Nel's New Day

June 8, 2013

June Brings Good News

Amidst recent scandals and outrage of IRS and spying issues are stories that give hope for the future. One of these is the growth of North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” demonstrations against GOP assaults on women’s reproductive rights, public education, care for the poor and mentally ill, and voting rights. Rev. William Barber of the state NAACP spoke to a crowd, objecting to lawmakers’ cutting 500,000 people from the Medicaid rolls, causing one million working poor families to lose their earned income tax credit “so that 23 wealthy people get a tax cut,” and giving $100 million in public money to private schools while cutting corporate tax rates. Two years ago, the Tea Party drove the election, giving both legislative chambers to Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction almost 150 years ago.

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As Barber talked, two prison buses waited to take the people to jail. The 151 people arrested were an increase from the 17 five weeks earlier. Many of them are the elderly, disabled, clergy, professionals–people who traditionally seen as the establishment. Also parked outside the crowd are four vans from Baptist churches filled with bottled water, bag lunches, and rain ponchos, not really menacing.

President Obama may have held his own mini-protest last week when he appointed U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice as his national security adviser. Last fall, Republican legislators attacked Rice so viciously after she delivered the talking points given her by the FBI regarding the four deaths in Benghazi that she declined to be a nominee for Secretary of State. The Senate would have to approve that nomination, but this position requires no Congressional approval. 

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) tweeted that he would “make every effort to work w/her on imp’t issues.” Earlier he accused her of giving “false information concerning how this tragedy happened” and of being unfit for high office, asking for her resignation because of her “bad intelligence.” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) had described Rice as “somebody who’s had every drop of Kool-Aid” and sounds “like she’d be a great head of the Democratic National Committee.” After her new appointment, he said, “I had a very good conversation with Ambassador Susan Rice to let her know I look forward to working with her on shaping important foreign policy and national security issues as she serves in her new role.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) stands his ground. “I really question the president’s judgment in promoting someone who was complicit in misleading the American public,” Paul said. All the senators might want to play nice with Susan Rice: her new position makes her more powerful than the Secretary of State, the office that they kept her from having.

The president—and small businesses in California—got some good news about Obamacare. Big health insurers Anthem and Blue Cross/Blue Shield were told to refund over $36 million in overcharges to these small businesses, and that’s just one state. While conservatives claim to love “Main Street, USA,” they prefer to let huge corporations rob them. Obamacare has already saved $147 million for newly insured young adults and another $1.1 billion for 12.8 million people because of the provision that insurance companies must pay a minimum of 80 percent of premiums for real medical care. This is the law that GOP House members have voted 37 times to overturn.

Swiffer-rosie-the-riveter-e1370362475592A bad news story turned into good news within less than a week when Swiffer removed Rosie the Riveter from its advertising. During World War II, the picture of Rosie became a lasting feminist icon, showing that women could get out of the kitchen. Swiffer put her back in when they used the image to promote its new mopping products. 

 

 

120606_sheldon_adelson_ap_605Casino mogul and billionaire Sheldon Adelson, 79, may have less clout in the next presidential election. After dropping millions of dollars on Newt Gingrich’s campaign and denigrating Mitt Romney, he changed the recipient of more millions after Romney was chosen for the GOP candidate. With a net worth of $26.5 billion, Adelson and his wife gave almost $150 million to GOP superPACs and “nonprofit” groups, legal because of Citizens United.

Rumors of his fraudulent actions swirled around for several years; now a grand jury in Los Angeles is probing an alleged federal money-laundering scheme of his Nevada-based casinos. Adelson may not be a subject of the inquiry, but he’s in trouble for violations of an anti-bribery statute involving his four casinos in Macau, the only place in China with legalized casino gambling. A Las Vegas jury has ruled that Adelson’s casino, the Sands, owes Richard Suen $70 million for lobbying help to open its first Macau casino almost a decade ago. And PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that had represented the Sands for a quarter-century, suddenly resigned probably because of legal and regulatory concerns. [AP photo]

Rumors about Texas turning politically purple, if not downright blue, are also swirling around, and a Tea Party member is helping. After Democrats launched Battleground Texas, state GOP leaders opened fire against the opposition. State Attorney General Greg Abbott called the Democratic campaign “an assault far more dangerous than what the leader of North Korea threatened when he said he was going to add Austin, Texas, as one of the recipients of his nuclear weapons.”

