Rep. John Dingell: Member of Congress for more than a quarter of its history.

September 9, 2014

Rep. John Dingell with President Kennedy, and seated next to President Obama for the signing of the ACA.

Rep. John Dingell with President Kennedy, and seated next to President Obama for the signing of the ACA.

It is Congressional primary day for five states in the US, and the final dash for votes in the mid-terms is hotting up against a backdrop of government shutdowns, threats to sue the President, refusals to work together, and a battle for the heart of the Republican Party. It is indeed an intriguing period of US Congressional history. There is however one story that threatens to go unnoticed this election season; the retirement of 58 year veteran of the House, Rep.John Dingell (D-Dearborn, MI).

Dingell is the longest uninterrupted serving member of the US Congress in its 225 year history, with a tenure spanning more than a quarter of its entire history. It is an incredible achievement and one in which the Congressman from Michigan has witnessed the shaping of the United States in ways in which no other Congressman can claim.

As a teenager in 1941, and a member of the United States House of Representatives Page programme, Dingell was on the floor of the House as President Roosevelt delivered his day of infamy speech following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was later elected to Congress in 1956 – the year the World first heard the name ‘Elvis Presley’, and the Federal Highway Act had not yet been signed into being – and has consistently attained over 60% of the vote – with the exception of just two occasions. He was a member of Congress on that day in November when two bullets struck down the promise of President Kennedy. He was sworn into Congress 12 days after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, challenging the poisonous white supremacist attitudes of the 20th Century United States, and announced his retirement from Congress during the second term of the nation’s first African American President. He supported, witnessed and presided over the House that saw LBJ signing Medicare into law. His tenure saw the rise and fall of the Cold War era, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Watergate, the Reagan years, and both Iraq wars. In recent years, Dingell sat next to President Obama as the ‘Affordable Healthcare Act’ was signed into law in 2010, an achievement Dingell was proud to have been a part of, despite not meeting his desire to see universal healthcare in the United States; a cause he had championed by introducing a universal healthcare bill in each of his terms in Congress.

Son of a ‘New Deal’ Democratic Congressman, Dingell is known to be forceful and intimidating in the corridors of Congress. But he gets the job done. Perhaps Dingell’s greatest legislative achievements have been in promoting environmental protections and regulations, cleaning the air and the water and protecting species in the United States, whilst paradoxically commanding the scorn of environmentalists for his staunch support of the Detroit auto industry (including steerage of the 2009 bailouts). In 1972, Dingell authored the ‘Clean Water Act’ expanding greatly the regulatory framework of the 1948 ‘Federal Water Pollution Control Act’, keeping the waters of the United States clean for decades to come. He played important roles in the ‘National Energy Conservation Policy Act’ in 1978, the ‘Marine Mammal Protection Act’ and the ‘Pollution Prevention Act’ of 1990. He penned the ‘Endangered Species Act’, and he advocated and lobbied for the creation of the ‘Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge’; North America’s only international wildlife refuge. He also spent 14 years as Chair of the immensely powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, between 1981-1994, and again in 2007-2008. Without Dingell, the foundation of environmental protections in the United States might not exist. Indeed, for his work on environmental issues in the 109th Congress, The League of Conservation Voters gave Dingell a rating of 100%.

However, there remains a paradox. Dingell’s place as top-ranking Democrat on the Energy Committee took an odd turn in recent years, when Henry Waxman (D-Calif) challenged and beat Dingell for the chairmanship of the committee, through concerns that Dingell’s financial support from big auto industry – along with previous attempts to defend big auto industry in Detroit from certain sections of environmental legislation – may prove detrimental to Waxman’s desire to cap CO2 emissions. In 2007, Dingell managed to win several – albeit small – concessions for the auto-industry as Democrats worked to raise the fuel economy standard.

Alongside his defence and protection of the auto-industry, Dingell receives criticism from fellow progressive Democrats for his A+ rating from the NRA. It was Dingell who managed to gain an exemption for firearms from the 1972 ‘Consumer Product Safety Act’. A hugely damaging legacy for gun safety in the United States. Following the Columbine massacre the Senate voted to close a loophole that exempted unlicensed gun dealers from conducting any background checks at gun shows before selling a firearm. Dingell disapproved and offered an alternative that included changing the language for what is to be considered a ‘gun show’ to a very limited scope, and reducing the time taken to perform a background check from 72 hours, to 24 hours.

