Holding the American People Hostage

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.]

Sequestration: A Pox On Both Parties

As sequestration looms at the end of the week Republicans and Democrats are in damage control mode over who is to blame.  I have news for them:  they’re all to blame.  The concept of austerity budget cuts actually came from the White House, was signed by the President and passed with bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.  The consequences are going to be severe and will throw the country back into recession as 2 million direct jobs are lost.  When you add the losses from the economic ripple effect we will all the progress attained the last four years.  When another 2 million people lose their jobs they won’t be buying things, the consumer markets will be further damaged and costs such as food stamps and unemployment will rise.

Here in Pennsylvania we will see $47.8 million in education funding resulting in losses of 620 teachers on top of the 14,000 already laid off due to Gov. Gasbag’s wholesale cuts in K12 funding.  3,160 work/study jobs for college students will result in many of them dropping out of their higher education careers.  Head Start cuts will hit 2,300 children in the Commonwealth.  

As pollution from Marcellus shale drilling pours methane into our air and carcinogens into our ground and rivers we’ll lose $5.7 million in environmental funding.  Civilians working for the Department of Defense will lose their jobs too to the tune of 26,000 people.  Tobyhanna Army Depot will be hard hit.  Grants to law enforcement agencies will also be cut ($509,000).  Other federal programs such as vaccines for children, child care and job search assistance will also be gone.

Sequestration is taking an axe to federal spending by imposing austerity, a program which has failed everywhere it has been implemented.  Our number one problem isn’t the deficit it is the lack of jobs.  Instead of creating jobs we’re cutting them.  By increasing federal spending, creating jobs and replacing our crumbling infrastructure, we would stimulate the economy and expand tax revenues as people return to the workforce.

The primary drivers of the federal budget deficit were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts and the Bush Recession.  Some f the tax cuts have been repealed though 85% of them were made permanent.  The war in Afghanistan continues to bleed us financially and we’re doing nothing significant to stimulate the economy.  Putting people back to work and, thusly, paying taxes, will return many of the lost revenues.  Combine that with increased tax rates for the richest Americans to reduce income inequality and political stability, closing loopholes for corporations so they begin paying their share of taxes and stopping tax breaks for offshoring jobs will all do much to close the deficit.  Austerity will only make things worse ad the deficit will again being to increase again.

If you’re going to be flying soon (and I don’t recommend it) get to the airport several hours before your flight.  Air traffic controllers will be cut by 20% along with TSA employees.  Getting through airport security will be even more time consuming and who knows how planes might crash into each other?

News & Notes December 27, 2012

A lot has happened since our last check-in:  I had a birthday, Christmas came and went, a major winter storm rolled through and a former President went into guarded condition.  Hawaii has a new Senator, we have two nominations for Cabinet positions and nothing new has happened to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”  Whew.

Sen. John Kerry has been nominated to be Secretary of State.  Swift boating of Susan Rice was successful when the President bailed on her.  This makes Kerry’s Senate seat up for grabs which was the objective of the attack on Rice.  Former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel is being accused of antisemitism before his hearings to be the new Secretary of Defense over criticism he made of Israel’s government policies.  If all of us who have been critical of Israel’s genocide towards Palestinians were accused of being anti-semitic because of that you’d see how absurd it all is.  My questions are these:  why are liberals going to bat for a right wing Republican Senator?  Why do Democrats feel only Republicans are fit to be Defense Secretary?  Doesn’t that just play into the meme that Dems are soft on Defense?

George H.W. Bush is in intensive care at a Houston hospital with a persistent fever caused by lung ailments.  Coincidentally Houston has the worst air of any American city.  Funny how the chickens come home to roost.

House Republicans failed to come to agreement on a deficit package and Speaker Boehner looked weak after failing to gather enough votes to bring his Plan B tot he floor.  It was aborted.  Now their strategy is to blame the Senate for acting.  That takes balls.

A New York newspaper is under fire for printing the names and locations of everyone in two counties holding a gun permit.  This is public information and, in the wake of Sandy Hook, important information to have.  I’d like to know which of my neighbors is dangerous.

Gov. Gasbag, after campaigning on a promise of open and transparent government, on promises that he’d change the culture in Harrisburg, had a cozy weekend summit with his major donors and contributors last summer.  How many palms were greased with no bid contract promises?  We’ll never know because of the lack of openness and transparency.  Corbett is no different from every other corrupt politician who trades campaign cash for business and legislation.

In further news of his corruption the Governor took a vacation paid for by a natural gas businessman.  Corruption doesn’t get any plainer than this.  Corbett campaigned on a platform of refusing to tax energy companies for our natural gas they profit handsomely from while polluting our waterways, air and ground.  A nice vacation in Rhode Island was part of his payoff.

