Congress has just eight days on the job between now and the start of the next session on January 7, with the House coming back on Monday and adjourning for the year by December 13 and the Senate returning on December 9 only to most likely adjourn for the year on December 20. In total, the House will have had 239 days off this year with even more scheduled for next year.
Certainly members of Congress have work to do when they’re not required to be in D.C., including meetings with constituents, running their other offices, talking to local community leaders, and doing media interviews. Some may also use those days off on other jobs for supplemental income, but most make side money by owning businesses or from investments.
The picture is very different for the rest of Americans, however. The country doesn’t guarantee its citizens any paid vacation or holiday time off, unlike 20 of its developed peers. All European Union countries guarantee workers at least 20 paid days of vacation a year, with France going so far as to lock in 30, the United Kingdom mandating 28, and Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden guaranteeing 25. Thirteen also mandate paid holidays off. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, and Sweden go even further, requiring employers to give workers an extra bonus to cover vacation expenses.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence committees respectively, went on CNN’s Sunday talk show yesterday to put fear into the hearts of Americans. They told us we are in more danger now than ever and the obvious corollary to this is that Americans need to take their fear of government and redirect it to nameless and faceless terrorists who are out to destroy us.
“There are new bombs, very big bombs,” Feinstain warned, “that go through (metal-detecting) magnetometers.” She warned of “huge malevolence out there.” This puts “enormous pressure” on our intelligence community, Rogers added, which means Americans have to lay off the NSA because they “are not the bad guys.”
In other words, the NSA is not your enemy. Really, it isn’t. The government is just protecting us from foreign bogeymen that are the real danger.
The War On Christmas may actually be happening this year, but it’s being waged by an unlikely culprit: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).
Last week, Walker’s campaign sent an email encouraging supporters not to buy gifts for their children and to use that money instead to support his reelection effort.
“Instead of electronics or toys that will undoubtedly be outdated, broken, or lost by the next Holiday Season, help give your children the gift of a Wisconsin that we can all be proud of,” the email read.
Google, the tech giant supposedly guided by its “don’t be evil” motto, has been funding a growing list of groups advancing the agenda of the Koch brothers.
Organizations that received “substantial” funding from Google for the first time over the past year include Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Federalist Society, the American Conservative Union (best known for its CPAC conference), and the political arm of the Heritage Foundation that led the charge to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act: Heritage Action.
In 2013, Google also funded the corporate lobby group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, although that group is not listed as receiving “substantial” funding in the list published by Google.
U.S. corporations are not required to publicly disclose their funding of political advocacy groups, and very few do so, but since at least 2010 Google has chosen to voluntarily release some limited details about grants it makes to U.S. non-profits. The published list from Google is not comprehensive, including only those groups that “receive the most substantial contributions from Google’s U.S. Federal Public Policy and Government Affairs team.”
What Google considers “substantial” is not explained — no dollar amounts are given — but the language suggests significant investments from Google and, with a stock value of $330 billion, Google has considerably deep pockets.
Google has a distinctively progressive image, but in March 2012 it hired former Republican member of the House of Representatives, Susan Molinari as its Vice President of Public Policy and Government Relations. According to the New York Times, Molinari is being “paid handsomely to broaden the tech giant’s support beyond Silicon Valley Democrats and to lavish money and attention on selected Republicans.”
In September, Rep. Trey Radel voted for Republican legislation that would allow states to make food stamp recipients pee in cups to prove they’re not on drugs. In October, police busted the Florida Republican on a charge of cocaine possession.
“It’s really interesting it came on the heels of Republicans voting on everyone who had access to food stamps get drug tested,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told BuzzFeed Tuesday. ”It’s like, what?”
The House over the summer approved an amendment by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) that would let states drug test people on food stamps. The amendment passed by voice vote, meaning members’ individual yeas and nays were not recorded. Radel later voted in favor of a broader food stamps bill that included Hudson’s measure.
In support of his drug testing legislation, Hudson cited the many state legislatures around the country that had considered similar requirements for other means-tested programs in recent years.
First some history…
Cheney’s daughter, Liz, is running for Republican Senate primary in Wyoming, a typically conservative state requiring a senator with suitably conservative views.
The other Cheney daughter, Mary, is a married lesbian with two children.
Liz said: “I love Mary very much, I love her family very much. This is just an issue on which we disagree”
President Obama and the White House have been engaged in a battle in the Senate to block the chamber from passing new sanctions that could derail ongoing negotiations with Iran. The White House has been clear: new sanctions could kill the talks and put the U.S. on a “path to war.”
