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“After Capitol Hill ‘Chaos,’ Democrats Name Names”: House GOP Goes To The Mat To Allow Businesses To Discriminate

In recent years, not much has gotten done in Congress, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities for drama. And yet, yesterday, multiple headlines highlighted the “chaos” that erupted on the floor of the House of Representatives. So, what happened?

It was a chaotic scene on the House floor Thursday morning after an amendment to help protect LGBT people from discrimination failed by just one vote as Republicans succeeded in convincing a few members of their own party to switch their votes to help ensure the measure would not pass.

House Democrats could be heard chanting “shame, shame, shame” on the floor as the measure went from garnering up to 217 votes at one point down to just 212 when the vote was gaveled. Boos erupted from the House floor as the measure failed.

There are a couple of relevant angles to this. The first is the substance: two years ago, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting government contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees and applicants. Congressional Republicans won’t consider the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so the White House did what it could under the law.

Two years later, House Republicans want to undo that policy. When putting together this year’s big defense spending bill, the GOP quietly added a provision to restore contractors’ ability to discriminate. Pushing back, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) sponsored an amendment yesterday to nullify the anti-LGBT provision and protect the White House’s anti-discrimination policy.

It didn’t go well – the Republican majority defeated Maloney’s amendment. In 2016, the House GOP is still willing to go to the mat to allow businesses to discriminate, even when taxpayers’ money is being used.

Which brings us to the second angle: how House Republicans waged this fight.

The House allotted a couple of minutes to vote on Maloney’s measure, and when time was up, the amendment appeared to have passed. Except, in a fairly unusual move, Republican leaders decided to keep the vote open for a while in order to get some GOP members to switch their vote and endorse discrimination rights. What was a two-minute vote turned into an eight-minute vote – the kind of abuse Republicans used to condemn – so GOP leaders could twist arms and get the outcome they wanted.

And thus, “chaos.”

Democratic leaders, outraged by the ugliness and underhanded tactics, decided to name names, releasing the list of the seven House Republicans who agreed to switch their vote, after time had expired, to advance the anti-LGBT policy (in alphabetical order): Reps. Jeff Denham (R- Calif.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine), David Valadao (R-Calif.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Mimi Walters (R- Calif.), and David Young (R-Iowa).

Each of these members initially voted to do the right thing, but each reversed course.

And what of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who ostensibly leads the chamber and opposes keeping votes open like this? The Wisconsin congressman told reporters he agreed with the far-right position and wants to undo the administration’s policy. “This is federalism. The states should do this. The federal government shouldn’t stick its nose in this business,” Ryan said.

Or as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern put it, the Speaker of the House “believes that states should decide whether the federal government should allow federal contractors to use federal tax dollars to engage in anti-LGBTQ discrimination when working on federal projects overseen by federal agencies. And this man is the intellectual leader of the Republican Party.”

Paul Ryan keeps facing leadership tests. He keeps flunking.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 20, 2016

May 21, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Discrimination, House Republicans, LGBT | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Republicans’ Commie Convention Hotel”: How The Hotel Came To Exist In The First Place Should Offend Republicans

When Republicans gather in Cleveland to formally nominate Donald Trump for president in July, their headquarters will be a brand new hotel whose very existence contradicts party orthodoxy on private enterprise, less government, and lower taxes.

Were the Hilton Cleveland Downtown located in Havana, or in Moscow during the Soviet era, Republicans in a diplomatic mode would call it “state-owned.” Those favoring Trump’s aggressively plain English would call it a communist hotel.

That’s because Cuyahoga County taxpayers own the hotel—not that they had any say in the matter.

The Cuyahoga County Commissars—er, sorry, Commissioners—forced taxpayers three years ago to pay for the $276 million hotel, which is scheduled to open June 1 and connects directly to the Cleveland Convention Center, where the party will nominate its presidential standard bearer.

The taxpayers own everything in the hotel, including the signs that say “Hilton.”

