Nel's New Day

April 15, 2018

GOP Wants People to Go Hungry

Filed under: Congressional legislation — trp2011 @ 10:42 PM
Tags: , , ,

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is finally taking the lead in legislation—the one that helps shred the safety net—and House Republicans are following. DDT’s executive order allowing work requirements for people on food stamps is being replicated as part of the 2018 Farm Bill that does it one better by mandating that most adults between 18 and 59 be required to work part-time or enroll in 20 hours a week of workforce training to receive food stamp assistance. While some House conservatives want to take food from struggling families, they want to give more welfare to struggling farmers, especially if DDT’s threats of tariffs hurts them.

The plan budgets $1 billion per year to fund the training program expansion; cutting the hoped-for 1 million people could save the nation $500 million. The only good thing about the proposed bill is that it doesn’t include DDT’s budget proposal of cutting food stamps and replacing them with a box of non-perishable goods.

The concept of helping people become self-sufficient through training and well-paid jobs is excellent. Consider, however, that the GOP refuses to raise the minimum wage from $7.25, which pays below the food-stamp income level for millions of full-time jobs. Also, quality training programs such as subsidized employment can cost up to $10,000 a year per person, costing $15 billion a year to fund a national employment and training program. The think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated costs for training at $1 billion per month, not per year. Ten state pilot programs are intended to identify best practices, and USDA has not evaluated them yet. Other concerns for the mandatory employment, as Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) voiced, are unreliable transportation, low housing security, and shifting child care and medical schedules.

The GOP goal is to throw people off food stamps and ignore them if they become homeless or starve to death. Anyone failing to meet the criteria would be blocked for a year for the first time and three years for violations after that. Currently, people ages 18 to 49 must work or enroll in a training program for 20 hours a week to get benefits for more than three months every three years. The number of hours would be increased to 25 hours by 2026. This requirement covers 3.5 million of the over 40 million people receiving this benefit, almost nine percent. The new guidelines in the bill extends the age to 59 and includes all parents with school age children.

The object is to increase people working, but 58 percent of households receiving SNAP with at least one disabled adult are employed. Eighty-two percent of SNAP recipients worked in the year before or after enrollment.

DDT’s Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility executive order ordered secretaries across the government to review the safety net from food stamps to Medicaid to housing programs in a search for new regulations, especially work requirements, and ways for states to have more “flexibility” for these programs. Flexibility, however, can be used to reduce states’ budget problems without helping people.

The executive order is meant to mimic what DDT sees as the success of the TANF “flexible” block grants, but he system created over 20 years ago to give lump sums to states has failed. In the early years of block grants, the labor market was strong, but the number of families helped immediately started to sag with an almost two-thirds loss by 2015 while the number of families with children in poverty increased from 5.1 million in 2000 to 6.5 million. The number of families with children in deep poverty increased by 50 percent. In 14 states, ten or fewer families receive cash assistance for every 100 families in poverty. The bottom half of this chart is comprised almost entirely of red states.

As fewer needy families receive assistance, the benefit levels drop to 20 percent less than in 1996. At the same time, housing cost have increased, and states spend little money to help people find and maintain work. Instead the block grants go to programs such as pre-K education or child welfare, freeing state funds for expenditure not related to safety nets. States have also lost 34 percent of the block grants’ value since its inception because their formulas have not changed, and the same formula has not been revised for population growth or economic conditions in each state.

DDT also claims that Kansas and Maine have shown success in food stamp work requirements because of “individuals who left welfare and … saw their income increase.” An audit of these two programs, however, shows that total resources of people cut off to SNAP participants dropped three percent within a year—and that was in a year when the economy was getting better.

The farm bill deadline is September, and, as usual in the current Congress, Democrats are kept out of the planning process. Republicans could pass a punitive bill for people on food stamps in the House, but a successful Senate vote requires Democratic support. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Agriculture Committee chair, has said that he will not consider major SNAP changes.

Three reports from the Bipartisan Policy Center include restrictions on buying sugary drinks, increased incentive for buying healthy food, and coordination between SNAP and federal health programs serving low-income households. They do not suggest a change in eligibility rules.

Internal USDA emails from March suggest that DDT may support mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipient. Wisconsin considered doing this although federal rules prohibit states from adding requirements on SNAP-eligible families. A federal appeals court struck down Florida’s SNAP drug-testing law in 2014, ruling that it was a form of unreasonable search, and Georgia’ law also lost in court. Twelve states have requested permission for drug testing with none granted.

Republicans won’t care if their low-income constituents go hungry, but they may be influenced by the cuts for big corporations if they reduce foot stamps. Supermarkets and superstores get 81 percent of SNAP benefits although they are only 14 percent of companies accepting them. The loss for these companies could be $57.5 billion in the next decade. Wal-Mart alone gets 18 percent of food stamp profits, and Target comes in second with a $4.8 billion to $5.3 billion loss. Kmart closed over 150 of its stores last year, and Food stamp benefit cuts would take away $1.9 billion to $2.2 billion from their tills.

Big banks will also lose money if they distribute less government benefits, but they are paid for distributing cards, balance inquiries, declined for insufficient funds, withdrawals, penalties, fees, etc. The 2014 law changes gave even more money to the banks because it required additional software for controlling foods purchased and fraud. The money all goes to three companies.

The money spent on food stamps almost doubles the dollars in economic activity. Last year, $70 billion fed 40 million people, half of the population that is food-insecure. People complain about fraud, but the total is down to less than one percent of the expenditures–$700 million compared to the $125 billion of waste in the U.S. Department of Defense. The U.S. also loses $40 to $70 billion a year to offshore tax evasion, but the government spent its money on conducting 4,396 undercover investigation of food stamp fraud in 2012 with a 40-percent success. The true “welfare queens” in the United States are corporations that refuse to pay people a living wage while giving hundreds of billions to owners and shareholders.

Republicans want to cut food stamps for two reasons. They believe that anyone not in their “tribe”—all those wealthy people who are their donors—don’t deserve any help. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) terminology of “makers” and “takers”—which he sort of apologized for—set the tone of denigrating all people who need government assistance. He may understand that people don’t want to be dependent on others, but the myth that people who use the safety net are users is prevalent in the conservative world. The use of “entitlement programs” for Social Security and Medicare is commonly among conservatives despite their being insurance programs that people pay into for their old age.

The second reason for cutting food stamps is the desperation that far-right Republicans feel as they run for re-election. Their gift of tax-cut money to the wealthy and large corporations has created a looming deficit, and their solution is to take the money away from the bottom 90 percent in the nation. Trying to cut food stamps is only their first step; a majority GOP Congress will be disastrous for almost everyone in the United States.

January 19, 2018

Polis Addresses Women’s March, Government Shuts Down

Filed under: Congressional legislation — trp2011 @ 11:03 PM
Tags: , ,

Each week, Vice.com has a one-sentence report on the past week of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) followed by details about the events:

“President Donald Trump denied that he said anything ‘derogatory’ after he called El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries ‘shitholes’; underwent his first physical as president, was declared healthy by the White House physician, even as independent doctors claimed Trump has a common form of heart disease; stayed mum about allegations of paying former porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about their affair; called himself the ‘least racist person’; urged Americans to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day by getting involved in their communities; spent MLK Day golfing at Mar-a-Lago; lambasted Democrats over DACA, which he deemed ‘probably dead’; reportedly refused to sit down with the Congressional Black Caucus’ leaders; tweeted out a broken link to his highly anticipated ‘Fake News Awards’; more than halved U.S. aid money to Palestinians; traveled to Pennsylvania to campaign for Rick Saccone; and tweeted that his stance on the border wall has never changed right after his chief of staff said it had ‘evolved.’”

Tomorrow morning, DDT intended to go to Mar-a-Lago for his celebration party costing $100,000 per couple; $250,000 will get couples not only the dinner and photograph with DDT for the lower price plus a round-table discussion with him. He has changed his plans and will stay in Washington, highly upset because the shutdown keeps him from “my party.” [Just wait for the tweets!]

Tomorrow, people will also be protesting DDT in the second Women’s March. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), married to Marlon Reis, will march in Denver after his participation in last year’s Washington, D.C. event. Below is his letter to their three-year-old daughter. The couple also has a son, six-year-old Caspian Julius.  [An interview with Polis (left) from last April.]

Cora,

It’s already been one year — and almost a third of your life so far! — since we participated in the big Women’s March in Washington D.C. I’m excited to have the opportunity to march with you again this year in Denver!