To some, he was a protector of big auto-industry whose ideas ran out long ago, a roadblock to meaningful emissions standards, a staunch advocate of gun ownership, and an advertisement for term limits, but to others he was the Congressional architect of landmark environmental protections that would last decades, a legacy that no other member of Congress comes close to matching. Whatever one may think of Rep. John Dingell, it is hard not to admire a man who has worked at the heart of, and contributed to the shaping of the United States, swimming the murky waters of Congress, and witnessing the transformation of America on so many levels, for close to seven decades. His is a story to be remembered during this election season.


The Imperial President? Not so much…

June 30, 2014

President Obama and Speaker Boehner shake hands at the State of the Union. Photo Credit: By Pete Souza (Executive Office of the President of the United States)

President Obama and Speaker Boehner shake hands at the State of the Union.
Photo Credit: By Pete Souza (Executive Office of the President of the United States)

If you were to add together the average executive orders of President Obama, President Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Monroe, Quincy Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison and Tyler (and the first few months of Polk’s Presidency); they’d still add up to less than President Reagan’s average. And so for a Republican Party with a Presidential hero sporting an executive order average of over 11 Presidents (including the current) combined, alongside its recent history of losing the Senate, losing the Presidency twice, losing the popular vote for the House, wildly abusing the filibuster, and generally considered responsible for the shutdown of the government, you might think the Speaker would be a little humble. You’d be wrong. Instead, he’s choosing to sue the President for use of executive powers.

In lieu of addressing wage disparity, or a jobs bill, or working to solve climate change issues, the Republican obsession with the President has become a pantomime. In his memorandum, Boehner’s case lacks substance, whilst also betraying the true purpose of the lawsuit. One of his points reads:

“There is no legislative remedy”

– What this means is, there is no legislative remedy – from a positive PR perspective – to force the President to give in to the demands of the minority Party, and so they’ll pass the buck to the judiciary, whilst throwing around terms like “Executive Monarchy” in the hope that the public will jump on board. There is of course already a legislative remedy to the overreaching of executive power, and that includes de-funding the executive branch and beginning impeachment proceedings against executive branch officials if they feel they have a strong case. They’re also aware that the judiciary has the power the strike down executive orders if they deem it to be unsupported by the Constitution. The Speaker therefore does not have a strong case, and so neither of the previously mentioned legislative remedies serves the GOP well from a PR standpoint, especially after the constant failure of House Republicans to defund the ACA, the obscene abuses of the filibuster, and the disaster of shutting down the government. They’re therefore ignoring the legislative remedies, as if they don’t exist. It is one big publicity stunt, and as with the shutdown, it will be scrutinised thoroughly and reflect terribly on the GOP.

Further, the ill-fated lawsuit that Boehner seeks to bring against the President, will be filed by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group – a standing body of the House of Representatives – funded by every taxpayer in the US. If the lawsuit fails – which it will, because the President has not issued an unconstitutional executive order, nor overreached executive power – it will be the second time Boehner has used ‘BLAG’ and failed, costing the taxpayer in the process. It must strike most as incredible that a Speaker has been able to get away with wasting taxpayer’s money on constant symbolic attempts to defund the ACA (knowing they’d fail every time), defending anti-liberty discrimination based on sexuality (for which Boehner used BLAG), on shutting down the government, on a publicity stunt to sue the President, all whilst successfully achieving the title of the least productive Congress in history with disastrously low approval ratings.

The Speaker summarised the President’s use of executive orders as the work of “aggressive unilateralism”, and that the President is in fact an “Executive Monarchy”. Echoing Boehner’s summary, the beacon of wisdom Karl Rove – conveniently forgetting the time President Bush aggressively used signing statements to bypass laws and extend Presidential power – said:

““This is imperial power, this is George III.”

