Nel's New Day

October 19, 2018

DDT: Week 91 – Violence against Reporters Acceptable

After passing a tax cut for big business and the wealthiest, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided that the ballooning deficit is “disturbing.” The GOP solution is to reduce “entitlement programs”—the ones that taxpayers funded and the Republican legislators siphoned off to pay for the military and huge tax cuts for the wealthiest. Voters might want to consider this plan when they vote.

DDT has threatened to protect the Mexican border with military and overturn his shiny new trade agreement with the country if they don’t stop a caravan of Honduran immigrants crossing Mexico. He also plans to cut off foreign aid to Honduras, saving the United States a grand $127 million, equivalent to about a year of DDT’s weekend getaways. The differences of opinion in the White House led to a fight between Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton when Bolton dared to criticize DHS director Kirstjen Nielsen’s inability to keep immigrants from crossing the border.

Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and WaPo reporter, wrote about the importance of freedom of the press, the Saudis murdered him, and DDT is protecting Saudi Crown Prince MBS. After denying his death for weeks, Saudi Arabia claimed that he got in a “fist-fight”—presumably with the 15-person death squad sent with a bone saw into the Saudi embassy—and sadly died. DDT called the assumption “credible.” Photos show that members of the murder squad have close ties to Mohammed, including four of them who served as his guards during his visit to the U.S. last March–this 59-year-old man against 15 strong men possessing a bone saw. Here is the piece of trash that Saudi Arabia released. DDT lamented, “This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately.” Everytime he is asked about Khashoggi’s death, DDT says that he doesn’t want to lose $100 billion of arms sales. Now one of the murder squad of 15 has mysteriously died in a car crash.

DDT has restricted access to any information about the murder of Khashoggi by refusing to share any of this information with the Senate. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) described the situation “disappointing.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was derisive about the Saudi story, but most Republicans are covering for DDT by smearing Khashoggi’s reputation using conspiracy theories spread by the radical right-wing press that falsely accuse him of being sympathetic to Islamic terrorism. The GOP support for Saudi Arabia has even erased their memory that 15 of the 19 hijackers attacking the U.S. on 9/11 were Saudis. Saudi Arabia went so far as to claim that 9/11 was an Israeli plot.

Only after Saudi Arabia delivered $100 million to DDT as support for stabilization in northeastern Syria, did DDT agree that Khashoggi was probably dead. The State Department denied any relationship between the money and Mike Pompeo’s discussions with the Saudis about Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia has followed a pattern for paying off countries to support its foreign policies, and it may pay off Turkey for a joint investigation into the murder. Saudi Arabia is looking more and more like ISIS

In his rally this past week, DDT entertained his audience by praising Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) for his physical assault on a Guardian reporter. For the first time, DDT openly cheered a violent act against a journalist in the United States when he expressed his approval of Gianforte because he “body-slammed a reporter.” Gianforte pled guilty to the charge of assault and was sentenced to four days in jail which was changed to 40 hours of community service and a mandated anger-management course. The Guardian US editor, John Mulholland, said:

“The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.

“In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”

A bizarre continuing story this week focused on the Interior Department where the IG, in the midst of four separate investigations into its secretary, Ryan Zinke, seemed to be fired. HUD Director Ben Carson emailed information about her replacement with Suzanne Israel Tufts, one of his own employees who is a DDT political appointee with no experience in government work. After a report was released showing that Zinke violated his department’s policy on travel, White House officials said they knew nothing about these personnel transactions. Interior Department spokeswoman said that Carson’s email “had 100 percent false information” and the long-term IG is staying.

Zinke permitted his wife to travel in government vehicles while she was assisting in a campaign for a political candidate, tried to make her a “volunteer” to justify his actions, told the department’s top lawyer to lie to the public about the situation, and ordered his security detail to drive an associate to the airport. His decision to take an unarmed security detail on his overseas vacation cost taxpayers $25,000. Other investigations include Zinke’s involvement in a Montana land deal and two Connecticut tribes’ application to open a new casino. Interior Department officials also objected to the new political appointee as the Interior’s IG.

The story didn’t end there, though.  HUD said that the information was just a “mistake” and that Tufts had a job interview for IG elsewhere in the government. She didn’t show up for the appointment and then resigned her HUD position. Although she hadn’t come to her HUD job for the past two months, she had been regularly paid. All of this drama and revelation in less than a week.

