Nel's New Day

May 10, 2017

Jason Chaffetz: Epitome of the GOP

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 11:10 PM
Tags: , , , , , ,

Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) may be almost gone, but he will live on as the epitome of the GOP leadership. Vinson Cunningham describes some of his characteristics, and photographer Bill Clark captured a representative image.

Chaffetz seemed like an independent person last October when Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) revealed his privileged sense of depravity by talking about indiscriminately  grabbing “pussy.” In response, Chaffetz seemed to take the high road when he rescinded his endorsement of DDT:

“My wife and I, we have a fifteen-year-old daughter, and if I can’t look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can’t endorse this person.”

At that time he also had much more to say about the “awful place” the nominee had put the country in and his “abhorrent and offensive” language, but his position about DDT lasted only two and a half weeks before the 180-degree turned Chaffetz into a DDT supporter. His excuse was that Hillary Clinton was “that bad.” As House Oversight chairman, he has focused for years on trying to make Clinton’s life miserable in endless Benghazi inquisitions. None of the expensive endeavors turned up any illegal action, but Chaffetz isn’t through. Returning from re-election this past January, Chaffetz opened an investigation into Clinton’s emails, hoping for criminal charges, and Comey’s firing inspired him to expand the scope of his search for something—anything—that might be illegal in Clinton’s private server.

Faced with unconstitutional conflict of interest charges for DDT, Chaffetz mentally shrugged his shoulders and said, “He’s already rich. He’s very rich. I don’t think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more. I just don’t see it like that.” Pushed to investigate the $400 million deal between Jared Kushner’s family and the Chinese, Chaffetz said:

“I don’t see how that affects the average American and their taxpayer dollars. Just the fact that a staff person’s family is making money? It’s not enough.”

Chaffetz referred to “these other little intrigues about a wealthy family making money” as “a bit of a sideshow.”

Soon after DDT’s inauguration, Chaffetz proposed a bill that would allow Republicans to sell off public lands. A bipartisan backlash caused him to say that he was withdrawing the bill because his constituents objected. That was February 2. Eight days later the bill was referred to a subcommittee.

During public appearances during “Trumpcare”s first attempt this year, Chaffetz maintained that people could pay for their health care if they didn’t buy a new iPhone. First, the cost of an iPhone won’t pay for health care. But then came the discovery that Chaffetz’s $738 iPhone—and its services—came from campaign funds. This would be illegal if he used it for person business, but he hasn’t answered any questions about whether he does. Then came his attack on Rosie O’Donnell after Chaffetz’s Democratic opponent for 2018, Kathryn Allen, raised over $200,000 in just two days.

Another part of Chaffetz’s history is his failure to become a Secret Service agent. He claimed that he was rejected because he was too old, but then-Assistant Director Edward Lowery sent an email saying about his application, “Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair.”

The kitchen apparently got too hot for Chaffetz at an April town hall meeting in his home Utah district. The people who attended scolded him for not investigating administration corruption, including DDT’s appointment of Michael Flynn for national security adviser. Chaffetz whined about how his constituents in his deep red district were there only to “bully and intimidate” him and called them “paid protesters.” Then he said he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2018 and might even leave Congress before then. Chaffetz claimed that he wanted to return to the private sector and be with his family. “I started poking around to see what I might be worth and what sort of possibilities are there,” he said in an interview. And then he avoided Congress and his constituents by a month-long leave after foot surgery. Distancing himself from DDT at this time could let him run for governor or even president in 2020.

The House was so desperate for votes on their cruel “repeal and replace” health care bill that Chaffetz showed up on an expensive metallic scooter to cast his vote denying tens of millions of people the same health insurance that he will keep. His district is in the top ten of districts with the most people relying on the Affordable Care Act. Clark’s photograph perfectly presents the GOP cruelty of a “repeal and replace” vote for ACA in the House with the slick, gleeful Chaffetz framed against marble walls and elaborate chandeliers.

With Clinton in the White House, Chaffetz could have stayed gleeful while the Fox network filmed him constantly leading highly visible investigations about Clinton’s conflicts of interests and abuses of power. Like many other Republicans, Chaffetz hasn’t figured out how to work in a government controlled by the GOP. They are accustomed to dealing with opposition in a world where they preen in front of the cameras as victims; they don’t know what to do when the opposition comes from within. Even worse for the Republicans is that the corruption comes their own party—and much of it from their own president.

Stephanie Mencimer writes: “Jason Chaffetz is so ambitious that his last name is a verb.” She explains that “to Chaffetz” means to throw a former mentor under the bus to move ahead, something that people such as presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. and House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Other Republicans carry Chaffetzing farther. DDT claimed that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, had come to DDT asking for Comey’s firing, but people familiar with the occurrence said that DDT summoned the two of them to the White House after he decided to fire Comey. They followed his orders, and DDT tried to put the blame on them when the scheme backfired.

According to over 30 White House officials, however, DDT had become increasingly furious about Comey’s appearing in public, especially to talk about Russian involvement in U.S. politics, especially during the past week. The Washington Post has provided extensive information about events leading up to the firing and such questions as why Sessions was involved in the firing when he recused himself from anything dealing with Clinton’s emails, the ostensible reason for the firing, and Russia, the probably reason behind the firing.

The firing and the GOP support behind him reflects how Chaffetz views his job—that he has sworn allegiance to the Republican party over any loyalty to his country. The question is how long the Republicans will continue to support DDT over their country’s best interests. In an analysis of senators’ responses, only 12 of them actively defended DDT for the firing while another fifteen said that DDT’s actions raised concerns about a lack of information or the timing of the firing. Another 21 senators were vague, likely waiting to see which way they should jump after the dust settles. This is the congressional body responsible for confirming the replacement for Comey. Much to DDT’s amazement, the Democrats were overwhelming angry about the firing because of its apparent intent to stop the investigation into his relationship with Russia.

DDT’s possible business dealings with Russia may be the major issue that emerged from Monday’s Senate hearing and Comey’s firing. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper if he had any “concern” about a DDT business interest in Russia. Clapper’s ultimate answer upon being pressed is that he could not comment on that question “because that impact an investigation.” That was an open hearing; the Judiciary Committee may pursue the question in closed meetings.  Thus far, there is a murky background to DDT’s Russia business interests that he has denied.

Basically, Chaffetz well represents the Republican leadership—cruel, self-centered, hypocritical, cowardly, dishonest, ignorant, and loyal only to those who can give him something. We’ll watch him to see where he pops up next.

April 26, 2017

Announcement of Tax ‘Reform’ (aka Tax Cuts for Wealthy) to Cover for Flynn, Trumpcare

Almost all the news today has been about the new tax plan from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). The time is probably to divert media coverage from the scandal surrounding DDT’s former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, and the struggles of the new Trumpcare health plan that he said would pass the House today. At this time, the conservative Freedom Caucus is on board with Trumpcare because it removes healthcare from many people, but the moderates haven’t confirmed that they will vote for it yet. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has enough trouble figuring out how to keep the government open past Friday without passing the budget that has not even been considered.

Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell under George W. Bush, said that Flynn is either “one of the dumbest individuals who’s ever lived or … he really had some nefarious purposes.” Even GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chair of the Oversight Committee, admitted that Flynn might not have complied with the law, but he blamed former President Obama after DDT refuses to reveal any documents about vetting, hiring, and dismissing Flynn for his 24-day tenure with the current White House administration. Flynn became the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012 but left in 2014, over a year before he took the undisclosed payment from Russia’s state-owned news agency, Russia Today, in December 2015. Chaffetz has said that he won’t be running for re-election in 2018 and that he may resign from Congress before that.

By “nefarious purposes,” Wilkerson wrote that he meant activities ranging from “taking money for influencing your government on behalf of another government, to using your influence with the President and his cabinet on an issue for another government whom you are privately advising, even if pro bono. “The $33,000 that Flynn received for a speaking engagement in December 2015 was not on his application. Chaffetz said.

“I see no evidence or no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law. He was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from both the secretary of state and the secretary of the Army prior to traveling to Russia to not only accept that payment, but to engage in that activity.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), top minority member on the Oversight Committee, said that Flynn’s negligence on his SF86 forms could be punished by up to five years in prison but that decision was not up to the congressional committee. Flynn’s secret conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, is being investigated by the House Intelligence Committee, which Chaffetz said would take the lead on examining whether those contacts themselves were inappropriate. Last month, he asked for immunity in exchange for immunity from prosecution, but neither committee has accepted his offer.

