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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

White House fighting surveillance amendment before House vote, Wednesday

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan)
After failing to get his bipartisan amendment included in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which would have eliminated indefinite detentions of US citizens without trial, Michigan Republican, Rep. Justin Amash, has another important civil right amendment for this year’s NDAA.

Written by Amash and Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, John Conyers (D-MI), the Amash-Conyers amendment (HR 2397), scheduled to be voted on Wednesday, would limit the National Security Agency’s dragnet approach to meta-data gathering from phone calls and internet activity, to only those who are specifically being targeted for investigation.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Study ranks state governments on transparency, corruption

To many, “government integrity” is, and has always been, an oxymoron. We rarely expect those who we hire to serve us from whichever office, chamber or desk, to remain, or retain, the commitment to honest, open government they may have promised when they were asking for our vote. Occasionally, in times of particularly lean trust in the leaders we have, we set aside our cynicism and look to a candidate who says the right things about restoring that trust, and we sweep them into office, hoping that this time, it will be different.

But there are no guarantees. If the candidates we elect create new, government accountability laws, there is no evidence they will either enforce them against their cronies, or follow them themselves. “[T]he states with the worst reputations and sorriest histories of political corruption face the most public pressure to clean up their acts, so they pass new laws and strengthen old ones to create a framework of integrity,” wrote Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, a non-profit government watchdog group based in Chicago.

“That doesn’t mean that all of the public officials in those states are following the new rules or obeying the new laws,” he continued, “—you can lead a horse to water…etc., etc.—but at least they know what’s expected.”

Shaw was explaining the motivation behind, and usefulness of, his group’s third BGA-Alper Services Integrity Index.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Filibuster change: the countdown to a ‘Humpty Dumpty’ rules change

"I love the Senate, but right now the Senate is broken and needs to be fixed. It’s time for course correction." - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), speaking at the Center for American Progress, Monday morning

Something that could shake the bustling tunnels beneath the U.S. Capitol is about to be released by Sen. Reid - a recipe for ending the gridlock that is keeping President Obama's nominees to executive branch appointments from being confirmed by the United States Senate, under its constitutional obligation to advise and consent. Reid is holding fast to his threat to change the Senate rules regarding the filibuster, to make it easier for "whoever is president, [to] have the ability to pick their team."
Reid calls his plan "a minor change, no big deal." But many observers, even those who support filibuster reform, say the maneuver is a slippery slope, with cascading side effects that may be worse than the gridlock itself.
"Senator Reid would be opening a Pandora’s Box if the and the Democratic majority were violate the Senate rules by resorting to a subterfuge like the nuclear option to 'amend' the Senate rules," Emmet J. Bondurant, the lead attorney in a lawsuit against the U.S. Senate to end the filibuster on constitutional grounds, wrote to us in an email.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Solar flare hits Koch brothers' group in Georgia

Side view of Georgia PSC commissioners
Georgia Public Safety Commissioners (L-R) Tim Echols, Doug Everett, Stan Wise, and Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, Jr.
Commissioner Chuck Eaton participated by phone.
 "Americans for Prosperity just lost," said the solar power activist, moments after the Georgia Public Service Commission, a group of five elected Republicans who regulate the state's utilities, voted 3-2, Thursday, to accept an amendment that would add 525 megawatts of solar power for the state's electricity customers over the next 20 years. "AFP Georgia," he added, "is going down."

American for Prosperity is a conservative community activist group funded by Charles and David Koch, whose Koch Industries is in the fossil fuel and power plant business, among other things. They also already have a rather large footprint in the Peach State, where their wholly owned subsidiary, Georgia-Pacific, a paper and wood products company, is headquartered.

(The Kochs have also lobbied members of Congress not to tax polluters, and sign their "No Climate Tax Pledge.")

The AFP in Georgia was mobilized to take on what should have been a no-brainer in a solidly red state, resistant to new things - to say that solar was too unreliable, too expensive and costs people jobs. They also don't like it because it gets incentives from the Obama administration.
Tea Party Patriots
Tea Party Patriots pose during a break in the PSC proceedings.

But just because the big guys were behind it, it doesn't mean all of the state's conservative groups marched in lockstep with them. The Tea Party Patriots, one of the oldest TP organizations in the country, fell in with the solar industry, to form what original Tea Party co-founder, Debbie Dooley calls a "Green Tea Coalition."

"When this issue first came up," admits Tea Party Patriot, Ed Painter, who attended Thursday's PSC hearing, "I had the same reaction that most conservatives had on solar power, which is absolutely negative. It was uneconomical, uncompetitive crony capitalism." Painter said that this plan is different because it "is a free market plan, where in the end, the consumers stand to benefit greatly." Because of that, he said, "It changed my mind, not on how solar power is done in general, but on this project."


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

2014 battle lines coming into focus

A famous Democrat told me recently, the Georgia Republicans in the 2014 Senate race - Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston - are all "certifiable." They are some of the loudest, logically dissonant voices in the House of Representatives, but by running, they are out of Congress, permanently. Further, having them in that race gives the probable Democrat, Michelle Nunn, a real shot at winning.

Some on the left may have been disappointed that the exemplar of the most ridiculous and extreme voices of the Republican Party, and right wing politics, Minnesota's Michele Bachmann, chose not to run again in the coming midterms, because they wanted to show that not only could she be beaten, but the stubborn, conservative ideology she represents would go down with her, in dramatic, flaming fashion, in 2014.

But, as they say in baseball, a walk is as good as a hit. If we can beat them through attrition that's even better than beating them at the ballot box. For one thing, it's cheaper. And while the fall of one narrow-minded icon will not stop the Tea Party goose steppers, it is a sign that their candidates realize their mass appeal is fading. But that presents a conundrum for those Republicans, in solidly red districts, who consider the far right base a necessary evil, because it is an evil that can cost them their seats.