How did this come to pass? The county spent years trying to attract private investors to take on this project. After none did, it forced taxpayers into underwriting it. The hotel got built through a convoluted series of transactions involving the city, the county and others so the land would be tax-exempt. The city and county will collect no property taxes, but the schools will be made whole, said Jeffrey Appelbaum, the lawyer on the project and a construction expert.

The hotel is being paid for with an increase in the county sales tax that is expected to raise $20 million per year for 20 years. In addition, the county added a 1 percent excise tax on hotel rooms. The excise tax from the Hilton will be cycled back to cover the bond payments, meaning guests will be hit for a small part of the cost.

Appelbaum said the hotel was built for much less than a private developer would have spent, which appears to be true. Still, that efficiency is hardly an argument Republicans would buy into just as they reject national single-payer health care even though it would be much cheaper than our disorganized nonsystem system of sick care, and it would remove a huge burden from small-business owners.

Republicans also wouldn’t be crazy about the origins of a lot of the hotel inventory, which run directly counter to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, under which he assumes a president possesses dictatorial powers. Trump says if elected he will order companies like Carrier, Ford, and Nabisco to build factories only in America and slap punitive tariffs on foreign-made goods, powers not granted the president under the Constitution.

The flatware and furniture offend the Trump creed. While extolling the private enterprise system after dinner, Republican delegates will put Spada brand cake forks into their desserts. The 5,400 forks, made in Indonesia, cost local taxpayers $10,314, or $1.91 each. The hotel could have bought flatware from the only American maker, Liberty Tabletop in suburban Syracuse, N.Y.

The top-floor bar, with views of Lake Erie, features sofas, bar stools, and other furniture from Astoria Imports, a Florida firm that has factories and warehouses in Mexico and Asia, as well as some domestic operations.

Trump may be more comfortable with the sourcing of the banquet napkins, table cloths, and table skirts, which cost Cleveland taxpayers $92,526.48. They came from a division of Mount Vernon Mills, which made clothing for the Confederate Army, though the company says its work for the 19th-century traitors was performed “under protest.” It also notes that the mill owner concealed this work for the Confederacy from Union General William T. Sherman, who decided against burning it to the ground after an evening of hospitality from the owners.

But it’s how the hotel came to exist in the first place that should offend Republicans. It required more government, not less. And what if the hotel does not generate enough revenue to pay the bondholders? On the surface the bonds are called revenue bonds, not general obligations of Cuyahoga County. But that’s a clever deceit. If revenue falls short the county must appropriate money to make up the difference, even if that means raising taxes, to ensure that the bondholders get fully paid.

A few years back, local boosters made a promise of “300,000 visitors and $330 million in spending” if they could just get a taxpayer-owned convention center for medical conferences and a hotel, as reported by Roldo Bartimole, an 83-year-old self-employed journalist who has offered independent and critical assessment of Cleveland area government for a half-century.

Bartimole said the whole idea was just another way to pick the pockets of taxpayers for the benefit of the local oligarchs. He also railed against a tax increase to subsidize, forever, the Cleveland Browns football team, Cavaliers basketball team, and the Indians baseball team, all owned by out-of-town billionaires.

To justify making taxpayers build a hotel a local group ordered up a study from PKF Consulting in Philadelphia. With lots of tables and charts showing that the hotel would not just succeed, it would rent out so many rooms at rising prices that over the next five years it should expect that 17 cents out of every dollar of revenue would become net profit. This being a government-owned hotel technically it’s a net surplus, but the idea remains the same.

Experience suggests this was a paid-for fantasy report. Around the country there are now at least 33 taxpayer-owned hotels. Like communism in practice, they have not done well. The one in St. Louis was an utter failure, sold off for about 32 cents on the dollar.

Other big convention hotels, both those owned outright by taxpayers and those with heavily subsidized private owners, have “a checkered past,” said Heywood T. Sanders, a University of Texas-San Antonio professor and author of the book Convention Center Follies.

