Tag Archives: Senate

Tom’s Treasonous Temper Tantrum

12 Mar

TraitorsThe Republicans in the U.S. Senate have hit a new low, which is pretty hard for a group that has dug such a deep, disgusting hole in which to dwell. Led by freshman Senator Tom (would you like a cup of Tea)  Cotton of Arkansas, a stunning 47 out of 54 Republican Senators have signed a letter to the leaders of Iran. The letter is a petulant rant warning that any agreement the Obama administration might reach with Iran over nuclear materials will become null and void as soon as a new President takes office.

Where do we start with something like this? It’s a clear violation of protocol — direct foreign relations are the purview of the Executive branch, not Congress. It’s a blatant slap in the face to a President who has seen nothing but racist obstruction and disrespect from the GOP members of the Senate. Under one of the oldest laws in the land, it probably qualifies as treason.

The Logan Act was passed in 1799 to restrict the ability of unauthorized citizens to act in a way that is intended to influence a foreign government on matters relating to an ongoing controversy or dispute. Iran’s nuclear program clearly qualifies. Senators have the authority to do many things, but negotiating foreign policy isn’t one of them. That power belongs entirely to the Executive Branch unless there is a formal treaty proposed; that would require a 2/3 vote of approval from the Senate (sorry to bother people with pesky facts).

Angry that the President isn’t just going to abdicate after the disastrous 2014 election, Cotton and his cronies decided to stamp their nasty feet and play a dangerous game. They may not like the direction the President takes, but it’s up to him. By acting independently, they show just how ugly they can be with the added bonus of making the country they are sworn to serve look foolish, confused, and inept. Of course those adjectives come up a lot with Republicans/Tea Partiers in Congress…

Cotton is new to the Senate, but that doesn’t excuse him — or the 11 other new Republican Senators who ALL signed his malicious missive — from learning and following protocol and obeying the laws of the land. Other signatories have even less of an excuse including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate President pro tempore Orrin Hatch, and omnipresent crazed, cranky, crackpot John McCain. When asked why he signed the letter, McCain responded with”…well I sign lots of letters.”  Oy! How on earth is he in office?

It’s unlikely the Logan Act will be invoked — that’s only happened once, in 1803. Attempting to prosecute 47 sitting Senators would grind the barely functioning government to a complete halt, and the President has been able to use this irresponsible act to highlight his own policies and strength. Getting away with it doesn’t make it right. Let’s hope that the people who can hold these ignorant, vicious men and women responsible — the voters — will take this matter seriously in years to come.

Do we need to issue a statement to the globe: “Nothing to see here folks, just keep moving.”

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Dr. Monica Wehby, the Hollow Candidate

22 Aug

Monica WehbyThe 2014 mid-term elections have conservatives salivating, and the Tea Party holds out hope they can gets folks to drink their rancid brew. With many Congressional Democrats retiring and a handful of red-state Democrats seen as highly vulnerable, the GOP is working hard to retake the Senate. If they succeed, President Obama’s final two years in office will make his first six look like a productive picnic. Despite the friendly playing field, conservative operatives are trying not to take anything for granted, noting the many deeply flawed candidates that have cost them probable seats in the past two cycles. (Remember these charm free folks: Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle?) To hedge their bets, they’re looking at less likely pickups and dumping huge amounts of money on some long-shots. The amount of money being poured into GOP hopeful Monica Wehby’s campaign is disturbing. I suspect there are many countries that run on budgets that are much less than what the Koch brothers are pouring into campaigns such as Wehby’s.

The support for Wehby is perplexing. She’s running against Senator Jeff Merkley, the first man to receive the Marilyn Epstein Pro-Choice Champion Award from the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, who is finishing his first term. He’s popular, effective, and honest, but as a Freshman may be vulnerable. Despite the conventional wisdom, Oregon is NOT a blue state, but rather a very purple state with a slight Democratic edge in statewide races. The Koch Brothers and their ilk (The top 1%) have decided that this makes Oregon a potential pickup, so they found themselves a candidate.

Sadly, they did a worse job of vetting their pick than Sen. John McCain (R – Angrytown) did when he chose half-term half-wit Sarah Palin as a running mate. Dr. Monica Wehby is a surgeon and a political newcomer. In a “throw the bums out” year with Congressional approval ratings at an all-time low, this telegenic candidate seems promising. Until she tries to pick a position on, well, anything. Sadly, a number of advertisements against Senator Merkley  are already in full swing.

