Category Archives: Congress

Can U.S. elections be rigged? A computer programmer testifies

House Democrat Renews Push To End Controversial 9/11 Rules Of War On Terror

Carlo Munoz writes for BuzzFeed:

Department of the NavyRep. Adam Schiff, a top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, plans to introduce legislation that would curtail or completely eliminate the administration’s rules of war on terrorism, known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). “Congress never intended to authorize a war without end, and the existing AUMF provides an increasingly precarious legal basis for the use of force against groups uninvolved in 9/11 or unaffiliated with al-Qaeda,” Schiff said in a statement to BuzzFeed on Tuesday.

Schiff’s office has yet to reach out to House leadership to schedule a vote on the pending bill, which could also be introduced as an amendment to the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2015 budget plan currently before Congress. Additionally, the Senate is quietly considering legislative options that would include changes to the counterterrorism rules as part of their version of the pending Pentagon budget bill.


The Comcast Merger Isn’t About Lines On A Map; It’s About Controlling The Delivery Of Information

Kate Cox writes for Consumerist:

(knight725)Comcast and proposed merger partner Time Warner Cable claim they don’t compete because their service areas don’t overlap, and that a combined company would happily divest itself of a few million customers to keeps its pay-TV market share below 30%, allowing other companies that don’t currently compete with Comcast to keep not competing with Comcast. This narrow, shortsighted view fails to take into account the full breadth of what’s involved in this merger — broadcast TV, cable TV, network technology, in-home technology, access to the Internet, and much more. In addition to asking whether or not regulators should permit Comcast to add 10-12 million customers, there is a more important question at the core of this deal: Should Comcast be allowed to control both what content you consume and how you get to consume it?


The Government Listens To Lobbyists And The Wealthy, Not You And Me

Bryce Covert writes for Think Progress:

When organized interest groups or economic elites want a particular policy passed, there’s a strongly likelihood their wishes will come true. But when average citizens support something, they have next to no influence.

That’s according to a forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University. The two looked at a data set of 1,779 policy issues between 1981 and 2002 and matched them up against surveys of public opinion broken down by income as well as support from interest groups.


Google, once disdainful of lobbying, now a master of Washington influence

Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold write for The Washington Post:

Virginia Mayo, AP[...] The behind-the-scenes machinations demonstrate how Google — once a lobbying weakling — has come to master a new method of operating in modern-day Washington, where spending on traditional lobbying is rivaled by other, less visible forms of influence. That system includes financing sympathetic research at universities and think tanks, investing in nonprofit advocacy groups across the political spectrum and funding pro-business coalitions cast as public-interest projects. The rise of Google as a top-tier Washington player fully captures the arc of change in the influence business.

Nine years ago, the company opened a one-man lobbying shop, disdainful of the capital’s pay-to-play culture. Since then, Google has soared to near the top of the city’s lobbying ranks, placing second only to General Electric in corporate lobbying expenditures in 2012 and fifth place in 2013. The company gives money to nearly 140 business trade groups, advocacy organizations and think tanks, according to a Post analysis of voluntary disclosures by the company, which, like many corporations, does not reveal the size of its donations. That’s double the number of groups Google funded four years ago.

This summer, Google will move to a new Capitol Hill office, doubling its Washington space to 55,000 square feet — roughly the size of the White House. Google’s increasingly muscular Washington presence matches its expanded needs and ambitions as it has fended off a series of executive- and legislative-branch threats to regulate its activities and well-funded challenges by its corporate rivals. Today, Google is working to preserve its rights to collect consumer data — and shield it from the government — amid a backlash over revelations that the National Security Agency tapped Internet companies as part of its surveillance programs. And it markets cloud storage and other services to federal departments, including intelligence agencies and the Pentagon.


