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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.

What Did He Know and When Did He Know it?

What Did He Know and When Did He Know it?

Just as you suspected and knew all along, President Bush knew about the outing of Valerie Plame before it happened.

How did he know?  Because he planned it with Dick Cheney.

How do we know they did it?

Their former humble servant Scott McClellan says so:

In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, McClellan recounts the 2003 news conference in which he told reporters that aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby were “not involved” in the leak involving operative Valerie Plame.

“The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.”

“There was one problem. It was not true,” McClellan writes, according to a brief excerpt released Tuesday. “I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest-ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president’s chief of staff and the president himself.”

Who’s going to be the newest demon condemned by the Bush Administration and the media mouthpieces of the right?

Why Scottie of course.

And a question for you Ms. Pelosi:  Is impeachment still “off the table?”

Corrupt to the Core

Corrupt to the Core

Inspectors General work in an office that was set up by The Inspector General Act of 1978.  The IG office is supposed to investigate all branches of the federal government and report all findings of fraud and abuse to department heads and to Congress.  It’s also supposed to be non-partisan, independent, and objective while performing its investigative functions. 

You will not be surprised to find that the current IG office is accused of being pretty much the opposite of that.

Yesterday, Representative Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, wrote a fourteen-page letter to State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard.  Here’s just a few of the things he had to say in his letter:

Dear Mr. Krongard:

I am writing to request your assistance with an investigation the Oversight Committee has initiated into allegations involving your conduct as Inspector General of the State Department.

Since your testimony at the Committee’s hearing on July 26, 2007, current and former employees of the Office of Inspector General have contacted my staff with allegations that you interfered with on-going investigations to protect the State Department and the White House from political embarrassment. Because some of these individuals still work for you, they have sought whistleblower status and have asked that their identities be kept confidential. Others have already resigned from their positions and have agreed to go on the record.

The allegations made by these officials are not limited to a single unit or project within your office. Instead, they span all three major divisions of the Office of Inspector General – investigations, audits, and inspections. The allegations were made by employees of varied rank, ranging from line staff to upper management.

One consistent element in these allegations is that you believe your foremost mission is to support the Bush Administration, especially with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than act as an independent and objective check on waste, fraud, and abuse on behalf of U.S. taxpayers. According to the officials, your strong affinity with State Department leadership and your partisan political ties have led you to halt investigations, censor reports, and refuse to cooperate with law enforcement agencies. The officials also report that you are dismissive of your statutory obligations to Congress.

Like I said, it’s a fourteen-page letter, so rather than list all the accusations, here’s a summary from the Think Progress website:

Refused to send “any investigators” into Iraq and Afghanistan to “pursue investigations into wasteful spending or procurement fraud.”

Stalled investigators from cooperating with a “Justice Department investigation into waste, fraud, and abuse relating to the new U.S. Embassy in Iraq.”

Used “irregular” and incomplete investigative procedures to help exonerate a prime contractor of the U.S. embassy in Iraq of charges of labor trafficking.

Impeded investigators’ efforts to cooperate with a Justice probe into allegations that a “large private security contractor was smuggling weapons into Iraq.”

Interfered with an on-going investigation “into the conduct of Kenneth Tomlinson, the head of Voice of America and a close associate of Karl Rove.”

Censored portions of inspection reports on embassies so that information on security vulnerabilities was “not disclosed to Congress.”

Back to Waxman’s letter…

In addition to these specific allegations, the officials have all described a dysfunctional office environment in which you routinely berate and belittle personnel, show contempt for the abilities of career government professionals, and cause staff to fear coming to work.

Washington Post story here.

Just another example of how our first “MBA President” runs our country.

No wonder he couldn’t hold a regular job.

An Honorable Man?

An Honorable Man?

Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury and obstructing Justice during the Valerie Plame investigation last March.  Before he was sentenced on Tuesday he spoke publicly for the first time since he was indicted in 2005.  What he said:

“It is respectfully my hope that the court will consider, along with the jury verdict, my whole life.”

What he didn’t say:  “I’m sorry.”  That’s something a man might want to consider when facing up to three years in a federal prison.

He does have a lot of friends in high places though, and they all wrote letters to the court asking for leniency.

Rumsfeld asked the judge to consider “his outstanding record, his many contributions to our country and his value as a citizen.”

Kissinger said, “he pursued his objectives with integrity and a sense of responsibility.”

Bolton said he was a man of “substance” who worked on complex issues.

Wolfowitz said his motivation was in the “noblest spirit of selfless service.”

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton didn’t buy it.  He said “Mr. Libby failed to meet the bar. For whatever reason, he got off course.” And he said that Libby’s lies outweighed his numerous years of public service and proceeded to sentence him to two and a half years in prison.

Libby wasn’t that well known until Bush and Cheney took office, and even then he wasn’t that well known until the Plame investigation got rolling.  Maybe he was a “valuable citizen,” a man of “substance” and “integrity,” and was “noble” and “selfless” in his service for our country.

He’s not that man now.  If he really was the man described by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Kissinger, and Bolton, he would have refused to cover for his boss’s vindictive plan to blow the cover of his political enemy’s CIA wife.  He would have chosen to resign rather than compromise his honor and integrity. 

