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House Committee: No Benghazi Scandal

7:49 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by Walter Brasch

 

The House Select Committee on Intelligence, following almost a two-year intense investigation, unanimously determined there is no basis for what has become known as the Benghazi Scandal.
GOP Bad Medicine Show
The Committee consists of 12 Republicans and 9 Democrats.

The pretend-scandal began Sept. 11, 2012, when terrorists raided the U.S. consulate, and killed the ambassador and three others.

Although there was confusion, and the Obama administration didn’t have all the facts when it began to inform the American people about the events and the causes, there was no evidence of anything even remotely linked to a scandal. However, as expected, the blathering mouths of the Extreme Right Wing media pundits and politicians, and those who blindly parrot their “talking points” in bars, on front porches, and hunting lodges, kept caterwauling about scandal.

Among the findings of the House Committee, all of which conflict with the manufactured propaganda by the Extreme Right Wing:

–There was no stand-down order given to any personnel–military or civilian–who tried to assist. This information is consistent with testimony provided to the House Armed Services Committee.  In contrast, immediate response by the United States prevented additional injuries and deaths.

–Although Intelligence agencies were warned about a possible threat, there was no advance knowledge of what was planned.

– The Extreme Right Wing attacked Ambassador Susan Rice for her initial reports, possibly worried that President Obama would nominate her to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was planning to leave the Administration after more than four years.

Although there was a lack of coordination between the intelligence community, the Department of Defense, and the White House, the Obama Administration did not deliberately mislead the American people. Committee Member Adam Schiff said evidence suggests, “The initial talking points provided by the Intelligence Community were flawed because of conflicting assessments, not an intention to deceive.” As new information became available, the Administration informed the people.

–All activities by the CIA were legal and authorized.

–There was no illegal activity or illegal arms trading that allowed any weapons provided by the U.S. to get into the hands of the terrorists.

Now, here is also what is known.

–In contrast to Extreme Right Wing allegations that the Obama Administration has done nothing to find those who killed the four Americans, the person believed to have been the leader of the attacks, Ahmed Abu Khattalah, is in federal custody, awaiting trial. The United States has identified and is conducting operations to bring other terrorists to trial.

–Ambassador Christopher Stevens five months before the attack had requested additional military security. However, his request was denied. The reason? The Republican-led obstructionist Congress had earlier refused to fund additional personnel and budget for embassy and consulate security.

–During the George W. Bush administration, terrorists killed 60 personnel in 10 separate attacks at U.S. consulates and embassies. There were no outraged Republicans.

Within a week of the seventh anniversary of 9/11, terrorists killed 16 at the U.S. embassy in Yemen. Americans grieved but did not launch a barrage of lies and half-truths, nor try to politicize the deaths of the 60 Americans.

–The Extreme Right Wing, apparently worried that Hillary Clinton would become the leading candidate for president, has willfully and maliciously attacked her leadership during this crisis, hoping to tarnish her reputation and reduce the possibility she will become the nation’s first female president.

Given the reality that a thorough investigation by a Republican-led House committee shows there is no scandal, you’d expect the rest of the House to drop its $3.3 million investigation that they increased for political purposes months before the November mid-term elections.

You’d also expect Fox News empty heads who have been screeching “scandal!” almost 24/7 for two years to either admit they were wrong or to just shut up.

You’d expect that. But, you won’t get it in an atmosphere fueled by hate and prejudice.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and author of 20 books. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the health, environmental, economic, and political issues of horizontal fracturing .]
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AIDS Advances May Be Compromised by Legislative Inaction

9:34 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

by Walter Brasch

 

AIDS Life Cycle

Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia may have found an entry-way to the cure for AIDS.

Once the HIV virus enters the body it can lie dormant for years. It can also evolve into AIDS.  But, until now, it could never be removed.

It’s far too early to claim an AIDS cure—there still has to be several years of clinical trials— but this may be as close to a solution as scientists have come.

There can be a lot of politics in medical science, but the researchers at least have the wisdom to know they must work together and focus upon the people not the politics.

