U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: March 27, 2014

United and... unionized?
United and… unionized? (Facebook)

The Week

Northwestern football players get a chance to unionize, Egypt’s military chief quits to run for president, and more

1. Government says Northwestern players have the right to unionize
In a move that is rekindling the debate over amateurism in NCAA sports, the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday declared that Northwestern University football players on full scholarships are in essence school employees, so they have the right to unionize. The NLRB said it would supervise the vote. If the majority backs a union, athletes at other private schools could follow. [Reuters]


2. Egyptian military chief quits to run for president
Egypt’s Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi announced on state TV that he was resigning as head of the country’s military to run for president later this year, a move that many had long expected. Field Marshal Sisi was the one who yanked Egypt’s elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, from office in July. His supporters see him as the key to ending Egypt’s turmoil, but opponents say he has presided over widespread abuses. [BBC News]


3. The number missing in Washington’s mudslide drops to 90 
The number of people listed as missing after Washington’s massive mudslide dropped to 90 on Wednesday, from 176 the day before. Some names were believed to be duplicates. Twenty-five people have been confirmed dead, but several bodies have yet to be recovered from the mud and wreckage, which is 40 feet deep in some places. Firefighter Jan McClellan said the likelihood of finding survivors is dwindling, but that, “We live for that hope.” [CNN]


4. Charlotte mayor resigns after his arrest on corruption charges
Mayor Patrick Cannon of Charlotte — North Carolina’s largest city — resigned Wednesday night after being arrested and accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes. The 49-year-old Democrat, who took office just four months ago, allegedly accepted a briefcase stuffed with $20,000 in his office last month, and was scheduled to meet undercover FBI agents posing as businessman for another payoff in exchange for his influence. [Charlotte Observer]


5. Obama meets with Pope Francis
President Obama met Pope Francis for the first time on Thursday at the Vatican. The talk came after several years of tensions between the Obama administration and Catholic church leadership over the Affordable Care Act’s coverage of contraception and other issues. The White House said the meeting would focus on area’s where the two leaders agree, such as their “shared commitment to fighting poverty.” [CNN]


6. Judge declares Oklahoma’s execution law unconstitutional
A judge in Oklahoma ruled the state’s capital punishment law unconstitutional on Wednesdaybecause it prevents death-row prisoners from knowing what drugs will be used in executions. The challenge was filed by lawyers for two convicted murderers, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, who were scheduled to be executed this spring. The state maintained secrecy to protect suppliers, who have been running short of the drugs. [The Associated Press]


7. Chicago train operator fell asleep before crash
The operator of commuter train that crashed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport reportedly told investigators she dozed off. “She did not awake until the train hit,” National Transportation Safety Board investigator Ted Turpin said Wednesday. Thirty people were injured when the eight-car train jumped onto the platform at the end of the track and crashed part of the way up an escalator and staircase leading into the airport on Monday. [The Associated Press]


8. Bank of America settles mortgage bond lawsuit for $9.3 billion
Bank of America has agreed to pay $9.3 billion to settle a lawsuit filed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency claiming that the bank sold faulty mortgage bonds to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The deal, announced Wednesday, ends one of the bank’s main legal problems left over from the financial crisis. The bank and its former CEO, Kenneth Lewis, also settled another suit alleging it misled investors about losses at Merrill Lynch & Co. [Reuters]


9. Scientists find another dwarf planet far beyond Pluto
Astronomers have discovered a dwarf planet, 2012 VP113, far beyond Pluto, according to a study unveiled Wednesday in the journal Nature. The orbit of the 280-mile-wide rock — nicknamed “Biden” for its “VP” designation — comes to within 7.4 billion miles of the sun. Scientists long thought the zone was an empty wasteland, but this find, along with the 2003 discovery of another dwarf planet, Sedna, suggest it could be full of icy objects. [Los Angeles TimesCNN]


10. Pope Francis accepts big-spending bishop’s resignation
Famously frugal Pope Francis has reportedly accepted the resignation of Germany’s Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst — the “bishop of bling.” Tebartz-van Elst had been on leave since October pending an inquiry into the $43 million he spent on his residence complex. He busted his renovation budget with purchases such as a $20,000 bathtub, but said the site’s historical status drove up costs. [Los Angeles Times]

United States Senate

Republicans Cave: Seven Top Government Jobs Will Be Filled

Soon-To-Be Secretary of Labor Tom Perez (Credit: AP)

Think Progress

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office confirms to ThinkProgress that a deal has been reached to avert the so-called “nuclear option” on what appear to be very favorable terms to Democrats. In a nearly unconditional surrender to Senate Democrats, a core group of Senate Republicans agreed to a deal that will confirm most of the nominees currently subject to Republican filibusters, and replace two nominees to a key labor agency. While the identity of those new nominees are, as yet, unknown, two Democratic Senate sources tell ThinkProgress that the new nominees to the National Labor Relations Board can be “any two we want,” so long as it is not the two people currently serving on the NLRB via recess appointments.

