Nel's New Day

September 19, 2019

The Self-Appointed King Tries to Hide

Loose Lips Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) had to be reminded that he was spreading classified information when he used his signature Sharpie to proud signed the wall replacement—that he called the “new” wall—at the southern border and said:

“One thing we haven’t mentioned is technology. They’re wired so that we will know if somebody’s trying to break through….   You won’t be able to touch it. You can fry an egg on that wall.”

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, acting head of the Army Corps, couldn’t even stop him with his recommendation, “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that” before DDT described the steel wall’s beams as heat conductors.

Breaking just hours later was news about an intelligence community whistleblower who described a “promise” that DDT made a foreign leader that “raises new questions about the president’s handling of sensitive information.” A high authority, presumably DDT, has ordered the information kept even from congressional members who have legal access to the report. The term “new” means that the concern came after one last summer when DDT released a detailed photo of a failed Iranian launch that was possibly classified, his earlier release of highly classified information to Russian guests about a highly sensitive and valuable matter with Israel, and the discussion of North Korea ballistic missile tests in front of Mar-a-Lago guests and staff. He also refuses to give up his unsecured cellphone. Conservatives point out that presidents can declassify any information, but DDT is the first person in the Oval Office who lacks any filter on his mouth after complaining throughout his campaign about Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

DDT’s response to the news about the whistleblower was “No problem!”—that people are always listening to his conversations with a foreign leader. He also stated that he was far too smart to “say something inappropriate” in that situation and he “would only do what is right.” The news isn’t “fake,” as he claimed: the whistleblower filed a complaint, the IG’s office examined the complaint, and he considered it credible and urgent enough that he contacted the Office of the Director of National Intelligence which illegally worked with the DOJ to circumvent legal process on congressional disclosure.

After the acting DNI and IG appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) reported that the complaint came from “more than one” event although the IG refused to give any other information about the complaint. The impression from the hearing is that the DOJ (aka AG Bill Barr) and DDT are trying to cover up the situation. The acting DNI will testify in open session on September 26, and both men will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week. From appearances, the DOJ (aka AG Bill Barr) and DDT are trying to cover up the situation.    

According to a source, the “promise” was made on a phone call. Reporters found conversations with three foreign leaders in the two months before the complaint filing:  Chinese President Xi Jinping (June 18), French President Emmanuel Macron (July 1), and Russian President Vladimir Putin (July 31). The call with Putin wasn’t recorded, but Russia announced it. Key events during that time of the event and coverup: Dan Coates, Director of National Intelligence, resigned (July 28); U.S. pulled out of INF treaty with Russia (August 2); John Huntsman, the Russian Ambassador, resigned (August 6); and Joseph Maguire named acting DNI (August 8). Maguire was the person who went to the DOJ and told to withhold the information.

Today the media also reported communication 18 days before the complaint was filed in August 12 between DDT and new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The readout of the call noted a focus on Ukraine’s ability to “complete investigations into corruption cases that have hampered Ukraine-US cooperation.” House Democrats were already investigating the call to check on the possibility that DDT and his attorney Rudy Giuliani were manipulating Ukraine to help DDT’s reelection campaign. Records related to efforts to blackmail the Ukrainian government into helping DDT’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort, in prison for illegal lobbying and financial fraud, and finding dirt on Democratic presidential candidate through his son’s activity in Ukraine while Hunter Biden was on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. DDT had also blocked financial aid for Ukraine that Congress had appropriated.

Giuliani has already pressured Zelensky to extend an investigation into Hunter Biden although previous inquiries had discovered no wrongdoing and advised DDT about how to deal with Zelensky. Last week, DDT released the $250 million to Ukraine after a bipartisan push.

In a letter written this week, Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson disagreed with the basis of DDT’s suppression of the whistleblower’s complaint that the situation is out of the DNI’s jurisdiction because it doesn’t concern anyone in the intelligence community and that its release would violate DDT’s “privilege.” Atkinson wrote that the DNI and the DOJ are wrong, that the “disclosure not only falls within the DNI’s jurisdiction, but relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.” He continued that denial of permission to disclose the “general subject matter” of the complaint to Congress affects “the execution of two of my most important duties and responsibilities as the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community”—his responsibility toward the whistleblower and his duties to the congressional oversight committees.

While DDT declares himself above the law in not permitting congressional members to see a whistleblower complaint, his lawyers are making the same “above the law” claim in a lawsuit against New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance. New York had subpoenaed eight years of his state tax returns per a new state law, and lawyers declared that DDT cannot be criminally investigated while he is in office. With no legal backing, they argued that sitting presidents are immune from all criminal inquiries while in the White House. It’s their enormous responsibility and unique role that removes them from any legal action, especially from local prosecutors. Any “originalist” judge or justice who believes in following the words of the Constitution would laugh in the lawyers’ faces; those words aren’t in the Constitution.

The lawyers themselves probably are aware of their arguments’ ridiculousness, but they’re working hard to delay the release of DDT’s financial records. The request for DDT’s personal and corporate tax returns came from a search into the part that he and his family played in making hush payments to two women during his presidential campaign.

DDT has filed other lawsuits to keep his tax returns private since he promised to make public after his election. These include attempts by congressional Democrats, New York lawmakers, and California in a law requiring presidential primary candidates to release tax returns before being on the ballot. A judge ruled against California today, winning legal arguments were on narrower grounds.

During the Nixon and Clinton administrations, the DOJ barred federal prosecutors from charging a sitting president with a federal crime while in office, claiming that impeachment is the process for wrongdoing. The orders, however, do not deal with state prosecutors. During his time in the Oval Office, DDT has been investigated in federal criminal inquiries by special investigator Robert Mueller. As of May 13, 2019, federal, state, and congressional authorities had at least 29 investigations into DDT’s businesses, campaign, inauguration, and presidency. In May, Mueller said that the DOJ “explicitly permits” the investigation of presidents, but they cannot be charged with federal crimes. DDT’s lawyers claim that investigations against a sitting president are also unconstitutional and called the Manhattan DA “a county prosecutor.”

According to New York law, filing a false business record can be a felony if that the filing was made to commit or conceal another crime, such as tax violations or bank fraud. If Vance obtains DDT’s tax returns, they remain secret unless they are used as evidence in a criminal case.

Thus far, judges have not quashed any subpoenas for his tax returns, and today he obtained only a one-week delay.  The winners of the 2016 election are the lawyers. Being in court doesn’t seem “burdensome” for DDT because he spends a lot of time suing other people.

In another attempt to hide information from Congress, the White House refuses to reveal potentially disqualifying material in Darrell Issa’s FBI file for his director of U.S. Trade and Development Agency confirmation before the Senate. Issa has escaped convictions after his run-ins with the law. Only GOP and Democrat leaders of the Foreign Relations Committee were allowed to see the file, and Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) initially decided to schedule hearings without the agreement of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Over Menendez’ objections, the confirmation for Marshall Billingslea for the State Department’s human rights activities leader continued despite document gaps in his file while he worked on detainee torture policies for George W. Bush. Risch had asked the White House for Issa’s FBI file but receive no response.

DDT’s game is to succeed in his corruption through declaring himself king and hiding everything.