Groups including NIAC, FCNL, Peace Action, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, and International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran have all come out against new Senate sanctions. Groups including AIPAC and Foundation for Defense of Democracies are, as usual, advocating more sanctions. AIPAC even says they will explicitly try to kill a deal.
But it looks like the pro-diplomacy side is winning.
Senators Carl Levin, Christopher Murphy, and Dianne Feinstein have all now come out in opposition to new Iran sanctions, saying they will instead support the ongoing negotiations with Iran. And today, even Senator John McCain (R-AZ) told the BBC today he will not support new sanctions for now, saying, ”I am skeptical of talks with Iran but willing to give the Obama administration a couple months.”
Approval of the way the U.S. Congress is doing its job has dropped into the single digits for the first time in almost four decades, a Gallup poll indicates.
Only 9 percent of respondents said Congress is doing a good job, the lowest level since Gallup began asking the question in 1974.
The divided U.S. electorate is united in its distaste for Congress, Gallup reported Tuesday. In the poll conducted between Thursday and Saturday, 8 percent of independents, 9 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats gave Congress high marks.
Resolution For War Against Iran Gains Traction In Conservative Wing Of The House (plus other Iran news)
A resolution that would authorize the use of military force against Iran is gaining traction in the conservative wing of the House of Representatives, with over a dozen new co-sponsors signing on in the last two days as the administration presses Congress to lay off new Iran sanctions.
The “United States-Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act,” introduced earlier this month by Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, would green-light the president’s ability to use the U.S. military against Iran if nuclear negotiations fail and Iran develops a nuclear weapon.
Thirteen new members of Congress signed on as co-sponsors to the bill this week, upping the total to 28 co-sponsors, including Tea Party stalwarts like Rep. Steve King and Rep. Louie Gohmert.
“We haven’t been pressing it hard yet because we’ve been gone too much of the time,” Franks told BuzzFeed on Wednesday. He called it “encouraging” that new members had signed on to co-sponsor the resolution.
Franks stressed that the bill is not a formal Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), and said it is intended to strengthen the U.S. negotiating position in nuclear talks by providing leverage through the threat of force. If passed, the bill would constitute the necessary pre-existing permission by Congress for President Barack Obama to use the U.S. military against Iran.
[...] The bill comes as the White House has been pressuring Congress to delay new Iran sanctions in the midst of a nascent thaw in relations with Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew are meeting with members of the Senate Banking and Senate Foreign Relations Committees on Thursday to ask them to hold off on new sanctions legislation.
- Group Led By Billionaire Sheldon Adelson Pushes Congress To Undermine Iran Talks (Think Progress)
- Despite Iranian Concessions, War Hawks Spread Fear of Deceptive Quest for Nukes (Antiwar)
- Obama Struggles to Sell Congress on Iran Talks (Antiwar)
- U.S. senators seek to cut Iran’s oil sales in half – again (Reuters)
- White House meets Jewish leaders to press for delay in new Iran sanctions (Al Monitor)
- Nuclear chief says Iran will keep enriching to 20% (Times of Israel)
- Israel’s premier tells visiting Nigerian president that nuclear armed Iran threatens Africa (AP)
- Dick Cheney: Military action against Iran may be inevitable (Washington Times)
- GOP Megadonor’s ‘Nuke Iran’ Comments Highlight Links To Influential Think Tank (Think Progress)
- Israelis, Saudis Just Getting Started in Opposing U.S.-Iran Detente (IPS)
- US Won’t Ease Sanctions Early in Iran Negotiations (Antiwar)
- EU may re-impose sanctions on Iran ship line despite court order (Reuters)
Despite being heralded as the first time in history that U.S. lawmakers would hear directly from the survivors of a U.S. drone strike, only five elected officials chose to attend the congressional briefing that took place Tuesday.
Pakistani schoolteacher Rafiq ur Rehman and his two children—9 year-old daughter Nabila and 13 year-old son Zubair—came to Washington, DC to give their account of a U.S. drone attack that killed Rafiq’s mother, Momina Bibi, and injured the two children in the remote tribal region of North Waziristan last October.
According to journalist Anjali Kamat, who was present and tweeting live during the hearing, the only lawmakers to attend the briefing organized by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), were Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.).
Before the handful of reporters and scant lawmakers, however, Rafiq and his children gave dramatic testimony which reportedly caused the translator to break down into tears.
