Nel's New Day

July 2, 2019

Federal Appointment Replacements Worse for Democracy

Former Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has left the White House for Arkansas after holding fewer briefings than during any of the previous five presidents’ terms—probably an average of one every other month. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) told her last January not to bother to meet with press conferences. New Press Secretary, Stephanie Grisham, will do the job of not meeting with the press while staying on as spokesperson for Melanie Trump and becoming Communications Director, formerly Bill Shine.

Grisham cut her chops at the Korean DMZ Freedom House in an episode called “an all out brawl” with “body blows” as she elbowed and pushed a North Korean security guard. Her elegant diplomacy matches that of her employer when DDT pushed aside Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic at the 2017 NATO summit. 

Lying is another of DDT’s characteristic that Grisham emulates. She claimed that Melania Trump’s jacket stating “I really don’t care. Do U?” was just a jacket with no meaning before the First Lady said that it was “a message.” Trump said she wore it “for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. And I want to show them that I don’t care.” In July 2018, Grisham supported DDT’s false claim that he arrived in the UK on June 23, 2016, the day of the Brexit referendum, where he predicted the vote outcome. DDT wasn’t there until the next day. In his report, Robert Mueller documented Grisham’s serial lying.

Grisham has a strong anti-press background. As spokeswoman for the Arizona House of Representatives GOP, she implemented the policy banning reporters from the legislative floor if they “would not consent to extensive background checks.” The policy focused on Arizona reporter Hank Stephenson after he provided evidence that House Speaker David Gowan used state-owned vehicles for his congressional campaign and forced Gowan to return over $12,000 to the state. Misdemeanor trespassing was one reason for barring reporters because Stephenson pled guilty to the charge in 2014. Her policy lasted only a few days because some Republicans expressed concern and no member of the Phoenix press corps would sign the form. While a member of DDT’s transition team, Grisham did no work for Arizona but stayed on the state’s payroll.

In September 2018, Grisham was reprimanded for violating the Hatch Act that prevents White House employees from party-political activities. DDT promoted her with a raise in salary. 

In the EPA, one fossil fuel industry shill was traded for another. Bill Wehrum, formerly a lobbyist trying to destroy President Obama’s safeguards on polluters, could more easily do the job when he oversaw fossil fuel pollution regulations. Wehrum was confirmed with no Democratic votes to focus on “climate change, smog, and power plants’ mercury pollution.” Like his corrupt predecessor Scott Pruitt, Wehrum resigned after 19 months in the midst of a congressional investigation into his improperly helping his former industry clients after the media shined a light on his inappropriate activities. He slowed fuel-efficiency requirements for cars and trucks as well as rewriting methods of calculating costs and benefits to favor fossil fuel requirements. He also wrote the way that more coal-fired power plants could open.

Wehrun’s lack of ethics followed those of other Cabinet members who resigned—EPA’s Schott Pruitt, HHS’ Tom Price, Interior’s Ryan Zinke, and VA’s Davi Shulkin—and FEMA’s William “Brock” Long.” Other current ethics investigations include Interior’s new Secretary David Bernhardt plus six current or former top appointees for behavior like that of Wehrum.

Although at least one climate activist literally danced after Wehrum’s departure, the replacement has not brought joy. Anne Idsal, Wehrum’s deputy assistant, will continue EPA’s destruction and fall in line with DDT’s deregulation. She belongs to the dark ages belief that “climate has been changing since the dawn of time” and has strong ties to the Bush-Cheney administration. Her family owns the ranch where VP Dick Cheney shot a friend in the face while hunting ring-necked pheasants. Her connections extend to George P. Bush, George W. Bush’s nephew, who cleared out 11 top staffers of the General Land Office after he was elected in 2014 to manage Texas’ oil and gas resources. Idsal was one of 29 people hired for Bush’s Land Office without the jobs being posted, and she has ties to industry associations and Exxon Mobil.

Having lost with Herman Cain and Stephen Moore, DDT plans to appoint Christopher Waller and Judy Shelton for the two empty Federal Board seats. Both conservatives want to lower interest rates, and DDT’s close friend and Fed-hater Shelton wants to return to the gold standard, abandoned by Richard Nixon almost 50 years ago.

With White House aide and neo-Nazi Stephen Miller in charge of DHS, chaos continues to reign in the department, designed to protect U.S. security, supports DDT’s politics. Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders for two months leaves after publicity of squalid living conditions for children at border stations that provide no child care, bedding, and hygiene items while submitting the children to sleep deprivation. Yet Sanders was fired because he wasn’t aggressive enough in blocking asylum seekers. In the past three months, DHS has also done away with its secretary (Kirstjen Nielsen), acting ICE chief (Ron Vitiello), acting deputy secretary (Claire Grady), and Citizenship and Immigration Services director (Lee Cissna). The House Oversight and Reform Committee ordered testimony on July 12 from DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan and acting Customs and Border Protection Commission Mark Morgan about the deplorable conditions for children held at the southern border. 

Hardliner Morgan, who claims that he can predict future gang members by looking into the eyes of children, left ICE after five weeks to replace Sanders. While head of ICE, Morgan pushed for raids to deport undocumented families. Earlier, McAleenan had opposed Miller’s directive to appoint Morgan head of Customs and Border Protection but caved under pressure. When Morgan disagreed with his boss, McAleenan, he circumvented him by going directly to DDT. Matthew Albence, ICE’s deputy director who was noted for saying that family detention centers are “more like a summer camp,” is now acting director of the agency. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/hamedaleaziz/ice-director-matthew-albence-trump-immigration-enforcement

DDT loves officials to be “acting.” Dana Milbank explains: 

“Without stature or protection of Senate confirmation [for officials] … allows Trump to demand absolute subservience from appointees. Because he can replace them at will, they don’t contradict him. But this tentative status also means they lack authority within their agencies and the stature to stand up to Trump when he’s wrong.”

An ”acting” official leads every major border- and immigration-related agency in DHS. DDT said, “I do burn out on people, I do.” McAleenan may be close to DDT’s burnout because of his more reasonable approach toward enforcing immigration, for example opposition to mass ICE raids rounding up migrant families, although he supported DDT’s separation of families.

DDT prefers Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia AG who lost his run for governor, as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services with his record of climate crisis denial, anti-LGBT discrimination, opposition to women’s reproductive rights, censorship for safe sex information, obstruction to the Catholic Church’s care for vulnerable populations, blocks to all gun violence reduction efforts, and anti-immigration. Cuccinelli matches Miller in lack of human decency, for example blaming the man who died with his toddler daughter in the Rio Grande River because he wouldn’t wait for the asylum process. After waiting two months in Mexico for asylum, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez became desperate because of the punitive months-long waiting period.

The union representing federal works with asylum seekers criticizes DDT’s policies, specifically the one returning migrants seeking refuge to Mexico until decisions are made on their applications. In a court filing, the union wrote:

“By forcing a vulnerable population to return to a hostile territory where they are likely to face persecution, the [Migrant Protection Protocols] abandons our tradition of providing a safe haven to the persecuted and violates our international and domestic legal obligations.”

Less compassionate are the 9,500 current and former members of the Border Patrol who joke about the deaths of migrants on a secret Facebook group and share derogatory comments about Latinx lawmakers visiting a detention facility. Calling them “scum buckets” and “hoes,” agents joke about throwing burritos at them and posted a drawing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) having oral sex with a detained migrant. Revelations about these agents, including at least one supervisor, follow an investigation into the hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers connected to extremist Facebook sources, including white supremacist and anti-government groups. House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) requested information from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the Border Patrol agents secret Facebook group with vulgar sexist and racist content mocking immigrants and congressional members.

