Nel's New Day

August 2, 2017

Congress, DDT Leaving D.C. with Little to Show

The House left Washington, D.C. last week for an extended vacation, but not after they did a bit of harm. In an article for Nation, “Paul Ryan Hands Donald Trump a Blank Check for Endless War,” John Nichols refers to the House Speaker’s stripping an amendment from the defense budget that unanimously passed in committee. He did it after midnight and with no debate, floor vote, or consultation with anyone except the GOP House leadership. The U.S. Constitution does not give the president power to wage war, but Congress passed a 60-word bill allowing the president to send military forces against groups linked to the 9/11 attacks. DDT no longer restricts his hostile actions against countries throughout the world to fighting ISIS. The amendment would have required Congress to following the constitution by reverting to congressional approval for military action. It even has support from within the Pentagon. Even General Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wants the 2001 law revoked.

The title of the article, however, could have been far more general: it could have been just “Paul Ryan Hands Donald Trump.” Republicans in the House have been largely mum after DDT’s egregious actions and proposals. Even when DDT suggested that he could pardon his family, his associates, and himself, few GOP representatives objected. To accept pardons from the president, people had to admit that they committed the crimes for which they are pardoned. Thus DDT is considering the admission that he committed crimes, but little word from Republicans in the House.

When Democrats requested documents in the House Judiciary Committee about the firing of former FBI director James Comey, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) flipped the proposal into an amendment to ask the Justice Department for documents related to Comey’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email service. The witch hunt is back on to divert attention away from DDT’s Russia collusion. In the new administration, only GOP congressional members are permitted to asked for any documents; no Democrats need apply. The committee passed Gaetz’s amendment on a partisan vote of 16-13.

A failure in the House is the D.C. Circuit Court’s ruling that state attorneys general can defend subsidy payments to the insurance industry for certain health care consumers. The GOP House sued in 2014 to stop these payments because Congress had not approved a specific appropriation, and DDT threatens to block the funding because Trumpcare failed. The insurance industry warned that instability could cause a 20-percent increase in premiums for 2018.

The House did buck DDT’s wishes when it passed—by 419-3!—increased sanctions on Russia and decreased presidential authority to change these sanctions. The Senate had already passed the bill by 98-2. The bill also includes sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Ukraine. Furious about the bill, DDT waited a week to sign the bill into law with no ceremony but declared has “clearly unconstitutional provisions.” This from the man who has violated the constitution in so many ways. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the bill will not “be helpful to our efforts.” Russian president Vladimir Putin is so angry that he reduced the U.S. diplomatic staff by 755 people, matching the number of diplomatic Russians in the U.S., and seized two properties used by U.S. diplomats.

Another irritant for DDT may be the Senate bill to protect special investigator, Robert Mueller. Any firing of a special counsel would demand judicial review if the bill passes by a veto-proof margin.

On the other side of Congress, senators have decided to go home tomorrow, or Friday at the latest, after Trumpcare went down in flames. (For a bit of satire regarding the upshot of the Senate Trumpcare vote, check out Andy Borowitz’s column about DDT supporters’ fury for still having healthcare.) In the midst of Trumpcare trauma, they planned to stay into their typical August recess until August 11th. The House is gone, however, and DDT plans to head out tomorrow if the flight restrictions around Bedminster (NJ) from August 3-20 are correct.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has already handed over another blank check from the Judiciary Committee to DDT by not requiring DDT associates—eldest son, Don Jr; son-in-law Jared Kushner; and former campaign manager Paul Manafort—to testify. They just “talked” and gave the committee some documents. One topic from the disappeared subpoenas was the once-secret meeting with a growing number of Russians when Jr, Kushner, and Manafort hoped to get dirt on Clinton. Grassley is also trying to prove that the former intelligence officer who prepared the dossier on Russian meddling really works for Russia, once again in a struggle to protect DDT.

The failure of Trumpcare in the Senate—thanks to “no” votes against it from GOP Sens. Susan Collins (ME), John McCain (AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (AK)—was followed by a failure for AG Jeff Sessions. The Appropriations Committee blocked the DOJ spending anything to undermine state medical marijuana laws. When Sessions isn’t trying to collect and keep money from innocent people picked up by the police, he has been salivating about destroying state laws regarding cannabis. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has proposed a bill to legalize cannabis because of its ability to solve the opioid abuse and relieve one racist approach toward imprisonment. GOP control of Congress will block Booker’s bill at this time, but approval of cannabis use is growing across the nation. Its use should be legal, according to 61 percent of people in the U.S., and 88 percent favor medical marijuana use. Another 71 percent oppose efforts to stop sales and use in states where it is legal, and 65 percent think that marijuana is less dangerous than most other drugs. In short, the vast majority of people disagree with Sessions.