More drama came from the First Lady’s self-pity party when she called herself “the most bullied person” in the world during an interview. In 2009 Minnesota GOP Senate candidate Karin Housley compared then-First Lady Michelle Obama to the chimpanzee from 1951’s movie Bedtime for Bonzo. And Michelle Obama did not parade in a cheap “I really don’t care” jacket like Melania Trump did. The GOP has a decade-long record of describing the Obama family as simians. (BTW, Trump also said that her jacket was a putdown on the press.)

Senate Democrats have again learned that they cannot trust their GOP counterparts. They agreed to quick confirmation of 15 more DDT judicial nominees so that they could recess for campaigning. Republicans stayed in Washington to hold hearings on more nominees and claimed that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had agreed to these hearings. She didn’t. The handful of Republicans attending Wednesday’s hearing moved them forward.

Last Sunday, DDT’s 60 Minutes interview addressed the people he does and does not trust. Here’s a summary:

Asked about climate change, DDT again dragged out his Uncle John and their conversations to prove that he knew best. John Trump, who died in 1985, worked in electronics and X-ray machines. DDT said that he didn’t talk about his uncle about climate change, but he has “a natural instinct for science.”

Farmers—DDT’s base—have a better instinct about climate change, and they are concerned. They may not need to worry about tariffs stopping them from shipping soybeans; almost a foot of rain has turned their crops into a bog. Their fertilizer is running off into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico to create a dead zone the size of New Jersey that destroys the shrimping industry. Soil is annually disappearing at two to three tons an acre but regenerates at only a half-ton each year. Less soil means less protein in a kernel or pod, and corn becomes higher in starch. Corn yield can also drop by one half within 50 years. Des Moines Water Works faces $100 million in improvement costs because of toxic agricultural chemicals. Minnesota crops are either washed out or weedy. Kansas now requires 100 acres of prairie grass for a calf instead of 40 acres. The huge Ogallala Aquifer, vital to cattle feedlots, is down 150 feet at Dodge City in a little over a half century and may be gone in 20 years. Corn can’t be grown in western Kansas because of the heat.

More people in North Carolina are accepting the fact of climate change after two overwhelming hurricanes in rapid succession. While DDT hosted an insane rant from Kanye West in the Oval Office, needy people are without food, water, and electricity. FEMA director Brock Long told them to be patient, and Florida’s governor Rick Scott, running for U.S. Senate, said that “everyone just needs to help each other.”

Once again, the Republicans have failed, and midterm elections are 18 days away.

December 2, 2013

GOP Strategy: Block and Blank

Imagine your life if you were paid full time for working a little over one day a week. That’s life if you’re a member of Congress this next five weeks. The House is scheduled to “work” six days during that time, making a total of 113 work days in 2013. With their $174,000 salary, GOP House members made about $1,380 a day this year. In a little over ten days, members of the House make the same amount of money that a fulltime worker paid minimum wage makes in an entire year. At least the House members worked 19 days more than last year, but this year’s calendar is 13 days less than that scheduled next year.

Perhaps House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can’t find anything for the GOP to do in the next five weeks. It appears that the House has stopped repealing the Affordable Care Act because they’re afraid to take insurance away from people. Right now conservative lawmakers seem happy to just tell lies about people who are losing their insurance and having to pay more for other plans. The Senate doesn’t seem to be working any harder than the House as GOP senators sulk about the change in the filibuster rules.

What else is left for federal lawmakers to do this year?

  • Relief from sequester caps
  • Budget plans to keep the United States from shutting down or defaulting on the debt
  • Funding authority, which expires January 15
  • Pentagon policy bill blocked because of dissension over ways to stop sexual-assault cases and increased sanctions against Iran after the White House reached a tentative nuclear pact with that nation
  • Unemployment benefits, funding to help workers displaced by global trade, and business-friendly tax break including research and development
  • Fees paid to Medicare providers to keep doctors and hospitals from dropping patients from the program
  • Confirmation of the new Federal Reserve chair, head of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and three nominees to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia—not to mention all the other nominees waiting in the wings
  • The farm policy that also includes the funding level for food stamps
  • Immigration reform? Ha!

My favorite problem is the expiration of laws banning plastic guns on December 9. The 25-year-old law that stops weapons manufacturers from making guns undetectable by security systems expires without Congressional renewal. If Congress doesn’t act, anyone can easily take a gun anywhere, including onto airplanes, because plastic weapons can’t be detected.

