Nel's New Day

April 26, 2013

The First Nine Constitutional Amendments, An Easy Lesson

Until the rants of the Tea Party started to take over the media, the U.S. Constitution was looked upon as an important part of our heritage that courts used to determine whether laws fit into the overview of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. Less than five years ago, people like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) declared that everything the liberals do is unconstitutional, and three years ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) required that the entire constitution be read at the beginning of the 112th Congressional session so that all the bills would conform with the Constitution.

Representatives tried to read aloud with varying success–only a few glitches such as leaving out the piece blacks being only three-fifths of a person and skipping part of it because a couple of pages got stuck together. That part guaranteed “to every state in this union a republican form of government.”

They also left out the part written by the infallible Founding Fathers about runaway slaves, that if they escaped to a free state, the Constitution required that they not be freed but rather “delivered up” to their owners. Notable, too, was the omission of how the electoral college works, perhaps because the conservatives plan to get rid of it so that they can elect a GOP president.

Now Jon Stewart has brought to life the first nine amendments to the U.S. Constitution through playing clips of Fox pundits on The Daily Show, pontificating about the recent Boston bombing.

As Stewart said, “Anybody can toss away the lesser known amendments. Only a true patriot can set a course straight for the First.” And Bob Beckel, a host on The Five, did exactly that when he asked that the U.S. “cut off Muslim students from coming to the country for some period of time.” That eviscerates the First Amendment protecting freedom of speech, religion, and press as well as the right to assemble and petition the government.

Eric Bolling wanted wiretapping in mosques, attacking the Fourth Amendment that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and sets out requirements for search warrants based on probable cause.

Fox folks were highly incensed about suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev being read his Miranda rights, claiming he should be declared an enemy combatant and “intensely interrogated.”

“In the wake of an assault on our freedom and way of life, we have quickly jettisoned the Sixth Amendment–right to a fair and speedy trial–and the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination,” Stewart said. “What’s next?” Stewart left out the violation of the Seventh Amendment that provides for the right to trial by jury in certain civil cases, according to common law.

Sean Hannity doesn’t “believe” that waterboarding is torture. “There goes the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment,” Stewart continued. “Any others?”

Actually, yes there were. Ann Coulter said, “I want to know about this wife… I don’t care if she knew about this. She ought to be in prison for wearing a hijab.”

To Coulter’s impassioned plea, Stewart responded, “And down goes the Ninth Amendment! Down goes the Ninth Amendment! Ann Coulter doesn’t just want a police state. She wants a fashion police state.” (I had to look up the Ninth Amendment: it protects rights not enumerated in the Constitution.”

Thus Stewart showed that Fox wants to ignore seven of the first nine constitutional amendments in the treatment of the 19-year-old suspected of setting off pressure cooker bombs at the Boston marathon. It seems that Fox didn’t address the forced quartering of soldiers—but that’s only in peacetime, and the government seems to have declared the United States permanently at war somewhere.

Stewart asked if there were any constitutional right that Fox wants to keep after the Boston bombing.  “Since we’re just throwing amendments away willy-nilly, what if we wanted to track the weapons that any of these America haters bought, or do a background check?” Stewart said.

Visuals juxtaposed the 3,400 deaths from terrorism in the United States during the past 30 years with the almost one million deaths from guns during the same time. That was followed by a montage of clips from Fox, extolling the virtues of bearing arms in any situation and as many as people might want.

“Yes, it turns out there’s only one amendment in our constitution’s pantheon that is exempt from statistical analysis or emotional freak-out-itude, and it is the Second. So god help us if the Muslims ever decide to form a well regulated militia.”

Stewart

The written word does not do justice to this segment of The Daily Show. You can find the video here.  Send it to everyone you know, and make it go viral!

GohmertStupidity about the Boston bombing is as rampant in Congress as on Fox. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) accused President Obama of being influenced by Muslim Brotherhood members in his administration. On a radio interview yesterday, he said, “This administration has so many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America.”

Gohmert didn’t think this up on his own. Almost a year ago, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claimed Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the government, pointing a finger at top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Her false accusations led to Egyptian protests against the Secretary of State when she went there and the need for Abedin to have police protection because of threats against her life.

At that time, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) condemned Bachmann’s statements, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) described her claims as “pretty dangerous.” Even conservative Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) defended Abedin.

Gohmert, who gets his information from extremist right-wing media media such as World Net Daily, sits on the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

Meanwhile the conservatives are busy creating conspiracy theories: the government staged the attack to take over the government; the First Lady is hiding a Saudi student who was the real bomber; the Fox cartoon Family Guy predicted the bombing; the marathon organizers knew about the bombing before the race; the suspects’ uncle worked with the CIA; Facebook pages memorializing the blast were created before it happened; the dead suspect was an FBI informant; he’s not actually dead; and photos of the suspects at the scene of the crime were photoshopped.

Now Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) believe that a nationwide shortage of ammunition has resulted from the Obama administration’s stockpiling. To stop this and create more “transparency and accountability,” they introduced the Ammunition Management for More Obtainability Act, AMMO act for short. Finally, a gun control bill from the conservatives!

These two Congressmen probably got their news from fringe websites like Drudge or Alex Jones’s Infowars. Even Brietbart.com, known for its crazy stories, described the idea as “based more on panic than fact.” These are the people who keep our country from moving forward.

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.

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