– I’m almost certain King George III did not face such a hostile Parliament, to the point where getting basic aides confirmed by the Senate becomes a long drawn out battle. The implication from Rove and the Speaker, is that the President is abusing the use of executive orders beyond anything that came before. The biggest threat to liberty since George III. So, how does that check out. How does the President’s yearly average of executive orders compare with past Republican Presidents? According to research by The American Presidency Project:

President Obama – Democrat – yearly average: 33.58
President Bush – Republican – yearly average: 36.38
President Bush Sr – Republican – yearly average: 41.50
President Reagan – Republican hero – yearly average: 47.63
President Ford – Republican – 68.92
President Nixon – Republican – 62.30
President Eisenhower – Republican – 60.50

– President Obama has a lower yearly average of issuing executive orders, than any previous Republican President since the 1950s. Compared to those Republican Presidents, he’s a beacon of restraint. Indeed, Obama is issuing executive orders at a rate of 0.09 a day, far below the Republican Presidential average of 0.22 a day (which is higher than the Democrat Presidential daily rate).

To find a lower yearly average on issuing executive orders than President Obama, we have to go back to Grover Cleveland’s first term as President, between 1885 and 1889. The highest in my life time, has been small government, Republican hero, President Reagan. In his first term, President Obama issued 147 executive orders. By contrast, President Reagan in his first term, issued 213 executive orders, and Reagan wasn’t faced with the one of the most hostile and obstructionist Congresses in decades.

If 33.58 magically turns President Obama into King George III, I can imagine 47.63 turns President Reagan into King Henry VIII.

Remember those figures as the Speaker wastes taxpayers money on a frivolous party political publicity stunt over the coming weeks.


Madam President: Hillary leading for 2016.

March 5, 2014

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: White House (Pete Souza) (White House) [Public domain].

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: White House (Pete Souza) (White House) [Public domain].

Prior to 2008, Virginia’s electoral college votes were solidly red. Republicans could count on votes from the state of Jefferson and Washington, as much as they could count on the votes of the deep south. Democrats had not taken the state in a Presidential election since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. That changed in 2008. A year in which both parties campaigned heavily, saw the once solidly red Virginia hand its votes to the Democrats by a margin of 6.3%, for the first time in 44 years.

By 2012, President Obama became the first Democratic President since Franklin Roosevelt, to carry Virginia in two consecutive elections. In fact, the margin of victory for the Democrats in 2012, was greater than the margin of victory for the President in the country overall. A year later, Virginia voted to elect Democrat McAuliffe to the Governorship ahead of Tea Party favourite, Ken Cuccinelli. Thanks to the far more progressive areas of Fairfax and Loudoun, and the toxic brand of the Tea Party movement; Virginia is becoming blue.

This is bad news for the GOP for 2016. The potential field for Republican candidates in 2016 is not particularly inspiring, and no single candidate stands out. A poll out of New England College found that despite having no intention to run, Mitt Romney is favourite among GOP voters for the nomination in 2006. Ted Cruz only manages 10% support, the scandal prone Chris Christie only managing 13%, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio sharing 7% apiece.

Even more concerning for Republican strategists, is a latest poll of voters in Virginia, conducted by Roanoke College this week, showing that any of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination, would face a massive defeat, if the Democrat nomination was Hillary Clinton. If the 2016 Presidential race were between Clinton, and Christie, Clinton would come out victorious at 43% to Christie’s 41%. A race between Clinton and Paul Ryan, would give us Clinton on 53% to Ryan’s 37%. Others include; Clinton 51% to Jeb Bush 38%. Clinton 47% to Rand Paul’s 40%. Clinton on 47% with Ted Cruz on 37%.

In Ohio – an incredibly important battleground state – Clinton commands a firm lead in polls over all Republican candidates. A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut found that biggest challenge in Ohio to Clinton would be from Paul Ryan, who trails by a huge 9 points. Clinton leads by double figures over Bush, Rubio, Cruz, Ryan, and Kasich.

The bad news for Republicans doesn’t end there. Even in the solidly red state of Texas, the Republicans are struggling. In 2012, Romney won 57% of the vote to the President’s 41%. Even with Texas’ changing population, it is still cloaked in red. Yet, according to a poll by Public Policy Polling, of all potential Republican candidates, none manage to win over 50% of the vote if paired off against Hillary. Jeb Bush comes closest with 49% to Clinton’s 42%. Though it’s unlikely that Bush will run. Senator Cruz – the favoured Republican candidate in Texas by a clear margin – only manages 48% to Clinton’s 45%. So, if on the off chance Jeb Bush were to run and win the Republican nomination, he may take Texas, but he’d lose Ohio, and according to another poll, he’d lose Florida too.

