Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 Congressional Lame Duck Votes

The following roll call votes occurred during the lame duck session of Congress are especially interesting in that the votes occurred at all.  Both Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid deserve credit for not acting lame during the lame duck session.

For the last two years, Republican obstructionism has been blamed for failure to move the Democratic agenda forward.  So with their backs to the wall, time running out and petulant Republicans whining like a bunch of cranky old white men about having to work during Holy Week, the Democrats pushed ahead and brought some substantive issues to a positive conclusion.  .

 9-11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 – HR 847  aka as the First Responder’s Bill -
In a shameful, inexcusable display of petty ignorance, Republican’s failed to support providing special health care benefits to firemen, police officers, EMT’s and other emergency personnel who responded on September 11th.    After a 6 year effort that has seen 900 fatalities due to 911 exposure, the Act was finally the last legislation approved by the 111th Congress after being whittled from $6.2 billion to $4.3 billion
On September 29th ,  the House still controlled by the Democrats voted 268 (with 17 Republicans) in support of the First Responders with 160 (including 3 Democrats) votes against.

On December 9th, the Senate voted in a strict party line vote with 57 Democrats in support and 42 Republicans against the First Responders.  Needing 60 votes, the Motion failed and First Responders will not receive necessary additional health benefits.

Sen. (Dr.) Coburn (OK) continued to ‘hold’ the Act claiming that Congressional hearings had not been held yet  Sen. (Dr.) Coburn, who serves on the Health, Education and Labor Committee, must have forgotten to attend that committee’s hearings – wonder if he was also absent the day the Hippocratic Oath was administered.  The US Chamber of Commerce continued to lobby against the bill which is fully funded - unlike tax cuts for the rich!
As one First Responder inquired “what kind of country is this?”

After considerable negative publicity laying this legislature failure at the Republican door, the Senate reconsidered and approved the Act by unanimous consent on December 22nd .   A quorum of the House of Representatives waited in the wings for two days (bless them) before adjourning in order to approve the Senate vote.   The bill  now goes to President Obama for his signature.

Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act aka as the DREAM Act – HR 2965 - would have opened a pathway for citizenship to immigrant children who had been US residents for at least five years and are pursuing either a military career or higher education.  Since the vote, immigrant rights activists have questioned Obama’s commitment since his Administration has deported a record number of immigrants and detentions in the last two years.

On December 6th  the Democratic controlled House voted in support 216 (with 8 Republicans) with 198 (w/38 Democrats voting against).

When the Act arrived on the Senate floor, it became caught in the ‘we want the tax cut bill first’ Republican mentality and failed on a 59 – 40 vote.   Five Republicans (Murkowski, Corker, Crapo, Risch and Vitter) voted with the Democrats and 4 Democrats (Sens. Feingfold, Menendez, Merkley and Pryor) voted against the Dream Act providing the necessary margin to defeat the DREAM Act.    The Act needed 60 votes.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell -  HR 2965 -  banned homosexuals from joining the US military and prohibited efforts to discover or reveal one’s sexual preference.  Preferring Congressional action, Obama's refusal to issue an Executive Order as President Truman did when integrating the Army gave rise to a frustrating year for DADT repeal, forcing advocates to organize an ultimately successful lobbying effort. 

On December 6th, the House voted 250 (including 15 Republicans) in support and195 (including 15 Democrats) voting against repeal. 

Thanks to an intense lobbying effort, the Senate voted 65 – 31 on December 17th in support of repeal which needed 60 votes.  Eight Republicans (Sens. Brown (Mass), Burr, Collins, Ensign,  Snowe, Murkowski, Kirk and Voinovich) joined 57 Democrats.  Senator Manchin (D- WVa) did not vote.    

Food Safety Modernization Act  S 510 – Gives the FDA access to company records and authority to recall products and requires that 170 countries that import food are grown in conjunction with US laws.  The Act addresses food safety issues last updated almost 100 years ago and was supported by food safety and consumer organizations but is generally considered ‘flawed.’   Some food safety organizations are wary of giving the FDA more power since the agency has been more committed to protecting industry rather than public safety.  The bill does not address genetically modified foods which Obama, as a candidate, promised to label.

On December 12th the House added the Act as an amendment to the 2011 Appropriations Continuing Resolution. The Appropriations was approved 212  with 206 (including 34 Democrats and Rep. Kucinich) voting against. (See below info on the Appropriations bill)

With a broad coalition of lobbying efforts, the Senate approved the Food Safety Act with 73 (including 15 R’s) in the affirmative and 25 (all Republicans) voting against the Act on December 17th.

2011 Appropriations Continuing Resolution –  includes $160 billion for the wars in Iraq and  Afghanistan and reduced funding of $12.5 billion from 2010 budget for high speed rail funding but does not include funds to implement Obama’s health care legislation.

