Tagged: Congress

Do-Nothing Republicans don’t care if the US is represented abroad

party of NO

As fighters affiliated with the self-declared Islamic State roll across the porous Turkish border into Syria, the United States has a problem: It has no ambassador to Turkey.

As the Ebola virus rages in Sierra Leone, the United States has no ambassador there. And as North Korea poses a nuclear threat, the United States has no ambassador in South Korea.

The same is true when Turkey demands an answer for US spying.

Nominations for the posts are among dozens languishing in the Senate, many for months. The would-be ambassador to Sierra Leone, for example, has been waiting more than 400 days for an up-or-down vote. Veteran diplomats say the Senate’s persistent gridlock over domestic matters is hurting the United States on the world stage.

The number of nominees awaiting confirmation now stands at 55 out of 226 positions, about one-fourth of all ambassador-ranked posts. For the vast majority of nominees who have been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are awaiting a full vote in the Senate, the average wait has been more than seven months, according to State Department statistics…

Unlike years past, when political clashes have held up small groups of nominees for brief periods, the current stand-off is more widespread and long-lasting, preventing all but a trickle of nominees from getting a vote.

“It really makes a joke of us abroad,” said Charles A. Ray, a former ambassador to Cambodia and Zimbabwe who spent 30 years in the foreign service. “Having the Senate literally block ambassadorial positions really sends a negative signal to countries we have relationships with. It makes them think that relationship doesn’t matter to us much.”

Cripes. I think half the backwater Neo-Confederate Republicans in Congress don’t even care about a relationship with the rest of the United States. As long as NASCAR keeps trundling around in a circle and state courts are allowed to enforce 19th Century rules about women – they’re as happy as can be.

Just keep those contributions coming in from coal companies and military-industrial gun-thugs.

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Latest Snowden revelations piss off Turkey


“Do you think Snowden will ever go away?”

Turkey’s foreign ministry on Monday summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires, currently Washington’s most senior diplomat in Ankara, over a media report that the United States had spied on Turkey…

Here we go with 2 x stupid!

1. The Turkish government can’t summon the US ambassador because Republican do-nothings in Congress blocked that appointment. They would rather we have a dysfunctional government than to give in to the fact that Americans elected a non-white president.

2. The Democrat in the White House proves to be as dumb as his Republican predecessor – holding his hands over his eyes and hoping the NSA digital goon squad won’t be noticed by our “allies”. Somehow, hoping Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing will go away as if by magic.

German magazine Der Spiegel said in an article on its website on Sunday that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency had carried out “wide-scale spying against Turkey“, citing documents from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“For the reasons that the United States’ name was mentioned, and such claims were made … the charge d’affaires has been called to the foreign ministry and information has been received from him,” Arinc told reporters after the first meeting of Turkey’s new cabinet following a presidential election.

Der Spiegel said the U.S. intelligence services had also worked closely to support Ankara in its efforts to battle Kurdish militants, who waged a three-decade insurgency for greater Kurdish rights in the country’s southeast.

Yup. The United States cares so deeply about minority rights that we turn over whatever info our spies discover – to the heads of state who have dedicated their political careers to the suppression of minorities.

Then, the folks in the White House who rely on wishful thinking to manage foreign relations skip blithely past all the corruption previously made public by Edward Snowden and ignore the rest of the bad news waiting to come out. With half a brain, someone might have contacted the rest of our “friends” and let them know in advance how the paranoid policies of George W. Bush have been continued by “nice guy” Obama.

1 in 7 Americans relies on food banks


Photo from 1983. Things haven’t gotten any better.

Nationwide, 25% of military families – 620,000 households – need help putting food on the table, according to a study by Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks.

“The results are alarming,” says Bob Aiken, chief executive officer of Feeding America. “It means that people in America have to make trade-offs. They have to pick between buying food for their children or paying for utilities, rent and medicine.”

One in seven Americans – 46 million people – rely on food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families, the study found…

Linda Patterson, executive director of Lorton Community Action Center, says stereotypes of the people who need food assistance are misleading.

“The people who come here are hard workers. They are employed. They are the school bus drivers, the lab techs in doctors offices, receptionists, the janitors who clean the floor of your children’s school,” Patterson says. “They just can’t make ends meet because some kind of crisis has hit them.”