December 23, 2014

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

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

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

bills passed by congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

thanks-cruz-1-638x319

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 15, 2014

Bachmann–and the House–on Bullying

Bullying is repeated behavior causing emotional or physical danger that comes from an imbalance of power. These actions could be threats, rumors, exclusions, or attacks either physically or verbally. The key term is power imbalance: if all participants are on the same level, it is probably a disagreement. Recently Michele Bachmann brought a lot of media down on her head for accusing gay people of “bullying” her and the American people.

Her accusation came from the Arizona bill that could have made discrimination against anyone the law of the state if Gov. Jan Brewer had signed it. To Bachmann, the LGBT community is so powerful that it is persecuting religious people and taking away their freedom. She also railed against wealthy liberals who donate money to protect people from discrimination. Her goal is to have Democrats prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for their intimidation of conservative billionaires.

Bachmann won’t be back in the 114th Congress, but the FBI is investigating her and her husband, Marcus, for possible money laundering, mail fraud, and wire fraud. The Department of Justice is also looking into a possible illegal coordination between Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign and a super PAC. It may have made her a bit testy. Meanwhile she’ll continue to vote for harassing bills like the following one.

Yesterday, the GOP members of the House passed the 51st bill in 38 months to water-down the Affordable Care Act. Deep Medicare cuts will go into effect at the end of the month without this bill, but a five-year delay of ACA was attached to the bill, meaning it will fail in the Senate. The American Medical Association opposed the bill despite the damage for its members without the bill’s changes. As with the shutdown of the government and the refusal to raise the debt limit, the GOP continues their rule of “give us what we want” or …. 

The Congressional Budget Office determined that the GOP bill would cause health insurance premiums to increase and leave 13 million people with no insurance. The refusal to repair the Medicare cuts will also disrupt the health care system. The GOP created a lose-lose situation with its efforts at extortion.

n_maddow_6issa_140313_video_340x227House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is known for being a bit of a bully for his refusal to allow votes on bills that the people of the United States want. Just Google “Boehner refuses to allow votes.” This month the GOP House leaders upped the ante when Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the Oversight Committee, made a literal motion to “cut” the mic the minute that ranking committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) began to speak.

As a protest, House Democrats introduced a resolution to condemn Issa’s shameful move. Dozens of them flanked Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) as he introduced the measure and held up iPads or other mobile devices showing the Issa’s action.

Issa ipads

 

No surprise when the motion was voted down, but a Republican invoked a non-existent rule: “Representatives will lower their iPads, as it is against the rules of the House!” Ironic, because the failed motion was to condemn Issa for not following the rules.

Issa said his actions didn’t affect possible House contempt action against former IRS employee Lois Lerner, but Cummings disagrees:

“Not two, but seven independent Constitutional law experts have now concluded that Chairman Issa botched the contempt proceedings…. No reasonable person would accept his legal views over those of the United States Supreme Court. Contrary to Chairman Issa’s accusations, we are not defending Lois Lerner or her actions—we are defending the Constitution and the rights it guarantees to all Americans.”

In trying to win his points against the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) attempted to bully Dr. Danielle Martin, vice-president at the Women’s College Hospital (Toronto), during a subcommittee hearing about healthcare in Canada. During his question time, he brought up the tired chestnuts of Canadian doctors moving to the United States and rich people going to the U.S. for surgery.

Martin’s replies:

“Thank you for your question, senator. If I didn’t express myself in a way that made myself understood, I apologize. There are no doctors exiting the public system in Canada; and in fact we see a net influx of physicians from the United States into the Canadian system over the last number of years.”

Burr asked, “On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year? Do you know?”

Martin answered, “I don’t, sir, but I know that there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.”

Still smarting from President Obama’s refusal to protect the unconstitutional anti-marriage equality law DOMA, part of which was overturned last summer by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the House has passed the “Enforce the Law Act.” If it became law, the House could sue the president) if anyone in the administration does not follow through in “enforcing, applying, following, or administering any provision of a Federal statute, rule, regulation, program, policy, or other law.” Other of the GOP-perceived offenses by the president include not enforcing deportations of “DREAMers,” delaying parts of the Affordable Care Act, and working with states that have now legalized medical or all use of marijuana.

If this bill were to become law, individual states would lose all ability to make laws. One part of control over states is the new guidelines for food stamps. Thus far six states have increased the amount of energy assistance funding to low-income people to comply with food stamps requirement, and another nine states could follow suit. This is within the purview of the states, but House conservatives are claiming that these actions are fraudulent.

When Michele Bachmann was confronted by real bullying, she stayed silent. Nine students in one school district represented by Bachmann killed themselves within two years because of their treatment in the schools. Other students in the same district were hospitalized because they had attempted suicide. Bachmann’s anti-gay allies were responsible for the climate of intolerance that continued the crisis. Bachmann herself began her political career as an education activist and has always fought what she called the “homosexual agenda.”

The district prevented students from starting a gay-straight alliance club (GSA), widely known as one way to prevent suicides among LGBTQ youth. It’s also another way to prevent youth from being bullied even if they don’t identify as LGBTQ. The district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” about homosexuality even led them to look the other way whenever they saw bullying on the school campus. Harassed students were told to transfer to another school and blamed for physical attacks on them.

The school district allowed religious activists to hold a “Day of Truth,” championed by the “ex-gay ministry” Exodus International that is usually held the day before the Day of Silence. Students were encouraged to “preach to the gay kids.” After 15-year-old Justin Aaberg told his mother that another student said he would go to hell because he was gay, he hanged himself in his bedroom.

Although Bachmann had nothing to say about the suicides, she does oppose anti-bullying legislation. At a hearing on a state legislature bill, she testified that bullying is simply a fact of life. She said, ”There have always been bullies, always have been, always will be.”

Suicide doesn’t bother Bachmann, but selling cakes to “undesirable” people is not okay. And she still votes with the other far-right House members to oppose rights for minorities, women, the poor, and LGBT people. Bachmann is not running again, but everyone now knows that her Waterloo is—cake.  People should tell her that “there have always been bullies.”

March 7, 2014

Travesties in Congress: Issa, Sexual Assault in the Military, Abegdile

More negative news came out of Congress last week, including the House’s 229-183 to pass the Electricity Security and Affordability Act. If the bill became law, big companies would be more secure because the EPA could no longer place any rules on coal-fired electricity plants. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has introduced its companion in the other chamber.

Last week’s big news about the House, however, was Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) continuing vendetta against President Obama via the IRS. The chair of the Oversight Committee spent last week bragging that he would make former IRS official Lois Lerner will talk to his committee about the non-existent IRS corruption.

Issa’s plans went awry, however, after he tried to close down the hearing because Lerner answered his questions by asserting her Fifth Amendment rights. When Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD),  ranking member, tried to speak because he had information from Lerner’s lawyer, Issa literally cut him off by shutting off his microphone. No Democrat was allowed to speak at the hearing. After that, the story became all about Issa because the Ethics Committee tried to censure him.

At first, Issa demanded an apology from Cummings. Later Cummings said that Issa had apologized, and Cummings had accepted it. Issa still blamed Cummings for having a “hissy fit.”

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) demanding that Issa be removed as chair, the Black Caucus pointed out that Issa had not only broken the House rules on civility but also failed to allot each committee the requisite five minutes for questioning witnesses. In a party vote, a resolution to chastise Issa was tabled, killing the move.