The close polling between Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton in Texas, are echoed in Red States like Louisiana. Louisiana last went blue in 1996, voting to help secure a second term for President Clinton. Twenty years later, and another Clinton has the potential to turn Louisiana blue once more. Another poll by Public Policy Polling found that whilst the Republican contenders hold leads over Hillary, the margin is small enough to push Louisiana into the Democrat camp, with the right campaigning from the Clinton team in 2016. Jeb Bush again leads Hillary by the largest margin of 7 points, whilst Christie’s lead is down to just 1 point.

This is particularly problematic for Republicans for a number of reasons. Firstly, as noted above, there aren’t any stand out GOP candidates that one might consider as posing any sort of a threat to a Hillary campaign in 2016. Secondly, the majority of Republican voters are not on the Tea Party fringes, and moderate Republicans might well be tempted to vote Democrat or simply not vote at all; the former is certainly a possibility if the Clinton campaign presents a more moderately conservative message going into 2016. This is of particular worry for Republicans in swing states and states polling low margins between Hillary and Republican candidates. Of Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, the Republicans will need to take two of the three to stand any chance at the White House. As it stands, they may not take any. Thirdly, the majority of US citizens placed blame for the government shutdown on Congressional Republicans, leading to this Congress sporting an all time low approval rating. Congress began 2014 on just 13% approval rating. Republicans in Congress are not popular, this is damaging to any future President campaign, particularly if the prevailing candidate comes direct from an appalling incompetent Congress. And lastly, the Republicans are going to have to spend a large amount of money defending their lead in states that would normally be solidly Republican. They need to do this, whilst also spending vast sums of money to win swing states like Ohio and states recently lost to Democrats, like Virginia. This is one huge uphill battle for Republicans.

Indeed, the uphill battle is of their own making. The loss of Virginia represents the failing message of a Republican Party being dragged to the fringes of the right wing and failing to modernise. Inevitably, a shift to the fringes presents massive election issues for the GOP. In less than three years, they need to craft an entirely new, modern and inclusive message, an electable platform away from the fringes, improving their image especially with minority groups, and women voters. They also need one candidate to rally behind, and present that new message of inclusivity and modernity. A political party that only appears to represent white, middle aged, heterosexual, Christian, business men driven solely by imagined Benghazi conspiracies, is not an electable party.


Republican hero Ted Nugent in his own words.

February 22, 2014

“If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me!”
– Sarah Palin’s reason for endorsing Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign in Texas.

It’s been a terrible twelve or so months for the Republicans. An objective commentator might point out that the shift too far to the right, or to the left, will always spell trouble for a political party. Most voters are not looking to radically shift the direction of the country to either extreme, and so the more a party appears to offer such a shift, the more voters will turn away. Instead of addressing the issues that Republicans seem to have in connecting with anyone who isn’t a white, middle aged, Christian, heterosexual male, they instead have weirdly chosen to embrace that mentality of exclusivity. An extreme ideological mentality – moulded and set by overly paranoid conspiratorial ‘analysts’ like Limbaugh – that will without doubt see them fall further from electability and harm the party in the long run. Nowhere is this more pronounced than their odious courting and embracing of Ted Nugent by Republican Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign in Texas.

So here is the GOP’s new hero, Ted Nugent, in his own words:

Ted Nugent in 1992 on anyone who wasn’t born in America:

“… Yeah they love me (in Japan) – they’re still assholes. These people they don’t know what life is. I don’t have a following, they need me; they don’t like me they need me … Foreigners are assholes; foreigners are scum; I don’t like ’em; I don’t want ’em in this country; I don’t want ’em selling me doughnuts; I don’t want ’em pumping my gas; I don’t want ’em downwind of my life-OK? So anyhow-and I’m dead serious …”

Ted Nugent on those fighting to break down barriers to gender equality:

“What’s a feminist anyways? A fat pig who doesn’t get it often enough?”

Ted Nugent on the murder of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin:

“Trayvon got justice.”

Ted Nugent’s letter to the girlfriend of a guy he’d met, who wouldn’t let him go hunting:

“I wrote her something and I said ‘Drop dead, bitch’… What good is she, trade her in, get a Dalmatian. Who needs the wench?”

