Nel's New Day

February 5, 2018

Dueling Memos Accompanied by Dropping Stock Markets

Remember when Congress passed the last stall to the spending bill on January 22, 2018? That was the one they passed because they couldn’t meet the December 21, 2017 deadline when they couldn’t meet the October 1, 2017 deadline. No problem! They claimed they could get a spending bill in three weeks. Everyone knew they couldn’t. The House passed an unconstitutional anti-abortion bill that lost in the Senate, and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) deliver the dud memo that DDT thought would save him from an investigation. It did garner Nunes’ opponent, Democrat Andrew Janz, $300,000 for his campaign in 72 hours. And Congressional members also wandered off to West Virginia for most of a working week while hitting a garbage truck on the way.

The next deadline is this Thursday, and nothing has been done to move forward on it. Republicans promised to deal with the immigration issue but only holds the DACA Dreamers hostage. The next spending bill delay piles the bill on top of a DACA immigration deadline on March 5 and the debt ceiling, a month closer to early March because the Treasury is giving handouts to the wealthy and big corporations.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is already taking extraordinary actions to pay the nation’s bills by suspending payments into federal employee retiree, health and disability funds. This time of the year is harder on the treasury because of income tax returns. Last year’s budget deficit was $666 billion, the largest since the recession recovery in 2013.

DDT claimed that he fired former FBI director James Comey because the agency was in “turmoil, but it was the firing that created chaos within the FBI. Both Comey’s and Andrew McCabe’s firings from DDT’s politicization have been responsible for the demoralized environment that has grown only worse from the smear memo from Nunes’ memo. about the surveillance warrant request for Carter Page. Even some Republicans are withdrawing from Nunes and his memo, rejecting the idea that the memo exonerates DDT.

If not outright “misrepresenting” facts, the memo omits information about the research and documents including the background going back at least three years before Page’s involvement with DDT. In August 2013, Page bragged about being an “informal advisor” to the Kremlin. In the memo, Nunes claimed that the FBI didn’t know anything about Page’s Russian connections until Christopher Steele’s dossier of summer 2016 that was paid for by Democrats after conservatives stopped paying for the investigation into DDT.

Discovering that people were not buying his take on the FISA warrant for Page, Nunes switched his focus to George Papadopoulos, asking why there was no warrant for him. Then Nunes left out information about Papadopoulos when he said he didn’t deserve a warrant, claiming that he only got drunk in London and criticized Hillary Clinton instead of the report that he told a diplomat about getting hacked emails with “dirt” on Clinton. He even claimed that DDT had never met Papadopoulos (center left), but a small meeting with the two of them in 2016 is documented in a photo from a campaign meeting.

In an effort to take attention away from his nothing-burger memo, Nunes told Sean Hannity that the real Russian collaborator is the Hillary Clinton that weaponized the FBI against DDT. Nunes claimed that the memo shows a “clear link” between Russia and the Clinton campaign, although the memo only mentions that the Clinton campaign paid for part of Steele’s dossier. Missing from the memo—and Nunes’ talking points—is that a conservative group initially commissioned the investigation on DDT because he was obviously the GOP presidential campaign.

Ellen Nakashima explained in the WaPo that another Nunes point in the memo was also wrong: the application for surveilling Page came from a political source, according to the request. Asked about this discrepancy on Fox & Friends, Nunes said the information was not good enough because it was in small print in a footnote:

“A footnote saying something may be political is a far cry from letting the American people know that the Democrats and the Hillary campaign paid for dirt that the FBI then used to get a warrant on an American citizen to spy on another campaign.”

Failing to successfully communicate his lie about the memo vindicating him, DDT grew more desperate last Monday morning with a smear tweet about the Democratic senator from California with fake stories about his leaking information, “Little Adam Schiff …. Must be stopped!” During his tweets last weekend, DDT clearly indicated he approved the memo in order to block the investigation into Russian meddling with the presidential election.

The popularity of #release the memo came from “bots,” computational propaganda capable of sending massive numbers of social media messages which led to bots claiming they weren’t bots. The “fake” news from bots is changing behavior as shown in this detailed explanation of how a bot “personalizes” with “fake” photos and disseminates fake information about progressive causes.

The House Intelligence Committee has unanimously voted to release the Democratic memo that refutes much of what Nunes wrote. Once again, the ball is in DDT’s court. He has five days to decide whether to release or block it—probably while spweeting (sputter-tweeting?) more about Schiff “leaking” information. The committee can vote to override DDT if he blocks the release, and it can be read into the House record.

DDT has called Nunes a “Great American Hero.” The committee chair said he is keeping secret his “Phase Two” of the GOP investigation to focus on the State Department’s role in the early states of Russian investigation. Almost a year ago, Nunes recused himself from any investigations related to Russia because of an ethics charge that he was giving information to the White House. Charges were dropped last December, but his behavior may call on more ethics charges. Republicans report that as many as five more memos may appear, sure to provide more cover for DDT and avoid the nasty problems of the spending bill and the debt ceiling.

While the media buzz was primarily about Nunes’ memo, DDT set another record: today’s Dow Jones fall of 1,179 was the biggest ever, not even close to the 777 points lost on September 29, 2008. On the same day, the S&P lost its entire January gain, and the Nasdaq was down for the seventh of the last nine days. The Dow loss is on top of over a 1,000+ drop last week; the value equals a loss of over $1 trillion in the first five days of February. Although some people blame the upcoming increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve, others say the reason is the rising bond market as the U.S. Treasury is borrowing more money. It has to pay for all those tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations.

Last year, investors ignored the possibilities of a trade war with China, a nuclear war with North Korea, and other fear that might have been discouraging to the stock market. The removal of regulations, especially for Wall Street, encouraged them to buy, buy, buy—driving the Dow Jones index up 10,000 points in the ninth year of its boom. Now the cheap money from global central banks may disappear with rising interest rates.

GOP said that the tax cut would cause big corporations to invest in businesses and hire more workers. Instead, corporations are sheltering more and more of their money or buying back ownership in their companies, an action that briefly drove up stocks. Rising wages and interest rates are a sign of inflation which the Fed will try to ward off by raising the interest rates again. Janet Yellen, who kept rates low, is no longer the Federal Reserve chair, and investors don’t know what the new chair, Jerome H. Powell, will do.

Energy corporations lack high earnings, resulting in the biggest drops in stock value, and health stocks were badly hurt by three large companies creating their own health care company for their employees. Tech stocks went down, and the new Apple I 8 and X phone suffered a downturn in sales. Oil prices went down. There’s not a crash, but the market may be “correcting,” a euphemism for going down.

Kellyanne Conway celebrated her one-year anniversary after inventing the term “alternative facts” by doubling down on the appropriateness of the GOP fictional perspective. In a radio interview, she decried the practice of fact-checking by saying that “Americans are their own fact-checkers” and they “have their own facts.” She added that “the stock market is something [Americans] know about because they’re part of the investor class,” forgetting that fewer than half of those “Americans” have any involvement in the stock market and pretending that the stock market equals the economy. (Maybe her next statement could be “ignorance is knowledge”?) All these people who Conway referenced will now know that the stock market dropped eight percent in as many days.

 

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.

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