Even if there is a cure for AIDS, even if there are significant advances in the treatment and cure of other communicable diseases, it may not mean much if patients can’t get the medical treatment they need because obstructionists are doing their best to separate the people from the solution.

Two hours west of Philadelphia is Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capital. This is where Gov. Tom Corbett and his well-oiled legislature shut down 15 of 60 public health clinics, have plans to shut down nine more to “save” about $3 million a year, and laid off 73 nurses and support staff. In July, the state Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction to prevent the state from shutting down more health clinics, and is reviewing a petition to force the administration to reopen the other clinics. Under the Corbett administration, Pennsylvania ranks 43rd of 50 states in per capita public health spending, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The governor also vetoed a budget item to spend $2 million a year from tax revenue generated by oil and gas companies to do research about the effects of fracking upon the people’s health, to provide health care information, to treat those who may have been affected by air and water pollution from fracking, and to establish a health care registry that would help identify problems. But he was more than willing to give all kinds of tax breaks to oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, a foreign corporation, which he handed a $1.7 billion tax credit. If the state taxed gas extraction companies at a rate at least that of other states, there would be at least another $500 million a year that could be used to help protect the people’s health and their environment.

More than 50 times, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has tried to wipe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) off the books. This quixotic mission will continue to fail for two reasons. First, the Supreme Court of the United States, which has a majority of conservatives, ruled the Act is constitutional. Second, all evidence shows the Act has led to better health care and at least 2.3 million Americans covered who couldn’t get insurance prior to the passage of the ACA. More than eight million Americans have already signed up for ACA coverage, and are now receiving better health care at lower insurance rates. Further, because of the ACA, more than 5.5 million senior citizens and disabled have saved about $4.5 billion on prescription drugs in the past three years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Fourteen “red” states have chosen not to be a part of the ACA, their legislatures adamantly refusing to agree to anything that President Obama has proposed, even if it means the people suffer. The impartial Rand Corp. estimates these states will spend about $1 billion more taxpayer funds than if they expanded Medicaid under ACA provisions. Because of their refusal to agree to the ACA, almost four million residents of their states will continue to be uninsured, forcing the state and hospitals to pay for emergency medical care for low-income individuals. (In Pennsylvania, with a Republican governor and legislature, if the state agreed to implement the ACA, the savings would be about $600 million the first year.) However, the rabid Right Wing has continued to sling a barrage of lies and half-truths, usually picked up, channeled, and reported by the mass media. The time and money devoted to this political gesturing by Right Wing politicians could better be spent on funding research to find cures for Ebola, multiple sclerosis, numerous forms of cancers, and dozens of other life-threatening diseases.

This is the same Congress that had blocked funding to improve the VA system, while spending $3 million this year alone to investigate what they have created as the Benghazi Scandal. It’s already been investigated and re-investigated. Senior military commanders and impartial diplomats have already told the truth, but the House still wants to throw out its chest and throw a junior-high tantrum. Think of what that $3 million can do to help the nation’s homeless, about one-fourth of them veterans.

Members of Congress believe they have to travel all over the world on what they call “fact-finding tours.” These tours often find facts in tropical island nations.  And now, thanks to a decision by the apparently misnamed House Ethics Committee, members of Congress don’t even have to report if their trips were funded by lobbyists. Think of what several million more dollars can do to help improve the health of the impoverished rather than help members of Congress get sun tans.

It’s just politics. But, how many more will suffer and die from our misguided priorities.

Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, economic, and political effects from fracking.] Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Delayed Deliveries Are Not a Crisis

9:26 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

It’s been about two weeks since the news media began smothering the nation with stories about UPS and FedEx delivering packages late during the holiday season.

A short shopping season of less than 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, combined with extraordinary numbers of deliveries and extreme weather problems caused thousands of packages not to be delivered by Christmas. For some media, this was the top story.

FedEx says it delivered more than 275 million packages in that one month period. UPS doesn’t say how many it delivered or how many were late. But it does say that if customers sent their packages by ground and hoped they would arrive by Christmas, the cut-off date was December 11. For air service, UPS temporarily added 29 planes to its fleet.

Understandably, there are several hundred thousand senders and receivers who are unhappy their packages were not delivered by Christmas. However, people got their gifts, even if a day or two late.