He notes that the trend toward taxpayer-subsidized hotels traces back to the late 1970s with Urban Development Block Grants or UDAGs. “We say the H in UDAG is for hotel, but it’s a silent H,” Sanders joked.

From 1978 to 1989 a quarter of all UDAG money went for hotel projects, in all 60,000 rooms added at 236 hotels that were new or renovated, political scientist Richard D. Bingham wrote in his 1998 book Industrial Policy American Style.

The new trend is toward not subsidizing hotels, but having taxpayers own them. A study in December, published in the journal Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, concluded from analyzing 21 of these hotels that they are bad for private enterprise.

Proponents claim taxpayer-owned hotels will increase business and thus benefit existing hotels. But the study found that taxpayer-owned hotels “tend to erode the key performance metrics of competitive hotels in the market.”

So just remember the next time you are told that Republicans are the party of free enterprise, less government, and lower taxes that they chose as their national party convention headquarters what they would call a communist hotel built here in America.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The Daily Beast, May 19, 2016

May 20, 2016 Posted by | Communism, GOP, Republican National Convention | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Says Crime Doesn’t Pay?”: The Bottom Line Is Crime Can Actually Pay — If It’s Big Enough

Hey, can we all just stop complaining that our government coddles Wall Street’s big money-grubbing banks?

Sure, they went belly-up and crashed our economy with their frauds, rigged casino games, and raw greed. And, yes, the Bush and Obama regimes rushed to bail them out with trillions of dollars in our public funds, while ignoring the plight of workaday people who lost jobs, homes, businesses, wealth, and hope. But come on, Buckos, have you not noticed that the feds are now socking the bankers with huuuuuge penalties for their wrongdoings?

Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs, for example, was recently punched in its corporate gut with a jaw-dropping $5 billion for its illegal schemes.

Wow, $5 billion! That’s a stunning amount that Goldman Sachs has agreed to pay to settle federal criminal charges over its shameful financial scams that helped wreck America’s economy in 2008. That’s a lot of gold, even for Goldman Sachs. It’s hard to comprehend that much money, so think of it like this: If you paid out $100,000 a day, every day for 28 years, you’d pay off just one billion dollars. So, wow, imagine having to pull Five Big B’s out of your wallet! That’s enough to make even the most arrogant and avaricious high-finance flim-flammer think twice before risking such scams, right? Thus, these negotiated settlements between the Justice Department and the big banks will effectively deter repeats of the 2008 Wall Street debacle… right?

Actually, no.

The chieftains of the Wall Street powerhouse say they are “pleased” to swallow this sour slug of medicine. It’s not because they’re contrite and eager to make amends.  Wall Street bankers don’t do contrite. They are pleased (even thrilled) because this little insider secret: Thanks to Goldman’s backroom dealing with prosecutors, the settlement is riddled with special loopholes that could eliminate nearly $2 billion from the publicized “punishment.”

For example, the deal calls for the felonious bank to put a quarter-billion dollars into affordable housing, but generous federal negotiators put incentives and credits in the fine print that will let Goldman escape with paying out less than a third of that. Also, about $2.5 billion of the settlement is to be paid to consumers hurt by the financial crisis. But the deal lets the bank deduct almost a billion of this payout from its corporate taxes — meaning you and I will subsidize Goldman’s payment. As a bank reform advocate puts it, the problem with these settlements “is that they are carefully crafted more to conceal than to reveal to the American public what really happened here.”

Also, notice that the $5 billion punishment is applied to Goldman Sachs, not the “Goldman Sackers.” The bank’s shareholders have to cough up the penalty, rather than the executives who did the bad deeds. Goldman Sachs’ CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, just awarded himself a $23 million paycheck for his work last year. That work essentially amounted to negotiating the deal with the government that makes shareholders pay for the bankers’ wrongdoings — while he and other top executives keep their jobs and pocket millions. Remember, banks don’t commit crimes — bankers do.

