Tagged: House

U.S. Senate passes military sex assault bill 97 – 0

The U.S. Senate voted 97-0 on Monday to pass reforms in how the military handles sexual assault cases, but it probably will be months before the changes become law.

The measure must still be approved by the House of Representatives, where Democratic and Republican aides said it is unlikely to be up for a vote until later in 2014.

Backed by Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, the bill includes significant changes such as eliminating the “good soldier” defense allowing a court to reduce the sentences of offenders who have strong military records.

It also strengthens prosecutors’ role in advising commanders on whether to go to court martial. But it falls short of shifting the decision on whether to pursue assault cases from top commanders to independent military prosecutors…

The Senate is bipartisan in being chickenshit!

High-profile military sexual assault cases, some involving defense officials responsible for prosecuting sex crimes, also contributed to charges that the Pentagon has not been serious enough about stopping an epidemic of sexual assaults seen as a “cancer” in the armed forces…

The bill that was passed on Monday is unlikely to go to the House as a standalone measure. Instead it is likely to be included as part of a bill expected later this year that authorizes Pentagon spending.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, offered a tougher bill which would have taken responsibility out of the good ol’ boy network. She couldn’t get enough Dems to support it to press past Senate Republicans.

I don’t know anyone who expects much of anything useful to happen in the House – controlled as it is by Tea Party misogynists and cowardly lion Republicans. They may allow the proposal to be passed back to Senate as an amendment – after the midterm elections in November.

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Georgia man has his priorities straight – survives house fire

fire and beer

Six adults, including Walter Serpit, and two children were in the living room of their Columbus, Ga., home on Thursday afternoon when smoke began pouring in. All eight people made it outside safely, but Serpit, with the aid of his cane, went back for what really mattered — his beer.

“I told them to get the kids out and everything, and me myself, being an alcoholic, I was trying to get my beer out,” Serpit said. “You feel me?”

He was able to save several cans of beer and avoid getting burned. “I went back into the house like a dummy and the door shut on me because this back draft was about to kill me,” Serpit said.

Officials are still looking into what caused the fire but a newly-installed water heater might be to blame.

Firefighters were able to extinguish the flames and the Red Cross is working to help get the family back on their feet.

Meanwhile, Mr. Serpit has time to reflect upon his adventure. And, hey, he made certain the family was safe before he went back for his beer. :)

The Nullification Party

…How does one party that has lost two presidential elections and a Supreme Court case – as well as two Senate elections – think it has the right to shut down the entire government and destroy the full faith and credit of the United States Treasury to get its way on universal healthcare now? I see no quid pro quo even. Just pure blackmail, resting on understandable and predictable public concern whenever a major reform is enacted. But what has to be resisted is any idea that this is government or politics as usual. It is an attack on the governance and the constitutional order of the United States.

When ideologies become as calcified, as cocooned and as extremist as those galvanizing the GOP, the American system of government cannot work. But I fear this nullification of the last two elections is a deliberate attempt to ensure that the American system of government as we have known it cannot work. It cannot, must not work, in the mindset of these radicals, because they simply do not accept the legitimacy of a President and Congress of the opposing party. The GOP does not regard the president as merely wrong – but as illegitimate. Not misguided – illegitimate. This is not about ending Obamacare as such (although that is a preliminary scalp); it is about nullifying this presidency, the way the GOP attempted to nullify the last Democratic presidency by impeachment.

Except this time, of course, we cannot deny that race too is an added factor to the fathomless sense of entitlement felt among the GOP far right. You saw it in birtherism; in the Southern GOP’s constant outrageous claims of Obama’s alleged treason and alliance with Islamist enemies; in providing zero votes for a stimulus that was the only thing that prevented a global depression of far worse proportions; in the endless race-baiting from Fox News and the talk radio right. And in this racially-charged atmosphere, providing access to private healthcare insurance to the working poor is obviously the point of no return…

I regard this development as one of the more insidious and anti-constitutional acts of racist vandalism against the American republic in my adult lifetime. Those who keep talking as if there are two sides to this, when there are not, are as much a part of the vandalism as Ted Cruz. Obama has played punctiliously by the constitutional rules – two elections, one court case – while the GOP has decided that the rules are for dummies and suckers, and throws over the board game as soon as it looks as if it is going to lose by the rules as they have always applied.