After Ocasio-Cortez left one of the facilities, she said that she did not feel safe from the officers. Border Patrol Chief of Operations Brian Hastings said, “Agents are under a great deal of stress.” After the Border Patrol agents’ Facebook group asked for protesters to come abuse legislators, Ocasio-Cortez needed an escort back to her vehicle. Border agents feel comfortable threatening everyone, including elected members of Congress. 

Welcome to the United States of America under DDT. 

May 9, 2019

White House Threatens Freedom of the Press

Filed under: Media — trp2011 @ 8:57 PM
Tags: , , ,

Does DDT think that the media won’t find out about him if reporters can’t go to the increasingly rare press conferences? Yesterday, the White House eliminated passes for most of the press corps and then said they would take requests for “exceptions.” Columnist Dana Milbank was the only one of seven Washington Post pass holders who wasn’t granted an “exception.” No reason was given. Milbank wrote, “There’s something wrong with a president having the power to decide which journalists can cover him.”

“Exceptions” can be revoked at any time without justification. Last year, a judge described the revocation of Jim Acosta’s press pass as “shrouded in mystery.” New credential requirements include presence in the White House at least 90 out of the previous 180 days—seventy percent of the workdays. DDT may not even be there for that many days, and new policies prevent journalists from attending events—forcing them to miss the quota. The new guidelines also fail to recognize campaign-trail reporting or presidential trips abroad. Those possibly losing their livelihood are freelance camera operators and technicians. Those not granted “exceptions” receive a six-month pass which doesn’t necessary offer access.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) tweeted that DDT’s “curtailing a free press and undermining the public’s access to government is a hallmark of authoritarianism & has no place in America. This purge of reporters is un-American and needs to be reversed ASAP.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) agreed, “This is what dictators do.”

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders may not listen to her words; she celebrated the release of two Reuters journalists jailed over 500 days in Myanmar, calling it a victory for the freedom of the press. She said:

“A free press, freedom of religion and the rule of law are fundamental principles for any democracy.”

DDT had ordered all his administrative officials to boycott the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, a fundraiser for scholarships. In the past, members have expressed great concern for the lack of free press throughout the world, but some statements this year focused on the United States. On April 27, 2019, Olivier Knox, the WHCA’s president and chief Washington correspondent for SiriusXM radio, said that his son was concerned about whether DDT would imprison his father. Knox said that the threats on his life as a foreign correspondent and to his career by former political administrations pale in comparison to DDT’s hostility toward reporters and the hostile environment DDT created. He said:

“And that’s because February 2017 is when the president of the United States called us the ‘enemies of the people. A few days later I was driving my then-11-year-old son somewhere, probably soccer practice, when he burst into tears and asked me, ‘Is Donald Trump going to put you in prison?’”

Knox said that later his son promised him that if Knox is ever thrown out of the U.S., one of the family’s relatives, who’s “a really good lawyer,” would be able to get him back into the country. Knox added:

“I’ve had to tell my family not to touch packages on our stoop. I’ve had death threats, including one this week. Too many of us have. It shouldn’t need to be said in a room full of people who understand the power of words, but ‘fake news’ and ‘enemies of the people’ are not pet names, punchlines, or presidential.”

Like at all his other rallies, DDT repeated the word “fake” to describe the press in Green Bay (WI) last week, and, like always, the hateful terminology brought cheers from the crowd. DDT complained about the harsh humor directed toward him and his administration by the comedian selected to entertain the audience at last year’s dinner so WHCA selected as keynote speaker an historian, a scholar who has written several books on powerful people in U.S. history. His 2004 of Alexander Hamilton inspired the Broadway musical hit Hamilton. In his speech, Chernow said:

“The thing that worries me most is the sustained assault on truth. What is happening today is … a relentless campaign against the very credibility of the news media.”

For credibility, the press needs to attend DDT’s press conferences, but the one today shows how useless these events are. Although the intended purpose was medical billing, DDT wandered away from its purpose:

He described his treatment of Puerto Rico as generous after the Hurricane Maria devastation, claiming that he gave them “91 billion.” Thus far, Puerto Rico has received about $11 billion. Hurricane Katrina cost $200 billion, most of it going to Louisiana.

He accused John Kerry of violating the Logan Act, which bans private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments without permission, and called for his prosecution. Last year, Kerry, a former Secretary of State, said he spoke with the Iranian foreign minister a few times since leaving office. Two people were indicted under the 1799 law, one in 1802 and the other in 1852, but no one was ever convicted

He deferred to Barr on Mueller testimony after he said that Mueller should not testify to Congress after he deferred to Barr about Mueller’s testimony.

He attacked Mueller, accusing him of a conflict of interest because Mueller had been considered a replacement for the fired former FBI director James Comey.

He claimed his son Donald Trump, Jr. was “exonerated” by Mueller.

He said he had been going easy on China and “gave China a break” on the tariffs. After tariffs are increased, DDT said, “We’re going to be taking in more money than we’ve ever taken in.”

About medical billing, not so much.

DDT attempts to hide the fact that U.S. consumers, not China, are paying for the fees and lies about the trade deficit size. DDT’s threat also caused his beloved stock market to drop the next day. Immediately before DDT tweeted his new tariffs, DDT met with Republicans who told him to end tariffs and not impose new ones. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) even tacitly held up the proposed North American trade deal as a bargaining chip. Earlier, GOP incumbents up for re-election argued against DDT’s efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Because of DDT’s tariffs, taxpayers have paid $900,000 for every job created in the steel/uranium industry—over 14 times a steelworker’s salary and an additional $11.5 billion cost to the economy per year. Steelworker jobs averaged 3,000 jobs per month this year. Consumers are paying $815,000 for every job created in making washing machines. Legally DDT can declare tariffs only for national defense, which makes his fist tariffs that were on washing machines questionable, and the World Trade Organization may stop him. No matter what DDT says, consumers are paying the taxes on the tariffs.

DDT’s steel and aluminum tariffs added 9 percent to the price of steel products sold in the U.S. last year, for a total of $5.6 billion in extra costs passed along to consumers. Tariffs added about $11.5 billion in annual costs to the U.S. economy. Yet the government isn’t making much more money. Additional tariffs should add about $32.5 billion a year, but the reality is less than half that amount at $15 billion. And that’s a small percentage of the $3 trillion annual revenue for the United States.

Sanders, who has held only two press conferences in the first four months of 2019, denied the guidelines. She said, “No one’s access is being limited.” Maybe it was just another one of those offensive trial balloons to see if anyone noticed.

April 21, 2016

Hillary Clinton Faces More Media Censure

Hillary Clinton was declared the most untrustworthy of the presidential candidates two months ago and has received negative ratings in favorability in ten recent polls. That’s this year. Three years ago, when she stepped down from the position of Secretary of State, her approval rating was 69 percent, making her the most popular politician in the country and the second-most popular secretary of state since 1948. The year before, the Washington Post called on President Obama to replace VP Joe Biden with Clinton for his second presidential run.

In Quartz, Sady Doyle has a theory for why this happened:

“[Clinton’s] public approval plummets whenever she applies for a new position. Then it soars when she gets the job. The wild difference between the way we talk about Clinton when she campaigns and the way we talk about her when she’s in office can’t be explained as ordinary political mud-slinging. Rather, the predictable swings of public opinion reveal Americans’ continued prejudice against women caught in the act of asking for power.”

Karen Blumenthal’s Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Woman Living History, written for teenagers over 15 years old, follows Clinton’s rise and fall throughout her lifetime, starting when she was a bright, competent, confident high school student who wanted to make the world a better place. At Wellesley, she made friends with one of the six black students in the school population of 400, and they became roommates. Her friendship with black activist Marian Wright Edelman led her to become an advocate for children. At the same time, she campaigned for candidates, changing her allegiance from the GOP as a “Goldwater Girl” to fighting for Democrats. In her twenties, she was a member of the House Judiciary Committee legal staff to work on the Nixon inquiry into Watergate.