One more reason Wall Street bankers privately wink and grin at these seemingly huge punishments is that even paying the full $5 billion would only be relatively painful. To you and me, that sounds like a crushing number — but Goldman Sachs raked in $33 billion in revenue last year, so it’s a reasonable cost of doing business. After all, Goldman sold tens of billions of dollars in the fraudulent investment packages leading to the settlement, so the bottom line is that crime can actually pay — if it’s big enough.

 

By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, May 4, 2016

May 5, 2016 Posted by | Big Banks, Corporate Crime, Financial Crisis, Wall Street | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Lobbyist-Of-Choice”: How Trump’s Paul Manafort Became Expert On “Crooked” Washington

Will veteran GOP lobbyist Paul Manafort bring a measure of respectability to Donald Trump and his disreputable campaign apparatus? The Republican lobbyist isn’t likely to engage in the thuggish antics made infamous by campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

But when I saw Manafort yapping about “Crooked Hillary” — while assuring other insiders that Trump is merely “playing a part” on the stump — I recalled certain aspects of his resume that deserve fresh scrutiny now.

Manafort first drew public attention during the Reagan era, when he and his lobbying partners represented Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, a world-class kleptocrat whose theft of enormous amounts from his country’s treasury I helped to expose in The Village Voice more than 30 years ago (with my esteemed colleague William Bastone, who later created The Smoking Gun website). Few official criminals in the 20th century were as audacious and greedy as Marcos and his shoe-fetishist wife Imelda, but when their image cratered after our investigation, Manafort gladly took nearly a million dollars to apply lipstick to those pigs.

Not content with the tainted Marcos lucre, Manafort and company also advocated on behalf of international gangsters such as Mobutu Sese Seko, the kleptocratic dictator known as the “King of Zaire”; Jonas Savimbi, the reputed cannibal and blood-diamond purveyor who tried to seize power in Angola; Said Barre, the authoritarian crook who left the failed state of Somalia to pirates and jihadis; and Ukrainian overlord Victor Yanukovych, the corrupt, Kremlin-backed autocrat thrown out by massive street protests two years ago for fixing a national election.

How did Manafort become the lobbyist-of-choice for these odoriferous characters? His reputation as a powerful Washington insider was elevated by one of the Reagan administration’s worst scandals – the looting of Housing and Urban Development funds by well-connected Republicans like Manafort, who quietly stuffed their pockets with federal funds while bemoaning “big government.” In Congressional testimony, Manafort admitted to successfully peddling influence for big money – which impressed Mobutu so much that he hired the firm. The result was that taxpayers got fleeced for hundreds of millions of dollars, over and over again, ripped off in perfectly legal fashion by Manafort and his clients. Unlike several Republicans implicated in the scandal, Manafort not only escaped indictment but actually prospered as a result of his notoriety.

But don’t worry: Trump is going to clean up Washington corruption and waste. You can tell by the company he keeps.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo,  April 25, 2016

April 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Lobbyists, Paul Manafort | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Exposed Their Own Ignorance Of Basic Government”: Benghazi Hearing; While Republicans Barked And Snarled, Hillary Smiled

To watch Hillary Clinton’s Republican antagonists during Thursday’s public hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi was to wonder how they could possibly behave the way they did. As representatives of the American people, they not only failed miserably to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them, but exposed their own blithering ignorance of basic aspects of government.

Determined as they were to encourage doubt about Clinton’s presidential candidacy, they instead elevated her and raised hard questions about their own knowledge, character, temperament, and intellectual capacity to serve in Congress. After months of “investigating” Clinton, the Republican committee members have developed only a dim understanding of simple phenomena — like the many and varied sources of information, beyond emails, that are available to the Secretary of State. Only someone very dense, very poorly informed, or both, would believe, for instance, that she had received “most of her intelligence about Libya,” or any other subject, in unclassified email traffic.

