Nel's New Day

September 19, 2016

Media Focuses on Clinton’s Non-Stories, Largely Ignores GOP Zombie Issues

Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s emails are two issues that Republicans refuse to let die, despite tens of investigations into each one that fail to prove anything that the Democratic presidential candidate has done wrong. Today, the Clinton Foundation zombie problems returned when a headline referencing a quote from Bill Clinton read “‘Natural’ For Foundation Donors to Seek Favors.” As usual, the media, determined to make something out of nothing, took this headline out of context from Bill Clinton’s response in an NPR interview:

“It was natural for people who’ve been our political allies and personal friends to call and ask for things. And I trusted the State Department wouldn’t do anything they shouldn’t do.”

Leaked emails show that people aren’t getting the favors that they request, and all the aggressive searching by Hillary haters has found absolutely no “pay for play” from the Clinton Foundation that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

While dwelling on Clinton non-stories, Sunday talk shows ignored the real story about the “pay for play” Trump Foundation already fined for illegal campaign donations to Florida’s AG Pam Bondi in exchange for her dropping an investigation into the fraudulent Trump University. A less biased media would have covered the New York investigation into Trump illegally using the Trump Foundation charity funds to purchase at least one oil painting and one football helmet. Trump has not donated one cent to his “foundation” since 2008 while he gets credit for donating funds that other people gave to his foundation. Instead of reporting on Trump’s “pay for play” violations, the media concentrated on Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis and Trump’s infomercial on Dr. Oz’s show.

The same media largely ignored Kurt Eichenwald’s detailed cover story in Newsweek which reported that Trump’s business interests “will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” if Trump wins the presidency and does not sever all connections to the Trump Organization. As Eichenwald wrote, the Trump Organization has been “largely ignored” by media despite its “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” in nearly all foreign policy decisions during a Trump presidency. Eichenwald provides information about the Trump Organization’s “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians, and even criminals” and “a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled” which could conflict with presidential major national security decisions and negotiations.

GOP members zombies:

Donald Trump desperately wanted to drop the birther issue after claiming for many years that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. His giant mistake, however was blaming Clinton for initiating the theory. A strategist had suggested that the 2008 Clinton campaign could use the idea that Barack Obama was “not American,” but Clinton immediately quashed it. There’s no fire where Trump is blowing smoke. Yet campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus repeatedly accused Clinton of starting the birther theory on Sunday talk shows.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went one better. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump hadn’t said anything about the issue “for a long time.” Fortunately, Tapper, a journalist who believes in telling the truth, reminded Christie that Trump continued birthering for five years after the president released the long-form birth certificate to the public in 2011. A lively exchange of “true” and “not true” ensured followed by Christie saying, “It wasn’t like he was talking about it on a regular basis.” In fact-checking Christie’s claim, the Washington Post wrote:

“This is such bogus spin that we have to wonder how Christie manages to say it with a straight face…. [C]learly Christie is either lying or he is so misinformed that he has no business appearing on television.”

Christie should shift to protecting himself. His involvement in the closure of the George Washington Bridge that created havoc and physical danger to people has returned. While his allies and employees have pled guilty or gone to court in this issue, Christie has stuck to his position that “I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act.” In today’s trial for two of those accused of closing the bridge, both both prosecutors and lawyers for the defendants agree that Christie “knew his close associates were involved in a plan to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as it was happening and that the closings were intended to punish a local mayor for declining to support him.”

In 2013, at the time of the event, Christie ridiculed the controversy because his office would never be so petty and partisan. After evidence proved that it was a petty and partisan vendetta, Christie claimed ignorance. The micromanaging governor swore that he had no idea that his top aides used his name to abuse their power. Today Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna has told jurors that David Wildstein and Bill Baroni “bragged” to the governor directly about the scheme to close lanes onto the George Washington Bridge in order to deliberately cripple Fort Lee. The trial is against former top Christie aides Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, but Christie may suffer the fallout, perhaps to the point of being impeached. It already lost him being a potential GOP vice-presidential candidate, and last May, Christie’s approval rating had fallen to 29 percent.

Dick Cheney, another zombie, has come to life in the body of GOP vice-presidential candidate, Mike Pence who said that his role model is the vice-president who put the United States into the preemptive war with Iraq costing the country millions of jobs and trillions of dollars. Cheney’s career as VP was a time of incompetence, lies, opaque ruling, scandal, missing emails, and deadly bad judgment. When he left office, Cheney’s approval rating was 13 percent, about half Richard Nixon’s support at the height of Watergate. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called Cheney an “idiot.” If Trump were elected and followed his plans, Pence, who sees himself a Cheney clone, “would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy” while Trump would focus on “making America great again.”

