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Member since: Sat May 15, 2010, 04:48 PM
Number of posts: 7,105

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Obama is about to throw Medicare and SSD recipients under the bus in pursuit of a budget deal

The deal would increase spending by $80 bill over two years, and would be offset by Social Security Disability and Medicare benefit cuts. A Democratic president, striking a deal on the backs of those who can least afford it. I have no words for this. (Well, actually I do, but nothing I'd care to repeat in polite company.)

From The New York Times:

Congress and White House Near Budget Deal


WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders and the Obama administration are close to a crucial budget deal that would modestly increase domestic spending over the next two years, make cuts in social programs and raise the federal borrowing limit. The accord would avert a potentially cataclysmic default on the government’s debt and dispense with perhaps the most divisive issue in Washington just before Speaker John A. Boehner is expected to turn over his gavel to Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.

While congressional aides cautioned that the deal was not yet clinched, officials briefed on the negotiations said the emerging accord would increase spending by $80 billion, not including emergency war funding, over two years above the previously agreed-upon budget caps.

Those increases would be offset by cuts in spending on Medicare and Social Security disability benefits, as well as savings or revenue from an array of other programs, including changes to the nation’s strategic petroleum reserves.

If the deal happens, it would represent a significant breakthrough after years of gridlock in Congress, especially on fiscal issues, as each side compromised on a core issue. It also would give Mr. Ryan a clean start as speaker and Republicans a reset on trying to convince voters that they can be an effective governing majority.

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Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Oct 26, 2015, 08:37 PM (183 replies)

An idea for preventing future Benghazi-type nonsense in Congress

This is something that just sort of popped into my head this evening as I contemplated the absurdity of the SEVEN prior Congressional Benghazi investigations, besides the current one which Hillary Clinton testified before this past week. The Republican thinking seems to have been, "let's launch one investigation after another until we get the result we want." So I began to ask myself how we could allow for serious investigations if and when they are necessary, but at the same time limit the ability of members of either house of Congress and of either party from using Congress' investigative and oversight authority in service of such nakedly political ends as they have done with eight Benghazi investigations. Keep in mind I'm just throwing this out for discussion, and it is all very preliminary -- this is just what I jotted down off the top of my head over the last hour. Would love to hear any and all reactions j or thoughts anybody hear might have regarding what follows!

I just had a thought as to how we could prevent a repeat of the Congressional fiasco concerning Benghazi. There have already been seven investigations involving 10 congressional committees besides the current one. They were conducted by:

1. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (“Interim Report on the Accountability Review Board,” Committee on Oversight and Government Reform 9/16/13)

2. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. (“Flashing Red: A Special Report on the Terrorist Attack at Benghazi,” the Senate Committee On Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs 12/30/12)

3. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. (“Review of the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012,” Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1/15/14)

4. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. (“Benghazi: Where is the State Department Accountability?,” Majority Staff Report – House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2/7/14)

5. House Committee on the Judiciary. (Interim Progress Report on Benghazi Investigation, 4/23/13)

6. House Committee on Armed Services. (“Armed Services Committee slams White House on Benghazi,” USA Today, 2/11/14)

7. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. (“Investigative Report on the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012,” House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 11/21/14)

The current one, which Hillary Clinton just testified before, is the "House Select Committee on Benghazi."

There really should be a law (it may require a constitutional amendment) that says that whenever a House or Senate committee decides it needs to investigate something, there will be ONE investigation covering both House and Senate, which may be joined by any of the committees. (This is in recognition of the fact that various committees may have different areas of inquiry they wish to pursue.)

Here's how it would work:

  • first, all committee chairs and ranking minority members of each committee of both the House and Senate would sit on a Joint Investigations Management committee. The sole function of this committee would be administrative/managerial in determining how joint resources should be allocated among any ongoing and proposed investigations. Since it includes both the chair and the ranking minority member from each committee, it would always have equal representation of both parties;

  • whenever a committee, or either house of Congress as a whole, determines that something should be investigated, the committee chair would formally notify the Joint Investigations Management Committee of the proposed investigation, its nature and its scope. At that point, the respective committee chairs and ranking members would have a set period of time (say, 30-60 days) during which they could discuss the proposed investigation with their own committees, and then notify the Management Committee of their respective committees' desire to either join the investigation or decline to participate;

  • regardless of how many committees joined a specific investigation, any hearings or proceedings would be conducted by only ONE committee, which I will call the "Prime Investigative Committee on {insert subject of investigation}" (probably the committee that originally proposed the investigation or, alternatively, the Management Committee could assign the investigation to the committee they believed was most appropriate to the topic of the investigation. Note that the Prime Committee designation would be a rolling one for each investigation, so if the Benghazi investigation had been assigned to, say, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, for purposes of the Benghazi investigation, it would be known as the "Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, acting as Joint Congressional Prime Investigative Committee on Benghazi."