Clinton’s marriage to Bill Clinton led her to massive ridicule from people in Arkansas, including Bill Clinton’s mother, for her clothing, hair, makeup, etc.—issues that men never face. She kept a job but maintained a low-key presence because of the disapproval. And she tried to change her appearance to satisfy the critics. The same ridicule came from politicians and pundits across the United States when she supported her husband in his campaign for president. Forced to give up her career while she was in the White House, she face further cruelty when she worked to improve conditions for people in the nation. Early in the first term, she and her husband faced five inquiries about the death of a close friend who killed himself because of the persecution he faced in Washington, D.C. The persecution continued as she faced criticism for not divorcing her philandering husband.

People told Hillary Clinton to be more open. She complied, and they heaped more derision on her. She became increasingly private, resulting in even more contempt. Nothing she did suited her critics. As she runs for president in 2016, both Republican candidates and her Democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders, talk about how much people dislike her. Sanders calls her a liar and unqualified to be president before his aides and consultants talk about how Sanders plans to take over the Democratic candidacy at the July convention because Clinton is unpopular.

Hillary Clinton opponents now realize that ridiculing her hair and dress might be seen as sexist so they complain about her “shrill” voice and ask that she smile more. Chris Matthews (Hardball), who I sometimes respect, recommended that Clinton select John Kasich (check out the last two blogs) for a vice-president if she wants to win.

The conservative media has attempted to dodge he belief that any treatment of Clinton is sexist. Instead, as Brian Birdnow claims, her “vaunted achievements in public life materialized because her now-estranged husband was going places, and she went along for the ride.” According to Birdnow, “the Clintons have been the beneficiaries of adoring media coverage beginning in 1991.” Blumenthal’s book records how hard Hillary Clinton worked before meeting Bill Clinton and since then. As for the “adoring media coverage,” it may have been so for Bill Clinton, but not for his hated wife, “Billary.” Birdnow wrote that “the critics cannot help that she sounds like a screeching harridan when she tries to give a political speech, or that her hoarse voice grates like fingernails scratching on a chalkboard.”

Sanders has given conservatives fuel against Clinton by his repetitive complaining that she took money for speeches on Wall Street. He has never come up with any ways in which she has personally benefited Wall Street, but his insinuation is enough to taint her. Sanders himself voted to deregulate Wall Street in 2000.

The GOP has further plans to shred Clinton’s reputation. Over six months ago, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) led Clinton through an 11-hour inquisition—at least the ninth time—into the death of four people at a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi in 2012. Almost two years ago, Gowdy had said that his investigation would be completed by the end of 2015, but that wasn’t an election year. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bragged that the purpose of the inquiry is to destroy Hillary Clinton.

Fox network Greta van Susteren wrote a year ago that “dragging the investigation into 2016 looks political” and that releasing the report right before the election “looks awful” and “sends a bad message about fairness.” If the report comes out in 2016, she wrote, “it is fair to draw an adverse inference against the Committee—an adverse inference of playing politics. . . . Whatever the findings are in this investigation—it will forever be plagued by allegations of unfairness, and politics if this investigation is dragged into 2016.”

Gowdy said then that “it’s not going to come out in the middle of 2016.” He recently announced that the Benghazi report will be released during this summer–the middle of 2016. Democrats on the committee aren’t allowed to see transcripts of witness interviews, and they won’t see the final report before it’s released either in July just before the Democratic convention or in September as the presidential campaign goes into full swing. Gowdy promises that the report will be “eye-opening.”

In a recent column, Dana Milbank pointed out one “eye-opening” event:

“Gregory Hicks, the U.S. diplomat in Libya who criticized the administration response, is now on detail from the State Department working as a legislative assistant to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) who previously said Hicks’s ‘shocking testimony’ confirmed a ‘Benghazi whitewash’ by the administration.”

Also eye-opening is the $6.5 million expenditure thus far in a probe that “quickly devolved into the mix of unfounded allegations, selective leaks and partisan sniping that characterized the preceding Benghazi investigation by Rep. Darrel Issa’s oversight panel.”

Gowdy swore transparency that never occurred. Sixteen months ago, he promised monthly hearings that didn’t happen. In its 700+ days, the committee had only four public hearings and only one since January 2015. At the same time, mysterious leaks, damaging and false, are fed to the press from GOP members. Remember? Democrats aren’t allowed to know what’s happening.

Gowdy has dragged out his committee “work” longer than investigations into 9/11, Watergate, and the JFK assassination. No male has ever been investigated in this manner despite their greater transgressions.

Milbank provided a background of the Benghazi investigation up to Clinton’s testimony in October.

Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of the acclaimed biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, said of Hillary Clinton, “I don’t think there is a First Lady who has been treated as rudely and meanly except for Eleanor Roosevelt. Both of these women boldly risked the scorn of “those threatened by the image of a woman carrying the fight for social justice into the public arena.” Karen Weaver, the mayor of Flint (MI) said about the water crisis that Hillary Clinton “has actually been the only candidate, whether we’re talking Democratic or Republican, to reach out and talk with us about, ‘What can I do? What kind of help do you need?’”

Hillary Clinton graduated high in her Yale Law School class and became partner in a top law firm through her own hard work. Throughout her life, she has worked hard and energetically, showing competence, intelligence, stamina, courage, and knowledge of the issues. In her current campaign, she demonstrates a consideration of alternatives leading to successful endings rather than latching on to only one solution. She has experience in working with countries across the world and has been highly praised for these accomplishments. Clinton understands that a plan is necessary to accomplish goals—universal health care, higher taxes for the wealthy, gun sensible laws, equal pay, reduction of income inequality, clean energy, etc. Just hoping that people will rise up isn’t a successful way to improve the lot of over 300 million people in 50 disparate states.

One question is how people would view Clinton today if the media and other politicians had not spent billions of dollars to trash her. Another is how they would treat her if she were a man. The miracle is that she is doing so well with all these forces against her.

March 18, 2015

Congressional Budgets Separate GOP Legislators

The House budget blue-print for next year was unveiled yesterday, waiting to go through the sorry “sausage” process of legislating. Its usefulness lies in demonstrating the GOP disregard for most of the people in the United States. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is no longer chair of the House Budget Committee, but his replacement, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) mouths the same unbelievable excuses for trashing the safety net of people in the United States. In Washington-speak, Price said, “When Washington forgets the limits of its own understanding and power … social and safety net programs stop being a bridge to a more secure future and rather become a barrier to success.” The translation is that the GOP excuses its stripping benefits for people by saying that it’s all for everyone’s own good, perhaps similar telling children they will be more independent if they are hungry.

The budget plans to move Medicaid and food stamps (SNAP) into “block grants” for states. In that way, states can use the money that they get for the poor and then transfer the funding into the general fund that has been depleted by giving huge tax subsidies to corporations and huge tax cuts for the wealthy. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that block grants for Medicaid would increase the uninsured numbers to between 14.3 million and 20.5 million by 2022. The same block grant process was used during the 1990s for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF), leaving spending for that program flat after far more people fell into poverty and should have been eligible for benefits. The Price budget also made a ten-year $165 billion cut in mandatory outside health and retirement programs; SNP is the biggest program in that area. Ryan’s budget cut of $137 billion last year was an 18-percent reduction.

Yesterday’s House budget plan also proposed repealing the Affordable Care Act. At this time, the number of uninsured people in the United States has dropped by 16 million people to 34 million because of expanded Medicaid in many states, cheaper insurance, and young adults’ ability to stay on their parents’ plan. Keeping the law would drop the number of uninsured to about 26 million. The GOP wants the number of uninsured to increase to 50 million people, as would happen without the ACA according to the CBO. This is 50 million uninsured people plus the 20 million who have lost Medicaid for a total of 70 million uninsured people by 2022. The GOP is talking about an Obamacare “replacement,” but legislators have no plans for one. Although the budget proposal included the ACA repeal, it kept the savings that the ACA brings to the federal government.