Another high official, DDT’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has also filed applications with omissions such as dozens of foreign contacts, including those with Kislyak and Russian bank CEO Sergey Gorkov in December. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted earlier this week:

“Dear Jared Kushner: Lying on the SF-86 security clearance form is a crime. Michael Flynn hired a lawyer. You may also want to hire a lawyer.”

Back to the tax plan. Here it is—all 226 words, including the title:

 

2017 Tax Reform for Economic Growth and American Jobs

The Biggest Individual And Business Tax Cut in American History

Goals for Tax Reform

  • Grow the economy and create millions of jobs
  • Simplify our burdensome tax code
  • Provide tax relief to American families—especially middle-income families
  • Lower the business tax rate from one of the highest in the world to one of the lowest
  • Individual Reform

Tax relief for American families, especially middle-income families:

  • Reducing the 7 tax brackets to 3 tax brackets for 10%, 25% and 35%
  • Doubling the standard deduction
  • Providing tax relief for families with child and dependent care expenses

Simplification:

  • Eliminate targeted tax breaks that mainly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers.
  • Protect the home ownership and charitable gift tax deductions.
  • Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax.
  • Repeal the death tax.
  • Repeal the 3.8% Obamacare tax that hits small businesses and investment income.

Business Reform:

  • 15% business tax rate
  • Territorial tax system to level the playing field for American companies
  • One-time tax on trillions of dollars held overseas
  • Eliminate tax breaks for special interests

Process:

Throughout the month of May, the Trump administration will hold listening sessions with stakeholders to receive their input and will continue working with the House and Senate to develop the details of a plan that provides massive tax relief, creates jobs, and makes America more competitive — and can pass both chambers.

 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed that 100 people in his department worked on the tax plan, making it about two words per person. Lily Batchelder, former chief tax counsel of the Senate Finance committee, tweeted that the plan was “immensely costly and regressive.”

Benefitting from DDT’s plan are the popular “pass-through entities,” 94 percent of all companies in the nation by 2011, that distribute profits among owners instead of paying corporate taxes. Owners then have these profits taxed as normal income. This organization is popular not only with small companies but also highly profitable ones such as major law firms, hedge funds, and real estate developers. The Trump Organization is a pass-through that would greatly benefit from DDT’s plan, as would all his friends. At this time, 70 percent of income from these corporations goes to the top one percent of people in the nation. Today, Mnuchin said that the new 15-percent rate would be only for small and medium-sized businesses with no definition of “medium.” A business worth $5 million is considered “small.” The plan would allow high-wage workers into pass-through entities by setting themselves up as S corporations to “sell” their freelance services.

A comparison to DDT’s tax plan is Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts in Kansas which ended up being a monumental failure. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded and suffers from an ongoing budget crisis, including horrific cuts in such vital areas as education, from a $1.1 billion shortfall. The GOP is now rebelling against the governor, voting to undo the cuts and almost overruling Brownback’s veto. When Kansas completely exempted pass-through profits from state income tax, a large number of people filed for the break, but few new jobs were created. In 2016, Kansas had the fifth worst employment growth in the nation, and its economy has grown at half the national rate. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded and suffers from an ongoing budget crisis, including horrific cuts in such vital areas as education, from a $1.1 billion shortfall. The GOP is now rebelling against the governor, voting to undo the cuts and almost overruling Brownback’s veto.

Research showed that the Kansas plan, now proposed for the United States, merely encourages people to play the system. DDT’s system could take 20 percent from their taxes According to the conservative Tax Foundation, dropping the rate to 15 percent would reduce government revenue by $2 trillion over a decade, or about 5 percent. Allowing pass-throughs to pay the lower rate would add another $1.5 trillion loss of revenue to the country. DDT claims that his plan will increase economic growth. Alan Cole, a staff economist for the Tax Foundation, stated that the country’s annual growth rate could add about 0.12 percent, which, he said, isn’t a good trade for a cost of $1.5 trillion. “This would be Kansas on steroids,” Eric Toder, co-director of the Tax Policy Center, said about DDT’s plan.

Without looking at DDT’s tax returns, we can almost guarantee that he would vastly benefit from his tax plan. He reports owning more than 200 LLCs, and his approximately 500 businesses are almost all pass-throughs. So much for his promises of helping the “little guys.”

April 18, 2017

DDT’s Missing Tax Returns, More IRS Info

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 7:24 PM
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Your federal income tax payment is due today, April 18. Technically, April 15 is the legal deadline, but not when that date is on a weekend. Then the date is pushed back because of Emancipation Day, the anniversary of freeing slaves and celebrated only in Washington, D.C. on April 16 every year. Its public employees had April 17 off because the 16th was on a weekend so taxes were then due on April 18. Taxpayers in Maine and Massachusetts don’t have to pay state taxes until tomorrow because of Patriots’ Day, a legal holiday celebrated on the third Monday in April, but their federal taxes are still due today.

April 15 was still a day of protest. In the past, Tea Party members led small groups to oppose payment of taxes for all the government benefits that they receive. This year, opposition came from people representing the 74 percent of the population who want Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) to release his tax returns. DDT may have ignored North Korea in his weekend tweets, but he addressed the marches in 200 cities and at least 48 states with at least 120,000 people. The number was probably much higher than that because several cities undercounted its crowds. Seattle and Washington, D.C. each numbered at least 25,000. DDT’s response was that he didn’t need to release his returns because he had already won the election, trying to cover up the continuing ramifications of his massive financial connections including collusion with Russia. He called the marches “small” and accusing the protesters of being “paid.”

The myths of small crowds and paid protesters began with the National Women’s March and the airport protests over Trump’s first Muslim ban during his first two weeks in office and continued for every gathering. Last February, Breitbart started the lie that George Soros is funding the protest movement.

Even hundreds of protesters marched at Mar-a-Lago where DDT vacationed for the seventh of 13 weekends since his inauguration brought out hundreds of people. His trips have cost taxpayers more than President Obama’s trips over his entire eight years, and Palm County (FL) alone has been charged $2 million for his trips. They chanted “Pay! Your! Taxes!” and waved signs calling him “Chicken in Chief” because of DDT’s shift in 40 years by refusing to release his returns. “Chicken Don” symbols replaced the women’s march pussy hats.

Debbie Wehking, a 66-year-old a school principal from Miami, said:

 “He needs to show us his tax returns so that we can tell who’s influencing his decisions, who he owes money to, who he’s doing business with — really so we can figure out whether he needs to be impeached.”

DDT was forced to take a longer route to his golf club to avoid the crowds. In Washington, D.C. a sign stated, “My taxes pay for your golf.” His claim that he cannot release his tax returns no longer holds any water because this is a new return. Also, presidents and vice presidents are automatically audited every year but still made public. In another opaque movement, DDT will no longer release White House visitor logs.

Republicans like Oregon’s representative Greg Walden claim that DDT should have his privacy. Others say that it doesn’t matter or that no one cares contradicted by the marches. Over one million people have already signed this petition.

Last year, individuals paid 49 percent of all federal tax revenues with businesses paying only nine percent of the $3 trillion. Worker and employer payroll taxes, commonly called Social Security and Medicare, account for another 33 percent, and another 3 percent comes from excise taxes with the last five percent labeled as “other.” Business taxes were down from an average of 14 percent last year, and huge corporations like GE and PG&E may pay absolutely nothing. Up to 118 individual breaks benefit companies and the wealthy by almost $1.15 trillion, and 80 corporate breaks net them $185.2 billion.

Technically, the federal corporate income tax is 35 percent, which the GOP wants to drop by over 50 percent. Yet the average taxation for 258 profitable Fortune 500 firms over eight years was 21.2 percent, and 100 of them paid zero taxes in at least one of those years. For example, major polluter North Carolina-based Duke Energy netted $18.2 billion in those eight years and paid no taxes for seven of them while getting $482 billion rebates. That makes their tax rate a minus 2.6 percent.

At least 23 percent of income taxes go to the military, not counting veterans benefits, debt from earlier wars, etc. Yet only 22 percent for this amount is for pay and benefits; almost half of military taxes go to multinational corporations making billions in profits. Domestic needs such as education and the safety net get far less money. [visual] For example, in 2015 taxpayers gave just one corporation, Lockheed Martin, $36 billion, 80 percent of its entire revenues. That money was six times the amount for all foreign aid in 2016.

