Nel's New Day

September 30, 2018

U.S. House: On Recess But Not Forgotten

The House of Representatives may be in recess to campaign for the next six weeks, but GOP members are still up mischief. Their vote to pass another round of tax cuts just before the November midterms gives an additional $3 trillion to the wealthiest people in the U.S. The vote of 220-191 included three Democrats; last year’s tax bill had no Democratic support. Part of the House tax plan costs come from the “Universal Savings Accounts” that has no limit for participation and permits withdrawal of funds before retirement. The shift of savings from taxable accounts primarily benefits the wealthy, the top one-percent of the population who can shift, on average, $9.5 million into tax-free accounts. The average 60 percent of people has $16,000 to shift.

After the last tax cuts, Republicans began to threaten slashing or even eliminating Medicare and Social Security because of the escalating deficit; this will cement that deal. The Republicans can’t campaign on the last tax cut: people believe the law benefits “large corporations and rich Americans” over “middle-class families” by a 2-to-1 margin, 61 percent to 30 percent. With 42 percent of people reporting that they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports the GOP tax plan, compared to 36 percent in favor of those candidates, only 1,039 GOP TV campaign spots, under 12 percent of all GOP TV ads this year, mentioned the new tax bill. That bill was the only GOP accomplishment.

The House has departed at the same time that the Violence against Women Act lapses. Two weeks ago, the spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) reported negotiations with the Senate, but nothing has come of her promise. Even if the House took action, the GOP senate might oppose it. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the most unhinged supporter of Kavanaugh, is one of six GOP white men on judiciary committee who voted against VAWA in 2013. Graham’s state has the highest rate of women killed by men in 2014, twice the national U.S. average, with 92 percent of the female murder victims knowing their killer and 62 percent having been in an intimate relationship with the murderer. The leniency of court sentencing allowing the attackers back out on the street in a short time is one factor for South Carolina’s high rate of violence against women.

In addition to attempts to starve people by highly restricting food stamps, the farm bill awaiting House members’ return contains three climate and fiscal disasters for the United States:

  • Stop localities from regulating pesticides: This interactive map shows some of the places in danger.
  • Permit wealthy farmers to get crop subsidies: The new bill allows people making over $900,000 annually could give a loophole to exempt partnership, joint ventures, and other corporate farms.
  • Eliminate funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program: Gone would be offsets for some farmer costs such as crop coverings to keep soil and fertilizer in place over the winter, buffer strips that prevent severe soil erosion from storms, and hedgerows as habitat for wild bees and other beneficial insects.

Dark horse Rep. Beto O’Rourke (R-TX) is closing the gap between him and incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the race for Cruz’s position. While the senate was forced to stay in session most of August, O’Rourke was crossing the state, going to all 99 counties, and again Cruz is stuck in Washington, D.C. while the House is in recess. In the last debate, O’Rourke pointed out his opponent’s absences:

“Within months of being sworn to service, your senator Ted Cruz was not in Texas. He was in Iowa. He visited every single one of the 99 counties of Iowa. He went to New Hampshire, South Carolina. He went to the Republican presidential primary states instead of being here. He shut down your government for 16 days in 2013. Too many people were getting too much health care in the United States of America.”

O’Rourke told the crowd that Cruz missed one-fourth of the vote in 2015 and one-half the votes in 2016 and finished by saying, “Tell me, who can miss half the days at work and be rehired for the same job going forward?” Cruz was so positive that the senate would vote on Kavanaugh over the weekend that he canceled a debate with O’Rourke today. After the week’s hiatus before a vote, Cruz tried to reinstate the debate, but O’Rourke said that he was already booked. Donations were double for O’Rourke than Cruz as of June 30, another bad sign. Cruz’s campaign was based on ridiculing O’Rourke, but every attempt backfired.

Not satisfied with just smearing his opponent, Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Ted Cruz is scamming older people to get campaign funds. Sean Owen wrote that his 88-year-old grandmother received what appears to be a summons from Travis County but is asking for donations to Cruz. He has a pattern of scamming people to get elected. To get people to the Iowa caucuses in 2012, Cruz sent mailers headed “VOTING VIOLATION” with a warning about “low expected voter turnout.” It purported to print the person’s voting scores, not available to the public in that state, and included a chart with false voting “grade” and “score” for the recipient and neighbors. The warning ended with the ominous statement: “A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.””

Incumbent candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and his wife have been indicted on 60 charges related to fraudulent use of $250,000 in campaign funds in 200 incidences of lavish vacations and dinners, conspiracy, wire fraud, and filing false campaign-finance reports.  Included in the information are at least five of Hunter’s “personal relationships” with photographic evidence. Hunter has denied the charges while he runs racist, anti-Muslim advertising against his opponent. He describes himself as a Christian conservative and committed family man.

New York voters may also get another chance to elect a potential criminal: Rep. Chris Collins, charged with insider trading, decided he will run for re-election this fall after claiming that he wouldn’t. He has an 80 percent chance of winning in the conservative district, according to fivethirtyeight.com.

DDT slammed the DOJ for indicting these two representatives before the mid-term elections. Long live the swamp!

Fearing rough competition to his race to become Florida’s governor, former Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) quit four months early to campaign—over 16 percent of the term that his voters expected him to serve. He might use the time to speak at more white supremacist conferences after the four times he addressed ones organized by the David Horowitz Freedom Center audiences. The organizer has said that blacks owe their freedom to whites and that the nation’s “only serious race war” is against white people. He told them that he admires “an organization that shoots straight … and is standing up for the right thing.” DeSantis started campaigning for the general election with the use of “monkey this up” when talking about his black opponent, Andrew Gillum. Tony Ledbetter, Volusia County GOP chair and paid employer for DeSantis’ campaign, posted a demand to move “animals … from our country.” Speakers at Horowitz conferences have made more disgusting comments about minorities, especially blacks. DeSantis resigned as administrator for a racist and Islamophobic Facebook group laden with conspiracy theories immediately after his affiliation was made public. Virginia GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart remained as administrator.