Before winning the GOP primary, Wehby made headlines for her history of stalking ex-boyfriends. She spun that as proof that she’s a determined person who would work hard to get what she wants in the Senate. The two different and independent stalking cases are pretty serious and my first thought was: “Oy! I only hope she does not have a gun on her.”  She also gained some notoriety for fleeing press conferences and debates once she’d used up her carefully crafted talking points. When pressed about LGBT rights in a TV interview, she kept talking about marriage equality, even though the question was about anti-discrimination laws. She says she’s pro-life but would support a woman’s right to choose while celebrating laws like “partial birth” abortion bans. She says she supports equal pay for women while saying that laws that actually enforce equal pay are bad because they would make employers hire more men to avoid lawsuits. Really. Stammering, stunned, and wide-eyed, she clearly isn’t comfortable taking a position that hasn’t been fed to her by the Kochs and their cronies. Again, I am reminded of Charles Durning’s performance of Dance A Little Sidestep from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Suddenly that Koch money is showing up on the airwaves. Wehby’s new ads are everywhere, trying to make her sound like a smart fiscal conservative. She attacks Sen. Merkley for voting to raise the debt ceiling and for opposing a balanced budget amendment. With a homey but deeply flawed analogy between the Federal budget and household money management, she manages to avoid any real fiscal facts. Raising the debt ceiling was critical to avoiding another, worse financial meltdown if the US were seen to ignore its obligations. The debt that Sen. Merkley wisely voted to keep paying is mostly the result of the fiscal ineptitude of George W. Bush and two pointless, costly wars. The balanced budget amendment is a nightmarish concoction that would hamstring the government. Economists both liberal and conservative decry it as a disaster that should be avoided at all costs. As an experienced legislator, Sen. Merkley knows this. I continue to be shocked and mortified that such falsehoods are allowed to be aired!  I know that in Georgia the Koch money is spreading lies and attacking Democrat hopeful Michelle Nunn. Koch money is fueling elections across the entire country.

It’s clear that Dr. Wehby is intended to be the anti-Merkley. That’s certainly true. Sen Merkley is an experienced, talented legislator with a deep understanding of the issues and a true passion for the needs of Oregon’s citizens. Monica Wehby is a shallow political puppet pursuing a Senate seat just because. Oregon’s choice this November is clear.

Update: Wow! I’m rather appalled and nonplussed to see Ben West doing a commercial supporting Wehby. Mr. West, I’m curious as to how you would support Wehby when she was NOT pro-marriage equality until after it was a fait accompli?  I’m also curious that she was not at Gay Pride nor has she attended a Basic Rights Oregon function?  In the commercial you assert that she is for all families, but it seems rather obvious that she is only for white wealthy families, and now you her token gay friend.

Hero of the Week Award, November 22: Democrats in the U.S. Senate

22 Nov

GraphCongratulations to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – NV) and the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate. After years of abuse and obstruction by the GOP, they finally said, “ENOUGH.” Unable to get a simple up-and-down vote on three recent nominees to the DC Circuit Court, Reid made it clear that the Republicans had violated both the spirit and letter of every agreement made in the past few years about Presidential nominees. Even some long-standing holdouts — like Sen. Feinstein and Boxer of California and Sen. Leahy of Vermont — realized that this level of obstruction must be stopped. It’s about time.

I think it might be helpful to have a  brief history lesson: In 1917 the Senate created a method for ending filibusters, the cloture vote. It originally required a 2/3 majority and was revised down to a 3/5 majority. Both filibusters and cloture votes were used sparingly. In 1975, the non-speaking filibuster arrived, creating the model we’ve seen grow over the past few years. Just saying one intended to block a vote counted as a requirement for cloture. Even then, however, use was relatively rare.

Since President Obama took office, the Republicans have done everything they can to obstruct him. Their extraordinary use of the virtual filibuster has served as a way to nullify his election and especially his re-election–it is difficult for me not to see a racist agenda here. They didn’t like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but couldn’t repeal the law, so they filibustered the President’s nominees. (That resulted in the election of Sen. Warren of Massachusetts, so they shot themselves in the foot with that one!) They want to keep the federal courts as conservative as possible, so multiple judges have been blocked. One might ask, one should ask: this type of block voting says two things: one, the GOP is not interested in serving all citizens of the United States, and two, where is there room for independent thinking and creating partnerships?

The so-called Nuclear Option that changed the rules only required a majority vote and it succeeded. For the rest of this Congress, any Presidential nominee except for Supreme Court justices will only require a simple majority to be approved. That ends a major logjam and takes a critical piece of obstruction away from the GOP. Given how broken the filibuster is, something more might be needed, but this is an excellent start. I might suggest that something more to be removing John Boehner as the Speaker of the House.

Of course the GOP is screaming with rage, even though they could have stopped the rules change simply by sticking to the agreements they had made. It’s amusing to note that one of the biggest whiners, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R – KY), threatened the very same thing when Democrats invoked far fewer cloture votes on Pres. Bush’s nominees. Hypocrisy much?

