Benghazi hearing more about campaigning than Clinton or the truth

Clinton's face said it all.

Clinton’s face said it all.

After eleven grueling, often mind-numbing hours of testimony by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it seemed as if the GOP member of the Benghazi committee had met their match. Clinton remained calm, cool, and collected for most of the hearing, with Democratic members throwing barbs, while Republicans found new ways to ask the same question several dozen times. As the hearings wound to an end, I had a thought: what if this has nothing to do with Benghazi or stopping Clinton’s march to the White House? It sounds ludicrous. After all, Republicans have orchestrated Benghazi hearings for years with the goal of putting an end to Clinton’s dreams of winning the presidency, but with just a year until the general election, and a clown car of a GOP primary field, Republican members of Congress may consider Clinton all-but-invetiable. So why grill Clinton for 11 hours?

Congressional Republicans have elections to win in 2016 too. Their own.

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Can we do anything about gun violence in the U.S.?

Seems like we have to reset this one every few weeks and that's not normal or OK.

Seems like we have to reset this one every few weeks and that’s not normal or OK.

Once again, Americans are reeling at the sight of another mass shooting. In what’s become all-too-commonplace, we react with horror, sorrow, anger, and discussion, but at the end of the day, we all know this will happen again. President Obama said as much during his remarks addressing the shooting in Oregon, and regardless of your politics, every American probably agrees with Obama when he said it’s likely he’ll have to address another mass shooting before his term is over. However, in our efforts to end the horrific violence caused by guns, we address a few key issues: the ease in which potential shooters access guns, how we handle mental illness in the United States, and whether any reasonable limitations on gun ownership are appropriate if it means preventing another mass shooting like we’ve seen across the country, year after year.

The following piece attempts to address a few key issues. First, we must try to find a way to prevent mass shootings from ripping apart communities across the country and if reasonable gun legislation is off the table (despite overwhelming support in most parts of the country), we need another solution. We simply cannot accept mass shootings as normal, or something that cannot be prevented because the Second Amendment prohibits the adoption of any legislation preventing some individuals from accessing firearms. The piece takes a look at perhaps a key psychological reason why it’s so challenging to pass reasonable legislation aimed at ending the scourge of gun violence affecting Americans every single day. Additionally, we must consider our rhetoric towards guns–especially the paranoid notion that someone is coming for them–which may–or may not–be contributing to gun-related violence in the United States.

What’s laid out here isn’t a series of concrete solutions to gun violence, but perhaps it will provide us with an outlet for deeper discussion–on both sides of the aisle–on what can be done to make sure we can end the evils of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States.

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Dear GOP: Boehner quit you, not the other way around

"Goodbye, nut jobs!" -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

“Goodbye, nut jobs!” -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Alright, the headline is slightly misleading, since outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, didn’t actually quit the Republican Party, but his surprising resignation, nonchalant attitude at his press conference, and subsequent trashing of fellow Republicans and conservative groups, like Texas Senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, seemed to indicate a man who could no longer stand what’s become of his beloved party. The Republicans are in disarray, helped by a huge swing to the far right, allowing fringe elements to infect the party at almost every level, leaving establishment members like Boehner little choice by to take a lifeboat to safety.

Boehner isn’t the first high-profile Republican to essentially jump ship in recent years. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell–a lifelong Republican–famously endorsed President Obama not once, but twice, and chastises his party (he still considers himself a Republican) often on television. Longtime Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties not long after Obama’s election, and others are sure to follow. Not all will take the same or similar routes pursued by moderates like Powell or Specter, but Boehner is not the first and nor will he be the last big Republican name to call it a day.

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You’re Hired

Although our next election is a year away, candidates are currently doing and saying whatever they believe the American people want to hear. The conservative candidates are so plentiful, one can scarcely keep them all straight. But one of the candidates is not like the others.

 

He is loud. He is obnoxious. He is belligerent. He wears a million dollar kitten on his head.  He is…

trump

 

…The Donald.

A lot can be said about Trump’s candidacy thus far. His disrespectful tone with women, his thoughts on immigration, and his views on political contributions have been ferreted out for our perusal. Well, ferreted is not quite the best word to use, is it? The truth is that The Donald can’t shut up.