The GOP senators have hit rock bottom after the failure of Trumpcare: they are offering to work with Democrats. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Senate Health Committee chair, will hold bipartisan hearings when Congress comes back in September to develop a short-term proposal to strengthen individual markets for the Affordable Care Act by mid-September. Female, Democrat Patty Murray (WA) will have a place at the negotiating table for the first time with Alexander’s decision. A bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, consisting of 43 senators from both parties, praised Alexander for his initiative. Insurers are required to sign contracts by the end of September to sell plans on the exchanges.

Christopher Wray—DDT’s pick for FBI director—has been confirmed, but five senators voted against him. Two of them are from Oregon, making me very proud. After the illegal closing of the George Washington Bridge, Wray defended New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Wray hid Christie’s cellphone, and Christie escaped a guilty verdict. Wray’s law firm represents Russia-owned energy companies, and Wray deleted his representation of an energy company executive in a criminal investigation by Russian authorities from his biography. His career has been spent in defending criminals, not pursuing them, i.e., a major Swiss bank accused of laundering money for terrorists. In the history of confirming FBI directors, only one other senator has ever voted against a director. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against James Comey because of surveillance issues.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) should be praised for introducing the Dream Act of 2017 granting legal status and a path to citizenship for DREAMers. Eight out of ten voters, including more than 7 in 10 Republicans, believe DREAMers should be allowed to remain in the US legally. Ending DACA would result in a loss of $460.3 billion from the national GDP over the next 10 years, and remove an estimated 685,000 workers from the nation’s economy.

The question now is what will happen on October 1 if the House doesn’t get around to passing the budget and increasing the debt ceiling. The Senate and House have 12 joint working days before Sept. 29. A shutdown means a stock market crash, surging interest rates, disruption to the world’s financial system, and a recession. Twelve days.

 

April 12, 2016

Cruz Worse Than Trump

In a panic about the GOP being represented by Donald Trump, Republican establishment types have moved to the presidential candidate who they hate the most—Ted Cruz. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) shifted from wanting to poison his colleague to just saying that the Republican party is “screwed up.” Part of the GOP argument is that Trump is too “liberal,” but when they complain about his actual positions, they are almost identical to those espoused by other Republicans—particularly Cruz. The GOP has temporarily picked its most mistrusted and hated senator, “a serial liar who led the 2013 government shutdown and called Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a fraud on the Senate floor.”

Trump’s briefly held position about punishing women for having abortions is part of the GOP agenda. John Kasich said that individual states should decide how to punish the women. (It’s the usual GOP statement when candidates or elected officials try to weasel out of answering a question.) Cruz has a much worse position when he says farther by saying that states should ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who still denies that  he wants to be president in the same way he denied wanting to be Speaker of the House, “opposes abortion, period,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. During a campaign, he said that he was willing to let states criminally prosecute women who have abortions.

Troy Newman, one of Cruz’ top advisers, wants to execute abortion providers, and another adviser, Kevin Swanson, wants to execute Girl Scout leaders for “promoting homosexuality.” Cruz’ “no” votes include the Paycheck Fairness Act, raising the minimum wage, and reauthorizing the Violence against Women Act. He has voted to defund Planned Parenthood. All three of the GOP presidential candidates are saying, “Vote for us, and we’ll take away your rights.”

Both Trump and Cruz are competing to prove how much they hate Muslims. All eight people who Trump and Cruz appointed as advisers have connections to the Center for Security Policy, a hate group serving as the anti-Muslim movement’s premier think tank, and half of them hold ranking positions with CSP, including founder Frank Gaffney who works for Cruz. On his radio show, Gaffney called Jared Taylor’s openly racist American Renaissance website “wonderful.” Other major Cruz advisers are Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (Ret.), Executive VP of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council; Claire Lopez, VP for research and analysis at CSP; Andy McCarthy, columnist for National Review and active on the anti-Muslim speaking circuit; and Fred Fleitz, Senior VP for Policy and Programs at CSP.

Trump picked Sen. Jeff Sessions, key politician in the anti-Muslim movement; Walid Phares, anti-Muslim activist and former Lebanese Christian Militia member; and Joseph E. Schmitz, Senior Fellow with CSP. After Trump fired adviser Sam Nunberg for being too racist, Nunberg moved to the Cruz camp.

After Trump promised to “bomb the sh*t” out of ISIS, Cruz promising to carpet bomb the Middle East. Even Fox criticized Cruz’ position, but he was still touting this solution on Easter Sunday, right after talking about salvation. As Jimmy Kimmel pointed out on his late night show, the only difference is that Cruz wants the sand to “glow.”

