Nel's New Day

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.

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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.

January 24, 2015

GOP Can’t Rule

Congress has become a joke. For example, a letter writer to a local newspaper stated that the new Congress can now begin its job—getting re-elected in 2016. Satirist Andy Borowitz wrote about how people with 33 weeks of paid leave a year and an annual salary of $174,000 want to stop others from having six weeks of paid leave and a higher annual salary than $15,000.

In control for less than three weeks, the GOP members of Congress have made a huge number of gaffes and failures. Even the ultra far-right Fox network is appalled at the House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Without consulting the president, Boehner asked Netanyahu to speak to Congress “on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life”and lobby for a U.S. war on Iran by extending sanctions.

On Fox Shephard Smith read a statement from Israel Martin Indyk, former ambassador to Israel:

“Netanyahu is using the Republican Congress for a photo-op for his election campaign, and the Republicans are using Bibi for their campaign against Obama. Unfortunately, the U.S. relationship will take the hit. It would be far wiser for us to stay out of their politics and for them to stay out of ours.”

Chris Wallace agreed “100 percent” and said, “I have to say I’m shocked.” He added that the “deliberate and pretty egregious snub” smacks of “dicey politics.”

Although no one will probably prosecute Boehner, there could be grounds for doing so. The Logan Act of 1799, still in effect, prevents any unauthorized American citizen from negotiating with foreign leaders. Only the executive branch can do that. Boehner could also be guilty of sedition, inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch, with his invitation to Netanyahu. If Republicans benefit from Netanyahu’s appearance, Boehner might also be violating Federal Elections Commission law by accepting something of value from the Israeli.

Boehner’s action comes after GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) pledged allegiance to Netanyahu during a trip to Israel by promising him increased U.S. sanctions on Iran. In Jerusalem, Graham said to Netanyahu, “The Congress will follow your lead.”

In their disdain for women and minorities, the Senate Republicans deleted the words “Civil Rights and Human Rights” from a key subcommittee, leaving it only the Subcommittee on the Constitution. The committee chair, John Cornyn (R-TX) made this change his first order of business. As the Washington Post wrote:

“The committee name-change comes as Republicans take control of the Senate during a pivotal moment in which much of the country remains locked in emotional conversations about race, policing, and civil rights following the high-profile police killings of several unarmed black men last year.”

It’s also a time when women fight for equal pay and reproductive rights and the Supreme Court has struck down an important part of the Voting Rights Act.

Congressional Republican members are also suffering from rifts among GOP philosophies and between the two chambers. This past week, the House pulled a bill to further destroy women’s reproductive rights by preventing abortions after 20 weeks because Boehner couldn’t muster enough Republican votes. The failed abortion bill was moved to the front of debate by a suspension of “regular order” because of its urgency. Nothing was said about abortion during the campaigns, but the GOP can now forget any job legislation.

GOP senators are also frustrated by the House focus on passing bills that cannot survive the Senate. The House legislation overturning President Obama’s executive actions giving legal status to immigrants illegally brought into the country as children or related to citizens and permanent residents is connected to funding for the Department of Homeland Security that currently expires on February 28. An unnamed GOP senator pointed out that senators tried to explain to House members the difference between the two chambers: “Look, we don’t have 60 votes. We can’t operate like the House does.” He added, “It’s going to be very difficult to achieve what the expectations are out there. Candidly, impossible.”

The 113th Congress was famous for the gridlock in Washington as the House sent bills to the Senate that could not be passed. Boehner has begun the same pattern in the 114th Congress. Tea Partier Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) told conservative lawmakers, “It’s uncanny to me that our leadership … is already sending the message that we’ve already lost this battle.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) promised to keep the amendment process open lasted only three weeks. He now justifies his recent unwillingness to let Democrats present amendments by saying, “The success of Congress is not determined on how many amendments people vote on.” The honeymoon is over.