The Hunger in America study found that of people who use food banks:

• 26% are black, 20% are Hispanic, 43% are white and 11% are other.

• 33% of households have at least one family member with diabetes.

• 65% of households have a child under 18 or someone 60 or older…

In the past year, food banks have increased their focus on healthy foods. The study found that 79% of people who use food banks report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food just to have enough to feed their families…

“The people who come to us for help are coming more regularly,” says Allison Majewski of the Capital Area Food Bank. “We aren’t a one-time emergency stop anymore. We are a staple for them, so it’s very important that we make these healthy foods available.”

Last time I read about anyone in Congress trying to live on a food stamp budget it was a couple of Democrats and one Republican. They may have lasted a week.

Everyone else was away at fund-raising banquets.

You haven’t the freedom to know who is spying on you for the NSA

The U.S. doesn’t have to disclose the telecommunications companies helping it collect phone call records or turn over a secret surveillance court’s orders, a federal judge ruled, saying the information would reveal methods used in terrorism investigations.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties advocacy group, sued under the Freedom of Information Act for access to information on the government phone record collection program. The group argued the government confirmed the participation of telecommunications companies in the National Security Agency’s surveillance program after the existence of the program was leaked.

NSA surveillance programs, disclosed by former security contractor Edward Snowden, are being challenged in a number of lawsuits. EFF’s lawsuit, which preceded the Snowden leaks, was filed on the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Patriot Act, passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The collection of information relevant to a federal investigation, when authorized by a secret court, is allowed under a statute in the act. The EFF freedom of information lawsuit sought secret court orders from 2005, 2006 and 2008 to learn more about what the government was collecting and the legal justification for it…

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California, today said declassification of general information about the call-record collection program didn’t justify forcing the government to reveal the companies’ names to EFF. Disclosing orders of the Washington-based Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court could provide a road map for targets to evade surveillance, she said in her ruling…

The judge accepts every lie, every blanket rationale our government uses to defend spying on all of us. That doesn’t take courage. That takes obedience. That takes complicity.

Telecommunication companies were granted immunity by Congress in 2008 from privacy lawsuits over surveillance programs.

Understand the arrogant creeps who demanded this law be passed. Inhale the bipartisan stink of spineless Democrats and paranoid Republicans who passed this law.

The whole so-called Patriot Act is structured to conceal collaborators in the loss of our constitutional freedoms. We not haven’t the right to know who is complicit – there can be no whistleblowers. If your personal banker tells you the Feds have snooped through your bank account, he is breaking the law. If some cop who went to high school with you tells you over a beer the Feds want to know who plays baseball with your kids, he is breaking the law. Cripes, I imagine your dentist can be asked to put a gps tracker in your new crown – and he would be breaking the law if he refused.

Obama’s vision of constitutional freedoms are as distorted by fear and arrogance as Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Tiny differences of degree and interpretation are meaningless compared to what we have lost.

Stodgiest outfit on Wall Street agrees inequality is causing slower growth

Income-inequality

Is income inequality holding back the United States economy? A new report argues that it is, that an unequal distribution in incomes is making it harder for the nation to recover from the recession and achieve the kind of growth that was commonplace in decades past.

The report is interesting not because it offers some novel analytical approach or crunches previously unknown data. Rather, it has to do with who produced it, which says a lot about how the discussion over inequality is evolving.

Economists at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services are the authors of the straightforwardly titled “How Increasing Inequality is Dampening U.S. Economic Growth, and Possible Ways to Change the Tide.” The fact that S.&P., an apolitical organization that aims to produce reliable research for bond investors and others, is raising alarms about the risks that emerge from income inequality is a small but important sign of how a debate that has been largely confined to the academic world and left-of-center political circles is becoming more mainstream…

Because the affluent tend to save more of what they earn rather than spend it, as more and more of the nation’s income goes to people at the top income brackets, there isn’t enough demand for goods and services to maintain strong growth, and attempts to bridge that gap with debt feed a boom-bust cycle of crises, the report argues. High inequality can feed on itself, as the wealthy use their resources to influence the political system toward policies that help maintain that advantage, like low tax rates on high incomes and low estate taxes, and underinvestment in education and infrastructure…

The report itself does not break any major new analytical or empirical ground. It spends many pages summarizing the findings of various academic and government economists who have studied inequality and its discontents, and stops short of recommending any radical policy changes favored by the likes of Thomas Piketty (who is among those cited).

