Nel's New Day

December 23, 2014

Year Ends with President’s Achievements despite Do Less Than Nothing Congress

The 113th Congress passed 286 bills during its two-year term, only three more than the 112th Congress which had the lowest recorded total in congressional history and less than one-third of the 906 public bills passed by the infamous “Do Nothing Congress,” the 80th during Harry Truman’s second term as president. Fifty-one of these bill were signed last Thursday, saving the 113th from being the worst. Congress struggled to complete even routine tasks, and one-fifth of the bills were to name a postal or other government facility.

GOP senators used the filibuster to block almost all major legislation, and the House finished off the process when Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) blocked proposals from the floor unless they had a GOP majority support. For almost an entire month, Congress couldn’t even keep the government operating. Even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a 32-year veteran of Congress, described the 113th Congress as “disgraceful.” [The following chart shows the number of bills before the last 51.]

bills passed by congress

The fall election netted Republicans 13 members in the House, leaving 188 Democrats. In the Senate, Democrats dropped to 44 members, losing eight seats. Two senators are progressive-leaning independents. Thirty-one states now have Republican governors, and 80 percent of those states also have a GOP legislature.

Two years ago, Democrats won the Senate, had more votes for House members than Republicans did, and took the presidency through a majority vote. Despite these progressive victories, conservatives declared that they had a mandate to destroy President Obama and proceeded on that path. In this election, Republicans the same mandate, again trying to deny the president any rights.

Despite these unpleasant numbers for progressive people in the United States, there is hope. In his end-of-the-year press conference the president asserted that he is energized, and his actions since the election demonstrate his high level of vigor. A few things that President Obama has done in less than two months:

  • Announced his support for net neutrality, asking federal regulators to toughen their laws by putting utility-like regulation on broadband providers.
  • Made a climate deal with China to reduce greenhouse gases.
  • Issued an executive order to protect undocumented people from the threat of deportation and keep families together.
  • Signed off on EPA regulations with the EPA to limit ozone emissions.
  • Oversaw Western sanctions on the regime of Vladimir Putin, a move that is destroying the Russian economy and dropping the value of the ruble by at least one half.
  •  Explained to the people of the United States that the Keystone Pipeline benefits only huge corporations with resources in Canada.
  • Renormalized relations with Cuba, effectively bringing a Marxist-Authoritarian government into the capitalist light and paving the way to ending a 54-year embargo against the country.
  • Released 17 detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, over 10 percent of the detainees at that time.
  • Noted that the Treasury Department sold the last investment related to the Wall Street and auto bailouts.

Another end-of-the-year surprise came after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) insisted that his fellow senators stay in town to vote on a point of order. He wanted his fellow GOP senators to support his position that the spending bill was unconstitutional because it funded President Obama’s immigration actions. He got only 22 votes. Republicans were so angry that 20 of them, including leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX), voted against Cruz’s point of order.

Cruz’s demand led to the confirmation of over 90 nominees, almost all those who were pending. Notable among these is the confirmation of Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Republicans had kept him waiting for 517 days on orders from the National Rifle Association because Murthy had called gun deaths a public health issue. Also Sarah Saldaña, confirmed as the firs Latina to head up the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was opposed by almost all the Republicans. Her vote was 55-39, however, not as close as the 51 to 41 for Murthy. The lack of filibuster kept the vote for these people to a simple majority rather than the 60 percent necessary in the past.

thanks-cruz-1-638x319

Another victory, thanks to Cruz, is the confirmation of 12 judicial nominees changing 9 of the 13 federal Circuit courts of appeal to a majority of Democratic appointments. Until recently, 10 of the 13 had a majority of appointments made by GOP presidents. The confirmations were also extremely diverse: 42 percent women, 19 percent African-American, 11 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent openly gay men or lesbian women, making this the most diverse group of judges in history. Diversity in judicial diversity appointments have greatly progressed since the middle of the 20th century.

judicial_diversityWhen President Obama started his first term, the conservatives—both politicians and pundits—predicted total disaster for the country. Despite their attempts to stop everything that the president promoted, the country is making progress. The conservatives were wrong.

Gas is close to $2 a gallon, unemployment is falling, and the stock market, that skyrocketed during President Obama’s time, stays stable. The president’s approval rating is back up to 47 percent.