The day after Issa’s hearing, the Senate rejected independent oversight of prosecution of sexual assault in the armed forces.  Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand’s bill received 55 votes—which these days does not constitute a majority of the 100 Senate members. The bipartisan bill is supported by conservatives Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Supporters of the bill have argued that military commanders cannot be unbiased because they know both the victims and the accused abusers. In some circumstances the commanders are actually those being accused.

On the same day that Gillibrand’s bill was filibustered, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was accused of twice forcing a female captain to perform oral sex and threatening to kill her family if she told anyone about their three-year affair. He confessed to three lesser charges: adultery, asking junior female officers for nude photos and possessing pornography while deployed in Afghanistan.

The Army is also investigating its top sex crimes prosecutor, Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, for allegedly groping a female lawyer at a sexual assault conference in 2011.  Morse, who supervised 23 other special-victims prosecutors, was removed but not charged.

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called the Senate actions part of “a frustrating pattern” because it “has chosen to keep the status quo.”

In opposing Gillibrand’s bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made the accusation that “this [bill] is about liberal people wanting to gut the military justice system.” Eleven GOP senators supported  the proposal including conservative Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Rand Paul (R-KY), and David Vitter (R-LA).

adegbileAnother low point for the Senate was the rejection of Debo Adegbile to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Unfortunately, it was expected because the Fox network waged a vicious campaign against the nominee for over a month and Adegbile has proved to be a master lawyer in the field of voting rights. President Obama called the vote “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

abuSenators focused almost entirely on Adegbile’s defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund had taken the case before Adegbile joined them. His only part of the case was to file a motion in 2009 claiming that the jury was discriminatory. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling agreed with the NAACP lawyers that the trial judge’s jury instructions violated Abu-Jamal’s rights, but the conviction remained. Abu-Jamal is still in prison for life without parole. Fox inflamed its audience by concentrating only on this one issue, consistently referring to Abu-Jamal as “cop killer” and showing his photograph while discussing Adegbile which gave the impression that the man in prison was the lawyer involved in his case.

One of the seven Democrats who voted against Adegbile, Chris Coons (D-DE), did so although he found Adegbile to be qualified because he wants someone who can get along with the police. He, Mark Pryor (D-AR), and John Walsh (MT) are up for re-election this year. The other four Democrats aren’t: Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Bob Casey Jr. (PA.).

People in the United States have a long history of respecting lawyers who advocate for justice, working to ensure that the American criminal justice system is fairly and constitutionally administered. Attorney John Adams defended the soldiers who killed his fellow Bostonians in the 1770 Boston Massacre before he went on to be elected the president of the United States. He called this defense “one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.”

John Roberts was confirmed as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after he defended a murderer who killed eight people, including a teenager.

For the last two Democratic presidents, the Senate has fought nominees with strong civil rights backgrounds. President Clinton lost two nominees, Lani Guinier and Bill Lann Lee, because they defended minorities when they worked for NAACP. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) went so far as to claim that Lee’s work for NAACP made him biased. George W. Bush’s appointees created a “significant drop in the enforcement of several major anti-discrimination and voting rights laws,” according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

During the confirmation of former Supreme Court Justice David Souter (October 1990), Sen. Orrin Hatch was the voice of reason. When critics opposed Souter for defending literacy tests in his home state of New Hampshire, Hatch pointed out the Souter did this because they were law. Souter was required to defend the law.  In Souter’s defense, Hatch said:

“It is not right to go back in hindsight and say he should not have done that; that that shows something wrong with him. Come on, that is what advocates do. If we are going to start using a nominee’s briefs against him in the confirmation process, we are going to be setting a shocking precedent. It would be a very, very dangerous message to send to lawyers: If you have any ambition to be a judge, you lawyers, do not represent controversial clients and be careful what you say on behalf of a client because you might be held responsible for the fact that the law was as it was at the time you made the statement.”

Hatch, all the other GOP senators, and seven Democratic senators are now sending that dangerous message to lawyers. House Speaker John Boehner and 211 GOP members of the House have spoken, saying that committee chairs are not required to follow House rules. And military commanders can continue to sexually abuse members of the military either themselves or by overlooking these tragic events. This past week has been very sad for people’s constitutional rights.

December 21, 2013

Why Does the GOP Need to Lie?

The primary obsession for GOP members of Congress has been the health care law as it was approved (mostly) by the U.S. Supreme Court, demonized by the Catholic Church, and then suffered a discouraging lift-off. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a friend who could not afford $1,500 per month for health insurance. Despite her fears about identity theft, fomented by the far right, she bravely contacted Cover Oregon. She now has a policy for $118 per month with a $5,500 deductible. The most she would have to pay per month would be $534, about one-third without the Affordable Care Act. It is the first time in two years that she has had health insurance.

Luckily, she lives in a blue state. At least 4,831,590 of low-income people in the United States cannot have health coverage through Medicaid because Republican governors and legislatures refuse to take federal money to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act. These states are giving up billions in tax dollars, yet pay more as they fund uncompensated care for the uninsured. Texas loses out on more than $9 billion, while Florida is giving up more than $5 billion.

States pay more when the uninsured are forced to use emergency rooms for their regular health care. Also taxpayers in states that don’t expand their Medicaid programs will still be paying federal taxes that cover costs in other states.

states lose money medicaid

In the United States, only the old, disabled, and poor—sometimes very poor—are guaranteed health care. Everyone else falls through the cracks.Those are a few of the reasons that Rep. Bernie (I-VT) Sanders introduced S. 1782, the American Health Security Act of 2013, that would create universal health care and incorporate all the health care programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program into one program. Private health insurance could continue to sell supplemental coverage. 

Last March, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) filed H.R.1200, against a single-payer healthcare system. Putting this into law would save people—and the government—a great deal of money. Administrative costs for private insurance is at least 20 percent; for Medicare, it’s 3 percent.

At this time, people living legally in the United States who make under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) can get advanced premium tax credits; those making less than 250 percent FPL can lower out-of-pocket costs through subsidies. Medicaid covers those making under 138 percent of FPL in states that accept the federal plan. The upper level for Medicaid is much lower in the states that have refused the ACA.

Medicaid_graphic-1511-638x654

A new study shows that 71 percent of people under age 65 in the individual market are qualified for one of these forms of assistance.

Consumer Reports, an independent organization that has been reviewing products since 1936, is now recommending the federal health care exchange. Expert Nancy Metcalf said about the website, “It’s terrific. I’ve tried it.”

GOP candidates no longer recommend repealing the ACA: instead they want to “fix” it. And the same candidates are no longer using the term “train wreck” to describe Obamacare.

rawlings-blakeConservative David Gregory, leader of Meet the Press, got his comeuppance after a series of programs in which he obsessed about the failed health care website. Facing Baltimore’s mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake were four standard moderate to conservative pundits: Andrea Mitchell, David Brooks, and Chuck Todd. In response to their negative chortling about the website’s failure, even after it was improving, and Gregory’s accusation that “this has been a lost year for Obama on the domestic front,” Rawlings-Blake said:

“I think that’s a bit of an overstatement, ‘The lost year?’ Focusing on trying to get more people affordable quality health care? In Baltimore, over 80,000 people are without health care. In the state of Maryland, over 800,000. At the end of the day, everyone knows, we can all agree, the rollout could have been, should have been, better. But underneath all of that is Democrats and the president trying to make sure the people have health care. You know, that is the side that we should be on, not, you, this sort of, ‘Is it right? Is it wrong? Should he be mad about it? Should he not be mad about it?’ This is about making sure people can live.”

