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Democrats Successfully Force their Hand During Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Negotiations

Democrats Successfully Force their Hand During Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Negotiations

Just a quick update on the outcome of the coronavirus stimulus bill negotiations.

Mitch McConnell attempted to ram through $2T spending bill that focused more on boosting big business than providing care for thousands of Americans suffering and dying from severe cases of COVID-19 (and thousands more to come) and alleviating the financial stress put on millions of Americans who suddenly became unemployed because of the coronavirus. Charles Schumer and the Democrats rightly objected to the Republican Senate’s bill and fought to focus on people instead of big business. The Democrats got much of what the wanted in the bill.

The New York Times reports:

The resulting measure is an attempt to sustain the workers and businesses that are losing income as vast sections of the American economy are shutting down under quarantine orders and to help the economy rebound quickly once the pandemic abates.

It includes direct support for companies large and small that have lost all or most of their customers in recent weeks, and direct payments to low- and middle-income families. The package also includes measures meant to encourage companies to keep employees on their payrolls even if their businesses have shuttered temporarily — and it increases aid to workers who are laid off anyway or have had their hours and wages cut back.

The measure will be the third legislative action taken by Congress this month to address the pandemic. Mr. Trump previously signed both a $8.3 billion in emergency aid and a sweeping package providing paid leave, free testing and additional aid for families affected by the pandemic into law.

In the final measure, lawmakers agreed to a significant expansion of unemployment benefits that would extend unemployment insurance by 13 weeks and include a four-month enhancement of benefits, officials familiar with the unfinished agreement said. Democrats said that it would allow workers to maintain their full salaries if forced out of work as a result of the pandemic.

In the interim, lawmakers also agreed to provide $1,200 in direct payments that would apply equally to workers with incomes up to $75,000 per year before phasing out and ending altogether for those earning more than $99,000. Families would receive an additional $500 per child.

We haven’t seen a senate compromise of this magnitude in a very long time. Probably not since Mitch McConnell said in October 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president”.

Bravo Democrats. It’s your time to lead. Keep doing it and do it well, then maybe President Trump will be a one-term president.

Robert Mueller’s Road Map for Impeachment of Trump

Robert Mueller’s Road Map for Impeachment of Trump

I hope all of you took the time to watch Mueller read his statement about the findings of the special investigation and what he could and could not do according to law. The law matters to him – a lot. Not so much to the person at the center of the investigation.

I was working so I could not watch it, but I did read accounts of the reading on a few different news websites.

David Frum’s column gets to the heart of the Muller report and distills it in just a few short paragraphs:

Obstruction of justice, though, need not be clandestine to count as a crime. What matters is intent—and that must be judged by Congress, not a special counsel subordinate to the Department of Justice and bound by its rule that a president cannot be indicted.

The full report is rich with details. But that’s the essence. A foreign power interfered in the U.S. election to help the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign welcomed the help and repeatedly lied about it. The lying successfully obscured some questions the investigation sought to answer; in the end, it found insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy. President Trump, in public and in private, worked to stop the investigation.

Those are the facts. What are the remedies? Mueller underscored at his press statement: He did not exonerate the president. Under the Department of Justice rules he was subject to, he lacked the power to act.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration refuses to take steps to secure the next presidential election against the interference that swayed the last.

I have two questions:

Congress – Will you carry out your duty to oversee the Executive Branch or will you let the president get away with obvious crimes for which only your branch of government can hold him accountable?

Trump – will you do anything about interference in American elections by hostile foreign governments, or will you shrug it off hoping you can benefit from the interference again in 2020?

Donald Trump Tweets Flag Burners belong in Jail and should Lose their Citizenship

Donald Trump Tweets Flag Burners belong in Jail and should Lose their Citizenship

Early this morning, Donald Trump woke up and sent off a flurry of tweets including this one:

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail”!