Three Pennsylvania State Troopers, including one from the Executive Service Section which provides security for the Governor, were accused with traveling to southeast Asia to hire prostitutes.  There didn’t appear to be any repercussions for their behavior.  This is known as sexual tourism.

There have been so many shootings lately it’s difficult to keep up with them.  The deranged man who shot several people in western PA was riled up about the Mayan apocalypse predictions.  What, he was too stupid to understand that calendars end?  It’s too easy for idiots to get guns.

Speaking of guns did you hear about the Tea Party shake-up?  Former GOP Congressman Dick Armey attempted a coup at Freedom Works including walking in with an armed guard to fire staffers.  He wound up getting fired himself at a cost of $8 million to stupid Tea baggers.  Is the Tea Party turning into a circular firing squad?  With all the guns those crazy people have this could wind up being good for the country assuming no collateral casualties.

Democrats have no accountability for House members who betray one of their own.  They named Rep. Thomas Caltagirone to again be Democratic Chair of the Judiciary Committee after he actively worked to defeat fellow Democrat Mark Rozzi.

I still wonder why stupid voters returned so many Members of Congress.  Republicans have proven, without a doubt, they are unable and unwilling to govern.  Why anyone would re-elect them then complain that nothing gets done is beyond comprehension.  The Violence Against Women Act expired because Republicans refuse to protect Native American women.  Do they not suffer from abuse too?  The Farm Bill also expired and is dormant.  Your milk prices will double next week as a result.  Republicans, after throwing millions of Americans into poverty with their failed economic and deregulation policies, now want to slash their food stamps.  Costing them their jobs, homes and retirements wasn’t enough now they also want to starve them.  47% of the country voted for this.  Relief for Hurricane Sandy victims is also being held hostage after conservatives spent the past ten years screaming that climate change is all a hoax.  After refusing to acknowledge reality we’re faced with the devastating consequences and they refuse to pay up.

Jim Billman Violated Campaign Finance Law

Tea Party State House candidate Jim Billman violated Pennsylvania campaign finance law in his recent cycle 5 filing.  I drove to Harrisburg this afternoon to obtain a copy of his report because it is now impossible to access these online.  So much for Gov. Gasbag’s promise of transparency.  In this report Bilman’s campaign treasurer reports $2556.11 in a single in-kind contribution.  She neglects to mention its source.  The two pages in which she is legally required to disclose the source of the contribution are blank.  This is a significant violation of state law.  The treasurer would be personally responsible for a $250 fine.  Where did the contribution come from and what was its purpose (that also was not disclosed)?

Jim Billman Is Proud to be A Bigot

It’s bad enough to be a bigot but how many are so proud of the distinction they want everyone to know?  Jim Billman, head of the Berks County Patriots (Tea Party) and Republican candidate in the 126th House District is such a man.  He began running this ad on local TV this week criticizing Mark Rozzi for his support of marriage equality:

Then he sent a direct mail piece saying he supported drug testing for welfare recipients and, yet again, hitting Rozzi for supporting constitutionally mandated equal rights.  I emailed Billman and asked him why he should have rights I don’t.  He didn’t respond.  I also sent him several links to sites where the Florida drug testing found so few drug addicts among welfare recipients (like you can afford drugs while on welfare, lol) that the cost of the testing was a waste of tax dollars.

Then today I found a flyer on our front door with the badly photoshopped gay marriage photo he used in his TV ad and, yet again, attacking Rozzi for supporting gay marriage.  I understand the Rozzi campaign is being swamped with calls and emails from undecided voters saying this and Billman’s position on “life at conception” has swayed them to vote for Rozzi.

Jim Billman is a fool.  The fact he’s head of the local Tea Party group proves the point but running ads boasting of your bigotry is beyond the pale.  Most Americans support marriage equality because they understand the concept of “equal justice under law.”  Once upon a time tea baggers embraced the constitution.  How quickly men like Jim Billman have now trashed it.

Remember Government By Extortion?

America was on the verge of default.  The safest investment in the world:  United States Treasury Bonds, were about to fail because the Tea Party led Republican House of Representatives decided to play government by extortion.  The resulting crisis over raising the debt ceiling (which will play out again in January depending on the outcome of the election) resulted in a loss of consumer confidence which hurt the economy and the downgrading of the country’s credit rating.

This wasn’t the first instance of House extremists using extortion to hurt the economy.  Repeatedly since 2010 they held a gun to the President’s head (figuratively) and demanded deep cuts in government spending which wound up slowing down the recovery.  While 5.2 million private sector jobs have been created public sector employment has plummeted.