How government spends your taxes:

  • Defense: 15 percent, not counting veterans benefits and almost 50 percent higher than 20 years ago. [visual]
  • Health care: 13 percent.
  • Interest payments: 6 percent, because of the $20 trillion in national debt largely caused since the George W. Bush tax cuts and wars.
  • Income security: 13 percent, including retirement and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families at its lowest level since 1998.
  • Benefits for veterans: 5 percent for 22 million veterans.
  • Education: 3 percent.
  • Social security: 24 percent.
  • Medicare: 15 percent.
  • Foreign aid: under 1 percent.
  • Other: Under 5 percent, including crop subsidies, space travel, highway repairs, and national parks.

Republicans want to eliminate many of the programs above, but they would be hurting their own constituents. GOP-managed states, aka red states, typically get more federal money back than they send to Washington. Nine of the 11 states that get more than $2 back for every dollar sent to Washington, D.C. are red, and eight of the ten states most dependent on federal funding are red. South Carolina, the queen of federal welfare, gets the most money: for every $1 that the state pays in federal taxes, it receives $7.87. One legislator said, “If you shut down 25 percent of all the federal dollars coming into South Carolina, the economy of South Carolina would collapse.” The federal $59.4 billion sent to South Carolina in 2014 was nine times the state’s annual General Fund budget. South Carolina was ranked the eighth most dependent state in Social Security payments. The state also has the ninth highest level of poverty with almost 28 percent of its children living in poverty along with a horrible health care system, bad public schools, climate-changing coal fired plants with no regulations, lower drinking water standards and other ways to damage its residents.

Only one of the least-dependent ten states, those receiving less money from the federal government that it sends, is red. In short, the lower the financial benefit of federal government in a state, the more likely it is to vote for federal government.

The practice of sending more federal money to Southern states than the government receives is an inheritance from the 20th century when that region voted Democrat, and senior members of Congress sent federal money to their states with contracts, projects, and installations. The other part of the equation is the extreme poverty in those areas. The need for a “safety net” in red states requires hundreds of billions of dollars annually to help the neediest because their own states won’t provide aid.

GOP-controlled red states belie the fantasy that cutting taxes drives growth. Blue states accomplish growth from investments in education, infrastructure, urban quality of life, and human services. These states have nine of the 10 top-ranked universities in the country, the highest median household income in nine of ten states, the greatest generation of technological innovation, and the highest average life expectancy. Despite globalization, local conditions of education, research and development, and promotion of idea exchange and talent development are vital. North Dakota’s oil helped its economy, but it looks more like Saudi Arabia than Silicon Valley. Hubs of “blueness” like Austin (TX) can exist in red states, but are forced to fight against government repression of wage rules and public investments.

Possibilities for blue states? A Bluexit (“Bloo-ksit”) along the lines of Brexit, the British exit from the European Union. If red states want only the U.S. military, paper currency, and the national anthem determined at the federal level, blue states can keep its resources to build up its cities and states.

Happy Tax Day!

April 13, 2017

Congress: Its Legislation-free First 100 Days

Filed under: Legislation,Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:56 PM
Tags: ,

The 115th Congress now celebrates its 100th day. Excited about have a GOP majority in both chambers, Republicans promised a goal to “go big, go bold” and deliver for people in the United States. In their 50 days during four months, they have failed.

The most visible activities in the House during the first 100 days have been the failure of the health care “reform” and the scandal of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) who was forced from leading the investigation into Russian involvement with the campaign of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). After concealing information and secretly meeting with White House staffers, Nunes himself is under investigation.  House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) blamed their failures on a lack of experience in being the majority party, but the House has had a majority since 2010.

The failure—thus far—of the healthcare “repeal and replace” caused the greatest infighting in the current congressional year. Although the bill would have taken insurance from 24 million people, it didn’t remove enough benefits for the ultra-right wingers in the House. About the conservative Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) said:

“Americans are sick and tired of the dysfunction in Washington when far right-wing factions put their narrow interests above the will of the people that elected them.”

Another House member called the leader of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), “a pathological liar who isn’t interested in getting to yes.” A Meadows’ ally, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) blamed Ryan, saying that the GOP needs “either a change in direction from this Speaker, or we need a new Speaker.” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) said, “I don’t know that the Lord himself could unite our caucus.” Ryan thinks that tax reform would be easier than health care change, but Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said, “I don’t see it that way.” Other GOP representatives resist Ryan’s “border-adjustment plan,” otherwise known as large tariffs. Meanwhile Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), restless about congressional inaction and quits on health care change, has switched back to health care from tax reform as his priority.

What has Congress accomplished in 100 days? It erased 11 of President Obama’s previous orders by using the archaic Congressional Review Act that had been used only once in its 20-year history. George W. Bush used the law in 2001 to kill an ergonomics rule at the Department of Labor. This Congress used the act to cause the loss of internet privacy, healthcare for women, science in climate decisions, education guidelines, clean water regulations, keeping mentally ill people from buying guns, and more.  And that’s it during their 50 days.

The Senate has been a bit busier, although not with legislation. The Republicans confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and secretaries to the Cabinet, people opposed to their agencies’ missions. Yet GOP Senators couldn’t even accomplish this without changing the rules for the confirmations and bringing in the vice president to break a tie vote.

After failing to provide the Senate with nominees, DDT has gone back to lambasting Democrats for not moving fast enough to confirm his nominees. This week he changed his February position that “we don’t want to fill those jobs” to “waiting right now for so many people” to get confirmed by the Senate. DDT used his “alternative facts” when he claimed he has “hundreds of people that we’re trying to get through. “Accurate facts” shown that 478 out of 553 key positions have no nominee and another 29 have been announced but not formally nominated. Thus far, 22 positions have been confirmed. Even GOP senators are impatient with DDT’s slow pace.

The State Department is a prime example of DDT’s lack of action. Almost three months after “cleaning house” in the State Department, it is largely empty. At a time when DDT is creating disasters around the world, he has nominated only five ambassadors to replace the 57 who he fired and ordered home on the day he was inaugurated. Only the U.S. Ambassador to Israel has been confirmed, and the Senate has recently received four nominees for diplomats in Japan, China, Senegal, and the Republic of Congo. Still missing are officials  in charge of arms control, management, administration, consular affairs, and foreign missions with no replacements. The only senior position is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has no diplomatic experience. The deputy nominee was announced today. A very depressing chart can be found here. 

Congress faces a big problem when it returns from a two-week recess in the last week of April: the federal government shuts down on DDT’s 100th day in office if the House and the Senate cannot agree on a budget in three days. According to White House staffers, DDT doesn’t care whether the government shuts down, but the people waiting for $8 billion in income tax refunds may be upset when a government shutdown stops that process.

Meanwhile, Republicans are planning how to push through their agenda with the threat of closing down the government. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, who thinks that “the consequences [of a shutdown] have been blown out of proportion,” has faith that he can blackmail Democrats into paying for DDT’s wall by threatening to stop funding for what he calls “sanctuary cities.” Unfortunately for Mulvaney, the Supreme Court has already ruled that this tactic is unconstitutional in one of its rulings on the Affordable Care Act. Twenty years ago, ultra-conservative SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that federal government may not “impress into its service— … at no cost to itself — the police officers of the 50 states.”  Municipalities are already suing DDT for his January 25 executive order from January 25 that claims to empower the attorney general and secretary of Homeland Security to cut off and claw back federal funds that go to these cities.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants to use the budget bill to force non-payment to Planned Parenthood for its service to needy people, stopping checks for cancer, STDs, and HIV/AIDS while promoting family planning through providing contraception. In order to succeed, Ryan will have to get almost total consensus from House Republicans to boost military spending, reduce almost all humanitarian efforts domestic and abroad, and not reduce the deficit.

Because DDT threatens to destroy the Affordable Care Act by canceling insurer subsidies for low-income enrollees, Democrats in Congress plan to demand that key payments be included in the upcoming budget. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) is a GOP leader in the House who supports DDT in appropriating the money, but he’s having a rugged time at townhall meetings throughout the eastern part of the state, the first time he’s held these in four years. Protesters were extremely vocal in three different meetings, and he has not yet faced his constituents where the loss of the Affordable Care Act would close hospitals in small communities.