In return for a virtually complete capitulation to Democratic demands, Republicans get to postpone the question of whether filibusters can still exist for executive branch nominees. Last night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) rejected an offer from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to confirm the pending nominees if Reid agreed to take the nuclear option off the table, so Reid retains the option of changing the Senate Rules in the future if Republicans obstruct future nominees. Senate Republicans will also get to make the rhetorical point that they prevented two NLRB nominees whose recess appointments were called into question by a pair of court decisions handed down by five Republican judges from being confirmed to their seats on that agency.

What appears to set this filibuster reform fight from previous engagements where Democrats ultimately agreed to much less favorable deals is the resolve of Reid’s caucus. To the very end, it appeared very clear that Democrats had the 51 votes necessary to trigger the nuclear option, so Republicans had no choice but to deal.


The Senate just broke a filibuster on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, clearing the path for the first of the seven nominees to be confirmed.

Under the Senate’s rules, Republicans can potentially force up to 8 hours of delay before Cordray’s final confirmation vote. A cloture vote seeking to break the filibuster on another nominee is likely to follow shortly thereafter.

113th Congress

GOP will filibuster just about anything

GOP will filibuster just about anything
Ted Cruz (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

This originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.


Now the party’s targeting Obama’s choices for three D.C. Circuit Court nominees — and there’s no end in sight

Before January 2009, the filibuster was used only for measures and nominations on which the minority party in the Senate had their strongest objections. Since then, Senate Republicans have filibustered almost everything, betting that voters will blame Democrats for the dysfunction in Congress as much as they blame the GOP.

So far the bet is paying off because the press has failed to call out the GOP – which is now preventing votes on the President’s choices for three D.C. Circuit Court nominees, the Labor Department and the EPA, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, and the National Labor Relations Board. (The GOP has blocked all labor board nominees, some to whom the President gave recess appointments, but he’s now asking approval for all.)

The GOP has already violated hundreds of years of Senate precedent by filibustering the nomination of a Cabinet secretary, Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, and using the filibuster to delay John Brennan’s nomination as CIA Director.

Harry Reid may now be able to summon 51 votes to abolish the filibuster, at least for cabinet officials and other high-level policy makers. But that shouldn’t be considered a victory. It’s a sad commentary on where we’ve come to.

When I was in the cabinet I worked closely with several great Republican senators, such as Mark Hatfield of Oregon and Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, who were willing to compromise, and who cared more about preserving the institutions of government than getting their way. Even Orren Hatch and John McCain in those days were more concerned about the institutional integrity of the U.S. government than about any particular policy difference they may have had with the other side.

But the new breed – Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Sam Brownback, Jeff Sessions, David Vitter, to name a few – don’t give a rat’s ass about how or whether our government functions. In fact, they give every indication that they’d rather it didn’t.

I can’t help wondering why is it that Republicans who do want our governing institutions and processes to remain strong don’t stand up to the fanatics? What happened to Hatch and McCain, or to Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, and Lindsay Graham? Are they so frightened of losing to a fanatic in the next primary that they’ve been silenced into submission? Why don’t former Republican senators who lost to the fanatics, such as Indiana’s Richard Lugar, speak up?

As has been noted many times in history, it is not so much the viciousness or carelessness of the bad people but the silence of the good people that brings societies to the brink, or beyond.


Washington is Broken

Scandals: Real and Imagined

 :   http://mariopiperni.com/
Republicans and Congress – Charging elephants – Piperni

Mario Piperni

It can be debated as to whether the filibuster came about as a political accident or was created to give minority parties a stronger say in opposing specific legislation they deeply opposed. Whatever the case, in the hands of Republicans, the filibuster has now become a destructive force being used with the single intent of bringing the Obama agenda (and with it normal governance) to a grinding halt.

Jonathan Bernstein:

Want a real Washington scandal — one worse than the (phony) Benghazi scandal and the (apparently real, but apparently limited) IRS scandals combined? Try the continuing, and possibly accelerating, obstruction of executive branch nominees by Senate Republicans.

Don’t think it’s a scandal? It’s pretty basic: Republicans, by abusing their Constitutional powers, are — deliberately, in several cases — preventing the government from carrying out duly passed laws.

…with virtually all nominees required to have 60 votes, one can accurately say that Republicans are filibustering every nomination…the worst are the “nullification” filibusters, in which Republicans simply refuse to approve any nominee at all for some positions — the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — because they don’t want those agencies to carry out their statutory obligations.