It doesn’t require myriad news stories, many of which led the nation’s TV news. It doesn’t require a U.S. senator to be indignant and demand that UPS and FedEx refund all costs for all packages.

A crisis is that more than 125,000 people in Michigan, New England, and parts of Canada suffered more than a week without electricity after a major storm took down power lines. Electric company employees, emergency management staffs, the Red Cross and other social service agencies worked with little sleep to help the people. A second storm this past weekend added to the myriad problems.

A crisis is that 25 have already died from effects of the storm.

A crisis is that more than a million are homeless, many of whom are still on the streets in bitter cold.

A crisis is that almost 50 million Americans, almost 17 million of them children, live in poverty.

A crisis is that Congress increased the federal minimum wage by only $2.10 an hour in the past 15 years, but in the past decade found enough tax funds to increase its own salaries $20,000 a year to its current $174,000 minimum plus expenses.

A crisis is that Congress abandoned its job and went home early without passing legislation to continue unemployment benefits for more than a million Americans who, even in an economy that is in recovery, still haven’t been able to find work.

A crisis is that this may be the least productive Congress in history—and that includes the “Do-Nothing Congress” that had infuriated Harry Truman in the late 1940s. By comparison, that Congress passed more than twice the number of bills than the current Congress, including legislation to create the Department of Defense and initiate the Marshall Plan to stimulate economic recovery to Europe after World War II.

A crisis is that this Congress, led by a minority of the minority party, succeeded in shutting down government, blocked critical judicial appointments, spent much of its time whining about the Affordable Care Act and brought up more than 40 votes, all of which failed, to repeal the Act. This is the same Act that had been passed by a previous Congress and ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.

A crisis is that more than a year after the murders in Newtown, Conn., there have been more than 12,000 deaths by guns—and politicians are still swayed more by an affluent special interest lobby than by the people who elected them.

A crisis is that the nation’s infrastructure has deteriorated to a point that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave it a D+. More specifically, the ASCE gave grades of D-, D, or D+ to the nation’s dams and levees, inland waterways, drinking water quality, hazardous waste systems, roads, transit systems, airports, school facilities, electrical grid and pipeline distribution systems. Only bridges, ports, and railroads received C ratings.

The only bright spot is solid waste recycling improved to a B-. If anyone is to blame for the nation’s below-average performance it’s the elected politicians who decided they didn’t want to raise taxes to take care of the nation in order to appear to be fiscal conservatives, but spend lavishly on junkets and pet projects that only special interests that dribble campaign funds care about.

These are crises.

A late Christmas gift, while annoying, isn’t. Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Shuffling Federal Paperwork

7:04 am in Uncategorized by brasch

The right-wing part of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, with John Boehner in the role of spineless lackey rather than courageous Speaker, has shut down much of the federal government.

A government form

Did you fill out the right form?

Eighty Republicans had signed a letter expressing their intent to shut down the government. It was a political act of defiance against government by people who themselves were government. The millionaire representatives have grabbed the media, which they publicly say they hate—except for one TV network and a few loud-mouth blowhards on radio—to proclaim their demands.

They demand the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, be defunded. To these ultra-conservatives, the most important health care insurance protection in the nation’s history is a socialist trap, just like Social Security, Medicare, and VA benefits. The Republicans tried more than 40 times to abolish Obamacare; more than 40 times they failed. The law was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the President (who was re-elected by a majority of the people who fully knew where he stood on the ACA), found to be constitutional by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, and has the support of a majority of the American people.

And so they develop slogans, and have plastered the media with the words “negotiate” and “fairness.” It is the President’s responsibility, they declare, to negotiate and to be fair.

Apparently, political gesturing plays well in their newly-gerrymandered districts.

What doesn’t play well is the crass overt politics. In numerous polls, more than half of Americans place the blame for the shut-down not on the Democrats or President Obama, but to the Republican minority that has regressed to their lives as two-year-olds when they could scream, cry, kick, and hope to get their way.

But, the minority of the Republicans do have one point when they say government (but not the Defense Department) is too big and too unwieldy—although what they don’t say is that President Obama has already significantly trimmed the federal government to make it much more efficient at representing the people’s needs and concerns.