I know at the age of three, you’re only just beginning to sense the importance of the fellowship we shared with millions of civic activists around the country last year, and that we will share again tomorrow. And while I’m sad that the first President you will know is not only an unacceptable role model but in many ways a representative of the past that we thought we’d left behind, I am heartened by how our community is responding and resisting.

I hope that as you grow up, you look back on these marches the same way I look back on the equal rights and anti-war rallies I attended with your grandparents when I was a kid. I hope tomorrow’s march helps open the door for you to a lifetime of joining with others to fight for a better, kinder, more equal world.

For all the great things about the world you were born into, there is still a lot of work to do. We still live in a state where a woman earns 81 cents to a man’s dollar. We still live in a nation where a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions is under attack. We still live in a place where sexual harassment and assault happen, and people blame the victim.

I entered public office because I believe in the power of public policy, changing the laws to reflect our values and create a better future. But policy is not the only thing that matters. Many of the problems we face today will not be solved through legislation or by politicians. They’ll be solved by people from all walks of life coming together to break stereotypes, break cultural barriers, and break glass ceilings.

That’s why we marched last year. That’s why we’re planning on marching tomorrow.

Despite the challenges and uncertainty of this moment in our history, there are reasons for hope all around you. From Susan B. Anthony to Rosa Parks to Dolores Huerta, to Colorado’s own Florence Sabin, we’re inspired by the strong women before you that have paved the path toward equality and justice. I’m proud you can look to your own family including your “Gramma” Susan Polis Schutz, who shattered the societal norms of her time to become a successful business woman and bestselling poet, even if she does feed you ice cream when she’s not supposed to.

This is just the start for you. I look forward to you living your life and building the future you desire. Hopefully the glass ceilings will be shattered by the time you get there. But if not bring a hammer.

Love,

Dad

The main Women’s March, on the anniversary of DDT’s inauguration, has moved from D.C. to Las Vegas with a Sunday event called “Women’s March Anniversary: Power to the Polls” to follow this year’s success in electing women across the nation.

Tonight the government will shut down until Congressional members can pass a spending bill. The first government shutdown since October 2013, this one makes history; it is the first shutdown when one party controls Congress and the White House and the first time that a president of the United States has explicitly called for a shutdown. During the last possibility of a shutdown in November, DDT had said privately that a good government shutdown would help him politically. Earlier in May, DDT tweeted, “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” Shutdown threats under DDT are a little like facing someone with a gun who keeps threatening to kill you. Finally, you give up and tell the person to just shoot.

Republicans already postponed the spending bill for the past several months while trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act to take health care from people and pass its tax bill to benefit the wealthy and big business. In addition, DDT’s blow-up with obscene language about non-white countries cut down on the compromise that included a way for DACA youth to not be deported. Everyday that no bill passes about the Dreamers, hundreds of them are in danger. Democrats had given into Republicans on a number of issues, but the negotiations were unsuccessful after DDT rejected the bipartisan agreement.

To gin up more fear, DDT continues to lie about a shutdown being “devastating to our Military.” A federal law generally bars agencies from continuing to work at taxpayer expense during a shutdown, but that law provides major exceptions for military and intelligence operations, national security, and emergencies. During the 2013 GOP shutdown, Congress unanimously passed a law guaranteeing continued pay for military personnel. Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) object to Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) proposal to continue paying military personnel.

Shortly after midnight, the vote of 50-49 against the spending bill officially shut down the government. Following the vote, McConnell blamed the Democrats for hurting the military, ignoring people with addiction, and denying children with insurance while saying that he cared about DACA. He said that DACA doesn’t affect anyone until March although hundreds of young people are being deported daily. Only when Republicans want to get their own way does McConnell claim to care about programs that he has postponed for at least four months.

McConnell declared that he would keep calling for votes until Democrats voted for the continuing resolution until after Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) talked about the Democratic compromises were willing to accept, including funding for the wall, that were also accepted by the president–until he left the White House and the chief of staff called to say that the deal was off. At that point McConnell proposed a continuing resolution on February 8, conveniently after DDT’s State of the Union address on January 30 and turned down a three-day continuing resolution. McConnell’s postponement may fail because DDT said he won’t negotiate on DACA while the government is closed.

Tomorrow will be filled with conservative news blaming the Democrats for the shutdown. Over four years ago, DDT said that the president of the United States is at fault for any government shutdown. Four Republicans, including the senior Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) voted the bill, opposing short continuing resolutions in exchange for a long-term spending bill.

DDT will want a continuing resolution for the spending bill because it gives him the ability to change funding for intelligence priorities. The House bill sent to the Senate dropped a long-standing law that keeps the person in the Oval Office from spending unauthorized money on intelligence activities until a long-term bill passes and puts DDT in charge of these expenditures.

Tomorrow the women are marching, and the government is in shutdown. Happy anniversary, DDT!

[DDT’s 52nd week will be chronicled next week.]

 

November 30, 2017

History Shows Disaster of Tax Bill

Over a century ago, George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This saying applies to the disastrous tax bill moving through Congress. “The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” tax raises for the poor and middle class (to paraphrase the title of Judith Viorst’s children’s classic) has passed the House, and another one, probably worse, has moved from committee to the Senate floor after GOP senators were bought off by bribes. Historian Robert S. McElvaine wrote this perspective from the past to illustrate the nation’s future: “I’m a Depression historian. The GOP tax bill is straight out of 1929.” The piece is subtitled “Republicans are again sprinting toward an economic cliff.”

“There are two ideas of government,” William Jennings Bryan declared in his 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech. “There are those who believe that if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

That was more than three decades before the collapse of the economy in 1929. The crash followed a decade of Republican control of the federal government during which trickle-down policies, including massive tax cuts for the rich, produced the greatest concentration of income in the accounts of the richest 0.01 percent at any time between World War I and 2007 (when trickle-down economics, tax cuts for the hyper-rich, and deregulation again resulted in another economic collapse).

Yet the plain fact that the trickle-down approach has never worked leaves Republicans unfazed. The GOP has been singing from the Market-is-God hymnal for well over a century, telling us that deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, and the concentration of ever more wealth in the bloated accounts of the richest people will result in prosperity for the rest of us. The party is now trying to pass a scam that throws a few crumbs to the middle class (temporarily — millions of middle-class Americans will soon see a tax hike if the bill is enacted) while heaping benefits on the super-rich, multiplying the national debt and endangering the American economy.

In 1926, Calvin Coolidge’s treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, one of the world’s richest men, pushed through a massive tax cut that would substantially contribute to the causes of the Great Depression. Republican Sen. George Norris of Nebraska said that Mellon himself would reap from the tax bill “a larger personal reduction [in taxes] than the aggregate of practically all the taxpayers in the state of Nebraska.” The same is true now of Donald Trump, the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other fabulously rich people.

During the 1920s, Republicans almost literally worshiped business. “The business of America,” Coolidge proclaimed, “is business.” Coolidge also remarked that, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple,” and “the man who works there worships there.” That faith in the Market as God has been the Republican religion ever since. A few months after he became president in 1981, Ronald Reagan praised Coolidge for cutting “taxes four times” and said “we had probably the greatest growth in prosperity that we’ve ever known.” Reagan said nothing about what happened to “Coolidge Prosperity” a few months after he left office.

In 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt called for “bold, persistent experimentation” and said: “It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” The contrasting position of Republicans then and now is: Take the method and try it. If it fails, deny its failure and try it again. And again. And again.

When Bill Clinton proposed a modest increase in the top marginal tax rate in his 1993 budget, every Republican voted against it. Trickle-down economists proclaimed that it would lead to economic disaster. But the tax increase on the wealthy was followed by one of the greatest periods of prosperity in American history and resulted in a budget surplus. When the Republicans came back into power in 2001, the administration of George W. Bush pushed the opposite policies, which had invariably produced calamity in the past. Predictably, that happened again in 2008.