The 5-percent annual pace of GDP growth in the third quarter of this year, revised up from the estimated 3.9 percent, is the best quarterly growth since 2003. That was the year before George W. Bush got his second term. Economists believe that the improving economy will continue. The news caused the DOW stock market to soar over 18,000—an increase of 224 percent since President Obama first took office.

A majority of the public rates the country’s economy as “good” for the first time in seven years, when George W. Bush was president. In the CNN/ORC poll, 51 percent of the respondents found the economy to be either “somewhat good” or “very good,” up from 38 percent last October and 10 percent in September 2011.

The economy added 321,000 jobs in November, surpassing expectations and giving 2014 the highest job growth since 1999. The unemployment rate is below 6 percent, the first time since George W. Bush left the country in shambles. Thus far this year, the U.S. added almost 2.7 million jobs, the most since 1999, and dropped the unemployment rate to 5.8 percent from when President Obama first took office. Unemployment rates fell in 41 U.S. states in November; only three states—Connecticut, Louisiana, and Washington—saw these rates go up. Mississippi has the highest rate at 7.3 percent. In six years, President Obama created 4.26 times as many jobs as his predecessor in eight years.

Consumer spending surpassed previous estimates of 2.2 percent to 3.2 percent, partly fueled by the low price of gas. After saving hundreds of dollars this year, consumers may save an average of another $550 next year just on gas.

About 6.4 million Americans have enrolled for individual insurance plans for 2015 through HealthCare.gov in the participating 36 states. Another one million people enrolled in individual states with their own exchange marketplaces. The drop in the number of uninsured is the largest in four decades. Despite promises from conservatives that private-sector employers will get rid of their own coverage plans, that hasn’t happened in many companies. Walmart dropping its plan was the exception, and that company’s plan was largely worthless to many employees because people were employed for fewer than 29 hours of work a week and therefore got no health insurance anyway.

In other health expenditure news, premiums are going down and customer satisfaction is going up. The increase in health care spending is the lowest in 50 years, and the number of medical errors is shrinking system-wide.

Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) attempt to destroy the president failed on two counts: Benghazi and the IRS. Much to the fury of many conservatives, a GOP-led House committee’s report, quietly released the day before Thanksgiving, stated that the Obama administration was not at fault for the four deaths at a diplomatic outpost in Libya. Two days before Christmas, Darrell Issa (R-CA), no longer chair of the House Oversight Committee as of January, released a report exonerating President Obama of any blame in the IRS scandal.

Despite a waste of resources in an attempt to prove a connection between the president and accusations that the IRS had targeted conservative organizations for punitive action, Issa failed to support his false belief. Instead he resorted to attempts to connect Democrat legislators with the IRS scandal and rejected any information that the IRS targeted more progressive groups than conservative in investigating non-profit status. After two years of playing “gotcha” with the President of the United States, Issa lost.

The Republicans had a lot to say about the president’s executive orders. Their response to good news? Nothing. Just silence.

One last thing: Sean Hannity has been voted the worst news host by his colleagues at Fox, MSNBC, and CNN.

December 20, 2013

Stop War By Doing Nothing

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:23 PM
Tags: , ,

Congress has given us a great gift this year. The segment of government designed to make law for the nation managed only 58 public laws during the past twelve months—public laws being measures of broad impact. This year is only half the 113th Congress, but if the number of laws passed would triple in the second year of this Congress, it would still be at the bottom. Yet Congress has kept the United States, at least temporarily, out of war. And they did this by doing nothing.

Congress bills

Ten years ago, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney drove Congress into a hawkish frenzy by spreading lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Ten years later, the reasonable people of the U.S. know that there were no WMD, and many members of Congress who voted to give Bush carte blanche to declare war in the Middle East have regretted their votes. To most people in the United States, another war is anathema.

This year, Iran has been the potential war zone, and, much to the dismay of the war hawks, Secretary of State and President Obama have agreed to a six-month agreement in which the International Atomic Energy Agency will increase inspections to daily ones from the past bimonthly checks and halt the installation of any additional centrifuges used to enrich uranium. It will also dilute the country’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent and stop construction at the heavy water reactor in Arak while will produce plutonium if operational.

In an international exchange, six countries—United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia—will provide “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” relief from sanctions to Iran. Approximately $4.2 billion of Iranian funds will be released as well as $1.5 billion worth of sanctions on “gold and precious metals, Iran’s auto sector, and Iran’s petro-chemical exports.” During the six-month period, embargoes against Iranian oil, banking institutions, and other financial sanctions will remain in place, but there will be no new sanctions.