We now take you back to 1975, when government began trimming itself.

In 1975, Congress had created a Federal Paperwork Commission which recommended a cabinet-level Department of Administration, “to promote more efficient, effective and responsive administration of the federal government.” These transcripts may, or may not, have been recordings of the newly-formed department almost four decades ago.

Deep in an obscure federal building is Wilson P. Throckmorton, the first secretary of the Department of Administration. With him are his two key assistants, career administrators Samuel J. Stonewall and Waldo P. Rockbottom.

“Excuse me, sir,” says Stonewall, “but I notice that you have only the American flag behind your desk. You also need a cabinet flag.”

“Alright, make it blue with the Department’s gold seal in the middle.”

“Before you can get the flag, you have to fill out form DA-504 in quintuplicate. According to regulation 42, as explained in executive memo 11-07, as amended by executive memo 15-11 section 4, subsection b, all requests for executive-level flags must be approved by the Department of Administration. I don’t see any problem, though. I’m sure that the Department of Administration will give its approval.”

“But we are the Department of Administration.”

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by brasch

A Father’s Day Barbecue—Washington-Style

5:57 am in Uncategorized by brasch

By Walter Brasch

It’s Father’s Day, and that means the Great White Republican Hierarchy in Washington smells burnt charcoal and is ready to barbecue some Democrats.

Because Father’s Day is special, the Republican-proposed Sequester is waived, and there is no budget limit for the day’s food and frivolity.

It’s warm this Father’s Day, but the Republicans aren’t complaining about all the fracking heat from their propane grill or the sweat they’re putting into making a nice dinner. They’re sure that it’ll be ice-age cool next year because the destruction of the ozone layer and Climate Change don’t exist.

First onto their searing grill is a slice of prime Benghazi. The meat has been marinating for nine months and is ready to pop. The Republican fathers see a conspiracy and cover-up that four Americans died in an embassy fire caused by terrorists. Protecting the Republican eyes from all the heat being stirred up are rose-colored glasses that have kept them safe from acknowledging they have been responsible for massive funding cuts for State Department security. The glasses also protect them from remembering they weren’t outraged and didn’t demand impeachment when terrorists attacked seven diplomatic compounds and killed more than 30 people during the George W. Bush administration.

Next onto the grill is a nice cut of IRS rump. The Palefaces of Power claim the IRS targeted Tea Party applications for non-profit status, and even got President Obama to apologize and declare he was going to investigate and get rid of that problem. The Republicans plan to char this delicacy, but this rump won’t roast. Tea Party and conservative applications represented only about one-third of all applications that were investigated—and every application was approved for 501(c )(4) tax-exempt status, even though none of the applicants met the criteria of being a social welfare organization, or a private and educational association, or even a SuperPAC. Rejected, however, were some liberal organizations, including Emerge America, a Maine group that trains Democratic women to run for political office.

On this special day, the Republicans have their raw meat brought to them, but as a special treat, the macho macho men  unholstered their legal AR15s and blasted a flock of peace doves, taking the bits of shredded meat and feathers to make a squab glaze for the rump roast.

The Verizon delicacy, with freshly-minted leaks, has the Righteous Republicans salivating. They’re outraged that the Obama government has been collecting phone and email records of millions of Americans as part of a National Security Agency database. Content is not collected, just data about who called whom, when and for how long. Now, this data mining might seem to be an invasion of privacy, and something that should be a matter of public outrage—if it was illegal, which it isn’t. That might be why the Republicans didn’t seem outraged when the same problem emerged in 2006 during the Bush–Cheney administration. They claimed that secret courts dealing with secret warrants to secretly snoop upon Americans were morally justified. In fact, almost every Bill of Rights violation that came up during the Bush–Cheney administration was dismissed by the Republicans as necessary for national security. They were the ones who pushed the PATRIOT Act, and got spineless Democratic cowards to sign onto their scheme to scam Americans of their civil liberties. But, there may be some delight in seeing the party that believes fathers have a right to dictate the lives of their children, even if they are unrelated adults, into eating their own telephone cords.