Just how disastrous would the proposed reincarnation of the failed Republican trickle-down policies of the past be for the American people and the future of the nation? A few ways:

  • Repealing the estate tax, or, as Republicans have dubbed it, the “death tax.” But the estate tax is not a tax on the dead; it is a tax on their heirs. Repeal would reverse an important aspect of the American Revolution and establish an American hereditary aristocracy. If your estate is not above $11 million, your benefits from this portion of the GOP’s tax cut will be a nice round number: zero.
  • Eliminating deductions for state and local taxes. The GOP has called these deductions favoritism for people who live in high-tax states. In fact, ending deductibility of state and local taxes would tax income that has already been taxed away from a taxpayer. It is, quite simply, double taxation.
  • Repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax, which assures that wealthy people who hire accountants to find all the obscure ways to avoid taxes cannot escape taxation altogether. Repealing it would save Trump millions.
  • Extending the “pass-through” provision to noncorporate businesses, including some 500 entities Trump owns. It would allow the owners of these businesses to pay taxes at 25 percent, instead of 39.9 percent. This provision would allow Wall Street fund managers, among other very wealthy people, to pay a lower tax rate than many middle-class Americans pay.
  • Ending the deductibility of large medical expenses.
  • Taxing waived tuition for college students, ending deductibility for student loan payments, and even disallowing teachers from deducting what they spend on school supplies for their students.
  • Ending the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which would cause 13 million Americans to lose health insurance and result in much higher premiums for those who do get insurance through the exchanges. The Congressional Budget Office has indicated that, if enacted, the Republican tax bill may force deep cuts in Medicare through a generally unknown budget rule that its deficits would trigger.

The analysis of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that people making less than $100,000 a year (approximately 80 percent of American households) will have their taxes increased while the millionaires and billionaires will make off like bandits.

In the 1920s, Republicans were in full control of the federal government and used that power to pursue their objective to “make the well-to-do prosperous.” It didn’t “leak through on those below.” In that decade, the mass-production American economy became dependent on mass consumption. For it to work, the masses need a sufficient share of the national income to be able to consume what is being produced.

Republican policies in the ’20s instead pushed to concentrate more of the income at the top. Nine decades later, Republicans are rushing to do it again — and they are sprinting toward an economic cliff. Another round of Government of the People, by the Republicans, for the super-rich will be catastrophic. The American people must call a halt before it’s too late.

Thank you, Mr. McElvaine

The deliberate $1.5 trillion deficit, tacked on to the massive deficits from George W. Bush’s wars and tax cuts, hobbles future generations. Instead of cutting back the deficit, the GOP is following the lead of a man who bragged that “I’m the king of debt.” DDT said, “I’m great with debt. Nobody knows debt better than me. I’ve made a fortune by using debt, and if things don’t work out … you go back and you say, ‘Hey, guess what? The economy crashed. I’m going to give you back half.’” The king of debt made money cheating workers and retired people by refusing to pay them and declaring bankruptcies while he took all the cream for himself. He plans to continue the practice for all the people in the United States, for example anyone with Treasury bonds who will get only half of their investment back if he gets his way.

DDT claims he will “make America great again,” but he is turning the nation into a place where people are leaving instructions to send their ashes to Republicans who vote to literally kill them. Zoey Salsbury has created a popular website for people who may die without healthcare or Medicare. (The tax bill cuts $25 billion from that healthcare program). She provides information about how to mail cremains to the congressional member of choice, suggesting that packages be sent to legislators’ district offices because the Capitol may block them, and offers assistance in writing wills to for this process.

DDT is gaining his own vision of the United States, a place where he can take at least $1 billion for his personal gain from the bottom half of the population.

October 30, 2017

Russia, Puerto Rico, Budget

Luckily for the Republicans, Dictator Donald Trump is leaving the country Friday. His Asia trip removes him from tweeting about what he will give away in the tax reform legislation. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that it’s an advantage that DDT is a half world away and then tried to explain his comment away by saying that he was joking. At home, however, the problems continue.

The first charges from Robert Mueller’s investigations led today’s media. Twelve counts against DDT’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort include conspiracy against the United States, tax evasion, and money laundering related to his work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. His longtime deputy, Rick Gates, is also charged. DDT responded with anger to charges against Manafort but said nothing about a greater danger to him, his campaign advisor George Papadopoulos’s confession to colluding with Russia and agreeing to provide more information about the situation. Roger Stone’s tweets were so far over the top that Twitter suspended his account. A detailed timeline of the DDT/Russia affair.

DDT is now lying about having any connection with Cambridge Analytica, a shady British data firm providing data for his campaign, that asked WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange for help in “finding” Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. The desired distraction is the Uranium One deal during Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State by accusing her of allowing Russia to buy a Canadian company. The agreement, which was not controlled by Clinton, does not allow removal of U.S. uranium from either Canada or U.S. without U.S. permission. False allegations about bribery connections come from Breitbart author Peter Schweizer in Clinton Cash.

Another attempted distraction is an attempt to blame a dossier about DDT’s lewd and illegal behavior on Hillary Clinton for a dossier on him. Facts about the 35-page research document prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele:

  • The conservative Washington Free Beacon funded the project before DDT became the GOP candidate when Clinton’s campaign and the DNC, through Democratic lawyer Marc Elias of the law firm Perkins Coie, took over. (Mother Jones reported this information a year ago, but DDT pretends it’s new.)
  • Former FBI director briefed DDT about the contents of the dossier after his election.
  • Unverified ones are under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
  • U.S. intelligence agencies stated that the dossier was not their source and confirmed additional information, including Russian interference in U.S. elections through email hacking and disinformation campaigns.

GOP Republicans want to save money by stopping Mueller’s investigation despite their expensive three-year investigation into Clinton’s Benghazi and emails, bringing the cost of “getting” Clinton over $100 million. Earlier, Kenneth Starr’s investigation into “Whitewater” cost $70 million, and Bill Clinton’s impeachment cost about $60 million. Only the DOJ can block these funds for Mueller’s investigation, however, unless Congress passes a separate law.

Fox and Friends concentrated on where the lettuce should go in a cheeseburger, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders talked about reporters going out for beers and having to pay taxes.

DDT bragged about his “success” in Puerto Rico, calling it a “10,” but 39 days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, 77 percent of Puerto Rico is still without electricity. Without energy to power wastewater disposal and clean water delivery systems, their pumps won’t work, and sewage builds up while residents can’t get clean drinking water. People suffer from dehydration and become infected from low-quality water sources. Without electricity, people can’t know where to get supplies.

No one knows how to use the gigantic government hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, and only 33 of its 250 beds were being used a week ago. Many of those who know about the facility can’t get to the port because of impassable roads or fuel. A donation from Tesla has provided a solar power system for a children’s hospital in San Juan, but doctors in other facilities have only the light from cellphones to perform surgery.

DDT prided himself on the low death rate in Puerto Rico, but over 900 bodies have been scheduled for cremation on the island since Hurricane Maria hit. Officials will not know whether they are directly connected to the disaster. These deaths were marked as being from “natural causes,” but many of them died from failing dialysis and oxygen machines after the island had no electricity. Bodies must be sent to the Institute of Forensic Sciences in San Juan for an autopsy to be included in the official death count.

The scandal of Whitefish Energy rebuilding the island’s power grid continues after Gov. Ricardo Rossello finally pulled the plug on a $300 million contract awarded by the island’s power. The board ignored mutual aid from larger experienced power companies which provided workers from U.S. public utility companies after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma this year and instead chose the two-person, two-year-old non-utility Whitefish Energy, located in the small Montana hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He claims that he had nothing to do with the choice, but his son had worked for the company.

Whitefish’s previous experience was to replace 4.8 miles of transmission line in Arizona for $1.3 million; Puerto Rico has 2,400 miles of critically important transmission lines and tens of thousands of miles of distribution lines across the island. The company relies on subcontractors; they have paid $462 per hour for a supervisor and $319 for a lineman. Each person is daily paid $332.41 for accommodations and $79.82 for food.

According to the contract, Puerto Rico was not allowed to “audit or review the cost and profit elements,” and the government was prohibited from making “any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of work.” The “contractor will not be subject to compliance with any performance specification during the duration of this reconstruction work.” Although the Whitefish contract states that FEMA approved the deal, the disaster agency said it was not involved in the selection of the company and has “significant concerns” about the decision. The fishy agreement may have been worse than the fraud during the clean-up after Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

Financing for Whitefish comes from the Texas-based private-equity firm HBC Investments, founded by Joe Colonnetta. He and his wife, Kimberly, donated over $80,000 to DDT and RNC campaigns and have associations with Ben Carson, DDT’s secretary of housing and urban development, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to photos on her Facebook page.