After Republican objections, the White House agreed to extend the 2010 budget and pulled  the full Omnibus budget bill for 2011 in favor of this $1.1 trillion short term Continuing Resolution which will fund the Federal government through  March 4th

On December 21, Senate approved the temporary Appropriation on a 79 -16 vote.   .

Local Community Radio Act – HR 1147 and S 592 – repealed FCC restrictions to open up low power service for non-profit radio in thousands of communities with locally oriented programming.   The FCC will announce a procedure for community applications

Difficult as this may be to believe and in a huge victory for grassroots lobbying, both the House and Senate (after six Republicans removed  ‘holds’) approved the Act on voice votes.

START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) – which expired in 2009, began in 1982 with Reagan and Gorbachev approval of  START 1.  This treaty is a more modest, different Treaty than what the Russians approved in April, 2010 as Obama increased missile defenses within Russia’s ‘security zone.’ Some US defense experts are uncertain whether Russia will accept the Treaty as currently approved by the Senate.  The START would require a one-third cut in certain warheads and silos and allow on-site inspections

Needing a 2/3 vote, the Senate ratified the Treaty on December 22nd  with  71 in favor (including Republican Senators Alexander, Bennett, Brown, Cochran, Collins, Corker, Gregg, Isakson, Johannes, Lugar, Murkowski, Snowe and Voinovich  ) – 26.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Senate Nod Tax Cut Approval as House Fights to Preserve New Deal

Despite no Senate hearings, no economic impact report, no committee mark-up and after a series of tempered, robotic academic recitations, the Senate approved, via a Motion to Concur, the Obama-McConnell Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010 on December 15th by a vote of 81 - 19.      

Even after Sen Bernie Sander’s lonely impassioned all day oration against the ‘compromise’ on Friday, most Democratic Senators dutifully delivered their vote because it was more important  to protect a beleaguered President than protect suffering American families from the long term fiscal implications of Obama’s agreement with McConnell. 

The No Votes on final passage were: (Republicans in italics)

Bingaman  (NM)                                                          Leahy (VT)
Coburn (OK)                                                               Levin (MI)
Demint (SC)                                                                Merkeley (OR)
Dorgan (ND)                                                                Sanders (VT)
Ensign (NV)                                                                Sessions (AL)  
Feingold (WI)                                                               Udall  (CO)
Gillibrand (NY)                                                            Udall (NM)
Hagan (NC)                                                                 Voinovich (OH)
Harkin (Iowa)                                                               Wyden (OR)
Lautenberg (NJ)

The next morning, debate began in the House as many Democrats expressed fear of the sure-to-come-attacks on Social Security, Medicare and other People Programs.   But it was the effort to renew the Estate Tax, known in 1913 as the Inheritance Tax, that infuriated many House Democrats.  Sounding more like fiscal conservatives than their Republican counterparts who spoke like the Big Spenders they are, Democrats saw the agreement as a tax give-away catapulting the country’s debt beyond the approved $14 trillion limit while the economy continues to stagger on the edge.    

Benefiting a mere 3/10ths of 1% of the country’s wealthiest citizens, approximately 6,600 estates (or 3,500 families) would receive an average additional tax cut of $1.5 million a year.  The Senate approved a tax exemption on estates up to $5 million with a maximum tax rate of 35% which is expected to add $1 trillion to the federal deficit.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy (ND) a blue-dog who lost his re-election bid, offered an amendment that would limit the deduction on estates at $3.5 million and increased the tax rate to 45%.  If approved, the amendment would save the Federal government an estimated $23 billion.

As Senate Democrats lost their moral compass, sounding more like moderate Republicans with no heart for the middle class, was in stark contrast to House Democrats who found theirs as they spoke truth to power.  While House debate continued until midnight, many irate Democrats found their voice in fervent opposition to the tax cut agreement and sometimes with raging anger, the House chambers rocked with the recurring theme of support for the threatened 75 year old New Deal programs that have benefited millions and millions of Americans.  FDR would have been proud.

Surely House Democrats are aware, as  the new 112th Congress take their seats, they will be fighting the same fight again – without help from Democrats in the Senate or the President of the United States.
The vote against the Pomeroy Amendment was 232 (including 60 Democrats) and.194 (included 17 Republicans) in favor

Vote on Final passage, after pleas from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, was 277 in support of the tax cut agreement and 148 (with 36 Republicans) against. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Juvenile Justice in America

            Ursula LeGuin’s classic “The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas” tells of an idyllic community where every need and every happiness is fulfilled.   Living comfortably with cleanair and water, the residents of Omelas were satisfied with no cars, no laws, no weapons, no economy, no clergy and none of the complications of modern life. 