Now, every barbecue and picnic has pesky insects. And this Father’s Day celebration is no exception. It would be messy if the Republicans had to grill, eat, and bat away insects at the same time. Fortunately, they spotted some 18-year-olds walking down the street and drafted them into the war against bugs. Problem solved.

Republicans on a daily basis lambaste the lyin’ lib’ral left-wing establishment media. Of course, it’s on establishment media that they do all this ranting. But, when the U.S. attorney general went after the phone records of about 100 establishment AP reporters, the Republicans saw fresh meat. This time, they indignantly stood up for the freedom of the establishment press, and declared that because AP reporters weren’t Kosher, they were uneatable. So, they fried up a Holder Sausage.

Obamacare Oysters are always nice for a special day. But, for some reason, the slippery-fingered Republicans can’t seem to keep the oysters on the grill. They tried 37 separate times to grill the oysters, and 37 separate times, it fell off. But, these are persistent little buggers and there’s no doubt they’ll try a 38th time, although Mother Court has already told them their effort to grill health care is futile.

Because the Republican Fathers are so busy gorging themselves with Benghazi, IRS, Verizon, AP, and Obamacare cuts of meat and vegetables, they didn’t get a chance to lay out the side dishes known as jobs, economy, social welfare, and the environment.

At the end of the day, tired from charring and making a huge mess, the Republicans will take yet another long nap—while their underpaid undocumented maids and gardeners will take out the trash.

[Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch. Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist, and the author of 17 books. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which examines the health and environmental effects of fracking; the book also explores the collusion between politicians and Big Energy.] Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

The GOP Plan to Kill Americans

7:59 am in Uncategorized by brasch

Rick Perry

Why is Rick Perry fighting against healthcare for poor Texans?

Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) opposes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and vows to block the expansion of Medicaid in his state. At a news conference this past week, Perry, flanked by conservative senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, declared “Texas will not be held hostage by the Obama administration’s attempt to force us into the fool’s errand of adding more than a million Texans to a broken system.” About one-fourth of all Texans do not have health care coverage.

According to an analysis by the Dallas Morning News, if Texas budgeted $15.6 billion over the next decade, it would receive more than $100 billion in federal Medicaid funds, allowing the state to cover about 1.5 million more residents, including about 400,000 children.

Texas isn’t the only state to politicize health care.

Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) says that expanding Medicaid is the “right thing to do,” but the Republican-dominated state legislature doesn’t agree. Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) is having the same problem with his Republican legislature, although participation in Medicaid would save the state about $1.9 billion during the next decade. Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.), one of the nation’s most vigorous opponents of the ACA, surprisingly has spoken in favor of Medicaid expansion to benefit her state’s residents.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) and the Republican legislature oppose implementing the ACA and Medicaid expansion. Jindal says the expansion would cost Louisiana about $1 billion during the next decade. However, data analysis by the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals reveals that if Louisiana accepted the federal program, which would benefit almost 600,000 residents, the state would actually save almost $400 million over the next decade. About one-fifth of all Louisianans  lack health insurance.

Pennsylvania, by population, is a blue state, but it has a Republican governor, and both houses of the Legislature are Republican-controlled. Gov. Tom Corbett says he opposes an expansion of Medicaid because it is “financially unsustainable for Pennsylvania taxpayers” and would require a “large tax increase.” This would be the same governor who believes that extending a $1.65 billion corporate welfare check to the Royal Dutch Shell Corp., a foreign-owned company, is acceptable but protecting Pennsylvanians’ health is not.

Fifteen states, dominated by Republican governorships and legislatures, by declaring they won’t allow Medicaid expansion, are on record as placing political interests before the health of their citizens. Another 10 states are “considering” whether or not to implement additional health care coverage for their citizens. The Republican states, pretending they believe in cost containment, claim they oppose Medicaid expansion because of its cost, even though the entire cost for three years is borne by the federal government, the states would pay only 10 percent of the cost after that. The cost to the states would average only about 2.8 percent, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget office.