DDT thinks he can blame Democrats for a shutdown, but the GOP, that closed down the government in October 2013 for a month at a cost of $25 billion, took the brunt of the blame. Only 17 percent of voters are willing to have a shutdown, and 65 percent think it should be blocked by “all means necessary.”

While many members of Congress are dodging their constituents in town hall meetings because of protesters, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) “bravely” faced those fearsome creatures at a townhall this week. There he made the statement:

“You say you pay for me to do this? That’s bullcrap.”

Mullins canceled his next townhall meeting because he couldn’t get a ban on the red and green sheets of paper that people hold up at town halls to represent their positions. Taxpayers give Mullins a salary of $174,000 a year for meeting with Congress 145 days in 2017, up from 110 days in 2016. The rest of the time, members of Congress claim to be meeting with their constituents. Mullins added to his claim that he’s paid his “own salary” through his taxes and that “no one here pays me to go.” He stated that he’s providing a “service” to the people who pay him.

The approval rating of Congress dropped eight points since February to 20 percent. Republicans reduced their approval rating of their own Congress from 50 percent to 31 percent in that time. This story may demonstrate a reason for Congress’ falling approval rates. A question at Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) town hall: “When will you have the backbone to put our country over party?”

The willingness of Republican legislators to take away everything from the people in the United States except uncontrolled police and military forces demonstrates a growing cruelty in their ruling. Good leaders empower people while the GOP increasingly takes away rights through enforcing conservative Christian beliefs, suppressing voters, voter suppression, dehumanizing minorities, and eliminating all social services. Their entire focus is on giving all assets to the wealthy. Further polarizing the nation, the House leader completely rejected any negotiation with the Democrats.

A question at Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) town hall: “When will you have the backbone to put our country over party?”

We’ll hope that Congress can avert another shutdown of government services, but I wouldn’t plan a vacation in any national park during early May.

April 9, 2017

Activism: Lists of ‘Not Normal,’ Accomplishments

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 7:17 PM
Tags: , ,

Activist Jen Hofmann is currently publishing a weekly list of suggested activities to resist the dreadful actions of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and his GOP minions in Congress. This is the link to her website for those who wish to keep up on what can be done.

This week’s list, as usual, includes an explanation of why people must not begin to think of DDT’s behavior as normal. In addition, she provided a list of successes for the past week. You can get more details here.

Not Normal – Avoid normalizing this presidency and #staywoke:

  • A normal president doesn’t lie 367 times within his first 80 days in office.
  • A normal president doesn’t sneak money from his business after agreeing not to. In fact, a normal president doesn’t run or own a business at all during his presidency.
  • A normal president doesn’t make money from waging war.
  • A normal president doesn’t bomb another country without Congressional approval.
  • A normal president doesn’t publicly support an accused sexual predator.
  • A normal president doesn’t revoke women’s rights in favor of corporate power.
  • A normal president doesn’t spend $24M on travel in the first 10 weeks of his term.
  • A normal president doesn’t take golf vacations for ten consecutive weekends.

Past “not normal” list:

  • A normal president doesn’t lie about a former POTUS.
  • The campaign staff of a normal president are not under FBI investigation for collusion with a foreign government.
  • A normal president doesn’t move a business partner into the West Wing.
  • A normal president doesn’t threaten congresswo/men for voting against his wishes.
  • A normal president talks to all Americans, rather than holding rallies for a small number.
  • A normal president doesn’t tweet his versions of events while a hearing is in progress.
  • A normal president doesn’t lie throughout an interview or say so little that is true.
  • A normal president doesn’t take land away from Americans.
  • Normal elected leaders care about the country’s safety more than the source of leaked information.
  • A normal Congressional committee is qualified to investigate treasonous behavior and has no questionable conflicts of interest.

Good news:

  • Court rules in favor of equal rights in employment for LGBT people.
  • Steve Bannon is off the National Security Council…and two qualified leaders, previously excluded, are once again attending the meetings.
  • Nunes “stepped down” from leading the House investigation on 45-Russia ties.
  • The Wall is looking increasingly less likely.
  • A lawsuit will proceed against 45 for inciting violence at a campaign rally.
  • Four senators (2 Dem, 2 GOP) present a bill preventing unwarranted searches of Americans’ devices at the border.
  • Some GOP leaders are starting to publicly support elements of the ACA.
  • The Department of Homeland Security withdraws its request for Twitter to release a user’s account information.
  • Jeff Sessions loses battle in attempt to bully Baltimore Police.
  • EPA staffer shares a piece of his mind on his last day on the job.
  • 8,000 millennial Democrats plan to run for office. (I heart this generation.)
  • Delaware Democrats win a swing vote and keep control of the legislature.
  • Cards Against Humanity founder will buy and publish Congress’ internet browsing data.
  • In response to a violent hate crime against a gay couple, men in The Netherlands are holding hands in public.
  • New Mexico becomes the 8th state to ban the practice of gay “conversion therapy.”
  • NY state becomes the first in the nation to provide legal assistance to ICE detainees.
  • NYC will raise the age at which youth are sentenced as adults from 16 to 18.
  • Nebraska court strikes down rule banning gay foster parents.
  • California court upholds innovative cap-and-trade program–a win for the environment.
  • Maryland will financially support its Planned Parenthood clinics.
  • Advertisers flee en masse from The O’Reilly Factor, and show oddly shortened.
  • California’s drought is declared over with snowpack at 164% above normal.
  • Renewable energy is taking over fossil fuels.
  • Due to public health concerns, KFC stops using chicken treated with human antibiotics.
  • TV satirists are covering 45 better than the news. Hilarious example.
  • Unemployment went down again and wage gains are up.
  • US women’s soccer scores a goal for pay parity.
  • Vermont’s New Farms for New Americans’ programs feed body and soul.
  • We’re still the majority.

And positive actions from the week before last:

  • We defeated the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, saving millions of Americans from suffering and premature death!
  • The rusty-patched bumblebee is now listed as endangered!
  • CA upholds stricter auto-emissions standards, despite 45’s efforts to lower them.
  • Fox stops repeating wiretap lies by pulling Napolitano off the air.
  • Alex Jones apologizes for fueling Pizzagate conspiracy theories.
  • The New York Attorney General takes on Trump.
  • VA governor vetoes bills that discriminate against LGBTQI Americans.
  • Conservative governors oppose 45’s damaging budget.
  • Syrian immigrants show love through food in their adopted countries.
  • Indian villagers knit pajamas for rescued elephants to stay warm in winter.
  • Three sacred rivers are granted legal status as people.

Ways that people can protect themselves from new guidelines permitting Internet Service Providers to sell personal information from subscribers:

  • Call your provider and opt out of having your information shared.
  • Pressure ISPs to have opt-in consent.
  • Use sites that encrypt the connection between themselves and your browser, usually identified with an “https” prefix to an address or a lock icon in the address bar so that the ISP sees only the domain name that you visit.
  • Use a VPN, Virtual Private Network, for a safeguard or other ISPs that respect your privacy.
  • Opt out of supercookies and other ISP tracking by checking your account settings under privacy, marketing, or ads settings.
  • Set your PC to use a third-party DNS provider such as Open DNS.
  • Tell your congressional representatives and senators that you want the privacy back.

Little by little! Thanks, Jen!

October 1, 2016

Be Careful What You Vote For!

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 12:02 AM
Tags: ,

When in doubt, attack the government. That’s what George W. Bush did in 2003—and he didn’t even attack the government of 9/11 attackers! And attacking a government for the action of 15 of its citizens is what Congress just did.

Just days after the 15th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by 19 individuals, Congress passed Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) allowing any U.S. citizen to sue any country with the claim that the country financed or otherwise aided and abetted a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. People in the U.S. could already sue countries designated as “state sponsors of terrorism”; currently, that list includes only three countries—Iran, Syria and Sudan—because the designation is assigned only after very careful review by national security, intelligence and foreign policy officials. It isn’t left to private litigants and judges.

Congress has voted not once but twice to throw a long-held principle of international law, sovereign immunity, under the bus by removing countries from immunity from lawsuits in the courts of other countries. JASTA was touted as helping 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia through the court system, but it also allows courts to waive claims to foreign sovereign immunity in situations involving acts of terrorism on U.S. soil. Congress passed the bill, and after President Obama vetoed the bill, Congress passed an override to his veto in the first time of the seven years, eight months, and eight days of the president’s terms.