            Yet there was a price for Omelas’ perfect existence.  Hidden deep within the shelter of their daily lives was a dark underground room, locked and windowless.  In that gloomy room lived one lone child; naked, hungry, and frightened – a  child wrenched from its parents with no explanation or understanding.   When Omelas’ children were shown the trembling child, at first shocked and filled with guilt and compassion; after a time, they returned to their warm, pleasant homes.  Omelas residents were assured of a life of privilege and abundance as long as this one child continued its miserable existence.  At the end of LeGuin’s story, there are those who walked away, powerless to change existing conditions and yet refusing to live in a society
that traded personal comfort for the life of one abandoned child.  

            Prior to the 1900’s, there was no recognition in the United States that troublesome children as young as 7 years should not be punished with incarceration.  It was not until the Progressive Era that ushered in a societal shift of consciousness with women suffrage, child labor laws and worker rights that recognized children were not adults and that society had a special obligation to protect and rehabilitate youthful offenders.   Youth homes were established and the legal system adopted special proceedings and laws to assure that juveniles did not disappear in prison becoming hardened criminals, forever deprived of a useful role in

            Today, the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world with 2.3 million men, women and children in prison.  Of those imprisoned, 92,854 are juvenile offenders, the most in the industrialized world.  Over 2,500 are serving life without parole for homicide and  129 juveniles are serving life w/o parole for non-violent crimes.  No other country in the world has a life sentence for its children. 

            It has been argued that such punitive penalties violate the Eighth Amendment which was part of the Bill of Rights in 1791 and prohibits  ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’  In May, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles could not be sentenced to life for non-violent crimes and that the 129 sentences should be reconsidered.  Of those 129 juveniles, 77 are in the state of Florida.  Second to California, Florida has 8,208 juveniles in custody which includes girls and a disproportionate number of minorities. 

             Reflecting the loss of nurturing conditions in American society, easy access to guns and economic pressures on American families exacerbate soaring violent crimes especially among adolescents.   It is no wonder that with 15 million American children living below the poverty line, the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world, 25% of American children on food stamps and the highest school drop-out rate that neglected and abused children are the country’s number one mental health concern.    

            What the courts and juvenile justice system are slow to recognize is that advanced MRI’s confirm that a teenage brain is not a fully mature brain with the prefrontal cortex which governs reasoning, advanced thought and impulse control is the last area of the brain to be developed. It is a no-brainer that healthy brain development depends on a healthy environment. 

            States ban alcohol use until 21 years of age because adolescent brains have not developed mature judgment, problem solving skills and decision making capacities and yet 44 states treat14 year olds as adults and 15 states allow children as young as ten to be tried in court.           

            As the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 languishes awaiting Congressional reauthorization, like the child from Omelas, America’s incarcerated children are crying for justice – praying that American society will rediscover its compassionate roots and not turn its back on its children.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tax Cut "Compromise" Update

            The mantra from the Senate that Obama’s ‘compromise’ tax cut bill does not fully satisfy either side is pure baloney.   Make no mistake - Republicans who have been stalking Social Security for years got their proverbial foot in the proverbial door.

            Established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, the Social Security Trust Fund which saw an increase of $2.5 trillion since 1980  is totally funded by worker contributions.  While the Trust Fund is expected to be solvent until 2037, former Rep, Barbara Kenneally of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, says that Obama’s deal marks the “beginning of the end of Social Security as we know it.”

            Perhaps the most serious challenge ever to the 48 million Americans who receive an average Social Security payment of $979 monthly is how Obama structured the deal with Republicans.  By reducing the Social Security portion of the payroll tax by  2%, the U.S. General Fund will be required to transfer over $110 billion to the Trust Fund to make up for lost tax revenues.   The practical effect of mixing heretofore unavailable General Fund revenues is that Social Security will now be considered a drain on the budget and thereby eligible for the chopping block.

            The President has promised that the 2% payroll tax will be for a one year period but, after the pain of observing Obama’s capitulation, does anyone seriously expect him to go to the wall next year when he failed to do so this year and with a Republican dominated House, how will the Social Security portion of the  payroll tax be restored next year when the Republicans will surely define restoration as a tax increase.

            What the beltway media has not reported is that the poorest working Americans, those earning $20,000 or less, will be the only group to see a tax increase.  According to David Cay Johnston, author of “Free Lunch” and Syracuse University professor, Obama’s deal with Sen. McConnell (Ky.) will eliminate the ‘Making Work Pay’ tax credit program which provided an $800 benefit for couples and $400 for each individual.   The elimination of Making Work Pay will affect 45 million households representing 150 million individuals who will pay more taxes.

            While Obama’s ‘compromise’ will provide benefits to 2 million unemployed Americans for 13 months, millions of others whose benefits have expired are left to scrounge for themselves.  Unemployment insurance is another 75 year old program as part of FDR’s New Deal and is funded totally by employers who pay a tax on employee wages.  In 13 months, will Obama be more responsive than today when the House will be in Republican hands and the Republican minority in the Senate continues to rule the roost.            