…If we cave to their madness, we may unravel our system of government, something one might have thought conservatives would have opposed. Except these people are not conservatives. They’re vandals.

This time, the elephant must go down. And if possible, it must be so wounded it does not get up for a long time to come.

I agree. Too much work getting in winter’s firewood to spend on elaboration of my own. But, Andrew Sullivan says it well enough for now.

The silliness of TV Talking Heads blathering about middle ground and negotiations are as ignorant as ever. When half the proposed negotiations is illegal and refutation of our constitutional rights to democracy – the topic is moot. Ended. As over as Romney’s career as a national politician.

Farm law expires again — Republicans still hope to screw the poor!

Overshadowed by the government shutdown, the U.S. farm subsidy law expired for the second time on Tuesday with lawmakers still deadlocked over how to confront cuts in food assistance programs for low-income Americans.

Analysts say Congress is more likely to revive the farm law for another year or two, the path it took when the law expired a year ago, than agree on a new bill.

“They don’t even have the process in place to get it done,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a speech on Tuesday to United Fresh, a trade group for produce growers and processors.

The Democratic-run Senate has proposed $4.5 billion in loophole-closing for food stamps. The Republican-controlled House wants to cut $40 billion over 10 years through tighter eligibility rules that would disqualify 4 million people.

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Release of hearing transcript shows Tea Party congressional hack is a fraud and a liar


“When I finish this rewrite, it will hardly be worth taking to the bathroom”

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, released more than 200 pages of interview transcripts Tuesday afternoon after the committee’s Chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), refused to do so

Cummings released transcripts with an IRS screening group manager described as a “conservative Republican,” who said that the targeting of the Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status started with low-level workers in Cincinnati. The witness also said that there was no communication on the targeting with any senior IRS officials or with anyone in Washington or the Obama administration.

Democrats have posted the key portion of the transcript here, in which the manager says he initially was made aware of a case involving a Tea Party group when an agent “asked for guidance.” He agreed with the agent that there “wasn’t enough information” to determine whether the group should have a tax-exempt status, and said he elevated the issue to his “area manager…”

“I do not believe that the screening of these cases had anything to do other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development,” the manager said.

He also told the Oversight Committee that he believed no one from the White House was involved in the IRS’ screening of Tea Party groups.

Cummings called on Issa to release the entire transcripts, which Issa said would harm the investigation. Cummings asked him for specific reasons, and demanded he respond by Monday. When Issa didn’t respond, Cummings released the entirety of the transcripts.

Issa’s office also did not respond to requests from multiple media outlets — including this one — that asked whether he would eventually release full transcripts.

Like any rightwing punk, Issa is pissed that the actual transcript of the hearing is available for ordinary citizens to read and review. The Republican habit of clipping snippets of information to give an opposite view of reality is notorious; but, this example of a hypocrite and liar like Issa trying to get away with doing the same – with information that’s part of the congressional record – is despicable.

Of course he’s pissed off. Like most populist four-flushers he can’t stand to have reality interfere with ideology. The humorous bit is that just about the only time the IRS was ever proven to be complicit in political attacks was at the hands of a Republican president. A scumbag named Nixon.

The Ignoranus Caucus in Congress

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Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas.

To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

And such is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.

Want other examples of the ignorance caucus at work? Start with health care, an area in which Mr. Cantor tried not to sound anti-intellectual; he lavished praise on medical research just before attacking federal support for social science. How much money are we talking about? Well, the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit…

The desire to perpetuate ignorance on matters medical is nothing compared with the desire to kill climate research, where Mr. Cantor’s colleagues — particularly, as it happens, in his home state of Virginia — have engaged in furious witch hunts against scientists who find evidence they don’t like…Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise…”

O.K., at this point the conventions of punditry call for saying something to demonstrate my evenhandedness, something along the lines of “Democrats do it too.” But while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.

The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.