When you get right down to it, the only honorable thing that anyone serving in this administration can do is resign.

Politicising Justice the Bush Way

Politicising Justice the Bush Way

The firing of eight United States Attorneys by the Bush Justice Department offers a fascinating insight into the way this administration works and of its totalitarian instincts, whereby the Republican Party and the machinery of government are so inextricably linked that it is hard to separate one from the other.

There appears little doubt that at its core this is the story of how the Bush administration rid itself of eight of its own first term US Attorney appointees for one or both of two reasons: either because they had been insufficiently vigorous in pursuing Bush priorities such as allegations of (read here Democratic) voter fraud, or simply because the administration wanted a loyalist in the post as part of its continuing effort to politicise the federal government – in this instance, the administration of justice.  Some of those who fell out of favour also had the temerity to pursue corrupt Republican office holders or supporters – another unpardonable sin, especially when not combined with similar convictions of Democrats.

The administration and its defenders initially reacted to the developing scandal by asserting that none of this was a big deal since US Attorneys are political appointees, serve at the pleasure of the president and that Bush therefore had every right to fire some or all of them at the end of his first term. 

So why did the administration behave like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar just before dinnertime?  The lies and half-truths that followed, as they do so often from this administration, simply served to feed the controversy.  These US Attorneys were fired, we were told, for performance reasons – except we discovered that most of them had received positive, even stellar performance reviews.  We were assured they were not fired for political reasons and that the White House had not been involved at all – until emails as part of a documentary release demanded by Congress surfaced showing that then White House counsel Harriet Miers and Karl Rove himself were very much involved in the process to fire some US Attorneys, and in the selection of one or more of their replacements.

The Attorney General himself, Alberto Gonzalez, has veered from telling us that this was an overblown personnel matter concerning under-performing US Attorneys who had lost his confidence, to a denial that he really knew what the heck was going on in the selection of those to be fired, or their replacements.  Obvious questions:  how could he have lost confidence in the eight if he had no role in choosing the ones to fire?   Is Mr Gonzalez really that clueless and incompetent or does he merely tell whoppers?  And whichever it is, how much confidence does it inspire in this US Attorney General? 

Add to the mix the involvement of Rove, what appear to be improper pressure on one of the US Attorneys by two prominent GOP lawmakers in New Mexico concerning allegations against Democratic politicians in that state, the refusal of key aid to Gonzales and the Justice Department liaison to the White House, Monica Goodling, to testify to Congress under oath, inaccurate testimony to Congressional committees by the Deputy Attorney General, and subsequent testimony by Kyle Sampson the former chief of staff to Gonzalez that contradicts the Attorney General’s own statements about the level of his involvement in the affair, and we have another full-blown example of Bush administration incompetence married to authoritarian overreach. 

We now know for example that an unusual number of those US Attorneys who have already left through attrition have been replaced by Bush loyalists from the Justice Department.  We also know that the Republicans’ obsession with voter fraud is largely a figment of their imagination – as a recently released federal government report makes clear – but that it serves a useful Rovian purpose in promoting the perceived need for states to pass voter identification laws that generally impede the registration of the poor, the elderly and minorities – you know, people who usually vote for Democrats.  The message is clear:  if you don’t get with the Bush programme, prepare to be fired.

Alberto Gonzalez should never have been confirmed by the Senate as Attorney General.  It was never likely that he would separate his personal loyalty to Bush from his role as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.  His role in formulating the Bush administration’s policies on torturing terrorist suspects was beyond shameful.  He is, on the other hand, the perfect face for this administration’s notions of justice.  If Bush in his uniquely obtuse way refuses to fire him, there may well be some justice in that.  

The Democrats Strike Back

The Democrats Strike Back

Finally, reality trumped fear and smear, political spin and deep corporate pockets, get-out-the-vote efficiency and Karl Rove’s destructive base-driven political strategy to divide Americans one from another.  

The Republicans took a well deserved drubbing on November 7th and for that we can all be supremely grateful.  For once the Democrats ran a smart and focused mid-term election campaign in which they kept the focus on the multiple failures and incompetence of the Bush administration and its GOP enablers in Congress across the policy board. No single issue resonated more with voters than the quagmire created for the nation in Iraq, although Republican corruption, hypocrisy and hubris clearly got up the noses of the electorate.  The old bromide of “better late than never” has never seemed to ring more true than today.

We must give particular credit, however, to the nation’s independent voters whose seismic shift to the Democrats this time ensured the election of many centrist Democrats such as Senator-elect Jon Tester in Montana and Jim Webb in Virginia.  The repudiation of GOP political guru Karl Rove’s theory that independents didn’t matter is especially gratifying.

Beyond the actual scope of the Democratic victory, some of the individual GOP losses can’t help but bring a smile to the faces of long suffering liberals and progressives.  In the United States Senate, the defeat of the insufferably sanctimonious Rick Santorum is a very welcome development, as is the departure of George Allen in Virginia – about as light a lightweight as can be imagined.  Their centrist Democratic replacements bring considerably greater moderation and substance to the senate.