Many legislators who voted in favor of the override are now saying “oops!” while President Obama has the right to say “I told you so.” After 123 Democrats and 225 Republicans of 425 representatives in the House and 97 out of 98 senators voted for the override, they’re beginning to consider the consequences of a law that might produce laws in other countries that force U.S. government officials and military members into foreign courts. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said that these lawsuits would expose the U.S. to tremendous liability although he voted in favor of the law. He said, “We’ve got assets deployed all around the world more than any country. So if sovereign immunity recedes, we’re the nation that is most exposed.” While voting for the law, Corker said that Congress “has [not] functioned in an appropriate manner as it relates to a very important piece of legislation.”

President Obama warned that there could be lawsuits against the U.S. for “actions taken by members of an armed group that received U.S. assistance, misuse of U.S. military equipment by foreign forces, or abuses committed by police units that received U.S. training.” There has to be proof of liability, but U.S. taxpayers will be on the hook for fighting the vastly increasing number of lawsuits.

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said:

“The biggest issue is that [JASTA is] … not limited to Saudi Arabia, and it’s likely to have a much larger impact on the U.S. government than the Saudi government, because the U.S. government takes rules very seriously.”

He gave an example of lawsuits filed against the federal government by victims of drone strikes and other American military activities. John B. Bellinger III, who served as the State Department’s legal adviser from 2005 to 2009, said measures in other countries “are hardly likely to be as precise and surgical as our Congress has been.”

An immediate reaction from Saudi Arabia could be their removal of hundreds of billions of dollars in assets from the U.S. causing problems for the economy.

GOP congressional leaders are now saying that they need to revisit the law—the day before they left town until after the general election that occurs in 40 days. “I’d like to think that there’s a way we could fix [it] so that our service members do not have legal problems overseas, while still protecting the rights of the 9/11 victims,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) who supported the bill in public statements without casting a vote in the override. You think, Rep. Ryan!? Yet the man who controls legislative access to all bills hasn’t said that he will address the issue in the lame duck session in November and December.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who did vote for the override, said that the law could have “unintended ramifications” and needed “further discussion.” You think!? McConnell laid the blame on the passage of the override on the White House because it didn’t make a forceful argument about its threats to U.S. officials. The bill has been pending only seven years, but McConnell claimed that “nobody had really focused on the potential downsides in terms of our international relationships.” [I always worry when I know more about the “potential downsides” than members of the congress, especially those who have been there forever and call themselves “leaders.”]

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that comments from lawmakers [such as those like McConnell] are a “deeply embarrassing” display of “rapid-onset buyer’s remorse.” He added:

“The suggestion on the part of some members of the Senate was that they didn’t know what they were voting on, that they didn’t understand the negative consequences of the bill. That’s a hard suggestion to take seriously. All of that communications was made public before Congress passed the first vote to put this bill into law yesterday. Ignorance is not an excuse, particularly when it comes to our national security and the safety and security of our diplomats and our service members.”

The White House told legislators that the bill is too broad and could set a dangerous precedent, inviting other nations to respond by suing American diplomats, military personnel and other officials in foreign courts over U.S. foreign policy actions. What part of that information didn’t the legislators understand? The vast majority of legislators ignored statements from not only the White House but also national security officials, the European Union’s delegation to the United States, and business leaders who warned the law will damage relations with Saudi Arabia and encourage other countries to pass laws that would allow them to target U.S. officials. Yet the GOP, which can’t find time to replace a Supreme Court justice or pass a long-term budget bill, pushed through the bill before the current recess.

The understanding about JASTA’s disastrous effects seemed to come during the voting. Before the Senate finished voting 97-1 to override Obama’s veto, 28 senators signed a letter that they would support legislation to blunt its impact if [when?] other countries retaliate. [Here’s the letter with the signatures. Check for your senator if you can read the handwriting!] Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), whose signature I didn’t see on the letter, said: “I’m for the 9/11 families having their day in court, but I’m also for not exposing our people unnecessarily. If you want to go forward in the Mideast without Saudi Arabia as an ally, then be careful what you wish for.”

The only senator seeming to have an understanding of the bill, Majority Harry Reid (D-NV), was the only senator to have complete understanding of the bill’s ramifications. Sens. Tim Kaine and Bernie Sanders didn’t vote on the bill.

The Republican party has hit a new low: they passed a bad bill that President Obama told them was a bad bill; the president vetoed the bill; the GOP pushed through an override after the president told them again how it was a bad bill; they discovered how bad the bill is; and GOP legislators blamed President Obama for not forcing them to understand that this is a bad bill. As Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said on All In with Chris Hayes tonight in explaining that the GOP blames President Obama for everything. If Barack Obama walked on water, the GOP would say that he does it because he can’t swim.

Congress may be able to change a terrible vote. Buyer’s remorse for a vote for Donald Trump can’t be taken back. Voters in the United States need to consider what they would get with a man who wants the office of the presidency only for his own benefit. Supporters think that he will take care of him, but Trump takes care of only himself.

September 19, 2016

Media Focuses on Clinton’s Non-Stories, Largely Ignores GOP Zombie Issues

Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s emails are two issues that Republicans refuse to let die, despite tens of investigations into each one that fail to prove anything that the Democratic presidential candidate has done wrong. Today, the Clinton Foundation zombie problems returned when a headline referencing a quote from Bill Clinton read “‘Natural’ For Foundation Donors to Seek Favors.” As usual, the media, determined to make something out of nothing, took this headline out of context from Bill Clinton’s response in an NPR interview:

“It was natural for people who’ve been our political allies and personal friends to call and ask for things. And I trusted the State Department wouldn’t do anything they shouldn’t do.”

Leaked emails show that people aren’t getting the favors that they request, and all the aggressive searching by Hillary haters has found absolutely no “pay for play” from the Clinton Foundation that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

While dwelling on Clinton non-stories, Sunday talk shows ignored the real story about the “pay for play” Trump Foundation already fined for illegal campaign donations to Florida’s AG Pam Bondi in exchange for her dropping an investigation into the fraudulent Trump University. A less biased media would have covered the New York investigation into Trump illegally using the Trump Foundation charity funds to purchase at least one oil painting and one football helmet. Trump has not donated one cent to his “foundation” since 2008 while he gets credit for donating funds that other people gave to his foundation. Instead of reporting on Trump’s “pay for play” violations, the media concentrated on Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis and Trump’s infomercial on Dr. Oz’s show.

The same media largely ignored Kurt Eichenwald’s detailed cover story in Newsweek which reported that Trump’s business interests “will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” if Trump wins the presidency and does not sever all connections to the Trump Organization. As Eichenwald wrote, the Trump Organization has been “largely ignored” by media despite its “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” in nearly all foreign policy decisions during a Trump presidency. Eichenwald provides information about the Trump Organization’s “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians, and even criminals” and “a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled” which could conflict with presidential major national security decisions and negotiations.

GOP members zombies:

Donald Trump desperately wanted to drop the birther issue after claiming for many years that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. His giant mistake, however was blaming Clinton for initiating the theory. A strategist had suggested that the 2008 Clinton campaign could use the idea that Barack Obama was “not American,” but Clinton immediately quashed it. There’s no fire where Trump is blowing smoke. Yet campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus repeatedly accused Clinton of starting the birther theory on Sunday talk shows.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went one better. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump hadn’t said anything about the issue “for a long time.” Fortunately, Tapper, a journalist who believes in telling the truth, reminded Christie that Trump continued birthering for five years after the president released the long-form birth certificate to the public in 2011. A lively exchange of “true” and “not true” ensured followed by Christie saying, “It wasn’t like he was talking about it on a regular basis.” In fact-checking Christie’s claim, the Washington Post wrote:

“This is such bogus spin that we have to wonder how Christie manages to say it with a straight face…. [C]learly Christie is either lying or he is so misinformed that he has no business appearing on television.”

Christie should shift to protecting himself. His involvement in the closure of the George Washington Bridge that created havoc and physical danger to people has returned. While his allies and employees have pled guilty or gone to court in this issue, Christie has stuck to his position that “I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act.” In today’s trial for two of those accused of closing the bridge, both both prosecutors and lawyers for the defendants agree that Christie “knew his close associates were involved in a plan to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as it was happening and that the closings were intended to punish a local mayor for declining to support him.”