            Since Obama’s skill as a negotiator are obviously lacking, it’s probably a good thing he was a community organizer and not a labor union mediator. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Senate Procedural Tax Cut Vote

With a scant debate of 45 minutes and despite Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I- Vt) heroic and brilliant 8.5 hour filibuster on the Senate floor on Friday, December 10 (see CSPAN video), the Senate voted  in a procedural vote to move forward with President Obama’s tax cut ‘compromise’ with Republicans (HR 4853)  83 – 15.

While voting began at 3 pm and the required 60 votes was reached in less than an hour, the vote remained open for another two and a half hours in a highly unusual move as Senators were brought back to DC to cast their vote.  My best guess is that the desire for a Big Win was about making the President look good and ease passage in the House.  

The following Senators voted No; those with an asterisk * are up for re-election in 2012.

* Bingaman (D-NM)
* Brown (D-Oh)
  Coburn (R-Ok)
   DeMint (R SC)
* Ensign (R-Nv)
      Feingold (D-Wisc)
* Gillibrand (D-NY)
Hagan (D-NC)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
      Leahy (D-Vt)
      Levin (D-Mi)
* Sanders (I-Vt)
Sessions (R-Al)
      Udall (D-Co)
      Voinovich (R-Oh)

December 13, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Chicken Crap" vs Tax the Rich

             With strong public support and Democratic majorities during the lame duck session, it might seem that Congressional action on a permanent tax cut for middle class American families and 95% of small businesses earning less than $250,000 would be a no-brainer – but that has not been the case.    

            Finally showing some independence from the White House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the Democratic majority to the Floor and without anyone saying so, challenged President Obama to ‘walk his talk’  The successful House amendment (234 – 188) shrewdly included wealthier taxpayers on their first $250,000 of income.  After the vote, incoming House Speaker John Boehner, with his knickers caught in a snit fit, called the vote ‘chicken crap.”

             As a result of the House vote, the more conservative Democratic Senate was pressured to act in a rare Saturday morning debate.  Two amendments were offered. The first by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) was identical to the House language and was defeated 53 – 36 with 4 Democrats (Senators  Feingold (Wisc), Nelson (Neb), Webb (Va.) and Manchin (W.Va) and Lieberman (I-Conn)) voting against the middle class tax cuts.   

            A ‘compromise’ amendment offered by Sen . Chuck Schumer (NY) raised the limit to earners of $1 million.  The Schumer amendment failed 53 – 37 with 4 Democrats (Senators Feingold (Wisc), Rockefeller (W.Va), Harkin (Iowa), Durbin (Ill) and Leiberman I-Conn) all voting No.  

            Watching CSpan coverage of the Senate debate, it seemed curious that Sen. Baucus,  Darth Vader of last year’s health care debate, offered the lead amendment and that Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), who supports the Deficit Commission recommendations, joined Baucus in voting for both amendments since neither are known for a compassionate nature when it comes to the country’s working families.     

            As the debate and roll call continued, it was puzzling why high profile liberal Senators who have built careers supporting working class values would vote against these amendments.  None have yet come forward with any plausible explanation that I am aware of.  

            But consider this hypothetical - if those five Senators had voted with their Democratic base, the Baucus vote could have been 58 – 31 and the Schumer vote might have been 58 – 32 (Standing Rules of the Senate requires 60 votes on this type of amendment.) If the Democrats had garnered 58 votes instead of 53, would there have been more pressure on the two Maine Senators and Sen. Scott Brown (Mass) to come along.   If the vote had been 58 in favor of extending middle class tax cuts, would it have been more difficult for Sens. Snowe, Collins and Brown to justify their No votes?
            On the other hand, why would Republicans consider voting for extension of the tax cuts knowing they would ultimately get a better deal with the President’s negotiator?
            All this is not to ignore Republican hypocrisy but here’s the real question is with numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics:  with 261 Millionaires (54 in the Senate and 207 in the House - out of 535 members) in Congress including the President of the United States, is it realistic to expect those who would benefit from the wealthy tax cut, those 55 members with incomes over $10 million and 8 members with incomes over $100 million, those Members with a median income of $765,000 in the House and $2.3 M in the Senate, those with a clear and personal conflict, to vote against their own self interest?

            Apparently genetically incapable of delivering on campaign promises, Obama single handedly demoralized the Democratic base weeks earlier indicating he was open to compromise with Republicans. Never using his bully pulpit to turn the tide, the President boxed himself in to a stalemate of his own making and then used that stalemate to justify continuation of Bush tax policies.

            It has been suggested that since making laws has been unfavorably compared to making sausage as a messy business, it would be better not to watch either.   It would not be the first time that a dysfunctional Senate and Obama Administration have been snookered by Republicans in a less than dazzling public display of discombobulated legislative wizardry.