Most Senators Overseeing the Comcast-Time Warner Deal Have Taken Money From Both

Alex Park writes for Mother Jones:

Out of the committee’s 18 members, 15 have accepted donations from at least one of the two media giants since the 2010 election cycle; 12 have received money from both. The average contribution over that time: $16,285. Democrats were the biggest recipients, taking an average of $18,531 from the two cable and internet giants, nearly twice as much as their Republican counterparts.


Senator Angus King Challenges Dick Cheney To Be Waterboarded And Then Say It’s Not Torture

Cities to Carpoolers: Sharing Your Car is Illegal, We Will Seize Your Cars

Jason Mick writes for Daily Tech:

Image Source: SF ExaminerThe U.S. isn’t exactly a “free market” at times, with outright bribery — condoned by the U.S. judicial system — or collusive public-private cartels leading to some products and services being banned from the market.  Just ask Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) whose electric vehicles have been banned from sale in many states.  That debacle arose due to the fact that Tesla has no dealerships and fearful dealership lobbyists banded together to pay off state politicians to ban direct auto sales.

Now the same principle is being applied to stymie the emergency of another set of companies in the transportation sector — cloud-driven ride-sharing services.

Ridesharing — also known as carpooling — involves members of the public contacting each other via a smartphone or PC internet networking service and arranging to ferry each other to various destinations for fees.  The practice in informal form is almost as old as the automobile itself, but in the digital age app-enabled ridesharing has seen an explosion in interest, threatening the commercial taxicab industry and the city officials who depend on that industry for revenue.


Senator Bernie Sanders: Virtually no legislation can get passed without the okay of corporate America

George Washington University launches a master’s program in lobbying for aspiring global influencers

From Politico:

A new Master’s degree program at The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management will focus on preparing students for careers in global governance and policy influence. The 39-credit Advocacy in the Global Environment degree is designed to meet today’s global emphasis among corporations, organizations and associations. It will be offered both on campus and online and includes a weeklong study abroad in key international cities.

Graduates will learn to lobby before legislatures of foreign countries, create advocacy plans for multinational corporations, non-profits and NGOs and advise clients on regulatory and policy changes for a foreign country or region.

“Whether you are seeking commerce or a cause, learning advocacy in a global environment is an essential skill to really be successful,” said GSPM Director Mark Kennedy. “This is the first program that will teach students not just how to engage your own state capital or Washington, but how do you engage Beijing, Brussels or Brasília.”

Crafty Legislation: 5 Ways Congress Has Manipulated You

Abby Martin goes over five instances of misleading legislation, including bills like the Patriot Act and the Healthy Forest Initiative which do almost the opposite of what their ‘catchy titles’ imply.’ (Breaking the Set)

Congressman: Members are ‘underpaid’ on $174K

Hannah Hess writes for Roll Call:

debtceiling presser003 091411 440x284 Moran: Members Cant Afford to Live Decently in D.C. (Audio)Despite what constituents outside of Washington might think, members of Congress are underpaid, a House Legislative Branch appropriator suggested Thursday.

Virginia Democrat James P. Moran said he plans to highlight the injustice by introducing an amendment to the Legislative Branch bill during its full committee markup, and at floor consideration of the bill. Moran made the comments while the bill that funds members’ $174,000 salaries was being marked up in the Legislative Branch subcommittee.

“I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” Moran told CQ Roll Call. “I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”


Jim Himes: From Goldman Sachs To Congress

Charles Keating, the Financier Behind the Savings and Loan Scandal, Dies at 90: Interview with Bill Black

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Wall Street Should Disclose Its Think Tank Contributions

Senator Elizabeth Warren writes for the Huffington Post:

WALL STREETIn December, I wrote to the heads of six of the country’s biggest financial institutions with a simple request: that they voluntarily disclose the financial contributions their companies make to think tanks. This disclosure would help make sure shareholders, policymakers, and the public are aware of efforts by large Wall Street banks to indirectly influence lawmakers and regulators by supporting think tanks’ research. Unfortunately, none of the six institutions — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley — has agreed to release this information.