Often the sheer mindlessness of their inquiries was stunning: Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) asked Clinton whether she had been alone “all night” at home on Sept. 11, 2012, while the tragic events in Benghazi occurred. Rep. Mike Pompeo inquired whether the late Ambassador Chris Stevens had ever visited Clinton’s home or possessed her “fax number.” Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) demanded that Clinton admit that as Secretary of State she had overseen American policy toward Libya. Several of the Republicans interrupted her rudely, upbraided her for looking at notes, even while they read from their own notes, and demanded that she give “Yes or No” answers to their queries, as if they were prosecutors grilling a perp.

The lines of inquiry that the Republicans pursued were muddled, directionless, and confusing, seemingly even to them. As the Democrats repeatedly pointed out, after all the tumult over Clinton’s emails, the proceedings of this committee so far — following several legislative and administrative investigations — revealed nothing new about the terrorist attack on the US compound in Benghazi, its prelude, or its aftermath.

So what might American taxpayers have gleaned from those 11 hours of hearings, the culmination of an expenditure of 17 months and $4.8 million? They learned that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the committee chair, is obsessed with someone named Sidney Blumenthal, a friend of Clinton who sent her emails about Libya and other topics. He’s not just weirdly preoccupied, as anyone could see, but truly obsessed to the point of choking rage.

Those who have followed Gowdy’s conduct during the months leading up to this moment will find this Blumenthal business all too familiar. Having discovered that Blumenthal sent some emails to Clinton about Libya, largely incorporating information he had gathered from retired intelligence personnel, the chairman and his colleagues sought to fabricate a conspiracy theory of the Benghazi attack that somehow involved him.

Actually, “conspiracy theory” is too coherent a description of their aimless maundering on the topic of Sidney (who also happens to be my friend).

Gowdy appeared to believe – or perhaps pretended to believe – that if only the Secretary of State had ignored Blumenthal’s emails, the Benghazi attack might somehow have been prevented. According to this theory, she was paying too much attention to him, and not enough to Stevens.

In fact, as Clinton patiently attempted to explain over and over, she naturally delegated decisions about the safety of the Benghazi compound and personnel — and all perilous diplomatic posts — to the State Department’s security staff. Moreover, her communications with Blumenthal were, and are, entirely irrelevant to the matters that Gowdy purports to be investigating. Should Gowdy ever really wish to know why it is difficult to protect our embassies, consulates, and foreign service officers abroad, he might investigate himself and all the other Republicans who – as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) acknowledged on Thursday – voted repeatedly to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s security budget.

As I noted in Politico months ago, back when Gowdy first embarked on the Blumenthal trail, this isn’t the first time that the former Washington Post and New Yorker journalist has driven Republican politicians to manic distraction. Like Clinton herself, he is a demonized figure in certain circles – but every time they go after him, they risk humiliation or worse.

Among the many low points of the Clinton hearing was the moment when Gowdy first refused a committee vote on releasing Blumenthal’s deposition before the committee, and then whipped a party-line vote to keep it under seal. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member who led his fellow Democrats in eloquently protesting the committee’s many abuses, asked Gowdy what he is hiding.

But of course Cummings already knows the answer: In that closed deposition last June, Gowdy and company asked Blumenthal dozens of questions about wholly irrelevant but highly political matters, such as his employment by the Clinton Foundation, Media Matters, and Correct the Record – even though Gowdy has publicly claimed that he had no interest in those subjects. To release Blumenthal’s testimony would risk exposing the committee chairman’s bad faith and clumsy deceptions.

By the time Rep. Trey Gowdy finally gaveled the hearing to a close, there was little doubt that Hillary Clinton’s composed, dignified demeanor – and the contrast between her and the Republicans — had notched another political victory for her. She had movingly recounted the events of that awful night in Benghazi, explained her actions in detail, firmly defended the honor of Accountability Review Board chairs Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, and pleaded for a return to statesmanship. Her strong performance rallied skeptical liberals to her side, while furious conservatives whined in despair.

And when it was over she rose from the witness chair, smiling and greeting friends, while Gowdy stalked out, stone-faced and perspiring, as if he had seen his own demise.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, October 23, 2015

 

October 24, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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