The sabotage from the conservatives came when Ken Emanuelson said, “I’m going to be real honest with you; the Republican Party doesn’t want black people to vote if they’re going to vote 9-to-1 for Democrats.” He evidently didn’t get the memo on GOP minority outreach. Out of a population of 26 million, Texas has a white population of only 44 percent. Although 70 percent of Hispanics and 90+ percent of blacks voted for President Obama, he still lost the vote because of the low minority voter registration and turnout. Emanuelson could help change that.

Another GOP dinosaur problem comes from the Heritage Foundation. Known as a conservative think tank, the organization has begun to take on the personality of its new leader, rabidly right Jim DeMint who was formerly a senator from South Carolina. Still insisting on the importance of austerity in a crisis—continually debunked within the past year—one of its economists, Salim Furth, claimed that most of Europe isn’t practicing austerity according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

A Senate member explained that Furth’s OECD numbers are actually the opposite of reality, calling the testimony “meretricious,” a polite term for just short of lying. Another notable economist, Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, wondered “whether Heritage may at this point be destroying its own usefulness. Its purpose was never to do real research; it was always a propaganda arm of the movement. But it was supposed to create a plausible illusion of intellectual rigor, good enough to take in gullible journalists.”

Thanks to DeMint, the Heritage Foundation is moving away from research and into, according to DeMint, “good marketing.” Instead of policy, it will focus on “messaging” and “communicating.” Instead of a think tank, the Heritage Foundation will become a message strategist for like-minded politicians. That’s bad news for the GOP because they aren’t able to do their own research.

And thanks to Rachel Maddow, I’ve found the website for marine traffic, fun for me because I live in one of the largest fishing harbors on the West Coast that’s also home to NOAA ships and other research vessels. Maddow has found another use for the website that tracks ships—searching the locations where the Koch brothers are sending their stockpile of petroleum coke to be burned. The article explains her reasons, process, and the end location of a couple of ships, two plants in Nova Scotia.

The best news for parenting gays and lesbians confirms what they already know: these children are not only thriving but also maintaining a higher rate of family cohesion than other families. The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families is the world’s largest comparison of children raised by same-sex couples and those raised by heterosexual couples. Although researchers found no difference in self-esteem, emotional behavior, and time spent with parents, children with same-sex parents also score higher for overall health. Legislators who prevent adoption by same-sex couples and Supreme Court justices who worry about “the children” might want to take notice. 

At the same time that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is backing out of immigration reform and the Eagle Forum has called on people to “shoot” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) for her support of the act, evangelical leaders are now praying for GOP congressmen to back immigration reform and running radio ads, primarily in red states, to support for the act. Maybe they want more people in their congregation: 600,000 Latinos in the United States convert from Catholicism to evangelical Protestantism every year. Or more voters. One-third of registered GOP or leaning-GOP voters are also evangelical Christians. Those in the pews are, however, pushing back. White evangelical Christians are the least likely group to allow legal status to undocumented immigrants. 

The Senate starts debate on the immigration reform bill next week. Let’s see how good the news is then. 

November 28, 2012

Congress Gets More Dysfunctional

Yesterday’s blog included the bravery of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) in crossing the conservative activist Grover Norquist when Chambliss said about the anti-tax pledge that he signed 20 years ago, “If we do it [Norquist’s]  way then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that.” Since then, Norquist seems to have gotten to Chambliss as shown by this tweet: “ I’m not in favor of tax increases. I’m in favor of significant tax reform 2 lower tax rates & generate additional revenue through job growth.” He must have gotten protests from his campaign funders.  

Each day—in fact each hour—the bipartisan budget agreement from August 2011 takes another twist. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who walked off the Simpson-Bowles debt commission before it could come up with a way to solve the deficit, has been named as negotiator for the fiscal cliff. Is House Speaker John Boehner trying to scuttle all Ryan’s chances of being a 2016 presidential candidate with this appointment?