Ted Nugent after explaining how he dodged the Vietnam draft:

“But if I would have gone over there, I’d have been killed, or I’d have killed all the Hippies in the foxholes. I would have killed everybody.”

– Instead, the ‘Patriot’ Ted Nugent worked up a plan to dodge the draft, whilst fellow Americans put their lives on the line.

Ted Nugent on rappers:

“MTV is a liberal lump of hippy snot. They are embarrassing. Those big uneducated greasy black mongrels on there, they call themselves rap artists.”

– Yes. The new hero of one of the two major political parties in the US, referred to people as “uneducated greasy black mongrels”.

Ted Nugent on what constitutes “real” Americans:

“You know what I’m on top of? I’m on top of a real America with working hard, playing hard, white motherfucking shit kickers, who are independent and get up in the morning.”

– In the same interview, and following this quote, when told that African Americans were just as hard working as white Americans, Nugent said:

“Show me one.”

Ted Nugent on President Obama:

“communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel.”

Ted Nugent and Confederacy nostalgia:

“I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”

– The South. You know, the region fighting specifically to uphold the institution of slavery.

Ted Nugent on Hillary Clinton:

“You probably can’t use the term `toxic cunt’ in your magazine, but that’s what she is. Her very existence insults the spirit of individualism in this country. This bitch is nothing but a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.”

Ted Nugent’s violent, misogynistic rant on what he’d like to do with his machine guns and women in politics:

“Hey, Hillary, you might want to ride one of these [machine gun] into the sunset, you worthless bitch. Since I’m in California, how about [Senator] Barbara Boxer [D-CA], she might want to suck on my machine gun. And [Senator] Dianne Feinstein [D-CA], ride one of these you worthless whore. Any questions? ”

Ted Nugent – having exhausted Confederate nostalgia, racism, and misogyny – now turns to repugnant homophobia:

“I got to tell you, guys that have sex with each others’ anals cavities – how can we offend guys that have anal sex?”

Ted Nugent solution to those people crossing the border from Mexico:

“In an unauthorized entry, armed, like they are right now, invading our country, I’d like to shoot them dead.”

Ted Nugent on Hillary Clinton:

“Our politicians check their scrotum in at the door. Even Hillary, but obviously she has spare scrotums.”

After Nugent’s most recent vile Benghazi tantrum, in which he referred to the President as a “chimpanzee” and “subhuman mongrel”, Texas Governor, Republican Rick Perry said that he didn’t take offence at the comment, and:

“That’s Ted Nugent. Anybody that’s offended sorry, but that’s just Ted.”

– A few hours later, it would appear that Perry had a change of heart, when he then told CNN:

“That is not appropriate language to use about the president of the United States.”

– A bit of an odd choice of words. I’d suggest it’s not appropriate language to use about anyone, not just the President. It’s horrendously racist terminology.

The cynic in me might argue that Perry issued this second comment on the controversy, because Nugent’s ‘chimpanzee’ and ‘mongrel’ analogy is incredibly damaging to the Republicans, and to the campaign of Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. It was perhaps Perry’s way of attempting to create distance between the Republican Party, and a horrifyingly racist, misogynist, homophobic, Confederacy sympathiser. Greg Abbott on the other hand, will be continuing to campaign alongside Nugent. It is frightening that in the US, in the 21st Century, Wendy Davis – a great advocate of women’s health rights – will almost certainly be defeated in Texas’s gubernatorial race, by a Republican candidate who has fully embraced a venomous human being like Ted Nugent.

The love affair between Ted Nugent and the GOP, reflects perfectly the hideous direction the Republican Party has taken in recent years. Indeed, Nugent is the personification of the Tea Party influence on the Republican Party; his violent, misogynistic, racist, homophobic rhetoric, subtly masked with conspiratorial (Benghazi) tones as its weak justification, is the very essence of the Tea Party. It is a brand new Republican Party falling over to the political extremes more and more by the day. It is therefore a Republican Party unlikely to win the White House again in a very, very long time.


Meet Joshua Black.

January 21, 2014

Time ago, calling for the murder of the democratically elected head of state was entirely the realm of those on the watch list of intelligence services. The extreme fringes that plagued Kennedy on his trip to Dallas. Apparently that time has passed, and now includes those running for State legislatures.