In 2013, at the time of the event, Christie ridiculed the controversy because his office would never be so petty and partisan. After evidence proved that it was a petty and partisan vendetta, Christie claimed ignorance. The micromanaging governor swore that he had no idea that his top aides used his name to abuse their power. Today Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna has told jurors that David Wildstein and Bill Baroni “bragged” to the governor directly about the scheme to close lanes onto the George Washington Bridge in order to deliberately cripple Fort Lee. The trial is against former top Christie aides Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, but Christie may suffer the fallout, perhaps to the point of being impeached. It already lost him being a potential GOP vice-presidential candidate, and last May, Christie’s approval rating had fallen to 29 percent.

Dick Cheney, another zombie, has come to life in the body of GOP vice-presidential candidate, Mike Pence who said that his role model is the vice-president who put the United States into the preemptive war with Iraq costing the country millions of jobs and trillions of dollars. Cheney’s career as VP was a time of incompetence, lies, opaque ruling, scandal, missing emails, and deadly bad judgment. When he left office, Cheney’s approval rating was 13 percent, about half Richard Nixon’s support at the height of Watergate. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called Cheney an “idiot.” If Trump were elected and followed his plans, Pence, who sees himself a Cheney clone, “would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy” while Trump would focus on “making America great again.”

The zombie of Ralph Nadar, which may have led to George W. Bush’s appointment as president in 2000, may have returned in the name of Gary Johnson. A rumor circulated last week that Bill Weld might drop out of the race as Libertarian vice-presidential candidate because he didn’t want to be another Nadar. “No chance,” says Gary Johnson, top of the Libertarian ticket. Polling at 9 percent, Johnson is far away from the 15-percent threshold for participating in a presidential candidate debate, an advantage for him because he doesn’t interview well and might lose votes in a debate. Asked on public radio whether he was worried about votes for him leading to Trump as a president, he responded that he didn’t care and that it wouldn’t be his problem.

A pattern in GOP campaigning is to have one message in English and a different one in Spanish. For example, during his successful Nevada senatorial run in 2012, Dean Heller put his hardline immigration policy into English with a softer approach in Spanish. Another shift came from the GOP response to the State of the Union address last year when the Spanish version supported immigration reform—opposite to the message in English. This last spring, Kansas printed the wrong voter registration deadline, six days after the deadline, in the Spanish version and omitted the use of a passport for identification.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) brought this zombie to life in his struggling re-election. In Spanish, McCain brags about seeking comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for children brought illegally to the United States; the English skips over these policies and draws an image of McCain as hardcore immigration control. After this “translation” was questioned, a campaign spokesperson said that the website versions were “never intended to be identical.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocking the budget bill has aroused the zombie of shutting down the government. Congress has only 11 more days—two “working weeks” before a the government closes down, but McConnell “delayed” a procedural vote until 2:15 pm tomorrow. At least the bill may allow Puerto Rico’s Planned Parenthood clinic to access federal grants to fight the Zika virus, a provision that had held up the bill for several months. In his arrogant manner, McConnell said that “Senate Republicans stand ready to move forward” and wants Democrats to “complete negotiations,” something that they have been willing to do for some time.

Asked about the agreement, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, “Close is relative.” The Dems also want funding for the Flint (MI) water crisis to be in the mix, something the GOP turns down.

Ideally two weeks is enough time, but the bill must be sent to the House, returned, and then reconciled while ultra-conservatives in that chamber demand itty-bitty budget bills instead of an omnibus which go into next year instead of being a stopgap that returns—in zombie fashion—on December 9 this year.

Just a few zombies from people who ignore history.

September 10, 2016

Good News While Congress Stays in Gridlock

The Obama administration made two monumental decisions this week.

Contractors building a pipeline attacked protesters with mace and dogs as they blocked construction on federal land and asked the company to suspend nearby work, and a federal judge refused to block the $3.7 billion pipeline crossing four states. Two hundred Native American tribes were joined by activists and celebrities to oppose the pipeline. The U.S. Departments of Justice, Army, and Interior stopped the pipeline, however, and said that “this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects

With their tribal land a half-mile from the proposed pipeline, the Standing Rock Sioux declared that the pipeline would desecrate sacred burial and prayer sites as well as leak oil into their water source of the Missouri and Cannon Ball rivers. The government will not authorize construction at Lake Oahe and asked the contractors to stop work on other land. The proposed 1,100-mile pipeline was to take crude oil from North Dakota, Montana, and Canada to the U.S. Gulf.

The company driving the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partner, originally promised that all the oil would stay in the United States and lessen the nation’s independence on foreign fossil fuel, but they have withdrawn this guarantee after their successful lobbying to remove the 40-year ban on crude oil exports. The company’s filing with the SEC notes that “export projects” will “balance this market [with general oversupply] by 2018.” It also lists the pipeline as a “leader in the export of hydrocarbons.” In a presentation, Energy Transfer Partners stated that it is “exceptionally well positioned to capitalize on U.S. energy exports.”

The second welcome federal decision last week is a proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that would eliminate Title X funding to states cutting Planned Parenthood funding. PP uses about $70 million to serve over 1.1 million patients with incomes under $23,500 with contraceptives and screenings for cancer and STDs. Although none of the Title X funding can be used for abortions, 11 states have blocked PP funds. Congressional Republicans are also so intent on defunding PP that they won’t provide funding to protect people in the U.S. from the Zika virus.

PP is also attacking the Zika virus through the distribution of Zika prevention kits and education where the virus is shown to be spreading. Yet some high-risk states for the virus—Florida, Louisiana, and Texas—have blocked PP funds. In Florida alone, 84 pregnant women are currently infected with Zika. The most recent research shows that most of these women will give birth to infants with birth defects. About 84 pregnant women in Florida are currently infected with Zika, officials have said.

The 30-day public comment on this rule ends on October 7, 2016. Women who need the services of Planned Parenthood will appreciate all the support they can get. This is the link to the give a comment.  http://www.regulations.gov/document?D=HHS_FRDOC_0001-0645

Good things may happen in threes. This week, the House finally passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights after the Senate passed its version last May. The bill mandates that victims be informed of rape kits’ results and legal status as well as preventing victims from being charged for the processing the kits. The law applies only to federal cases, but it’s a start.

Otherwise, Congress has spent its first four days after a long session doing almost nothing. They did pass a bill allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts, but it could lead to retaliation against U.S. citizens by other countries. At this time, victims can sue a country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism; this bill would allow citizens to sue countries without that designation. Although 15 of the 19 perpetrators of 9/11 tragedy came from Saudi Arabia, there is no proof that Saudi Arabia instigated the attack.

The problem about the bill comes from the concept of “sovereign immunity,” giving foreign governments immunity from prosecution in U.S. courts, according to the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FISA).  As “state sponsors of terror,” Syria, Iran, and Sudan are the only exempt countries from FISA. Congress claims that the bill just passed would make only an exemption for this one lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, but legal experts have said that it would expand exemptions to any countries that commit the same terrorism defined in the legislation.

The bill may lead to other countries passing similar sovereign immunity exceptions, putting the U.S. at risk of being sued by their citizens. For example, Iraq could pass a law permitting its citizens the right to sue the U.S. government for damages during the Iraq War. If the U.S. lost its case in Iraqi courts, then the Iraqi government could seize U.S. assets in their country to pay the victims. Saudi Arabia has threatened that it would pull its assets out of the U.S. if the bill became law. The end result of this law might be to increase chaos in foreign policy process and undermines the ability of the president to craft a careful, cohesive foreign policy for all people in the nation.

The president has another nine days to make a decision on the bill.

As low as the bar has been put for Donald Trump, it’s even lower for Congress. Its only goal during September before they leave for another two months is “don’t close the government.” Even a stopgap funding bill has become difficult. The far-right Freedom Caucus wants one that goes into next year so that newly elected legislators can decide the budget. The others want one to end in December because they fear that next year will have fewer Republicans.

The first problem attacked on the first day of this session was the standoff in funds for combating the Zika virus. Republicans refuse to support the funding without eradicating all funds for Planned Parenthood. The Senate added more blackmail with demanding that environmental regulations on pesticides be loosened before granting Zika-related funds. The government has been taking anti-Zika funds from other areas, but all the funding is gone by the end of September.