Thanks to the laxness of the FEC, Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) violated election rules by keeping money raised for her primary campaign although she faced no challenge. Questioned about her actions, Love said she would keep the money and reclassify it later.

Taxpayers are still ponying up the money to pay for congressional members’ sexual assault settlements because Congress cannot agree on a law to stop it. Congressional workplace misconduct has cost taxpayers almost $15.2 million from 1997 to 2014. Does the Supreme Court have this arrangement to pay victims of sexual assault?

One wealthy donor is fed up with Republicans. Les Wexner, owner and CEO of L-Brands in Ohio, said he is “no longer a Republican” and spoke warmly about President Obama and his theme of bipartisan civility. Wexner said, “I was struck by the genuineness of the man; his candor, humility and empathy for others.” A year ago, Wexner had told his employees that he felt “dirty” and “ashamed” because of DDT’s response to violence at the Unite the Right rally that killed a person in Charlottesville (VA).

In the NYT, Timothy Egan wrote about the bargain that the GOP made with DDT:

“Republicans would get tax cuts for the well-connected and a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court, and in turn would overlook every assault on decency, truth, our oldest allies and most venerable principles. They expected Trump to govern by grudges, lie eight times a day, call women dogs, act as a useful idiot for foreign adversaries, make himself a laughingstock to the world….

“A lifetime of Republican pieties, put forth by the bow-tied best and brightest, has gone up in a poof. Free trade? It’s been swamped by America First. Balanced budgets, living within our means? Get to love the trillion-dollar deficit, courtesy of those tax cuts.”

GOP congressional members are willing to sell out every Republican value in a sycophancy to DDT including a belief in their party over country.

May 29, 2018

Congress Decisions, Destructive or Failed

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) couldn’t even get a farm bill passed after 18 hardline far-right and 12 moderate GOP representatives sided with the Democrats to vote against it after a difference of opinion about immigrants. Conservatives also didn’t like the idea of “too much” funding for food stamps, and the Dems hated the drastic food stamp cuts. On the other hand, farmers and relatives could be eligible for up to $125,000 annually per person. Food stamps cost $125.41 per month.

DDT has signed a bank deregulation bill that puts the United States into almost the same lack of oversight that sent the nation into a recession at the end of George W. Bush’s two terms. The excuse is to help the economy, but, thanks to the tax cuts for the wealthy and big business, Wall Street netted $56 billion in the first quarter of 2018. That’s the industry’s most profitable quarter in history. The new law allows banks to take irresponsible risks that can primarily hurt the bottom 90 percent. Supposedly the lack of regulations help small banks, but rules moved big banks into the “mid-sized” level (up to $250 billion in assets) permitting them to lower compliance costs, expand trading opportunities, substitute costly debts with deposits, and kick back more money to shareholders. Consumers have lost their protection. Lobby money paid off 33 Democrats as well as the Republicans who voted for the bill.

The Senate showed that it understands the disaster of FCC’s repeal to net neutrality by passing a bill in opposition with all 49 Democrats and GOP Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and John Kennedy (LA) voting for the bill. The House will ignore the bill, but it’s a start. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had to deal with the bill because supporters used the Congressional Review Act to force action with a simple majority vote. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pointed out that new net neutrality rules hurt “public schools, rural Americans, communities of color and small businesses” while protecting “large corporations and special interests, leaving the American public to pay the price.”

Congress has failed to overturn requirements on payday lenders that protect borrowers from paying excessive interest on these short-term loans. Conservatives touted these loans as the way that poor people could save themselves from disaster, but a typical two-week payday loan had an annual percentage rage of 400 percent. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may still try to change the rules itself, but that requires public input. The rules required under a former CFPB administration don’t go into effect until August 2019.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) formally requested that Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) schedule a public hearing for Donald Trump Jr. because of evidence that Jr. gave “false testimony.” He told a congressional committee that foreigners did not “offer or provide assistance” to DDT’s campaign and did not seek any foreign assistance. Lying to Congress is a crime even if a person is not under oath. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley defended Jr. by saying that a different witness may have lied to the panel instead.

Crowdfunding (aka cyberbegging) has been used for-profit ventures as well as medical and legal expenses, travel, and community projects. Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) wants to use crowdfunding to build DDT’s wall and has introduced a bill to “allow the secretary of the Treasury to accept public donations.” The bill also states that funds can be used “for other purposes” including a mile-long “commemorative display” to honor donors. During her announcement of the bill on Fox, host Farris Faulkner asked, “What happened to Mexico paying for it?” Black said that she didn’t know “what kind of pressure” DDT is putting on Mexico for funding. He is threatening to close the U.S. government if Congress doesn’t approve funding from taxpayers. USA Today has an interactive map of barriers to the wall.

John M. Gore, acting head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division has both refused to appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and refused to answer questions about his request for a citizenship question on the census, but under the leadership of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), GOP members refused to issue a subpoena to Gore with no reason. Two weeks ago, Tom Brunell, DDT’s choice for Census Director, said that the decision to add this question was based on politics. He said, “They have made a political decision. And they have every right to do that, because they won the election.”

Republicans believe in no regulations—unless they serve personal interests. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) declared he will stop banks from new rules on guns that restrict credit card and banking services to gun retailers and cease lending to gun manufacturers that fail to comply with the banks’ age limits and background checks. Bank of America will no longer lend money to companies that make the AR-15. Kennedy plans to file complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—that doesn’t protect consumers because regulations have disappeared—and wants colleagues to write legislation that prevents banks from “discriminating” against gun buyers. Other GOP senators threatening banks for their rules regarding guns are Mike Crapo (ID) and Ted Cruz (TX). Michael Piwowar, a SEC commissioner whose term ends this year, told banks that they would have trouble getting GOP support for easing derivatives regulations.

