Tagged: Congress

K Street is paved with gold

A once-decrepit section of downtown Washington has become a luxury marketplace, feeding off the lavishly paid men and women successfully representing the political agenda of the corporate sector.

In 1993, when Tony Podesta, a top Washington lobbyist, moved his firm to G Street Northwest, the neighborhood was a skanky collection of warehouses, liquor stores and the remains of a red light district.

The money is flowing. Podesta’s own company made $25.1 million in lobbying fees last year, plus another $10 million for its public relations work. From Podesta’s office, it’s just a two-minute walk to the new City Center development and its deluxe retail offerings. Paul Stuart on I street sells a navy chalk stripe Italian suit for $4,984. Around the corner is Louis Vuitton, where the Président Classeur briefcase sells for $9,700. A half-block away is Hermès, manufacturer of the Birkin bag, one of which sold recently at auction in Hong Kong for $221,846.

Most lobbying compensation packages are closed to public view, but some – especially of top officials working for tax-exempt trade associations – are not. In 2012, National Journal identified 12 trade association executives making over $2 million a year.

Among the top earners in that select group were Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, $6,428,872; Thomas J. Donohue, United States Chamber of Commerce, $4,761,900; and Thomas R. Kuhn, Edison Electric Institute, $4,006,893…

In 2014, Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America, conducted a study for the Sunlight Foundation that revealed that there were 799 registered Washington lobbyists whose fees for at least one year between 1998 and 2012 exceeded $1 million…

In the 2014 elections, 31,976 donors — equal to roughly one percent of one percent of the total population of the United States — accounted for an astounding $1.18 billion in disclosed political contributions at the federal level…

Former members of the do-nothing, know-nothing club called Congress can easily double or triple his or her government salary when they leave office. Often unearned in the first place.

Campaign reform, taking the money out of politics is supposed to originate with this crowd.

Don’t hold your breath waiting.

ISIS turns captured Humvees into a suicide bomber’s dream

More than two-thirds of the Humvees the US supplied to Iraq to fight terrorists have ended up in the hands of Islamic State militants.

And the Islamic State…has not wasted any time in converting those vehicles into one of its deadliest and most nightmarish tools: suicide car bombs.

According to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, ISIS controls about 2,300 armored US Humvees. Most of those vehicles were seized after ISIS overran Mosul in June 2014.

In addition to being used in further attacks against Iraqi forces, these vehicles were sent over the border to Syria to help ISIS solidify its foothold there.

The Humvees were specifically created by the US to be able to carry heavy loads and to sustain small-arms fire — qualities ISIS has found make the vehicles perfect for suicide bombings

ISIS has used these bomb-laden Humvees in waves of suicide bombings across both Syria and Iraq, targeting strategic locations including Syrian military bases and the Iraqi provincial capital of Ramadi, which fell to the militants at the end of May. The Kurds are increasingly concerned that they will face a wave as well.

Even though they have an inventory of at least 2000 at hand to build more suicide car bombs, they’re not likely to run out. Between Republican hawks like Tom Cotton and his Blue Dog Democrat counterparts – like Bob Menendez – there are more than enough idiots prepared to stack up American and Iraqi bodies with a matching flow of arms and vehicles capable of keeping ISIS in business for decades.

TSA fail, again

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Monday he had ordered improved security at U.S. airports after media reports that checkpoint screeners failed to detect mock explosives and weapons in 95 percent of tests carried out by undercover agents.

Airport screeners, who are employees of the Transportation Security Administration, did not detect banned weapons in 67 of 70 tests at dozens of airports…

In one test, the ABC News said an undercover agent was stopped when he set off an alarm at a checkpoint but that TSA screeners then failed to find a fake explosive device taped to his back when they patted him down.

Johnson said there would be more random covert testing at checkpoints.

So, you can look forward to patdowns from untrained, underpaid folks who failed to get jobs elsewhere. These folks apparently don’t meet standards generated to satisfy Congressional paranoids. For peanuts.

Folks, no need to ask why I no longer travel to anywhere I can’t drive to in my 21-year-old pickup truck.

