We were left wondering why a man who served 16 terms in Congress and who bravely came out as gay all the way back in 1987 felt the need to hide his atheism until he was out of office. Was it really harder to come out as an atheist politician in 2013 than as a gay one 25 years ago? Incredibly, the answer might be yes. For starters, consider that there is not a single self-described atheist in Congress today. Not one.
You may find this brief history of the US Senate's filibuster fight timely and interesting, as the chamber just voted to end it for "executive branch and judicial nominees, except for the Supreme Court."
By a vote of 64-32. the United States Senate has passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Full passage of ENDA would make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is already illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age or disability. [more inside]
With the government shutdown now well underway and the effects beginning to be felt, the first debt default by a major world power in modern history since the collapse of the Soviet Union speeding toward us in what could be as little as a week, what will Americans and the world think of the US Congress that refused to pay the nation's outstanding debts, making America look like a dead-beat nation to potential investors around the world? Polls show Americans overwhelmingly blame congressional Republicans for the political standoff and shutdown. With some Republican congressmen on the record arguing that a US debt default may actually be necessary to rein in further government spending, it's easy to see why many Americans blame them. [more inside]
Happy Political Clusterf*ck Day (U.S.)! In one corner: the first federal government shutdown since 1996, born of the House GOP/Tea Party faction's crusade to delay, defund, and destroy Obamacare (and the Democratic Senate and President's resolve to not do that). "Continuing resolutions" have ping-ponged between the two houses, fighting over language to cancel healthcare reform (plus a few other items, such as the implementation of Mitt Romney's entire economic agenda). National parks are closed, contractors are hamstrung, and 800,000 federal workers furloughed until Speaker Boehner drops the "Hastert Rule" and passes a bill the other branches can agree to. In the other corner, heedless of the chaos (though not without glitches of its own): the official rollout of the Affordable Care Act and its state insurance exchanges. The portal at Healthcare.gov is your one-stop shop for browsing, comparing, and purchasing standardized, regulated insurance coverage with premium rebates, guaranteed coverage, and expanded Medicaid for the poor (in some states). A crazy day, overall -- but peanuts compared to what might happen if the debt ceiling is breached in 16 days. [more inside]
If the Federal Government shuts down on October 1st, the DC city government is supposed to shut down as well. In a bid to keep the city functioning, Mayor Vince Gray has declared all city employees "essential." Non-voting Rep Eleanor Holmes Norton and the DC GOP are also petitioning Congress to keep the city open. The District's budget comes from local taxes, but needs Congressional approval to spend it's own money.
Senators Mike Quigley, Tammy Baldwin, Mike Enzi, Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Lee, along with thirteen other senators and 64 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter last Thursday asking the Department of Health and Human Services asking for an end to the ban on blood donation of all gay men who have had sex with other men since 1977. [more inside]
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has a Flickr account. A few highlights. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin’s Post-Scandal Playbook (Spoiler: The disgraced Congressman is likely running for Mayor of New York City. SLNYT, Via)
House of Cards is a new original "TV" series that is not destined for any TV distribution channel. Instead, it was developed by, and is only available through, Netflix. Netflix posted the entire first "season," 13 1-hour episodes, on Friday. (Is this the new thing?) Some of us, cough, watched the whole thing. [more inside]
TruthTeller is an ambitious new automated application built by the Washington Post, which fact checks political speeches, ads and interviews "in as close to real time as possible." The prototype is intended to be a complement to the paper's Fact Checker Blog. More on the project from TechCrunch and Poynter.
There's been a lot of talk in the US media about the "Fiscal Cliff" and the "Grand Bargain" What are they?
The "fiscal cliff" is a confluence of three legal changes taking effect Jan. 1: the expiration of a payroll-tax cut, the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, and the advent of mandatory spending cuts known as "sequestration."Fiscal Cliff 101: 5 Basic Questions Answered. What's Happening: Fiscal Cliff Explained [more inside]
As the least-productive Congress in a generation draws to a close, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has spoken in support of a new proposal to reform the filibuster. The proposed changes would not eliminate the filibuster, but would restore the talking filibuster, which requires that the opposition explain their objections and keep talking in order to delay a vote on the bill under consideration. [more inside]
Russell Simmons presents thirteen proposed Constitutional amendments aimed at getting money out of American politics.
"Used to be that the idea was 'once every two years voters elected their representatives.' And now instead it's 'every ten years the representatives choose their constituents.'"
Obama won Ohio by two points, and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won by five, but Democrats emerged with just four of Ohio’s 16 House seats. In Wisconsin, Obama prevailed by seven points, and Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin by five, but their party finished with just three of the state’s eight House seats. In Virginia, Obama and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine were clear victors, but Democrats won just three of the commonwealth’s 11 House seats. In Florida, Obama eked out a victory and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson won by 13 points, but Democrats will hold only 10 of the Sunshine State’s 27 House seats. The Revenge of 2010: How gerrymandering saved the congressional Republican majority, undermined Obama's mandate, set the terms of the sequestration fight, and locked Democrats out of the House for the next decade. It's not a new problem. But if the Supreme Court guts the Voting Rights Act, it could get a whole lot worse. And the electoral college may be next. (What's gerrymandering, you ask? Let the animals explain. Meet the Gerry-mander. Peruse the abused. Catch the movie. Or just play the game. Previously.)