            Come to think of it…making sausage is whole lot more appealing.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

America’s Green Presidents

            As Republicans add 13 new Senators and 62 new Representatives to their Congressional roster, the upcoming 112th Congress promises to be the most virulent anti-environment, anti-wilderness and anti-wildlife legislature than ever.  Not only are the new Republican Members global warming deniers, they are also budding EPA investigators, unrepentant BP apologists, insatiable energy hogs and committed solarphobes.  Those Republicans disconnected from Nature who put profits ahead of a polar bear while exploiting the planet can be counted on to attack many cherished environmental protections like endangered species and oil and gas regulations.

            Given that current day reality, who would believe that the nation’s most effective environmental Presidents were both Republicans?   There was a time when the Republican party stood for something more than being the Party of No – No foreign policy, No domestic policy, No to everything except what would benefit a corporate welfare state that preyed on uninformed voters.  Republican conservation roots, which date back to Abraham Lincoln designating Yosemite for what would become the nation’s first national park, began to disintegrate when Ronald Reagan removed Jimmy Carter’s solar collectors off the roof of the White House and slashed the home weatherization budget.  
            As a small, asthmatic boy born to a wealthy, prominent family, Theodore Roosevelt’s commitment grew as he sketched bird drawings while studying natural history and zoology.   As 26th President of the United States (1901 – 1909) Roosevelt grew in office as a Republican progressive and trust buster, a strengthened man of conviction into a first rate citizen scientist and naturalist.  Roosevelt breathed life into a fledgling national conservation movement as he created the country’s first national wildlife refuge establishing a system that grew to 51 by the time he left office.   He went on to create 5 national parks, 4 national game preserves, 18 national monuments and 150 national forests as well as the Antiquities Act of 1906 which stopped looting of historic artifacts on public lands.  

            In what may come a shock to some liberals, it was the 37th President, Richard Nixon (1969 – 1974) who responded to ecological disasters dominating the nation’s agenda.   Once the President Democrats would most love to hate, what matters today is that the increasing dirty air,  river pollution and ocean dumping, sewage spills and toxic waste pushed Nixon to evolve into an environmental President.  By the time of the Cuyahoga River fires in Ohio, he was “convinced that the 1970’s absolutely must be the years when America pays its debt to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its waters, and our living environment. It is literally now or never.”   It was also Nixon who first raised the need for ‘energy independence’ in1970.

            While Congressional membership favored the Democrats during Nixon’s term, his legislative achievements which had strong bi-partisan support including establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Council on Environmental Quality, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, expansion of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, support for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, the Toxic Substance Control Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.     

            Both Roosevelt and Nixon’s legislative accomplishments were comprehensive, visionary and still influential today as both exhibited a strong environmental ethic absent in today’s Republican party.  While Democratic Presidents like Jimmy Carter preserved 50 million acres in Alaska, John Kennedy created Canyonlands National Park and Bill Clinton created 17 national monuments for a total 4.6 million acres, the breadth and scope of Roosevelt and Nixon’s public record on environmental lawmaking remains unmatched by any Presidential successors.
            With no Roosevelt or Nixon on the horizon, in an age of apathy and a lack of environmental consciousness, when many politicians and citizens are ignorant of basic scientific concepts like photosynthesis, the 2010 election  may usher in an era when a new breed of Republicans, unaware of their heritage, seek to make war on the stunning ecological legacy left by America’s two greenest Presidents.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

George H.W. Bush to Receive Presidential Medal

            The Presidential Medal of Freedom, established by President Harry Truman in 1945, is the nation’s highest civilian award presented to citizens who have made a ‘meritorious contribution’ in government, cultural or other public endeavors.  Past Medal winners have included Georgia O’Keefe, Lucille Ball, Irving Berlin, James Michener, Bruce Catton, Walter Cronkite, Rachel Carson and Hank Aaron.    

            President Obama has chosen fifteen individuals for their ‘extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture and made our country and world a better place” to be honored in January, 2011.  Among the fifteen are Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Bill Russell, cellist YoYo Ma, poet Maya Angelou, champion of the disabled Jean Kennedy Smith, civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis and - the  41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush.

            A scan of Mr. Bush’s history during his term as Vice President (1980 – 1988) and as President (1989 – 1992) raises the irresistible question of what evidence convinced Obama to select the former President as one of the esteemed Medal winners.     

            Bush’s climb to the Presidency might seem remarkable for anyone not born to a prestigious, wealthy family.  After graduating from Yale as a member of Skull and Bones like his father, Prescott who served in the US Senate (1952 – 1963), Bush moved to west Texas upon graduation in pursuit of oil development and his first million.   Hot on the trail of a political career, Bush became Chair of the Harris County Republican Committee in 1962, in anticipation of what became an unsuccessful 1964 Senate run against incumbent Senator Ralph Yarborough.  As County Chair and adroit at creating his own opportunities, Bush instigated a legal challenge which created a new House Congressional district in Houston to which Bush was elected in 1966.  That election was followed by another unsuccessful run for the Senate in 1970. 