In her parting shot on leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton said of her Republican critics, “They just will not live in an evidence-based world.” She was referring specifically to the Benghazi controversy, but her point applies much more generally. And for all the talk of reforming and reinventing the G.O.P., the ignorance caucus retains a firm grip on the party’s heart and mind.

Paul Krugman is too polite to use a word more commonly found on the Web – “ignoranus”. It more thoroughly describes Republican philosophy and practice. Ignorance pursued as an end unto itself – which only provides satisfaction to dimwits whose mental processes are confined to the southern end of the alimentary canal.

Fannie and Freddie are not piggy banks for Congress

What does a U.S. immigration program have to do with the housing market? Nothing. Yet lawmakers are once again attempting to tap mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to fund unrelated legislation, this time to cover the cost of increasing the number of green cards for foreign graduates with advanced degrees. Fannie and Freddie, it seems, have become Washington’s favorite piggy bank.

Some may see this as a good thing. The U.S., after all, spent $190 billion bailing out the companies, so why not siphon some of the money back to pay for other priorities? The reality is that doing so raises mortgage costs for borrowers regardless of their credit risk, threatens to stall the housing market’s comeback and lowers the odds that Washington will ever fix the two companies.

To pay for the immigration bill it passed last month, the U.S. House voted to extend for one year higher fees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge lenders to guarantee the loans they make to home borrowers. Last year, Congress increased the so-called guarantee fee by 10 basis points (0.1 percent) through 2021 to fund a payroll-tax cut. The House bill extends the higher fees, which reflect a loan’s expected rate of return, through 2022. The measure isn’t going anywhere — it faces a presidential veto threat and was blocked this week by the Senate — but the temptation to tap Fannie and Freddie whenever Congress needs a ready supply of cash is likely to grow.

There’s no question guarantee fees should slowly increase. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac don’t make mortgage loans but guarantee them by charging lenders a fee to cover projected losses from defaults. For too long, the companies underpriced risk and charged too little for the mortgages they were agreeing to back, which is one reason they were bailed out and placed under government control.

Absent a broader effort to overhaul housing finance, raising fees with no consideration to their effect on the housing market poses new risks. The guarantee fees are passed on to borrowers, typically through higher interest rates. Raising fees too quickly could hamper the housing recovery by making it more expensive to borrow. Higher fees also thwart the Federal Reserve’s attempts to stimulate the economy by keeping interest rates low…

A new Bloomberg Government report says the mortgage giants will probably escape a major overhaul in President Barack Obama’s second term because they are no longer draining taxpayer money and instead are returning funds to the Treasury. Both reported third-quarter profits, foregoing Treasury Department cash infusions.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are finally healing, and Congress should resist the impulse to turn to them whenever it needs a ready supply of cash. The companies are supposed to smooth out the ebbs and flows of the mortgage market, not serve as ATMs.

I enjoy the way Bloomberg presents the information they do for a living, a pay-per-view service that funded Mike Bloomberg’s vast fortune. He – and most of the folks working at Bloomberg – understands straightforward communications. His company wastes little time trying to support rationales for out-of-date Republican ideology passed off as “traditional economics.

Yes, there are sufficient old school economists around to keep the bears happy; but, history and bull markets always pass them by when economies function as the whole process should. It’s only when the greed side of the profit equation takes precedence over ethics and honesty we all suffer a troubling result. Or a disaster.

Like the questions raised politely in this article about Republicans raiding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to pay for the only part of immigration House Republicans care about – imported engineers who will help high-tech corporations on the cheap.

America’s hope against hope


Illustration by Matt Wuerker

After a hard-fought election campaign, costing well in excess of $2 billion, it seems to many observers that not much has changed in American politics: Barack Obama is still President, the Republicans still control the House of Representatives, and the Democrats still have a majority in the Senate. With America facing a “fiscal cliff” – automatic tax increases and spending cuts at the start of 2013 that will most likely drive the economy into recession unless bipartisan agreement on an alternative fiscal path is reached – could there be anything worse than continued political gridlock?