  • questions for any witnesses from members of other participating committees (who are not part of the Prime Committee) would be directed to the witness first in writing, and any clarifying questions that needed to be asked would be assigned to a member of the Prime Committee to ask of the witness during live testimony.

  • If a particular committee declines to join a proposed investigation, it would thenceforth be barred from proposing an investigation into the same issue UNLESS new evidence had come to light that had particular and significant implications for the area of oversight which which that committee is charged. The determination of whether any new evidence met the test of significant particular interest to a committee that had previously declined to join the investigation would be made by simple majority vote of the Management Committee.

  • when the Prime Committee had concluded its investigation and issued its final report, its conclusions would be regarded as final, and would not be subject to further challenge, nor the underlying topic subject to further review, unless substantive new evidence emerged that had not been available to the Prime Committee. That determination would be made by a vote of two-thirds of the Management Committee in favor reopening the investigation.

This is just a basic outline, and there may well be things that would need to be tweaked, added or modified in some way. But a structure like this would, I believe, accomplish several things. For starters, it would:

* put an end to the wasteful, duplicative time, energy and money expended by having multiple investigation by subcommittees of the same entity investigating the same topic;

* prevent either party from undertaking multiple, duplicative and repetitive investigations for the purpose of smearing their political adversaries, and from launching one investigation after another in search of a result they were unable to achieve the first time around;

* Reduce the ability of members of Congress to launch a duplicative investigation solely because they are seeking an opportunity to grandstand before the public.

Any thoughts? Are there any glaring considerations I'm missing? Any problems or omissions in any of the above?
Posted by markpkessinger | Sun Oct 25, 2015, 12:09 AM (3 replies)

Hillary’s debate performance failed to allay any of my concerns about her candidacy

(Posted originally as a Facebook note.)

Hillary’s debate performance failed to allay any of my concerns about her candidacy

Mark Kessinger · Friday, October 16, 2015

Mainstream media pundits are insistent that Hillary Clinton “won” the first 2016 Democratic presidential debate, despite dozens of informal polls of viewers that gave the night to Sanders. I will concede that most of these polls were unscientific, and thus cannot necessarily be considered to be reliable indicators of the public perception; but at the same time, when so many polls – informal though they may be – lean in one direction, it certainly gives one reason to question whether the pundits’ analyses are entirely accurate. So, in the end, I am left with only my own, subjective reactions to the candidates’ debate performances, combined with what I know of their individual histories, to form a basis for my own evaluation of the candidates.

As a progressive Democrat, I have had serious reservations about Hillary’s candidacy all along. I support Bernie Sanders for the nomination (even if he is thought by many to be a long shot). But I have said repeatedly, and I still say, that should Hillary win the nomination, I will vote for her in the general election. (But then, what else could I do? Any of the concerns I have concerning a Hillary Clinton presidency are only magnified – ten-fold – when it comes to any of the potential GOP nominees. In the end, elections come down to choices among a set of flawed choices, and I’m not an idiot.)

If the measure of debate performances is style and polish, then sure, Hillary won hands down. I have never doubted (nor, do I think, have many others) that Hillary is anything other than a consummate political pro: of course she is – to a fault. But my reservations about her as a presidential candidate have never been about any lack of polish or inability to present herself. Rather, my concerns have been issues of substance: that is to say, what are her actual views on issues, what drives those views, if certain presently held positions conflict with past ones, when and why did those views change, and where do her commitments lie, based not only on her present statements, but on her history. Specifically, I have been troubled by (1) her past eagerness to support military interventions (something I think this country has been overly willing to engage in), (2) her long-standing ties to big business and to Wall Street, and (3) her past close identification with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), s group founded in 1985 and dissolved in 2011 (many of its members are today knows as “Third Way” Democrats, that led the party to the right in the 1990s and early 2000s, away from its historical commitments to labor, to minorities and to the poor, and towards a more corporate- and Wall Street- friendly footing. It is the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party.

I went into the debate really hoping, given Hillary’s position as frontrunner and presumptive nominee, that I would hear something from her that would help to allay those concerns. Unfortunately, I heard no such thing. If anything, her responses during the debate only highlighted and underscored them.