Dumbest statement from a member of Congress this month? It’s hard to pick, but this one is good. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) has never known to be that sharpest tool in the shed, but his reason for sea-level rise may top earlier comments. “Every time you have that soil or rock whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise. Because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up.” He looked over the fact that his solution would be accurate only if the top five inches of the 9.1 million square miles in the U.S. went into the ocean—every year. At least, he’s figured out that the seas are rising. He’s making progress.

Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-VA), member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, dropped his run for a second House term and announced that he’s an alcoholic. Former staffers had accused Garrett and his wife of treating them like servants—carrying groceries, walking the dog, and even cleaning up after the animal’s waste when he forgot to take the dog home from his office. Chief of staff, Jimmy Keady, was ready to leave Garrett when he made the announcement. Garrett’s resignation makes the 44th GOP resignation from the House this year. He had no opposition in the June 12 primary; the House district RNC will select an opponent against a strong Democratic candidate in the November midterm election.

No matter what Congress does, its rating stays low. Among Republicans, the approval rating dropped from 50 percent when DDT was inaugurated to 22 percent this month. And the GOP is in control!

State-wise, felons are beginning to regain their voting rights after they leave prison. Louisiana has passed a bill, which will probably be signed into law, that gives voting rights to people on probation or parole if they have been out of prison for at least five years. In other states:

  • Alabama: thousands of felons were added to voter rolls following a law clarifying specific crimes that bar felons from voting.
  • New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) restored the first pardons giving the right to vote to over 24,086 parolees.
  • Virginia: Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) restored voting rights to over 155,000 convicted felons who completed their sentences.
  • Florida: A November ballot measure could restore voting rights to felons after they complete their prison sentences. (Florida is one of ten states where felons permanently lose their voting rights.)
  • Mississippi: Two pending federal suits seek automatic voting rights after the completion of the sentence.
  • New Jersey: Lawmakers are considering a measure allowing people in prison to vote, legal only in Maine and Vermont.

Republicans want to keep felons from voting from fear that they will vote against the GOP, but states have another method to keep white supremacy: eliminating all non-citizens from the census that determines the number of seats per state in Congress. Alabama has a lawsuit to exclude immigrants from the count, and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) are supporting that position. The 14th Amendment requiring the census states that congressional seats are designated on the basis of the number of “persons.” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) and Alabama’s AG Steve Marshall are using the argument that “persons” did not include undocumented people in the 18th and 19th centuries. Alabama may lose a congressional seat after the 2020 census. Missouri state legislators are considering a law that would base state legislative districts entirely on citizen population.

In all but six states, legislatures will be adjourned by the end of June. Next week, however, the Senate comes back to meet 12 weeks before midterms—less time for the House schedule. Both chambers disappear in August. We’ll see how much damage they can do in that time.

April 15, 2018

GOP Wants People to Go Hungry

Filed under: Congressional legislation — trp2011 @ 10:42 PM
Tags: , , ,

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is finally taking the lead in legislation—the one that helps shred the safety net—and House Republicans are following. DDT’s executive order allowing work requirements for people on food stamps is being replicated as part of the 2018 Farm Bill that does it one better by mandating that most adults between 18 and 59 be required to work part-time or enroll in 20 hours a week of workforce training to receive food stamp assistance. While some House conservatives want to take food from struggling families, they want to give more welfare to struggling farmers, especially if DDT’s threats of tariffs hurts them.

The plan budgets $1 billion per year to fund the training program expansion; cutting the hoped-for 1 million people could save the nation $500 million. The only good thing about the proposed bill is that it doesn’t include DDT’s budget proposal of cutting food stamps and replacing them with a box of non-perishable goods.

The concept of helping people become self-sufficient through training and well-paid jobs is excellent. Consider, however, that the GOP refuses to raise the minimum wage from $7.25, which pays below the food-stamp income level for millions of full-time jobs. Also, quality training programs such as subsidized employment can cost up to $10,000 a year per person, costing $15 billion a year to fund a national employment and training program. The think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated costs for training at $1 billion per month, not per year. Ten state pilot programs are intended to identify best practices, and USDA has not evaluated them yet. Other concerns for the mandatory employment, as Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) voiced, are unreliable transportation, low housing security, and shifting child care and medical schedules.

The GOP goal is to throw people off food stamps and ignore them if they become homeless or starve to death. Anyone failing to meet the criteria would be blocked for a year for the first time and three years for violations after that. Currently, people ages 18 to 49 must work or enroll in a training program for 20 hours a week to get benefits for more than three months every three years. The number of hours would be increased to 25 hours by 2026. This requirement covers 3.5 million of the over 40 million people receiving this benefit, almost nine percent. The new guidelines in the bill extends the age to 59 and includes all parents with school age children.

The object is to increase people working, but 58 percent of households receiving SNAP with at least one disabled adult are employed. Eighty-two percent of SNAP recipients worked in the year before or after enrollment.

DDT’s Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility executive order ordered secretaries across the government to review the safety net from food stamps to Medicaid to housing programs in a search for new regulations, especially work requirements, and ways for states to have more “flexibility” for these programs. Flexibility, however, can be used to reduce states’ budget problems without helping people.

The executive order is meant to mimic what DDT sees as the success of the TANF “flexible” block grants, but he system created over 20 years ago to give lump sums to states has failed. In the early years of block grants, the labor market was strong, but the number of families helped immediately started to sag with an almost two-thirds loss by 2015 while the number of families with children in poverty increased from 5.1 million in 2000 to 6.5 million. The number of families with children in deep poverty increased by 50 percent. In 14 states, ten or fewer families receive cash assistance for every 100 families in poverty. The bottom half of this chart is comprised almost entirely of red states.