Just in case you haven't overdosed on American politics: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Most Corrupt members of Congress (Full 2012 report - pdf). [more inside]
The November 6th elections saw a lot of historic decisions made in the United States -- the first black president re-elected, marijuana legalized for the first time in two states, gay marriage affirmed by the voters in four, and even the first openly gay senator. But perhaps the most underreported result yesterday came from outside the country altogether: in the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a solid majority voted to reject the island's current status and join America as the long-fabled 51st state. How the bid might fare in Congress is an open question, but both President Obama and Republican leaders have vowed support for the statehood movement if it proves successful at the ballot box (while D.C. officials ponder a two-fer gambit to grease the wheels). Though it would be the poorest state, joining the Union might bring economic benefits to both sides [PDF]. And politically, some argue the island might prove to be a reliably red state, despite the Hispanic population, although arch-conservative governor and Romney ally Luis Fortuño appears headed toward a narrow loss. But the most important question here, as always, is: how to redesign the flag? (Puerto Rican statehood discussed previously.)
Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize U.S. Democracy writes SciAm, as part of their election coverage, which also includes rating two candidates' answers on particular sciencey topics (full replies here, marking sheet here), as well as inquiring about the positions of other congress critters. Use 'Print' button for single page presentation
Revelations From Running For Congress Steve Packard writes a blog called "Depleted Cranium," which debunks bad science in the media. Last spring he decided to run for Congress on a "Science-based" platform. It was ultimately a heartbreaking experience for him and he had to quit, as he'd run out of money for food. He has a pretty great post up summing up his experiences now. And at this point probably wouldn't mind if you donated a couple of cans of beans.
"Republicans stand the chance of controlling Congress for the rest of the decade if they don't screw it up."
"The Republicans’ dominance in races throughout the country in the 2010 elections eviscerated the Democrats’ farm teams in state after state." Former Bill Clinton political director Doug Sosnik offers an 8-page analysis of the U.S. election that discusses the likelihood of an Obama win, the chances of a complete Republican takeover of Congress, continued Republican dominance of governorships and state legislatures for the rest of the decade, and more. There's also a related slideshow. [more inside]
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., son of revered civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, Sr., has been missing from the public eye since June 10th, failing to cast votes and making no public appearances. After weeks of vague statements raising more questions than answers about his mystery illness, Jackson's office has stated that he is seeking treatment for "debilitating" depression at the Mayo Clinic. Jackson's office denies alcoholism or drug addiction. [more inside]
Earlier this year, six scientists and doctors filed a lawsuit against the US Food and Drug Administration alleging that the FDA had secretly monitored their personal e-mail accounts after they (legally) warned Congress that the "agency was approving medical devices that they believed posed unacceptable risks to patients." The agency said it had done so to "investigate allegations that the employees had leaked confidential information to the public." At the time, the FDA indicated their computer monitoring was limited to five scientists. But now, the New York Times is reporting that "what began as a narrow investigation" "quickly grew in mid-2010 into a much broader campaign to counter outside critics of the agency’s medical review process.". [more inside]
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (previously), R-MI 11, is a very conservative politician and a colorful character, to say the least. [more inside]
Apparently, the USHOR Appropriations Committee feels uncomfortable about permitting convenient bulk access to THOMAS database of bills.
Calls are growing for a special counsel to investigate leaks of classified information by the Obama administration. Concerns have been raised over leaks involving classified information on cyberwarfare, infiltration of an Al Qaeda cell in Yemen, and drone warfare procedures. [more inside]
The Sunlight Foundation, an organization dedicated to transparency in government, has analyzed 17 years of Congressional speech (per the Congressional Record) and found that the Flesch-Kincaid grade level of speech on the floor of the House and Senate has dropped by nearly a full year in the last decade. [more inside]
What do John McCain, Rick Santorum, and George Voinovich have in common? They have all been seated at the Senate's candy desk throughout their careers. [more inside]
In December 1974, New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh's front-page account (paywall) of the CIA's MK-ULTRA program documented their illegal domestic intelligence operations against the antiwar movement and other dissident groups in the United States. The article eventually prompted investigations by the Rockefeller Commission and the Church and Pike committees. "There have been other reports on the CIA's doping of civilians, but they have mostly dished about activities in New York City. Accounts of what actually occurred in San Francisco have been sparse and sporadic. But newly declassified CIA records, recent interviews, and a personal diary of [George H. White,] an operative at Stanford Special Collections shed more light on the breadth of the San Francisco operation." SF Weekly: "Operation Midnight Climax: How the CIA doped San Francisco citizens with LSD." MK-ULTRA: Previously on Metafilter. (Via)
At the instruction of House Republicans, US Capitol Police arrested Josh Fox for filming a public hearing—a meeting of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. Josh directed Gasland (previously), a documentary on the potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used by energy companies which has been linked to causing earthquakes in Arkansas and other side effects. [more inside]
Pictures are making the rounds of a younger Ron Paul in the 1975-1979 Houston Astros "rainbow" uniform. Why, you might ask? "An 1889 editorial in the New York Sun advised 'all statesmen of any aspirations for the future to consider that if they have not yet recorded themselves as lovers of our national game [baseball] or some other sporting interest, they should do so immediately.'" This isn't lost on the 21st-century GOP hopefuls, either (you have to see the Rick Santorum video). Since not long after that editorial--1909 actually--the "two parties" in the U.S. Congress have faced off in the Annual Congressional Baseball Game. [more inside]
SOPA and PIPA dropped by Congress. The ideas present in both SOPA and PIPA may return, but both bills in their present form—and with their present names—are probably done for good.