At the outset of the debate, Anderson Cooper pressed her about the widely held perception that she changes her views according to whatever is politically expedient to her at any given moment, citing, as one example, her shift on the subject of gay marriage (in less than a year, she went from being opposed to gay marriage to supporting it, and has never offered any explanation of the rapid shift). Hillary didn’t address the example, but adamantly insisted that she has always been absolutely consistent in taking positions that were based on her “values.” Ironically, though, in defending her ‘consistent’ record, she cited an example of her own – the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, or TPP – and in so doing, misrepresented her own past support of the agreement. In the debate, Hillary said:

You know, take the trade deal. I did say, when I was secretary of state, three years ago, that I hoped it would be the gold standard. It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn't meet my standards. My standards for more new, good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans.

The only problem with that is that, as Secretary of State, speaking at a Technet conference in Adelaide, Australia. she didn’t say she “hoped” the TPP “would become” the gold standard. In those remarks, she said:

This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.

Note the absence of any language about future hopes of what the TPP would become. Many of the most controversial aspects of the TPP were leaked in November of 2013. Now, is it possible that all of the controversial provisions were inserted between the time she left her job as Secretary of State on February 1, 2013, and the date on which Wikileaks obtained parts of a working draft of the document? Sure, it's possible. Almost anything is possible. But these are significant provisions we are talking about, so it’s not bloody likely! And note the vagary of her (now purported) objection: "it didn't meet my standards." What the hell does that mean? It tells us absolutely nothing about which provisions she opposes and why – and that is critically important information. Hillary’s response, which was no doubt a masterful example of political spin, nevertheless doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in her honesty.

Later in the debate, when asked whether she could support Sanders’ call to expand Social Security, Hillary responded:

I want to enhance the benefits for the poorest recipients of Social Security. We have a lot of women on Social Security, particularly widowed and single women who didn't make a lot of money during their careers, and they are impoverished, and they need more help from the Social Security system.

And I will focus -- I will focus on helping those people who need it the most. And of course I'm going to defend Social Security. I'm going to look for ways to try to make sure it's solvent into the future.

Read that quote very carefully, and understand what she is implying. I believe it is a veiled reference to means-testing for Social Security – something the DLC/Third Way Democrats have long advocated. (I, and I think most Democrats, oppose means-testing for Social Security for the simple reason that once you means test it, you turn it into another entitlement program, subject to the whim or largesse of voters and/or their elected representatives.)

As for her tendency towards hawkishness, again, she said nothing that addressed my concerns. Indeed, she advocated for a much more muscular foreign policy than that of Obama. Great – still more military interventions to look forward to.

I was also very disturbed by the way Hillary casually mentioned – almost as if it were self-evident – that “the Iranians” were among the list of enemies she is most proud of having made. At a time when the war drums have been banging for a war with Iran , that is a very disturbing statement indeed.

There were a couple of other things Hillary said that raised red flags for me. Asked about Sanders’ call for expanding the social safety net for families along the lines of Scandinavian countries, Hillary responded.

But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America. And it's our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn't run amok and doesn't cause the kind of inequities we're seeing in our economic system.”

The notion that capitalism can be reined in is one of the enduring illusions of our time. As economist Richard Wolff has pointed out, we might – might, not will – succeed in reining it in for a time, but under our present system of campaign financing, and so long as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling stands, any success on that front will be temporary at best. But beyond that, it strikes me that the statement, “We are not Denmark, we are the United States of America,” displays an attitude that is all too common in this country, and which often prevents us from finding solutions to some of the problems we confront: the notion that we, in the U.S., have absolutely nothing to learn from the experience other nations. It’s an attitude that may play well among some voters, but which also lies very close to the core of our national dysfunction.

Finally, I was outraged and appalled by Hillary ‘s comments about Edward Snowden. The n9tion that he could have been granted whistleblower protections – protections which have been thoroughly elusive to other prominent whistleblowers – is a fiction.

Hillary is, to be sure, better by a long shot than any Republican alternative. But let’s be honest: that’s a really low bar. Surely we can, and I sincerely hope we will, do better.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Oct 16, 2015, 01:54 PM (13 replies)

Hillary misrepresented her past support for the TPP during the debate

In the debate last night, Hillary said:

You know, take the trade deal. I did say, when I was secretary of state, three years ago, that I hoped it would be the gold standard. It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn't meet my standards. My standards for more new, good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans.