As fewer needy families receive assistance, the benefit levels drop to 20 percent less than in 1996. At the same time, housing cost have increased, and states spend little money to help people find and maintain work. Instead the block grants go to programs such as pre-K education or child welfare, freeing state funds for expenditure not related to safety nets. States have also lost 34 percent of the block grants’ value since its inception because their formulas have not changed, and the same formula has not been revised for population growth or economic conditions in each state.

DDT also claims that Kansas and Maine have shown success in food stamp work requirements because of “individuals who left welfare and … saw their income increase.” An audit of these two programs, however, shows that total resources of people cut off to SNAP participants dropped three percent within a year—and that was in a year when the economy was getting better.

The farm bill deadline is September, and, as usual in the current Congress, Democrats are kept out of the planning process. Republicans could pass a punitive bill for people on food stamps in the House, but a successful Senate vote requires Democratic support. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Agriculture Committee chair, has said that he will not consider major SNAP changes.

Three reports from the Bipartisan Policy Center include restrictions on buying sugary drinks, increased incentive for buying healthy food, and coordination between SNAP and federal health programs serving low-income households. They do not suggest a change in eligibility rules.

Internal USDA emails from March suggest that DDT may support mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipient. Wisconsin considered doing this although federal rules prohibit states from adding requirements on SNAP-eligible families. A federal appeals court struck down Florida’s SNAP drug-testing law in 2014, ruling that it was a form of unreasonable search, and Georgia’ law also lost in court. Twelve states have requested permission for drug testing with none granted.

Republicans won’t care if their low-income constituents go hungry, but they may be influenced by the cuts for big corporations if they reduce foot stamps. Supermarkets and superstores get 81 percent of SNAP benefits although they are only 14 percent of companies accepting them. The loss for these companies could be $57.5 billion in the next decade. Wal-Mart alone gets 18 percent of food stamp profits, and Target comes in second with a $4.8 billion to $5.3 billion loss. Kmart closed over 150 of its stores last year, and Food stamp benefit cuts would take away $1.9 billion to $2.2 billion from their tills.

Big banks will also lose money if they distribute less government benefits, but they are paid for distributing cards, balance inquiries, declined for insufficient funds, withdrawals, penalties, fees, etc. The 2014 law changes gave even more money to the banks because it required additional software for controlling foods purchased and fraud. The money all goes to three companies.

The money spent on food stamps almost doubles the dollars in economic activity. Last year, $70 billion fed 40 million people, half of the population that is food-insecure. People complain about fraud, but the total is down to less than one percent of the expenditures–$700 million compared to the $125 billion of waste in the U.S. Department of Defense. The U.S. also loses $40 to $70 billion a year to offshore tax evasion, but the government spent its money on conducting 4,396 undercover investigation of food stamp fraud in 2012 with a 40-percent success. The true “welfare queens” in the United States are corporations that refuse to pay people a living wage while giving hundreds of billions to owners and shareholders.

Republicans want to cut food stamps for two reasons. They believe that anyone not in their “tribe”—all those wealthy people who are their donors—don’t deserve any help. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) terminology of “makers” and “takers”—which he sort of apologized for—set the tone of denigrating all people who need government assistance. He may understand that people don’t want to be dependent on others, but the myth that people who use the safety net are users is prevalent in the conservative world. The use of “entitlement programs” for Social Security and Medicare is commonly among conservatives despite their being insurance programs that people pay into for their old age.

The second reason for cutting food stamps is the desperation that far-right Republicans feel as they run for re-election. Their gift of tax-cut money to the wealthy and large corporations has created a looming deficit, and their solution is to take the money away from the bottom 90 percent in the nation. Trying to cut food stamps is only their first step; a majority GOP Congress will be disastrous for almost everyone in the United States.

February 7, 2014

Farm Bill: Poor Lose, Wealthy Win

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:52 PM
Tags: , , , ,

After more than two years of partisan squabbling, Congress passed a five-year farm bill that costs people $100 billion a year.  In the House, 89 Democrats joined 162 GOP members to pass the bill that then received a 68-32 vote in the Senate with 9 Democrats opposing the bill. It’s a bipartisan law that takes from the poor and gives to the rich and the first time that Democrats even considered cutting the food-stamp program.

The $8.6 billion cut in food stamps promotes greater hunger in what citizens like to consider the world’s richest country. The bill also promotes a diet of processed food—or food substitutes—with high levels of sugar, fat, and salt leading to serious health problems. The cut comes on top of the $11 billion lost with the expiration of stimulus funding, the first $5 million at the end of October 2013. Cuts were determined by home-heating assistance. Households must receive at least $20 per year before they automatically qualify for food stamps instead of the $1 threshold now in some states.

Last November, people lost almost $30 dollars a month from benefits; now they lose another $90. Even Walmart noticed the effects of lost funding for food stamps and predicted that the last quarter of 2013 will not meet its sales projections. As studies show and conservatives refuse to believe, each SNAP recipient dollar adds an estimated $1.70 to the economy. Food stamps create jobs from farmer to truck driver to shelf stocker and beyond. The working poor, many of whom work for Walmart, are now many of the people who rely on help to keep them from hunger.

Conservatives always say that they want cuts to make up for programs such as food stamps, but a proposal to cap (not eliminate) the profits of the ten largest farm insurance providers to free up funds to eliminate the cuts to the SNAP program was defeated 2 to 1 in the Senate. Insurance companies pocket profits taken from taxpayers’ risks.

Past changes that kept President Obama from signing a farm bill stayed in the bill that the president now has signed. Instead of a $50,000 annual limit on the primary payments (or double that for married couples), Congress approved a $125,000 limit (again, doubled for married couples).  They also decided not to adopt the House and Senate-passed provisions to close the loopholes that currently allow large, wealthy farms to collect many multiples of the nominal payment limit.