We are all fully aware that Republicans have been getting progressively violent and irrational with their rhetoric since the President was first elected. From subtle hints at secession, to happily and effortlessly shutting down the government and protesting the shutdown alongside people waving Confederate flags. But yesterday – Martin Luther King Day in the States – Republican candidate for Florida’s 68th district of Florida’s State House, Joshua Black took the violent rhetoric to its natural conclusion when he tweeted this:

joshuablack

– When questioned on Twitter about the implications of what he was actually suggestion, Black responded with a plain as day clarification:

joshuablack2

– Joshua Black – when he isn’t spending his time at church, as his website tells us – is calling for the hanging of the President of the United States. Let that sink in for a second. A candidate for public office in the US, and a member of one of the two major political parties, has just called for the execution via hanging of the President of the United States.

Once the shock of that utterly crazy situation sinks in, examining the rest of his I’m not sure what the reference to Benedict Arnold was. Arnold wasn’t executed after the revolutionary war, and after his defection to the British. Gout ended his life in England years later. So not only is Black calling for the execution of the President, he’s justifying it with completely invented history.

Of course, Black isn’t new to over-the-top statements:

joshuablack4
– This, he posted the same day as his desire to see the President of the United States hanged. In one day, a Republican candidate for office had compared Bill Clinton to Mussolini, and called for the execution of President Obama. But that’s not all:

joshuablack6
– That’s right. Joshua Black compared women who value the right to their own body, as Nazis. Joshua Black – a Republican candidate for public office – has just compared the systematic slaughter of 6,000,000 Jewish people, to a woman’s right to her own body. This is insulting on so many levels, it’s difficult to know where to start. And he’s not finished with the extreme statements yet:

joshuablack5
– Here, it seems that Joshua Black would also abolish the minimum wage, striking a major blow to the most vulnerable people in the country already struggling. But that’s not all!

joshuablack7
– Joshua Black openly insists that those of us who do not believe in a ‘creator’ have no place in public office. He is vehemently anti-secular, a religious supremacist who believes that he has an inherent right to decide who does and doesn’t qualify as ‘fit’ for public office. He therefore does not accept that atheists share the exact same citizenship and legal rights as himself. He echoes numerous state constitutions that seek to prohibit public office for those who do not affirm a belief in some sort of divine dictator. This horrendous tendency toward Theocratic rule and thus, anti-constitutional religious supremacy is prevalent on the Republican and Christian-right. It seeks to completely override the founding enlightenment principle of secular governance. And the picture that he posts to highlight this, is predictably from Freedomworks.

To summarise, Republican candidate for Florida’s 68th District in Florida’s State House, compared Bill Clinton to Mussolini, those who believe in a woman’s right to regulate her own body as Nazis, insists non-believers should not be allowed to run for public office, and called for the execution via hanging of the President of the United States.

If ever one candidate embodied everything that has gone horribly wrong with the Republicans in the 21st century… it’s Joshua Black.

Provocative and extreme anti-Obama statements, and comparisons to dictators of old, made by those like Joshua Black have been growing horrifically for the past several years. When given credit by candidates to public office, they add fuel to the fire of violent far-right sentiment that sweeps the US. It is viciously dangerous rhetoric. Joshua Black – considered and endorsed by the Republican Party – as a serious candidate for public office, is the natural product of the past five years of the Republican Party moving further to the right with increased vitriol and the fact that the Republican Party has not ended its association with Black speaks volumes about the sinister and dangerous direction that particular Party has taken.

With Florida’s 68th incumbent Dwight Dudley (D) narrowly winning the seat in 2012, it must be said that for the safety of the President, and many many other people, I would hope residents of Florida’s 68th do not elect extremists like Joshua Black to any position of public power.

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The United States House of Wall Street.

November 25, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Andrés Nieto Porras.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Andrés Nieto Porras.

An interesting vote took place in the House of Representatives at the beginning of this month. A vote completely overshadowed by constant Republican tantrums over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. A vote that has potentially serious consequences in the future.

The Wall Street Reform Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank) included Section 716, which ensured that banks insured Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, move their ‘swaps’ (a certain derivative) into non-bank arms of the business that aren’t insured by FDIC; not eligible for bail out funds. It ensured protection for the consumer’s savings, and ensured protection for the taxpayer, by enforcing banks to place their more risky derivative deals outside of the realm of Federal assistance.