Over 18 months ago, political scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norma J. Ornstein published an article in The Washington Post entitled “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.” One conservative and the other progressive, they agreed:

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Searching for reasons behind the dysfunction, they listed “the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs.”

According to the couple, however, the two people behind the move to the far right are Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. From his entrance into Congress in 1979, Gingrich worked to persuade voters that this branch of government was “so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the Democratic majority.” He spent 16 years bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders and provoking them into overreactions that united GOP voters into opposing Democratic initiatives. Then he exploited scandals to raise public disgust with politicians and recruited conservatives to run against the government.

When Gingrich became speaker, the self-serving leader compromised with President Bill Clinton to build up the House’s reputation, but it was too late. The hatred toward Washington, similar to that from the Tea Party, drove out moderate GOP House members. Some of the radical conservatives moved into the Senate and similarly polarized its culture.

At the same time that Gingrich was poisoning the House, Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform and passed out the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in 1986. Signers were bound to never vote for a tax increase, including closing tax loopholes. As of last year, 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP senators had given their souls to Norquist. Extremists liked the pledge so much that they created offshoots on issues such as climate change.

More recently, Ornstein wrote about the change in the Senate during the past decade. After 14 Senators, seven from each side of the aisle, compromised in confirming extremist judges Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, Republican senators such as Lamar Alexander (TN) promised that they would never filibuster a judicial nominee.

Barack Obama’s move into the White House, however, turned “the filibuster into a routine weapon of mass obstruction.” No longer were filibusters based on qualifications. GOP senators abandoned their 2005-2006 commitments to not filibuster as  well as more recent ones in January 2013 to block everyone nominated for the bench.

In addition to filibusters, senators can block nominations for federal district court vacancies in their states, a practice known as “blue slips.” GOP senators, including Marco Rubio (FL) who actually recommended the nominee, are using this practice.

As the conservative Ornstein wrote:

“If the norms are blown up, which is what Senate Republicans under Mitch McConnell have done over the past five years—using the rules not to build bridges but to construct dams—it becomes almost inevitable that the rules will change to adapt.”

After the recent change in the filibuster rules, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) threatened more judges like Scalia and Alito, but these judges, as well as Thomas, came with the filibuster rules. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), with others, expressed concern that the Senate would get worse in effecting the legislative process. It can’t.

House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will prevent any legislature not in his political interest and support any legislation that will benefit him. Even with the majority of Democrats in the Senate passing a bill, the House will most certainly block it. The immigration reform passed the Senate with supermajorities, and Boehner won’t touch it.

The Party of No recently revealed its plan for the coming year to finish up the 113th Congress as the worst in history. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) met with a group of House GOP members and handed out a blank piece of paper labeled Agenda 2014, proving that they had no “governing vision or even a legislative agenda.” As an aide described the GOP leadership: “We don’t know where we are headed, and we don’t know what we can sell to our members.”

That’s the strategy of the GOP: blank.

December 13, 2011

Republicans Deny Obama’s Nominees, Nullify Law

The Congressional recess is frequently a time when presidents appoint nominees to official positions after the Senate refuses to act on these nominations. President Obama missed his chance last summer because the Senate didn’t officially call a recess: a senator showed up each day to hold a fake meeting, that they call brief “pro forma” sessions, to avoid recessing. Those sessions, typically lasting just minutes with a handful of members present, exist because of Article 1, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution, which states that neither chamber will adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other. If House Republicans do not agree to the Senate’s recess or vice versa, those brief sessions are required. GOP members have forced several of these sessions over the last few months, precisely to block recess appointments.

The Congress is nearing its usual winter recess after the conservatives’ customary refusal to approve nominees. So what’s Obama to do if they continue to hold pro forma sessions?

Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution states that if there is a disagreement about when the chambers should adjourn, the president has the power to “adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper.” The power has never been used before perhaps because no other Senate has refused to approve such a large number of nominees.

Also the 20th Amendment of the Constitution states that the Congress shall assemble at least once a year, with each session beginning at noon on Jan. 3. That means that the Congress has to break in order to assemble. Theodore Roosevelt once made a recess appointment during a recess that was less than a day long, creating an historical precedent. Doing this, Obama would bring criticism from Republicans in the Congress, but that is nothing new for him.