Without itemizing cuts, the budget cuts $400 billion from Ryan’s budget by cutting mandatory spending, consolidating programs, streamlining regulations, and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, according to Price’s report. The $1.017 trillion ceiling on spending in the fiscal year beginning on October 1 would be divided between $493 billion for domestic discretionary programs and $523 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget with $90 billion added to the base in the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund.

Today’s Senate release of their budget also repealed the ACA, created block grants for Medicaid and food stamps, and cut domestic programs. As Jonathan Weisman wrote in the NYT, “the first Senate Republican budget since 2006 is long on ambition but short on details. It foresees cutting $4.3 trillion from mandatory programs like Medicare, food stamps and Medicaid, but unlike the House budget, it does not make specific policy prescriptions, such as converting Medicare into a voucherlike program that would allow recipients to buy subsidized insurance on the private health care market.” The Senate also proposed gaining billions of dollars by reducing education programs, freezing Pell Grants, and stopping regulatory actions under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street law.

The budget has caused a war, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), within the GOP congressional members between the fiscal hawks and defense hawks. Congress cannot overturn the Budget Control Act of 2011—better known as the sequester—which established ten years of spending caps and across-the-board spending cuts without another act of Congress. The war is even more embarrassing because the GOP bitterly criticized the Democrats for their failure to pass budgets while they controlled Congress. President Obama has proposed raising spending caps for the next fiscal year by $80 billion with half going to domestic programs, but the GOP wants defense to get everything. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) called the caps “a disaster” which “thematically” must go. This is his first year for the process.

Like the House,  GOP Senate defense hawks demand that the budget include the “deficit-neutral reserve fund,” allowing the Pentagon to break budget ceilings set by law almost four years ago. A deal in 2013 between then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and then-Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) gave two years of escape from the spending caps, but that deal has now disappeared for future budgets.

The fanatical GOP cry for more austerity will drive the economy back into the hole as it fails to create jobs and put money into workers’ pockets. Long-term economic growth could come from a strong surface transportation reauthorization bill, one which the GOP refuses to address. The $11 billion transportation funding expires on May 31, and lawmakers are making noises about a short-term extension blocking contractors from any long-term projects. Construction typically begins in the spring, and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said, “States have already notified the federal government that they will be delaying or postponing or canceling projects.”

At the same time, GOP policy is to lower taxes and raise subsidies for the wealthy and corporation, putting more stress and probably higher taxes on the middle class and poor—again shrinking the economy.

In analyzing tax subsidies for different economic levels, the Corporation for Enterprise Development found that the top 1 percent received $95 billion in tax subsidies for housing, education, retirement and savings in 2013, $5 billion more than the $90 billion received by the bottom 80 percent. The top 0.1 percent, with an average annual income of $7.6 million, received an average of $33,391 in federal tax payouts in these areas compared with the $1,000 for the bottom 60 percent, who earn less than $65,000. President Obama met a firestorm when he proposed doing away with tax benefits for 529 college savings plans in which families can contribute up to $14,000 a year. Households with incomes above $150,000 received 80 percent of that program’s tax benefit. Seventy percent of deductions for mortgage interest payments and property taxes, a total of $98.5 billion cost to the government in 2014, went to the top 20 percent of earners; the average gain for a household in the bottom 20 percent, earning less than $21,000 a year, was $3.

Meanwhile the nation reached its statutory debt limit last Monday. The Treasury Department is hunting for money to keep paying bills with a catastrophic default about the same time this fall that the GOP needs to stop—or start—another government shutdown. The GOP has the majority in both chambers, but neither leader has shown much ability in managing their caucuses. Some GOP senators such as Jeff Flake (AZ) and Orrin Hatch (UT) have expressed no enthusiasm for using the debt limit as leverage for immigration. Hatch even understands that blocking the limit doesn’t stop spending already authorized. On the other hand, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) wants the debt ceiling as leverage for “further reforms,” and Price wants the “Boehner Rule,” demanding one dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in extra borrowing.

Both budgets rely on the GOP’s euphemistic term “economic feedback.” The term used by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office of “dynamic scoring” isn’t any better. That means that increased revenue in the budget is based on a guess of increase in such areas as tax cuts that the GOP think will occur—no substance, just assumption. In other words, Congress claims that tax cuts for corporations will provide more revenue so it put their guess into their budgets.

Dana Milbank described the House budget—rolled out on St. Patrick’s Day—as a “gimmick” in which the creators “employed lucky charms and mystical pots of gold to make them appear more sober about balancing the budget than they actually are.” His analysis of the budget:

  • It pretends to keep strict limits on defense spending — so-called “sequestration”–but then pumps tens of billions of extra dollars into a slush fund called “Overseas Contingency Operations.”
  • It assumes that current tax cuts will be allowed to expire as scheduled — which would amount to a $900 billion tax increase that nobody believes would be allowed to go into effect.
  • It proposes to repeal Obamacare but then counts revenues and savings from Obamacare as if the law remained in effect.
  • It claims to save $5.5 trillion over 10 years, but in the fine print—the budget plan’s instructions to committees—it asks them to identify only about $5 billion in savings over that time.
  • It assumes more than $1 trillion in cuts to a category known as “other mandatory” programs—but doesn’t specify what those cuts would be.
  • It relies on $147 billion in additional revenue from “dynamic scoring,” a more generous accounting method.
  • It doesn’t account for the $200 billion plan now being negotiated to increase doctor payments under Medicare and to extend a children’s health care program.

As Milbanks concluded, “[The budget] was the latest instance of the Republicans discovering how difficult it is to govern now that they have unified control of Congress.” When asked about specifics at the press conference rolling out the budget, Price answered questions with this statement: “Because we believe in the American people, and we believe in growth.” replied Price, predicting that higher-than-expected economic growth would boost tax revenues.

Again, the GOP has shown that they aren’t ready for prime time; they just show that their priorities aren’t most of the people in the United States.

September 9, 2014

‘Meet the Press’ Has a Long Way to Go

Martha Routree began moderating  Meet the Press on radio almost 70 years ago, two years before it moved to television. Her format was to invite a leading public figure to face a panel of reporters; Rountree persuaded such luminaries as Sen. Joseph McCarthy, California governor and future chief justice Earl Warren, and President Harry Truman to be on the program. Co-producer Lawrence E. Spivak was a “permanent panelist,” and the television show won at least three awards in six years before Rountree lost the show in a coin-toss to Spivak in 1953. Followed by eight male moderators, she has been the only woman to host the program.

After NBC sent David Gregory, the program’s recent host, packing, it picked another man, Chuck Todd. During the hiatus between Gregory and Todd, Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, and Chris Jansing, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent, both did excellent jobs as substitute hosts. They provided a refreshing change from both Gregory and Todd, who attack progressives and give passes to the conservatives.

When Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) lamented the country’s serious problems from ISIS and claimed that they are “just a plane ticket away from the United States,” Jansing asked him, “But we’ve heard the Pentagon say that, right now, they are not in a position to launch an attack on the United States. Is there any credible intelligence that ISIS is either planning that or has the capability to do it.” Rogers said that he disagreed but didn’t have any facts to back his position. Neither Gregory nor Todd would most likely have challenged Rogers.

A year ago Todd said that correcting GOP lies that he repeats is not his job. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he agreed that Republicans repeat the party’s false message about the Affordable Care Act, but he blamed the president for not selling the ACA. Todd gives lies the same weight as facts. When Todd made that statement, he was political director for NBC news, meaning that this philosophy was leading the political coverage. Now it will lead Meet the Press.