The $5 billion in direct payments for commodities, payments whether farmers grow anything or not, was largely eliminated, but the new insurance “reforms” are largely a bait-and-switch effort that continues giveaways to agribusiness and wealthy investors. A few limited reforms to help both organic and diversified farm operations didn’t stop the crop insurance program from using taxpayer money to protect profits of large farms that produce commodity crops while doing little to protect small integrated farmers who actually grow food. The program pays $1.4 billion annually to 18 companies to sell policies to farmers and then pays 62 percent of the farmers’ premiums. A coup for these companies is the provision that the Agriculture Department cannot renegotiate lesser payments during the five-year term of the bill. Previous negotiations have saved billions in dollars in government savings.

The bill also removes an income cap for receiving crop insurance; thus large farming operations can win more subsidies by claiming additional people are actively engaged in farming. Some of these people are members of Congress who no longer have to disclose the crop insurance money they get from voting for this bill.

Dow succeeded in adding a provision to reverse the prohibition of sulfuryl fluoride despite EPA’s 2011 proposal to phase out its use as a food fumigant. Massive tax subsidies go to corporate agribusiness and wealthy investors, again promoting unhealthy food, genetically engineered crops, confined animal feeding operations, and monoculture farming. Seed and pesticide corporations such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow will benefit from the farm bill’s provisions. The result includes ongoing vulnerability to floods and droughts, aquatic “dead zones,” and fouled drinking water caused by fertilizer runoff from fields, and more. Conservation programs to mitigate these problems were slashed by $6.1 billion, the first decrease since Congress started funding these programs in 1985.

Federal nutrition programs stay the same except for the Pulse Health Pilot Program which adds plant-based protein sources to school meals. That means the National Lunch Program, food stamps, and WIC will continue to push junk foods like processed meat and cheese that fuel epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

More money went to higher rice and peanut subsidies for Southern farmers. People who need the least help get more “aid” through $5 billion in taxpayer funds for livestock farmers when their animals die during natural disasters, another subsidy for the meat and dairy industry.

The almost-1000 pages of the bill show the favors that legislators provide to their constituents—sugar producers, catfish farmers, etc. William Frenzel, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota and a budget analyst at the Brookings Institution, said, “The agriculture industry simply does not need all of these supports.”  He described the farm bill as “bad budget and agriculture policy.” Even current GOP members of Congress were disgusted. “It seems that catfish is one bottom feeder with friends in high places,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said.

The farm bill has a few advantages: $100 million to help bring healthy food to underserved communities; initiatives to encourage purchases of fruits and vegetables by SNAP consumers at retail outlets, including farmers’ markets and food hubs; support for food banks; allowing SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase a Community Supported Agriculture share; and a pilot program to support bringing local food into schools. Good programs cut last year were restored: Beginning and Disadvantaged farmers, farmers markets, community food projects, support for local food systems, etc. These, however, are just a few million dollars in an annual $100 billion bill. Conservation requirements were also relinked to the receipt of crop insurance subsidies.

Notable is the rejection of the “King amendment” that would have prevented hundreds of state laws defending food safety, farm workers, animals, and the environment. Also gone is the amendment in the last farm bill from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that protected companies like Monsanto that produce GMOs from being sued.

The farm bill is an excellent example of “cognitive dissonance” that results in Selective Deficit Disorder. Republicans said that they were decreasing the deficit by reducing funding for the food-stamp program, but they ignored the deficit when they handed over billions of dollars to corporate special interests. This is not a continuing phenomenon in politics: ten states made draconian cuts to retiree benefits, pleading poverty, but in a report, “Good Jobs First,” in the same states, “the total annual cost of corporate subsidies, tax breaks and loopholes exceeds the total current annual pension costs.”

The five-year farm bill is largely a win-lose situation: the wealthy and corporations win, and the poor lose.  Basically the law cuts food stamps, gives wealthy farmers more money, and hides the way that farmers pollute the ground.The one great advantage is that the Tea Party opposed it. Republicans ignoring the extremists may not be a trend, but it is happening now. 

July 11, 2013

Perry an Example of Conservatives

What’s worse than cutting the amount of food stamp funding from the farm bill? Eliminating them entirely. And that’s what the GOP House members did this afternoon in a 216-208 vote—no Democrats for the bill and 12 Republicans voting against it. The farm will has always been a total package: subsidies and benefits to farmers and nutritional programs such as SNAP to the poor, but House GOP leaders hope that separating them will entirely get rid of this help for hungry people.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) pointed out that the bad policy ignored the bipartisan policy of the House Agriculture Committee. The farm bill that the House passed is for five years, but the food stamps would be on an annual basis if it could even pass, which is most unlikely. The biggest cuts to food stamps in history came in 1996 when then Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed turning the program over to the states, but the bill had to provide food stamps for it to pass the Senate. The law authorized SNAP for only two years.

Republicans are perfectly happy spending the bulk of taxes to make military toys that don’t work and to go into other countries to kill people while denying food the poor—primarily women, children, and elders. Stuart Varney, who hosts a Fox “business show,” rants against providing help to people while ignoring the fact that many of them are hard-working employees at places like Walmart with salaries below the poverty level.

Texas is a fine example of poverty, both physical and intellectual, in this country. The state has known only the devastation of George W. Bush and Rick Perry as its leaders for almost two decades. Last Monday, Perry announced that he will not run for another term, and instead finish by  “working to create more jobs, opportunity and innovation.” He may be considering another run for president so that he can destroy a much larger area of the world.

Only 18 percent of Texas Republicans support him in this, and a survey showed him coming in sixth with 7 percent. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had 27 percent support. Republican strategist Ford McConnell said that Perry was pretty much gone after the famous “oops” episode when the governor failed to remember the third government agency (EPA) that he wanted to eliminate even after his co-debaters tried to help him. I also remember the time in Vermont when he had a goofy smile on his face while cuddling a small bottle of maple syrup. Another “oops” moment was when he couldn’t remember how many justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Perry’s legacy in the state of Texas shows how he would rule the nation if such a disastrous event were to occur:

Self-identified “pro-life” Perry presided over more than 260 executions—thus far—more than any other governor in history. After vetoing a bill banning executions of mentally disabled people, he executed a Mexican national who had been denied his right from the Mexican consulate and at least one man who was probably innocent.