6:55 AM – 29 Nov 2016

What are we to make of this tweet that defies the U.S. Constitution? In 1989 the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson ruled that burning a flag in protest is political expression protected by the First Amendment. In 1967 the Supreme Court ruled in Afroyim v. Rusk that the 14th Amendment forbids the government from taking away the citizenship of natural born Americans. Is Donald Trump suggesting that congress enact laws to punish flag-burning protesters by incarcerating them for a year and/or stripping them of their citizenship? Based on Supreme Court decisions, if congress did pass such laws, they would immediately be ruled unconstitutional.

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Happy Birthday to Dr. Seuss

Happy Birthday to Dr. Seuss

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born on March 2, 1904. He died on September 24, 1991 at the age of 87. Visit a cartoon rendition of his office and read a short biography here.

Dr. Seuss was best known as the author and illustrator of many children’s books including The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who!, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. But he had another career as a political cartoonist for a liberal New York City daily paper, PM during World War II. He drew more than 400 editorial cartoons for the paper from April 1941 through January 1943. He was highly critical of isolationists like Lindbergh; he also loathed racists, and he didn’t really care much at all for Congress, especially the Republicans and some conservative Democrats who organized the Conservative Coalition with the purpose of dismantling Roosevelt’s New Deal. Here’s one Seuss did for the May 18, 1942 edition of the paper. (via brainpickings.org)

Suess Congressional Wrecking Crew 5-18-42 crop reduce

Seventy-three years have gone by, and Conservatives are still trying to destroy America’s social safety net. All it would take to update this cartoon would be to replace “F.D.R.” with “Obama”.

Some things never change. Probably never will.

July 4th Independence Day for congressmen is different than what it is for The People

July 4th Independence Day for congressmen is different than what it is for The People

Hey Baby, it’s the 4th of July!

Hope all you 99-percenters are having a great holiday drinking beer and eating BBQ in the hot sun on this fine summer day.

Just so you know, We The People celebrate our nation’s independence from monarchic rule – which is a very good thing, because you know… to form a more perfect union with rule of the people, by the people, for the people – very different than our “elected” congress. They celebrate their independence from the people. They serve only the elite.

You see, things have changed over the past 238 years. We The People aren’t very well represented in the halls of congress. Timothy Egan explains:

People are leaving the Republican Party, and to a lesser extent the Democrats, to jump in the nonpartisan lane. The independents are more likely to want something done about climate change, and immigration reform. They’re not afraid of gay marriage or contraception or sensible gun laws. They think government can be a force for good.

And none of those sentiments are represented by the current majority in the people’s House. The Senate, at least, has two independents, both of whom caucus with the Democrats. In the House? Zero. Remember that the next time Speaker John Boehner says that his members are doing the work of the American people. They’re doing Fox’s work, which is why they’ve had endless hearings on Benghazi, and voted more than 50 times to take away people’s health care, but won’t allow a vote on the minimum wage or immigration reform.

If you thought that the last election — in which 1.2 million more votes were cast for a Democratic member of the House, but the Republicans kept control by a healthy margin — was unrepresentative, the coming contest will set a new standard for mismatch between the voters’ will and the people who represent them.

Only 12 percent of the general public is defined as “steadfast conservative,” in the latest breakdown of seven political niches done by Pew. But that rises to 19 percent for the “politically engaged.” Thus the Tea Party, though disliked by most Americans, can win elections in red states, and send people to Washington who will govern only for the narrow, passionate base that elected them.

What to do? First, recognize the imbalance. Any democracy is broken when a plurality is not represented in the halls of power.

And who are our elected Republican members of congress representing? Not me. Not you. They represent the richest of the rich. They write laws to funnel more and more money to the top 1% of the 1%. It’s really the only reason the Republican party exists anymore. Derek Thompson writing for The Atlantic tells just how wide the gap is between the super rich and you and me and my neighbors:

In the past half century, income growth among the top 1 percent of Americans has greatly outpaced that of those on the lower rungs. But it’s the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent who have truly left everyone else in the dust.