It was the environment, however, that fared surprisingly (and gratifyingly) well.  The defeat of Senator Conrad Burns in Montana – he of the rants against forest fire-fighters and taxi drivers, and devoted friend to the timber, oil and gas industries – in a squeaker was very welcome.  

In House elections, Florida voters in alleged-congressional-page-chaser Mark Foley’s former district could not bring themselves to punch the ballot beside his name no matter how hard the GOP told them that the votes were for a Republican candidate whose name didn’t appear.  And the Democratic win in the House seat formerly held by ex-Majority Leader Tom Delay was rich in irony, given the latter’s strenuous (and not completely unsuccessful) efforts to gerrymander the GOP into near invincibility.  Even in that Republican district, voters could not stomach the GOP’s corrupt overreach.  ‘The Economist’ weekly magazine did offer an alternative theory since in order to vote for the Republican it was necessary to write in “Shelley Sekula-Gibbs”.  The magazine wryly noted that “…Too few remembered this mouthful…”

The icing on the cake, however, must be the resounding defeat of Congressman Richard Pombo in California by, of all things, a wind energy consultant. If there is such a thing as poetic justice, surely this result must be it.  Congressman Pombo had made it his mission, as chairman of the powerful House Resources Committee, to dismantle many of the nation’s fundamental environmental protections of our public lands and coastal waters.  In my state of Washington, he has used (or more accurately abused) his position to single-handedly block a proposed wilderness area (Wild Sky) in the Cascade lowlands of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest northeast of Seattle, despite overwhelming bipartisan and local support for the designation.  I have to confess that the news of his consignment to well deserved and, hopefully, permanent political oblivion gave me an overwhelming urge to leap onto the nearest table and do a belly dance.  (Since I was at work at the time, I managed to resist the temptation in deference to my colleagues).  A libertarian colleague was as happy as I was which, for me, was further proof, if any is needed, that genuine conservatives care every bit as much about conservation of our wilderness heritage as liberals and progressives.

We must not overestimate the ability of Democrats in Congress to chart a dramatically new course for the country.  Their majority in the U.S. Senate is razor thin and even in the House, consensus building will be essential to get anything meaningful done.  In today’s polarized political environment that will be a daunting challenge.  It doesn’t help that it confronts a White House with an inflated sense of its own authority and as jealous of its prerogatives as any in living memory.

Nonetheless, the political landscape has changed sufficiently to give those of us who have suffered for six long years with jaw ache brought on by prolonged gritting of teeth cannot help but feel more optimistic.  Messrs Bush and Cheney may not be a spent force – the office of president can never be considered irrelevant – but now when they growl, it’ll be hard to miss the missing molars. 

Haggard the Hypocrite

Haggard the Hypocrite

Bush ally Rev. Ted Haggard is proving to be a hypocrite and a huge gift to the Democrats, who are anxious to talk about anything but Senator Kerry’s recent remarks.

This video via KUSA in Denver is a great tidbit. What do you think? I think he is a terrible liar. I figured that, since his entire life appears to be a huge lie, he would be better at maintaining the facade.

Ted Haggard is a married, antigay, conservative who speaks not only to God, but to the White House in a weekly conference call. He is also apparently a methamphetamine user and frequent client of male escort services.

Harper’s has an article from 2005, Soldiers of Christ, which explores Rev. Ted Haggard and his megachurch. An interesting tidbit from the article, “He staked out gay bars, inviting men to come to his church…” Hmmm, a pretty good cover story.

So, what exactly are his views on homosexuality? Here is a quote from a letter to the editor of the Arizona Christian News:

“All of us were in sin. All of us needed redemption,” said Haggard. “If a person has homosexual tendencies… they need to practice abstinence just as a single heterosexual would need to practice abstinence. The difference would be that the single heterosexual could get married and become sexually active with their heterosexual partner whereas, the homosexual would have to practice spirit control and self-restraint throughout the balance of their lifetime.”

In I Corinthians 6:9-10 it clearly puts the issue of homosexuality on the table. In the New International Version of The Bible it says that “homosexual offenders” will not inherit the Kingdom of God. It would be easy for someone to say that homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God. However, The Bible doesn’t say that. The Bible says “offenders”. Therefore, if someone claims to have been born a homosexual, they are not committing homosexual sins until they have comitted a homosexual act or “offense”.

The Worst Congress Ever

The Worst Congress Ever

Rolling Stone Magazine has a great article “The Worst Congress Ever” .  This article is a refreshing surprise, I don’t think this is what Karl Rove was referring to as his ‘October Surprise’.

From the article:

These past six years were more than just the most shameful, corrupt and incompetent period in the history of the American legislative branch. These were the years when the U.S. parliament became a historical punch line, a political obscenity on par with the court of Nero or Caligula — a stable of thieves and perverts who committed crimes rolling out of bed in the morning and did their very best to turn the mighty American empire into a debt-laden, despotic backwater, a Burkina Faso with cable.

The online version of the article also links to the “10 Worst Congressmen” . It is quite a list.