In typical snarky manner, GOP members complained about the possibility of avoiding war. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) tweeted, “It’s amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care.” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) issued a statement that the deal “appears to provide the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions that neither fully freeze nor significantly roll back its nuclear infrastructure.”

Sen. Marco Rubio said:

“I think this is a big win, I hate to say it, for Iran. I think they’ve taken a step forward in solidifying their position. And I think we’ve seen this play out before. This is very, very similar to what the North Koreans did at the end of the Bush presidency, and we’re seeing repeating again the playbook we’ve seen before.”

As usual, GOP members of Congress are on the opposite side of public opinion. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll released last month showed that a large majority of people approve of the agreement with Iran. Only 30 percent of the respondents disagree with the agreement.

One cause of the opposition may be that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has used strong language against the agreement, “wigging out” about it to quote Tufts University professor Dan Drezner on his Foreign Policy blog. Yet some current and former high level Israeli officials disagree with Netanyahu’s anti-agreement rhetoric.

A bipartisan group of 79 U.S. national security experts have praised the diplomatic efforts, including two former National Security Advisers to U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. They wrote:

“We support President Obama’s decision to seek a first phase understanding with Iran to limit Iran’s nuclear program now. The agreement under discussion would slow crucial elements of the Iran program, make it more transparent and allow time to reach a more comprehensive agreement in the coming year.”

There still is the slightest possibility that Congress could start a war in Iran this year. Twenty-six senators—13 of each party—introduced legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran if the country breaks the deal to curb its nuclear program. But the bill will take weeks for a vote and then go to the House before the president vetoes the bill. Despite Iran’s declaration that passing this bill would destroy the negotiations among the world powers, these 26 senators are determined to move forward while the agreement is successful. The initiators of the bill refuse to wait until there are problems with the agreement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Time interview that “the entire deal is dead” if Congress passes new sanctions, even if these would be triggered only by the failure of the talks. He explained:

“We do not like to negotiate under duress. And if Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States. My parliament can also adopt various legislation that can go into effect if negotiations fail. But if we start doing that, I don’t think that we will be getting anywhere.”

Fortunately, ten chairs of the 16 standing Senate committees are taking action against the attempt of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to start a war with Iran. They  have written a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada asking him to reject Menendez’s efforts to tighten sanctions against Iran. In their letter, they state that “at this time, as negotiations are ongoing, we believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see the negotiations fail.”

MoveOn Executive Director Anna Galland wrote:

“Democrats like Senators Schumer and Menendez should stop supporting Republican efforts to undermine President Obama’s diplomacy. The last thing our country needs right now is another war. It is shameful and wrong for Senators to intentionally undermine the potential for a negotiated, diplomatic solution. We urge all Senators to avoid action that heightens the risk of conflict.”

A major argument to support the agreement with Iran is that former Vice President Dick Cheney hates it. He hates it so much that he can’t even be coherent in his arguments. In his appearance on the Fox network, he argued that the agreement is bad because of health care issues:

 “We don’t follow through and Iran we’ve got a very serious problem going forward and a deal now been cut. The same people that brought us ‘you can keep your insurance if you want’ are telling us they’ve got a great deal in Iran with respect to their nuclear program. I don’t believe it…. I don’t think that Barack Obama believes that the U.S. is an exceptional nation.”

Cheney is the man who led our country for eight years into two wars that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in deficit.

For his part, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said this year that the best way to evaluate Congress isn’t by legislation it passes, but rather, Congress “ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.” They fail on this basis, too, as they focus the repeal on only one law—the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps Boehner meant that the best way to evaluate Congress is by the number of times that it repeals one law.

Let’s hope that Congress continues to do nothing and keep us out of war.

November 30, 2012

Filibuster, Fiscal Whatever

Less than three weeks before the end of the year, the Republicans are swarming like a disturbed colony of yellow jackets since the Democrats threatened to revise the filibuster process. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused Democrats of throwing a bomb in the Senate and Majority Leader Harry Reid of breaking the rules. He forgot that it was the Republicans who decided seven years ago that Senate procedure could be changed through a simple majority on the first day of Congress every two years.