When Mitchell tried to explain why Rawlings-Blake didn’t understand the issues, the mayor responded—despite Mitchell’s interruptions:

“Republicans are insistent, relentless pursuit of failure, standing on the sidelines, cheering for failure. You know, at the Conference of Mayors, I was just saying earlier, we have Democrats, we had Republicans, nobody’s rooting against each other. We’re trying to make sure that we all, we know that when cities succeed, the country succeeds. And in Congress, we have people that are standing on the sidelines, rooting for failure. We know that the rollout was botched. But Democrats are focused on trying to build and trying to fix it.”

This woman has a future in politics!

Rawlings-Blake knows about people in the United States not being able to afford health insurance. In a recent Gallup poll, they named cost as the most urgent health problem, more than access, obesity, and cancer. A much higher percentage of people say they put off medical treatment because of cost than a decade ago.

put off health care

health care 1

The media continually reports polls to prove that the ACA is unpopular. For example, a CNN/ORC poll last month showed that 58 percent oppose the law. The real question, however, is why. Only 41 percent think it’s too liberal; 14 percent object because it doesn’t go far enough. Thus 40 percent support the law plus the 14 percent who want the law to be more ambitious. Another way to describe the poll is that 54 percent of the people in the United States either support ACA or want more out of it.

To sabotage health care, the California Assembly’s GOP caucus has created a website with an address similar to that of the official health care exchange. The message of the Republican site, purportedly as a “resource” for those who want additional information, is comprised of such lies as the ACA increases the federal budget deficit and discourages private-sector hiring as well as hinting at the death-panel myth and claiming that the IRS will use the law to target conservatives.

On the Congressional level, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), currently chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has been leading a two-pronged fraudulent attack against health care. One of these is to leak fake news. Tragically, some mainstream media, specifically CBS and ABC, have spread his information as accurate. CBS went so far as to broadcast an interview with Issa, much in the realm as the false interview about the attacks on Benghazi.

Issa used a partial transcript when he announced supposed security flaws in healthcare.gov.  by giving up a partial transcript. There have been no security breaches and the parts of the system affected by any high-risk findings were quarantined and shut down. Issa further suggested that the White House pressured the company creating the website to release it with the security problems and then cover it to avoid embarrassment to the president. The transcript had no information to support Issa’s claim. Yet he went farther in his accusation that the website exposed the entire government to hacking.  With no evidence, he creates suspicion through innuendo.

Issa started leaking doctored information six weeks ago.  At that time, Rep. Ellijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member on the Committee, wrote Issa about his misinformation. Issa’s leaks have been so flagrant that the agency in charge of the health care website now refuses to release any security information to him.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is now calling for a high level security briefing on his operations. She is demanding that he go public about the information he has released and the source of these the sensitive documents about healthcare.gov so that the Department of Justice could make a determination about charging him.

Issa’s other attempt to damn health care is a series of “field hearings,” similar to those at Capitol Hill, across the country.  In Apache Junction (AZ), only GOP congressional members took part, and the only four witnesses allowed to testify were residents who claimed that the new federal health-care program had negatively impacted them. Audience members could not speak. After those with positive experiences protested, Issa told them that they could email him. The same thing happened in North Carolina and Georgia.

The question for Republicans: if the Affordable Care Act is so horrible, why do they need to make up lies about it or twist the facts? Why can’t they just tell the truth?

June 27, 2013

Senate Moves, House Sits, Texas Goes Backward

The Senate actually did something, which happens occasionally. This afternoon it passed its immigration reform bill with a vote of 68-32. Not that this is necessarily a good thing because of the emphasis on border security and the requirement that all employers used the error-ridden E-Verify to check up on any applicants. Of the 32 GOP senators who opposed the bill, two were presidential wannabes, Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY). No GOP Senate leader voted in favor of the bill.

At least the Senate did something.

On the House side, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that they would create their own immigration bill. Thus far they’ve made no move toward it. They also haven’t done anything about the doubling of interest on student loans this Monday or overcome the sequester that’s biting into the economic recovery. Their only actions have been to re-overturn Obamacare and pass another anti-abortion bill, neither of which the Senate will support.

The House is also avoiding climate change. In describing his agenda for this , President Obama said, “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” Majority House Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) switched the subject to jobs, complaining about the president is “harming innovation [in a] direct assault on jobs.” No answer from the House about how to provide more jobs.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is hiding from the IRS debacle. The GOP has continually whined about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups. Yet Issa asked that the IRS limit its information to these audits, requesting investigators to “narrowly focus on tea party organizations,” according to spokesman for Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George.  Progressive groups got the same treatment as conservative Tea Party groups. The liberal group Catholics United, for instance, waited seven years before receiving tax exempt status, far longer than any tea party group had to wait.

There is a question about whether Issa was the instigator in concealing information from the public about the “inappropriate criteria” used to single out tea party groups–so-called “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) memos–that also singled out progressive and “Occupy” groups.

George, a George W. Bush appointee, may be at fault. When asked last month if any progressive groups were targeted, he said that the IRS had not. Since then, he’s changed his mind. Also one of the main author’s of George’s report was relieved of his previous position as head of the special investigations unit at the Government Accountability Office because he wrote an incomplete report and was accused by a colleague of “pursuing overly sensationalist stories.”

After Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel appeared at the House Ways and Means Committee today, all the Democrats on the committee sent a letter to House Republicans demanding that they call the author of the audit report to return and testify under oath to explain why the report failed to tell the House that progressive groups were also targeted.

Issa has abandoned the IRS scandal that he created and gone back to investigating Benghazi.

Yesterday’s ruling that struck down DOMA has energized at least one member of Congress. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) claims that he and other lawmakers will revive the Federal Marriage Amendment. “A narrow radical majority of the court has, in my opinion, substituted their personal views for the constitutional decisions of the American voters and their elected representatives,” Huelskamp said. It’s almost a case of “the pot calling the kettle black” except the obstructionist GOP “narrow radical majority” isn’t really the majority—just the vocal.

One faint gleam of hope appeared after SCOTUS erased the Voting Rights Act  two days ago. Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI), instrumental in the 2006 VRA, is urging his colleagues to restore the provisions to protect voters. GOP Reps. Steve Chabot (OH) and Sean Duffy (WI) have declared support for a renewed VRA. After the Democratic caucus met to discuss the possibility of a new Section 4 to VRA, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that she likes naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

One of the 13 original Freedom Riders in the early 1960s, Rep. Lewis (D-GA) was beaten by angry mobs, arrested, and sent to jail—several times. In response to the egregious SCOTUS decision giving all states the right to discriminate in any way that the GOP leaders wish, Lewis said:

“These men that voted to strip the Voting Rights Act of its power, they never stood in unmovable lines. They never had to pass a so-called literacy test. It took us almost 100 years to get where we are today. So will it take another 100 years to fix it, to change it?”