At the end of October 2013, House Resolution 992 passed the House by 292 votes to 122. The Bill – H.R.992 – or The “Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act” – severely limits the reach of Section 716 of Dodd-Frank, ultimately striking down a key regulation that Dodd-Frank implemented back in 2010. The implication, simply put, is that incredibly risky Wall Street behaviour surrounding the dealing of derivatives could be backed by a taxpayer funded bailout – for exchanges that are not at all related to banking – if it all goes wrong again.

Despite the Treasury raising concerns about striking down such an important provision, the House – including many Democrats – voted to pass H.R.922. But why? What is the motivation? Well, one only has to look at the lobbying on this Bill to understand just how this may have come about.

Contributions to House members from interests groups who expressively support H.R.992 are rather eye watering. On the list of top contributions to House Members, Jim Himes (D-CT4) – a co-sponsor of the Bill – received $437,179 from special interests in favour. More than any other Democrat in the House. The second ranking figure in the Democrat House Leadership chain of command, Steny Hoyer (D-MD5) received $266,510 from Wall Street supporters of the Bill. The most expensive ‘Yes’ vote for Wall Street comes to us via Eric Cantor (R-VA7), who received $525,400. The main sponsor of the Bill Randy Hultgren (R-Ill) received more contributions from the Securities and Investment industry than any other industry, at $136,500.

In all, special interests supporting H.R.992 contributed 5.9 times more to House members than those groups that opposed it. Wall Street has been staggeringly influential in ensuring regulations from 2010 are struck down. Citigroup were among the contributors. Citigroup also wrote ‘recommendations’ that appeared to be reflected almost word for word in the final draft of H.R.992. The Citigroup recommendations reads:

(d) Only bona fide hedging and traditional bank activities permitted. The prohibition in subsection (a) shall apply to any covered depository institution unless the covered depository institution limits its swap or security based swap activities to:
(1) Hedging and other similar risk mitigating activities directly related to the covered depository institution’s activities.
(2) Acting as a swaps entity for swaps or security-based swaps that are structured finance swaps, unless–
(i) such structured finance swap is undertaken for hedging or risk management purposes; or
(ii) each asset-backed security underlying such structured finance is of a credit quality and of a type or category with respect to which the prudential regulators have jointly adopted rules authorizing swap or security-based swap activity by covered depository institutions.

– Unsurprisingly, given just how much money Wall Street has spent buying its Congressional support for the Bill, H.R.992 reads:

(A) Hedging and other similar risk mitigation activities.
Hedging and other similar risk mitigating activities directly related to the covered depository institution’s activities.
(B) Non-structured finance swap activities.–
Acting as a swaps entity for swaps or security-based swaps other than a structured finance swap.
(C) Certain structured finance swap activities.
Acting as a swaps entity for swaps or security-based swaps that are structured finance swaps, if–
(i) such structured finance swaps are undertaken for hedging or risk management purposes; or
(ii) each asset-backed security underlying such structured finance swaps is of a credit quality and of a type or category with respect to which the prudential regulators have jointly adopted rules authorizing swap or security-based swap activity by covered depository institutions.

– Practically word for word. In fact, according to the New York Times, 70 of the 85 lines in the Bill were penned by Citigroup. A Bill that deregulates the risky aspects of the financial industry – and spreads the risk of failure and the obscene costs of such, to the taxpayer if it all collapses again – was written by the financial industry. Welcome to the House of Wall Street.

The Bill passed the House, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs at the end of October. It is unlikely to pass the Senate, though if somehow it does, it is unlikely to be signed by the President. The White House has already registered its opposition to the Bill, though stopping short of threatening a veto. It might be worth noting that Jack Lew – current Treasury Secretary – worked as Citigroup’s Chief Operating Officer between 2006 and 2008, overseeing the Alternative Investments unit that invested in a hedge fund that had bet on the housing market to collapse.

The US is still recovering from the destruction wrought by, among others; Citigroup. In 2013, Citigroup and Wall Street have successfully managed to lobby Congress into ensuring that incredibly risky derivatives deals – that helped to cause the problems in the first place – are now fully exposed to a risk of a future bailout. This, despite the Federal Reserve reporting in 2012 that Citigroup was one of four financial institutions to fail its ‘stress test’; a test of the institutions ability to withstand another crisis like that of 2008. Also in 2012, Citigroup had to settle an investor lawsuit for $25,000,000 for allegedly misleading investors over the nature of its mortgage-backed securities. Why on earth is this institution allowed anywhere near the strings of government, to shape policy that has such far reaching implications?