My personal theory, and hope, is that with the intransigent Ryan—and the other Republicans pushed by Norquist—all negotiations will fail before the end of the year. The higher taxes will then go into effect on the first of January when Democrats will propose a bill to reduce taxes for everyone under $250,000. The question then is whether Republicans will vote against lowering taxes for the American people.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), appointed by President Obama to lead the commission with Erskine Bowles, has promised to protect Congressmen who separate themselves from Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge through donations from his Campaign to Fix the Debt. Simpson predicted that Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) would come under attack for backing entitlement. He didn’t promise, however, to protect the Democrat. Durbin is up for re-election in 2014.

Not that the GOP ever listens to the populace, but their political leaders should check out this chart showing what people in the United States want from the solution to the “fiscal cliff.” In short, voters want higher tax rates for the wealthy and no increase in the age to receive Social Security. Although more evenly split on limiting tax deductions, they still don’t want to do this. Even fewer self-identified Republicans and conservatives want the age for Social security to be raised (29 percent) than self-identified liberals (30 percent).

At the same time the Susan Rice debacle has worsened now that supposedly moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-MA) entered the fray against her to force the appointment of John Kerry for Secretary of State. Quelle surprise! She, too, has always been supportive of Scott Brown, going so far as to campaign for him this fall. Like other Republicans, she likely believes that taking Kerry out of the Senate will leave the space wide open for Scott Brown whose term for Massachusetts senator ends in 33 days.

The problem with all the GOP kerfuffle is that the Democrats are getting irritated. In the last election, people may have voted because they were told they couldn’t; the same thing may happen with the selection for Secretary of State if Rice gets votes because the GOP is providing all this unwarranted opposition toward her.

The only way that the Republicans can keep a Democratic choice from becoming Secretary of State is by filibustering. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) stated that he has enough Democratic votes to change the filibuster guidelines on the first day of the 113th Congressional session. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is threatening to delay fiscal cliff decisions if the Democrats suggest the filibuster changes, but the minority leader has a very bad record for keeping his promises. After McConnell persuaded Reid to not support filibuster changes two years ago, Republicans filibustered 70 times. McConnell has promised to “shut down” the Senate if the Democrats carry through with their filibuster reform, but it appears that the GOP has consistently done with during the last six years with 386 filibusters.

There would have been more filibusters, but Democrats didn’t even try to take action because of the GOP threats. The lack of bills passed during the past two years in the U.S. Senate demonstrates the high level of dysfunction there: in the 112th Congress, the Senate passed a record low of 2.8 percent of bills introduced, 66 percent fewer than in 2005-2006 and a 90-percent decrease from the high during 1955-1956.

One Republican, Johnny Isakson (R-GA) disagrees with McCain when he called Rice “not very bright” and with other Republicans when they called her “incompetent.” During a CNN interview with Soledad O’Brien this morning, Isakson said, “What you don’t want to do is shoot the messenger. [Rice] is a very smart, very intelligent woman. I know this Ms. Rice, I think she’s done a good job as Ambassador to the U.N.”

http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2012/11/28/15510226-mccain-descends-further-into-incoherence  While Collins is out simply lobbying against Rice, John McCain has gone over the edge in yesterday’s interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News.

“[W]ho changed the talking points that was used by Ambassador Rice? And why? And on what circumstances? Why was reference to Al Qaeda left out? There are so many things that have happened. And the interesting thing is, finally, Neil, we knew within hours of all the details when we got bin Laden in the raid there, every bitty one of them. They are making a movie out of it.”

As Times’ Joe Klein wrote,

“[McCain is] now a political caricature, severely debilitated by anger and envy. His trigger-happy foreign policy beliefs have always been questionable, but this Benghazi crusade has put in the weird circle inhabited by nutcases and conspiracy theorists like Michele Bachmann and Allen West. He should honor the memory of those who lost their lives that terrible night by putting a cork in his disgraceful behavior immediately.”

The linchpin during the next three weeks is President Obama. The question is whether he will nominate Rice, Kerry, or someone else. And what will happen between the president and Paul Ryan? Will Ryan just walk out on the negotiations the way that he did on the Simpson-Bowles debt commission? Will Ryan pull a Sarah Palin?

November 27, 2012

Congress Ignores Job, Economy Issues

Since Election Day, many of the nation’s populace have focused on what will happen to the bipartisan fiscal agreement from August 2011 that kept the United States from defaulting on the national debt which would have crashed the entire country. The conditions of this agreement were supposed to be changed a year ago, but the bitter partisan fighting stopped this from happening. With no compromise before the end of 2012, taxes revert to the time of Bill Clinton (when, by the way, we had a great economy), a situation that the media likes to call the “fiscal cliff.”