The zombie of Ralph Nadar, which may have led to George W. Bush’s appointment as president in 2000, may have returned in the name of Gary Johnson. A rumor circulated last week that Bill Weld might drop out of the race as Libertarian vice-presidential candidate because he didn’t want to be another Nadar. “No chance,” says Gary Johnson, top of the Libertarian ticket. Polling at 9 percent, Johnson is far away from the 15-percent threshold for participating in a presidential candidate debate, an advantage for him because he doesn’t interview well and might lose votes in a debate. Asked on public radio whether he was worried about votes for him leading to Trump as a president, he responded that he didn’t care and that it wouldn’t be his problem.

A pattern in GOP campaigning is to have one message in English and a different one in Spanish. For example, during his successful Nevada senatorial run in 2012, Dean Heller put his hardline immigration policy into English with a softer approach in Spanish. Another shift came from the GOP response to the State of the Union address last year when the Spanish version supported immigration reform—opposite to the message in English. This last spring, Kansas printed the wrong voter registration deadline, six days after the deadline, in the Spanish version and omitted the use of a passport for identification.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) brought this zombie to life in his struggling re-election. In Spanish, McCain brags about seeking comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for children brought illegally to the United States; the English skips over these policies and draws an image of McCain as hardcore immigration control. After this “translation” was questioned, a campaign spokesperson said that the website versions were “never intended to be identical.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocking the budget bill has aroused the zombie of shutting down the government. Congress has only 11 more days—two “working weeks” before a the government closes down, but McConnell “delayed” a procedural vote until 2:15 pm tomorrow. At least the bill may allow Puerto Rico’s Planned Parenthood clinic to access federal grants to fight the Zika virus, a provision that had held up the bill for several months. In his arrogant manner, McConnell said that “Senate Republicans stand ready to move forward” and wants Democrats to “complete negotiations,” something that they have been willing to do for some time.

Asked about the agreement, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, “Close is relative.” The Dems also want funding for the Flint (MI) water crisis to be in the mix, something the GOP turns down.

Ideally two weeks is enough time, but the bill must be sent to the House, returned, and then reconciled while ultra-conservatives in that chamber demand itty-bitty budget bills instead of an omnibus which go into next year instead of being a stopgap that returns—in zombie fashion—on December 9 this year.

Just a few zombies from people who ignore history.

September 10, 2016

Good News While Congress Stays in Gridlock

The Obama administration made two monumental decisions this week.

Contractors building a pipeline attacked protesters with mace and dogs as they blocked construction on federal land and asked the company to suspend nearby work, and a federal judge refused to block the $3.7 billion pipeline crossing four states. Two hundred Native American tribes were joined by activists and celebrities to oppose the pipeline. The U.S. Departments of Justice, Army, and Interior stopped the pipeline, however, and said that “this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects

With their tribal land a half-mile from the proposed pipeline, the Standing Rock Sioux declared that the pipeline would desecrate sacred burial and prayer sites as well as leak oil into their water source of the Missouri and Cannon Ball rivers. The government will not authorize construction at Lake Oahe and asked the contractors to stop work on other land. The proposed 1,100-mile pipeline was to take crude oil from North Dakota, Montana, and Canada to the U.S. Gulf.

The company driving the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partner, originally promised that all the oil would stay in the United States and lessen the nation’s independence on foreign fossil fuel, but they have withdrawn this guarantee after their successful lobbying to remove the 40-year ban on crude oil exports. The company’s filing with the SEC notes that “export projects” will “balance this market [with general oversupply] by 2018.” It also lists the pipeline as a “leader in the export of hydrocarbons.” In a presentation, Energy Transfer Partners stated that it is “exceptionally well positioned to capitalize on U.S. energy exports.”

The second welcome federal decision last week is a proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that would eliminate Title X funding to states cutting Planned Parenthood funding. PP uses about $70 million to serve over 1.1 million patients with incomes under $23,500 with contraceptives and screenings for cancer and STDs. Although none of the Title X funding can be used for abortions, 11 states have blocked PP funds. Congressional Republicans are also so intent on defunding PP that they won’t provide funding to protect people in the U.S. from the Zika virus.

PP is also attacking the Zika virus through the distribution of Zika prevention kits and education where the virus is shown to be spreading. Yet some high-risk states for the virus—Florida, Louisiana, and Texas—have blocked PP funds. In Florida alone, 84 pregnant women are currently infected with Zika. The most recent research shows that most of these women will give birth to infants with birth defects. About 84 pregnant women in Florida are currently infected with Zika, officials have said.