Under such circumstances, Citigroup’s lobbyists must be in for a huge Christmas bonus. They’ve certainly earned it.


The Throne of King Cantor: How House Republicans changed the rules.

October 11, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Mjw23.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Mjw23.

It seems democracy isn’t an obstacle, the Constitution isn’t an obstacle, the judiciary isn’t an obstacle, and now House rules aren’t an obstacle to the Tea Party juggernaut steaming its way across the American political landscape, flattening everything its path.

As we’re all aware, the Bill for a Continuing Resolution complete with defunding Obamacare attached to it passed the House, and was subsequently rejected by the Senate, thus ending up back at the House on the evening of September 30th. At this point, under House procedures, any member of the House can bring forward a vote on the Senate’s amended Bill in order to end the impasse:

“When the stage of disagreement has been reached on a bill or resolution with House or Senate amendments, a motion to dispose of any amendment shall be privileged.”

– This exists to prevent the minority extorting the majority with threat of shutdown, for policy they weren’t able to achieve through regular democratic process.

But that rule was soon to change. Late on September 30th – with only two hours remaining until the government shut down began – an Amendment was quickly passed – H.J. Res. 59: Continuing Appropriations Resolution – by House Republicans, to the procedural rules of the House. The Amendment ensures:

“Section 2 of the rule provides that any motion pursuant to clause 4 of rule XXII relating to H.J. Res. 59 may be offered only by the majority Leader or his designee.”

– Meaning that the only person who can now bring a vote to the House floor on a clean resolution during an impasse in Congress, is Eric Cantor. Eric Cantor has assumed powers traditionally assigned to all members of the House. They have all lost a right that has guaranteed to them, and transferred to the Republican Minority Leader. This not only disenfranchises House Democrats, it does so for moderate House Republicans too. It is as if Tea Party House Republicans have voted to bestow ’emergency’ powers on the Majority leader, to ensure continued shutdown.

When pressed on this in the House by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD 8th District), the Speaker pro tempore didn’t seem to want to answer:

Van Hollen: “Mr. Speaker, under the regular order of the House, would any Member of the House, including myself, be able to call up a motion to immediately send the CR to fund the government to the President of the United States, to immediately call up and have a vote on that?”
Speaker: “The Chair will not respond to a hypothetical.”

Van Hollen: “Mr. Speaker, the rule that has now been placed over the House in substitute for the standing rules of the House gives only the majority leader or his designee the ability to move up and ask for a vote on the clean Senate bill that would go to the White House; is that correct?
Speaker: “The Chair will not respond to a political characterization and will state again: Under section 2 of House Resolution 368, that motion may be offered only by the majority leader or his designee.”

Van Hollen: “Mr. Speaker, it seems pretty clear that we have taken the normal rules of the House, Mr. Speaker, and substitute in its place a provision that says, ‘only the Republican leader can make a decision’…”
Speaker: “The gentleman has not stated a proper parliamentary inquiry.”

– Van Hollen is quite right, House Republicans have wilfully rigged House rules to prevent anyone from opening the government, other than the Majority Leader. House Republicans have vested more power over the running of the US Government in Eric Cantor, than the President, the public, the entire legislature, and the judiciary.

So, since 2010 Republicans have been beating the drum of shutdown to win major policy concessions that they were not able to win electorally. Since early 2013 at the very least, a memo circulates from Freedom Works, signed by major Tea Party donors that reads:

“Conservatives should not approve a CR unless it defunds Obamacare. This includes Obamacare’s unworkable exchanges, unsustainable Medicaid expansion, and attack on life and religious liberty.”

– And when that plot was doomed to fail due to the lack of moderate Republican support in the House for such a dangerous tactic, the extreme wing of the Republican Party resorted to changing the rules of the democracy that they live, in order to force a shutdown that would have been prevented under regular House rules.

It is quite horrifying the lengths the far right of the Republican Party are willing to go to circumvent the democratic process when it provides results that they don’t like. For Republicans, the American people, the ballot box, and the law of the land, are simply obstacles that the Elephant has every right to trample.