Guess who participated fully in that extortion?  Pennsylvania’s GOP Congressional delegation:

Jim Gerlach

Joe Pitts

Mike Fitzpatrick

Pat Meehan

Charlie Dent

Lou Barletta

Tom Marino

Tim Murphy

Mike Kelly

Todd Platts

Part of that agreement was the sequestration crisis scheduled to hit the economy early in 2012.  It would slash government spending, including defense, by large amounts.  Most agencies will see a 20% across the board cut meaning essential services will be lost.  Do you enjoy safe food, research into cancer and other life threatening diseases, breathable air, safe ground, pharmaceuticals which are safe to take etc?  Forget it.  These Tea bagger conservatives have put all of it at risk along with the safety net for the poor.  Their failed economic policies crashed the economy and drove many middle class Americans into poverty.  Now they want to take away your food stamps, housing assistance, heating assistance and Medicaid.

Are you really going to vote them back in?

“Legitimate” Rape

Congressman Todd Akin on TV yesterday:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

The video:

Is there no limit to the stupidity of Tea baggers?  Did this guy sleep through sex ed, biology and history classes?  The fact he’s a Congressman is scary, the fact he’s Missouri’s Republican U.S. Senate nominee is frightening.

So what is “legitimate” rape?  How does that make other rapes “illegitimate?”  What is the difference in this man’s small mind?  How does he think a woman’s body changes during a violent act of assault to prevent pregnancy?  Thousands of years of history resulted in marauding armies spreading their seed  through raping and pillaging conquered lands and siring children.  Thousands of years of history are wiped out in the tiny brain of Todd Akin.  If he cannot understand or comprehend basic biology how can he handle complex issues facing the country?

Maybe the real lesson here is the failure of abstinence only education.

GOP Holds Holder in Contempt

A Congressional committee voted along party lines yesterday to hold AG Eric Holder in contempt.  He is refusing to violate separation of powers by bowing to demands he turn over Justice Department documents.  The failed Fast and Furious gun running operation is under investigation by Congress so the President invoked executive privilege to protect the secrecy of the files.

Barack Obama condemned the invocation of executive privilege and had not used it before this week.  After promising the most transparent administration in history this doesn’t bode well for yet another broken promise.  The House investigation is primarily a partisan witch hunt led by Darrel Issa.  There are legitimate questions about the wisdom and integrity of Fast and Furious however and being open and transparent would be wise.

News & Notes May 17, 2012

Two large wind farm projects for the state have been canceled because federal tax credits are going by the wayside.  If we’re subsidizing fossil fuels why can’t we subsidize clean, renewable energy?  The smart policy is to support clean energy and end tax credits for dirty ones.

Speaking of smart, does the Tea Party have an IQ test for membership?  Have you spoken with any of these morons?  I bet if you score more than 90 you’re rejected.  Their signs are the most hilarious examples of illiteracy around.

I was in Shanksville in September 2010 covering the first public memorial to Flight 93.  It’s a sobering experience to see where the heroes aboard that flight cratered into the mountain.  A fundraiser in DC just raised $2 million for the memorial.

James O’Keefe has had yet another video debunked.  This time he sought to prove voter fraud and, oops, missed the mark because he didn’t check his facts.  Think Progress has the story.

Keystone Progress is putting the heat on Pennsylvania legislators who are members of ALEC.  So far 14 have resigned from the lobbying organization whose mission it is to take away your rights.  Go and sign their petition.  Surprisingly two Democrats remain on their list.

The arc of justice bends towards progress:

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest found that a section of the NDAA which gives the government powers to regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists could be used against journalists, scholars and activists to curtail their first amendment rights.

The NDAA is clearly unconstitutional and President Obama failed when he decided not to veto the bill.

VP Biden went after Romney’s days as a vulture capitalist in an appearance in Youngstown, Ohio yesterday:

Biden casts the race as one between an Obama vision that promotes fairness and a Romney ideology that helps the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. It’s a strategy that combines an attack on Romney with a sunny appraisal of the country’s future under Obama.

“Then there’s Romney economics, which says as long as the government helps the guys at the very top do well, workers and small businesses and communities can be left to fend for themselves,” Biden says, according to excerpts of his speech released by the campaign.

As the country nears the debt limit ceiling Tea baggers are again threatening to hold the nation hostage to their radical agenda.  Republicans spent all of this money and now refuse to pay the bill.  I keep hearing these people claim the government needs to live within its means just as the average family must.  First of all the average family doesn’t.  Because real wages have been stagnant ever since this Reagan Revolution began, they live on credit.  Still, they have to pay the bills when they come due.  The country must also.  Since 1981 Republican presidents have spent like drunken sailors with the approval of Congress.  Now they have to pay the bill even if it means increasing taxes on the 1%.