Why not? If they don’t make contributions to think tanks that influence public conversations about financial reform issues, it’s easy to say so. And if they do make such contributions, why wouldn’t they want their shareholders to know how they are spending corporate money?


Billionaire mogul Sheldon Adelson looks for mainstream Republican who can win in 2016

Matea Gold and Philip Rucker report for The Washington Post:

Credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg NewsCasino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife plowed more than $92 million into efforts to help mostly losing candidates in the 2012 elections, is undertaking a new strategy for 2016 — to tap his fortune on behalf of a more mainstream Republican with a clear shot at winning the White House, according to people familiar with his thinking.

In 2012, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson spent so much of their money on long-shot candidate Newt Gingrich that they helped extend an ugly intraparty fight that left the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, severely bruised by the time he faced President Obama in the general election.

This time, the Adelsons are plotting their investments based not on personal loyalty but on a much more strategic aim: to help select a Republican nominee they believe will have broad appeal to an increasingly diverse national electorate. The change in attitude comes amid early jockeying by a lengthy list of aspiring Republican presidential contenders to win the affections of the billionaire, who is in the beginning stages of assessing the field.


Why Are We Hauling Pennsylvania Coal All The Way To Germany?

S.V. Date writes for NPR:

Several tons of anthracite coal fill a basement space in Pottsville, Pa.

Credit: Bradley C. Bower/AP

[...] Germany’s environmental policy is to shift away from coal — which produces twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas does for the same amount of energy. Even setting that aside, there is plenty of anthracite to be found on the European market — at a fraction of the price of American anthracite, after factoring in the shipping costs.

So why haul Pennsylvania coal all the way to Germany?

Hoermann points to a $20-million-a-year contract which requires it. And the contract requires it because, year after year, Congress has inserted into defense appropriations bills a requirement that the heating of the military bases at Kaiserslautern be done with “United States anthracite.”


The Christian right’s insidious agenda: Use “religious freedom” to undermine human rights

Valerie Tarico writes for Alternet:

The Christian right’s insidious agenda: Use “religious freedom” to undermine human rightsSecular Americans and many liberal people of faith have been horrified by the Right’s most recent ploy: “religious freedom” claims that would give conservative business owners license to discriminate. Until Arizona made the national spotlight, the need for lunch counter sit-ins had seemed like a thing of the past. But in reality, advocates for religious privilege have been circling toward this point for some time.

As a legal and political tactic, Tea Party politicians and conservative church leaders have high hopes for their “religious freedom” push. What they want broadly is a set of cultural and legal agreements that elevate religious beliefs above human rights laws and civic obligations. They hope that securing sacrosanct religious rights for individuals and institutions will let them roll back rights for queers and women. They further hope that playing the religious freedom card will guarantee them access to government contracts and let them proselytize on the public dime.

Here’s the thing: for decades now, this strategy has been working.


Out of Occupy, a New Populist Political Party Forms: Interview with Carl Gibson

Hawks Want Obama to Be More Like Jimmy Carter

Peter Hart writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

Jimmy Carter

Not usually offered as a role model by right-wing columnists

There’s been no shortage of right-wing criticism of Barack Obama’s policy towards Russia. But some are advising he be more like…. Jimmy Carter?

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer (3/13/14) explained:

Obama is not the first president to conduct a weak foreign policy. Jimmy Carter was similarly inclined–until Russia invaded Afghanistan, at which point the scales fell from Carter’s eyes.

From that moment on, he writes, Carter “responded boldly,” winding up with

the massive military aid we began sending the mujaheddin, whose insurgency so bled the Russians over the next decade that they not only lost Afghanistan but were fatally weakened as a global imperial power.

Invasion woke Carter from his illusions. Will it wake Obama?