Perry supported the state in its immunity for corporations and obsessive deregulations that resulted in the disaster of the fertilizer plant explosion in West.

Perry lambasted the government’s so-called socialist policies and swore he would gut FEMA while he begged the president for federal assistance after the fertilizer plant’s explosion.

Perry decried the 2009 federal recovery package, recommending that the state reject the money for the sake of independence, but balanced the state’s budget with billions of dollars from federal stimulus funding.

Perry called climate change a “contrived phony mess and a scam to make money.”

Perry, after the horrific drought and heat in 2011, tried to solve the problem by betting Texas residents to “pray for rain.”

Perry called evolution “just a theory that’s out there.”

Perry’s latest debacle is that his vigorous fight for the bill to close clinics in favor of ambulatory surgical centers would greatly profit his sister. In 2011 he pushed for and signed “emergency legislation” requiring women to have unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds before they were permitted to have legal abortions. Texas is also the place where two women were subjected to cavity searches—without a change in plastic gloves—after they were picked up for speeding.

Perry led Texas into becoming the nation’s worst polluter, leading the nation in carbon dioxide emissions and providing the home to half of the worst mercury-emitting power plants. His solution to avoid complying with an EPA ruling when he was in violation of the Clean Air Act was a lawsuit against the federal government. The governor also called the 2010 BP oil spill an “act of God” and then call for more oil drilling.

Perry tried to opt the state out of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, claiming that these programs are “Ponzi schemes” and unconstitutional. These programs actually bring billions of dollars into Texas.

Perry worked to continue legal discrimination against LBGT people. A staunch defender of the state’s unconstitutional anti-sodomy law, he blasted the Supreme Court after they overturned the law in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. Calling the justices “nine oligarchs in robes,” he evidently remembers the number of SCOTUS judges ten years ago. During his presidential campaign in 2012, his anti-gay ad against open service by gays and lesbians in the military accused President Obama of holding a “war on religion.” His speech last Monday boasted the state’s defense of “the sanctity of marriage” through writing discrimination into the state’s constitution.

Perry supported nullification of federal laws and threatened the secession of Texas from the United States.

Perry refuses to let the federal government provide healthcare for low-income residents in the state. More than 25 percent of Texans, 6,234,900 and growing, lack health care coverage. Then he has the gall to claim that Texas has the “best health care in the country.”

Perry vetoed bipartisan Equal Pay legislation after a GOP-controlled legislature passed the bill. He stated that he didn’t want regulations regarding women before he pushed through the highly restrictive restrictions against women.

Perry wants to repeal the 16th and 17th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to eliminate federal income tax and to stop people from electing federal senators. In his book Fed Up!, he wrote that both were passed only “a fit of populist rage.”

Perry is an example of the wacko, narcissistic Republicans, many of whom are in Congress. Like Perry, they are obsessed with opposing the president, keeping health care from a large number of people in the United States, and creating a government based on fundamentalist Christianity which includes the submission of women to men.

Now they’re readying the fight to take the debt ceiling hostage, demanding big budget cuts from President Obama and other Democrats. Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI), authors of the draconian budget, and John Boehner (R-OH) are meeting with other conservatives such as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) who bragged about their talks.

One of their goals is privatizing Medicare; another is drastically cutting spending in  the SNAP food stamp program and block-grant Medicaid while incorporating the chained CPI which would artificially revise the cost of living to disadvantage those on Social Security and Medicare. Another GOP plan raises the eligibility age for Social Security.

Conservatives continue to stall because these plans won’t pass the Senate. While they appear to give options to the White House, they plan rigid positions. As usual, Ryan is the key to debt-ceiling strategy walks. His major problem is that the deficit is falling faster than at any time since World War II which takes away their bargaining power.

The GOP is alienating everyone except white men, mostly older ones. Conservatives refuse to move forward on immigration reform unless all undocumented immigrants are criminalized. Conservatives refuse to do anything about voting rights, hoping that keeping minorities and poor people from the polls will put Republicans into control. Conservatives refuse to pass a reasonable interest rate for student loans, despite the fact that the current rate nets $51 billion for the U.S. Conservatives refuse to help poor people who lack food, shelter, and health care. Conservatives refuse to pass legislation that would improve the economy while they try to control women through taking away their reproductive rights.

Those actions—or inactions—leave them with a base of fewer than 30 percent of the people in the country. Having gerrymandered districts in the majority of states to control state legislators and the U.S. House, the GOP is convinced that it can continue with its lack of responsibility. The election in less than 16 months will show whether they are right.

August 6, 2012

Where Is Congress? And the Jobs?

Today is Monday, and many workers went back to work. Those  people at work don’t include the members of the U.S. House of Representatives: they’re off on a month vacation. Their excuse for all this time off is that they need to listen to their constituents. More likely, they are fund-raising and campaigning, working very hard to get re-elected for another two years.

Last year the House calendar listed 175 legislative days. Those included the 17 pro forma days when a few of them marched into session, said they were there, and then left in order to keep President Obama from making any recess appointments. Therefore, they were in working sessions for fewer than 44 percent of the days. Most people with full-time jobs work 250 days a year, so the representatives’ days in session were fewer than 64 percent of the days employers require for full-time work.

This year the House plans to meet an average of three days for 26 weeks. They list a fourth day at the beginning of the week most of the time, but those days all state that there will be no vote before 6:30. At the other end of the week, days indicate no votes after 3:00 pm. So they leave for the weekend at 3 and don’t get back until 6:30 pm three days later. This means fewer than 100 working days during the entire year. Fortunately for them, they only have to work one month after they get back in September because they won’t be in Washington for the last four weeks of October—except for the one who calls the House into session twice a week to again stop the president from carrying out his constitutional right.