A former committee chair, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), was well known for his indiscriminate use of aggressively issuing subpoenas. Committees are supposed to debate and vote on sending subpoenas, but Issa saved them the time—no debate and no vote. In the new Congress, at least seven House committee chairmen will have unilateral subpoena authority with no input from Democrats, allowing them to also go rogue with their abuse of power and harassment.

The despicable nature and hypocrisy of the GOP is already oozing out. across the nation. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) referred to Ana Zamora, who attended the State of the Union speech as Michelle Obama’s guest, as a “deportable.” Zamora is a student at Northwood University in Texas who was granted temporary deportation relief and work authorization through President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DREAMER) program in 2012 after being brought to the U.S. as a toddler.

Even Republicans were lukewarm about Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-IA) response to the president’s SOTU speech, but they did like how she described her poverty as a child. Ernst omitted the fact that her family has received almost $500,000 in federal subsidies and over $200,000 in government contracts. Ernst promised to do away with federal student loans—that she used to attend college. During her first 18 years of poverty, 14 of them had Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan’s “trickle down” economy that didn’t give her more than one pair of shoes.

Ernst whined about growing up poor in Iowa in a major speech to millions of people, but another senator, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), grew up even more poor in Oklahoma. The contrast between the two of them is Ernst’s sense of entitlement and Warren’s humility. Ernst wants to keep people in poverty while Warren wants to help people rise above their poverty through health care, higher minimum wage, paid sick leave, unions, and closing loopholes that let the wealthy avoid their fair share of taxes.

The real losers of the last election—other than most of the people in the United States—are the Republicans who want to be moderate. Those are the centrists who would have been conservatives 25 years ago because the GOP is the most ideologically extreme since after the Civil War. An example of these moderates is Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA). “I prefer that we avoid these very contentious social issues [such as abortion],” he said after he summarized the first three weeks’ awkwardness in the new Congress—fighting about the House speaker election, fighting over deporting children, and talking about “reportable rapes and incest for minors.” He finished, “I can’t wait until Week Four.”

Last November, Dent told his party that they could be “strong, rational and measured” without “a hysterical reaction.” Nobody paid any attention to him. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) baited a group In Defense of Christians during a keynote address so that they booed him, and Dent called his behavior “outrageous and incendiary.” After the GOP put the culture war above the economy, Dent said, “The stupidity is simply staggering.”

A group of GOP moderates called the Tuesday Group hopes to influence the party’s direction away from knee-jerk extremism. From past GOP behavior, there’s not much hope for Dent’s attempts in the 114th Congress.  Maybe they can start a new party.

January 23, 2015

A Question of Ethics – Congress, Supreme Court, Journalism

With great power comes the possibility for the abuse of this power. This past week a few people in powerful positions show the damage that can be done to the United States through this abuse. One of the biggest dangers comes from the U.S. House of Representatives.

After President Obama said that he would veto bills to increase sanctions against Iran while the U.S. is negotiating with that country, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) secretly invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the dangers of the administration’s negotiations with Iran without coordinating with the executive branch. Within three days, Boehner’s success turned to ashes. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference that Netanyahu was welcome in the U.S. anytime and then added:

“In Israel, one of the top intelligence–-one of the top intelligence personnel within the Israeli intelligence field–-I won’t name names, but this person was asked directly by a congressional delegation that visited there over the weekend what the effect of sanctions would be. And this person answered that it would be like throwing a grenade into the process. We’re asking people to be responsible here, and then let’s have a good, responsible debate about what the best way to proceed is.”

President Obama has also pointed out that the negotiations are the only answer to protecting Israel from Iranian nuclear weapon. Therefore the message is now that Republicans, not Democrats, are failing Israel. Lawmakers at the briefing with Israeli intelligence confirmed Kerry’s statement, and senior U.S. officials explained that the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, agreed that legislation for sanctions “would cause the talks to collapse.”