On his first show last Sunday, Todd  repeated the tired statement about Kentucky’s Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Alison Grimes, having “a lot of money” without pointing out that her opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell, has three times as much campaign funding as Grimes. Todd talked about the horrible gridlock in Washington before he did a puff piece on how well three mayors in the country are working with their elected officials. When two of them, a Republican and an independent, slammed the president by saying they were successful because the executive is in charge of successful cooperation, Todd just sagely nodded. Nothing was mentioned about how the GOP will do everything possible to tear down the president and then blame him for not being bipartisan. When Scarborough said that the midterm elections really don’t matter, everyone again just nodded.

The mayor segment is entitled “Who Needs Washington?” And as Dana Milbank pointed out:

 “We all need Washington. And though it’s standard for politicians to campaign against Washington, it’s a bit cynical for Todd and Meet the Press to be vessels of populist outrage against a Washington media elite of which they are very much a part.

“Washington isn’t dysfunctional because people who live here are out of touch. Washington is broken because of the increasingly belligerent assortment of 537 politicians the rest of the country sends here. The problem is not that Washington is too insular. If anything, Washington isn’t insular enough.

“For most of the nation’s history, lawmakers spent long stretches of time in the capital, getting to know each other as people rather than partisans. The friendships and goodwill they developed helped them to cut the necessary deals. But when “Washington insider” became a political liability two decades ago, politicians began jetting into town for three-day workweeks — long enough to demonize their opponents but not to know them.”

To give Todd a pass, we’ll assume that he was just clueless instead of lying when he cheerfully attacked President Obama for not mentioning “Syria.” Todd directly said, “You’ve not said the word, ‘Syria’ so far in our conversation.” A check of the transcript shows that the president had used the word four times before Todd made his statement.

“… ISIL poses a broader threat because of its territorial ambitions in Iraq and Syria…”

“… And we’ve seen the savagery not just in terms of how they dealt with the two Americans that had been taken hostage but the killing of thousands of innocents in– in Iraq thousands of innocents in Syria, the kidnapping of women the complete disruption of entire villages …”

“… But what is absolutely clear in ISIL, which started as Al Qaeda in Iraq and arose out of the U.S. invasion there and was contained because of the enormous efforts of our troops there then shifted to Syria, has metastasized …”

“We’ve got to do more effective diplomatic work to eliminate the schism between Sunni and Shia that has been fueling so much of the violence in Syria, in Iraq. And so we put together a plan that is compatible with the kind of work that we’re doing now.”

David Letterman honored this gaffe by creating a new segment, “Chuck Todd on It” and pointed out Todd’s mistake. This could become a weekly piece. Letterman’s leaving won’t stop Todd from being a punch line; Stephen Colbert steps up to the plate then.

Todd also falsely accused President Obama of using the term “ISIL” instead of the term “ISIS” because the president wants to avoid the word Syria. Todd said to Andrea Mitchell, who uses the abbreviation ISIL, “Obviously we refer to it at NBC News as ISIS. The Obama administration, president says the word ISIL. The last ‘S’ stands for Syria, the last L they don’t want to have stand for Syria.”

According to the Associated Press regarding AP’s use of ISIL:

“In Arabic, the group is known as Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. The term “al-Sham” refers to a region stretching from southern Turkey through Syria to Egypt (also including Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan). The group’s stated goal is to restore an Islamic state, or caliphate, in this entire area.”

The final “S” in ISIS does not translate to Syria because the word Syria is not in the original Arabic language. Todd claims to be a journalist. He should be ashamed for not being aware of such a simple fact.

In another attack, Todd, like many other conservatives, slammed the president for discussing the beheading of journalist James Foley while President Obama was golfing. During Todd’s gig on the National Journal Hotline, he never objected to George W. Bush golfing in 2002 while he talked about five U.S. citizens being bombed to death. Bush had left for a month-long vacation at his parents’ home in Kennebunkport (ME) two days after a bomb exploded at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Two days after that, another suicide bomb blew up in Israel. The following day, Bush took a break from his golfing to say that he was “distressed” and thought that we should “stop the terror.” He finished by saying, “Thank you…. Now, watch this [golf] drive.” He finished his drive and then said, “See you at church.”

To further add to the “good old boys” club, NBC promoted former Rep. Joe Scarborough to senior NBC political analyst and contributor to Meet the Press. Todd may think that Scarborough can provide “robust conversation,” but this ultra-conservative primarily passes along the GOP talking points on his morning fluff show, Morning Joe. One rumor is that he got the job to calm him after he failed to become the host. Scarborough will move Meet the Press even farther to the right than David Gregory did. NBC expects Todd to boost ratings, but Scarborough may be waiting in the wings in case Todd fails.

The only new thing about Meet the Press is the furniture rearrangement, but the program might experience more success by returning to Tim Russet’s format. He used archival tapes to confront a guest who had moved on to another position and then asked about the shift. “Meet the talking points,” critic Jay Rosen called the show then. The same right-wing guests weren’t given the same passes every Sunday. Now GE clearly controls the show, and the television advertising by Koch Industries shown another influence.

Ratings went up this past Sunday; the question is whether it was a fluke to see how Todd would do. His slogan is “it’s not politics that people hate, it’s that they hate the politicians that don’t know how to practice the art of it.” In my case, it’s not Meet the Press that I hate, but the way that the hosts have moderated it since Tim Russert died. Leslie Savan suggests watching John Oliver’s new show, Last Week Tonight. Maybe Oliver could take over the show when NBC isn’t satisfied. Now that would help the ratings and deliver substance.

October 22, 2013

SCOTUS May Put Democracy Up for Sale

More than $100 million—that’s how much the ten highest-paid CEOs in the U.S. each received last year. Two of them each got at least $1 billion. Together these ten men collectively took home over $4.7 billion. A poll shows that 2,259 U.S. CEOs saw an average income rise of 8.47 percent last year, although that was less than the two previous years.

Of the top 10 earners in 2012 all received the majority of their compensation for the year from share schemes. One executive, George Maffei, received $254.8 million as CEO of Liberty Media Corporation and another $136.4 million as CEO of sister company Liberty Interactive. He also profited more than $250 million on the exercise of 3.1 million options at Liberty Media Corporation in 2012. As head of Liberty Interactive, Maffei exercised an additional 12.3 million options for a profit of more than $132 million.

For the rest of us, the median household income was $51,017 in 2012, unchanged from the prior year. Wages fell about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999. Last year’s average pay package of a Standard & Poor 500 CEO was $13.7 million.

These ten CEOS are part of the 500 people who can buy democracy from the United States if SCOTUS strikes down almost all remaining limits on donations to political campaigns. Two weeks ago, at the height of the government shutdown, the U.S. Supreme Court heard McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. McCutcheon wants to eliminate aggregate limits on individual contributions, claiming that these violate free speech.

Burt Neuborne, law professor and founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said, “If these advocate limitations go down, 500 people will control American democracy. It would be ‘government for the 500 people,’ not for anybody else.” Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia appear ready to hand over the country to these 500 people, eradicating the past 225 years of democracy in the nation.

Current law, thanks to Citizens United, has uncontrolled expenditures in campaigns, but contributions are limited through the amount given to any particular candidate or committee and through the total that can be given to everyone. At this time, the limit in an election cycle is $5,200 an individual candidate, $32,400 to a national political party, $10,000 to the state party, and $5,000 to as many PACs as the donor wants. The aggregate comes to about $123,200, which McCutcheon says is too small.