We don’t know enough about quake, tsunami hazards, along Southern California

While their attention may be inland on the San Andreas Fault, residents of coastal Southern California could be surprised by very large earthquakes – and even tsunamis – from several major faults that lie offshore…

The latest research into the little known, fault-riddled, undersea landscape off of Southern California and northern Baja California has revealed more worrisome details about a tectonic train wreck in the Earth’s crust with the potential for magnitude 7.9 to 8.0 earthquakes. The new study supports the likelihood that these vertical fault zones have displaced the seafloor in the past, which means they could send out tsunami-generating pulses towards the nearby coastal mega-city of Los Angeles and neighboring San Diego.

“We’re dealing with continental collision,” said geologist Mark Legg of Legg Geophysical in Huntington Beach, California, regarding the cause of the offshore danger. “That’s fundamental. That’s why we have this mess of a complicated logjam…”

The logjam Legg referred to is composed of blocks of the Earth’s crust caught in the ongoing tectonic battle between the North American tectonic plate and the Pacific plate…The mostly underwater part of this region is called the California Continental Borderland, and includes the Channel Islands.

…What they were searching for are signs, like those seen along the San Andreas, that indicate how much the faults have slipped over time and whether some of that slippage caused some of the seafloor to thrust upwards.

What they found along the Santa Cruz-Catalina Ridge Fault are ridges, valleys and other clear signs that the fragmented, blocky crust has been lifted upward, while also slipping sideways like the plates along the San Andreas Fault do. Further out to sea, the Ferrelo Fault zone showed thrust faulting – which is an upwards movement of one side of the fault. The vertical movement means that blocks of crust are being compressed as well as sliding horizontally relative to each other-what Legg describes as “transpression…”

As Southern California’s pile-up continues, the plate movements that build up seismic stress on the San Andreas are also putting stress on the long Santa Cruz-Catalina Ridge and Ferrelo Faults. And there is no reason to believe that those faults and others in the Borderlands can’t rupture in the same manner as the San Andreas, said Legg…

NOAA was working on complete high-resolution bathymetry of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone – the waters within 200 miles of shore – until the budget was cut, said Legg. That left out Southern California and left researchers like himself using whatever bits and pieces of smaller surveys to assemble a picture of what’s going on in the Borderland, he explained.

“We’ve got high resolution maps of the surface of Mars,” Legg said, “yet we still don’t have decent bathymetry for our own backyard.”

Just in case our readers in the Southland didn’t have enough to worry about. :)

RTFA for the scary details.

Patriot Act powers to lapse [legally] at midnight – Senate hawks FAIL


“What do we do, now?”

No doubt those who value security over liberty will return to Congress in coming days and weeks to rebuild a legal framework for keeping an eye on all of us. I have no confidence they will relent – even if illegal means are their core methods. We will need to continue the fight.

Meanwhile, read this GUARDIAN article to get up-to-date.

Here’s what corporations paid US senators to fast-track the TPP bill

A decade in the making, the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is reaching its climax and as Congress hotly debates the biggest trade deal in a generation, its backers have turned on the cash spigot in the hopes of getting it passed…

That vote, to give Barack Obama the authority to speed the bill through Congress, comes as the president’s own supporters, senior economists and a host of activists have lobbied against a pact they argue will favor big business but harm US jobs, fail to secure better conditions for workers overseas and undermine free speech online…

Fast-tracking the TPP, meaning its passage through Congress without having its contents available for debate or amendments, was only possible after lots of corporate money exchanged hands with senators. The US Senate passed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – the fast-tracking bill – by a 65-33 margin on 14 May. Last Thursday, the Senate voted 62-38 to bring the debate on TPA to a close.

Those impressive majorities follow months of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing by the world’s most well-heeled multinational corporations with just a handful of holdouts…

Out of the total $1,148,971 given, an average of $17,676.48 was donated to each of the 65 “yea” votes.

The average Republican member received $19,673.28 from corporate TPP supporters.

The average Democrat received $9,689.23 from those same donors.

The amounts given rise dramatically when looking at how much each senator running for re-election received.

Two days before the fast-track vote, Obama was a few votes shy of having the filibuster-proof majority he needed. Ron Wyden and seven other Senate Democrats announced they were on the fence on 12 May, distinguishing themselves from the Senate’s 54 Republicans and handful of Democrats as the votes to sway.

In just 24 hours, Wyden and five of those Democratic holdouts – Michael Bennet of Colorado, Dianne Feinstein of California, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Patty Murray of Washington, and Bill Nelson of Florida – caved and voted for fast-track.

