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Aug 2012 22

by Steven Whitney

We’ve all had the same frustrating experience – something goes wrong or breaks. We don’t have the skill set or time to address it, but fortunately a self-described “expert” rushes in, promising to save the day…and every single thing he or she does only deepens the problem, making it actually worse than if nothing at all had been done.

By every conceivable measure, the present – and 112th – Congress is the worst in our nation’s history. Worse in every aspect than the 80th Congress of 1947-1948, heretofore considered the worst by historians and Washingtonians, and so bad it was labeled the “Do-Nothing” Congress, first by President Harry Truman, and then by the public at large.

That 80th Congress passed just over 900 bills into law during its two year session – split about evenly, 454 in 1947 and 449 in 1948. For that dismal showing, more incumbents were defeated in the 1948 election than ever before in our history.

While I’m aware that statistics are not fun – except for baseball fans – fair-minded voters need to know the truth. Concerned citizens can’t just make things up (well, actually, they apparently can – Republicans have been doing it for decades, but then I wouldn’t describe them as “concerned”). So here are some facts.

By comparison, our broken 112th Congress passed just 81 bills in 2011. Of that total, ten – Public Laws 112-15, 112-22, 112-23, 112-38, 112-39, 112-47, 112-48, 112-49, 112-50, and 112-60 – merely named or renamed different Postal Service facilities, usually in honor of a fallen veteran, police officer, or firefighter. Three more – 112-12, 112-19, and 112-20 – “provided appointment” of three separate Citizen Regents to the Smithsonian. Another two bills – 112-2 and 112-31 – named one courthouse each in Arizona and Missouri. A couple of other flaky bills were done – 112-65 changed an eligibility standard for the Blue Star Mothers of America, and 112-66 made a “minor” wording change to the charter of the American Legion.

These are 20 of the 81 bills passed in 2011 – nearly 25% – leaving only 61 actual bills that could be judged the legitimate business of Congress. And those 61 bills represent only 13% of the number of laws passed by the infamous “Do-Nothing” Congress in its first year.

But the 112th wasn’t through. This year they’ve done even less while embarrassing themselves even more, with only 57 bills passed by the summer recess at the end of June. Of those, 19 bills approved, as in the previous year, the naming of post offices and courthouses. Another 2 approved “minor” word changes in previous bills. Leaving only 36 bills of any substance whatsoever passed into law so far this year – compared to 449 passed in 1948 by the “Do-Nothing” Congress.

In its second year, the 112th Congress has accomplished only 8% of what the previous “worst Congress in history” accomplished. So an immediate question arises: what does this Congress do when they aren’t certifying names for post offices and courthouses?

Democrats have proposed both large and small bills that would reduce income tax for Americans making less than $250,000 per year, provide quality health care for millions, give financial assistance to unemployed workers, mandate help for families with underwater mortgages, and scores of acts that would provide incentives to businesses to hire workers. All of these have been blocked by Republicans of the 112th using filibusters and/or clotures. Not just one or two or nine – they blocked all of them. Especially appalling was the day every single Republican Senator sided with a filibuster blocking the American Jobs Act from even coming to a vote on the floor.

But to show their hearts are in the right place, Republicans did introduce 467 bills investigating Democrats in various government offices – without finding even one instance of criminal malfeasance. They also proffered 36 anti-gay marriage bills, 46 bills to ban abortions and limit women’s health care options, 113 bills on religion (anti-Muslim and/or pro-Christian), 73 bills concerning family relationships, and 604 bills aimed at giving corporations and the upper 2% even more tax breaks at the expense of the poor and middle-class. And they teamed up with the National Rifle Association to present 72 bills making firearms more accessible to everyone, legislation that might not gain much traction in Aurora, Colorado and the Sikh community of Milwaukee. To top it all off, Republicans introduced 33 bills aimed at repealing the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, which they quickly dubbed Obamacare because they didn’t want folks to hear the phrases “affordable care” and “patient protection,” two aspects of the health care industry that have been sorely lacking the last decade.