            Without any diplomatic experience, President Nixon appointed Bush as United Nations Ambassador in 1971 as a generous consolation prize for not selecting him as Vice President for which Bush and his father had heavily lobbied.  In 1973, Bush served as Chair of the Republican National Committee in the wake of the Watergate scandal until President Ford appointed him Ambassador to China.  Coming home in 1976, Ford named Bush to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency - another consolation for not making the cut as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1977.   Deep within party hierarchy, Bush was regarded as a shameless self-promoter even before racking up 250,000 miles in 42 states in pursuit of the 1980 presidential nomination.  During those years, it was an open secret and well documented that Bush rarely traveled or changed jobs without the accompaniment of his personal secretary of fourteen years.  With the brass ring in sight, Bush was elected as Veep with Ronald Reagan and served with a lack of distinction for the next eight years becoming an object of Doonesbury cartoons and Dana Carvey impressions on Saturday Night Live.  

            But opportunistic ambition, in itself, should be no reason to deny anyone a Presidential
Freedom Medal unless, of course, that ambition screws with a person’s honor and virtue.  It was the Iran Contra affair that raised questions of Bush’s willingness to undermine U.S. constitutional authority.  Even as he insisted he was ‘out of the loop,’ various court documents, congressional reports, trial records and others’ statements have since proved otherwise.  High level members of the Reagan Administration with access to the Oval Office were found to have swapped weapons for American hostages being held by Iran during an official US arms embargo to that country. Revenues from the sale of those arms were then funneled to right-wing Contras in Nicaragua in violation of US law.  In 1986, Reagan appointed his own commission, headed by Sen. John Tower, to investigate any possible involvement by his Administration.  The Tower Commission ultimately exonerated Bush.

            During the 1980 election, Bush set a new standard for sleazy, negative “I’ll do anything to win” Presidential campaigns with shameless attacks on Dukakis’ integrity and character and  American voters responded with the lowest Presidential election turnout since 1924. 

            It was not an auspicious beginning for Bush when, one day after the 1989 election, the Silverado Savings and Loan Bank in Colorado defaulted.  Less than three weeks later, Bush introduced S&L bailout legislation.  Silverado’s share of the $293 billion bailout was $1.3 billion as Bush’s third son, Neil, a Silverado Director, paid a $50,000 fine to escape criminal charges.  Bush’s bad luck continued as the Senate rejected his nomination of John Tower (of the Tower Commission) as Secretary of Defense paving the way for Dick Cheney’s ascension.   It was on Bush’s watch when the nation’s largest oil spill of 700,000 gallons occurred at Exxon Valdez in Alaska and by 1990, Bush launched the first Iraq War.        

            With Dan Quayle as vice president, Bush became no more illustrious as some of his noteworthy Presidential vetoes indicate:           

Family and Medical Leave Act (6-29-1990 and 9-22-1992)
Civil Rights Act of 1990 (10-20-1990
Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act  (10-11-1991)
Congressional Campaign Spending Limit and Election Reform Act (5-9-2991)
Amtrak Reauthorization and Improvement Act (5-25-1990)
National Voting Registration Act (7-2-1992)
Family Planning Amendments Act (9-25-1992)
New River Wild and Scenic Study Act (10-27-1992)
Establishment of Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida (10-27-1992)
Military Health Care Initiative Act (10-31-1992) and
Appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court (1991)

            By the time Bush left office in 1992, the Federal deficit had risen to $4 trillion.  During the 1992 election, Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton receiving 38% of the popular vote, the lowest of any Republican candidate since William Taft in 1908.   Given a problematic legacy, it might be no surprise that 81% of American historians polled believe Bush to be a 'failed' Presidency.  


Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Short History of the Fed Bank

            Given the enormous losses during the country’s recent fiscal meltdown that cost Americans twenty trillion public dollars, their jobs and their homes, it might seem curious that few elected officials in
Washington have spoken critically or demanded an investigation regarding the Federal Reserve Bank’s role in the debacle.   While the silence has been deafening, such a blackout of opinion on the country’s economic fortunes has not always been the case.    
            Since Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to “coin and regulate the value of money,” the Congressional decision in 1791  to delegate that responsibility to a central bank has been fraught with controversy, opposition and charges of corruption ever since. 
            The First Bank of the United States was chartered for a twenty year period to pay revolutionary war debts and consolidate state currencies and financial policies.  Thomas Jefferson believed that a central bank was not authorized by the Constitution and that such a financial institution would benefit the privileged and wealthy and be adverse to the interests of democracy and the common people. 
            By 1811 with fraud and corruption rampant, President James Madison allowed the First Bank charter to expire after Congress, citing a ‘paradise for speculators,” failed to continue the Bank by one vote.   Madison saw the Bank as favoring business institutions while ignoring the country’s agricultural needs.  However, unable to finance the country due to inflation caused by funding the War of 1812, Madison succumbed to renewal in 1816 for another twenty years .  
            As the country’s agriculture sector boomed, the Second Bank of the United States encouraged widespread loans to land speculators creating an economic bubble which resulted in the Panic of 1819.  