While I personally believe that if Trump ever articulated one good political idea, it would die of loneliness…

…He’s hired.

Wait, wait, wait. Don’t curse me like a drunken sailor just yet. I haven’t fallen and bumped my head. I just believe that there are a few things we -conservative, liberal, or other- can learn from this spectacle. Love or hate him. Let’s learn from him.

The Donald is honest. Brutally abrasive, almost cruelly honest. We can debate why he is so blunt, but I don’t believe that matters. What does matter is that Americans are fed up with pandering. A good chunk of America is sick to their back teeth of what they call political correctness.  Although rational people recognize that political correctness is a derogatory term for civility, many loathe it nonetheless. Presently, there is a certain level of admiration for a person willing to tell the unvarnished truth as he or she sees it.  We are seeing this admiration play out in liberal circles as well. A great deal of Bernie Sanders’ appeal is his speaking truth to power approach.

Then, there is the fact that Trump doesn’t need anyone. He is a very profitable business man who has come back from the brink more times than we can count. He is full of the can-do American spirit; He never gives up. As a known contributor to both parties, he has the freedom to entertain all points of view. As a billionaire, he runs a lesser chance of being bought. Americans want someone willing to hear other perceptions and someone comfortable in his/her own decision-making abilities. While very few openly admit to agreeing with most of Trump’s most outrageous statements, they do admire his confidence to stick to his guns. Again, look left…The liberal juggernaut, Sanders, is drawing huge crowds who adore him for sticking to his guns.

Finally, he is making politics interesting again. For many years, Americans have been, well, angry. Ranging from mild irritation to frothing at the mouth, anger and frustration has been an ever-present undercurrent in political discussions. The Donald has energized us all. I appreciate that. He and his kitten make me laugh, but his unique brand of outrageous foolery has people paying attention again. We need people paying attention. I’ve been saying for years that WE were the tyranny, that we have become far too uninvolved. Apathy does no favors for democracies. The Donald and his kitten are just entertaining enough to draw in viewers. Viewers are voters. For that alone, Trump, you’re hired.

 

 

 

Harry Reid did what? A little filibuster reform

In light of today’s vote in the Senate, I am reposting a piece published on April 30 (and no, it is not about gun control, but filibuster reform). Today’s action taken in the Senate applies only to the President’s nominees to fill executive posts and judicial vacancies, excluding nominees to the Supreme Court. It is a small, but significant step in the right direction.

April 30, 2013 by

Gun Control Background Check Legislation Defeated…Blame the Filibuster

On Wednesday, April 17, the Senate voted down gun background check legislation. This was defeated with 54 ayes and 46 nays. What? Defeated with a majority? You bet, thanks to the filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority before legislation can move forward.

Slate.com’s Dave Weigel put the blame directly on the Democrats’ shoulders for a variety of reasons.  He makes a good case, but the filibuster remains the major culprit. Even if the Democrats who voted no had voted yes, they would’ve still been one vote shy of the 60-vote threshold.

The filibuster has been a handy little procedure for senators of both parties to use when in the minority. However, the GOP senators have escalated its use to a whole new level of obstruction. Here is a little history:

  • 107th Congress (2001 – 2002, Dem minority)— 71 cloture motions filed:
  • 108th Congress (2003 – 2004, Dem minority)—62
  • 109th Congress (2005 – 2006, Dem minority)—68
  • 110th Congress (2007 – 2008, GOP minority)—139
  • 111th Congress (2009 – 2010, GOP minority)—137
  • 112th Congress (2011 – 2012, GOP minority)—115
  • 113th Congress (2013 – 2014, GOP minority)—11

A filibuster is an attempt to extend debate on a proposal in order to delay or completely prevent a vote on its passage. If cloture (a 60-vote supermajority) is not attained, the legislation will not receive an up or down vote. Historically, the filibuster was used in limited circumstances such as to override a presidential veto, expel a member from the Senate, or convict a federal officer of a federal offense.

Furthermore, the filibuster was a talking one. Jimmy Stewart’s character filibustered, quite dramatically, in the 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In March, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) held a talking filibuster, which hadn’t happened since Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took to the floor in December 2010 to protest a tax law. Today, talking filibusters are rare.