Do the math. As Republicans wasted everyone’s time with bogus “social engineering” proposals, our 112th Congress passed only 97 bills of real legislation in two years – compared to 903 passed by the 80th Congress, slightly less than 11% of its most indolent predecessor.

So if the 80th was “Do-Nothing” and the worst Congress in history, what does that make the 112th?

At least the 80th Congress did not block everything the Democrats proposed – just the bigger issues. When it came to matters of running the government – like the 1947 debt ceiling – everyone on both sides of the aisle was on the same page. Back then, while Republicans were still fierce opponents of Democrats, they were not ready to sacrifice either the good of the American people or the machinery of government itself merely to gain the approval of the extreme right-wing of their party.

Meanwhile, the 112th is actively laying waste to our country just to toe the party line and win the next election – what’s good for their country does not even merit a moment of their thoughts. Their intentions are even worse than their abysmal record, confirming in every way possible that they are far worse than nothing.

This is not a wonky toaster we’re talking about, it’s our country – or what’s left of it. So who should we hold responsible?

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein are perhaps the two most respected chroniclers of all things Washington for the last 30 years. Because of his association with the Brookings Institute, Mann is viewed as center-left; Ornstein’s years with the American Enterprise Institute place him center right. Whenever the two men collaborated in the past, D.C. insiders listened carefully, and often made their “suggested” adjustments. But nobody on the right is listening to reason anymore.

Mann and Ornstein’s new book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, unequivocally states: “…we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of (Washington’s) problem lies with the Republican Party.” Over the course of the book’s 200+ pages, the authors list many well-documented reasons why the title is justified: “the appalling spectacle of hostage taking” during last year’s budget crises, when Republicans put “political expedience above the national interest,” resulting in a downgrade of America’s credit rating; the abuse by Republicans of Senate filibusters and anonymous “holds” on nominations and legislation “merely to thwart majority rule;” the GOP resembling “an apocalyptic cult run by zealots and intellectual dead-enders;” Republicans telling lies on the floors of Congress “without censure,” and…the list goes on. At the end, Mann and Ornstein summarize today’s Republican Party as “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of its political opposition.”

The public apparently agrees. The approval rating for our esteemed 112th is hovering just around 10% – the worst ever recorded. 30 points lower than the IRS, 14 points lower than Nixon at the height of Watergate, and 6 points lower than BP at the high-water mark of their Gulf Oil Spill. And yet, if historical voting patterns hold true, 85 to 95% of these reprobates will get re-elected, simply because they are incumbents.

That says more about us than them. As much as we justly complain about the quality of our Congress, if we keep re-electing the Representatives and Senators who make governance impossible, doesn’t that make us the worst voters ever?

Even worse than nothing?

Related Posts:
Forget The Barbeque On Labor Day – It’s Time To Take Care Of Business
Chicken Shits: The Slippery Slopes of Chick-fil-A
The Vagina Solution
Fighting Back Part 4: The Big Liar, Intimidation And Revenge
Fighting Back Part 3: Fighting Fire With Fire
When The Past Is Prologue
Fighting Back Part 2: Defining Rovian Politics
Fighting Back
The Electoral Scam
Being Fair
Occupy Reality
Giving. . . And Taking Back
A Tale Of Two Grovers
A Last Pitch For Truth
America: Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.
Gotcha!

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Aug 2012 15

by Steven Whitney

All of us take too many things for granted, the rights and rewards we enjoy for which others greatly sacrificed and often even died. On Memorial Day we do reverently honor our fallen, and we still wildly celebrate our nation’s birth on July 4th…but Labor Day, once a holiday that truly paid tribute to workers, has become just a three day weekend of boating, beaches, and barbeque, with nary a thought of the valiant, against-all-odds struggle of both individual and organized labor. These days it should probably be called a Bank Holiday, like in England, because the financial sector has had a great three decades at the expense of labor.

Long forgotten are the inhumane working conditions of the past – sweat shops, child labor, company towns, workplaces incubating extreme physical danger and biological disease, unbearably long hours for barely sustainable wages, and so much more. The many thousands of lives lost in union struggles over the past 200 years have faded in our memory like a sunset disappearing over a lost horizon.