A 52-46 procedural vote kept the Senate from moving forward to end debate on a conference report with the House about Zika funding, the third time that the proposal has failed because of targets against Planned Parenthood. The bill was attached to spending on military construction and veterans affairs, giving McConnell a chance to announce that Democrats opposed veterans. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said:

“Republicans were more interested in attacking Planned Parenthood and flying the confederate flag. Can’t make that stuff up — that’s really the truth — than protecting women and babies from this awful virus.”

The White House asked for $1.9 billion, but the Senate offered only $350 million in new money and moved the rest of the proposed $1.1 billion from other health accounts, including the fund for fighting the Ebola virus.

While Congress dithered, “the number of Zika cases in the U.S. more than doubled to 2,700, and people infected with the virus turned up in every state,” an LA Times editorial. “A total of 17 babies have been born with Zika-related birth defects, and about 1,600 pregnant women are known to have been exposed. And those are just the cases we know about; some 80 percent of those infected with the disease have mild or no symptoms.”

Another “big” issue in the House is an argument about impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen for something done before he got the job. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has caved into the Freedom Caucus’ demand to put the issue up for a vote despite claims from GOP leaders and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that Koskin is guilty of incompetence, not a crime. Only once—in 1876—has the House voted to impeach a Cabinet member and never to an executive branch official below the Cabinet rank. Any action from the House would require a two-thirds majority from the Senate for conviction, an unlikely possibility.  Opposed to the impeachment is a group of 123 tax-law professionals, the American College of Tax Counsel, and a group of former IRS commissioners.

As Democrats pointed out, the House is pursuing what they see as “baseless attacks” while ignoring “urgent issues”—“Zika virus, the Flint water crisis, the opioid crisis, and gun violence.” Ryan has his own priorities: his next one is probably to “punish” the Democrats who held a 25-hour sit-in because he wouldn’t bring any gun legislation to the floor. The man in control of whether any bill ever reaches a vote in Congress said about the sit-in, “That’s not the way that a democracy works.”

A year ago, the Freedom Caucus got rid of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH); now they have their sights set on Paul Ryan when he comes up for speaker again in January. The 40-member group is even considering a departure from the 180-member House Republican Study Committee if the conservative group won’t let the far-right members of the House take over. A three-way split in the House could greatly benefit Democrats even if they don’t achieve a majority.

At least Congress will be gone in another three weeks. The question is whether the government will stay open after September 30.

July 16, 2016

Congress Takes Seven-Week Vacation

Congress hobbled out of town two days ago for a seven-week recess, one of the longest in its modern history after they filed a resolution to impeach the IRS commissioner, John A. Koskinen, who had nothing to do with the issue of asking political Tea Party PACs to show that they weren’t political. Another witch hunt was the committee to destroy Planned Parenthood and anyone who had any relationship—no matter how intangential. Thus far, its efforts have been as unproductive as the multi-million-dollar effort to find an involvement between Hillary Clinton and the deaths at Benghazi, Libya.

Two bills – both bad jokes – were sent to the president for signing: genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and opioids.

The bill to “label” foods with GMO ingredients was designed to stop states from taking action on this issue after the federal government had refused to deal with it. The so-called “label” is a small square code that must be scanned with a smart phone for a person to get information. An option for small food companies is printing a website URL or phone number where customers can request information about the GMO content. Not all ingredients must be identified, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture gets to pick which ones. For example, refined products such as soy oil or sugar from beets might be exempt because they are made from GMO crops but the final product supposedly doesn’t contain GMO material. Corn, an ingredient in a great deal of food products, may also be exempted from the labeling requirement.

The Agriculture Department also determines the quantity of GMO material before requiring identification, leaving many products with GMOs unidentified with a high threshold. In addition, penalties for noncompliant companies are minimal or none, and the bill prevents any states, including those that have already passed labeling laws, from regulations requiring actual information on food labels.

The bill is largely thanks to Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who have received more than $2.1 million in campaign contributions this cycle from agribusiness donors. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell fast-tracked the bill with no amendments or debate by pasting the content into the empty shell of a bill that had already been passed by the Senate, but not enacted into law. The act was passed by a vote of 63-30.

The FDA pointed out a number of loopholes, and labels won’t start appearing for at least two years. Nicknamed the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” (DARK Act), the bill is in opposition to the 90 percent of people in the nation who want clear labeling for GMOs.

The second bad joke in recently passed bills addresses the painkiller overdose epidemic. The bill that was passed and sent on to the president includes a pain management task force, research, better access to treatment options and drug rehabilitation instead of incarceration. The bill, however, doesn’t provide any funding. President Obama had proposed $1 billion, and Democrats tried to get $920 million in funding. The GOP rejected both.

The rising death tolls from overdoses of painkillers came from the pharmaceutical industry pushing higher and higher levels of prescribing opioids for even minor pain. Thirteen years ago, Purdue Pharma gave doctors 34,000 coupons for free OxyContin prescriptions along with OxyContin “fishing hats, stuffed plush toys, coffee mugs with heat activated messages, music compact discs, [and] luggage tags.” Within ten years, the prescriptions for opioids almost tripled from 1991. Pharma-paid doctors changed pain guidelines to favor opioids.

The bill allows greater access to buprenorphine, a medicine treating addiction, from 100 to 275 patients at a time. Nurses and other medical professionals can also administer the drug. Corporations will now make money from buprenorphine, as addictive as opioids, that gives a high as does OxyContin. While Congress rewards pharmaceutical companies with more money for another addictive drug, it ignores the fact that deaths from painkillers are down 25 percent in states with medical marijuana.

The House passed a $32 billion spending bill for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency that rolled back regulations on coal-fired power plants, but it’s only the fifth of twelve funding bills for Cabinet agencies. It passed, also on party lines, a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran and the Conscience Protection Act, which prohibits the government from discriminating against health care providers who do not want to perform or cooperate in abortions.

The House “celebrated” the one-month anniversary of the massacre at the LGBT nightclub in Orlando (FL) where 50 people died with a hearing on anti-LGBT legislation to allow anyone to avoid federal protections for LGBT couples and families with an excuse of religious liberty. Those who discriminate would have no legal repercussions, financial or otherwise, for refusing to provide spousal tax, medical, or educational benefits, to same-gender couples. The measure is similar to a Mississippi law overturned by a federal judge  because it would in reality hurt religious liberty by favoring certain beliefs over others. As of April 2016 over one hundred active bills across 22 states legalized discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

The House’s approval of its financial services appropriations bill repealed a law passed by Washington, D.C. that protects workers from employer retaliation over reproductive health choices such using birth control, getting a baby, or obtaining an abortion. Congress has control over the city’s laws and budget because it does not have state status.

That’s what Congress “accomplished.” Their failures? A major one is that ignoring the Zika virus epidemic. When a few cases of Ebola came to the United States in 2014, lawmakers went to pieces and approved $5.4 billion in emergency funding. Yet Florida has over 300 Zika cases reported, among the almost 1,200 cases confirmed in continental U.S. Pregnant women infected with the virus can carry fetuses with a number of birth defects, including microcephaly that causes abnormally small heads in fetuses. Caring for each microcephalic child can cost between $1 million and $10 million.

As of June, seven babies had been born in the U.S .with Zika-related birth defects. A baby was born with microcephaly in Texas on the day that Congress left Washington for the rest of the summer. Zika is also linked with Guillain-Barré syndrome with possible permanent nerve damage and paralysis.  The virus is transmitted either by mosquito bites or through sex and extremely difficult to track because 80 percent of infected people do not exhibit symptoms.

The Zika virus is a public health crisis in the nation, and Congress disappeared from Washington for seven weeks, perhaps hoping that the mosquitoes will be dead by the time they get back. A bill would provide emergency resources for vaccine development, mosquito control efforts, and other research into containment and prevention. House Republicans refused to move the bill forward without restricting abortion, overturning clean water regulations, defunding part of the Affordable Care Act, and undoing the ban on flying the Confederate flag at federal cemeteries. Republicans insisted on blocking Planned Parenthood funding in Puerto Rico to fight the virus, and Democrats voted against the measure.

House Speaker Paul Ryan managed to get out of town before Democrats could stage another sit-in to demand votes for gun safety measures. He had promised to put an NRA-approved gun bill on the floor but called it off after protests from GOP conservatives. Senate Republicans had previously blocked a bill to keep people on the federal terrorist list from buying guns. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said, “This is going to be a long, hot summer for people who aren’t going to be able to take nice long vacations, people who are in our streets fearing for our children, people wondering why Congress has failed.”