Last week, Congress passed a disastrous budget with a House vote of 216-212 (20 GOP representatives voting no) and a Senate vote of 51-49 (Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky only GOP saying no) for the next decade:

  • A $1.5 trillion deficit to finance tax cuts with almost 80 percent of them going to the top 1 percent.
  • Cuts to all non-Medicare health programs of $1.3 trillion, almost 30 percent.
  • Cuts of $473 billion to Medicare.
  • Cuts of $653 (13 percent) to mandatory programs in the “income security” spending category including food stamps; Supplemental Security Income (SSI, an anti-poverty program that gives cash to seniors and disabled people); the earned income tax credit (EITC) for people too poor to pay taxes; and unemployment insurance; both military and civilian federal employee pensions.
  • “Mystery” cuts of $800 billion from “non-defense discretionary spending”—funding for the FBI, the National Institutes of Health and other biomedical research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency and Treasury Department, etc. More specific cuts include slashing medical research and gutting State and the EPA especially.
  • GOP’s plan to eliminate deductions for state and local taxes adversely affecting one-third of households. (Without that change the deficit would be $2.4 trillion. A proposed tax credit for property taxes would increase the deficit by $700 billion.)
  • Cuts of 93 percent for federal programs that aid survivors of sexual and domestic violence from $460 million to $30 million, the equivalent of a few weekends for DDT at Mar-a-Lago.

Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz said that House Republicans were “asked to vote for a budget that nobody believes in so that we have the chance to vote for a tax bill that nobody’s read.”

Republicans are willing to fund tax cuts for the wealthy with a deficit but demand an offset to pay for healthcare for nine million children in poverty. CHIP ended on October 1, but Republicans won’t renew it until Democrats agree to cut the Affordable Care public health fund, reduce the grace period for enrollees who fail to make the premium payments, repeal the law’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, and make cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. The same people are working to cut off abortions at six weeks because they “love children.”

DDT is demanding the tax cuts (for wealthy) bill on his desk by Thanksgiving—about a dozen work days for the House—but keeps killing ideas on making money for the wealthy. This week he promised to allow people to continue deducting $18,000 for their 401(k) retirement accounts instead of $2,400 but withdrew the statement after the House included the change in the bill. The government will get the taxes no matter what, but the GOP wants it this year, costing $2 trillion in the next decade. The bill will supposedly be released in two days.

Republicans further voted against DDT’s base by forbidding class action consumer lawsuits against banks or credit card companies. VP Mike Pence broke the tie in the Senate. More advantage for the wealthy!

September 5, 2017

Congress’ Twelve-day Agenda

Congress is back from vacation—pardon me, work in their home districts. Just 80 members of the House (49 Democrats and 31 Republicans), and 13 senators (eight Democrats and five Republicans), held town halls over the break, according to the group. Of the 175 members of Congress to hold an in-person town hall in 2017, 148 are Republican.

Back in Washington, Congress faces daunting tasks with deadlines with only twelves days in session. The increasing number of attack tweets from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) DDT makes congressional duties even worse.

Federal legislative responsibilities during September –

Pass a budget to avoid a government shutdown on October 1:

DDT insists on funding his “wall” and said that he’s willing to close down the government to get it. Democrats said they will block any money for the wall, and several Republicans agree. A  “kick the can” approach with a short-term, continuing resolution funding bill may postpone the fight for a few months, but it can have serious repercussions. DDT might increase domestic spending in exchange for a start to “double fence” construction. North Korea’s nuclear tests will make legislators want more military spending, and hawks hate short-term spending bills. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he won’t support another stopgap bill, and he has nothing to lose. People won’t change their minds later in the year, and Democrats will be able to filibuster budget bills after October 1.

Raise the debt ceiling to keep paying the government’s bills before September 29:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that there is “zero chance” Congress won’t raise the debt ceiling, and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said there are lots of options. That was BH—Before Harvey. Conservatives may demand attachments of spending cuts, but Democrats will oppose these. Raising the U.S. debt limit means that the U.S. will continue to pay existing bills. Not increasing the ceiling can trigger the first-in-modern-U.S.-history default that threatens to turn the world economy on its head and destroys the world’s faith in the U.S. paying its bills, including its loans. Interest rates would go up without the increase, and stocks and bonds are already suffering from the possibility. Worst case: a serious recession. McConnell threatened to withhold an increase from President Obama in 2013 without spending cuts. Now he’s on the other side from his own party’s conservatives.

Provide assistance after Harvey:

With Harvey’s losses over $180 billion, costs for this aid will probably be tens of billions, but the source of this income is uncertain. Aid for victims of Sandy waited 91 days while congressional members squabbled about taking the money from other parts of the budget. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wants aid for Hurricane Harvey survivors connected to the bill. DDT says that the Harvey bill should be independent, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), conservative Freedom Caucus leader, doesn’t want the debt-ceiling bill attached to any other legislation—except for his restrictions on future spending. Some sources have said that the House strategy is to pass a “clean” bill to fund $7.85 billion for the first phase of Hurricane Harvey recovery during the coming week. GOP senators could attach the debt limit raise to the House bill before returning it. Meadows’ conservatives would then have to decide whether to vote against Texas’ emergency assistance.

GOP hypocrisy will affect the debate of the aid, especially the 22+ Republicans who voted against the Sandy bill. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is trying to cover his refusal to support Sandy aid by claiming that two-thirds of it wasn’t for Sandy. His falsehood came from the coverage for Sandy coverage all the way down the East Coast to Florida.

Reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program by the end of September:

Twelve days isn’t enough time to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, but the program badly needs help. People can purchase flood insurance only through the government, but it doesn’t cover the full extent of floods, encourages development in flood-prone areas, and is extremely under-funded. Storms in the past dozen years have left NFIP with a $25 billion debt to the government with $5.5 billion going to rebuilding 30,000 homes that have flooded up to five times. About 5 million properties nationwide have FEMA coverage with nearly 600,000 in Texas and 500,000 in Louisiana. Private insurance companies get commissions up to 30 percent to “service” the federal flood insurance. Needed are new maps that consider sea-level rise and storm intensity as well as better information about properties’ flooding histories. Harvey will send at least 100,000 more claims to NFIP. The program pays $400 million annually in interest to the government for debt largely incurred since Hurricane Katrina. This graph explains why FEMA is losing so much money on its flood insurance. https://www.fema.gov/loss-dollars-paid-calendar-year

Fix health care by September 27:

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) are trying to stabilize insurance markets and pay for ObamaCare’s cost-sharing reductions before payments are due on September 27 and insurers must commit to next year’s plans on the exchanges. GOP leadership oppose what they call a bailout of insurance companies without any reforms. The House-passed repeal bill for the Affordable Care Act is still on its calendar without any action on it in the Senate. GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy (LA), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Dean Heller (NV) are pushing their plan, and DDT wants the ACA repealed before the vote could be filibustered, something requiring at least 50 GOP votes. Senate parliamentarian has set the deadline for the bill’s simple majority status at the end of September.

“Reform” taxes:

After 200+ days of failure, Republicans are looking for a success, and DDT wants his tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy done immediately. The “reconciliation” process for purely fiscal bills is good until the end of September. Mnuchin has promised details “this month,” but DDT said he expects the House to write the bill. Tax reform: GOP leaders were scheduled to meet with DDT this afternoon about cutting taxes, and DDT is scheduled to fly to North Dakota to present another vague speech selling his “reform” and put pressure on Democratic senators in red states. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is up for re-election next year.

Confirm DDT’s nominations:

Conservatives are whining about Democrats demanding 30 hours of debate for every judicial nominee—something that Republicans did if they got around to considering any of President Obama’s nominees like his nominee for the Supreme Court.

Fix DACA:

Since DDT gave only six more months to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that allows people brought into the country illegally as children to remain here legally, Congress can reinstate the program. Chances are highly unlikely that the GOP has enough “heart” and “compassion” to do anything for the 800,000 people losing their jobs in six months. DDT had suggested trading DACA for his “wall” and greater curbs on legal immigration, which Sen. Dick Durbin (IL), second highest Democrat, called a “nonstarter.” [Note: hours after Jeff Sessions made the announcement about rescinding DACA, the trump for DDT was so bad that he tweeted that if Congress doesn’t “legalize” DACA, he will “revisit” it.]

Pass the National Defense Authorization Act:

Senators tried to pass this bill before their vacation, but Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked it by requiring a vote on his amendments to sunset the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations allowing DDT to start wars without congressional approval. Defense is one of eight appropriations bills yet to be passed that also includes funds for NASA, NOAA, FAA’s space office, Homeland Security, Education, and Veterans Affairs.  The 2011 caps on defense and non-defense discretionary spending are still in effect; if they are violated, automatic across-the-board cuts go into effect like they did for FY2013. Congress voted to relax the next two budgets but not this year’s.