And the S.&P. researchers are relatively limited in their policy prescriptions, avoiding much discussion of politically explosive debates over marginal tax rates and the scale of the social welfare system. They instead emphasize the usefulness of investing more heavily in education…

Anyone who wants to explain why the United States economy is evolving the way it is needs to at least wrestle with the implications of a more unequal society for the economy as a whole.

Overdue. Response to the problem from the talking heads in the White House has been limited to slogans and talking points. Response from our Do-Nothing-Congress has been to do nothing.

Thanks, Mike

Congress leaves town without providing funds to fight wildfires – Thanks for nothing!


What you can expect from the Do-Nothing Congress

Congress took a five-week summer break without deciding whether to provide $615 million in additional money to fight wildfires this year, punting the debate into the fall.

Senate Democrats were unable late Thursday to secure 60 votes to advance a $3.6 billion emergency spending bill for a vote.

The bulk of that money was for the Obama administration to handle the influx of unaccompanied minors along the Southwestern border but it also had $615 million for the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department to fight fires. That would have eliminated the need for “fire borrowing,” or transferring money from other activities including efforts to prevent fires

Senate Republicans blocked the $3.6 billion measure, arguing blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!…

The congressional debate came during a week when firefighters grappled with 27 large fires in eight Western states

Last month, along with requesting emergency money, President Barack Obama asked Congress to add wildfires to the list of natural disasters eligible for disaster assistance. That move would eliminate the need for the government to dip into wildfire-prevention programs to pay ever-increasing firefighting costs.

The right-wing clown show running the Republican Party won’t respond to that request until they sort out appropriate guidance from the Old Testament, the ghost of Joseph Goebbels and someone who channels Ayn Rand.

Conservative ideologues contribute as little of use to society as an epoch of plague.

Who will vote for the No Federal Contracts for Corporate Deserters Act?

Corporations that move their tax domiciles abroad would be denied federal contracts under legislation offered on Tuesday by Democrats in the U.S. Congress, targeting tax-driven deals known as inversions.

With November’s congressional elections approaching, Democrats are blasting away at inversions. Few U.S. companies have done such deals, but as they become more common, they are attracting more negative publicity…

“Those dodging their fair share of taxes should not be rewarded with taxpayer-funded government contracts,” said Democratic Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas in a statement on the bill made with three other senior Democrats…

An inversion is a deal in which a U.S. corporation buys or sets up a foreign company, then moves its tax domicile into that foreign company and its home country, while leaving core business operations in the United States. Doing such a deal ends U.S. taxation of the company’s foreign profits and makes it easier for the company to take other tax-cutting steps…

The Democrats’ legislation would bar federal government contracts from going to businesses that incorporate overseas, that are majority-owned by the shareholders of the original U.S. corporation and that lack substantial business opportunities in the foreign country in which they are reincorporating.

Over the past 32 years, 52 U.S. corporations have completed inversions, a nickname that refers to the idea of turning the company upside down so a small, offshore unit becomes the head and larger, U.S. operations become the body.

Of those 52 deals, 19 have come since 2009, while 10 more are being finalized and many others are said to be in the works. For instance, Illinois-based drugstore chain Walgreen is considering whether to invert to Switzerland.

Medical technology group Medtronic of Minnesota, and drug maker AbbVie, also of Illinois, are in the midst of deals to invert to Ireland.

Screw ‘em to the wall, I say. While every copout talking head on TV wanders off into rationales and blather about tax code reform, that ain’t about to happen until and unless Republicans are finally shoved into a little corner as a minority party representing only the most reactionary business interests and theocrats.

Meanwhile – act like an adult is in charge of Congress and penalize runaway tax cheats.

The costs of NSA snooping are greater than just the loss of personal privacy

There is no doubt the integrity of our communications and the privacy of our online activities have been the biggest casualty of the NSA’s unfettered surveillance of our digital lives. But the ongoing revelations of government eavesdropping has had a profound impact on the economy, the security of the internet and the credibility of the U.S. government’s leadership when it comes to online governance.