If they actually accomplished something while they were physically in the nation’s capitol, they might be forgiven for their absence this month. Two years ago, this House was elected because candidates promised that they would get jobs for people and reduce the unemployment that George W. Bush created during his eight years. Instead, they have worked to reduce the safety net for all people in the country.

Despite the desperate plight of farmers and ranchers from the horrendous drought throughout the country, the Congress failed to pass any emergency aid for them. The House failed to consider the five-year farm measure, providing only a short-term, $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. In disgust, the Senate ignored the bill because the House would not even discuss the broader legislation. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Agriculture Committee, said that her committee would work during August to put together a new measure for the House.

Without any legislation, livestock producers have lost their safety net program for feed losses. Their only recourse is to find another source of feed or sell or kill off animals. Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-OK) told the Republicans in the House, “If you want to leave people hurting, I guess that’s your choice.”

The House also declared an anti-abortion bill for Washington, D.C. a priority, but it failed because of the two-thirds requirement. Banning abortions after 20 weeks, it would have prevented up to 1.5 percent of abortions performed. Meanwhile some Senate members have been busy adding anti-abortion amendments to any bill available: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tried to attach on to the bill providing federal flood insurance. In June, the House passed a Homeland Security spending bill that includes a provision to bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement from providing abortions for illegal immigrant detainees. This hasn’t happened since 2003.

The Violence against Women Act is still being held hostage by conservative lawmakers. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) pointed out last Friday that “it has now been more than 300 days since VAWA expired, a timeline that has also seen the deaths of more than 1,100 women due to domestic violence.” She continued, “In April, the Senate passed VAWA by a vote of 68-31, a rare bipartisan feat that included 15 Republicans.”  The House refuses to take action.

While the Senate Finance Committee voted to renew tax breaks for businesses such as biodiesel and wind energy, the House has passed a bill to erase these breaks. While not discussing the farm bill and VAWA, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) reintroduced an English-only bill at a House Judiciary subcommittee. The bill has 122 co-sponsors.

Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) wants a law exempting honoraria won by U.S. Olympic medalists from taxes to show the country’s appreciation. On the Senate side, Marco Rubio  (R-FL) introduced the Olympic Tax Elimination Act, which would “exempt U.S. Olympic medal winners from paying taxes on their hard-earned medals.” It’s a moot point because the $25,000 won for a gold medal won’t result in much taxes unless the athlete makes over $250,000 after exemptions for training, uniforms, etc.

The day before the representatives walked off the job for a five-week vacation, Rep. Paul Labrador (D-ID) joined three Republicans in proposing a bill to clarify that the individual mandate in the 2010 healthcare law, and associated penalties for not buying health insurance, “shall not be construed as a tax.” Once again the conservatives are trying to do away with health care for the people of the United States.

The House did pass a measure (H.R. 4078) last week that would prevent any new regulations—or even actions leading up to their proposal—until the unemployment rate reaches 6 percent, pretty much an impossibility. Even former Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert from New York objected to the measure and wrote an article entitled, “GOP right wing is serious about disabling government.” He wrote, “The legislation might as well just directly order the agencies that were created to protect the public to close up shop.”

The measure turned out to be more of a joke than the Republicans intended. First, a typo that said “employment” rather than “unemployment” gave the meaning that new regulations would be suspended until unemployment reached 94 percent. In repairing that problem, they referred to H.Res. 783 instead of H.Res. 738. In a desperate move to make Democrats vote quickly on all these issues about a bill that has almost no chance of being law, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) reminded the opposition that life is short, a reference to the mass murder in Aurora (CO) the week before.

Another successful bill in the House was one that would fire federal employees if they don’t pay their income tax. More than 96 percent of federal employees pay their taxes on time, and laws exist to take care of this. The issue with the IRS is that the conservative lawmakers keep cutting back on their funding so that they cannot pursue people who fail to pay taxes.

The summary of House floor activities presents a compendium of legislative trivia that includes authorizing battery recharging stations for privately owned vehicles in parking areas under the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives and authorizing the use of the rotunda of the Capitol for the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Unfinished business included preventing abuse of government charge cards. The summary shows micro-management to excess.

Although Congress avoids most compromises, the Senate and the House did agree to tighten sanctions against Iran. In addition, a tentative agreement would keep the government operating after the end of the fiscal year on September 30 until March 31, but the measure hasn’t passed either the House of Senate. Conservative lawmakers are not known for keeping their promises.

One agreement has conservative bloggers spitting in anger over a bipartisan bill passed last week. The president can now appoint some executive branch and military officers without Senate approval. The far right is still safe in refusing to confirm all the judges that President Obama nominates. President Obama began his administration with 1,215 executive branch positions requiring Senate confirmation. By contrast, fifty years ago President John F. Kennedy had only 286 positions to fill. At the start of the Obama administration, there were 1,215 executive branch positions that required Senate confirmation.

Ted Cruz, the newest Tea Party candidate to defeat an establishment Republican, gave the party line on compromise: “I am perfectly happy to compromise and work with anybody, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians. I’ll work with Martians. If–and the if is critical–they’re willing to cut spending and reduce the debt.” The definition of compromise has been, and continues to be, doing that the Tea Party wants. Running for the Senate in Texas, he will most likely win, contributing to the craziness in Congress.

It’s been over 19 months since the Tea Party hijacked the Congress with the promise that they would solve the unemployment problem. They have enacted just 151 laws in these 19 months, almost 20 percent of them renaming post offices and courthouses or adding people to the Smithsonian board. This is far less than half of any other Congress during the past 64 years, even 15 percent of one Congressional session’s output. The popularity of the Congress, shrunken to 12 percent, is as drastically low as the number of acts.