In doing so, Republicans are not breaking the rules of the Senate. They are, however, breaking the Senate itself, and harming the government.

From the beginning, Republicans were clear in their intent to obstruct Obama and Democrats by every legislative means at their disposal. Mitch McConnell speaking two weeks before the 2010 midterm election:

“[W]e need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day, ‘Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.’ […]

The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president…. Our single biggest political goal is to give our nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful.”

That’s as clear an admission of guilt as you’re likely to find. Writing the day after McConnell’s 2010 statement, Steve Benen peeked into the future with what turns out to be astonishing foresight.

The obvious takeaway here is that GOP leaders have literally no interest in actually solving problems or passing legislation. None. But the larger truth is that President Obama, who’s spoken a bit lately about the need for “humility,” needs to realize that Republican obstinacy and extremist tactics aren’t going to get better after the midterms; they’re going to get worse.

McConnell and his cohorts have made abundantly clear that Americans’ welfare and the nation’s future pale in comparison to the Republican quest for power. The president stands in the way. If he’s not prepared for what they intend to bring, the showdown isn’t going to go well.


Breaking Their Promise To Focus On Job Creation, House GOP Proposes Slashing Job Training Programs

The crazy thing about the Congressional GOP is that they still expect to get the White House, a majority in the Senate, as well as maintaining their majority in the House in the 2012 election.

This is preposterous.  They are counting on the mood of the country who polls show are extremely dissatisfied with Obama.  What they tend to forget is that the American people are even more disgusted with their policies.

I have to ask, what color is the sky on the GOP’s planet?  They are certainly not living in the reality of our planet.

Think Progress

House Republicans yesterday released their draft budget proposal for labor, health, and human service, which in one fell swoop revives the assault on all their favorite bugaboos, including Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio, the National Labor Relations Board, and President Obama’s health care reform law. The GOP also targeted heat subsidies that prevent low-income families from freezing in the winter, and slashed education funding by $2.4 billion. The bill also eliminates the Administration’s “Race to the Top” education reform program and reduces eligibility for Pell Grants for low-income college students.

Perhaps most surprisingly for a party that claims to be focused on job creation, the GOP budgetreduces funding for job training programs that give the unemployed the skills they need to find work in an ailing economy:

Employment Training Administration (ETA) – The legislation provides the ETA with $7.5 billion in new discretionary budget authority – $2.2 billion (-23%) below last year’s level and $2.1 billion (-22%) below the President’s request. Much of this reduction is due to the transition of employment and training programs to a federal fiscal year and the elimination of $2.4 billion in advance appropriations for the 2013 fiscal year.

Slashing funding for these training programs by nearly a quarter will deprive thousands of workers of a better chance to find employment. The bill also cuts the Department of Labor’s funding by $2.6 billion and “increases oversight” of job training programs by requiring the GAO to conduct a study on their cost-effectiveness — a transparent pretext for further diminishing the programs. The budget also laughably claims to “foster a pro-job growth environment” through a number of anti-union measures.

The national unemployment rate remains above 9 percent and 25 million Americans are unemployed or can’t find full-time work. Yet this is not the first time congressional Republicans have tried to zero out job training programs.

In February the plan proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) — and approved by almost the entire GOP caucus — gutted federal job training funding by nearly 50 percent. Republicans’ preoccupation with abolishing these programs illustrates that their talk about creating jobs is nothing more than empty rhetoric to conceal a pro-corporate agenda.

Mitt Romney

Fact-Check: Romney’s USA Today Op-ed Vs. Reality

It’s apparent to me that the GOP and in particular the Tea Party know the power of words.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a lie.  The fact that the words are ‘out there’ is enough.  They understand that a substantial amount of the populous believe what they say, even if they “correct” themselves later.

Think Progress

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney today is unveiling a jobs plan in Nevada, which he previewed in a USA Today op-ed. “We must once again unleash the tremendous economic potential of the American people. The contrast between what the Obama administration has done and what I would do as president could not be starker,” Romney claims.

For the most part, the op-ed revives Romney’s stump speech, which focuses on his career at Bain Capital (a buyout firm) and a critique of the Obama administration’s tax and budget policies. But he also levels several factually challenged charges, while promoting many of the tired supply-side policy ideas that have been a staple of Republican policy for years. Here is a fact-check of Romney’s piece:

ROMNEY: “Marginal income tax rates and tax rates on savings and investment must be kept low. Further, taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for middle-income taxpayers should be eliminated.”