In 1806, the Philadelphia Journeymen Cordwainers union went on strike for higher wages. These already poor shoemakers were bankrupted and convicted on charges of criminal conspiracy, setting a precedent of conservative governments combatting labor from that very first U.S. strike to the present.

Over the next century, the battles between owners and workers – let’s say the 5% against the 95% – were constant and bloody, with state militias, our national Army, city police forces, and hired goons all ganging up to inflict pain and punishment on workers. Men, women, and children alike were beaten, shot (sometimes mowed down by new-fangled machine guns), hanged, executed, imprisoned, and deported. The workers themselves – whether they were miners, carpenters, railway hands, dressmakers, auto or steel workers, skilled or unskilled – were branded as organizers, anarchists, socialists, and communists…all because they wanted a living wage and a better life.

In 1911, seamstresses – women and young girls – at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company threatened a strike for higher wages. Within a few days, their workplace – the top three floors of a ten-story building – was consumed by fire. 147 died – many by jumping out the windows, others burned or were trampled to death as they tried to escape through exits that had been locked. Two weeks later, the company owners were indicted not for murder, but manslaughter.

By the 1920s – an era of unchecked conservative policies advocating deregulation and a pro-business agenda – the U.S. Bureau of Investigation, the forerunner of the FBI, created a strike force called Palmer’s Raiders whose mission was to crush unions and workers under the guise of anti-communism. The violence and injustices visited upon workers was unprecedented, even when measured against the worst bloodbaths in labor’s history – the Haymarket Riot, the Tompkins Square Riot, the Bay View Massacre, the Thibodaux Massacre, the Ludlow Massacre, and literally hundreds more battlegrounds. The Republican congress even passed laws totally abolishing the right of workers to strike, assemble, bargain collectively, and picket.

It took the Great Depression and a Democratic congress to right the ship of state – and the state of unions in America. Early on, FDR recognized the role of labor in revitalizing a financially bankrupt economy when he said:

“It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic nation that it have free and independent labor unions.”

A mere two months after taking office in 1933, FDR passed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which not only restored all the rights denied them by Republicans, but also contained provisions like minimum wage and maximum hours. Since that time historians have isolated its most important passage:

“Employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and shall be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers.”

By empowering workers, America arose from the ashes of the Depression, our country’s infrastructure was built from the ground up, a World War was won, and the largest and most stable middle-class in the world was created. FDR’s pro-labor programs ended the Republican era of plutocratic “job creators,” trickle-down bubble economies, and in 1934 American voters gave Democrats the largest majority either party had (and has) ever held in Congress – 322 Democrats to 103 Republicans – leading to the Fair Labor Standards Act and the greatest period of wealth and job creation, productivity, prosperity, and income equality any nation has ever known.

Today, with the sweatshops and child labor camps gone, we all enjoy the fruits of the labor movement’s long struggle – the 8-hour workday and 5-day week, equal pay for equal work, 2 weeks’ vacation, sick days, higher wages, safe and regulated working environments, health care, collective bargaining, the rights of petition and assembly, worker’s compensation, non-discriminatory employment practices, laws protecting whistleblowers, pension and retirement funds, and, of course, the Family and Medical Leave Act, passed by Clinton’s Democratic congress in 1993. Labor was behind it all – and even aggressively backed Martin Luther King Jr.’s crusade for Equal Rights.

Predictably, starting when Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981, Republicans have consistently tried to turn back every one of those hard-won benefits. In this year’s GOP primaries, a return to child labor was even floated as a viable solution to the economic disaster caused by Bush-Cheney / Republican economic policies. For the last 30 years, the GOP has hacked away at labor and unions. Because of that, wages of American workers now make up the lowest percentage of GDP since 1947, even as corporate profits are the highest in 40 years. That obscene inequality is not a coincidence – it is the priority of the modern Republican party, this year led by Romney and the despicable hypocrisy of Paul Ryan.