Steve Benen has an excellent piece in which he points out the danger of the GOP Speaker of the House acting on his own in his one-upmanship battle with the President of the United States. He uses the example of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) meeting with the Guatemalan officials during the children’s immigration crisis to tell them that the issue was President Obama’s problem, not theirs. Meeting with foreign leaders on foreign ground, Paul denounced the U.S. president and undermined U.S. foreign policy. Republicans declared such an action would be treasonous during the Bush/Cheney regime.

Another frightening piece about Israel’s connections with al-Quaeda comes from Robert Parry.

There is no precedent for the way in which Republicans are deliberately undermining the White House’s foreign policy. The Supreme Court has ruled that only the executive branch and not Congress makes foreign policy. If two branches of government set foreign policy, then the country has two different foreign policies.

Imagine if Congress forces the U.S. into a war with Iran to satisfy Israel’s problems. Iran is three times the number of people and the amount of land as Iraq. The resulting cost could be between $15 and $24 trillion to care for the almost 100,000 wounded veterans. Russia and China would most likely help insurgencies to weaken the United States. Like Vietnam, such a “conflict” would end in defeat for the U.S.

In another branch of government, the idea of impeaching Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been tossed around for several years. The almost mute man who was accused, probably rightly so, of sexually harassing Anita Hill before his confirmation, has a long list of actions that would get him thrown off any other court in the nation. This year, Thomas, who will (most likely) be voting against marriage equality in the United States, proudly shows his friendship with two avidly anti-LGBT activists/spokesmen in this photo recently taken in the Supreme Court chambers.

Twitter-image-of-Thomas-and-FriendsOn the left of the photo is Ryan T. Anderson, activist with the Heritage Foundation, anti-equality voice on CNN, and co-author of the book, What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense.  Also in the photograph is Robert P. George, the other co-author and a co-founder of NOM, the National Organization for Marriage which vigorously lobbies against same-sex marriage. George is also a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute which funded the anti-LGBT Regnerus parenting study and is on the boards of Utah’s Deseret news (owned by the Mormon Church), the Koch Brothers’ American Enterprise Institute, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. A major accomplishment for George is his “drafting the Manhattan Declaration, which advocates for anarchy in the face of governmental support for the rights of a woman to choose, and same-sex marriage,” according to David Badash of TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com.

Journalism is also suffering from lack of ethics. “Based on our studies about the field of journalism, we have determined that you’re not practicing journalism. You’re practicing rank propaganda.” That was the conclusion of a journalism class at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington (VT) after it conducted a “professional integrity audit” of a Fox network story about Vermont on Bill O’Reilly’s show. In its study based on the ethics codes of the Society of Professional Journalists and using only one short segment, the students “found examples of stereotyping, distortions, manipulation, questionable sourcing, and predetermining outcome,” according to News Corpse. Their video begins with Politifact’s revelation that Fox “News” is truthful only 18 percent of the time.

ABC is also being scrutinized. Its chief White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl, is moderating a panel of three conservative presidential wannabes, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), for the “American Recovery Policy Forum” at the Koch brothers’ weekend Freedom Partners meeting. Although ABC is paying for Karl’s travel and lodging, his action in an extremely partisan event brings up the question of crossing the line from neutral reporting to aiding a political organization. Karl’s presence validates the Koch brothers and their highly-financed anti-government political network, sometimes called a third political party in the U.S.

Marc Cooper, director of Annenberg Digital News and an associate professor of professional practice at the University of Southern California’s School for Communication and Journalism, said that Karl’s involvement amounts to “an in-kind contribution to a partisan group that is clearly aimed at positioning for the 2016 race.” Cooper noted, “The public has no input or access and no public service is being performed. Karl has no business being there.” Todd Gitlin, chair of the Ph.D program in communications at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, agreed, stating that it is inappropriate for a news reporter to “promote a sectarian political show,” particularly one that is sponsored by climate change-deniers like the Kochs.

Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, argued that Karl’s participation is “a huge difference between doing this kind of partisan event as opposed to, for example, moderating a gathering of the League of Women Voters.” She pointed out that the involvement of journalists in “closed” events undermines the fight for access and the public’s right to know.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.”

Karl has been scrutinized before because of his journalistic biases and questionable ethics. In 2011, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting noted that Karl was a prominent alum of a media training program aimed at promoting conservative media on college campuses along with such conservatives as Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, Maggie Gallagher, and Laura Ingraham. Karl’s support for right-wing positions includes praise for Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) controversial budget plans. Media described Karl’s report on Benghazi as “sloppy” and “inaccurate” when he mischaracterized White House emails about the attacks and relied on an anonymous source after claiming that ABC News had reviewed them. Karl apologized for his incorrect report.

Thus we have journalists who support the conservatives who want to start another war that can then be established as “constitutional” by the nation’s highest court, all actions from people who consider their own desires and beliefs above ethical considerations.

January 22, 2015

Stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement

President Obama’s State of the Union speech earlier this week rated higher than his previous ones with 81 percent of the 31.7 viewers having a very or somewhat positive opinion and only 18 percent reacting negatively. Watchers’ confidence that the president’s policies “will move the country in the right direction” increased 15 percentage points from a pre-speech survey to 72 percent. The high point of the speech for many people happened after Republicans interrupted it with applause when the president said, “I have no more campaigns to run.” He responded, “I know, because I won both of them.” Democrats applauded, and Republicans whined about how nasty the president was.

On their website, House Republicans omitted a couple of the president’s statements.  some of the president’s statements. One was his saying that GOP tried to avoid discussion of climate change by saying that they are “not scientists,” and the other, the president’s statement about torture:

“As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.”

In his response to the president, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) showed himself not yet ready for prime time when he interrupted his own speech about a minute into it by muttering, “Ah, lemme start again.” The video was pulled from YouTube but is available here.

The president’s one clinker in his speech was his support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the biggest trade deal in history with countries from Chile to Japan representing 792 million people and 40 percent of the world economy. It was worked out by lobbyists from the nation’s biggest corporations and banks with no participation from the U.S. public.People should know how bad this secret deal by the support from Republicans and rejection of Democrats.

The U.S. chose free trade, opening borders to products made overseas, after World War II to raise living standards and create different jobs. In the last few decades, the win-win situation of free trade skewed the payoff from trade agreements to those at the top. With low tariffs, negotiations are more concerned with protections for intellectual property while decreasing labor laws, financial regulations, and rules for health, safety, and the environment. Big Business still wants free trade while extending their trademarks, copyrights, and patents abroad and protecting their global franchise agreements, securities, and loans. With those rights, they want to stop interference with their profits by doing away with protection for consumers, workers, small investors, and the environment.

Leaks from the TPP proposal show it gives stronger patent protections for pharmaceutical industry to delay cheaper generic versions of drugs. Global corporations will gain an international tribunal of private attorneys, outside any nation’s legal system, who can order compensation for any “unjust expropriation” of foreign assets. The same tribunal can order compensation for any lost profits from a nation’s regulations. Right now, Philip Morris is using this provision against Uruguay in a bilateral trade treaty between that country and Switzerland; the corporation claims that their profits are unfairly diminished by Uruguay’s strong anti-smoking regulations. The year 2012 saw nearly sixty cases in which Big Business sued governments, most of them by U.S. companies trying to undo regulations in different countries.

With TPP’s “minimum standards” affecting financial regulations in a trade deal, a country could be ordered to pay an international bank if the government doesn’t bail out the failing institution. An example is the $200 million cost against the Czech Republic in 2006. TPP rules could also “curtail certain limitations on the size or the operations of financial firms,” according to a letter that three Senators sent U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman about their objections to his delegation’s provisions. The TPP could also stop any future financial transaction taxes.