REALITY: Taxes are the lowest they’ve been in 60 years, far lower than underseveral Republican presidents. Taxes on dividends and capital gains are far below the level at which they were under President Reagan. Furthermore, 68.3 percent of the capital gains tax is paid by the richest 1 percent of Americans, while the bottom 95 percent of Americans pay just 10 percent of them, so it is unclear how Romney thinks a capital gains tax cut can be fashioned as a middle class tax break.

ROMNEY: “Our corporate tax rate is among the world’s highest. It leaves U.S. firms at a competitive disadvantage and induces them to park their profits abroad, benefiting the rest of the world at our expense.”

REALITY: While the U.S. corporate tax rate is high on paper, once all the credits, deductions, and loopholes are accounted for, the U.S. has the second-lowest corporate taxes in the developed world.

ROMNEY: “President Obama has vastly expanded the regulatory reach of government. The federal government has estimated the price tag for its regulations at $1.75 trillion.”

REALITY: This is a bogus number favored by the big business lobby, and widely cited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It comes from a study that, according to John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute, “contains basic conceptual mistakes and relies on extraordinarily poor data.” “Its results should neither be used as a valid measure of the economic costs of regulation nor as a guide for policy,” he said.

ROMNEY: “I will not tolerate federal intrusions of the kind that the National Labor Relations Board initiated when it filed suit against Boeing for opening a plant in a right-to-work state.”

REALITY: The NLRB suit against Boeing has nothing to do with the company opening a plant in a so-called “right-to-work” state, but that the company, by its own admission, shifted production from Washington state to South Carolina in retaliation against workers for striking, which is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

ROMNEY: “Tellingly, while the private sector shed 1.8 million jobs since Barack Obama took office, the federal workforce grew by 142,500, or almost 7%. A rollback is urgently required.”

REALITY: This is a favorite stat for conservatives, but it isn’t true. The GOP engineers the stat by leaving out all of the jobs lost by the U.S. Postal Service. As Politifact noted, “If the postal workers cuts were included, the overall increase in employees under Obama would be about 40,000, or a modest 1.4 percent increase in the workforce.” The federal workforce is also smaller than it was 20 years ago. Overall, the public sector has lost 600,000 during the Great Recession.

Sarah Palin · Sarah Palin's Hypocrisy

Sarah Palin: David Gregory Asked Newt Gingrich ‘Racist-Tinged’ Question (VIDEO)

Did Sarah Palin forget that David Gregory was simply asking Newt Gingrich about his “racist-tinged” statement in Georgia?  

 The Huffington Post

During an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity” on Wednesday night, Sarah Palin suggested that David Gregory, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” asked a “racist-tinged question” in pressing presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on an eyebrow-raising characterization of President Barack Obama he made last week.

The former House Speaker criticized the president as “the most successful food stamp president in modern American history” while speaking in Georgia. Here’s an excerpt of the exchange that went down between Gingrich and Gregory after a clip was played of the remarks:

GREGORY: First of all, you gave a speech in Georgia with language a lot of people think could be coded racially-tinged language, calling the president, the first black president, a food stamp president.

GINGRICH: Oh, come on, David.

GREGORY: What did you mean? What was the point?

GINGRICH: That’s, that’s bizarre. That — this kind of automatic reference to racism, this is the president of the United States. The president of the United States has to be held accountable. Now, the idea that — and what I said is factually true. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. One out of every six Americans is on food stamps. And to hide behind the charge of racism? I have — I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.

GREGORY: Well, what did you mean?

GINGRICH: Well, it’s very simple. He has policies — and I used a very direct analogy. He follows the same destructive political model that destroyed the city of Detroit. I follow the model that Rick Perry and others have used to create more jobs in Texas. You know, Texas two out of the last four years created more jobs than the other 49 states combined. I’m suggesting we know how to create jobs. Ronald Reagan did it. I was part of that. We know how to create jobs. We did it when I was speaker. And, and the way you create jobs is you have lower taxes, you have less regulation, you have litigation reform. When the New York Stock Exchange puts its headquarters at Amsterdam, Holland and, by the way, follows 40 other companies in the last year; when General Electric pays zero in taxes; there’s something fundamentally wrong with the current system. The Obama system of the National Labor Relations Board basically breaking the law to try to punish Boeing and to threaten every right-to-work state. The Environmental Protection Agency trying to control the entire American economy by bureaucratic fiat. The Obama system’s going to lead us down the path to Detroit and destruction. I think we need a brand-new path. It’s a path of job creation. And one of the central themes of this campaign is going to be paychecks vs. food stamps.

“Well, talk about racism, that was a racist-tinge question from David Gregory,” said Palin of the exchange. “He made it sound like if you’re black you’re on food stamps and the president is referring to you as being on food stamps. I think that’s racist. And, you know, enough is enough of this calling out, this racism, these false charges.”

Via ThinkProgress comes video of what Palin had to say.