During a meeting with the president ten days after Election Day,  House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) informed President Obama that the fiscal cliff is “my leverage.” During this discussion Boehner threatened to not agree to the president’s proposal if the speaker’s demands weren’t meant.

Since the election, Republicans have admitted that they are willing to create new revenue, despite the anti-tax pledge that most of them signed with conservative activist Grover Norquist. In return, however, they want to hack at Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Once again, conservatives are using their typical tactic of fear and ploy of extortion.

In fact, there might not be a real crisis. CBO has adjusted its forecast with the result that the debt/GDP ratio now stabilizes after a few years. Social Security etc. are not part of businesses required to make a profit; reasonable management of health care costs will keep Medicare and Medicaid expenditures within control. Military spending should decrease as the country leaves its warmongering.

President Obama’s proposal regarding taxes is to keep the Bush cuts for everyone who makes under $250,000. Republicans like to refer to the people above this amount—only two percent of the population—as job creators. They aren’t. To see that there is no relationship between private-sector employment and tax cuts, just look at this employment since 2001. The only reason that employment gained during George W. Bush’s first term was the 800,000 increase in public sector.

Because Republicans like to control by fear, they don’t tell people that everyone in the country keeps the Bush tax cuts on the first $250,000 that they make, even the top two percent.

Republicans are truly caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, and both of these are in their own political party. If they try to look at all reasonable and break their pledge for no new taxes, the Tea Party backs a candidate that might defeat long-time incumbents. This was the case with Dick Lugar in Illinois during the last primary. The situation is even more dire with the Democratic wins in the most recent election. The big question right now: do Republicans agree with providing revenue to the country, the way that 70 percent of the population wants, or do they please Tea Party members with the Norquist approach of no tax increases–ever.

Last week Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), up for reelection in two years, broke with Norquist, by saying that addressing the nation’s looming “fiscal cliff” takes precedence over honoring the anti-tax pledge. “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.”

Chambliss is also a supporter of the Bowles-Simpson plan to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. In return for these drastic measures against the middle class, the plan raises some revenue by closing a few token tax loopholes and reducing the popular mortgage interest deduction. Like other Republicans, Chambliss could vote to close small loopholes in the tax code while raising the retirement age for Social Security, cap overall spending for Medicare, and dramatically lowering corporate tax rates.

Up for re-election in two years, Chambliss could attract moderates in a primary against a Tea Party candidate by supporting more revenue. It would also get him funding from lobbyists for his election campaign because they want to destroy the safety net and keep corporate taxes low.

On Sunday’s talk shows Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he could reject the pledge if Democrats would reform entitlements (aka roll back Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), and Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY) said the pledge may be out of step in the present economy. Monday morning, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told CBS’s Charlie Rose that he, too, was “not obligated on the pledge.”

While millions of words are being devoted these days to the fiscal cliff or hill or curb, McCain and others are leading the media into an obsessive reporting about Susan Rice’s lack of information about the Benghazi disaster. Rational people know that Rice reported what she was told on the Sunday after four men were killed at the embassy. Since then the Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his sycophant Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), have pilloried Rice. Graham said she shouldn’t have said anything, knowing that this would have made the situation worse.

Sunday said that he wouldn’t not have necessarily block Rice for the position of Secretary of State and asked for a meeting with her. After today’s meeting with the three loudest critics—McCain, Ayotte, and Graham—all of them said that “they were more disturbed than before the meeting.”

What is the reason behind the opposition? Senators indicate that they prefer John Kerry to Rice as Secretary of State. The choice may have two primary reasons. First, Kerry is a white man, much preferred by Congressional Republicans. To see the Republicans’ lack of diversity, check out the new committee leaders in the House–19 white men.

Second, if Kerry were to be appointed to this position, Massachusetts would need a new senator. After his loss to Elizabeth Warren, the current Massachusetts senator, Scott Brown, is in a prime position to win the election, adding one more Republican to the 45 already in the U.S. Senate for the next two years.

Meanwhile Congress ignores the need to improve jobs and economy while Republicans continue to oppose any benefits for the 99 percent of the country’s population.

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