President Obama reported that he’s “getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about” both Trump’s and Cruz’ “suggestions” including their immigration proposals. Cruz claims that, if elected, he would deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. He also wants the same wall that Trump does and would triple the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Trump and Cruz also show the same positions in issues of no gun control, repealing the Affordable Care Act, picking Supreme Court nominees, and costing taxes by $9.5 trillion through cutting taxes. Jimmy Kimmel shows the striking similarities his late night show.  Both men want religion in government and oppose international agreements.

In his struggle to rise from the bottom, GOP candidate John Kasich summarized their positions although he didn’t give their names:

“a ban on Muslims from entering the country, surveillance of Muslims in the U.S., dropping out of the NATO alliance, allowing nuclear weapons in Europe, and promising to repeal Obamacare ‘simply through the will of a strong man in the White House.’”

USA Today editorial board likened GOP presidential candidate Cruz’ “dogmatic, confrontational and hyperpartisan” rhetoric and tactics to those of Trump.  An analysis of the similarities between Cruz and Trump are striking with the only differentiation that Cruz varies from “generally” to “far” more conservative than Trump.

There is one major difference between Trump and Cruz: Trump backers are proud of their candidate; and Cruz backers are embarrassed by their candidate. John Nichols described Trump as “a crude xenophobic demagogue who has little respect for civil liberties or civil rights and who says terrible things about Muslims, refugees, and immigrants.” Steven Rosenfeld described Cruz as “a conniving, uncompromising, power-hungry demagogue whose policies would serve the richest Americans.” Cruz is just more tied to special interests, rigid, and connected to sleazy campaign tactics.

Cruz also has a super PAC to do his bidding. He claims that “family” is off-limits, but his super PAC started the “war of the wives” by printing a photo of Trump’s wife, causing Trump to retaliate. The difference is that the super PAC didn’t get permission to use a copyrighted photograph whereas Trump pulled his off of a tweet.

Religion is another area in which Cruz is farther away from reality than Trump. Colorado’s Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt is on Cruz’ team of leaders in that state, and Cruz has bragged about the man’s endorsement. As a “preacher,” Klingenschmitt has made many videos, including his claim that God made a hurricane because he was thrown out of the U.S. Navy chaplain. His departure didn’t even come from his crazy beliefs; he violated policy by wearing his military uniform at a right-wing political rally. He lost his position on the state House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee after he declared that a viciously violent attack on a pregnant woman removing her fetus was punishment for America’s legalization of abortion. He also tried to exorcize President Obama—although not in person—and tried to cleanse a woman of the” foul spirit of lesbianism.” His objection to gays serving in the military is their “taking breaks on the combat field to change diapers all because their treacherous sin causes them to lose control of their bowels.” Videos of Klingenschmitt’s “preaching” are here.

Much has been said about how Trump is wonderful because he doesn’t follow “political correctness,” which parents call courtesy when they’re teaching the children how to be well-behaved. Trump takes pride in not being civil while Cruz continues with his wax-face smile and speaks courteously. Yet the same vitriol comes from both their mouths—except when Cruz is worse. Asked about a comparison between him and Joe McCarthy, the Wisconsin senator who destroyed tens of thousands of lives through his hearings in the 1950s, Cruz said, that it “may be a sign that perhaps we’re doing something right.”

Robert Reich listed four reasons that Cruz is far worse than Trump: Cruz is more fanatical, more disciplined and strategic, a true believer, and a loner who’s willing to destroy government institutions to get his way.

The only virtue that the GOP can find in Cruz is, in the words of Lindsey Graham, “He’s not Trump.” No, he isn’t. He’s worse.

April 2, 2012

Wisconsin’s Journey to Freedom, Part II

Wisconsin—a place where the conservative governor Scott Walker stripped fundamental rights, slashed budgets for health and education, silenced citizens in the formal political process, and erased the possibility of public good or trust from state agencies. A place where Walker, who campaigned on getting more jobs for people and improving the economy, took $56 million from the working poor by reducing the Earned Income Tax Credit while giving $36 million to wealthy Wisconsin investors in a capital gains tax break. A place where Walker used $25.6 million of the $31.6 million Wisconsin’s state government received from the foreclosure fraud settlement to help close a budget shortfall in the state’s general fund.

Although union-busting was one of Walker’s passions, unions weren’t the only losers in Walker’s Wisconsin. The final budget bill allowed “direct conversion” of credit unions, owned by the share-holders, into investor-owned banks. Credit unions can return dividends to members through offering banking services with lower fees and loans at lower rates than banks. Communities without credit unions have higher fees at ATMs and for other banking services. The 220 credit unions in Wisconsin are often in rural areas that lack investor-owned banks. There was no notification of the credit union amendment to the public before the legislators voted.