Make decisions about surveillance:

Section 702, amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allowing monitoring of foreign officials overseas, is due to expire at the end of December. Because it can accidentally collect communications of U.S. citizens, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wants to know if his communications are being collected. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) wants to make warrantless surveillance permanent. Muddying the issue for Republicans is their concern that Section 702 allowed intelligence agencies to collect information about Russia’s connection with DDT and his family.

Reauthorize CHIP:

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Medicaid supplement providing health insurance to nine million children, expires at the end of September with legislation to continue it. Legislators hope that they have flexibility if states don’t run out of money immediately, but inaction causes instability. Conservatives may hold this program hostage in an attempt to repeal the ACA medical device tax.

Reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration:

Neither House nor Senate FAA bills have gone to the floors, and they will need to be merged into one bill and passed again. The House bill privatizes the air navigation system to a non-profit corporation which DDT wants but may not pass muster in the Senate.

So Congress has 12 working days to keep the government from closing, avoid defaulting on the nation’s payments, solve health care, resolve the air traffic control dilemma, pay for Hurricane Harvey, and maybe cut taxes. And Hurricane Irma is headed toward Florida. Tick-tock.

April 6, 2017

GOP Senators ‘Break’ an Institution

The Republicans loved the filibuster. They used it to create an unprecedented blockade of President Obama’s nominees for judge and executive branch positions, leaving key positions unfilled. But that was four years ago with a Democratic president. Today, GOP Senators voted to get rid of the filibuster for the Supreme Court so that lying plagiarist 49-year-old Neil Gorsuch could be confirmed as a life-time justice. No longer does a permanent member of the Supreme Court need at least 60 bona fide votes to make law for the United States. Fifty-one votes are just fine, according to Republicans.

The decision to erase the filibuster for the Supreme Court was made less than a year since the Republicans, the majority of the 115th Congress, refused to even give a hearing to President Obama’s justice nominee, Merrick Garland. [The above cartoon is thanks to Robert Hulshof-Schmidt, husband of blogger Michael Hulshof-Schmidt.] In the past, Republicans maintained that a rule change, such as doing away with the filibuster for judges, requires a two-thirds super-majority, and that former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) decided to “break the rules to change the rules.” Over 60 percent of these senators who made these protests are still in the 115th Congress. The comments below from their opposition four years ago show that rules are in the eye of the beholder—in this case Republicans.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) used an example of a football game to whine that the Democratic majority just changes the rules if they don’t allow the result that they want.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) claimed that ditching the filibuster would be “irreparably damaging the Senate.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) called the change four years ago a “power grab” that allows Democrats “to make decisions all on their own about every federal judge.” [Change Democrats to Republicans to show that the GOP senators did today.]

Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) described the “Senate Majority” change as “an act of desperation.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) cited the removal of the filibuster as “unchecked power by the Executive Branch” and accused the removal of the filibuster as a “way to pack the courts with judges who agree with them” with “lasting damage to bipartisanship, the Senate, and the nation.”

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) complained about “embarking on a path that would circumvent the rights of the minority to exercise its advice and consent responsibilities provided in the Constitution.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) talked about her opposition to the 2005 GOP plan in erasing the filibuster, giving the majority part “unprecedented power to limit debate and block Senators from offering amendments” and opposed the Democrats taking the same action with a Democratic majority.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) described the change four years ago as “brute, raw force.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) referred to the change four years ago as “breaking the rules of the Senate in a raw exercise of partisan political power.”

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) said that the change would “break the rules to change the rules and force through a number of executive nominations” and demanded 67 votes to change the rule

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) talked about how losing the filibuster “damaged the Senate” with “President Obama’s lawless disregard of our statutes and Constitution.”

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) claimed that weakening the filibuster will “weaken the Senate itself,” making it “more susceptible to the demands of a smaller majority.” He also called the action “incredibly short-sighted,” which could be very true in 2017.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) said that destroying the filibuster would “destroy the very character of the [Senate] by citing a story from Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to design the Senate  “as a deliberative body to produce thoughtful policy. The solution to Senate gridlock is not changing the rules.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) called the earlier change “a sad day in the Senate when Democrats are willing to ignore 225 years of precedent.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reiterated the term “raw power grab” that “washed away” the “advise and consent clause” for executive and judicial branch nominations. [Actually, Republicans buried that clause last year by refusing to consider Garland.]

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) also repeated the “naked power grab” and asked why this moment was chosen “to hand the keys to the kingdom over to the President, a President with less check on his authority.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) lamented the “pre-scripted parliamentary hit-and-run, over in a flash and leaving Senate tradition and practice behind like so much confirmation roadkill.”

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) asked whether this decision would “apply to future legislation.” [McConnell claims it won’t, but he is unreliable in the truth sector.] Heller expressed his concern about protecting his state from a majority decision to move nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. He should remain concerned.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) wanted to take a measured approach because “to break the rules means you have no rules.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) commented that overturning the filibuster “made the Senate’s constitutional role to advise and consent on nominations merely ceremonial.”

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) declared that the result would be “a runaway Senate” much like “a runaway House” and “that’s not good for the country.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) decried that “the rules are being changed in the middle of the game” in “a partisan political grab.” Republicans are specialists in doing this.

Mike Lee (R-UT) said that changing the filibuster “serves no other purpose than to stymie the rights of the American people to have their voices heard.”

Sen John McCain (R-AZ) declaimed:

“I feel this is a dark day for the Senate. I don’t know how we can get out of it. It is the biggest rules change — certainly since I have been in the Senate, maybe my lifetime, and maybe in the history of the Senate — where it has changed by a simple majority by overruling the Chair…. Senator Reid says: I appeal the ruling of the Chair. I ask my colleagues in the Senate to overrule the rules of the Senate, by a simple majority vote, to overrule the Parliamentarian and the Presiding Officer of the Senate. This is what happened. When our rules say to change the rules of the Senate, it takes a two-thirds vote.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that without the filibuster that “advice and consent” means “nothing.”

Jerry Moran (R-KS) complained about breaking Senate rules.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was “saddened” more than angered because the “change will fundamentally alter our operations and lead us to being a less tempered body.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called the action bullying and breaking the rules and hundreds of years of precedent, “causing ore discord and disharmony.”

Jim Risch (R-ID) predicted that “the rule changes will have far ranging implications for the United States Senate and our democracy. “

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) claimed that “our rules have always ensured a voice for the minority in this body” and “cannot be changed without their consent — unless, of course, the majority decides it wants to break the rules to change the rules.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said that the change will “carry implications.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said, “If Democrats think that they deserve more power, they should earn it from voters at the polls in 2014, not swipe it with a drastic rule change in the Senate today.”

Sen.  John Thune (R-SD) also complained about breaking the rules of the Senate.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) described the change as “raw abuse of power” and “purely partisan efforts” that tarnished the integrity of the institution by ignoring 225 years of precedent and trampling the rights of the minority party and the millions of Americans we represent.”

In addition, a former senator called the change a “sad day” when the majority caused “the greatest alteration of the rules without proper procedure that we have probably seen in the history of the Republic.” That former senator is now Donald Trump’s Attorney General.

By removing the filibuster for Supreme Court justices, the Senate has encouraged presidents to pick ideologically extreme nominees, further politicizing the highest court in the nation. For many people, the Senate decision may be a blip on the disastrous media coming from the new rule of Dictator Donald Trump, including possible war with North Korea and Syria, but 55 Senators have voted to allow an unethical judge to make decisions for everyone in the United States for a possible up-coming 40 years. According to their own words, the Republicans have “broken” the Senate.

August 6, 2016

AARP Leaves ALEC; Trump Watch

Email petitions can be a nuisance for people, but there are good reasons that people who want to live in a democracy should pay attention. A week ago, a petition alerted millions of people about AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired People, being a dues-paying member of ALEC. AARP members were sending money to the right-wing Koch-founded American Legislative Exchange Council in which big corporations write legislation for conservatives legislators to restrict women’s rights, voting, and other civil liberties vital to an open, vibrant society.

ALEC wants to reduce, privatize, and perhaps even eliminate Social Security and Medicare as well as eradicate all pensions and any caps on prescription drugs. LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote:

 “ALEC has pushed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which has saved Medicare enrollees millions of dollars by closing the Medicare drug benefit ‘donut hole’…It has opposed Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. It has targeted public pensions, pushing to cap benefits and shift workers toward defined contribution plans, which layer more market risk on individual workers’ shoulders.”