Presidential appointments that require Senate confirmation can be made without confirmation by the President when the chamber is in recess: a so-called recess appointment, wherein the appointee is allowed to serve until the end of the next congressional session. During the Bush II administration, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid began holding pro forma sessions every three days—a local Senator gavels the session in and immediately back out—to ensure that the Senate never went into recess and as a result, Bush stopped confirming recess appointments. When the Obama administration took over, the Republicans began holding the same pro forma sessions to prevent Obama from appointing any positions in recess. This week, Obama made four appointments, including Richard Cordray to the newly created role of director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, despite the fact that the Senate is not in technical recess. [more inside]
How Money Corrupts Congress (previously) - John Baez sez: "It's easy to get distracted in a thicket of issues. Thoreau said 'There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.' But what's the root? Watch this video for Lawrence Lessig's answer."
Tomato: fruit or vegetable? In 1893, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Nix v. Hedden that the tomato is legally a vegetable and not a fruit, botanical definitions be damned. In 2001, the European Union disagreed, saying that "tomatoes, the edible parts of rhubarb stalks, carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons and water-melons are considered to be fruit". [more inside]
Lt. Gen. Russell Honore has a solution to the increasing splintering and radicalization of Congress: send all the members of Congress to boot camp and keep them there until they recognize their duty to America.
Worst. Congress. Ever. "With the debt ceiling impasse and legislative gridlock sucking all the air out of Washington, Foreign Policy asked the experts: Is this really the worst Congress ever?"
The House appropriations panel that oversees NASA has proposed a spending bill that would cut funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble and the telescope many astronomers consider the best chance to continue and expand the Hubble's legacy. Here are the Subcommittee Members.
Although much has been said about the demographic composition of the United States Congress, much less has been said about the thousands of staffers who work behind the scenes, drafting legislation, interacting with constituents, and advising their congressperson. The National Journal has created two infographics that attempt to describe this silent, but influential workforce.
In a 32 page report to Congress [pdf] President Obama concludes:
...the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of “hostilities” contemplated by the Resolution’s 60 day termination provision.Now, the New York Times reports that this legal opinion was reached by rejecting the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department. It is instructive to compare President Obama's actions with those of his predecessor, George W. Bush. [more inside]
Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner, of New York's 9th congressional district, will resign from Congress today at 2 p.m. in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. [more inside]
"I, Amy Myers, do hereby challenge Representative Michele Bachmann to a Public Forum Debate and/or Fact Test on The Constitution of the United States, United States History and United States Civics."
Open Letter TO JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. The Democrat from Springfield responds to the Chase CEO's letter to shareholders.
$1,000 per pound to orbit is the holy grail for rocket pricing. Elon Musk claims that his SpaceX corporation's new Falcon Heavy will be able to lift 117,000 lbs. to low earth orbit for 1/3rd the cost of the next most capable launchers, the space shuttle and the Delta IV Heavy. [more inside]
The US House of Representatives has voted to cut all federal NPR funding. To take effect, this would still need to make it through the senate, which most likely would not succeed. [more inside]
Hearings on the "extent of radicalization" of US Muslims initiated by Rep. Peter King are underway in Washington. [more inside]
Enjoying your Friday night? Be careful out there. In between other things, including voting for huge cuts to the EPA's budget and regulating power, the U.S. House of Representatives just voted to eliminate Title X, originally signed into law 40 years ago by Republican President Richard Nixon, which provides funding for Planned Parenthood. [more inside]
The Patriot Act lives! The US House of Representatives has agreed to extend some of surveillance powers granted by the 2001 Patriot Act after the 9/11 attacks. In a 275-144 vote, the chamber voted to extend until December provisions on wiretaps, access to business records and surveillance of terror suspects.