If all states agreed to the ACA expansion of Medicaid, 17–21 million low-income individuals would receive better health care. Among those would be about 500,000 veterans who do not have health insurance and whose incomes are low enough to qualify for health care, according to research compiled by the Urban Institute. Veterans don’t automatically qualify for VA benefits. Even those who do qualify for VA assistance may not seek health care because they don’t live close to a VA medical facility, and can’t afford health care coverage closer to home. Spouses of veterans usually don’t qualify for VA benefits.

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by brasch

The Paul Ryan Magical Mystery Chop, Dice, and Slice Budget

7:19 am in Uncategorized by brasch

In 2011, before he was the Republican nominee for vice-president, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) proposed a federal budget. He called it, “The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America’s Promise.”

Portrait of Paul Ryan

"Paul Ryan’s proposal, endorsed enthusiastically by the Congressional Republicans and their Tea party base, is a disaster."

Two years later, now in his second year as chair of the House budget committee, he dusted off and polished his old proposal. He calls this one: “The Path to Prosperity: A Responsible Balanced Budget.” His plan is to cut the federal deficit by $4.6 trillion in four years, reducing the deficit to about $12.1 trillion.

While the Republicans blame President Obama and the Democrats for wild tax-and-spend policies that led to the huge deficit, they conveniently overlook the reality that Bill Clinton left George W. Bush a budget surplus of about $230 billion. By the time President Bush completed his eight years, there was no longer a balanced budget, and the deficit soared another $5 trillion.

Much of the additional deficit created under President Obama was a result of being forced to continue many of the Bush policies that included massive tax cuts and the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that cost more than $1.4 trillion and are expected to cost Americans $600 billion–$1 trillion over the next three decades to provide health care and disability benefits for combat soldiers.

President Obama’s stimulus plan was a largely successful program to bring the nation out of a corporate-created, government-neglected Recession that was greater than anything since the 1929 stock market crash that led to the great Depression. This year, because of Obama policies, the stock market is at a record high, and the unemployment rate is now below 8 percent and dropping, with almost all states having lower unemployment rates than a year ago.

It’s been four years since President Bush left office, and the Congressional Republicans who fully embraced the Bush–Cheney policies still haven’t learned anything.

If you’re living comfortably in your upper class lifestyle, you’re going to love Ryan’s proposed budget.

The budget eliminates the graduated income tax—that’s the one with several brackets, increasing the tax upon those with more money. Under this budget proposal, there will be only two brackets—10 percent and 25 percent. The top rate of 39.6 percent, which multi-millionaires pay, is cut to the 25 percent level.

But if you’re among the rest of us,

Under the cover of saying he’s going to balance the budget, Ryan cuts retirement and health benefits for veterans and federal employees. He cuts disaster relief, and the federal role in education and scientific research. He cuts funding for the nation’s infrastructure, leaving our already-neglected highways and bridges to undergo even more deterioration.

He cuts Medicare costs by issuing vouchers—individuals would receive a set amount to buy retirement benefits. This, of course, is on every insurance goliath’s wish list.

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by brasch

Holding the American People Hostage

8:29 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

Judges who wish to assure that a jury has no outside influence will sequester them.

Legally, a sequestered jury is seized by authority and isolated from all outside influences.

The jurors are escorted into and out of the courtroom. They aren’t allowed to read newspapers, listen to radio news, or watch TV news, ’lest they could be influenced by the media. They are escorted to and from meals, and isolated from other customers. They can’t discuss the case with family or friends. They can’t even go home at the end of the day; they’re housed in hotel rooms.

In the summer of 2011, a bipartisan “super-committee” was supposed to come up with a reasonable budget to eliminate $1.2–$1.5 trillion from the national deficit. The Congressionally-mandated sequester went into effect two weeks ago when Congress couldn’t come up with a better idea about the budget. The draconian cuts across all federal programs was supposed to be enacted only as a last-ditch measure. The concept was that Congress and the Administration would be so fearful of the results of the sequester, which the media and elected officials often called a “poison pill,” they would take the time to thoughtfully work out a proper budget, and the sequester would never happen.

But, the Republicans dug in their heels, refused to compromise, and even continued their vacations the last week before the sequester went into effect.

Republican Speaker John Boehner claims he doesn’t like the sequester, never liked it—although he praised it a year ago—and blames President Obama.