This change is long overdue. Big thanks to the trio of senators who have pushed hard to help make the Senate work again, Tom Harkin (IA), Jeff Merkley (OR), and Tom Udall (NM).

A related honorable mention goes to the ever wonderful Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D – NY). She’s been pushing hard for reform in military justice protocols to help stem the tide of sexual abuse and assaults. When senior Democrats pushed to water down her bill, she stood firm and now has majority support for real reforms.  Gillibrand is one of the best civil servants the United States currently has.

Hero of the Week Award: May 10, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

10 May
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Senate Republicans must be kicking themselves. When they used all their dirty tricks to block Elizabeth Warren from becoming the first chair of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, they thought that was the end of it. She turned the tables, running for Senate herself and dislodging the odious Scott Brown. Since joining the Senate in January, Warren has demonstrated her unwavering dedication to consumer rights and holding business accountable. This week, Sen. Warren introduced her first bill, a straightforward piece of legislation that represents the values and fairness that got her elected.

This July, Federal student loan rates are set to double, moving to 6.8%. This creates a huge burden for people entering the workforce or emerging from a career-changing education. With a still shaky job market (something Congressional Republicans have done NOTHING to address…) these graduates may be hit with a large bill while they have not yet moved into their earning potential. Warren’s solution is simple and elegant: give students the same rates that we give big banks.

Right now, as I speak, the federal government offers far lower interest rates on loans, every single day – they just don’t do it for everyone. Right now, a big bank can get a loan through the Federal Reserve discount window at a rate of about 0.75%. But this summer a student who is trying to get a loan to go to college will pay almost 7%. In other words, the federal government is going to charge students interest rates that are nine times higher than the rates for the biggest banks – the same banks that destroyed millions of jobs and nearly broke this economy. That isn’t right.

[…] In effect, the American taxpayer is investing in those banks. We should make the same kind of investment in people who are trying to get an education.

Well done, Sen. Warren! I am impressed by her systems-based approach to problem solving and moving financial laws toward true equity. As Massachusetts voters get ready to select Secretary of State John Kerry’s replacement in the Senate, the should remember Scott Brown and look at Elizabeth Warren. That comparison makes the selection of Rep. Ed Markey (D) a pretty easy choice.

Women’s History Month 2013: Ashley Judd

11 Mar

Ashley-JuddToday we honor and celebrate a powerful woman who embraces the term feminist and stands strong against double standards. Ashley Tyler Ciminella was born in California in 1968 to Naomi and Michael Ciminella. By the time she was in school, her parents had split and her mother took her and her half-sister Wynonna back to her home in Kentucky. The girls were raised with their mother’s birth name, Judd.

Ashley attended a number of schools, graduated, and went to the University of Kentucky. She studied French and women’s studies, including a semester abroad, while she began to develop an interest in acting. Rather than graduating with her class, she drove to L.A. and worked as a waitress while she looked for acting jobs. She found some television work (including a stint on Sisters opposite Swoosie Kurtz) and quickly picked up movie roles. She has worked steadily as an actor for two decades.

During that time, she developed a passion for activism and civil rights. She is an active member of the Board of YouthAIDS. In her travels for that organization she became increasingly aware of the global problems of poverty and has worked tirelessly to engage with organizations and leaders dedicated to broad political and social change. She has worked with Women for Women International and Equality Now and in 2011 joined the Leadership Council of the International Center for Research on Women.

Fully aware of how Hollywood treats older actresses, she also continued her formal education, receiving a a Master in Public Administration degree (MPA) from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2010. As a well-known celebrity with strong opinions, Judd has frequently come under fire by the Right and the press. She takes what comes and fires back, brilliantly using any attacks as an opportunity to expose hypocrisy and patriarchy.

Judd has indicated some interest in running for the U.S. Senate; she would oppose Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – KY) in the 2014 election if she runs. The Teahadists are so afraid of her strong, smart presence that they’ve already started the attacks. Karl Rove is running context-free quotes in ads that slam her as an “out-of-touch Hollywood elitist”–elitist theatre, white power and privileged, sounds like Rand Paul to me. Conservative e-rag Daily Caller ran an ugly piece attacking her for having nude scenes in some of her movies. (Strange that Scott Brown’s centerfold spread didn’t seem to matter to them…)

Judd takes it all in stride, simply repeating that she is a feminist and a progressive and that her values translate well to what the people of Kentucky need.  Given the hollow grandstanding exhibited by McConnell’s junior counterpart, Rand Paul, someone with real values and a dedication to justice would be a welcome addition. The idea of a Sen. Judd joining Sens. Gillibrand, Warren, and Baldwin is pretty exciting.

No matter what she chooses to do next, we can count on Ashley Judd to stand up for women and for the marginalized everywhere.