            Elected as a fierce opponent of a monopolistic central bank, President Andrew Jackson (1829 – 1837) issued an Executive Order transferring the deposit of government funds to state banks.  Unperturbed by a censure from the Senate, Jackson allowed the Bank’s charter to expire in 1836    As astute as Jefferson and Madison, Jackson saw the Bank as concentrating financial strength in one institution while improving the fortunes of an ‘elite circle’ at the expense of farmers and workers.   He feared that the Bank exposed the government to foreign interests, fed the fever of credit and speculation and exercised too much control over Congress.   To his enduring credit, Jackson became the only President to pay off the national debt. 

            Even after the speculative Panic of 1837, President John Tyler Jr., (1841 – 1845), a strict Constitutionalist and opponent of a central bank while in the Senate, vetoed two attempts by Congress to charter a second central bank.  Tyler’s reward for standing firm was censure by the Senate, resignation of all but  one of his Cabinet and expulsion from the Whig party.  Tyler became one of three Presidents to serve in office with no party affiliation as outraged Whig party loyalists protested outside the White House.

After a series of financial crises that culminated with the Panic of 1907, the justification again existed for a centralized bank to bring financial stability and control to the U.S. economy.  The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was adopted establishing a quasi-governmental Federal Reserve system known today as the Fed Bank.   

Despite a new central bank, sixteen years later, the stock market crashed ushering in the Great Depression which ushered in the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which provided relative economic stability until President Clinton signed a Congressional bi-partisan repeal in 1999 which, in part, ushered in the 2008 fiscal meltdown.

While embedded tradition dictates that Fed  Bank ‘independence’ be immune from politics, former Chair Greenspan set a double standard by freely manipulating and ‘coaching’ members of Congress and Administration personnel.   Presumably, Bernanke has continued Greenspan’s time – honored behavior.

Given the prescient predictions of 150 and 200 years ago, words that echo back to us over the centuries, today’s elected representatives are, by comparison, too often like deer caught in the headlights unsure of which way to go, too eager to acquiesce their fiduciary responsibility to an unelected entity, too willing to take a pass on real oversight and accountability and unlike their predecessors, too willing to sit down and shut up.    

The Peekskill Riots of 1949 and the 2010 Election

            Even before the success of right wing candidates in the 2010 elections, the sudden emergence of intimidating tactics at raucous Congressional town meetings and gun-toting tea party rallies was an alarming phenomena.   It is not the first time that bullying and threats of violence have occurred in American politics.

            One Sunday afternoon many years ago, a local radio station reported that a ‘riot’ had occurred  in a quiet Hudson River Valley community.   Only years later, after having read Howard Fast’s first hand description of events in “Peekskill USA,” were  the shameful details apparent.  

            An hour’s drive from downtown Manhattan, Peekskill, New York exploded on the national scene in August, 1949  when a mob of veterans, Ku Klux Klan members and their supporters attacked concertgoers.. The music lovers were to attend a performance by internationally-renown bass-baritone Paul Robeson.   A Phi Beta Kappa and all-American football star from Rutgers University and graduate of Columbia Law School, Robeson was also a socialist known for his outspoken support of civil rights and the trade union movement. 

            In 1949, the country was already on edge since the House Un-American ActivitiesCommittee had been investigating alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and organizations suspected of having Communist ties  and the “Hollywood Ten” were about to go to jail for failing to ‘co-operate’ with the Committee.   Senator Joe McCarthy would begin his witch hunts the following year.  

            The local newspaper called public attention to Robeson’s politics and encouraged citizens to protest his performance – and protest they did!  An estimated several thousand self-proclaimed  patriots, many fueled by alcohol,  were content to block the concert entrance,  burn a cross on a nearby hill, jeer and scream racial and ethnic slurs and throw rocks until a group of about one hundred feral souls, armed with baseball bats, knives, broken bottles, and brass knuckles charged a group of men, women and children (including Howard Fast) who had already gathered and were trapped within the concert grounds. 

            Fast, who was to emcee the event, organized  42 men and boys to resist three waves of  ‘screaming madmen” in hand to hand combat who were shouting ‘we’ll finish Hitler’s job’ and  threatening to ’string up’ Robeson as state police officers stood by and FBI men took notes.  In an extraordinary display of courage, Fast and those of his group still standing withstood the last assault by locking arms to protect the women and children while singing “We Shall Not be Moved.”   The concert did not occur and Robeson, who never reached the concert location, was safely ensconced elsewhere.

            In response, a second performance was planned for the following week when an estimated 20,000 gathered to hear Robeson, Pete Seeger and others as several thousand unionists formed a ring of protection around the concert.  The performance ended with no disturbance and only as thousands drove away did they realize that hundreds of protesters were waiting along the exit route  to once again attack concertgoers with rocks and broken fence posts. 