President Obama wanted to restore the tax rates that existed before the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000, while keeping the tax cuts for everyone else. Under Republican pressure, he eventually raised the limit to $400,000. The President further proposed a budget that would yield $1.1 trillion in spending cuts and $700 billion in increased revenue, primarily from closing federal tax loopholes and deductions that benefitted primarily the nation’s upper class. That proposal already included cutting back the deficit by $600 billion. (For those keeping track, George W. Bush came into office with a $236.2 billion surplus; by the end of his presidency, he left Barack Obama a $500 billion deficit and the worst Recession since the Great Depression of 1929.)

The Republicans, willingly jerked around by their Tea Party base, don’t want the restoration of the tax rates for anyone. Of course, they also don’t want to end billions of dollars of corporate subsidies, paid for through taxes upon the working poor. Until this past week, the Republicans didn’t even have a budget proposal of their own until they dusted off and put new polish on Rep. Paul Ryan’s slightly revised budget proposal from the 2012 campaign. That would be the budget proposal the American people rejected when they gave Barack Obama a resounding second term victory.

The Congressional Budget Office says the sequester could cut more than 750,000 federal jobs. Republicans like that idea, especially since most federal employees are also members of unions. But, those jobs include public health officials, social service workers, teachers, air traffic controllers, and others in critical jobs. Cutting social services appeals to the Republican mind-set, but cutting the number of air traffic controllers alone would cause not just a severe reduction of flights, but significant lost revenue for the airlines. Obviously, the Republicans, the party of corporate America, don’t really care.

And now we learn that the Republican leadership wasn’t honest with their own members, and didn’t tell them of the cuts the President had already agreed to, and the myriad compromises he had already made with the Republican speaker of the house and the Republican senate minority chair to try to avoid the sequester.

It may seem that Congress had no idea what the word “sequester” meant when it created this fiscal disaster. But the reality is that Congress does know. Its actions—or, rather, its failure to act— has left the American people isolated and held hostage by authority. This time, it’s not a judge sequestering a jury, but a Republican-dominated Congress sequestering all of the American people.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the best-selling Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the consequences of fracking by the natural gas industry. The book is available through amazon.com, greeleyandstone.com, or local bookstores.]

by brasch

Republicans Lie About ‘Support Our Troops’

4:47 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

 
 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

For a decade, Republicans have been screaming at Americans to “support our troops.”

But, they don’t really support our troops. Their constant chanting was originally code to support the Republican administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If the Republicans truly wanted to support the troops, they would have demanded—early in the wars—better armament and vehicles for the troops. Troops in Iraq had to “up-armor” their Humvees with their own ingenuity and money because Congress failed to appropriate enough protection.

The Republicans should have been outraged that after field medics performed extraordinary service to keep wounded from dying that the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center was negligent in providing health care. It took a Washington Post investigative series and actions by the Obama administration, not the Bush–Cheney administration, to straighten out that mess.

American civilians sent millions of packages of everything from soap to towels to shaving lotion for the troops because Congress didn’t provide many of the basic necessities.

 And now the Republicans have blocked the Veterans Job Corps bill in the Senate. That bill would have provided $1 billion over five years to hire 20,000 recent veterans by giving them priority in jobs as first responders. It would also have provided career advisers for the veterans. That bill would have helped not just veterans, but all Americans by strengthening fire, police, and first aid/paramedic assistance.

The vote in the senate was 58–40 to pass that bill. But, typical of Republican obstructionism, it failed. Although there was a clear majority, the bill failed because the Republicans used a technicality in Senate rules to force a higher standard–requiring 60 votes, not a simple majority, to pass the appropriation.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) led the opposition to the bill because he claimed it was reckless spending and he didn’t want to spend any more of the taxpayer money on something apparently as outrageous as helping veterans.

However, the bill was fully funded solely by increasing tax collections from Medicare providers who were delinquent in paying taxes, and by requiring persons applying for passports to be current in paying taxes. Pay the delinquent taxes and be eligible for further Medicare payments and passports. Seemed simple enough.