So if we are to rebuild a strong Middle Class and keep America a land “of, by, and for the people” – if we are to avoid a dystopian Blade Runneresque future – we must continually recognize the importance of labor’s contribution to the growth and strength of our nation. Most of us – probably 95% or more – are, or came from, the working class, and now is not the time to lose sight of our heritage. Instead, we must pick up the cudgel of those who came before us. Too many of our ancestors actually died – sacrificed their very lives – to give us and not our wealthy overlords the power to determine our own destinies.

This Labor Day, September 3rd, instead of the all-day backyard barbeque, let’s take a few hours to mobilize our faith in ourselves and in the founding principles of our nation by hitting the streets once again to honor and support America’s two greatest assets – the worker and the Middle Class. They are one and the same.

Related Posts:
Chicken Shits: The Slippery Slopes of Chick-fil-A
The Vagina Solution
Fighting Back Part 4: The Big Liar, Intimidation And Revenge
Fighting Back Part 3: Fighting Fire With Fire
When The Past Is Prologue
Fighting Back Part 2: Defining Rovian Politics
Fighting Back
The Electoral Scam
Being Fair
Occupy Reality
Giving. . . And Taking Back
A Tale Of Two Grovers
A Last Pitch For Truth
America: Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.
Gotcha!

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Aug 2012 09

by Lee Camp

We already treat war like it’s some kind of game without real world consequences. So why not take it that next step? Introducing “War: The Gameshow!” If you’re the last to die, you win a camouflage Snuggie! Hosted by funnyman Howie Mandel!

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Aug 2012 08

by Steven Whitney

During the past week, Republicans have fervently fanned the flames of our ongoing culture wars in order to distract, deflect, divide, and conquer. And, once again, it’s just in time to muddy the minds of an already half-hapless electorate just prior to a national election.

This time the battleground is Chick-fil-A – a chicken joint started in 1946, a time when taxes were high and small business start-ups flourished across the country. A few weeks ago, its President, Dan Cathy, publicly supported “the biblical definition of the family unit” and warned ominously that supporting same-sex marriage invites “God’s judgment on our nation.”

While I myself believe God looks very favorably on any marriage and family built on love and devotion, Mr. Cathy seems to think we’re in store for an apocalyptic display of His considerable wrath, not unlike Pat Robertson implying that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for legalized abortion.

Cathy’s comments caused a backlash among fair-minded consumers, which then created predictable blowback from the Religious Right. A successful “Kiss-In” was held by GLBT organizers while Mike Huckabee orchestrated an equally successful “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” in response.

In a curious instance of parallel opposites, the last time fast food servers were in a big-time Human Rights skirmish was in 1960, when four young Black students began a sit-in at the local Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, spurring a nationwide challenge to racial inequality in the South. So a question must be asked: if he could fly back in time, would Mr. Huckabee have organized a “Segregated Lunch Counter Appreciation Day?”

At this point everyone on both sides has acted within the rights granted them by the First Amendment. And while some observers may seethe, as a nation we will stand tall or fall mightily on our protection and preservation of these primary rights.

Yet the most legally and morally troubling aspect of this brouhaha comes from two surprising sources: a handful of the nation’s mayors and The Huffington Post.

The only limitation in the First Amendment is that the government – local, state, or national – cannot restrict any of the rights granted within it.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

But as if on cue, just when a small Chick-fil-A crisis was about to pass almost unnoticed into history, mayors from Boston, Chicago, D.C., San Francisco, and other cities shoved it into the spotlight by grandstanding pro-GLBT platforms and actually threatening the chicken franchise with bans of various sorts. While politicos generally pander to the electorate, this time they made things worse, not only by igniting a firestorm, but by changing the conversation. Now, instead of having to defend the indefensible – homophobia – Chick-fil-A has been pushed into the more just position of defending its First Amendment rights. From the big bully on the block, the mayors transformed both Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A into martyrs to the cause of “traditional” marriage – hence, the veritable firestorm.

Rather than abuse political pressure, the mayors would be better advised to launch municipal investigations to determine if Chick-fil-A practices discrimination in hiring or any other areas of its business…and to advocate for legislation favoring all human rights, including passage of Gay Marriage acts. That is a legitimate use of political power. Remember, everything has a flip side – if government can punish a chicken joint for speaking out today, it can punish you for expressing opposite opinions tomorrow. That is why the First Amendment is inviolate.