At the same time that state GOP legislators are working day and night to alienate women through their anti-abortion bills, the Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus is kicking off an initiative tomorrow that he says is “designed to advance the role of women within our party.” He will be joined by a few female lawmakers—perhaps because he could find only a few female GOP lawmakers.

Called Women on the Right Unite, the project was announced the same day that a Texas GOP lawmaker described state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) and her allies as terrorists. Davis’ act of terror was to filibuster an evil anti-abortion bill during a special legislative session. The GOP lawmakers failed to get the bill passed before the deadline so they lied about when the vote was completed.

The GOP refuses to change its policies of similar legislation in other states and at the federal level. Republicans won’t stop mandating unnecessary medical procedures not recommended by women’s physicians, making idiotic comments about rape, and opposing pay equity. The party wants women to buy into their antediluvian view of the differences between the genders. While the GOP talks about uniting women behind their view, they will also continue to drive more and more women into poverty. That, however, won’t be part of the discussion.

According to the press release, tomorrow’s news conference will follow a strategy session at RNC headquarters, where committees and elected officials will discuss “how to better engage and support Republican women.” I’m guessing that there are several hundreds of women in Texas who could contribute to this discussion.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also took on Davis in his halting speech at the National Right to Life Conference when he described her as a teenage mother and the daughter of a single woman. “It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters,” Perry said.

As governor, Perry executed his 262nd person, a 52-year-old woman, yesterday.  On the same day he signed into law the new gerrymandered map redistricting the state so that minorities can be disenfranchised.

Three cheers for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) after Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto accused her of declaring a “war on men” and trying “to criminalize male sexuality.” McCaskill’s sin, according to Taranto, was to put a hold on Lt. Gen. Susan Helms for vice commander of the Air Force Space Command because Helms had reduced the conviction of aggravated sexual assault to an indecent act without having watched the trial. Taranto blamed the assaulted women for drinking and then getting into a car with a man; the columnist claimed that she “acted recklessly.”

Current military law allows Helms to substitute her personal judgment for that of a jury that she selected. As McCaskill wrote Taranto:

“What [Helms] did was not a crime. But it was an error, and a significant one. I’m hopeful that our work this year will remove the ability of a commander to substitute their judgment, and sometimes also their ingrained bias, for that of a jury who has heard the witnesses and made a determination of their credibility and the facts of the case.”

The entire letter is well-worth reading because it shows how well the people of Missouri are represented by this senator.

Another woman to watch is Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) when she takes down federal contractor, Braulio Castillo, who claimed his foot injury (possibly sprained ankle) at a military prep school gave him special status as a “service-disabled veteran-owned small business.” Some of you may remember that Duckworth lost both her legs in the Iraq War when her helicopter was shot down.

Castillo’s company, Strong Castle, won contracts with the IRS worth as much as $500 million. Duckworth’s disability rating is 20 percent; Castillo gets (at least until now) a 30-percent disability for his twisted ankle.

The tape is 8 minutes long, but it shows how well another Democratic woman serves the country.

June 21, 2013

The IRS Argument Deflates

The GOP has been working the IRS manufactured scandal hard for the past month, trying to convince people that President Obama was directly responsible for the use of the term “tea party” to audit organizations in the 501(c)4 category.  Fox and GOP minds ignored the fact that many other organizations—including progressive ones—were audited,  many of the groups audited were certainly political, and that Fox was so eager to disenfranchise progressive groups with the IRS that they asked viewers to file fraudulent complaints.

But the House Oversight Committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) charged along, inciting the base and cheering them on.  On a Sunday ABC news panel before the case had been investigated, George Will promoted the idea of impeachment by equating President Obama and Richard Nixon and reading a passage from Nixon’s articles of impeachment. He wasn’t alone in his suggestion.

Issa thought he had the proof to back the president into a corner. Weeks ago, he promised to release the full transcripts from the IRS controversy hearings in the Oversight Committee. Then he leaked edited pieces and said he wouldn’t release the rest of them for a very long time, giving the impression that he didn’t have the goods to blame the president.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) took offense at the way that Issa was trying to smear the president with the edited transcripts and asked him to release the full ones. Issa sent Cummings a letter scolding him for getting out of line, Cummings responded by saying that Issa had to release transcripts by last Monday or he would, Issa didn’t do it, and Cummings released the full transcripts on Tuesday, leading to Issa’s anger.

The release of the full transcripts backed Issa into a corner. They show that the White House had no involvement in any of the audits.

Although Issa did start his attempt to make hay out of straw in the IRS controversy until a few weeks ago, he knew about the issue years ago. He also knew that a George W. Bush appointee was head of the IRS at the time that he raised the issue with the IRS. But nothing appeared before the presidential election last fall.

Issa’s recent history of manufacturing scandals in the hope of creating problems for President Obama include Solyndra’s loan guarantees, “Fast and Furious,” Benghazi—all Issa’s inventions. What many know less about is Issa’s past.

During his meteoric rise to wealth and power, he was indicted for car theft, arrested for illegally carrying a concealed weapon, and accused of arson. The accusations of deliberately burning down a building for profit and threatening a former employee with a gun did not result in formal charges, but there is enough information to substantiate some of his criminal actions. After Issa was in a car accident, he told the woman he had hit that he didn’t have time to wait and left before police arrived. The woman had to be hospitalized. There were no charges, but he made an out-of-court settlement after being sued.

The chair of the House Oversight Committee entrusted with investigating government wrongdoing and lying claimed to have the “highest possible” ratings during his Army career. In truth, he “received unsatisfactory conduct and efficiency ratings and was transferred to a supply depot.” He also lied when he said that he provided security for President Nixon in 1971 and won a national Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Once Issa’s allegations were punctured, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) picked up the IRS scandal banner.  At the conservative American Enterprise Institute today, he admitted the president was probably not directly responsible for the audits. Yet in covering for Issa, McConnell tried to connect the president with the so-called scandal by accusing President Obama—wrongly—of personally trying to prove he was innocent. Then McConnell claimed that the situation is part of a government assault on free speech as part of a “culture of intimidation.” Somebody has to be blamed for these audits, so McConnell picked the unions as the responsible party.

McConnell cherry-picks the Constitution like some people do the Bible. In his concern about free speech and intimidation, he ignored the House Rules Committee’s rejection of an amendment that would cut back the NSA’s ability to collect data on U.S. citizens. First Amendment protecting speech good; Fourth Amendment guarding against search and seizure bad—according to the GOP. Although the GOP isn’t happy with the other part of the First Amendment that protects freedom of religion.

The Tea Party bitterly complained—and the GOP House members picked up the cudgel—that more of them had been targeted than progressive organizations. That’s true, mainly because there were far more conservative groups wanting non-profit status for their political spending than progressive ones. The percentage for both sides was most likely the same. But conservatives have succeeded in making the IRS afraid. The GOP doesn’t want justice; it wants destruction of anyone who opposes it.

Now that GOP House members may have to give up salivating over the possibility that they could bring down President Obama with their IRS accusations, they should be concerned with IRS reform. After the Supreme Court gave people what seemed to be unlimited donation power with Citizens United, the criteria for 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofits got even fuzzier. Frustrated by the flood of applications from the so-called nonprofits, some IRS low officials decided that using terms to find these would be useful.