A massive protest resulted in this post on AARP’s Facebook page:

“After hearing from many of you, we’ve decided not to renew our membership to ALEC. We would never work against the interests of older Americans and our engagement with ALEC was NOT an endorsement of the organization’s policies, but an opportunity to engage with state legislators and advance our members’ priorities.”

Earlier this year, AARP drew criticism because of its neutrality in Social Security reform. Its “Take a Stand” initiative asked members to get presidential candidates to explain their policies in closing a long-term funding shortfall but didn’t “take a stand” on plans that cut benefits and those that do not.

AARP’s excuse for joining ALEC was to engage with conservative state legislators, but a powerful public interest with over 37 million members can find other ways. After consumer protests, at least 19 nonprofits and 108 corporations—including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and Coca-Cola—dropped their ALEC memberships, especially after the ALEC promoted Stand Your Ground legislation that led to the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. Google left ALEC in 2014 because of the group’s policy of “literally just lying” in denying climate change by opposing the Clean Power Plan.

AARP was forced to back down in one week by the grassroots campaign. AARP made its decision to disconnect from ALEC despite the push from huge companies in ALEC to keep AARP. The Center for Media and Democracy wrote, “The corporate bill mill had urged its members to call AARP and tell them to ‘remain strong.’”

Several groups joined CMD urged AARP to sever ties with ALEC:

“We are calling on AARP to withdraw all support for ALEC, a group that has consistently promoted policies that hurt seniors. By partnering with ALEC, you have allowed it to use the powerful AARP brand to lend credibility to legislation harmful to seniors that is introduced in statehouses across the country. ALEC has been at the forefront of protecting drug companies and their ability to charge unreasonable prices, has been a strong advocate against the Affordable Care Act and has opposed Medicaid expansion, forcing lower-income retirees to make terrible choices between paying medical bills and buying groceries. ALEC pushed voter ID laws that make it harder, not easier for seniors and people of color to vote. ALEC also blocks action on climate change, causing irreparable harm to the world we will leave our children and grandchildren.”

Mike Pence, GOP vice-presidential candidate, is an evangelist for ALEC, promising them at their meeting last weekend that “you are the model for Washington, D.C., after this election.” No stranger to ALEC, his focus has been to replace all public schools with corporate charter schools, an especially failed experiment in his state of Indiana shown by almost half of the state’s charter schools doing poorly or failing with the state’s new accountability standards. The law requires six consecutive years of failure before the state acts on behalf of the students. Many of the problems of these schools are cited here. Conservatives love charter schools because huge corporations massively profit from the money given to schools by government.

AARP dropped its membership to ALEC is just one week of complaints from thousands of people. Your voice can make a difference. Pay attention to those petitions you get in your email.

Trump Watch: “A lot of times, when you apologize, they use it as ammunition against [you].” That’s always been Donald Trump’s position, but last night he gave people a lot of ammunition, for example backtracking with his endorsements of GOP candidates Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and John McCain (R-AZ). Until yesterday, Trump had played the tease game with Ryan and glowingly talked about his opponent, Paul Nehlen, an unabashed Trump supporter. Last night he endorsed Ryan:

“He’s a good man, and he’s a good guy. And we may disagree on a couple of things, but mostly we agree.”

About Ayotte, facing a rough fight against Gov. Maggie Hassam, Trump had earlier said that he’s “beating her the polls” and asked “are these people that should be representing us?” Last night, Trump called her “a rising star” who does a good job for New Hampshire.

Trump saved his best words for McCain after a year of calling him a “loser” for being captured and tortured as a POW in Vietnam. Trump had also said that McCain did a “bad job” for veterans:

“I hold in the highest esteem Sen. John McCain for his service to our country in uniform and in public office, and I fully support and endorse his reelection. Very important.”

Running neck and neck with Clinton before the Democratic convention, Trump fell as much as 15 points behind after he followed the attack on the family of a fallen soldier in Iraq with many more “mis-steps,” the polite term for total screw-ups. Things got so bad that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gringrich—both total screw-ups—were threatening an intervention with Trump.

Trump lost the Wisconsin primary to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) which might explain the tepid applause. Or that may have been that he delivered a “low-energy” speech read from teleprompters.

In addition to his other backtracking, Trump also told an audience that he was wrong about seeing video footage of stacks of cash being taken off an airplane. He also falsely claimed that the U.S. was paying ransom for U.S. hostages instead of paying back money that the U.S. had owed Iran for 37 years because the U.S. reneged on a deal.

In another part of Trump’s speech, he downplayed his rude treatment of a parent with a crying baby and accused the media of being dishonest. Unfortunately for the truth, a video of his tantrum exists, showing that the person wanting to be a president can’t handle a crying baby.

Cameron Kerr, a Purple Heart recipient who lost a leg in Afghanistan, is raising money to help Trump earn a Purple Heart after another veteran gave him one this past week. Trump said, “I’ve always wanted to get a Purple Heart. This was much easier.” Kerr wants Trump to get another Purple Heart—“the old-fashioned way” by earning it. Kerr said the money would be used to fly Trump into a war zone of Trump’s choosing but knows that Trump will not take him up on his offer. Instead the donations to the GoFundMe campaign will be used to help Syrian refugees because “they are much better people than Donald Trump.”

Trying to get media attention away from his gaffes and support for Russia, Trump announced a 13-member economic advisory council—“the most successful industry leaders in finance, real estate, and technology, according to Trump. His selections are notable because they are all wealthy men—many of them real-estate investors, hedge-fund managers, and bankers. They are a Wall Street dream machine—a batch of fraudsters like Trump who specialize in disaster financing, taking advantage of people who suffer losses.

Asked about female cabinet members, he could only think of his daughter Ivanka. At a loss, Trump finally told his interviewer, Algelia Savage who hosts The Chat on Florida’s First Coast News,  that he would pick her for his cabinet.

The GOP presidential candidate has a powerful ally in Julian Assange, responsible for damaging email leaks about Clinton—most recently the ones from the Democratic National Committee. Assange has promised more damaging information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign but nothing about Trump. Bill Maher asked him about his approach, and Assange said that he is “working on” hacking Trump’s tax returns that the candidate refuses to release. WikiLeaks has since disavowed the statement saying that Assange’s statement was a joke. Assange did the interview from the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he is fleeing extradition on rape and sexual assault allegations in Sweden.

Trump’s latest business failure is the indefinite closure of his Taj Mahal and Casino after Labor Day with a loss of 3,000 jobs. In 2014, a court for one of Trump’s four bankruptcies ruled the elimination of union members’ health insurance and pension plans, but the union wasn’t responsible for the financial problems as revealed three months later. The hotel failed to get state and local tax breaks and was also fined $10 million for “significant and long-standing money laundering violations.” After 18 months, the unions went on strike to protest the injustices, but Trump is no longer involved because he dumped the hotel onto personal friend multi-billionaire Carl Icahn—possibly Trump’s Treasury Secretary if the GOP candidate is elected.

The Trump Watch will continue in the future.

May 11, 2015

GOP: Disregard Infrastructure, Sell off Public Lands

America is the most exceptional country in the world! And the richest! That’s the bragging point from the far right. That’s true if you consider that our “exceptional” infrastructure is 16th in the world. “Crumbling” is the term most often used to describe the bridges and highways over a half century old, an out-moded transit system, etc. For years, the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the nation’s infrastructure a D+ or worse. Every time the issue comes up, the GOP claim that they can’t afford to pay for necessary repairs—sort of like a cheapskate home-owner who won’t replace a leaky roof or disintegrating foundation.

With only 20 days before the Highway Trust Fund is set to expire, no congressional vote has been set up to extend the law and let the DOT distribute what little funds it has left to states. Congress is used to short-term fixes: it has passed 32 extensions within the past six years. That’s an average of over five each year which eliminates planning for any big projects. The sensible approach to raising the requisite $478 billion over ten years would be an increase in the gas tax that has stayed the same for 23 years, but the majority of legislators have signed the “no tax” pledge from Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform.

When Republicans were more pragmatic, they liked infrastructure spending because the economy loved jobs for fixing dams, bridges, and roads. These were jobs that couldn’t be outsourced to another country and brought millions of federal funds to create good-paying jobs with visible results. Now, however, the GOP wants to shrink the economy because a good economy would make President Obama look good. For over six years, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has led the charge to make the president look bad, no matter how his efforts damage the United States.

