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“GOP Lawmakers Hit The Ground Running To The Far-Right”: House Republican Leaders Still Haven’t Mastered The Art Of Vote-Counting

In the weeks immediately following the 2014 midterm elections, there was an enormous amount of talk about the need to avoid “poisoning the well.” The point seemed to be, policymakers should be cautious about picking political fights in order to avoid partisan rancor in the new Congress.

Clearly, those concerns have been thrown out a Capitol Hill window.

House Democrats on Wednesday knocked down a GOP bill that would have delayed a key Wall Street reform known as the Volcker Rule, stunning Republican leaders who had expected it to pass with ease. […]

The bill would have allowed banks to hang onto billions of dollars in risky collateralized loan obligations for two additional years by amending the Volcker Rule, which is part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The rule bans banks from speculating in securities markets with taxpayer funds, requiring them to dump their CLO holdings. A Volcker Rule delay would be a major boon to the nation’s largest banks.

Note, a majority of the House voted for the measure, but because Republican leaders brought the bill up under the suspension calendar, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. It fell far short.There are a few ways to look at yesterday’s failure. The first, of course, is that House Republican leaders still haven’t mastered the art of vote-counting. The second is that GOP lawmakers clearly remain committed to using their power to do Wall Street’s bidding.

But even putting that aside, let’s not miss the forest for the trees: on only the second day of the new Congress, House Republicans immediately turned their attention to a controversial proposal, backed by financial-industry lobbyists. These guys really aren’t wasting any time.

Indeed, it’s amazing to see just how aggressive the new Republican majority has been since taking its oath of office on Tuesday.

Barring crisis conditions, the start of a new Congress can generally be compared to the start of new school year: folks like to get settled in before tackling a lot of work. On Capitol Hill, some members, especially the freshmen, are still unpacking and learning their way around.

And it’s against this backdrop that House Republicans this week are voting to undermine the Volcker Rule, undermine Social Security, undermine the Affordable Care Act, approve the Keystone pipeline, and impose irresponsible “dynamic scoring” rules – all in the first three days.

It’s one thing when lawmakers furiously try to get stuff done before the end of a Congress – they tend to move quickly when facing an inflexible deadline – but the House GOP majority seems desperate to get this new Congress off to a fast, far-right start, just for the sake of doing so.

What’s more, we’re not even going to touch the newly introduced legislation – including major new abortion restrictions proposed yesterday – which will be considered in the weeks and months to come. I’m just talking about measures on the House floor this opening week.

E.J. Dionne Jr. reminded us this morning, “This will be no ordinary Congress.” Republicans are eager to prove this prediction true.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, January 9, 2014

January 11, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GOP, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Price Of Steve Scalise’s Silence”: Duke’d Out, The More He Keeps Silent, The More Credibility He Loses As Majority Whip

John Boehner was reelected House Speaker yesterday by his Republican colleagues despite some dissenting members. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, however, has been in a survival struggle since late December, when a brave, young blogger, Lamar White Jr., reported on a 2002 event in which the Congressman met with a white supremacist group formed by David Duke, Louisiana’s most famous closet Nazi.

Scalise quickly called the speech “a mistake I regret,” condemned hate groups and then hid in a cocoon of silence. As Boehner and other House leaders circled the wagons for Scalise, the silence stretched a week over the New Year’s holiday when media lights were low.

But Scalise’s silence made it worse for a Republican Party perennially accused of catering to bigots on the fringe by creating a news vacuum filled by Duke, a media hound wallowing in the newfound attention. Duke’s media appearances raise the stakes for Scalise’s long-term survival. GOP House members–like the proverbial Three Wise Monkeys who resort to see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak no-evil platitudes—waited for it all to go away. Politico has reported that some Republican donors see Scalise as damaged goods.

If so, he has his silence — on top of poor judgment — to blame.

Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, a black and the lone Democrat in the state’s congregation, did him a huge favor. “I don’t think Steve Scalise has a racist bone in his body,” he said.

If that’s the case, Scalise’s decision as a 37 year old state representative to accept the spring 2002 invitation from two well-known Duke operatives, Kenny Knight and Howie Farrell, to speak at Duke’s European-American Unity and Rights Organization, makes even less sense.

Why did Farrell and Knight want him there? And why did Scalise agree to such a risky venue?

Scalise could have easily said, “Sorry, boys, this one’s too hot.” Or he could’ve given a more deceptive excuse. He knew that a public appearance with Duke could be disastrous.