In the past half century, income growth among the top 1 percent of Americans has greatly outpaced that of those on the lower rungs. But it’s the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent who have truly left everyone else in the dust.

Be sure to click on the link to see the graphs. They tell the story quite clearly.

So, when you are lighting off your bottle rockets and mortar rounds tonight, in your mind, you should be aiming them at congress and the plutocrats they serve.

European Union has the Upper Hand on Animal Welfare Rules

European Union has the Upper Hand on Animal Welfare Rules

The New York Times reports that progress in negotiations on an historic trade agreement between the United States and European Union has slowed to a snail’s pace thanks, in part, to the EU balking at accepting our hormone-treated, antibiotic-injected and inhumanely raised beef, pork and chicken. More power to them and let’s hope it’s the US that buckles and not the EU.

It must be unusual and more than a little uncomfortable for US negotiators to be in the position of a relatively backward nation negotiating with a party whose environmental and overall regulatory regimen, at least when it comes to agriculture, is stricter and more progressive than our own. The EU has strict laws on labelling genetically modified foods, stricter rules on the humane treatment of farm animals and, unlike the US, prohibits the sale of hormone-treated beef.

Unfortunately, thanks to Big Ag and its stooges in Congress, the US is far less enlightened. California is a leader in the humane treatment of farm stock but there is no will to improve their lot at the national level. And while the GMO labelling fight is not over, voters in relatively progressive states such as California and Washington have opted for wilful ignorance over transparency.

Even the environmental damage caused by industrial farming – as this piece on the poisoning of Iowa’s water by factory hog farms highlights – has failed to prompt a serious rethinking of the way we raise animals for food. Do we have to wait until Iowa has its very first mountain range composed of pig shit before we take notice of the harm we’re doing?

We demand cheap meat no matter what the price paid by the animals we raise and refuse to confront Big Ag about its nefarious practices. Heck we don’t even want to know about it, hence the term “Ag-gag” which denotes laws passed in several states to effectively prevent revelations about abusive and cruel treatment of farm animals.

There are no easy answers to the question of how we can healthily and humanely raise our farm animals while still providing affordable beef, pork and chicken, as even a staunch animal welfare and sustainable food advocate such as Nicholas Kristof acknowledges.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t try, and kudos to the EU countries for leading the way while showing us up to be the backward and ignorant yahoos we’ve become on this issue. And who knows? Maybe one day their example will shame us into rejecting our present industrial model of food production for a better and more moral one.

Congressman King’s misbegotten amendment excluded from compromise Farm Bill.

Congressman King’s misbegotten amendment excluded from compromise Farm Bill.

NPR reports that Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King’s amendment failed to make it into the final compromise Farm Bill. It would have outlawed stronger rules for the humane treatment of farm animals by individual states, such as the provisions of California’s Proposition 2:

In another closely watched issue, stronger animal welfare standards that were adopted in recent years by California and other states would not be outlawed by the new farm bill, despite attempts to insert an amendment to that effect.

“This is a victory for state’s rights,” Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calf., tells The Fresno Bee. Denham warned that the amendment “would have led to a race to the bottom for agriculture production laws nationwide and imperiled the fate of California egg producers.”

The Bee reports:

“The potential inclusion of the animal welfare provision, authored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, had imperiled Californians’ support for the overall bill. King’s amendment targeted state provisions such as California’s Proposition 2, a 2008 measure that required that certain animals be able to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs while confined.”

This is great news for those of us who care about the humane treatment of farm animals. Since this is clearly an issue for which we can expect no progress at the federal level for the foreseeable future, it is up to states to move the country forward and California, in particular, deserves much credit for its leadership.

Kudos to the California congressional delegation and supporters from other states (nearly all of whom are Democrats I daresay) for striking the King amendment.

Paul Ryan’s Coded Language on the Budget Deal

Paul Ryan’s Coded Language on the Budget Deal

During last night’s budget-deal press conference featuring Patty Murray and Paul Ryan, Mr. Ryan said: “Nobody here had to sacrifice core principles”.