This week is “Infrastructure Week,” according to a coalition of labor, business and transportation advocacy organizations. Last week, the GOP in both congressional chambers agreed to a budget resolution intended to cut transportation funding by 20 percent. After the GOP voted down a budget of $820 billion over ten years, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a $1-trillion plan that would create 13 million jobs. Even that sum doesn’t take care of the problem: the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that $1.6 trillion more than what the country currently spends is need to repair the nation’s infrastructure by 2020. Instead of taking the plan out of committee, Sanders offered the $478-billion plan which was voted down by a unanimous veto of Republicans. President Obama is so desperate to six the infrastructure that he supports a plan to let corporations escape paying some taxes by bringing their $2 trillion stashed overseas backed at a highly reduced tax rate.

Comparing the United States to other countries shows how the nation ignores its infrastructure. While the U.S. spends less than 2 percent of its GDP in this area, other countries provide far more—for example Europe, 5 percent; China, 9 percent, and Canada, 10 percent.

There are a variety of reasons that the wealthy—which includes most of congressional legislators—are unwilling to invest in U.S. infrastructure and its job creation.

Narcissism: Paul Piff and his colleagues have several studies showing that the wealthy believe they are entitled to have a position of status over everyone else, a belief that has grown during the past 30 years as “upper-class” people tend to behave more unethically than average citizens. The greater the concentration of wealth, the less a society invests in infrastructure. Between 1968 and 2011, the U.S. investment in infrastructure dropped by 60 percent.

Rejection of Poor: As the wealthy fail to see how their actions affect people, they build up a resentment of the poor and imagine  abuses that these so-called “lazy” people inflict on the rich. Legislators also destroy job development, for example, the $447-billion jobs bill in 2011 that would have added about two million jobs. Congress filibustered Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) “Prevention of Outsourcing Act,” at the same time that one million jobs were being sent offshore, and they temporarily blocked the “Small Business Jobs Act.” While campaigning last fall, McConnell was asked how he would bring jobs to Kentucky. He said, “That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet.” The safety net for the poor costs $370 billion; the tax avoidance of the wealthy costs $2.2 trillion. These are the people who are getting government handouts without working for them.

The Wait for the Free Market: Conservative analyst Michael Barone said, “Markets work. But sometimes they take time.” Thirty-five years later, people are still waiting. Starting in 1984, the Treasury Department decided that most tax cuts lose revenue; more recent studies find no connection between tax rates and economic growth. Evidence shows that cutting taxes on the rich fails to stimulate job creation; the wealthy just stash their money out of the country. Raising taxes on the rich does increase jobs as shown by Kansas and Minnesota. Tax cuts in Kansas destroy the state whereas tax increases on the wealthy in Minnesota have led to higher wages, low unemployment, and rapid business growth.

Instead of increasing taxes on the wealthy or stopping outsourcing and tax havens offshore, GOP members of Congress hope to make money by selling off the country’s resources. During the recent debate about the 2016 federal budget, legislators voted on a number of symbolic (fortunately non-binding) amendments. Amendment 838, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would “establish a spending-neutral reserve fund relating to the disposal of certain Federal land.” This translates into funding state efforts to take over, sell, and transfer federal land to private interests. Murkowski said the plan would “improve our conservation systems.”  It passed by 51 to 49 votes with three GOP senators–Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), and Corey Gardner (CO)—defecting to the Democrat side.

Both conservatives and progressives oppose the plan as conservative groups such as the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers joined environmentalists in criticizing the vote.  Although the measure does not apply to “any land that is located within a national park, within a national preserve or a national monument,” the resolution allows the sale of national forests, national memorials, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. The nonprofit League of Conservation Voters (LCV) explained:

“It would allow states to take control of some of our most cherished places and sell them off to private interests for oil and gas drilling, logging, mining, and other development. Industrial-scale oil and gas development could destroy the pristine nature of the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain forever, damaging natural habitats and harming the wildlife that calls the area home. An oil spill in this region would not only directly harm polar bears, but would also contaminate their habitat. Even without an oil spill, some level of pollution and habitat fragmentation from oil and gas activities is inevitable with expanded development.”

Last February, Murkowski, with her co-GOP senator, also introduced the Authorizing Alaska Production Act (S. 494) to open up the refuge’s coastal plain to oil and gas development. Four among her top five 2013-14 campaign contributors are in the oil and gas industry: ConocoPhillips; PG&E Corp.; Edison Chouest Offshore, a marine transport firm supporting U.S. Gulf’s deepwater oil and gas industry; and Van Ness Feldman, a leading energy law firm whose clients include American Electric Power, Puget Sound Energy, and Houston natural gas energy company Kinder Morgan. Her 2014 LCV national environmental scorecard is a perfect zero.

The resolution may violate the Property Clause, Article IV, § 3, cl. 2 of the Constitution: “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.” States can’t sell federal lands no matter what Congress rules.

Ronald Reagan’s executive order, issued a year after he became president, tried the same move as Murkowski when it established the Property Review Board to review federally managed public lands for potential disposal. Six years later, Reagan said:

“The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has also aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West. Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution. In our own time, the nearly universal appreciation of these preserved landscapes, restored waters, and cleaner air through outdoor recreation is a modern expression of our freedom and leisure to enjoy the wonderful life that generations past have built for us.”

rooseveltOver a century ago, Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, set aside more federal land, national parks, and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined. He established the U.S. Forest Service and placed 230,000,000 acres under public protection. In 2008, he said:

“The time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation…. It is time for us now as a nation to exercise the same reasonable foresight in dealing with our great natural resources that would be shown by any prudent man in conserving and widely using the property which contains the assurance of well-being for himself and his children.”

Teddy would be disappointed in the GOP of today.

May 8, 2015

Nike Proof of Trans-Pacific Partnership Dangers

President Obama visited Oregon’s Nike offices today to talk about how much he loves the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and how deluded the opponents on both the left and right are. I’m one of those strong opponents, disagreeing with my usually progressive senator Ron Wyden. People can argue that I haven’t read it and therefore know nothing about it. True, but I’m not allowed to read it. Neither is almost everyone else in the United States.

The supreme secrecy of the TPP is excessive, even in a government that prizes secrecy. Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote:

“If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you’ve got to be a member of Congress, and you’ve got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door.

“If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving.

“And no matter what, you can’t discuss the details of what you’ve read.”

Rep.Rosa DeLauro (D-CN) said, “It’s like being in kindergarten. You give back the toys at the end.” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) claimed, “My chief of staff who has a top secret security clearance can learn more about ISIS or Yemen than about this trade agreement.” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) commented, “[The president is] incredibly condescending. It’s like, ‘You’d be all for this if only you hadn’t gotten an F in economics.’” He opposes what he’s seen because it lacks labor standards and measures to address currency manipulation. “We know when we’re being suckered,” said Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who he believes that the agreement quotes percentages instead of absolute values on trade statistics that give an overly positive impression. “It’s not only condescending, it’s misleading.”

Members of Congress are also upset because Michael Froman, the man behind the agreement presented false information in a Senate Finance Committee hearing about the “fast-track” process:

  • Fast Track doesn’t put “Congress in the driver’s seat” because it gives the executive branch all the power before “an up-or-down vote with no amendments or changes.”
  • There is no trade surplus with the TPP partners: the U.S. has a $180 billion trade deficit with the 11 countries and a $51 billion manufacturing trade deficit with all FTA partners.
  • Negotiations are not working for “access to affordable life-saving medicines” but instead giving greater monopoly protections for drug companies.
  • Froman’s “diversity of voices” are actually 90 percent representatives for industry interests.
  • His claims about the growth of exports are also false.

More details from Jonathan Tasini are available here.

Labeled a “free trade” agreement, the TPP covers many other subjects. Only five chapters deal with traditional trade issues. The others give foreign corporations to equal status with sovereign nations by allowing them to enforce corporate rights and privileges while limiting government policies for health, safe food and water, and wages. Nations in the agreement, including the United States, cannot make laws that might endanger any corporate profits.

This look at Nike, where President Obama tried to show how beneficial his trade agreement is to people in the U.S., describes the company’s decimation of jobs in the United States.  Phil Knight, head and co-founder of Nike, is worth $23 billion because of outsourcing jobs to overseas sweatshops, avoiding U.S. taxes through P.O.-box subsidiaries in tax havens, and threatening to extort tax breaks from its “home” state. Enrolled at Stanford Business School, Knight came up with the idea of using cheap labor at overseas factories in 1964. His 1962 thesis was on the profitability of offshore low-wage production of goods to be sold in the U.S.  At that time, 4 percent of U.S. footwear was imported; now 98 percent of this product is made overseas. By offshoring its labor, Nike has participated in driving down U.S. wages and benefits.