Because the TPP lets Big Business eliminate all laws and regulations that threaten their profits, foreign subsidiaries of U.S.-based corporations can destroy regulations in the United States and take compensation from any laws that protect people from unsafe products or unhealthy foods, fraudulent securities or predatory lending, unsafe working conditions, and toxic emissions.

In his speech, the president claimed that the TPP will increase U.S. exports in its competition with China. The same agreement, however, lets U.S. corporations outsource even more jobs abroad. President Obama wants the TPP to be on “fast track” (aka Trade Promotion Authority) because he then gets the constitutional trade and legislative writing authority from the Congress. It prevents amendments and debates on any trade deal that the president negotiates.

At the end of the last century, NAFTA was supposed to be a boon to the United States. Instead it lost almost 700,000 jobs (60.8 percent in manufacturing), expanded inequality, degraded the environment, and destroyed Mexican agriculture. Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China lost over 2.7 million jobs in the U.S., and the Korea Free Trade Agreement destroyed another 70,000 jobs. The most recent South Korean trade pact has lost jobs and expanded U.S. trade deficits.

Proposed trade agreements such as TPP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) promise the same result. The TTIP agreement with Europe would drive the United States into the same horror of austerity as the EU. Like TTP, Big Business designed its further deregulation of economic, financial, health, labor, safety, privacy, and environmental protections to weaken labor and government. Yet the most optimistic projection of the trade agreement’s impact is a one-time increase of 0.1 percent of GDP.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has provided more ways that the TPP could hurt working families:

Outsourcing even more jobs overseas: More than 130,000 jobs would go to Vietnam and Japan alone. Also disappearing from the U.S. would be many of these service sector jobs in outsource call centers; computer programming; engineering; accounting; and medical diagnostic jobs. More manufacturing jobs would vanish because the TPP provides special benefits to firms that offshore jobs and reduces risks associated with operating in low-wage countries.

Benefiting and expanding Wall Street at everyone else’s expense and financial instability: TPP would stop governments from imposing “capital controls” to avoid financial crises. There can be no financial speculation tax to limit huge transfers of speculative capital in and out of countries responsible for the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s.

Threatening wages, benefits, and collective bargaining: Workers in the U.S. will be competing with those in Vietnam where the minimum wage is 56 cents per hour. 

Undermining environmental protection: Pending claims worth over $14 billion have been filed in other countries on the basis that regulations, mostly environmental, negatively impact future profits. International tribunals will bypass domestic courts to decide these cases.

Ending “Buy America” laws: TPP requires equal access to foreign corporations for competition in contracting with the government. Even companies with horrible human rights records must receive government contracts paid by U.S. taxpayers.

Rewarding authoritarian regimes: The TPP would give all countries, even those that violate basic international standards for human rights, duty-free access to the U.S. market. The Sony hackings could not be reported under TPP rules.

The TPP has no expiration date. It can be repealed only with the consensus of all the countries that agree to it. Other countries, such as China, can also join the TPP in the future.

Two weeks ago, Sanders asked Michael Froman, the chief trade representative for the U.S., to submit the full text of the proposed TPP.  At this time, Congress can assess the proposal only through a few leaked documents. If Froman turns down Sanders’ request, he has asked for the legal basis for a denial. Sanders also plans to introduce a bill requiring that the contents of any trade agreement being negotiated by the U.S. would be made public with the request of any member of Congress.

If the TPP were good for people of the U.S. , it wouldn’t be secret. ISIL is less of a threat to the people of the United States than the proposed trade agreements are. All we can hope for is that the Republicans hate President Obama so much that they won’t give him anything he wants even if the GOP might support it.

[More horrifying information about TPP is available here. And here.]