The Senate has not moved on a new Supreme Court justice and done little for other judicial approvals. A $575 billion Pentagon funding bill failed because of concern that it would boost defense while freezing domestic programs and unravel the hard-fought budget deal from last year reversing caps on both Pentagon and domestic budget lines. No resolution means that September may bring a stopgap  spending measure to stave off a shutdown.

Lawmakers, mostly in the House, have already been debating whether to write a short-term government spending measure that runs into December or a six-month stopgap measure that would expire in March under a new Congress and president. The last two election years for presidents saw funding bills pushed into March following the election.

The GOP House “celebrated” the one-month anniversary of the massacre at the LGBT nightclub in Orlando (FL) where 50 people died with a hearing on anti-LGBT legislation to allow anyone to avoid federal protections for LGBT couples and families with an excuse of religious liberty. The bill would permit those who discriminate to have no legal repercussions, financial or otherwise, for refusing to provide spousal tax, medical, or educational benefits, to same-gender couples. The measure is similar to a Mississippi law overturned by a federal judge  because it would in reality hurt religious liberty by favoring certain beliefs over others. As of April 2016 over one hundred active bills across 22 states legalized discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Maybe it’s a good thing that congressional members left town.

March 31, 2016

“Small Government” in Kentucky, Alabama

bevins hammerWhen GOP Matt Bevin ran for Kentucky’s governor, he promised to save the people by doing away from the dreaded “Obamacare” in the state. Republicans elected him, and he kept his promise. Under the former governor, the state’s health care, KYNECT, was a model for the country in its coverage for over 500,000 people.

Here is what happened with the Tea Party’s new state computer system:

  • Benefind—Bevin’s new system to replace KYNECT for—has shut people out of their online accounts or entirely eliminated their health coverage with no warning and no explanation.
  • Children have been cut off from Medicaid coverage.
  • People who visit overcrowded state offices where they are forced to wait hours—sometimes an entire day—to see anyone. Or they are forced to come back the next day after the computers crash.
  • The helpline is available only from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, limiting access for people who work those hours.
  • The recorded message sends people to a website which has many glitches, is hard to use, and provides no help for people without computers or Internet access.
  • People looking for help in public benefits now are forced to wait hours or days as they repeatedly call the helpline that gives them only a recorded message before hanging up.
  • People who can’t get coverage are cutting back on their medications and ending up in the hospitals’ emergency rooms multiple times.
  • Over 500 workers statewide trained to help people sign up for health coverage cannot access Benefind and thus cannot help people to apply for coverage or fix problems with their coverage.
  • People who formerly provided proof of citizenship can no longer get health coverage until they resubmit the documentation.

Bevin’s answer? On YouTube, he says, “I’m aware of and sensitive to your frustrations.”

Republicans who say that big government doesn’t work may be right—when they’re trying to operate it.

[Personal comment: Today I spent over two hours on the telephone with insurance companies and pharmacies on behalf of my partner. One of her medications cannot be generic; therefore she needs prior approval from her insurance company to pay for the brand medication. She has prior approval, but the insurance company will not send her anything in writing to prove it. Even after that, the cost of the medication with differs from $87 to $1500 for a ninety-day supply—with insurance.

I called three pharmacies multiple times to find the prices. All of them started out by stating that they couldn’t do that without the prescription although one of them said on the opening telephone message that it would give the prices of medications for Medicare. The cheapest pharmacy, gave three different prices on three different calls, but refused to give any written verification. It will take faxes for the prescription but won’t send a fax to request the prescription from the pharmacy that holds the prescription. That pharmacy will fax the prescription on but only after it is asked. Another prescription will require a doctor’s visit.

I’m retired—sort of—and have the time to make the calls during the daytime when these places are open. I’m also determined and willing to take on the problems of these calls. After a drastic increase in my blood pressure over the two hours, I can’t imagine the pain that people in Kentucky are now enduring—just because the GOP doesn’t like “big government” and probably people. Then there’s the issue of a different in almost $6,000 for a prescription from a local pharmacy and the “mail-in” part of a huge insurance company. These problems are something that could be changed by single-payer or universal health care, but it might violate our freedom. Big business loves our freedom because it gives them trillions of dollars.]

Did I mention that Republicans hate “big government”? Here’s a fine example of how they legislate it. Mississippi just passed the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” yet to be signed by GOP Gov. Phil Bryant, allowing discrimination against sex by anyone except a male/female couple after marriage. According to the language, an unmarried couple having sex in their personal bedroom is breaking the law if signed by Bryant.

In another Southern state, the big story out of Alabama less than two weeks ago showed GOP Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley governing the state by giving an 80 percent increase in salary to four cabinet members, an extra $73,405 each, after signing a bill banning all cities from raising the minimum wage—the federally mandated $7.25 an hour. These salary increases were the biggest, but dozens of other people—cabinet and staff members—also got sizeable raises.

Last August Bentley defunded Planned Parenthood in the state before a federal judge overturned his move. Taxpayers had to pay for the legal fees. Last December Bentley diverted funding from the 2010 BP oil spill recovery effort to renovate a second Governor’s mansion on the Gulf Coast. In January he took 45,000 people off food stamps if they weren’t supporting minor children. Each of these people had received only $194 a month.

bentleyThis month, however, things got very bad for Robert Bentley after it was revealed that he is having phone sex—and maybe more—with his top aide, Rebecah Mason, on “burner” phones bought at Best Buy. (To find details, just Google the situation.) Rumors have been swirling about his infidelities for quite a while, but they became much more open after his wife of 50 years filed for divorce. He first denied the accusations, despite the tapes played on the media, and then asked for forgiveness. Just for his infidelity and not for refusing poor women health care, causing people to go hungry, appropriating funds for his own personal use, and trying to block LGBT rights in the name of “family values.” Bentley supporters complain that the emphasis in the country shouldn’t be on sex—no problem as long as conservative laws don’t prioritize sex in their “big government” prohibitions.

Although some lawmakers talk about impeaching Bentley, he says he won’t quit. His former Baptist pastor talked about “church discipline” and said that Bentley is no longer a member of the Tuscaloosa congregation where he was once a deacon. The subject of Bentley’s desire has resigned, wanting to spend more time at home with her family, but her husband, state director of the state faith-based initiative office, remains at his job.

Mason’s company was paid over $328,000 during the past three years, more than his cabinet members before their 80 percent raise. She may have been received much more than this. Although Mason served as Bentley’s top aide, she didn’t have to file financial disclosure forms because she wasn’t designated as a state employee.

Alabama has trouble with politicians: a former governor is in prison for corruption, and the speaker of the State House of Representatives is to stand trial this year on 23 felony charges of ethics violations.

Bentley is using his position to investigate two men for blogging about his alleged affair with political adviser Rebekah Mason. He ordered the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the Law Enforcement Tactical System (LETS) to find incriminating evidence against attorney Donald V. Watkins, and Legal Schnauzer blogger, Roger Shuler. Some people question whether Bentley broke any laws in his love fest, but Watkins claims investigations will find “wire and mail fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and racketeering violations under federal law, among other charges …[in circumventing] public oversight, transparency and competitive bid laws by channeling millions of public dollars into entities like the Workforce Councils of Alabama and others legitimate agencies and then directing the recipient agency to execute vendor contracts with certain special friends and supporters.”

The U.S. House Freedom Caucus, each making an annual salary of $174,000, is working toward “small government”by not going to work. Despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’s claim that the entire last year of the presidential term is a “lame-duck session,” the HFC understands that this time is only the approximately 75 days between the general election and the new president’s inauguration. Members hope to not go into session for this time, causing only 17 days in session after July 15 and  zero days after September 30. They have to wait until April 12 to do this because they aren’t in session.

Conservative House members have already killed the budget and the appropriations process for the year, and the government can’t operate after September 30 without a continuing resolution to maintain last year’s spending levels. HFC board member Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) described the lame-duck session as “a bunch of people who have already either quit, retired or been fired by their constituents decide they still want to vote on major stuff.” He admitted that quitting work that early this year wouldn’t look good for the legislators. He also said, “When you’re one of the people who tends to think most of what we do here is screwed up in the first place, then the less we do, maybe the better.”

That’s life in the world of conservatives who want “small government.”

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