The 30-day public comment on this rule ends on October 7, 2016. Women who need the services of Planned Parenthood will appreciate all the support they can get. This is the link to the give a comment.  http://www.regulations.gov/document?D=HHS_FRDOC_0001-0645

Good things may happen in threes. This week, the House finally passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights after the Senate passed its version last May. The bill mandates that victims be informed of rape kits’ results and legal status as well as preventing victims from being charged for the processing the kits. The law applies only to federal cases, but it’s a start.

Otherwise, Congress has spent its first four days after a long session doing almost nothing. They did pass a bill allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts, but it could lead to retaliation against U.S. citizens by other countries. At this time, victims can sue a country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism; this bill would allow citizens to sue countries without that designation. Although 15 of the 19 perpetrators of 9/11 tragedy came from Saudi Arabia, there is no proof that Saudi Arabia instigated the attack.

The problem about the bill comes from the concept of “sovereign immunity,” giving foreign governments immunity from prosecution in U.S. courts, according to the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FISA).  As “state sponsors of terror,” Syria, Iran, and Sudan are the only exempt countries from FISA. Congress claims that the bill just passed would make only an exemption for this one lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, but legal experts have said that it would expand exemptions to any countries that commit the same terrorism defined in the legislation.

The bill may lead to other countries passing similar sovereign immunity exceptions, putting the U.S. at risk of being sued by their citizens. For example, Iraq could pass a law permitting its citizens the right to sue the U.S. government for damages during the Iraq War. If the U.S. lost its case in Iraqi courts, then the Iraqi government could seize U.S. assets in their country to pay the victims. Saudi Arabia has threatened that it would pull its assets out of the U.S. if the bill became law. The end result of this law might be to increase chaos in foreign policy process and undermines the ability of the president to craft a careful, cohesive foreign policy for all people in the nation.

The president has another nine days to make a decision on the bill.

As low as the bar has been put for Donald Trump, it’s even lower for Congress. Its only goal during September before they leave for another two months is “don’t close the government.” Even a stopgap funding bill has become difficult. The far-right Freedom Caucus wants one that goes into next year so that newly elected legislators can decide the budget. The others want one to end in December because they fear that next year will have fewer Republicans.

The first problem attacked on the first day of this session was the standoff in funds for combating the Zika virus. Republicans refuse to support the funding without eradicating all funds for Planned Parenthood. The Senate added more blackmail with demanding that environmental regulations on pesticides be loosened before granting Zika-related funds. The government has been taking anti-Zika funds from other areas, but all the funding is gone by the end of September.

A 52-46 procedural vote kept the Senate from moving forward to end debate on a conference report with the House about Zika funding, the third time that the proposal has failed because of targets against Planned Parenthood. The bill was attached to spending on military construction and veterans affairs, giving McConnell a chance to announce that Democrats opposed veterans. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said:

“Republicans were more interested in attacking Planned Parenthood and flying the confederate flag. Can’t make that stuff up — that’s really the truth — than protecting women and babies from this awful virus.”

The White House asked for $1.9 billion, but the Senate offered only $350 million in new money and moved the rest of the proposed $1.1 billion from other health accounts, including the fund for fighting the Ebola virus.

While Congress dithered, “the number of Zika cases in the U.S. more than doubled to 2,700, and people infected with the virus turned up in every state,” an LA Times editorial. “A total of 17 babies have been born with Zika-related birth defects, and about 1,600 pregnant women are known to have been exposed. And those are just the cases we know about; some 80 percent of those infected with the disease have mild or no symptoms.”

Another “big” issue in the House is an argument about impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen for something done before he got the job. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has caved into the Freedom Caucus’ demand to put the issue up for a vote despite claims from GOP leaders and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that Koskin is guilty of incompetence, not a crime. Only once—in 1876—has the House voted to impeach a Cabinet member and never to an executive branch official below the Cabinet rank. Any action from the House would require a two-thirds majority from the Senate for conviction, an unlikely possibility.  Opposed to the impeachment is a group of 123 tax-law professionals, the American College of Tax Counsel, and a group of former IRS commissioners.

As Democrats pointed out, the House is pursuing what they see as “baseless attacks” while ignoring “urgent issues”—“Zika virus, the Flint water crisis, the opioid crisis, and gun violence.” Ryan has his own priorities: his next one is probably to “punish” the Democrats who held a 25-hour sit-in because he wouldn’t bring any gun legislation to the floor. The man in control of whether any bill ever reaches a vote in Congress said about the sit-in, “That’s not the way that a democracy works.”

A year ago, the Freedom Caucus got rid of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH); now they have their sights set on Paul Ryan when he comes up for speaker again in January. The 40-member group is even considering a departure from the 180-member House Republican Study Committee if the conservative group won’t let the far-right members of the House take over. A three-way split in the House could greatly benefit Democrats even if they don’t achieve a majority.

At least Congress will be gone in another three weeks. The question is whether the government will stay open after September 30.

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