September 18, 2014

Congress Went Home–for Two Months

Congressional conservatives are fond of dividing people into the makers and the takers—those who make the money and all those other great unwashed who just take, according to GOP legislators. The next time that you hear just one of the entitled congressional members bring up this accusation, remember today, September 18, 2014. That’s the day that Congress, having put in eight days of work after five weeks of vacation, went home. And they went home for 54 more days. They won’t be back until after elections. There is also an indication that they’ll spend only four days in Washington before leaving again until the end of the year. If that is accurate, it mean means that they get $174,000 annual salary and spend 12 days in session for one-third of the year.

During their eight days this month, Congressional members passed the continuing resolution for keep the country funded until December 11. They also kept the Export-Import Bank alive through June 2015. Folded within the CR without a full debate was an amendment to permit President Obama to arm and train Syrian “moderates” that passed the House by 273 to 156 and the Senate by 78 to 22. Congress saw a bipartisan opposition: in the House, 71 Republicans and 85 Democrats voted against the amendment, and in the Senate, 10 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted no.

With no direction from Congress, the president maintains that he can escalate military action against ISIL under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress authorized after George W. Bush lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Some lawmakers disagree, arguing that Congress should weigh in, at least to show their position regarding war. Debating war, however, might be awkward for some of those running for re-election; thus, they just went home.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is one legislator opposed to Congress withdrawing from Washington. “I find it an act of cowardice, but not astonishing,” he said. Of course, he’s not up for re-election this year. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) is running, but she’s also outspoken. “Is it embarrassing? Yes. It’s an election year. Self-preservation trumps national security.”

This year’s election isn’t the only reason that legislators are running away. Iraqi problems have continued for over 13 years after George W. Bush declared “Mission accomplished.” There’s no way that it will be nicely wrapped up by the presidential election in 2016. If GOP members of Congress can force all the decisions onto the president, he and his party will take the fall for anything that goes wrong. Republicans can blame President Obama for doing nothing or doing anything they don’t like—and they don’t like anything that President Obama does.

As Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said:

“It’s easier to be on the sidelines and, you know, if everything goes well, to say, ‘I was always with you.’ If not, you can say, ‘Whoa, you blew it.’ The fact that we’re all taking great pains to do the absolute minimum to avoid an authorization … is not only not doing our job, it’s cowardice.”

When asked about staying for a debate about the problem with ISIL, others disagreed with the congressional members’ departure.

“I think we should complete discussions on this now. Absolutely,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). “This is what we’re paid to do.” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), also not running, said, “Why wouldn’t you vote? Either you’re for it or against it, and if you can’t defend either being for it or against it, you don’t have any business being here in the first place.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said on the floor:

“And here, the Congress of the United States is going to adjourn in the middle of September? And, as I calculate, starting tomorrow, it’s 55 days until we would return? We need to be talking about war and peace. We need to be talking about the Congress exercising its constitutional authority to give the authority to the president for this long-term engagement.”

The question of war came up in the passage of the amendment to arm and train Syrians. “Just how steep is the slippery slope we are embarking upon? How long will the conflict last? Is there an exit strategy? What does victory look like? How much will it cost? How many U.S. lives will be lost?” asked Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

With long recesses and short list of accomplishments, the 113th Congress currently has a 14-percent approval rating. Barrett Loomis, a University of Kansas political science professor said:

“Who had expectations that this Congress would do any better than this? They want to be on record as doing something, but they want to leave as few fingerprints as possible. These are far from profiles in courage here.”

The following chart shows how little the current Congress has worked—even before it took off for the next few months.

bills passed by congress

Both congressional chambers had been scheduled for a four-day work week next week before leaving town. The House had previously announced that it would stay in session to vote on “jobs bills” and measures to boost domestic energy all ready for the floor, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) stated that immigration reform would help the economy. Yet he refuses to bring anything to the House floor. Everyone knows that the GOP definition of jobs bills is anything that cuts taxes for the wealthy, but the House won’t even make that attempt.

As congressional members wend their way back to their homes across the nation, remember that those who used to be the makers of laws are now only the takers of campaign contributions.

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