John McCain: ‘Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country’

Grover Norquist: ‘Once you give people more liberty you change who they are as voters’

Cenk Uygur on MSNBC host’s campaigning for Hillary Clinton

Meet Paul Ryan’s ‘Inner City Expert’ Who Claims Blacks and Latinos Have Lower IQs

Joan Walsh writes for Salon:

I should no longer be shocked at the intellectual dishonesty of Charles Murray, but I am. On Tuesday Murray made a brief reply to his criticsmost notably Paul Krugman, who have accused Murray of racism for much of his work, but especially his 1994 book, “The Bell Curve.” Murray rejoined the news cycle last week, when Rep. Paul Ryan cited him as an expert on poverty and the troubles of “inner city” men, who, in Ryan’s words, are “not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

Krugman – and I and Josh Marshall and lots of other people – explained why citing Murray got Ryan accused of racism. The New York Times columnist stated flatly that Murray is “most famous for arguing that blacks are genetically inferior to whites.” Josh and I and others spent a lot more time and energy explaining Murray’s pernicious race and class biases, but of course Murray replied only to Krugman. And to do so, he cherry-picked a few sentences from “The Bell Curve” in which he and his late co-author Richard Herrnstein acknowledged there remains debate over whether the lower IQ scores of blacks and Latinos are genetic or environmental.


US intelligence oversight group from 1975 says things are way worse now

Cyrus Farivar reports for Arstechnica:

Nearly 40 years ago, in the wake of abuse perpetrated by various American intelligence agencies including the National Security Agency, the US Senate convened the Church Committee. Its task was oversight, and the Church Committee’s findings revealed major intelligence operations against American civil liberties. The problems included the regular interception of telegrams, the opening of mail, Project Shamrock, and Project Minaret, which intercepted electronic communications of select Americans and foreigners alike. Project Minaret even targeted people like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Muhammad Ali, Jane Fonda, and Sen. Frank Church himself, the chair of the oversight committee.

On Monday, surviving members and staff of the Church Committee published an open letter (PDF) to Congress, President Barack Obama, and the American public, calling for a “Church Committee for the 21st Century—a special investigatory committee to undertake a thorough, and public, examination of current intelligence community practices affecting the rights of Americans and to make specific recommendations for future oversight and reform.” Notably, the letters authors offer this declaration: “The scale of domestic communications surveillance the NSA engages in today dwarfs the programs revealed by the Church Committee.”


Obama Approval Rating Drops To All Time Low, Still More Popular Than GOP

The Feinstein Syndrome: ‘The Fourth Amendment for Me, But Not for Thee’

Norman Solomon writes for Disinfo:

Who knows, soon we might see headlines and cable TV shows asking: “Is Dianne Feinstein a whistleblower or a traitor?” A truthful answer to that question could not possibly be “whistleblower.” It may already be a historic fact that Senator Feinstein’s speech on March 11, 2014 blew a whistle on CIA surveillance of the Senate intelligence committee, which she chairs. But if that makes her a whistleblower, then Colonel Sanders is a vegetarian evangelist.

In her blockbuster Tuesday speech on the Senate floor, Feinstein charged that the CIA’s intrusions on her committee’s computers quite possibly “violated the Fourth Amendment.” You know, that’s the precious amendment that Feinstein — more than any other senator — has powerfully treated like dirt, worthy only of sweeping under the congressional rug. A tidy defender of the NSA’s Orwellian programs, Feinstein went on the attack against Edward Snowden from the outset of his revelations last June. Within days, she denounced his brave whistleblowing as “an act of treason” — a position she has maintained.

Snowden and other genuine whistleblowers actually take risks to defend the civil liberties and human rights of others, including the most vulnerable among us. Real whistleblowers choose to expose serious wrongdoing. And, if applicable, they renounce their own past complicity in doing those wrongs. Dianne Feinstein remains in a very different place. She’s 180 degrees from a whistleblower orientation; her moral compass is magnetized with solipsism as a leading guardian of the surveillance state.


GOP in Crisis at CPAC 2014: Interview with Ben Swann

CIA Torturers Hide Report, But That’s Not The Worst Part

Senator Ted Cruz Was A Lawyer For A Defendant In The ‘Kids For Cash’ Scandal