Bigot of the Week Award: December 7, Sen. James Inhofe and his “Fellows”

7 Dec
BIgot of the Week

BIgot of the Week

This week a number of U.S. Senators have simultaneously taken one stand against human rights and refused to take another stand in favor of human rights. What ties these bitter white men together is their membership in a secretive faux-Christian sect known as the Fellowship. (It’s also called the Family — they couldn’t decide which word to misappropriate…) This nasty sect, founded in 1935, purports to be a prayer group celebrating the teachings of Jesus. What they really are is the worst of Who Would Jesus Hate hypocrites, pushing homophobia, misogyny, racism, and “traditional values” while secretly supporting the long-term extramarital affairs of Sen. John Ensign (R of course – NV) and former SC Governor Mark Sanford.

The Fellowship has international membership, and its members in Uganda, with support from U.S. members like Scott Lively, have been active sponsors of the viciously anti-gay bill currently working its way through the Ugandan Parliament. Five Republican U.S. Senators who are known members of the Fellowship — Charles Grassley (IA), James Inhofe and Tom Coburn (OK),  Jim DeMint (SC), Mike Enzi (WY) — (have actively resisted calls to condemn the bill. Sen. Inhofe notoriously argued with Rachel Maddow about the content of the bill and its connection to his organization in an interview last March. American “missionary” voices have been instrumental in fanning the flames of homophobia in Uganda. The refusal of these men to distance themselves from this potentially lethal legislation is inexcusable.  On the plus side, the nefarious Jim DeMint is leaving the Senate to lead the backwards hate group The Heritage Foundation–only white, heterosexual, homophobes need apply.

Another international manner arose in the Senate this week. Treaty 112-7, a resolution from the U.N. on the rights of people with disabilities came up for a vote. This treaty already ratified by 126 countries, supports equal rights and support for the disabled. Even though it proposes nothing that is not already U.S. law, a core group of U.S. Senators blocked the treaty as “intrusive.” Treaties require a 2/3 majority, so the 61/38 vote failed to pass. All five of the Fellowship Senators voted “nay.” What a nice way to show their KKKristian values.

As a sad coda, retired Sen. Bob Dole appeared in the Senate chambers to support the treaty. I’m hardly a fan of Sen. Dole, but he is a disabled veteran and served for years beside many of the current Senators. They greeted him, slapped him on back, listened to his plea for support for the disabled, and voted against him. What more proof do we need that these nasty, narrow-minded monsters have jumped the legislative shark?

Elections and Celebrations: Inclusion beats Division

7 Nov

The hug felt round the world.

I have to confess, I was more nervous yesterday evening than I realized. When the media began to call the election for President Obama, I felt so relieved. A message of hope still resonated enough to bring victory. The President coasted to a solid electoral victory and is winding up with a comfortable popular vote edge. Now he has a chance to build on the past four years, continuing to move us past the mess he inherited and pushing real reforms.

The message was broader that just the Presidency. Numerous votes last night sent the same message. Inclusion beats division.

Despite defending more than twice as many seats, the Democrats stand to gain strength in the Senate. Not just in numbers, but in quality, as people like Joe Lieberman were replaced by quality Senators like Chris Murphy. The 19 (maybe 20) women in the next Senate sets a record. One of those women, Tammy Baldwin, will be the first openly gay senator.

Gay rights also ruled the ballot box. For the first time ever states began to put inclusion on the books as Maryland and Maine comfortably passed marriage equality measures. Washington looks poised to do the same. Minnesota is on the brink of being the first state to shoot down a one-man-one-woman constitutional amendment. Despite the same tired old lies, inclusion beat division.

The pundits (especially on the right) will point to the margins of victory and say the President does not have a mandate. The electoral landscape disagrees. The cynical right lost and lost big. Tea party candidates cost the Republicans two Senate seats (Indiana and Missouri). Strong messages of inclusion allowed people-powered candidates like Elizabeth Warren to emerge victorious. Even though the Republicans held the House — and Michele (I spent 18 million dollars to barely win) Bachmann clung onto her seat by the tips of her claws — two of the nastiest members — Joe Walsh (IL) and Allen West (FL) — were defeated. The victors weren’t blue dogs or DINOs, either; they are strong Democrats who believe in the President and his message of hope and reform.

The demographics are also encouraging. As Democratic pundit Van Jones remarked, “the coalition held.” Younger voters, voters of color, women, and other minorities showed up in strength despite all the predictions and helped drive the results. Despite all the efforts on the right to make people vote against their own best interests, inclusion beat division.

Elections have consequences. The message of this election is clear. Bipartisanship does not mean giving in to the far right at every turn. Coalitions must be built and progress must come more quickly. The President’s policies were given a mandate. Congress needs to work with him to enact them and forge a stronger nation with greater opportunities for all.

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