It took Democrats showing that they would stick together on a filibuster to block fast-track review of the proposed “free trade” deal with Pacific Rim countries to show President Obama and Republicans they were serious about getting concessions to protect American jobs and enforce health and labor standards (5/12), but Senate leaders reached a deal the next day (5/13) to let Democrats have votes on key trade enforcement measures before they proceed with the fast-track authority.

Democrats in the Senate blocked fast-track review of the Trans-Pacific Partnership bill (5/12) as 52 senators — mainly Republicans — voted to start debate on the bill, short of the 60 needed to overcome the Democratic filibuster. Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), was the only Democrat to stick with Obama in support of the fast-track measure. All the Republican senators voted for the fast-track authority, except for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who missed the vote, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who voted against the bill for procedural reasons. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also missed the vote

The following day, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a critic of Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal, said, “I think that we’ve come up with something that is fair.”

Under the agreement, the Senate was to vote (5/14) on an African trade deal, and then a customs and enforcement measure that includes many of the trade protections Democrats feared would be lost, including a provision that targets currency manipulation by China and trading partners.

Some Democrats had hoped that a package of four trade bills would all proceed together, ensuring that Obama could not get his fast-track authority unless they got their enforcement measures. It would also guard against any veto threats, Michael McAuliff and Jessica Schulberg reported at HuffingtonPost.com (5/13).

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who led the Tuesday filibuster, said the deal was good enough. “I understand that all four aren’t going to be together exactly the way I want it, I understand that,” Brown said. “But I can read votes. I also think that nobody saw us being successful yesterday three days out. And people have strong feelings about the customs enforcement and people have strong feelings about taking care of workers.”

In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he is “still optimistic” Congress has the votes to give the president authority to fast-track international trade deals, and expected to proceed shortly after the Senate deals with it, though Laura Barron-Lopez reported at HuffingtonPost.com (5/13) that people watching the GOP vote count closely said that “Boehner is dozens of votes short of what he needs, given that only a handful of Democratic votes can be expected.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the temporary stop was “good news for America’s working families, domestic producers, and communities,” and he called on Democrats to continue to insist on combining the currency measure into the fast-track trade bill. “Anything less leaves America’s workers, domestic producers and communities behind,” Trumka said in a statement (5/13).

‘MEET THE PRESS’ HAS TROUBLE REMEMBERING BERNIE. Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting noted (5/4) that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ announcement (4/30) that he was running for the Democratic nomination, which was lightly reported by the national news media, also was ignored on the 5/3 broadcast of Meet the Press, although host Chuck Todd interviewed former Gov. Martin O’Malley, mainly about his experience as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, but also touching on his undeclared Democratic campaign for president. Todd declared in the panel discussion that “we are going to have another big week of presidential announcements coming up.” He mentioned former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and even Gov. Chris Christie, whose potential candidacy has been floundering after two key allies were indicted and another pleaded guilty over the “Bridgegate” scandal. The show mentioned 12 people who are running for president, but ignored the candidate who actually had declared his candidacy the previous week. In fact, FAIR noted that Sanders had not been mentioned on the show since 9/14/14, when he made his only guest appearance on the show.

FAIR added, “It’s worth noting that Meet the Press did not ignore Sanders because he’s so much more obscure than the other candidates who were mentioned. Not that polls taken more than nine months before the first vote will be cast have much validity, but in four national opinion polls taken in the month before he announced his candidacy, Sanders averaged 6% of the vote — as opposed to O’Malley, who averaged 2%. In the Republican race, Todd was previewing the announcement of Fiorina, who’s averaging 1% in polls, albeit in a more crowded field.

“Campaign pundits often use fundraising ability as a measure of the seriousness of a candidate. Sanders raised a surprising $1.5 mln in the 24 hours after his announcement, in increments that averaged under $50. By comparison, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul raised $800,000, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz $1 mln and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio $1.25 mln in their first official day of campaigning.