Duke was a state representative whose neo-Nazi alliances were disgorged in media reports during his run for governor in 1991. (He lost in a landslide to Edwin Edwards.) Duke’s Nazi stigma made him toxic to most politicians. Scalise, 26, saw that.

But after winning 55 percent of the white vote, Duke had a database of supporters some politicians coveted. In 1999, Scalise was in the legislature when the media savaged Gov. Mike Foster over the news that he had paid Duke $150,000 for his supporters list in the 1995 election. Speculation raged that Duke agreed not to run as part of the deal, though it was never proven.

Foster wasn’t prosecuted, either, but the FBI began probing Duke’s fundraising. In the late ‘90s, he spent extensive periods in Europe, giving anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial speeches at neo-fascist venues. The FBI raided his home in 2000 with an affidavit questioning his use of $200,000 from his white supremacist fundraising.

That was news Scalise could not have missed. Scalise never would have spoken to EURO had Duke been there in person.

“Duke was in Russia—for his fourth visit since 1995,” wrote Leonard Zeskind, author of “Blood and Nationalism,” in an article for the Swedish Monitor, on Duke’s travels in the late 1990s. “He spent the next two years traveling across Europe (East and West) and the Arab countries of the Middle East. He established a home base in Italy. In France, Duke had his picture taken with Jean-Marie Le Pen.”

By speaking to EURO, Scalise did a favor to Kenny Knight, a former neighbor who has been falling over himself in the last few days by giving utterly contradictory statements to various media in a buffoon’s carnival of damage control.

Duke meanwhile crowed to the Washington Post that Knight “would keep Scalise up to date on my issues” – all while Steve Scalise kept mum.

The $150,000 Duke got from Foster could not have supported the European lifestyle; the sources of Duke’s money remain a mystery.

Scalise’s speech in 2002 lent some legitimacy to Duke, who spoke that day by video link from Russia. The juxtaposition planted a story of association on websites that touted both men for their talks. It all went unnoticed until the report by White.

Ten months after the speech, in March 2003, Duke came back to Louisiana, pled guilty to federal charges of tax and mail fraud, and agreed to a $10,000 fine for abuses of the nonprofit fundraising that facilitated his travel, including gambling trips to Gulfport and Las Vegas. He also admitted to filing a false income tax statement.

After a year in prison, Duke resumed his travels. In 2006, he spoke at a conference in Iran, maintaining his drumbeat: “The Holocaust is the device used as the pillar of Zionist imperialism, Zionist aggression, Zionist terror and Zionist murder.”

Meanwhile, Scalise moved up the ladder.

At a press conference today with Scalise, Speaker Boehner again defended him. Scalise spoke briefly, adding little of substance, saying that the people back home know him best.

“I reject any form of bigotry, bigotry of all kinds. I’ll refer you back to our statement. I think that’s where the story ends,” said Scalise.

But someone who knows Scalise from back home, Urban League President and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, co-authored a letter to Scalise sent today from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington, and made available to The Daily Beast.

The letter seeks a meeting to discuss a pattern of Scalise’s votes on certain issues, noting that he was one of six state legislators to vote against a Martin Luther King holiday, and did so two years after his EURO appearance. “You apparently took a similar position involving the naming of a U.S. Post Office for Louisiana civil rights icon, the Honorable Lionel Collins,” the letter states, “a pioneering civil rights lawyer and the first African-American judge in Jefferson Parish.”

Who among Scalise’s constituents could possibly care if he supported naming a post office for a black judge who died in 1988?

Kenny Knight for one. And David Duke for another.

As New Orleans Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace recalls from a conversation years ago, Scalise touted himself as David Duke without the baggage.

Now, Duke is Scalise’s baggage.

Duke has jumped into field-day mode, rising to Scalise’s defense on CNN with Michael Smerconish. “I did not contribute to him, he did not contribute to me,” Duke said. He also bragged about earning a PhD, a point Smerconish did not question.

The “doctorate” Duke claims is from an anti-Semitic Ukranian “diploma mill” as described by the State Department.

“What Duke actually got at Ukraine’s Interregional Academy of Personnel Management is a ‘Kandidat Nauk’ degree, which ranks below a full doctorate,” wrote Heidi Beirch in a Southern Poverty Law Center 2009 Intelligence Report. “It was awarded to Duke for a thesis entitled ‘Zionism as a Form of Ethnic Supremacism’ and was the second degree given Duke by the university, which had earlier handed the former Klan boss an honorary degree.”