McConnell said, “It’s important to remember that the Senate hasn’t always functioned like it has the last two years, and the rules were exactly the same. We don’t have a rules problem, we have a behavior problem.” First, the Senate has behaved like this before the last two years. They’ve been like that for the last six years as the graph below shows. Second, McConnell doesn’t recognize that the “behavior problem” is on the side of the GOP.

With his back against the wall, McConnell wants to have a talk with Reid. They talked two years ago, and McConnell kept threatening and acting on the current filibuster rule. The GOP agreed to cooperate at the beginning of the 112th Congress and then immediately abandoned their promise.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has entered the fray, despite the fact that the filibuster concerns only the Senate. Yesterday he issued a statement in reference to the proposed changes to the filibuster rules:  “Any bill that reaches a Republican-led House based on Senate Democrats’ heavy-handed power play would be dead on arrival.” The threat is hollow: the House rejects anything that the Senate sends it anyway.

The statement also belies Boehner’s claim that he is “the most reasonable, responsible person” in Washington, as he recently identified himself. Last week, the Speaker said he will go after health care reform and hold the global economy hostage (again) until he gets what he wants but refuses to give any details on a debt-reduction proposal.

Boehner’s ravings are matched by these declarations that Scott Keyes found:

  • Worse than surrender in the Civil War: Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer:   “Robert E. Lee was offered easier terms at Appomattox and he lost the Civil War.”
  • Out of a fairytale: Writing in her Wall Street Journal column, Kimberley Strassel described the plan as “something out of Wonderland and Oz combined.”
  • “Nothing good can come of negotiating further”: RedState editor Erick Erickson told the GOP to pack up, go home, and take the country over the cliff.
  • “I’d walk out”: MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman, claimed that President Obama’s proposal was made just to “provoke” House Republicans and that the GOP should just walk out.
  • “Congress should dive headlong off fiscal cliff”: Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson advised the GOP to “dive headlong off fiscal cliff. Republicans don’t have a lot of good choices right now. They might as well try it.” [They can do that and then let the 113th Congress try to deny lowering taxes on the bottom 98 percent!]

As for the fate of filibuster reform in the Senate, nine Democrats out of the 55 progressives haven’t said they will vote for the proposed changes. Fifty votes will create a majority if Vice President Joe Biden votes in favor of the changes.

I don’t know whether Senate Democrats will change the rules, but I do know that the Founding Fathers didn’t intend for one person in the Senate to declare a filibuster while he stretches out on his couch far away from the chamber. The Constitution has nothing to do with a filibuster to “protect the minority,” as McConnell claims.

In the Continental Congress, Rule 10, derived from British parliamentary practice, provides only for “calling the question” so that a simple majority can end debate. Authors of the Constitution felt that they had already protected the minority by providing each state with the same number of senators. Because Rule 10 was used so infrequently, Aaron Burr proposed dropping it in 1806, and the Senate did just that with a simple majority vote.

Thirty-some years later, either in 1837 or 1841, a few senators, similar in perversity to today’s Republicans, decided to just talk forever, holding the Senate hostage to an ultimatum of the minority. Yet there were only 33 filibusters in the 57 years between 1840 and 1917.

World War I led to a 23-day filibuster against a bill to arm American merchant ships so that they could protect themselves after a German U-Boat sank the Lusitania. Those 23 days led to the first cloture rule, a partial restoration of the 1806 vote to drop Rule 10. No Senate rule has ever “authorized” the filibuster. Instead rules have attempted to reign in the minority’s abuse of Senate procedure.

filibuster

This graph shows the number of “cloture” motions in every congressional session since 1919. Cloture is the procedure used to break a filibuster. Between 1919 and 1975, a successful cloture motion required two-thirds of the Senate. Today, it requires three-fifths, or, in cases where all 100 senators are present and voting, 60 votes.

The number of filibusters is not equivalent to the number of cloture because a large number of filibusters never receive a cloture vote either because it takes about 30 hours of floor time or because the party with fewer than 60 members won’t win. The important piece of the large number of cloture votes isn’t exactly how many but the indication that the filibuster is now a constant instead of a rarity.  Because of the filibuster, almost every action in the Senate needs 60 votes, ten votes over a simple majority.

Peter Carlson provides more information, albeit entertaining, in an article about the history of the filibuster. It may be funnier when the GOP stops trying to obstruct everything and starts working for the good of the United States.