Where are the jobs?

July 24, 2012

GOP Vision for America

Yesterday I had breakfast with a friend who used to be a Republican, and I realized how lucky Democrats are these days. Not everyone in the party is  enamored with everything that Obama does, and the Democrat lawmakers are sometimes irritating. But the old-guard Republicans are lost.

During our discussion she said, “I’ve lost my party! I don’t tell anybody that I’m a Republican any more. I say that I’m an independent.” So I thought about the Republican vision for the United States: miserly, selfish, controlling, and violent. Conservatives are changing the United States from the “can do” to the “won’t do” beliefs.

Violence, of course, comes from the conservatives’ attitude toward gun control. It’s not just that they want everybody to have one or two guns in the house to protect themselves and use for recreational hunting. Instead, they want everyone to have as much fire power as they can afford to buy without considering that a restriction in this–or even licensing guns–might result in fewer deaths. The recently deposed head of the Arizona state senate, Russell Pearce, accuses the people in the Aurora (CO) theater of being cowards for not taking down the young man with four weapons and unlimited rounds for them at his disposal.

As for the current war in Afghanistan, the one that costs us $88.5 a year and where the country wants us to leave, the House managed to debate our situation there—for one hour. That’s all the nation’s destiny is worth to these people.

The conservatives’ craving for control has been clearly shown through the conservatives’ drive to eradicate unions, primarily for teachers, and contraception availability. Both these destroy salaries for women because teaching has been one place in the past where women can come closer to achieving economic equality. Without a decent salary, without the fair pay act which would require that women are paid the same as men for the same work, and without the chance to avoid pregnancy, women are losing the ability to stay out of poverty, where the conservatives think that they don’t deserve help. They want to control women.

Another control from the Republicans is the rash of laws mandating restrictive photo IDs for voting. Initially conservatives said the purpose was to prevent voter fraud, but by now they are admitting, as all sane people knew, that there was no fraud. Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai said,  “[…] Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Conservatives simply tried to remove as many progressive voters from participating in the election as possible.

Michigan is now a prime battleground against Republican control of municipalities and school districts by dictators appointed by the governor. The process started over a year ago with Public Act 4, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, that extended emergency manager laws. In Michigan, an emergency manager gives all orders in the town or school district and can break contracts and fire elected officials. The first city that Snyder took over, in the name of fiscal problems, was a tiny, largely black town because a wealthy developer wanted to build a golf course on a public park along the lake.

In protest to the Michigan law, a coalition called Stand Up for Democracy submitted 226,000 signatures for a referendum to overturn the law. They needed just under 162,000, and the Bureau of Elections found 203,238 valid signatures. Another organization challenged the petitions on the basis of wrong font size. The Republicans on the Board of Canvassers succeeded in declaring all petitions invalid. Last month the state Court of Appeals ruled that the signatures should be accepted, allowing a public vote in November. That decision has been appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court which will hear the case tomorrow. Part of the debate will be how the “point” and “type” should be measured, whether by size of the printer’s block or the actual printed character. This comes from the anti-regulation party.

In its supposed craving for austerity, conservative lawmakers have one response for any action that would help the country: we can’t afford it. And they use this excuse with no justification. Health care won’t bankrupt the country as demonstrated by all the other countries with universal health care, but we can be bankrupted with escalating costs and a sick workforce with lost work days and productivity. In fact, repealing the health care act will cost the country $109 billion that the taxpayers will save if we keep the law. The World Health Organization reports that the United States spends 16 percent of its GDP, the highest portion of any country, on health care but ranks 37th out of 191 countries in performance. By contrast the United Kingdom spends 6 percent of its GDP but rates 18th in performance, almost 20 places higher than the U.S.

Social Security isn’t bankrupting the country; it just needs some tweaking the way that President Reagan did 30 years ago. And green energy isn’t too expensive; it hasn’t bankrupted Denmark. Start-up costs for anything are more expensive as the country found out with technology such as television and computers. This area combines austerity with selfishness because those huge corporations that present everyone with high utility bills, charge high gas prices, and give everyone dirty air and water don’t want to lose their customers. Republicans keep talking about all the money that the government lost in solar companies going bankrupt. Facts show companies lost less than 4 percent of the total program funding for alternative energy. Because Chinese companies got massive government subsidies, they were able to flood the U.S. market with solar equipment. Yet this is the time to continue the program because the drop in prices because of Chinese solar panels greatly reduces installation costs.

In its austerity, conservatives balk at providing sufficient education for the nation’s young people. In 2003 the US ranked 15th of 29 in reading literacy, 21st of 30 in scientific literacy, 25th of 30 in mathematics, 24th of 29 in problem solving. Conservatives claim that the United States has bad teachers as conservative lawmakers continue to starve the schools and increase the number of students in classes. The United States conservatives also want to charge high interest rates on student loans for higher education while Europe and Russia have tuition-free colleges and universities free to reduce the shortage of workers in specific fields.

In their selfishness, conservatives frequently avoid addressing a need. The farm bill expires on September 30, but House Republican leaders don’t plan to do anything about it. The bill would save $35 billion during the next 10 years, but Republicans don’t want to touch it until after the November election—an attitude that they seem to have for any legislative activity. Nothing like this has happened for at least a half century. Doing this will put the farmers suffering from the worst drought since the middle of the last century with Medicare doctors whose pay will run out, fired workers who worry about jobless benefits, and possibly millions of families whose tax breaks may expire. The Senate has already approved its farm bill so that the House needs to stop whining about the Senate not taking any action.

If the conservatives want to save the country, they need to take a hard look at the defense budget. The United States not only spends more money than any other country but also spends more than the next 14 nations combined. This nation’s military budget accounts for 41% of the total military spending in the entire world. This is the conservatives’ “dream for America.” T

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