Duke is cynically making sport of Scalise by expressing his support for him, dropping hints of blackmail by naming other House members he claims to know, should Scalise lose his post.

“Scalise was ambitious to the point of reckless opportunism when it came to catering to Duke and his base,” says Tulane professor emeritus Lawrence Powell, author of “Troubled Memory,” a history of the 1991 election and its impact on a Holocaust survivor in New Orleans.

“If Scalise denounces Duke he may alienate some of his local base. But the more he keeps silent, the more credibility he loses as Majority Whip.”

In his brief appearance today, Scalise never mentioned Duke. Does he fear repercussions for doing so? Or has the see and hear and speak-no-evil stance of the Republican House persuaded him that he is in the clear?


By: Jason Berry, The Daily Beast, January 7, 2015

January 11, 2015 Posted by | House Republicans, Steve Scalise, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Time For The Laugh Track!”: Republicans Have A Veto-Proof Math Problem

Behold Washington’s new math.

The first anti-Obamacare bill of the new Congress, the Save American Workers Act of 2015, was written to undo the part of the law that defines “full employment” as holding a job for as little as 30 hours per week. It passed, and on the way, it became even more partisan in color than the 2014 version of the bill. In the last Congress, 18 Democrats voted with every Republican to pass the bill, but Thursday only 12 did, including all but one of the 2014 supporters (not Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop) and two new Blue Dogs (Florida Rep. Gwen Graham, Nebraska Rep. Brad Ashford).

By turning on the bill, the Democrats made clear that they would sustain the veto already promised by President Obama, and, yes, they have the votes to do so. If every member of the 114th House of Representatives shows up for a vote, 48 Democrats need to join every Republican to override a veto. Three times this week, when the GOP brought forward bills to approve the Keystone pipeline and delay part of the Volcker Rule, the Democrats denied them all but a handful of votes.

Just as interesting as the Republican math problem were the arguments Democrats used to hold back their votes. In its veto message, the White House said the 30-hour work week bill “would significantly increase the deficit” and cited 2014 numbers from the Congressional Budget Office to say it would “increase the budget deficit by $45.7 billion over the 2015 to 2024 period.” In the Senate yesterday, in a conversation with reporters, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin repeatedly mocked Republicans for offering changes to the ACA without offering up the mechanisms to pay for them.

“I’m just not going to buy the premise Republicans now want to sell, that deficits don’t count,” Durbin said. “Since they’re in the majority, they’re going to use dynamic scoring—time for the laugh track!—they’re going to use dynamic scoring to prove that they can cut any tax without an impact on the deficit. That doesn’t work. That’s why we’ve stopped short of repealing the medical device tax, because the payfor has never been explained.”

Of course, the Democrats had a terrible election—no news there—and in the process they watched Republicans leap ahead of them in voter trust on key issues. Republicans pulled into a tie on health care, which had always been a Democratic advantage, and they built huge leads on taxes, the economy, and the deficit. Yet in the months after the election, they watched President Obama’s approval rating tick up, and saw a dynamite series of jobs reports followed by 5 percent GDP growth in the final quarter.

Democrats paid attention to new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s maiden speech, and how “the [economic] uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress.” To counter that claim, Democrats in Congress want to reframe the GOP’s bills as deficit-busters, and make sure Republicans get none of Barack Obama’s credit if the economy continues to improve.


By: Dave Weigel, Bloomberg Politics, January 9, 2015

January 11, 2015 Posted by | Deficits, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Race, The Police And The Propaganda”: There’s A Different Criminal Justice System For Civilians And Police, And They Know It

Welcome visitors to New York City! This has been the best time ever to urinate on a street, sneak onto the subway or run a red light, for the police force has been on a virtual strike.

Police officers may be making a point for contract negotiations. But many also are genuinely frustrated and, along with millions of other Americans, seem sympathetic to an argument that goes like this:

The real threat to young black men isn’t white cops. It’s other black men. Police officers are numerous in black neighborhoods not because they want to hang out there, but because they’re willing to risk their lives to create order on streets where too many residents have kids outside of marriage, or collect government benefits but disdain jobs. Instead of receiving thanks for their efforts, cops have been cursed and attacked. Hate-mongering led by President Obama built a climate of animosity that led to the murder of two of New York’s finest. And where are the street protests denouncing those racist murders? Don’t blue lives count?