These are among the many serious costs and consequences the NSA and those who sanctioned its activities—including the White House, the Justice Department and lawmakers like Sen. Dianne Feinstein—apparently have not considered, or acknowledged, according to a report by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute…

The Foundation’s report, released today, outlines some of the collateral damage of NSA surveillance in several areas, including:

Economic losses to US businesses due to lost sales and declining customer trust.

Deterioration of Cybersecurity

Undermining U.S. Support for Internet Freedom

“As the birthplace for so many of these technologies, including the internet itself, we have a responsibility to see them used for good,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a 2010 speech launching a campaign in support of internet freedom. But while “the US government promotes free expression abroad and aims to prevent repressive governments from monitoring and censoring their citizens,” the New American report notes, it is “simultaneously supporting domestic laws that authorize surveillance and bulk data collection.” The widespread collection of data, which has a chilling effect on freedom of expression, is precisely the kind of activity for which the U.S. condemns other countries…

The report makes a number of recommendations to address the problems the NSA’s spying has created. These include strengthening privacy protections for Americans and non-Americans, developing clear policies about whether and under what legal standards it is permissible for the government to secretly install malware on a computer or network, and working to restore trust encryption systems and standards.

RTFA for the details, cause and effect, intelligent response to corruption.

All make good sense. All reflect standards advocated for generations by United States constitutionalists and progressives. All get lip-service from the two political parties we’re allowed – and secretly, privately, subverted by elected representatives from both.

Yes, there are degrees of difference. The truly fascist-minded generally gravitate to the Republican Party,.e.g., Dick Cheney or Ted Cruz. The language of liberty is so thoroughly ingrained in our culture they adopt the simple-minded convention that military security and secret police are defining characteristics of the liberties they blather about.

Leaving the rest of us the task of getting Big Brother off our backs by the few legitimate means we can access. Like voting for the lesser of two evils over and over again.

Thanks, Mike

High Time to repeal Prohibition, again!

NY TIMES Editorial

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws…

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the “Reefer Madness” images of murder, rape and suicide…

We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.

Nice to see someone as safe and stodgy as the NY TIMES get off their rusty-dusty on questions about marijuana. And it’s worth a smile reading their comment about no expectations of this Congress doing anything about legalization – since they’re incapable of addressing any other national priorities either.

A worthwhile sign of the times we live in – a time when citizens in general are marching light-years ahead of politicians in Congress and even local and state politicians can be pushed into voting for somewhat sensible regulation of America’s favorite weed.

Hypocrite-of-the-week screams about unvaccinated migrants – opposes mandatory vaccination


Har!

Last week, Rep. Phil Gingrey wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a dire warning: Some of the child refugees streaming across the southern border into the United States might carry deadly diseases. “Reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning,” Gingrey wrote. “Many of the children who are coming across the border also lack basic vaccinations such as those to prevent chicken pox or measles.”

Gingrey’s analysis carried an aura of credibility among conservatives, because, as Judicial Watch noted, the congressman is “also [a] medical doctor.” But his two-page letter is filled with false charges—there’s no evidence that migrants carry Ebola or that they’re less likely to be vaccinated—from an inconvenient messenger: The congressman has himself pushed legislation to discourage some kinds of mandatory vaccinations in the United States.

According to the World Health Organization, Ebola virus has only ever affected humans in sub-Saharan Africa. (It has been found in China and the Philippines, but has never caused an illness, let alone a fatality)…Gingrey’s misdiagnoses aren’t confined to Ebola. As the Texas Observer points out, when it comes to measles, children in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are more likely to be vaccinated than children in the United States. None of those countries have recorded an outbreak of measles in 24 years. Kids in Marin County are more at risk.

And in 2007, he wrote an amendment that would allow parents to block their children from receiving HPV vaccines, which are designed to combat cervical cancer.

Nothing new about today’s Republicans being as ethically corrupt as they are economically ignorant, socially and politically bigoted. Some – obviously including Congress-slime Gingrey – ignore conflicts between their record and their lies.