That translates to, “I held true to my supreme belief that the vast wealth of the super rich must never be compromised”.

And he said: “It reduces the deficit — without raising taxes. And it cuts spending in a smarter way. It’s a firm step in the right direction, and I ask all my colleagues in the House to support it”.

That translates to, “When it comes to deficit reduction, the only people who have to pay more are the middle class and the poor. See? I gave up nothing while getting Senator Murray to allow increased revenue from the serfs through higher airline-passenger security fees, a 1.3% increase to the amount new civilian employees will have to contribute from their pay to the federal pension plan, and lower cost-of-living increases to benefits going to military retirees. Our rich benefactors end up paying nothing more to the federal government other than a few extra dollars on their airline tickets. We win! So come on everybody, support this “compromise” bill that once again screws the middle class! Shhhhh… be careful not to say this out loud. Oh and as and added bonus, we get to put off our blackmail tactics that piss off the electorate until after the 2014 midterm elections.

From the disorderly chaos of the splintered Republican Party, the Democrats formed a spine.

From the disorderly chaos of the splintered Republican Party, the Democrats formed a spine.

Today the Republicans finally realized that almost everyone in the country despises them and that, as a result, they lack the political capital necessary to force President Obama and the Democrats to defund the duly enacted Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. Instead their Tea Party Tantrum went pretty much exactly how the Democrats said it would: “It’s all there black and white – clear as crystal. You get NOTHING! You Lose!  Good DAY Sir!

We watched like Scooter here…

Mr-Fish-The-Horror sm

… but it was kind of like watching a Marvel Comics film. There may be a lot of drama along the way, but we knew who was going to win.

Jonathan Chait explains why in this excellent post for New York Magazine:

Most of the analysis has focused on the mind-boggling stupidity of Republicans in Congress, who blundered into a debacle that failed in exactly the way they were warned it would. The episode will be retold and fought over for years to come, perfectly emblemizing the party’s internal disorganization, mindless belligerence, and confinement within an ideological echo chamber that sealed out important warnings of failure. A grassroots revolt forced Republicans to shut down the government two weeks before the debt ceiling deadline, serving to weaken the party’s standing at the moment they hoped to hold the default gun to Obama’s head. (It’s possible the lesson they’ll take away from their failure will only be not to shut down the government and threaten default at the same time, requiring another showdown.)

But it also represents a huge Democratic success — or, at least, the closest thing to success that can be attained under the circumstances. Of the Republican Party’s mistakes, the most rational was its assumption that Democrats would ultimately bend. This was not merely their own recycled certainty — “nobody believes that,” a confident Paul Ryan insisted of Obama’s claims he wouldn’t be extorted — but widespread, world-weary conventional wisdom. Democrats would have to pay a ransom. Republicans spent weeks prodding for every weakness. Would Senate Democrats from deep red states be pried away? Would Obama fold in the face of their threat?

Part of what undergirded Democratic unity went beyond a (correct) calculation that it would be dangerous to pay any ransom at all. Democrats seemed to share a genuine moral revulsion at the tactics and audacity of a party that had lost a presidential election by 5 million votes, lost another chance to win a favorable Senate map, and lost the national House vote demanding the winning party give them its way without compromise.

I wish this episode was the last fart from a rotting corpse, but I know better. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachman and company will wage another losing battle or two before they lose the war.

John Boehner’s closure of the National Zoo saddens a young boy

John Boehner’s closure of the National Zoo saddens a young boy

Damn You John Boehner

Damn you John Boehner! How can you sleep at night knowing you cause little boys such disappointment?

You need to spread some Joy Speaker Boehner. It’s easy. Allow our representatives to vote on a clean spending bill and an increase in the debt limit. It’s what we call “democracy”. There are plenty of reasonable Republicans in the House that will vote “Yea” like all the Democrats. You can’t lose by letting Democracy win.

Think about it.

Be a man.