No, Hillary, you said it was the gold standard, not that you "hoped it would become" the gold standard! From the transcript of Remarks at Technet Australia, November 12, 2012, found on the Department of State's website:

"This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field. "

Note the absence of any language about future hopes of what the TPP would become. Many of the most controversial aspects of the TPP were leaked in November of 2013. Now, is it possible that ALL of the controversial provisions were inserted between the time she left her job as Secretary of State on February 1, 2013, and the date on which Wikileaks obtained parts of a working draft of the document? Sure, it's possible. Almost anything is possible. But these are significant provisions we are talking about, so it isn't bloody likely! And note the vagary of her (now purported) objection: "it didn't meet my standards." What the hell does that mean? It tells us absolutely nothing about WHICH provisions she opposes and why -- and that is critically important information.

It just further erodes my capacity to trust her.
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Oct 14, 2015, 08:11 PM (18 replies)

A quick take on the debate

One can like or dislike, or agree or disagree, with any of the five candidates on stage last night. But at least all five showed up prepared to address serious issues like serious adults, and for that we can all be rightly proud. That said, here are my reactions to last night:

Sanders: Won the night. (Pundits and Hillary supporters will, of course, disagree.)
Clinton: Kept her base. (But probably didn't make any new converts.)
O'Malley: Still don't know who he is.
Chafee: "Vote for me because I'm a stand-up guy." (Um . . . okay,)
Webb: Republican-lite. (Dude, you're on the wrong stage!)
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Oct 14, 2015, 04:57 PM (1 replies)

NYT Editorial: A Law That Hides Police Misconduct From the Public

Wow -- I had no idea this law existed, let alone that it is unique to New York State/ According to the editorial, it was passed in 1976, with the intent of preventing criminal defense attorneys from bringing up personnel information from an officer's record in criminal trials in order to discredit that officer's testimony. Municipalities have broadened their interpretation of the law to extend even to instances of substantiated misconduct by an officer. While I can envision some instances in which a defense attorney might try to unfairly use something from an officer's personnel file to discredit him or her, I can also envision cases in which a history of misconduct by an officer might very well speak to the credibility of his or her testimony. In any case, it is hard to see how such a law was ever necessary, because if a defense counsel were to bring up something from an officer's personnel file that was irrelevant to the case, a prosecutor could object, and a judge (if he or she agreed it was irrelevant) could immediately quash that line of questioning. This smacks of something lobbied for by the police unions in order to shield their members from accountability for misconduct.

A Law That Hides Police Misconduct From the Public


The uniquely restrictive New York State law that is used to conceal the disciplinary histories of police officers — even some who have committed crimes — reared its head again last week in misconduct proceedings against the officer who brutalized the retired tennis player James Blake during a mistaken arrest in Manhattan last month.

The public has the right to be kept informed of police misconduct cases, especially at a time of heightened concern over police brutality. But when the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated excessive force charges against James Frascatore, the officer who attacked Mr. Blake, it was allowed to release its findings to Mr. Blake’s lawyer but was barred from making them available to the public. Had Mr. Blake’s attorney not released the information, the public would still be in the dark.

The state law on officers’ histories is the only one of its kind in the nation. It was enacted in 1976 to prevent criminal defense lawyers from using freedom-of-information laws to gain access to personnel records for information to use against officers in trials.

The law says an officer’s personnel record cannot be publicly released or cited in court without a judge’s approval. But municipalities and courts have since broadened the definition of “personnel record” to shield almost any information. As a result police officers, who have more authority over the public than any other public-sector employees, are actually the least accountable. Citing this problem, the New York State Committee on Open Government, which advises government on privacy matters, has rightly called for the Legislature to repeal the statute.

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Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Oct 12, 2015, 06:47 PM (2 replies)

A couple of thoughts about the Pope and Kim Davis

There have been articles posted here and elsewhere about Pope Francis' statement, in apparent support of Kim Davis, that government officials have a human right to decline to discharge duties that violate their conscience. Just so you understand where I am coming from, I am a 54-year-old gay man, an Episcopalian, a staunch supporter of marriage equality as well as all other civil rights for LGBTQ persons -- causes I have supported since the day I came out 35 years ago, in 1980, at the age of 19. I have very much admired Pope Francis' statements on issues such as economic inequality, social justice and the environment. So you might expect that this news would come as some terrible disappointment to me. But the fact of the matter is that I just can't get particularly incensed by it. The way I see it, it is simply an indicator that the Pope has his blind spots (as does his institution). I can still applaud him on those areas where he is a breath of fresh air. But there are also a couple of other things to keep in mind . . .