Without the aggregate limit, one person could donate up to $3.6 million, an amount that Justice Antonin Scalia says isn’t much money. He might be right when if he’s talking about someone like George Maffei because that sum is only 0.0035 percent of his annual income. But for the rest of people, it’s an annual salary for almost 70 people combined. A big difference in power.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that aggregate limits promotes “democratic participation” that keeps the “super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.” Scalia used his snarky attitude to respond, “I assume that a law that only—only prohibits the speech of 2 percent of the country is okay.” Better to “control the speech” of 2 percent than 98 percent.

When Roberts was questioned as a nominee for SCOTUS justice, he said that he didn’t believe in overturning precedents. His history since being approved shows a different perspective. Ruling in favor of McCutcheon would be another rejection of an earlier Supreme Court decision. The ruling of Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 case, decided that limits on contributions “entail only a marginal restriction” on speech because contributions to political debate “involves speech by someone other than the contributor.”

An amicus brief from Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and David Price (D-NC) argues that allowing larger individual contributions would create the reality or appearance of corruption, and the government has a compelling interest in preventing this corruption. “Very large political contributions create both the risk that officeholders and potential officeholders will be tempted to forsake their public duties and the opportunity for corrupt bargains.”

Seven Supreme Court justices, including Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the Citizens United decision, voted to uphold the federal ban on soliciting large contributions in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission: “Very large contributions for national parties presented corruption concerns regardless of how those contributions were ultimately used.”

Van Hollen and Price concluded:

“Permitting the parties and their candidates to solicit and receive contributions of millions of dollars from individual donors would again foster the appearance that our officeholders and our government are for sale.”

A February 2013 YouGov poll found 44 percent of Americans think the 2012 election cycle’s aggregate limit of $46,200—raised to $48,600 this cycle—to federal candidates was already too high. Just 12 percent think there should be no limit. A 2012 Brennan Center for Justice survey found that 69 percent of respondents disapproved of the Citizens United decision, making it one of the most unpopular Supreme Court decisions in history. A poll also shows that 55 percent of people in the United States reject the concept that money is equivalent to speech. Citizens United, giving the wealthy the right to excessive campaign donations, was a catalyst in dropping public confidence in the Supreme Court to 28 percent.

Justice Stephen Breyer wants to dodge making a decision. His suggestion, not well taken, was to send the case back to the lower court to create an actual factual record.

Justice Elena Kagan came up with the best idea, rolling back the court’s Citizens United ruling: “I suppose that if this court is having second thoughts about its rulings that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law.”

In an op-ed piece, Dana Milbank addressed the irony of the Supreme Court staying open and hearing a case that will most likely continue the high level of dysfunction in Congress.

“The court has failed to undo the partisan redistricting that has left the House of Representatives hopelessly polarized. It has furthered Americans’ cynicism toward politics with nakedly political rulings such as Bush v. Gore. Above all, it has created a campaign finance system that is directly responsible for the rise of uncompromising leaders on both sides of the Capitol.”

Scalia, with his “$3.6 million isn’t much money” statement, stays in his bubble through ultra-conservative media sources such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and Bill Bennett’s talk radio. He objects to The New York Times as “often nasty.” Those sources don’t point out that most GOP congressional seats are safe because of the SCOTUS-sanctioned gerrymandering.

As Milbank wrote, “A few billionaires have purchased a Congress full of unbending extremists, and the Supreme Court made it all legal.”

The day of the arguments, President Obama said, “There aren’t a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way, where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed.” The last time he objected to a SCOTUS ruling on campaign finances, the conservative justices threatened to boycott the president’s State of the Union speech.

A Supreme Court ruling that eliminates federal aggregate donations would likely create havoc in the states currently capping overall contributions. Nine states–Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming–had aggregate limits in place for the last two election cycles, but Arizona eliminated the state’s limits. The vast majority, 81 percent, of the 2010 donors reaching state aggregate limits did so in Wisconsin. A donor is fighting in court to overturn the limits, and state legislators are working to double the aggregate limit.

During the argument, the justices appeared to line up on conservative and progressive camps with Roberts toward the middle but leaning toward his usual conservative bent. I doubt if he learned his lesson from Citizens United. 

April 11, 2013

Gun Vote, Not a Victory

People cheered at today’s vote in the Senate: in a 68-31 vote, the Senate passed a motion to allow debate on the proposed gun legislation. The cheers show how dysfunctional Congress has become when a victory is allowing a bill to move forward to a vote to proceed. Two Democrats (Mark Begich from Alaska and Mark Pryor from Arkansas) opposed the vote to just debate the bill, and 16 Republicans voted in favor. In the week that marks four months after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown (CT), 31 GOP senators tried to block even debating a bill to make life safer for people in this country.

This vote, however, doesn’t mean that the bill is now up for debate. It was only on “cloture,” meaning that there now has to be a vote on a motion to proceed, which could be put off for as much as 30 hours. If Senate has a majority vote to proceed, then the chamber begins debate, starting with an amendment changing the provisions regarding background checks.

The amendment comes from the NRA’s success in watering down the universal background check requirement for buying guns. Under the pretense of supporting a bill, the NRA persuaded two senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), to omit background check for private sales. Once they agreed on this change, NRA came out in strong opposition to the bill (roughly translated as “hell no!”). Commercial sales require background checks, but others do not.

Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, said that the proposal “doesn’t ‘close’ the private sale loophole” but merely “reshape[s] it.” He added:

“Private sales still won’t require a background check, so long as they occur outside a gun show or without a publicized advertisement. There’s nothing in the law that prevents someone from going to a gun show, finding the gun he likes, then meeting the seller off-site to complete the sale without a background check.”

There actually is no victory because the GOP plans a plethora of amendments to bog down the bill. Even if anything survives the Senate, there’s a 99.5 percent guarantee that the House will quash any gun legislation.

Legislators who opposes tighter gun legislation should be forced to watch a video from  Adam Gadahn, an American-born spokesperson for al Qaeda, who endorses our current lax gun control in the United States:

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

Gadahn is slightly wrong. People can buy only a semi-automatic rifle at a gun show. Even if the proposed bill is passed, however, anyone can just wander over to a neighbor and buy these weapons. Sure it might be illegal, but terrorists tend not to follow all the nation’s laws.

Republicans are considering their own gun legislation. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) wants to tighten background checks on people with mental illness and reform health care privacy laws “so we can get better access to troubled folks–the Virginia Tech situation.” He hasn’t said how his bill would differ from the one that will now move into debate because of today’s vote.

Even with a watered down bill, any Senate decision puts House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in an awkward position. Trying to look more professional, the harried leader turned all decisions over to the Senate, assuming that the gridlocked chamber could send the House no bills. If the Senate passes gun legislation, then the ball is tossed over to the highly split Republicans in the House. If he doesn’t move on legislation sent by the Senate, he looks as if he’s obstructing the will of the people. If he does—and fails—then he looks worse than he does now. Boehner, like all the other House members, is up for re-election in a year.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who supported a Pennsylvania background checks law in the state Legislature almost 20 years ago, expressed support for the Senate background checks measure. On the other hand Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Phil Gingrey (R-GA) didn’t want anything to do with the Senate bill and wanted a plan.

Sources indicated four House options if the Senate sends them anything: pass it along to the House Judiciary Committee for a markup (to procrastinate and then gut the bill); ask that committee for its own bill (to match whatever the NRA wants); ignore the bill (unlikely because they’ll get in trouble); or move it directly to the floor (if the GOP gets in trouble without doing that).

In the meantime, anti-gun legislation people are moving along in their own way that displays their mental illness. Last week, after the U.N. passed its first international Arms Trade Treaty by 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions, saber-rattling GOP senators started their opposition. The Senate must ratify the treaty by a two-thirds vote—67 senators voting in favor—before the United States can be a party to the treaty. Last month, the Senate added an amendment to the budget plan to stop this from happening.  The treaty cannot take effect until at least 50 countries ratify it.