The second troubling aspect of this ruckus was Noah Michelson’s misguided piece in The Huffington Post, one of our most influential political website. If he was just an independent blogger, I’d pass on commenting, but Mr. Michelson is listed as the editor of their Gay Voices section, so when he’s wrong, a lot of readers walk away misinformed.

In his article, Mr. Michelson states that Chick-fil-A‘s stance is not a First Amendment issue because it makes a lot of money and then donates millions to anti-gay causes. But I would imagine that Mr. Michelson also donates money he makes from his employment to pro-GLBT advocacy groups…and that is his right, just as it is the right of a private business and those who work for it to donate a portion of their earnings to charitable or political causes they believe in, as wrong-headed as they may be.

Secondly, Mr. Michelson more or less makes the ages-old argument that Chick-fil-A’s speech is too terrible to be protected. In support of that, he urges readers to link to selected sites, gaze at photos of beaten and murdered GLBTs, and read the tragic stories that accompany them. While only sociopaths could not be saddened and outraged by his examples, he’s still dead wrong, understandably reacting only with his emotions. (In trials of heinous crimes, certain photos are deemed inadmissible because of the inherently prejudicial nature they would provoke on jurors’ emotions.)

Mr. Michelson states that he is “in love with the First Amendment.” But it’s a dubious claim from someone who obviously does not fully understand it.

Freedom of speech – indeed, the entire First Amendment – applies equally to the best, most moral people and the worst, most indecent racist, homophobic, pedophiliac motherfuckers under American jurisdiction.

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), as odious a group that has ever existed, marched 50,000 hooded members down Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation’s capital, protected by the First Amendment. Their supporters donated money to their evil brotherhood and the stories and photos of their torture, lynchings, and murders would turn the stomach of Hannibal Lechter.

An offshoot of George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi movement planned a parade in Skokie, Illinois, home to a large community of Holocaust survivors. Yes, there was outrage – the reports and photos of the murder of six million were almost incomprehensible – but, as documented in When the Nazis Came to Skokie, the swastika-bearing marchers won support from the ACLU, the Supreme Court (citing First Amendment rights), and, surprisingly, leaders of Skokie’s Jewish community. Apparently, refugees from a totalitarian state knew more than anyone the importance of free speech.

If any group’s speech was ever too terrible to be considered free, I’d put the KKK and Nazi-wannabes at the top of the list. And yet, they still held that right because they were Americans, and in America we let everyone have their say and hope that facts, common sense, and decency prevails – that is who we are, or at least who we are supposed to be, as a nation. Rightly or wrongly, a democracy ultimately believes in its people.

Journalists who make a difference are those who act, not whine or threaten to jump out of the window if they hear one more reference to their opponent’s rights. Especially when bullies, cowards – and, in this case, chicken shits – hide behind a First Amendment cloak. Over the last thirty years, the GLBT movement has engineered the smartest, most admirable and effective campaign for human rights anywhere in the world. They did it by being aggressive – by showing solidarity in boycotts and expressing their First Amendment rights to protest through outrage and ridicule – not by crying when somebody said bad things about them. Gay Pride was and is pure genius and its effect has been positively felt in every part of the globe. Yes, there are still many battles to win, but if any group can truly overcome, I’d bet on the GLBTs. And I’d also wager they’ll do it without impeding the rights of those who are hell-bent on denying theirs.

Related Posts:
The Vagina Solution
Fighting Back Part 4: The Big Liar, Intimidation And Revenge
Fighting Back Part 3: Fighting Fire With Fire
When The Past Is Prologue
Fighting Back Part 2: Defining Rovian Politics
Fighting Back
The Electoral Scam
Being Fair
Occupy Reality
Giving. . . And Taking Back
A Tale Of Two Grovers
A Last Pitch For Truth
America: Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.
Gotcha!

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Aug 2012 07

by Lee Camp

It all seems to be coming together into one. 90% of our media is owned by only six corporations. Every movie is about a super hero, and we act like the President is the only lawmaker who matters. How much further can things condense? Are we headed towards a cultural singularity? An end point?

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