- Ex-State Dept Official: Each drone strike creates at least 40 new militants (RT)
- “She Was Exploded to Pieces” Survivors of Drone Strike in Pakistan Testify to Members of Congress (Alternet)
- Please tell me, Mr President, why a US drone assassinated my mother (Guardian)
- Drone Victims Share Dreams of a Life in Pakistan Without Fear (FDL)
- New Film Highlights the Human Cost of Drone Warfare (The Nation)
- US Dismisses UN Criticism, Insists Drone Strikes ‘Just’ (Antiwar)
- Pakistan makes call for end to US drone strikes at UN committee (Tribune)
- State Dept. Claims Only U.S. Government Can Count Civilian Drone Strikes Accurately (Breitbart)
- Germany helped US with ‘illegal’ drone attacks (The Local)
Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the US Senate committee charged with holding the intelligence establishment to account, declared on Monday that the National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone records is “not surveillance” and should be maintained as an essential tool to combat terrorism.
Feinstein made the case for retaining the program, which routinely collects and stores the phone records millions of Americans, in an op-ed for USA Today, in which she wrote that the NSA‘s work had been “effective in helping to prevent terrorist plots against the US and our allies”.
Feinstein, a Democrat from California, is introducing legislation that would make superficial alterations to the NSA and the secret courts that are supposed to provide judicial oversight.
But her bill stops short of making any substantial changes to the way the agency conducts its work, despite the string of revelations based on disclosures by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
- Court: NSA Doesn’t Have to Hand Over Presidential Order (Antiwar)
- Fisa court makes ‘substantive changes’ to surveillance requests, judge insists (Guardian)
- Patriot Act author prepares bill to put NSA bulk collection ‘out of business’ (Guardian)
- Beware the business-as-usual brigade’s efforts to sabotage new NSA oversight (Guardian)
- Feinstein claims NSA spying is ‘legal’ (RT)
- Feinstein’s NSA ‘reform’ bill would expand snooping powers (RT)
- US intelligence chiefs urge Congress to preserve surveillance programs (Guardian)
- Obama’s NSA review panel littered with insiders (Salon)
- These 12 Bills Are the NSA’s Worst Nightmare (Mother Jones)
A bipartisan group of 50 senators have warned US President Barack Obama that they will not ratify the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty signed last month by Secretary of State John Kerry. The lawmakers, who comprise half of the Senate, signed on to a letter this week that expressed concern that ratifying the treaty could limit America’s ability to provide military aid to Israel.
Fifty senators, including all 45 Senate Republicans and Democrats Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Begich (D-AK), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Pryor (D-AR), listed a number of reasons for their opposition to the treaty, including that “the State Department has acknowledged that the treaty includes language that could hinder the United States from fulfilling its strategic, legal and moral commitments to provide arms to key allies such as the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Israel.”
The treaty prohibits a state from trading arms if “it has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a party.”
States are also required to assess whether recipients are likely to “commit or facilitate a serious violation” of international humanitarian or human rights law and whether the arms deal could “contribute to or undermine peace or security.” Those clauses – and the range of interpretations that they afford – are at the heart of the critique.
In their letter, the senators said they “urge” Obama “to notify the treaty depository that the US does not intend to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty, and is therefore not bound by its obligations.”
The senators complained that the treaty failed to achieve consensus, and was adopted instead by majority vote in the UN General Assembly. According to the senators, this “violates the red line drawn by the Obama Administration.”
Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is working to change the law so he can mount a 2016 presidential run, according to a New York Post report.
The newspaper quotes unnamed sources who say the actor, who’s in New York City to promote his latest movie, “has been talking openly about working on getting the constitutional rules changed.”
The source said the 66-year-old Schwarzenegger, a Republican, intends to file the necessary paperwork to challenge the rules.
The U.S. Constitution forbids foreign-born citizens from holding the chief executive position, but some legal experts have said it’s not completely clear that courts would enforce the law instead of letting voters decide.
Constitutional amendments require two-thirds majority approval in both the House and the Senate and then must be ratified by at least 38 of the 50 states.
The Austrian-born Schwarzenegger, who became a U.S. citizen in 1983, said three years ago in a “Tonight Show” interview that he would run for president if the law were changed.
- Should the Constitution be amended for Arnold? (USA Today)
- Shriver supports ‘Arnold amendment’ (USA Today)
- Senior Bush suggests that Schwarzenegger could someday become president (SF Chronicle)
- Siege Heil: The Bush-Rove-Schwarzenegger Nazi Nexus and the Destabilization of California (Free Press)
- Arnold’s Nazi Problem (Slate)
- Arnold’s Enron Secret (Alternet)
The U.S. House of Representatives late on Wednesday passed legislation to avoid a damaging default on government debt and to reopen federal agencies shuttered when funding ran out on October 1.