As usual, conservative senators use misinformation to oppose what they don’t want. The treaty would not control the domestic use of weapons anywhere, but it would require countries that ratify it to have federal regulations to control gun transfers and regulate arms brokers. The purpose of the treaty is to regulate the multibillion-dollar international arms trade by keeping illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters, and organized crime. The United States is responsible for 30 percent of international gun transfers.

The three countries who voted against the treaty? Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Because of the U.S. conservatives, the United States is adopting the policies of countries that Bush labeled the “axis of evil.” Last summer, conservatives said they needed more time to consider the treat. Their position was immediately echoed by Russia and China.

One bright spot comes from Maine. Following the lead of four other states, its state legislature took up two dozen gun bills. One bill would ban carrying weapons “in a public place in a manner that causes a reasonable person to suffer intimidation or alarm.” Another would limit the size of magazines to 10 rounds. (There is a backlash, one bill preventing governments from destroying firearms and ammunition received from gun buybacks and another exempting firearms and ammunition from federal laws.) Since Democrats regained control of Maine’s legislature, GOP Gov. Paul LePage has generally refused to meet with it or sign any bills that it passes.

Mayors against Illegal Guns plans to take a page out of NRA’s book and grade lawmakers on their support for gun safety regulations. For decades, the NRA has operated a reign of terror to bully legislators who oppose their draconian positions on lax gun regulation. Now Mayors will have a scorecard to show voters and donors.

How afraid are the GOP senators who promised to filibuster any gun legislation? CBS News contacted all 14 of them, and all 14 refused to be interviewed about the filibuster. That includes Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who desperately wants publicity. Last December NBC’s Meet the Press  and CBS’s Face the Nation both commented on gun-rights backers’ refusing to appear on their programs. It looks like fear to me.

NRA’s fear was palpable when the association presented its grand new plan to stopping gun violence by making schools safer through more guns and fixing mental illness in the nation. The rollout of “National School Shield” was accompanied by security guards at the National Press Club. About 20 of them, approximately one for every three reporters attending the event, presented an unusual spectacle with uniforms, exposed gun holsters, earpieces, and bulges under their suit jackets, according to Dana Milbank.

The plan, replete with guns at school and supposedly in “full independence” from the NRA, was pretty much like the plan that the NRA proposed three days after the Sandy Hook massacre. Background checks weren’t part of it.

Milbank wrote:

“A reporter asked Hutchinson what he was afraid of.

“’There’s nothing I’m afraid of. I’m very wide open,’ Hutchinson replied, separated from his unarmed questioners by an eight-foot buffer zone, a lectern, a raised podium, a red-velvet rope and a score of gun-toting men. ‘There’s nothing I’m nervous about.’”

January 31, 2013

Gun Deaths – The Culture of Violence, Part 1

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The NRA would deprive you of the first and third, by redefining the second.”—Douglas Anthony Cooper

Nine days after she led her classmates in the King College Prep School Marching Band for the inauguration parade, Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down a few blocks from her school. Last year, gun-related murders in Chicago were 58 percent higher than the number of U.S. soldiers shot and killed in Afghanistan.

Three days earlier, seven people were killed and six wounded because of gun violence in Chicago. One of them was 34-year-old Ronnie Chambers whose mother had already lost her other three children to shootings.

Two days ago in Midland City (AL) Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65, killed a school bus driver, and kidnapped a six-year-old boy.  Witnesses reported that Dykes boarded the school bus filled with grade school children when it stopped at one of its regular drop-off points and brandished a gun, telling the bus driver, “I need two kids between the ages of 6 and 8.” The bus driver replied, “I can’t do that” and attempted to get away. That’s when Dykes shot and killed him.  The shooter then holed up in a bunker keeping law officers at bay. Three days later, he is still holding the boy in the bunker. Negotiators are trying to communicate with Dykes through a 4-inch-wide ventilation pipe. 

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), strong supporter of budget cuts to decrease funds for more police officers on the streets, said he wants high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons because budget cuts mean inadequate police forces.  This is the same senator who told Fox News that “Hillary Clinton got away with murder” when he talked about the four deaths in Benghazi.

The Missouri state senate is considering a law requiring all first-graders to take a gun safety training course. This is in a state that has no sexual education requirement to help students protect themselves from STIs or unintended pregnancies.

Fontana Unified School District superintendent authorized the purchase of 14 high-caliber rifles at $1,000 each to be stored on campuses around the district for use in attacks like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary. Two years ago the district closed its counseling program; the purchase of guns does not address students’ mental issues.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police collaborated with New Hampshire gun makers Sig Sauer and Sturm, Ruger & Company in a fundraising program. They will auction off a Ruger SR-556C assault rifle and 30 other guns, one each day of the month, to the highest bidder.

In St. Paul, Kirill Bartashevitch, 51, pointed his recently-purchased assault rifle at his teenage daughter and wife because his daughter got two B’s in school instead of straight A’s. He also threw his wife to the floor. He told the police that it wasn’t a problem because the gun wasn’t loaded and he had checked the chamber earlier.

These tragedies are only a few of the daily occurrences in the United States. Yesterday, the U.S. Senate held a hearing in an introduction to legislating gun laws. At the same time as the hearing, a man shot three people in a north-central Phoenix (AZ) office complex after the shooter did not do well in a civil mediation meeting. One of them has died, another is expected to die, and the man who did the shooting was found dead of a self-inflicted gun shot.

The Senate hearing got off to a violent start when NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and his bodyguards walked off the elevator in the Dirksen Senate Office Building yesterday. Finding TV cameras waiting for them, one of the men “bumped and body-checked journalists out of the way so they couldn’t film LaPierre or question him as he walked,” according to columnist Dana Milbank. After a journalist was pushed against a wall, congressional officials told the NRA officials that congressional procedures prevented manhandling.

Two years ago, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head while addressing her constituents in a Tucson Safeway parking lot. Six other people were killed by the shooter who had a semi-automatic weapon with a high-capacity magazine. Yesterday she read the following statement at a Senate hearing on gun violence. Everyone should hear her statement.

“Thank for inviting me here today. This an important conversation for our children, for our community, for Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”

At the hearing, James Johnson, Baltimore County chief of police and chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, said “the best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check.” But LaPierre said the NRA opposes closing the gun show loophole, claiming that background checks are pointless, as are other gun laws, because criminals and the mentally ill don’t abide by them. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) responded, “Mr. LaPierre, that’s the point. The criminals won’t go to purchase the guns because there will be a background check.”

Although–thanks to Congress–there is no formal process for tabulating the number of gun deaths in the U.S., an informal count shows that at least 1478 people have died because of guns in the United States since the tragic event at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown (CT).

August 21, 2012

Journalists Claim Family Research Council Not Hate Group

Last week, 28-year-old Floyd Lee Corkins II shot the security guard at the Family Research Council’s (FRC) headquarters in Washington, D.C. Because he was restrained, he couldn’t shoot anyone else with his 9mm handgun. This seems to be the first shooting within the past few years on conservative groups; the others, sometimes wholesale slaughter, have been directed at liberals or minorities such as the Sikhs or just seemingly in general, as the one in the Colorado movie theater.

Terrified about labeling shootings as hate crimes and doing something about people having the right to purchase guns without any permits, the right-wingers have said that these shootings of liberals have had nothing to do with political philosophy, that it is just one crazy person killing others without any political reason. Now we have a liberal shooting someone connected with conservatives. Is it still just one crazy person without any political perspective? Not when the conservatives are the target.

Tony Perkins, FRC leader, said that critics gave Corkins “a license to shoot an unarmed man.” He also wants the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) declared a hate group. Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, said, “It was left on right violence. It is soon to be the new norm.” These people represent those who have previously claimed that conservatives calling on violence has nothing to do with all the people being killed in the name of conservatism.