Asides: Rachel Maddow has declared President Obama the Worst Socialist Ever.  As proof, she showed a chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, that post-tax corporate profits have almost tripled since George W. Bush’s crash of 2008.

corporate profits

After Boehner was ridiculed for the 19 white men he appointed to committee chairs for the 113th Congress, he found a woman to take care of the House—literally. As chair of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), who hasn’t served on that committee for several years, will be in charge of the House’s administrative business from whether the cafeterias should use paper or Styrofoam plates to benefits for congressional workers and the operation of the Library of Congress. Miller wished to chair the Homeland Security Committee, but that job went to a man—Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX).

It only took 23 days, but the last race for the 113th Congress has been called. Incumbent Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) won after Republican David Rouzer conceded.  Democrats have net gain of eight House seats for the 113th Congress, totaling 201 Democrats out of the 435 representatives in the House. The Senate has 55 progressive members compared to the 45 GOP senators.

November 18, 2012

Churches Challenged on Their Control

Good news for all the people who object to religious groups using the pulpit to get their favorite—frequently bigoted—candidates elected while still avoiding payment of taxes on their illegal acts. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is suing the Internal Revenue Service for not challenging the tax-exempt status of churches where pastors partisan politick in their preaching.

FFRF filed a lawsuit last Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin alleging that up to 1,500 pastors participated in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in early October and endorsed at least one or more candidates in violation of IRS rules for non-profit organizations. Wisconsin. Although FFRF has members and chapters across the US, it filed the case from Madison (WI) because the main office is based there.

Most churches and other religious institutions are classified as 501 (c) (3) non-profits giving them tax-exempt status. In exchange, these organizations cannot participate or intervene in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any political candidate.” Although the regulation went into effect almost 60 years ago, a federal court ruled three years that the IRS lacked staff to investigate places of worship after the federal agency re-organized.

Religious leaders know that they can break the law with impunity because not one religious organization has been challenged for electioneering since that court ruling. According to Russel Renwicks from the IRS’s Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division, the IRS is “holding any potential church audits in abeyance” until rules on electioneering could be “finalized.” There is no timeline for this “finalization.”

This lawsuit follows 27 complaints with the IRS this year, including opposition to these actions:

— Roman Catholic Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay (WI) warned voters on diocesan letterhead inserted in parish bulletins that they could “put their own soul in jeopardy” if they voted for a party or candidate that supports same-sex marriage or abortion rights.

— Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria (IL) criticized President Obama in a homily and then exhorted parishioners that “every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences.”

— Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino wrote in the local diocesan newspaper that “No Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for ‘pro-choice’ candidates (or) … for candidates who promote’ same-sex marriage.”

The Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has filed a similar complaint against the electioneering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

While religious groups try to control the country, Congress is becoming slightly more diverse. For the first time, a Congressional member is claiming to be a “non-theist.” Unfortunately, the record does not show this: evidently the Congressional statistics does not have a “non-theist” category so Krysten Sinema is classified as “nonaffiliated”—a long way from her actual beliefs. This year ten others—all Democrats, oddly enough—described themselves as “unspecified” or refused to answer the question about religious preference.  Pew Research has created great visuals to show the variety of religions in each of the political parties within Congress.

 

 

My favorite lack of balance in the U.S. government is the Supreme Court with six Catholics, two Jews, and one Protestant.

It’s another apology! The Rev. Gary LaMoine of the Barnesville (MN) parish of Assumption Church has apologized for the actions of 17-year-old Lennon Cihak’s family. Their sin was to publicize the fact that LaMoine refused to deny Lennon religious sacrament because the adolescent supported marriage equality. LaMoine discovered that Lennon supported marriage equality when he saw this photo of the young man on his Facebook. In his letter to the parish, LaMoine referred to “a couple of candidates” who could not “enter into full communion” because they differed with the church.

The Cihaks wanted Lennon to be confirmed but not if he had to lie about his beliefs. Last year the diocese fired a teacher after she expressed concern about Bishop Michael Hoeppner preaching to children in support of the proposed amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. The diocese also donated $50,000 in an effort to pass the amendment.

The young people have the chance to change the United States. On Friday evening, Lennon tweeted: “No matter how much negative feedback I get, I will ALWAYS support the #LGBT community … Support what you believe in!” Thank you, Lennon.

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