The House vote came hours after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill. President Barack Obama earlier on Wednesday said he will promptly sign the bill into law.
- Amid government shutdown, Obama signals cuts to Social Security, Medicare (WSWS)
- Warren Buffett: ‘It Is Totally Asinine To Have A Debt Ceiling At All’ (CNN)
- The U.S. Has REPEATEDLY Defaulted (Washington’s Blog)
- Congressional Perks Deemed Essential During Government Shutdown While Public Sacrifices (Huffington Post)
- Poll: No Heroes In Shutdown, GOP Gets Most Blame (NPR)
- Shutdown reveals useless ‘work’ (The Australian)
- Shutdown could help Democrats retake House majority, poll suggests (Raw Story)
- Tea party group FreedomWorks is in deep financial trouble (Raw Story)
- White House asking for sad shutdown stories (Washington Examiner)
- Protesters Outside The White House Take Down Barriers And Demand Impeachment (CNN)
- Rain probably more successful in slowing D.C. traffic than right-wing trucker protest (Raw Story)
- Arizona Is Only State To Stop Welfare Checks During Shutdown (TPM)
- Fox News Falls For Fake Obama Story
- Sign portrays Obama as Hitler
- One-Man Militia Cleaning Up National Mall For Vets With Park Service Furloughed (CBS)
- Taliban mock US over government shutdown (TNI)
China, the biggest foreign creditor of the United States, has waded into the American budget crisis, warning Congress that it must resolve the political impasse over the debt ceiling without further delay.
The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Zhu Guangyao, told America’s deadlocked politicians on Monday that “the clock is ticking” and called on them to approve an extension of the national borrowing limit before the federal government is projected to run out of cash on 17 October.
“We ask that the United States earnestly takes steps to resolve in a timely way the political issues around the debt ceiling and prevent a US debt default to ensure the safety of Chinese investments in the United States,” Mr Zhu told reporters in Beijing. “This is the United States’ responsibility,” he added.
- Norman Pollack: Three Cheers for the Shutdown (Counterpunch)
- Keiser on shutdown: America one giant hedge fund & world’s greatest soap opera (RT)
- After the Shutdown: The Debt Ceiling (New Yorker)
- Amid Shutdown, Divided Government Agrees on One Thing: War (Common Dreams)
- Intel Chief: Shutdown Seriously Damages Spying Programs (Antiwar)
- U.S. State Dept says shutdown could hit military funding for Israel (Reuters)
- The Shutdown…Brought To You By Citizens United (Big Picture)
- Boehner: Shutdown ‘Isn’t Some Damn Game’ (Newser)
- DoD to Award Contracts Throughout Shutdown, But Won’t Announce Them (Defense News)
- Cruz warns shutdown could lead to terrorist attacks (The Hill)
- White House in Shutdown: Obamas Doing the Dishes? (ABC)
- Shutdown Clock Hysteria Overshadows NDAA Win (Breaking the Set)
Since the modern congressional budgeting process took effect in 1976, there have been a total of seventeen separate government shutdowns (or “spending gaps” in Hill jargon). Given that we appear to be headed for another one imminently [this has now happened], let’s look back at those experiences, the political circumstances around them and what happened as a consequence. Most of the specifics were drawn from The Washington Post print archives, which you can access for a modest sum here.
It’s also important to note that not all shutdowns are created equal. Before some 1980 and 1981 opinions issued by then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, a failure to fund some part of the government didn’t necessarily mean that that part of government would stop functioning. Civiletti’s opinions interpreted the Antideficiency Act, a law passed in 1884, as meaning that a failure to pass new spending bills required government functioning to shut down in whole or in part. So the “shutdowns” listed below that happened between 1976 tand 1979 did not always entail an actual stop to government functioning; they were often simply funding gaps that didn’t have any real-world effect.
OTHER SHUTDOWN NEWS:
- Shutdown begins: House officials say no more funding votes tonight (Washington Post)
- If the US government shuts down: what services would be affected? (Guardian)
- Why Investors Shouldn’t Panic if the Government Shuts Down (The Street)
- Some Military Banks Are Still Going To Pay Troops, Even If The Government Doesn’t (Business Insider)
- Sen. Tom Harkin: America at a point as ‘dangerous as the breakup of the Union’ (All Voices)
- Al Gore Accuses GOP of ‘Political Terrorism’ With Shutdown Threat (ABC)
- Fearmongering Over a Government Shutdown (Reason)
After scandals, disgraces, and public embarrassments, Washington is generous with second chances, but usually only after a decent interval.