Bennet, Murray, and Wyden – all running for re-election in 2016 – received $105,900 between the three of them. Bennet, who comes from the more purple state of Colorado, got $53,700 in corporate campaign donations between January and March 2015, according to Taylor Channing’s research.

RTFA if you need the details on Republican payoffs. Since only 2 Republican votes were in doubt you can be certain that everyone up to and including former presidential candidate, John McCain, received an appropriate chunk of silver dollars.

Republican response to deadly Amtrak crash? Cut their budget!


Click to enlargeAssociated Press/Patrick Semansky

House Republicans voted Wednesday to chop about a fifth of Amtrak’s budget, less than a day after a deadly train crash that Democrats pointed to as a prime example of the dangers of shortchanging the nation’s transportation needs.

They also rebuffed Democrats’ attempts to provide money for an advanced speed-control technology that federal investigators later said would have prevented the crash.

“Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred,” National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt told reporters Wednesday evening. Sumwalt, who is leading the crash probe, spoke hours after the House Appropriations Committee voted down a Democratic amendment that would have offered $825 million for the technology known as positive train control.

The amendment was part of hours of action on a GOP-backed $55 billion transportation and housing bill that Democrats attacked as an example of badly misplaced priorities. New York Rep. Steve Israel directly tied the crash to Congress’ spending decisions, saying people expect lawmakers to look out for their safety — and “last night, we failed them.”

“It’s not just our trains,” Israel said during a contentious markup Wednesday, which occurred as the wreckage from the seven-fatality derailment in Philadelphia was dominating the news channels. “It is our bridges that are failing. It is our highways that are congested and riddled with potholes. It is our runways, our airports. … We are divesting from America.”…

Senator Menendez said in a floor speech Wednesday that the U.S. needs to “stop relying on patchwork upgrades to old, rusted 19th-century rail lines.”

“We in Congress are … failing to recognize the real world impacts,” he said. “We have a passenger rail bill that expired. We have a Highway Trust Fund on the brink of insolvency with no plans, no plans, to fix it sustainably. We have a crowded and outdated aviation system that we refuse to adequately fund. We have failed to upgrade with presently available technologies that can reduce the number of failures. We have appropriations bills aiming to cut already low funding levels of Amtrak in particular to meet an arbitrary budget cap. I can’t understand it…”

There is little vision and no leadership allowed in Congress. The Republican Party decided as a matter of policy to block any and all legislation starting with the first day of a non-white president of these United States.

Today’s Republican Party feels they owe nothing to the population of a nation that refuses to back up their bigotry, economics of myth and hubris, political policies that disown responsibility. The only tactic that feeds the emptiness where a heart belongs is to erect roadblocks to anything that might aid ordinary men and women.

They are beneath contempt.

Court rules NSA mass phone surveillance illegal

A U.S. spying program that systematically collects millions of Americans’ phone records is illegal, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday, putting pressure on Congress to quickly decide whether to replace or end a controversial program aimed at fighting terrorism.

Ruling on a program revealed in 2013 by former government security contractor Edward Snowden, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the Patriot Act did not authorize the National Security Agency to collect Americans’ calling records in bulk.

Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for a three-judge panel that Section 215, which addresses the FBI’s ability to gather business records, could not be interpreted to have permitted the NSA to collect a “staggering” amount of phone records, contrary to claims by the Bush and Obama administrations…

The appeals court did not resolve the question of whether the surveillance was unconstitutional…It also declined to halt the program, noting that parts of the Patriot Act including Section 215 expire on June 1.

Lynch said it was “prudent” to give Congress a chance to decide what surveillance is permissible, given the national security interests at stake…I think he’s stupid to think Congress is capable of anything constructive much less Constitutional.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have introduced legislation to extend Section 215 and other parts of the Patriot Act through 2020.

The existing NSA program has repeatedly been approved in secret by a national security court established under a 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act…

ACLU lawyer Alex Abdo welcomed the decision.

Mass surveillance does not make us any safer, and it is fundamentally incompatible with the privacy necessary in a free society,” he said.

I agree. I believe most Americans with more than the equivalent of a sixth grade level of literacy and understanding of civics would agree. That just leaves miserable, corrupt and cowardly politicians to defend the Patriot act.

We continue to have to rely on a few courts uncorrupted by appointments as sleazy as the Republican Supreme Court to defend constitutional rights – when neither the White House nor Congress is willing to act on our behalf.