But, Tom Coburn and the Republicans stuck to their mantra of no more spending, even at the expense of combat veterans. The veterans just want some assistance to get a job and not to be a burden on unemployment and welfare rolls.

One billion dollars. Fully funded. That’s what the bill called for. A billion dollars to help combat veterans. You know, the ones the Republicans sent into war in Iraq that we later learned was a war built upon lies.

Here’s another statistic. The cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has already cost Americans $2.3–$2.7 trillion, according to a Brown University analysis of war spending. That’s not even the total cost. The analysts believe the war will exceed $4 trillion by the time all costs, including $1 trillion in interest payments, are figured in. That total expense is more than 4,000 times more than the Democrats asked for to help returning veterans. And, that $4 trillion, generously pushed by a war-mongering Congress, never met even the barest of financial constraints the Republicans put upon a bill to help the veterans they sent into battle.

But, the real reason the Republicans killed the veterans job bill has nothing to do with their public claims they are trying to cut government costs or to reduce what they believe is Big Government. It has everything to do with petty politics. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate minority leader, had said “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” He could have said the Republicans wanted to move the country forward, to help rebuild and improve the nation’s infrastructure, help those who became unemployed and then homeless because of the recession, establish stronger regulations to prevent fraud, improve medical care for all Americans, assure the success of small business, increase the security of Americans both at home and overseas, or to help combat veterans readjust to civilian life. But he didn’t say those were his party’s top priority. The top priority was to defeat President Obama.

And so the Republicans blocked more than 80 percent of all bills submitted in the Senate, including legislation to provide health care for 9/11 first responders, end tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs, stop price gouging at the gas pumps, require oil companies to use some of their profits to develop clean alternative energy, and end a $4 billion a year subsidy to the oil companies—the top 5 had more than $137 billion profit in 2011. (The Republicans did manage to introduce more than 250 bills about abortion, family relationships, marriage, and religion, but not one for jobs creation.)

Because of their selfish hubris, the Republicans not only created gridlock in Congress, they refused to allow a bill that had the support of a majority of the Senate to go forward to help combat veterans. After all, that might be seen as supporting the President and not doing the Republicans’ Number 1 job—to stop a second term.

[Walter Brasch and his wife, Rosemary, were editors of The Oasis, a newspaper sponsored by the Red Cross for families of combat troops. Walter Brasch’s latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

 

by brasch

Pennsylvania Politics Continues to Trump Health and the Environment

4:45 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

by WALTER BRASCH

Against fracking 02

(photo: Bosc d'Anjou/flickr)

Politics continues to threaten the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians.

The latest is how the Republican-dominated legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett separated one of the wealthiest and more high-tech/industrial areas of the state from the rural areas.

Less than a week before the 2011–2012 fiscal year budget was scheduled to expire, June 30, the majority party slipped an amendment into the 2012–2013 proposed budget, (SB1263), to ban natural gas drilling in a portion of southeastern Pennsylvania for up to six years. The South Newark Basin includes portions of Bucks, Montgomery, and Berks counties, and could provide at least 360 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to estimates by the United States Geologic Survey.

Only an e-mail blast by anti-fracking activist Iris Marie Bloom and a short AP story the day before the budget was passed alerted Pennsylvanians to the amendment that gives special consideration to the suburban areas of Philadelphia.

High volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process that injects under heavy pressure as much as 10 million gallons of water, sand, gases, and chemicals, many of them known carcinogens, into a rock formation as much as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels. However, numerous studies have concluded that the process of fracking to extract natural gas poses significant problems to the health of citizens and their environment.

In his first budget address, Corbett declared he wanted to “make Pennsylvania the hub of this [drilling] boom. Just as the oil com­pa­nies decided to headquarter in one of a dozen states with oil, let’s make Penn­syl­va­nia the Texas of the nat­ural gas boom.”

The push by Corbett and the Republicans in the Legislature that led to the enactment of the highly-controversial Act 13 to open gas drilling was possibly not only because they favor corporate development but because it was also payback for extensive campaign contributions by the natural gas industry. Corbett had taken more than $1.6 million in contributions from persons and PACs associated with the natural gas industry, according to data compiled by Common Cause.
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