If legislation is going to be held up, then the senator(s) doing the blocking should stand before their colleagues and the American public to argue their point rather than merely stating their intent to filibuster. No pain is associated with obstruction nowadays; it is far too easy.

The Brennan Center for Justice’s 2010 Filibuster Abuse report provides a thorough accounting of how this procedure contributes to Senate dysfunction, compromises the system of checks and balances, and degrades transparency and accountability in government. The report highlights the fact that “Senate procedures have increasingly been used to prevent decision-making rather than to promote deliberation and debate.”

cloture_size

In 2012, the Brennan Center for Justice released a follow-up report, Curbing Filibuster Abuse. The authors found as of October 2012:

  • The 112th Congress had enacted 196 public laws, the lowest output of any Congress since at least World War II;
  • Senate passed a record-low 2.8 percent of bills in that chamber;
  • Cloture motions have skyrocketed since 2006;
  • On average, it took 188 days to confirm a judicial nominee, creating 33 “judicial emergencies.”

The authors state that rules reform is a must and suggest some “minimal, commonsense reforms:”

  • There should be only one opportunity to filibuster any given measure or nomination;
  • Senate rules should require at least 40 votes to sustain a filibuster as opposed to requiring a supermajority to break a filibuster, and senators should be required to remain on the floor and debate, as in the past;
  • Safeguards should be put in place to ensure members of the minority can offer amendments.

There have been attempts to reform, if not eliminate, the filibuster, even as recently as January. Reform is difficult. One reason is that the filibuster allows the minority in the Senate to have some say over and to slow down legislation. Therefore, even though Democrats have had a majority in that chamber, seven years now, many of them don’t want to change or eliminate it because they fear finding themselves in the minority again and when that happens, will want the option to filibuster.

The filibuster serves a purpose, and should be maintained on a limited basis, used for very specific circumstances as enumerated previously. However, filibustering has become a means for the minority to override or disrupt any legislation the majority tries to pass and hold up political appointments. This is wrong. Elections matter and when the minority dictates what the majority does, that is a problem for our democracy, especially when those filibustering have no desire to compromise and negotiate. It’s their way or no way. They become obstructionists and policymaking in this country grinds to a halt. Any legislation or political appointment, no matter how benign, is nearly impossible to enact or approve.

The filibuster’s accomplice is often the secret hold. The 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act should’ve halted the secrecy component of holds. However, since no enforcement mechanism was included, it has largely been ignored. There is no reason a legislator should not be held to account for why she/he is holding up legislation. Transparency is crucial to democracy. If a senator is going to stop a bill or political appointment, we the people have every right to know who it is and why they are doing it, whether we agree with them or not.

Capitol 2

Until our legislators have the guts to make some simple changes to Senate rules, government impotence at the federal level will continue. That does not bode well for the health, security, and growth of our country. Filibuster reform is a must.

Read the Brennan Center for Justice reports:

Eliminate the debt ceiling

Official portrait of Federal Reserve Chairman ...

Official portrait of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Raising the debt ceiling gives the government the ability to pay its existing bills. It doesn’t create new deficits. It doesn’t create new spending.” ~ Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman

Once again, the full faith and credit of the United States was brought to the brink of default by political posturing. This most recent debacle has Americans assigning the majority of the blame to the GOP, and most especially to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is more concerned with self-promotion than doing what is in the country’s best interest. He is now one of the most unpopular men in the Congress, not to mention in the country, except for a small contingent of right-wing zealots bent on destroying American government. These folks think Cruz is just dandy. He is their hero.

This month’s showdown is guaranteed a replay after the holidays. The political theatre we witnessed over the past month will no doubt take center stage again. The same battles will be fought and the country’s financial stability will be further jeopardized.  In addition to the debt ceiling circus, the 16-day government shutdown left 800,000 federal workers furloughed, resulting in lost wages and decreased purchasing power, further hindering already tepid economic growth. The cost of the shutdown by some estimates is as high as $24 billion.

Conservatives, especially Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives, were adamant about using the debt ceiling issue to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act. Neither the President nor the Democrats were going to allow that to happen, nor should they. When this attempt failed, conservatives tried other bargaining chips. Congressmen Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) even said, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Seriously? How old is he? That statement alone reveals how uninformed and incompetent some are in the House.