The ambiguity of rules saying “social welfare” is okay but “political intervention” isn’t, gave a great deal of discretion regarding approval to these low-level staffers. The group can be tax exempt if political activity “less than primary.” Staffers had jurisdiction to decide what “primary” is. The inability of the Federal Elections Commission to be effective threw election law oversight into the IRS ball court.

What the GOP managed to largely conceal in all the discussion is that the groups claiming to be social welfare consistently got involved in politics with 80 percent of the advertising money from these groups going to Republican candidates and issues. No wonder, the House GOP has so diligently tried to protect them. In examining over 100 applications for IRS recognition, ProPublica found—surprise!—that the applications consistently said they were not spending money on elections and then did just the opposite. The American Future Fund, a conservative, self-identified nonprofit, spent millions of dollars on campaign ads since 2008—even before it mailed is fraudulent application.

The real disgrace—read “scandal” is not the Tea Party situation. It’s the fact that the IRS favors the wealthy. As Donald Dayen wrote in Salon:

“IRS audits of the largest and richest corporations have steadily declined since 2005, down 22 percent in the ensuing four years and even more from 2011-2013. In the same period, the agency accelerated its scrutiny of small and midsize corporations. Since 2000, the IRS has been more likely to audit the working poor, individuals and families making under $25,000 a year, than those making over $100,000 annually. The middle class received disproportionately more audits throughout the past decade as well. An IRS unit formed in 2009 called the Global High Wealth Industry Group, designed to give special attention to tax compliance of high-wealth individuals, performed exactly two audits in 2010 and 11 in 2011.”

Since 2002, the IRS budget has shrunk 17 percent while being saddled with more responsibilities, including Obamacare and offshore accounts. The indiscriminate 5 percent sequester cut will make the IRS problems only worse. One answer when employees are to do more work with fewer resources is shortcuts to keep up with the workflow. If the GOP wants the IRS to do their job, they should give them the funding to do this. The money spent in that area will help reduce the deficit. But the GOP wants to benefit the wealthy so they will keep the IRS from successful audits of them.

June 15, 2013

GOP Legislators Won’t Do Their Job

All month the media has bombarded people with sound bites about the National Security Agency surveillance. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) tried to make citizens aware of this for two years; Edward Snowden managed to do it in two minutes. Quick to blame President Obama—again—several GOP legislators in Congress have bitterly complained about being left out of the loop.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, organized briefings to better inform the senators. The most recent was last Thursday afternoon with NSA Director Keith Alexander, the FBI, Justice Department, FISA Court, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who denied in a Senate committee hearing only three months ago that there was no surveillance of the U.S. people. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) recessed the Senate for an hour so that everyone could attend this important briefing. Over half the senators left early on Thursday to catch their planes home. Only 47 of them attended the briefing.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) claimed that the administration is abusing the law through the NSA surveillance activities and expressed surprise at the extent of the surveillance, probably because he failed to attend any of the hearings during the last three years about NSA’s activities. Even more hypocritical, he has called himself the “author of the PATRIOT Act,” the law that makes all this surveillance legal and helped renew it in 2011.

Section 215 of his PATRIOT Act approves an FBI request for NSA to view millions of records from Verizon customers. It also allows the FBI to obtain any records from libraries without court orders. In a Connecticut case, FBI agents demanded “any and all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person or entity” that had used computers between 4 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. on February 15, 2005, in any of the 27 libraries whose computer systems were managed by the Library Connection, a nonprofit co-op of library databases. If the librarian told anyone about the letter that the FBI gave him, he could go to jail for five years. No court order was necessary.

Because he discussed the letter with three other librarians, all four of them were bound by the gag order, according to their attorney. They challenged the letter’s constitutionality and the gag order but couldn’t even attend the hearings because government lawyers declared that their presence posed a threat to national security. A year later when the PATRIOT Act was renewed, a federal court ruled that the letter was indeed unconstitutional, but the government appealed the ruling.

Congressional legislators have also decided that it’s not their job to answer questions about Obamacare. They respond to such concerns from their constituents as Medicare, Social Security, and immigration, but they don’t like Obamacare so they won’t bother to provide any assistance. Some said they would flat-out refuse to give any answers while others, such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) said he would refer them to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said, “We know how to forward a phone call.”

House leaders have organized a group known as HOAP—the House ObamaCare Accountability Project—to organize a messaging strategy against the law that will trickle down to constituents. August recess will probably provide the kick-off for this sabotage when some Congressional members may hold town halls.

A recent poll about Obamacare found “a majority [54 percent] of Americans still oppose the nation’s new health care measure, three years after it became law.” Sound bites ignore the section of the poll showing that more than one-fourth of those who oppose think it doesn’t go far enough. Adding the 44 percent of those who support the law and the 16 percent of those who think it doesn’t go far enough means that people against it are actually in the minority of 35 percent. Half the people polled are unfamiliar with the law. All they know is what far-right conservatives and media have told them.

In looking at polls about the unpopularity of Congress, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) claims that Congress has always been unpopular. He’s wrong. Forty years ago, confidence in Congress was 42 percent, a far cry from today’s 10 percent.

confidence in congress

 

Steve Benen wrote, “I tend to think 10% confidence is a little on the high end. Indeed, I’m wondering what those satisfied folks are thinking.” The 112th Congress was the worst seen since the 1700s, and the GOP obstructionism is making the 113th Congress just as bad only six months into its two-year session. It can become much worse as the GOP threatens to intentionally crash the economy this fall in the next debt-ceiling crisis.

The solution to improving the Congress would be for the GOP to pass the immigration reform bill, stop the deliberately harmful sequester, reduce gun violence ever so slightly, perhaps debate a bill or two that could create jobs, and rein in Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) from his incessant manufactured “scandals.”

Conservatives, however, are sure to follow this recent advice from the Heritage Foundation, formerly a think tank and now a policy-making group:

“We urge you to avoid bringing any legislation to the House Floor that could expose or highlight major schisms within the conference. Legislation such as the Internet sales tax or the farm bill which contains nearly $800 billion in food stamp spending, would give the press a reason to shift their attention away from the failures of the Obama administration.”

[Note: The $800 billion covers ten years; using that amount makes it look much larger.]

Charlie Cook followed that up with a National Journal piece late Thursday:

“Republicans would be much wiser to pursue a third option: Dig up as much damaging information as they can about the Obama administration and leak it to reporters they know will write tough stories that won’t be traced back to the source. That way, the public won’t see the GOP as being obsessed with attacking the other side and playing gotcha at the expense of the big issues facing the country—the ones voters really care about.

“Meanwhile, everyone in Washington will watch polls for signs of blood in the water, indications that the controversies or scandals—depending upon your perspective—are taking a political toll on Obama’s job-approval numbers.”

Meanwhile, 70 GOP representatives, led by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), have set out to lower Congress’s popularity, and the Tea Party is cheering them on. Their goal is to make Boehner follow the “Hastert rule”: only bills with majority GOP support are allowed on the House floor.

There actually is no “Hastert Rule.” Its author, GOP strategist John Feehery, said that it is “situational advice, never a hard-and-fast rule.” He sees insistence on this “rule” as counterproductive for conservatives, encouraging ideological rigidity and eliminating any compromise with Democrats, meaning that Boehner must work with the opposing political party to pass any bills other than renaming post offices.