A major position left empty for over a year is the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Because Senate said they would reject Elizabeth Warren before she was appointed, Obama named Richard Cordray to be the financial watchdog. He has impeccable credentials, having been Attorney General of Ohio, and 30 other state attorney generals wrote to the Senate requesting his approval.

Although the Senate could have passed Cordray with a 53-45 vote, the Republicans filibustered—again—which required 60 votes to bring the matter up for a vote. The only Republican who voted for cloture was Scott Brown (R-MA), a practical approach because he is running against the extremely popular Elizabeth Warren for his Senate seat.

As of last September the Republican stall campaign in the Senate had sidetracked so many of the Obama’s judicial nominees that he has put fewer people on the federal bench than any president since Richard Nixon at a similar point in his first term 40 years ago. Despite the Democrats’ substantial Senate majority, Republican filibusters have caused fewer than half of Obama’s nominees to be confirmed and 102 out of 854 judgeships to be vacant.

Six years ago 14 Senate Republicans and Democrats made an informal agreement that a filibuster would be used for presidential nominees only in “extraordinary circumstances” in order to break a logjam on judicial nominees. Four of these Republicans who participated in this agreement are still in the Senate, and some of them are continuing the filibusters. An example of this is the 54-45 vote that failed to bring cloture to debate regarding the judicial nomination of Caitlin Halligan to join the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (R-AK) was the only Republican to vote against the filibuster.  Murkowski said Halligan deserved an up-or-down vote. “I stated during the Bush Administration that judicial nominations deserved an up-or-down vote, except in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and my position has not changed simply because there is a different President making the nominations,” she said.

Senate Judiciary ranking member Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) voted present. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said he opposed the nomination not because of Halligan’s views but also because he doesn’t believe the position is needed. The slot that Halligan was nominated for, to replace U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, has been vacant for years.

Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said in a release, “Let me be clear: Senate Republicans blocked a supremely qualified nominee today. Halligan is a lawyer’s lawyer. She clerked for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court, she has a long and distinguished record of service in New York, and she has support across party lines–including from former George W. Bush nominee Miguel Estrada.  She is an exemplary nominee, supported by a majority of Senators. She was first nominated in 2010, and she should have been sitting on the D.C. Circuit by now.”

Cordray’s tenure would be five years if he were approved; federal judges are permanent. The more Obama nominees that can be avoided, the happier the conservatives will be. Their hope is that they will take over the Senate and presidency next year so that the entire judicial system will be as far right as possible.

Opposing Cordray has been profitable for several senators. Wall Street banks are fighting the new agency tooth and nail, and the 45 Republicans who vowed to block the agency’s director have received nice donations from the financial services industry, over $6.5 million from the financial industry in 2011 and nearly $125.6 million during their careers. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking member of the Senate Banking committee (and lead signer of the letter), received at least $81,850 in 2011 and $6.2 million from the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector throughout his career.

What the senators are practicing in these two cases can be called “nullification.” Senators voted against Halligan because they didn’t see the need for the position (as declared by law), and they voted against Cordray because they don’t want the bureau to exist despite the fact that is passed Congress. They have been very open about their votes opposing the law that passed the bureau, not the person himself—in short, openly trying to keep an already-approved piece of legislation from taking effect. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told the New York Times: “This is not about the nominee, who appears to be a decent person and may very well be qualified.” The Republicans are simply saying that they don’t like a law that was legally passed so they are going to behave as if it didn’t.

It’s not the first time that the Republicans have used nullification during Obama’s term. They refused to allow a vote on Don Berwick, Obama’s first choice to run Medicare and Medicaid–not because they seriously doubted his qualifications but because they don’t like the Affordable Care Act.

Nullification may have led to the Civil War. In 1830 Vice-President John C. Calhoun theorized that states had the power to “nullify” federal laws, using arguments from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison opposing the Alien and Sedition Acts. When he finally understood the danger of this position, he worked to develop a more bipartisan attitude, but the southern states continued to simmer until South Carolinacame to boil thirty years later followed by ten other states.

According to Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, Acts of Congress “shall be the supreme law of the land…anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Every member of Congress takes an oath to “support and defend” the Constitution and swears that they take that oath “without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” Senate Republicans are pretending that they don’t have to follow the Constitution. The question is whether what they are doing is unconstitutional

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