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and de facto spokesman for that viewpoint, put it this way in November when he was asked about Ferguson, Mo., on “Meet the Press”: “I find it very disappointing that you’re not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here.”

“What about the poor black child that is killed by another black child?” he added. “Why aren’t you protesting that?”

After the assassination of the two New York police officers, Giuliani declared: “We’ve had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police.”

That view has gained traction, creating an astonishing impasse in America’s largest city. In one week in late December, the number of police citations, summonses and arrests in some categories fell by 90 percent from the same week the previous year.

That’s not “a few bad apples.” That’s the apple basket.

Most of us understand that police officers are often in an impossible position, and we appreciate their courage and good work. When they work.

So let’s examine the narrative that Giuliani and others have spread.

Take the argument that police killings are a red herring because the biggest threat to blacks is other blacks. The latter part is true. Where the perpetrator has been identified, 93 percent of murderers of blacks are also black. Then again, it’s equally true that 84 percent of murderers of whites are fellow whites.


How would we feel if we were told: When Americans are killed by Muslim terrorists, it’s an exception. Get over it.

Some offenses are particularly destructive because they undermine the social system. Terrorism is in that category, and so is police abuse. Unfortunately, there’s evidence that such abuse is too common.

In 2012, an African-American detective in the New York City Police Department, Harold Thomas, hobbled from a nightclub to his car (he had been shot a year earlier by a would-be armed robber). Other police officers didn’t recognize him and, according to Thomas, slammed his head into his vehicle, threw him to the ground and handcuffed him. He is suing the city.

Thomas, who retired last year after 30 years, admires the police force but says the racial bias is ingrained — caused by a small percentage of officers who “make everyone look bad.”

Reuters interviewed 25 African-American male police officers, some retired, in New York City and said all but one reported having been subjected to unwarranted incidents — from stop-and-frisks to being thrown into prison vans. Five said they had had guns pulled on them.

A 2010 New York State task force report on police-on-police shootings identified 14 officers around the country killed by fellow officers over the previous 15 years in mistaken identity shootings. Ten of the 14 were officers of color.

Then there’s a ProPublica investigation that found that young black men are shot dead by police at 21 times the rate of young white men.

It’s true that some on the left who are aghast at racial profiling are sometimes prone to career profiling: We should stereotype neither black youths nor white cops. Some extremist protesters turned to the slogan “arms up, shoot back,” or to chants of “What do we want? Dead cops.” That was inexcusable. But, of course, that’s not remotely what Obama was saying.

PunditFact reviewed all of Obama’s statements and found that he never encouraged hostility toward police; it labeled that Giuliani assertion as “pants on fire.” Good for Obama and other politicians — including Mayor Bill de Blasio — for trying to shine a light on inequality in law enforcement.

“Many of my peers were deeply racist,” Redditt Hudson, a former St. Louis cop, wrote in The Washington Post last month. He described seeing force used unnecessarily, particularly against blacks, such as the time a boy who couldn’t walk was punched, handcuffed and dragged by his ankles from his home to a car.

Hudson said that the fundamental need is an end to impunity.

“Cops aren’t held accountable for their actions, and they know it,” he wrote. “These officers violate rights with impunity. They know there’s a different criminal justice system for civilians and police. Even when officers get caught, they know they’ll be investigated by their friends, and put on paid leave.”

Race is a nettlesome issue, and I recognize that I’m calling for more diversity and accountability in police forces even as my own institution — the press — doesn’t look like America either.

We can all do better. Put yourselves in the shoes of the family of Tamir Rice, the black 12-year-old boy shot dead in November in Cleveland. A 911 call had reported someone carrying a “probably fake” gun, and Tamir was carrying a pellet pistol.

A white police officer, who had previously been judged unprepared for the stresses of the job, shot Tamir. A video released a few days ago shows the boy’s 14-year-old sister rushing to her fallen brother — and then tackled by police, handcuffed, and placed in a police car a few feet from her dying brother. The officers stood around and gave him no medical aid.

To those who see no problem in policing, just one question: What if that were your son or daughter?


By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 10, 2015

January 11, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, NYPD, Police Abuse | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Pipeline And A Pie In The Sky”: The Challenge Is To Build For The Future, Not Steal From It

The Koch brothers Congress, purchased with the help of about $100 million from the political network of the billionaire energy producers, got down to its first order of business this week: trying to hold off the future.