The long-term debt is a concern. It has risen significantly over the years, but paying our debts should never be used as a bargaining tool. Congress should instead work during their legislative sessions to determine the country’s budget priorities—how we raise revenue and cut spending. And yes, we must do both. We cannot only raise taxes nor can we only cut spending. Congress holds the power of the purse. It is their job to set the budget. It is irresponsible to repeatedly push America toward default just so a minority party can get its way. Moody’s put the US on credit ratings watch in 2011 because of such a stunt, while S&P actually did downgrade the rating from AAA to AA+. One would think that these supposed “free marketers” would understand that uncertainty is no friend to the economy, domestic or global.

Most Americans, even some legislators, do not understand the difference between the national debt and the budget deficit. Here is a good resource if interested. Raising the debt ceiling does not open the floodgates to new spending, it merely allows the U.S. government to pay the bills Congress has already approved. This is why the rating agencies have threatened, and a couple have, to downgrade the U.S. credit rating, which would have dire consequences for our country’s borrowing capability.  China has even suggested replacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and who can blame them when they witness our governmental dysfunction?

Furthermore, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned.” Do Ted Cruz and his Tea Party buddies not realize this? They prefer to ignore it while wrapping themselves in the flag and the Constitution, claiming they are the only “real” Americans. As Norm Ornstein writes of this situation: “To begin, this is entirely an engineered crisis perpetrated by House Republicans with Senate allies, hatched, as we now know, by outside individuals and groups including Ed Meese, Heritage Action, and the Koch brothers. We know that John Boehner really did not want a shutdown, and that he had agreed to a clean continuing resolution after Senate Democrats capitulated in entirety to his party’s demands on appropriations—meaning a continuation of the sequester and the much lower overall spending numbers of the Ryan budget (including higher spending for defense.)”

In light of all this, some have suggested eliminating the debt ceiling. The United States government’s ability to pay its bills should never be held hostage by self-serving politicians bent on manufacturing a debt crisis in order to achieve their ideological goals. And yes, Democrats have voted against raising the debt ceiling too—even President Obama when he was a senator. However, in the past, whether from Democrats or Republicans, these votes were mostly taken by a few to show opposition without an actual threat of government default.

Below are several articles advocating for debt ceiling elimination. The PDF of Congressional Research Service’s report on The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases can be downloaded here. It’s not the most riveting material, but it does provide important information about the federal debt.

Related articles:

No, Congress is not exempting themselves from Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act began enrollment on October 1. The site has had many hits, more than anticipated. However, as was expected, there have been glitches in the system—some not so small. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog offers an explanation of why these technical glitches are occurring and what is being done to resolve them. We shall see in the coming months how it all plays out as the kinks get worked out.

These glitches, however, serve as easy ammunition for opponents of the law looking to kill it. Another weapon being used to derail the law and raise the ire of Americans is the claim, mostly in conservative media, that the President and Congress are exempting themselves from Obamacare. This is a falsehood that has been fact checked. But as one knows, if a claim is repeated enough times people will believe it.

This Factcheck.org piece explains all of this exemption brouhaha quite well. I guess it all comes down to who you trust.

Friends referred to me these two articles:

These articles refute the above pieces:

I’ve also heard the claim that somehow these government employees are not contributing to the cost of their healthcare plans at all. That is false. Per Wikipedia:

“Premiums vary from plan to plan and are paid in part by the employer (the U. S. government agency that the employee works for or, for annuitants, OPM) and the remainder by the employee. The employer pays an amount up to 72 percent of the average plan premium for self-only or family coverage (not to exceed 75 percent of the premium for the selected plan), and the employee pays the rest.”

Now, one can make the argument that perhaps they should contribute more to their own coverage; that is legitimate. However, to state they don’t contribute at all is incorrect because they do.

This information can also be found directly from the OPM website. See their latest statement regarding this issue below.

The Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule on Aug. 7 explaining that members of Congress and applicable congressional staff will be required to purchase health insurance coverage through the exchanges created by the law. However, according to the proposed rule, the federal government, as the employer, will still be able to make a contribution to health insurance premiums as it currently does. The contribution will be no greater than that now offered to members and their staffs under the FEHB program, and members and their staffs will not be eligible for premium tax credits made available to other persons purchasing health insurance through the exchanges.