President Obama has nominated two Judges for the federal bench:

Matthew W. Brann:  Nominee for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

Matthew W. Brann has been a partner at the law firm of Brann, Williams, Caldwell & Sheetz since 1995, where he concentrates his practice in the area of tort, contract, commercial, and real property litigation.  Prior to joining the firm as an associate in 1991, Brann served as a law clerk with the Court of Common Pleas in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.  Brann received his J.D. in 1990 from the Dickinson School of Law and his B.A. in 1987 from the University of Notre Dame.

Judge Malachy Edward Mannion:  Nominee for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

Judge Malachy Edward Mannion has been a United States Magistrate Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania since 2001.  Apart from a four-year stint as a partner at the law firm of Hourigan, Kluger, Spohrer & Quinn PC in the mid-90s, Judge Mannion spent the fifteen years prior to his appointment to the bench serving as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.  While a federal prosecutor, he served as Chief of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force from 1989 to 1993.  From 1980 to 1986, Judge Mannion was an Assistant District Attorney in the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office.  He began his legal career as an associate at the law firm of Bartels, Pykett & Aronwald.  Judge Mannion received his J.D. in 1979 from Pace University School of Law and his B.S. in 1976 from the University of Scranton.

I reported recently that prisoner John Carter was killed by prison guards at Rockview State Prison.  Now criminal complaints have been filed against the guards involved in the murder:

According to multiple, detailed witness accounts reported to the Human Rights Coalition and family of Carter, staff in riot gear filled his solitary confinement cell with an extraordinary quantity of OC chemical munitions, otherwise known as pepper-spray. Following the attack with pepper-spray, his cell door was opened and guards rushed him, assaulting Carter, who was reportedly unconscious, with electro-shock weapons and beating him.

Why is this not being investigated by the Attorney General?

In that vein a grand jury in Pittsburgh has until the end of the month to decide whether or not to indict Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.  The testimony in her sister Sen. Jane Orie’s criminal trial has revealed extensive corruption in the use of state resources for Melvin’s two state Supreme Court races.  She continues to sit on the Court under a cloud of suspicion.

Why didn’t AG Tom Corbett investigate the obvious corruption in the Senate during his extensive probes of the legislature?   It appears they botched the Sandusky case too.  There doesn’t seem to be anywhere enough evidence to convict the former coach.  When it turns out the date of the most heinous account was off by more than a year I think there was shoddy work done by the OAG.

Congressional Republicans refused to vote for the expanded Violence Against Women Act, a signature piece of legislation pushed by Joe Biden when he was in the Senate.  Now they’ve voted for a version which actually weakens current protections.  Jim Gerlach and Mike Fitzpatrick were among state Members of Congress to weaken protections for women against violence.  Why don’t all women deserve to be protected from domestic violence?  What do these men have against women?

70’s disco queen Donna Summer had her last dance today when she died from cancer:

Election Day With A Tea Bagger

I spent five hours Tuesday outside a polling place with a member of the Berks County “Patriots.”  These pseudo liberty loving morons have no regard for anyone but themselves.  When the man first arrived he voted first and I asked if he was a Democrat.  His response:  “hell no.”  So my first interaction with him was profane.  It was representative of his friends and compatriots who showed up during the day.  They were rude and belligerent.  One walked up to the Tea Bagger and said he was finally voting against “the monkey eared president.”  I heard many more racist comments through the day.

I did make a few points myself.  Discussing how we could tell from their vehicles who was his voter and which mine I was able to point out that my voters have a social conscience.  He kept saying how property rights are supreme and that no one else can tell a property owner what they can do with their property.  In that case let’s buy the land next to his and start a toxic waste dump.  He said he’d bought a Ford after being a Chevy guy all his life because Ford didn’t take a bailout.  he said the government should have let ten million of his fellow Americans lose their jobs.  Of course the economic ripple effect likely would have cost him his job too but these guys are too stupid to understand that.

He also ranted against the poor.  He thinks people on food stamps eat royally and live rather nicely on welfare.  I asked him if he could feed his family on $35 per week.  Another tea bagger engaged Kathi Ember of the Kutztown Area Democratic Club and I on several issues.  At least friendly, he illustrated a shockingly bad knowledge of basic facts.  He kept claiming that 47% of the country “is on the dole.”  He refused to admit he got his misinformation from Fox News but we know who pushes this sort of propaganda.

I didn’t learn anything about the members of the Tea Party I didn’t already know from writing my book about them but it is depressing to see such stupid, ignorant people pushing their radical ideas.  The difference between us and them in a nutshell:  they put property first, we put people first.