Meanwhile, here on the other coast, one of the most popular politicians in America, Gov. Jerry Brown of California, bounced into his fourth and final term by trying to hasten that future. The contrasts — East and West, old and new, backward-looking and forward-marching, the beholden and behold! — could not have been more stark.

The 114th Congress is trying to rush through the Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from the dirty tar sands of Canada to the Gulf Coast. The State Department has estimated that the total number of permanent new jobs created by the pipeline would be 35 — about the same as the handful of new taco trucks in my neighborhood in Seattle. This, at a time when the world is awash in cheap oil.

Governor Brown, having balanced a runaway California budget and delivered near-record job growth in a state Republicans had written off as ungovernable, laid out an agenda to free the world’s eighth-largest economy — his state — from being tied to old energy, old transportation and old infrastructure. He doubled down on plans to build a bullet-train network and replumb the state’s water system, while setting new goals to reduce dependence on energy that raises the global temperature.

“The challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it,” said Governor Brown, who is the embodiment of the line about how living well is the best revenge — political division. He is 76, but said he’s been pumping iron and eating his vegetables of late so he can live to see the completion of the high-speed rail system, about 2030, when Governor Brown would be a frisky 92.

Russia, which is ranked below California in overall economic output, is teetering as world commodity prices provide a cold lesson in what can happen to a country tied to the fate of oil’s wild swings. The Republicans should take note. The Keystone pipeline, though largely symbolic in the global scheme of things, does nothing for the American economy except set up the United States as a pass-through colony for foreign industrialists. Well, not all foreign: The Koch brothers are one of the largest outside leaseholders of acres in Canadian oil sands, according to a Washington Post report. I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fierce urgency of rushing Keystone XL through Congress now.

At the same time, the Republican hold-back-the-clock majority announced plans to roll back environmental regulations. Fighting hard for dirty air, dirty water and old-century energy producers, the new Senate leaders are trying to keep some of the nation’s oldest and most gasping coal plants in operation, and to ensure that unhealthy air can pass freely from one state to the other. One strategy is to block money to enforce new rules against the biggest polluters.

For intellectual guidance, Republicans can count on 80-year-old Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the incoming chairman of the environment committee. Inhofe calls the consensus scientific view on human-caused warming “the greatest hoax.” He plans to use his gavel to hold back regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions, fighting the obvious at every turn.

The headache, for the rest of us, will come when the nations of the world meet in Paris at year’s end to discuss how to address the problem that knows no nationality. We’ll talk about China and its climate-warming coal plants. Critics will point to the United States, its knuckle-dragging Congress and the industries it is shielding from responsibility.

The Republican agenda is frozen in time. It’s all frack-your-way-to-prosperity, and Sarah Palin shouting, “Drill, baby, drill.” The problem, of course, is that the world doesn’t need any more oil, not now; the price is down by 50 percent over the last year with no bottom in sight. Cheap petro is killing not just Russia but Iraq, Venezuela, Saudi monarchs and, soon, assorted other dependencies — like Alaska and Texas. At some point, the only way the Keystone XL can be profitably built and operated is with a huge subsidy from taxpayers.

Nature, also, is weighing in. Earthquakes in Texas and Oklahoma are raising alarms about the relationship between the hydraulic byproducts of fracking and the temblors rolling through a huge swatch of land that’s been perforated for oil and gas drillers.

Governor Brown and another West Coast governor, Jay Inslee of Washington, view the cheap oil era as a golden opportunity for an energy pivot. Inslee wants to tax the biggest carbon emitters to pay for new infrastructure. The motto is tax what you burn, not what you earn.

Governor Brown is quick to note the big forces at play between the West Coast and the pollution panderers along the Potomac. “California is basically presenting a challenge to Washington,” he told reporters earlier this week.

A big piece of that challenge is the $68 billion high-speed rail project, which would zip passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just under three hours. It’s bogged down in legal and financial muck, and critics call it pie in the sky.

But Governor Brown is undaunted. What he has going for him is an old strain in the American character, dormant for much of the Great Recession — the tomorrow gene. There’s no legacy, no long-term payoff, in defending things that are well past their pull point. And, seriously, which would you rather have: a futuristic, clean-energy train, or a pipeline that carries a product produced in a way that makes the world a worse place to live?


By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, January 8, 2014

January 11, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Keystone XL, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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