ruled “Wells Fargo engaged in reprehensible systemic accounting abuses in its mortgage division”. And let’s not forget the money laundering scandal with Mexico’s drug cartel (this investigation continues).

Knowing all of this, you can’t help but wonder how much focus the GHWI is placing on these multi-millionaires. The short answer: very little. The IRS won’t disclose specifics, but what it does say is that there have been a grand total of 36 audits since its inception in 2009. Many of those audits turned up no wrongdoing, though the agency won’t provide hard data on those specifics, either. Still – 36 audits since its inception? What are the odds that even one member of Congress is part of that total?

Bringing it full circle, reconsider: Only 11% of bills made it past a congressional committee and only about 3% of new laws across the board were enacted between 2011 and 2013.

We have multi-millionaires, who are consistently adding to their wealth in jobs that their performance is significantly lacking and who are not held accountable – on personal or professional levels. Meanwhile, tax dollars continue to fund an arm of the IRS that refuses to release hard numbers on the job its doing.

What’s next? Who knows. Priorities are a mess and worsening, the media is busy redefining the role of journalism and the rest of us are in this constant state of frustration because we’re the ones shouldering the massive burdens – someone has to pay for the millions of dollars in fines, salaries and bailouts, after all.