            Pete Seeger told how all the windows of his Jeep which contained his wife, two small children, Lee Hays and Woody Guthrie were broken by multiple rocks which he later used to build the chimney in his home.  Despite photographs, the public beating of a black WWI combat veteran by two policemen and a state trooper never led to prosecution.

            Even as a fifty year ‘remembrance and reconciliation’ ceremony was held in 1999, the Peekskill riots remain a long standing wound on the national psyche.  In the aftermath of the angry confrontations of the 2010 election, Howard Fast’s words remind us of “how thin the line is that separates constitutional government from tyranny and dictatorship” remain as valid today they were in 1949.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

More Nukes and Drill Baby Drill

The following article was written soon after President Obama’s March 31st announcement of his energy policy.   Six weeks later, the BP Deepwater Horizon accident spilled millions of barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico continuously for three months until being capped.  The accident killed eleven workers and had devastating effects on Gulf tourism, its fishing industry, marine life and habitat.

                                     MORE NUKES AND DRILL BABY DRILL
            During his 2009 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced it was time for a ‘new generation of clean energy” initiatives.   The President’s call for construction of ‘safe, clean’ nuclear power plants and opening “new areas” for off shore petroleum drilling were each greeted with standing Congressional ovations amidst loud ‘huzzahs’ and cheers. 

            The lack of new nuclear plant applications and a Congressional off shore drilling moratorium were hard-fought victories that environmentalists won more than twenty years ago - but apparently the President and members of Congress have either short memories or this country is moving backwards on environmental protection.  

            With his usual soaring rhetorical promise, Obama accomplished a long sought goal of the nuclear industry in the early-1980’s by skillfully repackaging nuclear power as ‘clean’ and ‘safe’.   Neither is true as Three Mile Island taught us.

            In the 1970’s, the anti-nuclear (energy) movement began when a handful of ‘intervenors’ across the country challenged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing proceedings.  Those interventions grew into citizen protest groups like the Clamshell Alliance in New Hampshire and the Abalone Alliance in southern California which committed acts of civil disobedience.   Both efforts alerted the public to significant health and safety issues like the cumulative impact of routine radioactive emissions and ground water contamination on the surrounding population.  

            In 1982, Congress adopted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which promised ‘proof’ that a ‘solution’ for high level radioactive waste, which was then being stored at-reactor sites, existed.     Almost thirty years later, that radioactive waste is still being stored at-reactor sites and Yucca Mountain’s designation as a long term repository remains problematic.

            The $8 billion Obama promised in 2009 for sun farms and renewable energy projects is dwarfed when compared to the President’s $54 billion request for nuclear industry loan guarantees together with $18 billion loan money already approved by Congress in 2009.

            On the heels of his commitment to add to the nation’s 104 operating nukes which provide 20% of the nation’s electricity, the President said it is time to make ‘tough decisions’ and open ‘new areas’ for off shore drilling along the country’s seacoasts.   

            The state of Florida with 1200 miles of coastline has perhaps the most to lose as the Gulf of Mexico is being considered as one of those ‘new areas’.  Since Congress allowed the off shore moratorium to lapse, the Florida legislature is expected to disregard its $65 Billion tourist industry when it votes to repeal its state ban which would allow drilling platforms as close as three miles from the state’s ecologically fragile coasts. 

             The South Atlantic Planning Area, which runs 85,000 miles from Florida to South Carolina, would be subject to a series of seismic surveys to determine if sufficient liquid gold oil reserves exist.  One such exploration would include underwater airguns shooting compressed air bubbles up to 260 decibels with blasts of 60 or more impulses per mile powerful enough to penetrate several thousand feet into the Ocean floor.   Mother of all life, such invasive Ocean  testing would be devastating to all marine creatures especially the endangered right whale, prehistoric sea turtles and dolphins.  Recent independent geologists assert that sufficient geologic structures do not exist along Florida’s Atlantic coast to create enough oil to justify such speculative damaging tests.

            Given the 10 – 15 year licensing timeline for both nukes and off shore platforms to be operational and up and running, a determined Obama commitment could bring alternative energy sources on-line sooner rather than later.  If retooling the auto industry and punching out tanks for WW II took six months, a little political will could make all the difference - and make green energy a reality.

            If the President’s support for more nukes and off shore drilling is a ploy to obtain Republican votes in exchange for their support on global warming legislation, who is naïve enough to believe that they won’t take it and run – after meaningful climate change has been successfully emasculated. 

            Since it has been at least three decades since the adoption of any significant environmental legislation, Obama’s endorsement of new nuclear plants and off shore drilling appears to be a tacit admission that the President’s green energy lingo is little more than business as usual and that hefty Democratic majorities in Congress are unable to deliver on an environmental agenda.