After Issa’s letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), scolding him for demanding the release of full transcripts of the IRS investigation, the Democrats on Issa’s House Oversight Committee responded. They set Monday as the deadline for Isssa to explain why he refuses to release these transcripts of witness testimony or they will release the transcripts themselves. Issa’s problem is that the transcripts will most likely indicate no evidence of White House involvement in the process of selecting IRS audits.

Issa is most likely looking forward to the August town hall meetings where he has total control. Recess will make little difference in the Congressional level of activity; it just means that they cannot do any harm.

June 12, 2013

Legislative Males Take Charge

Yesterday, I wrote about the way that six Republican men, with no imput from women or medical doctors, moved a highly restrictive anti-abortion bill to the House floor. (More about that later.) Today a Democrat senator, Carl Levin (MI) decided what is best for raped women (and men) in the military despite protests from women, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The issue was whether the military rape cases should be moved to independent prosecutors instead of leaving it in the hands of ineffective military leaders, some of them rapists themselves. Gillibrand’s amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, moving these cases away from the failed military, had 28 co-sponsors, including four Republicans.

Branch commanders complained about their loss of authority if this would happen, and the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee arbitrarily replaced Gillibrand’s amendment with his own, moving up the cases to a higher level of command if unit commanders decide not to prosecute service members. Levin’s plan was approved in committee by a 17-9 vote.

The Senate involvement came from the Pentagon’s annual report that estimated as many as 26,000 military members experienced unwanted sexual contact last year, an increase from 19,000 the year before. The abuse of victims is clear: last week a woman in the military who accused three U.S. Naval Academy football players of raping her last year said she was disciplined for drinking while her alleged attackers went unpunished.

Navy veteran Trina McDonald, who survived three rapes by other military members while serving in Alaska in 1989, predicted that Levin’s action would deepen the military’s sex-assault crisis. McDonald said that she did not report the crimes because she would have been forced to do this with the offenders, her superiors.

Gillibrand can still introduce her amendment when the Defense spending bill reaches the floor, but opposition from Levin and military leaders give it a slight chance of passing. Co-sponsor Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), summarized the position of Levin and other male senators: “They basically embrace the status quo here.”

As the New York Times wrote in “A Failure on Military Sexual Assaults”: “It is distressing that two decades of scandals could not persuade Mr. Levin to budge from his decision to support the military brass.”

Following the Senate Judiciary Committee vote yesterday to move anti-abortion bill to the floor, Chair Trent Franks (R-AZ) must be feeling defensive to make the following statement:

“The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low. But when you make that exception [allowing rape victims to get abortions], there’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. And in this case that’s impossible because this is in the sixth month of gestation. And that’s what completely negates and vitiates the purpose of such an amendment.”

Franks tried to explain this statement by saying that he was referring to women seeking abortions in the sixth month:

“This bill does not address unborn children in earlier gestations. Indeed, the bill does nothing to restrict abortions performed before the beginning of the 6th month.”

An estimated 32,101 women, about the same number as people killed from guns, get pregnant from rape per year in this country. One study found that about 32.4 percent of victims did not find out they were pregnant until their second trimester—beyond the strict 20-week limit in Franks’ bill. Some studies show that rape victims are even more likely to get pregnant, putting the number of women who became pregnant from rape in one year around 83,000.  Even if they do find out before the 20-week limit, finding a clinic that performs an abortion has become an extremely time-consuming process.

The question for Franks is why it matters how few women this would affect. Does he mean that laws should only provide for a large number of people?

Another man in Congress is throwing around his weight. House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA), king of the manufactured-scandal investigations, has decided that he doesn’t want anyone to know the information that his committee received about the scrutiny in the IRS. After seeing all the transcripts, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings (MD), asked Issa to release this information. A week after Cummings’ request, Issa called releasing the full transcripts to be “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

Issa’s leak of partial transcripts with cherry-picked quotes, concealing the interview with the conservative Republican who started the Tea Party review, is far more “reckless.” His refusal must be taken as admission that the transcripts hold no “smoking gun.” Ten days ago, Issa said, “The whole transcript will be put out.”

Issa’s behavior has caused him to lose support of some GOP members. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), who chairs the panel’s Oversight subcommittee, said that the release of partial transcripts could “adversely alter our ability to get future information from other IRS employees.” He expressed concern that Issa’s political act could stop an investigation for the facts.

Today Issa sent Cummings a letter scolding him for his suggestion that the IRS investigation was finished. During a Sunday interview on CNN, Issa said that Cummings’ desire to close the inquiry into the IRS targeting was “irresponsible, but not surprising.” Issa listed a number of questions that the investigation has not revealed. Lumped together, these questions seem to boil down to this from Issa: “How can I provide that Obama is at fault?”

On the state level, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and his fellow GOP legislators have moved on from union-busting and destroying the middle class to controlling women. A state senate bill, passed this morning, mandates the GOP-popular transvaginal ultrasound before abortion, the same invasive procedure that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said would be against the constitutional right to privacy.

“I don’t have any problem with ultrasound,” Walker told reporters. “I think most people think ultrasounds are just fine.” Another man with no medical training thinks that he should override a physician’s decision for a patient with a medically unnecessary procedures.

The bill mandates that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services provide a list of free ultrasound clinics. Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), said she would pull them together from the “pregnancy help centers,” organizations run by religious anti-abortion groups. The only requirements for these “clinics” is that the person performing the ultrasound not have a record of conviction for sexual offenses and that both trans-abdominal and trans-vaginal types of ultrasound equipment are available.

The bill also imposes additional restrictions on abortion clinics, forcing a Planned Parenthood clinic to shut down. Currently only four health clinics in the entire state of Wisconsin provide abortion care. Another part of the bill designed to close clinics is the mandate that doctors who work in abortion clinics must get admitting privileges at a hospital. Mississippi passed this provision to shut down the last abortion clinic in the state, but it was blocked by the courts.

Senate President Mike Ellis, the man conducting the vote, could use this video to apply for a part in a violent horror film as he wildly wielded his gavel to prevent any debate. Ellis blamed the Democrats for his action because they tried to debate a motion that was not debatable. “They triggered this,” he said. “I am a nice guy.” Ellis allowed only one Democrat to speak this morning before the vote.

Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison), the longest-serving state legislator in the nation, called this morning’s actions by the Republicans the worst abuse of power he has experienced in his more than 50 years as a legislator.

As usual in Wisconsin, the fast-tracked bill has gone to the GOP-controlled House, ignoring due process. Last year, Walker signed three anti-abortion bills into law and expanded abstinence-only education, which is unsuccessful according to studies. His budget also stripped 91 percent of Planned Parenthood funding, resulting in the close of clinics in rural Wisconsin.

And there you have some of the men controlling our rights according to their personal preference and ignorance.

May 14, 2013

GOP View of Benghazi Falls Apart

No one questions that the killing of four people, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, at the Benghazi consulate was a tragedy. But the fallout after this disaster has been disgusting as conservatives put everyone involved on the grill—over and over. During the GOP flack last October, Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name for consideration for Secretary of State, but the House came back for another round of hearings in January. I thought that was the end of the investigations.