When horrible working conditions at the Nike overseas factories became an issue, Knight and other company officials claimed that they weren’t responsible for safety problems or labor conditions because they didn’t own the factories. A 1996 Life magazine article called “Six Cents an Hour,” picturing a boy sewing Nike soccer balls, brought the issue to a head. The exploitation of Nike’s offshore cheap labor created “brand erosion,” which could cost the company several million dollars. Two years later, Knight promised to get rid of child labor.

Nike earned $27.8 billion in revenue in 2014 and “employs”—through contractors—over 1 million workers. Fewer than one percent of these employees are in the United States. That’s 10,000 out of 1,000,000 workers. At this time, Nike pays Vietnamese workers $.56 an hour to make shoes, at a cost of $10, that sell for $320. The company had moved to Vietnam after wages rose in China. In today’s speech, President Obama said that Nike had promised to bring back “thousands of jobs” if the TPP is confirmed. The 10,000 new employees that Nike promises adds one percent to the total number of Nike manufacturing jobs in the United States.

All Nike shoes are produced outside of the U.S. In 2013, none of the 68 factories with Nike made shoes. Nike cut one-third of its U.S. production contracts and dropped the employees by one-third, from 13,922 to 8,400 U.S. workers. By contrast Massachusetts-based New Balance makes shoes in five U.S. factories. The TPP would force these factories to close because of the agreement’s lower tariffs on shoes made in such places as Vietnam, benefitting Nike.

An Obama administration argument for TPP is special “progressive” labor rights provisions for Vietnam, in recognition of its bad labor conditions. When that happened in Colombia, more than 100 union organizers were assassinated, and another 1,000 were threatened with violence.

Tax havens have saved Nike $2.2 billion in federal taxes. Nike had twelve shell companies in just Bermuda alone, ten of them named after Nike’s shoes: Air Max Limited, Nike Cortez, Nike Flight, Nike Force, Nike Huarache, Nike Jump Ltd., Nike Lavadome, Nike Pegasus, Nike Tailwind and Nike Waffle. Although the company appeared to have scaled down its tax shelters outside the United States, the company must disclose only “significant” subsidiaries. On the most recent financial report, issued last Friday, half the Bermuda subsidiaries from the previous year have disappeared.

The UK discovered that Nike is dodging taxes there as well by funneling millions of pounds from its sales through its Dutch division. The company that sponsors the England football team and tennis stars such as Maria Sharapova siphoned £8.3m from Britain to a sister company in Hilversum, Holland, because the Nike “subsidiary” in the Netherlands “owns” the rights to “license” something to Nike in other countries.

While Nike pays 90 percent less than its fair share in taxes, Knight managed to get huge tax breaks by threatening to leave the state. The legislature passed a bill agreeing to tax Nike only a portion of its sales for the next 30 years. Nike gets $2 billion for investing $150 million in a project with 500 jobs–$4 million per job. Nike has few employees here, shelters most of its revenue offshore, and had no intention of leaving Oregon, but its threats paid off big.

At this time, only one representative and one senator from blue Oregon oppose the TPP. The newest one to go with the president’s arguments, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, said she’s backing the bill because it would help boost exports. Sadly, she there’s no proof. Bonamici does have concerns that it “include strong labor standards that will, among other things, guard against child labor and human trafficking” and to contain “unprecedented environmental standards to protect our land, air, and water and conserve our precious natural resources.” Even if the agreement that she approves—although she may not have seen it—has these provisions, it is a “living agreement,” which means that it can be changed after she votes to approve it. At this time, the TPP includes 12 countries, but it is open for every nation to join and open to changes in the provisions.

The president needs at least 30 House Democrats to make up for the missing 60 or more missing GOP votes. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) got six of the 11 other Democrats on the Finance Committee to back the legislation last month, but Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised to filibuster the TPP.

flush the tppAs Robert Reich wrote, “Nike isn’t the solution to the problem of stagnant wages in America. Nike is the problem.”

What Nike does isn’t illegal. The company can legally use sweatshop labor and shelter its revenue from taxes. Part of the legality comes from trade agreements. The president is now promising Nike and other huge corporations that he will push through another agreement that will be far more beneficial to them and far less beneficial to U.S. workers. I understand why Knight wants the TPP. I don’t understand why President Obama wants the agreement.

 

[Protesters greeted President Obama at the entrance to the Nike offices.]

February 11, 2015

GOP Alienates Latino Voters, Fails to Govern

The House passed the Senate version of the Keystone pipeline bill today, meaning that the measure now goes to the president, hopefully for his veto. With all except three GOP members voting in favor of the bill, it would have passed without the 29 Democrats, but it’s hard for me to accept that the representative for my district in Oregon was one of these 29 Democrats. His vote was predictable, however, because he had already voted in favor of the earlier bill and published an op-ed piece in Portland’s The Oregonian explaining his reason for the votes. He begins by explaining his need to write the piece because of the “ ‘fan’ mail” that he recently received from “very liberal groups chastising me from voting in a bipartisan manner in Congress.”

As an author of some of that “fan” mail, I want to tell him that I don’t mind his being bipartisan; I mind his voting for a measure with the sole purpose of benefiting one company by moving Canadian tar sands oil across the United States so that the wealthy will become wealthier. I mind his endangering the land and water of the states between Canada and Texas so that he can “work with Republicans.”

Fortunately Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) voted against the House bill that connects the elimination of President Obama’s immigration reform actions to the funding of the Department of Homeland Security. In a snit last year following years of inaction, the House decided that it would force a vote for this funding before February 28, 2015 after passing the other funding last December for almost a year.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has decided to get tough because the Senate hasn’t taken action on his DHS appropriations bill that tucks anti-immigrant proposals into a funding bill. The amendments subjecting all undocumented immigrants to more enforcement scrutiny will receive separate votes, but conservatives backing the amendments threaten to vote against the funding if their provisions don’t pass. The proposals would:

  • Eliminate funding for President Obama’s executive action to allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the country and obtain work permits.
  • Stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), which lifts deportation for some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.
  • Prioritize deportation for illegal immigrants convicted of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
  • Promote the hiring of U.S. citizens above those who are in the country illegally.
  • Express the sense of Congress the administration should “stop putting the interest of immigrants who worked within the legal framework to come to the US behind those who came here illegally” by not granting deferred action or work permits to undocumented immigrants.

Other parts of the amendments would stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from prioritizing the deportation of criminals over undocumented immigrants who haven’t committed serious crimes and ignore a person’s ties to the United States over citizens.

During a news conference, Boehner demanded, “Now why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re gonna get off their ass and do something other than to vote no!” This from the man who refused to allow immigration reform to go to the House for almost two years after the Senate passed its immigration reform. Four times he repeated, “The House did its job.” Boehner had no problem with the GOP in the Senate causing gridlock for the past four years by doing nothing but voting no.

For years, conservatives have complained because the Democrats did nothing with their “majority” in the Senate. Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell admits that the House bill is “clearly stuck in the Senate” and Republican control in the Senate has resulted in another impasse. The Senate can’t pass the House bill, and Boehner says that the House won’t shift from its position.

An increasing number of Republicans in the House are refusing to vote for extremist positions or indicate opposition to these. Rep. Jeff Dunham (R-CA) said the language of the amendments, authored by right-wing Marcia Blackburn (R-TN), is an “overreach,” and another House GOP member called it “mean-spirited.” Other GOP members of Congress, however, are indifferent to any problems that they cause. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said that not meeting the deadline is “not the end of the world.”

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson disagrees with Diaz-Balart about the seriousness of not funding the agency:

“Right now, the Department of Homeland Security is operating on a continuing resolution, which means that we are allowed to spend money until February 27th – at the same rate we spent money last year. That means that as long as we are on a C.R., we cannot engage in new starts, new spending, new initiatives, new grants to state and local law enforcement to fund homeland security missions. We can’t put in place the independent panel that recommended changes to the secret service has suggested we do. We can’t do a lot of things for border security. Our counterterrorism efforts are limited.”

With all their waffling about the Homeland Security funding, Congress has only six “working” days to pass the appropriation before February 27 because they go on recess during the last week of the month. If they fail to fund the Department of Home Security, only the Citizenship and Immigration Services would still be able to pay its employees because it is funded through fees and not Congressional appropriations.

Less than one month into the 114th Congress, Republicans have not only failed to show that they can govern responsibly and cooperatively but also managed to offend Hispanic voters which they lost two to one in the last presidential election. Meanwhile terrorists are cheering on the GOP in their blocking funding to keep the United States safe.

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