Over a month ago, the state legislative bodies passed SB 202, repealing the 2009 Equal Pay Act allowing people to sue employers who illegally discriminate against them based on protected class status. The bill was sponsored by ALEC members, part of the coalition funded by wealthy conservatives such as the Koch brothers and huge corporations such as AT&T, Coca-Cola, and VISA. Identical bills that support anti-immigration, photo IDS, defunding unions, privatizing schools and public assets, corporate tax loopholes, etc. combined with those that stop states from raising revenue have popped up in all the 26 conservative-controlled states, thanks to ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council).

Like The Lily Ledbetter Act, The Equal Pay Act was developed to provide legal protection to women who are unfairly compensated based on their gender. One Republican explained the repeal of equal pay for all by saying that many businesses and employers asked for the bill. (I wonder how many votes from women these conservative legislators expect to get in the 2012 election.) Before Wisconsin passed the Equal Pay Act in 2009, Wisconsin was 36th in the worst pay gap; in the next two years the state climbed to the 24th position. Thus far I haven’t found any record of Walker signing the bill, but he is expected to do so.

Not content with destroying women’s pay equality, Wisconsin legislators have also passed another anti-choice bill, this one requiring doctors to verify—in writing—that women were not coerced into abortions. And to guarantee a higher percentage of teen pregnancy, the legislators also passed a bill requiring abstinence-only instruction for teenagers. (If they want to analyze the increase in teen pregnancy Wisconsin will have because of this law, they should check the high number of Texas teen girls who get pregnant thanks to abstinence-only education.) The Wisconsin bill also requires sexual education courses to discuss parental responsibility and the socioeconomic benefits of marriage (I’m guessing heterosexual), as well as explain pregnancy, prenatal development, and childbirth.

Following the loss of collective bargaining for 175,000 state public employees, school districts are now imposing strict and arbitrary rules on teachers without any mediation with teacher unions.  For example, New Berlin not only increased workdays for teachers with no pay increases but also created a dress code: no jeans, no open shirts, and no skirts that are not below the knee. Teachers cannot have any students as Facebook “friends” and must report any traffic incidents or tickets to the school district. School districts who want to work with teachers to design an employee handbook are afraid to do this because they might violate the ban against collective bargaining. The law has moved teachers to the level of serfs with no rights.

What kind of lawmakers have voted in favor of laws that allows such abuse of employees? Rep. Don Pridemore is a prime example. Rather than allowing an abused woman to divorce the man who beats her up, she should try to remember what she loves about him. Pridemore said, “If they can re-find those reasons and get back to why they got married in the first place it might help.”  With Sen. Glenn Grothman, he also co-sponsored not only the photo ID law, now declared unconstitutional, but also a bill that credits child abuse to single motherhood.

As the chair of the House Children and Families Committee, Pridemore wants to mandate the state Child Abuse Prevention Board to conduct public awareness campaigns emphasizing that single parenthood is a leading cause of child abuse. His co-sponsor, Grothman, said, “A child is 20 times more likely to be sexually abused if they are raised by say, a mother and a boyfriend, than their mother and father.” He failed to provide any support for this statement. Grothman, who has never been married, also wants to underscore “the role of fathers in the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect.”

There is hope in Wisconsin. Peter Rickman, a union organizer and former leader of Wisconsin’s Teaching Assistants Association, said they can create new organizations by bringing together community groups, political organizations, and unions that last beyond one protest or one election cycle. “We have strength in numbers, the 1 percent has the money,” he said. The logo of Wisconsin redesigned as a blue clenched fist still brings people together.

One person who continued to fight back against Walker and exercise his free speech is 36-year-old Azael Brodhead, Iraq veteran and state Department of Corrections probation and parole agent. For weeks he drove past Walker’s house, honked his horn, gave “the finger” through his sunroof, and shouted “Recall Walker.” When he was ticketed for “unnecessary blowing of horn,” he went to trial. Fined $166.20, he continued his routine—stopped the honking but kept up the yelling. “Probation agent is my day job,” said Brodhead. “Being a concerned citizen is 24-7.”

The Koch brothers bankrolling many of the conservative campaigns for Wisconsin legislators, including Walker, had a bad week in the state last week. Federal authorities are investigating Prosperity USA and Wisconsin Prosperity Network. At least one person being investigated is also involved in Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit cofounded by the conservative Koch brothers that helped organize the tea party movement in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Not much information yet about what’s happening but then it’s a secret investigation.

Much more about the effects of Wisconsin’s protests on the rest of the nation is in John Nichols’ book, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Occupy Wall Street.

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