Like a zombie, however, it’s come back to life after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s high level of popularity. Sunday’s Meet the Press spent most of the show on the issue with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) as the star. The real star, though, was conservative columnist David Brooks.

For 15 minutes, Issa tried to justify his accusation of a coverup because an email had 12 changes and because the administration didn’t answer all the questions. One of Issa’s big talking points was that the president was wrong because he said “act of terror” instead of “terrorist act.”  He called both former CIA Director David Petraeus and Ambassador Pickering liars, even though he was sitting beside the ambassador.  Issa looked like a fool.

The real star, however, was conservative columnist David Brooks. In a follow-up discussion, he said:

 “My reading of the evidence is that a very terrible event happened at a CIA, basically a CIA facility, they went into intense blame shifting mode, trying to shift responsibility onto the State Department, onto anywhere else, and the State Department pushed back. They said no, it is not our fault. It’s your facility. And so they push back and they say why we are suddenly releasing information that we haven’t been releasing so far. So the CIA was super aggressive, there was some pushback, out of that bureaucratic struggle all the talking points were reduced to mush and then politics was inserted into it. So I don’t think we should necessarily say this is politics intruding on a CIA pure operation.”

That’s it in a nutshell: Benghazi is not the big story that the GOP want.

Refusing to be a GOP shill, moderator David Gregory ran the list of casualties at embassies over the past decades, but Issa just ignored it in the same way that he ignored the casualties at 13 embassies and consulates during Bush’s two terms—96 people killed and at least 90 people wounded. Republican lawmakers made no outcry after 241 members of the military were killed in the Beirut Barracks Bombing of 1983, despite the fact that the blame was placed on Reagan’s administration because the president ignored then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger’s attempts to change Reagan’s military orders.

One of Issa’s arguments is that the military should have charged over to Benghazi to save the day. Bush’s and Obama’s former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates disagrees. On Face the Nation, Gates called these ideas “cartoonish” and agreed with testimony given by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint  Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

Gates said:

“We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East—despite all the turmoil that’s going on—with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. And so, getting somebody there in a timely way would have been very difficult, if not impossible.”

In referring to dangers from surface-to-air missiles, he considered the sending of military aircraft in the volatile situation as too risky. “I would not have approved sending an aircraft,” Gates said, “a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.”

Trying to make hay out of nothing, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a GOP presidential candidate in 2016, travels the country, proclaiming, “I think it precludes Hillary Clinton from ever holding office. I think her mistakes were of such significance that she should never again be in that position, to make those decisions.”

Less than two months ago, Congressional members saw what they now perceive as the damning emails when lawyers from the Office of National Intelligence briefed House and Senate Intelligence Committee members. At that time, House Speaker John Boehner declined to attend or send a representative. Both Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) had said that briefing satisfied their concerns. No one from the House raised any questions. The emails were also shared with Congressional members during the confirmation of CIA Director John Brennan, who was confirmed 63-34.

Six months and one week after the 2012 election, Karl Rove’s Super PAC, American Crossroads, has launched the first ad for the 2016 campaign, using the Benghazi disaster and targeting Hillary Clinton. Polling shows that the smear campaign isn’t making a difference. Voters trust Clinton over the GOP on Benghazi by a 49 to 39 margin, and her +8 favorability at 52 to 44 is identical to that in late March. Meanwhile Congressional Republicans have a 36 to 57 unfavorability rating. By a 56 to 38 margin, voters say that passing the immigration reform bill is more important than a focus on Benghazi, and passing a bill requiring background checks for gun purchases is higher by 52 to 43.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) described Benghazi as ten times bigger than Watergate and Iran Contra put together. Even more outrageous is former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s comment, “I think it’s one of the worst incidents, frankly, that I can recall in my career.” Even worse than the lies and intelligence failures of 9/11, the Iraq War, the outing of Valerie Plame, the disasters in Afghanistan, the travesty of Abu-Graib, the failed response to Hurricane Katrina, the stock market debacle, the recession, the deaths in consulates and embassies on his watch, …?

After the Tea Party’s three-day boycott of Fox News last weekend, protesting the network’s lack of Benghazi coverage. Fox and Friends put out a highly “edited” video of President Obama. It lies about his statements regarding the “sideshow” of the GOP party. Their falsehoods have gone viral across the Internet on right-wing blogs.

Satirist Andy Borowitz gave a quality description of  the GOP dilemma:

“A deep divide has emerged within the Republican Party over whether to waste Congress’s time investigating Benghazi talking points or repealing Obamacare, G.O.P. lawmakers confirmed today.

“House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), sounded the first discordant note at a press briefing this morning, telling reporters, ‘The time for wasting day after day investigating Benghazi is over. The American people are counting us to waste our time repealing Obamacare yet again.’

“Warning that ‘the American people don’t have an endless appetite for meaningless political theater,’ Cantor added, ‘If we’re going to do something that’s purely symbolic, pointless, and detached from reality, I say it should be repealing Obamacare for the thirtieth or fortieth time.’

“Rep. Cantor’s comments drew a strong rebuke from Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has spearheaded the investigation into Benghazi: ‘Quite frankly, we have all the time in the world to blow repealing “Obamacare. The moment to waste our time investigating Benghazi is now.’ Noting that previous attempts to repeal Obamacare had cost the taxpayers approximately fifty million dollars, Issa said, ‘I think we’re entitled to spend at least that much, if not more, investigating Benghazi again and again and again.’

“But even as the debate raged over whether Obamacare or Benghazi was more worthy of Congress’ wasted time, House Speaker John Boehner offered a third point of view: ‘Personally, I think the time we’re wasting on Benghazi and Obamacare could be better spent blocking progress on guns and immigration.’”

After her appearance on Meet the Press, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote an excellent summation:

“If my Republican colleagues are serious about conducting real oversight on the tragedy in Benghazi, they should start by looking in the mirror….

“But Republicans choose to ignore these facts and are instead running negative ads and raising campaign dollars off the tragic events in Benghazi. Republicans tried and failed during the 2012 presidential election to use this tragedy for political gain and now appear eager to recycle these failed attacks. Their efforts are clearly aimed at the 2016 presidential race….

“As a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I well remember Secretary [Hillary] Clinton’s testimony following the Benghazi attack. She took responsibility and pledged to do everything in her power to put corrective measures in place….

“Republicans are shamelessly seeking to turn this tragedy into ‘Benghazi-gate’– comparing it to the Watergate scandal. Let’s remember: Watergate involved Republicans paying campaign money to break in and bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Benghazi involves Republicans cutting money for embassy security–funding that was clearly desperately needed.

“But Republican efforts to manufacture a controversy surrounding this tragedy are not only disingenuous, they are dangerous because they take our eye off the ball and divert attention from where it should be: protecting the American people and those who bravely serve our country overseas.”

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/3019154/posts  The plethora of GOP Congress members should take heed of Boxer’s advice instead of calling for a special investigative committee into Benghazi. Perhaps they will after today’s breaking news about the recently “leaked” emails. It now appears that someone falsified them to make it appear that the White House was trying to hide what happened.

After the unraveling of their Benghazi arguments, the GOP may switch their target to the IRS for targeting conservative fund-raising groups and the DoJ for obtaining Associated Press telephone records.

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