First, we don't really know what information the Pope has been given about the Kim Davis case, or whether it was information he gleaned on his own or if he might have been briefed about it by, say, an American bishop or other aide. I can imagine that if he was briefed on it by someone like Cardinal Archbishop Timothy Dolan, for example, then the information would have had quite a spin on it.

But besides all of the above, there's a certain fallacy built into the question that was put to the Pope, in that Kim Davis was never denied the right to refrain, herself, from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The option of allowing others to issue the marriage licenses she felt she could not, as a matter of (alleged) conscience was available to her from the beginning, and was offered as a way to avoid legal action by the lawyers for the couples who ultimately sued. But she refused that because she wanted to prevent any of her staff from issuing the licenses as well. Somehow, I suspect that if Pope Francis were fully apprised of all of the details of this case, he might see it rather differently. And if not, well, then I guess he's just infallibly wrong on this particular subject.
Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Sep 28, 2015, 06:23 PM (17 replies)

Much as I despise John Boehner . . .

. . . I can't quite bring myself to dance on his grave, because I fear what is in store for us will be far, far worse.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Sep 25, 2015, 09:53 PM (4 replies)

That moment in his address to Congress when the Pope . . .

. . . called for protection of human life "at all stages of development," whereupon rightwingers gave one of the most enthusiastic cheers of the entire speech, only to have him pivot immediately to a call for the abolition of the death penalty. Priceless!
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Sep 24, 2015, 01:33 PM (22 replies)

Bernie Sanders' Gift to the Left: The Recovery of our Moral Discourse

The response by an evangelical pastor and Liberty University alumnus to Bernie Sanders' speech at Liberty University, the university founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, on Monday stands as a good reminder that there are, indeed, evangelicals out there who attempt to seriously grapple with the demands of their faith. But the problem remains that far too many evangelical Christians have fallen under the influence of the Evangelical Movement, which is not primarily a religious or theological movement at all, but is rather an opportunistic political movement that masquerades as a religious one and preys upon people who are no doubt sincere, but are also exceedingly gullible and, in some cases, quite bigoted. For the Evangelical Movement, even if not for some sincere evangelical Christians, Jesus and his teachings are reduced to the role of mascot, to be trotted out in support of their bigotries and political ideas. There is perhaps no greater evidence of this than the "honor code" at Liberty, which the pastor mentions and under which students can be expelled for any public statements in support of any candidate or official who supports abortion or same-sex marriage.

Under the influence of the political Evangelical Movement, many -- far too many -- evangelicals have completely lost sight of the notion of collective (i.e., public) morality in favor of a strictly private morality. By doing so, they absolve themselves of any obligation to work towards a more just society (thus making themselves a prime target for exploitation by corporate and big money interests of the GOP).

But it's even worse than that. Even their sphere of individual, private morality has effectively been circumscribed so as to include an obsession with just two issues, opposition to LGBT civil rights and opposition to abortion. Speaking as someone who identifies as a non-evangelical Christian (Presbyterian by upbringing, Episcopalian by adult choice), I have long been baffled at the kind of theology and biblical interpretation required in order to reduce Christianity to a fixation on these two issues. I am not a biblical literalist (nor are most Episcopalians), nor do i believe (as most evangelicals do) in the plenary inspiration of the Bible; I support a woman's right to choose and, as a gay man, support same-sex marriage. But even if I believed every word of the Bible to be literally true, and every word to have been dictated by God, I would be hard-pressed to make a case for a Christianity so exclusively focused on just two areas within an exclusively private sphere of morality. The result has been a perverse, twisted expression of Christianity (if it can even be called that) that bears little, if any, resemblance to any Christianity I have ever known.

What Bernie Sanders speech at Liberty has done, quite remarkably, is to remind at least some evangelicals (those who attempt seriously to grapple with Jesus' teachings, that is), that morality -- even traditional Christian morality -- operates in a collective, public sphere as well as an individual, private one. Hopefully, those whose consciences he was able to move will have at least some leavening effect on those he did not so move.

Finally, though, what Bernie Sanders has done has been to bestow an invaluable gift to the Left as well: that is, the gift of recovery the Left's moral discourse. The political left, understandably eager to distance itself from the hypocritical moralizing of the right, has tended to avoid invoking moral arguments in support of its policy agenda. This has been a huge mistake. By avoiding moral arguments, we have effectively ceded to the Right the entire discussion of morality in a public context. Among many sincere, but not necessarily well-informed voters, this has led to the perception that only the GOP has any moral basis for its arguments (laughable though that notion clearly is). In his speech at Liberty, Bernie showed us how it is done!
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Sep 17, 2015, 07:07 PM (48 replies)
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