In fact, the election had several salutary effects – beyond showing that unbridled corporate spending could not buy an election, and that demographic changes in the United States may doom Republican extremism. The Republicans’ explicit campaign of disenfranchisement in some states – like Pennsylvania, where they tried to make it more difficult for African-Americans and Latinos to register to vote – backfired: those whose rights were threatened were motivated to turn out and exercise them. In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor and tireless warrior for reforms to protect ordinary citizens from banks’ abusive practices, won a seat in the Senate…

The Republicans should not have been caught off-guard by Americans’ interest in issues like disenfranchisement and gender equality. While these issues strike at the core of a country’s values – of what we mean by democracy and limits on government intrusion into individuals’ lives – they are also economic issues. As I explain in my book The Price of Inequality, much of the rise in US economic inequality is attributable to a government in which the rich have disproportionate influence – and use that influence to entrench themselves. Obviously, issues like reproductive rights and gay marriage have large economic consequences as well…

…Here is what Americans should hope for: a strong “jobs” bill – based on investments in education, health care, technology, and infrastructure – that would stimulate the economy, restore growth, reduce unemployment, and generate tax revenues far in excess of its costs, thus improving the country’s fiscal position. They might also hope for a housing program that finally addresses America’s foreclosure crisis…

America – and the world – would also benefit from a US energy policy that reduces reliance on imports not just by increasing domestic production, but also by cutting consumption, and that recognizes the risks posed by global warming. Moreover, America’s science and technology policy must reflect an understanding that long-term increases in living standards depend upon productivity growth, which reflects technological progress that assumes a solid foundation of basic research…

Americans should hope for all of this, though I am not sanguine that they will get much of it.& More likely, America will muddle through – here another little program for struggling students and homeowners, there the end of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires, but no wholesale tax reform, serious cutbacks in defense spending, or significant progress on global warming.

With the euro crisis likely to continue unabated, America’s continuing malaise does not bode well for global growth. Even worse, in the absence of strong American leadership, longstanding global problems – from climate change to urgently needed reforms of the international monetary system – will continue to fester. Nonetheless, we should be grateful: it is better to be standing still than it is to be heading in the wrong direction.

Optimist that I am – still as cynical as Joe Stiglitz the author of this piece – we have 2014 and 2016 to look forward to. Americans may just be bright enough, confident enough, to push the House back to solid enough Democrat control at the mid-term to enable progressive legislation to be funded. I expect no miracles from our voters or elected officials – but, I think we’ll have the market on our side.

At this moment, I’m confident in Hillary running in 2016 – and her added experience in foreign policy [as tawdry as that has continued to be] better equips her for the battles for the presidency.

Should be fun. We may get a little further along the road to solvency and modernity.

How long can you hold out against construction?


REUTERS/China Daily

A car stops beside a house in the middle of a newly built road in Wenling, Zhejiang province, China…An elderly couple refused to sign an agreement to allow their house to be demolished. They say that compensation offered is not enough to cover rebuilding costs, according to local media. Their house is the only building left standing on a road which is paved through their village.

The Reuters photographer says they reached an acceptable price a few days later. They surely drove the road-building crew crazy. :)

CBO says a tax hike for the wealthy won’t kill economic growth

Allowing income tax rates to rise for wealthy Americans, and maintaining rates for the less affluent, would not hurt U.S. economic growth much in 2013, the Congressional Budget Office said on Thursday, stepping into a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over how to resolve the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

The report by the authoritative non-partisan arm of Congress is expected to fuel President Barack Obama’s demand for higher taxes on the rich, part of his proposal to avoid the full impact of the expiring tax cuts and across-the-board spending reductions set to begin in early 2013 unless Congress acts…

Obama has also stuck to his position, with the White House reiterating on Thursday that the president sees his election victory…as an endorsement by voters of his view on higher taxes for the affluent.

“One of the messages that was sent by the American people throughout this campaign is … (they) clearly chose the president’s view of making sure that the wealthiest Americans are asked to do a little bit more in the context of reducing our deficit in a balanced way,” senior White House adviser David Plouffe said.

Confirmed by every exit poll during the election.

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