Not so with Elizabeth O’Bagy, the disgraced analyst who was fired by the neoconservative Institute for the Study of War (ISW) for masquerading as a Georgetown PhD student, who has reportedly been hired by Senator John McCain as a legislative assistant. O’Bagy claimed to have defended her dissertation to friends and colleagues, but there was one problem: no one at Georgetown had heard of a doctoral student by that name. She was never in the program.
‘Monsanto Protection Act’ Killed In Senate: Controversial Provision Removed From Spending Bill (and other GMO related news)
The so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” has been removed from a Senate spending bill to the delight of those opposed to the controversial provision.
The provision would have stayed on the books under a continuing resolution passed by the House of Representatives last week, but U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., led a successful charge to have the language removed from the Senate version of the bill.
“One week ago, I asked, ‘Who pulls more weight on Capitol Hill? The agrichemical companies like Dow and Monsanto, or the food movement?’” Elizabeth Kucinich, policy director for the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. “Thanks to the leadership of Senator Barbara Mikulski we now know the answer: the food movement.”
Mikulski introduced an amendment to have the language of the bill changed to remove the “Monsanto Protection Act”. The amendment was approved earlier this week, and the provision will expire at the end of this month.
A massive groundswell of public opposition to the “Monsanto Protection Act” began in March, when news of its existence hit the mainstream.
The provision, officially Section 735 of the HR 933 continuing resolution passed in March, came under fire because food safety advocates warn that it strips federal courts of the authority to halt the sale and propagation of genetically modified seeds and crops if safety tests reveal concerns about their safety.
- 5 Terrifying Things To Know About The HR 933 Provision (IB Times)
- Obama signs ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ written by Monsanto-sponsored senator (RT)
- GMO foes blast Scientific American editorial decrying labeling laws (NY Daily News)
- Monsanto’s Permanent Revolving Door in Washington (Breaking the Set)
- USDA will not take action in case of GMO alfalfa contamination (Reuters)
- I-522: Your Right to Know (Cornucopia Institute)
- Out-of-state money floods campaigns for and against GMO labeling (KING 5)
- Look Who’s Spending Millions to Defeat GMO Labeling in Washington (Organic Consumers Fund)
- Lies GMO Labeling Opponents Are Pushing to Keep People in the Dark (Alternet)
As Vietnam War protests grew, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) tapped the overseas communications of prominent American critics of the war — including a pair of sitting U.S. senators. That’s according to a recently declassified NSA history, which called the effort “disreputable if not outright illegal.”
For years the names of the surveillance targets were kept secret. But after a decision by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, in response to an appeal by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the NSA has declassified them for the first time. The names of the NSA’s targets are eye-popping. Civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young were on the watch list, as were the boxer Muhammad Ali, New York Times journalist Tom Wicker, and veteran Washington Post humor columnist Art Buchwald. But perhaps the most startling fact in the declassified document is that the NSA was tasked with monitoring the overseas telephone calls and cable traffic of two prominent members of Congress, Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.). As shocking as the recent revelations about the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping have been, there has been no evidence so far of today’s signal intelligence corps taking a step like this, to monitor the White House’s political enemies.
As the Vietnam War escalated during Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, domestic criticism and protest movements abounded. Protesters surrounded the Pentagon in the fall of 1967 and two years later organized demonstrations and the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. The scale of the dissent angered Johnson as well as his successor, Richard Nixon. As fervent anti-communists, they wondered whether domestic protests were linked to hostile foreign powers, and they wanted answers from the intelligence community. The CIA responded with Operation Chaos, while the NSA worked with other intelligence agencies to compile watch lists of prominent anti-war critics in order to monitor their overseas communications. By 1969, this program became formally known as “Minaret.”
Among influential U.S. political tweeters, President Barack Obama is the undisputed king of the fake followers. A MailOnline analysis ranks his sizable Twitter following as the most deceptive total among the 21 most influential accounts run by American politicians: More than 19.5 million of his 36.9 million Twitter followers are accounts that don’t correspond to real people.
The four phoniest accounts in the sample, which included Democratic and Republican Party leaders in Washington, D.C., were those belonging to President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and the White House communications shop.
Of the president’s 36.9 million Twitter followers, an astonishing 53 per cent – or 19.5 million – are fake accounts, according to a search engine at the Internet research vendor StatusPeople.com. Just 20 per cent of Obama’s Twitter buddies are real people who are active users.