Other people, fighting the possibility that the growing number of killings related to politics and prejudice might help even a tiny bit of gun control, waffled about whether it’s possible that people use personal ideology to kill others.  is one of those who tries to look as if he is sitting on the fence. After explaining that the shooting at FRC had nothing to do with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the SPLC labeling FRC as a “hate group,” he continues by explaining that the liberal organizations are “reckless” in doing this.

Then Milbank tries to explain how FRC are really good guys, just disagreeing with the HRC and the SPLC, that it isn’t like groups like the Aryan Nations, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Westboro Baptist Church. To prove his point, he uses the most benign quote possible.

Milbank overlooks the fact that officials in the FRC have claimed  that pedophilia is “a homosexual problem” and that homosexuality should be criminalized. One FRC official said that he wanted to “export homosexuals from the United States” and advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality. A 1999 FRC pamphlet reads: “One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the prophets of a new sexual order.” Their philosophy hasn’t changed. Perkins himself has said that “the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children” despite the fact that research concludes the opposite.

Another hate group that doesn’t seem to bother Milbank is the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) which has committed fraud in its attempts to stop marriage equality. Now NOM has said that the attack “is the clearest sign we’ve seen that labeling pro-marrige groups as ‘hateful’ must end.” Spokespeople for NOM have compared homosexuality to bestiality and child abuse (Rev. William Owens) and compared gay rights groups to Nazis whose actions recall “the times of Hitler” (Bishop Harry Jackson).

Anyone who believes that the FRC doesn’t promote hate when it spews bile about the dangers of LGBT people should consider the number of violent acts against those classified as “homosexual”—the murder of one lesbian and near-killing of another in Texas, the mutilation of the lesbian in Nebraska, and on and on. The FBI reported almost 14 hate crimes against lesbians and gays every day—every day—in 2009. Because many LGBT people do not report hate crimes or police refuse to accept crimes as being in this category, there are surely far more than this number.

Through their vicious diatribes, hate groups promote bullying of children and LGBT youth suicide. Here are some frightening statistics about LGBTQ youth: 65.4 percent experienced sexual harassment; 68.6 percent felt unsafe in high school; 83.2 percent suffered verbal harassment; 40.1 percent reported physical harassment; and 18.8 percent reported being assaulted. LGBT youth are 2-3 times more like to consider suicide than non-LGBTQ youth. They also have a much higher percentage of homelessness than other young people. These LGBTQ youth suffer from hate, usually promoted by hate groups claiming to be Christian.

The SPLC’s decision to classify FRC as a hate group uses the group’s record of purveying stereotypes, prejudice, and junk science as a justification to deny LGBT people equal rights and criminalize their conduct. Hate may be permitted under the First Amendment but so is declaring another organization a hate group. If these organizations claimed that people of color are inherently prone to committing certain crimes and called for laws restricting their behavior, they would certainly be called a hate group. The same holds true for saying these things about LGBT people.

Maybe the lesson will come home to these hate groups. If they consider ideas can cause violence against them, they might consider that their ideology can result in violence against the people they oppose.

And journalists who think that the FRC is just a nice, mainstream Christian group should dig a little deeper into the facts. It’s not hard to find.

April 25, 2012

Romney: ‘Vote for Me; I’m Great’

“I have a very different vision for America, and of our future. It is an America driven by freedom, where free people, pursuing happiness in their own unique ways, create free enterprises that employ more and more Americans. Because there are so many enterprises that are succeeding, the competition for hard-working, educated and skilled employees is intense, and so wages and salaries rise.

“I see an America with a growing middle class, with rising standards of living. I see children even more successful than their parents – some successful even beyond their wildest dreams – and others congratulating them for their achievement, not attacking them for it.

“This America is fundamentally fair. We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice; we will stop the unfairness of politicians giving taxpayer money to their friends’ businesses; we will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing; we will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve; and we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts on to the next.

“In the America I see, character and choices matter.  And education, hard work, and living within our means are valued and rewarded.  And poverty will be defeated, not with a government check, but with respect and achievement that is taught by parents, learned in school, and practiced in the workplace.”

Nobody can disagree with the importance of fairness, rising salaries, growing middle class, small business, education and hard work, etc. In fact, President Obama has been talking about these for years. These are the values that Mitt Romney espoused last night in his kickoff speech as presidential nominee for the GOP. Not enough delegates yet, but everyone else is dropping like flies except Ron Paul. Romney’s basic problem with his speech is no explanation of how he would accomplish these laudatory goals.

Romney’s speech could be summed up in one statement: “Vote for me: I know America is a great country.”

In discussing Romney’s speech, Ezra Klein described the three parts of an effective political speech: extolling values; defining policy goals; and providing specific ideas or proposals or programs that achieve these goals. Romney did two out of three but nothing about how he plans to raise salaries etc.  Keeping general keeps from alienating much of his audience. Between supporting the Ryan budget and discriminating against immigrants, Romney has a big problem.

Republicans do seem to be falling in line behind Romney. Despite an earlier statement from one Congressman that Congress is not there to be Romney’s cheerleaders, both House and Senate conservatives are already changing their positions on key issues. Romney supports the Violence against Women Act, so Republicans senators say they will vote for the bill, letting Republican representatives in the House fight about the controversial language expanding special visas to illegal immigrants seeking protection from abuse, a provision specifically naming same-sex partners as eligible for domestic violence programs, and another empowering American-Indian tribal authorities to prosecute abuses alleged to have happened on their reservations.

Once in lockstep opposition to keeping the interest rate below 4 percent for college loans, Republicans are now vigorously supporting the extension of the current interest rate for federal student loans for one more year on top of the past five years. (Republicans are big on short-term fixes!) The catch is that while Democrats plan to pay for the supposed $6 billion cost by ending tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, Republicans hope to take the funding from the health care “slush fund”—House Speaker John Boehner’s words. As usual, the Republicans prefer to give money to wealthy corporations rather than using it to fight obesity and tobacco use as well as respond to public health threats and outbreaks.

Thus Romney shows support for women through VAWA and students through the federal loan program. He has a harder time with immigration reform even with Republican support in an attempt at an the “Etch a Sketch” reversal. Republicans have their own 180-degree turns: in February Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized Romney’s “self-deportation” approach, that life be made so miserable for Latino immigrants that they leave this country. Now McCain emphatically claims that Romney never made that statement, despite videos of Romney using this term, even in his debates last year.

Also in the debates, Romney referred to Arizona’s discriminatory law SB1070 mandating profiling people as a “model” for the nation. In a current poll, 14 percent of the Latinos support Romney whereas 70 percent support President Obama, a separation that might grow when the reason behind SB1070 becomes better publicized. Co-authors Kris Kobach, past Romney adviser, worried about foreign terrorists, while Michael Hethmon feared that immigrants would overburden the environment.

According to Hethmon, immigration is “on track to change the demographic makeup of the entire country. You know, what they call ‘minority-majority.’ ” Hethmon said, “How many countries have gone through a transition like that–peacefully, carefully? It’s theoretically possible, but we don’t have any examples.” So the purpose of SB1070 as a “model” is to keep the country from making a “transition” away from a majority of Anglos?

Women, immigrants, massive cuts to the country’s safety net—these are parts of the baggage that Romney will carry during his campaign against President Obama. As Dana Milbank wrote, “Aficionados of the Etch a Sketch will recall a certain flaw in the toy: If you use it often, some of the lines drawn no longer disappear when you shake the device, instead leaving an indelible trace of where you have been.” The lines are not disappearing for Mitt Romney’s outrageously far-right statements no matter what platitudes he spouts in speeches.

Correction: The North Carolina election for the anti-marriage equality amendment is on May 8.

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