“Todd introduced the last topic of the day by saying, ‘I’m obsessed with elections, as people know’ — and launching into a 400-word discussion of the race for British prime minister between Labour’s Ed Miliband and Conservative David Cameron.”

On the other networks, CBS‘s Face the Nation devoted its 5/3 broadcast to the Baltimore protests, featuring media-anointed poverty expert Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wisc.), while the main guest on ABC‘s This Week was Sen. Bernie Sanders, discussing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination.

The following week, Todd noted in a panel discussion about the Trans-Pacific Partnership that, with Elizabeth Warren out of the presidential race challenging Hillary Clinton, Sanders had emerged in the “sort of, the second place vote” and “suddenly getting into the teens,” which appeared to be a reference to polling of Democrats in New Hampshire that showed Sanders getting 18% support in the latest Bloomberg poll, and in Iowa, where he was the choice of 15% in a Quinnipiac poll. (Clinton is still polling in the 60s in both states with Warren out of the race.)

US SUBSIDIZES HUGE OIL COMPANIES. The world’s biggest and most profitable fossil fuel companies are receiving huge and rising subsidies from US taxpayers, a practice slammed as absurd by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) given the threat of climate change, the Guardian reported (5/12).

A Guardian investigation of three specific projects, run by Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum, has revealed that the subsidies were all granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

The Guardian found that:

• A proposed Shell petrochemical refinery in Pennsylvania is in line for $1.6 bln in state subsidy, according to a deal struck in 2012 when the company made an annual profit of $26.8 bln.

• ExxonMobil’s upgrades to its Baton Rouge refinery in Louisiana are benefitting from $119 mln of state subsidy, with the support starting in 2011, when the company made a $41 bln profit.

• A jobs subsidy scheme worth $78 mln to Marathon Petroleum in Ohio began in 2011, when the company made $2.4 bln in profit.

“At a time when scientists tell us we need to reduce carbon pollution to prevent catastrophic climate change, it is absurd to provide massive taxpayer subsidies that pad fossil-fuel companies’ already enormous profits,” said Sanders, who announced (4/30) he is running for president.

Sanders, with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), recently proposed an End Polluter Welfare Act, which they say would cut $135 bln of US subsidies for fossil fuel companies over the next decade. “Between 2010 and 2014, the oil, coal, gas, utility, and natural resource extraction industries spent $1.8 bln on lobbying, much of it in defense of these giveaways,” according to Sanders and Ellison.

NSA REFORM BILL FALLS SHORT, CRITICS SAY. In the wake of a landmark court ruling which found the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk domestic phone surveillance program is illegal, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would rein in the intelligence agency’s powers — but some privacy advocates see it as an inadequate measure for true reform, Nadia Prupis noted at CommonDreams.org (5/13).

The USA Freedom Act, which passed on a bipartisan 338-88 (5/13), would end the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic phone records, while extending certain provisions of the USA Patriot Act for an additional four years.

As Spencer Ackerman and Sabrina Siddiqui write at the Guardian: “Absent explicit congressional reauthorization, a controversial provision of the 2001 Patriot Act, known as Section 215, will end next month. The Federal Bureau of Investigation relies on section 215 for access to a wide category of business records for terrorism investigations outside normal subpoena and warrant restrictions. Since 2006, the NSA has relied on section 215 for the ongoing daily collection of all US phone metadata, a practice begun secretly in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

“The USA Freedom Act would bar bulk collection of domestic phone data under Section 215 while extending the overall authority for another four years. While many privacy groups and tech companies back the bill, several other civil libertarian groups consider it an insufficient step, favoring a full elimination of Section 215 and noting that the bill would leave the vast majority of the NSA’s bulk collection powers untouched.”

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York found (5/7) that Section 215 did not authorize the NSA’s program, which swept up billions of phone records and metadata of US citizens for over a decade after the 9/11/01 attacks and was exposed in June 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden. ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo, who argued the case, called the ruling “a resounding victory for the rule of law.”

Some in Congress see the USA Freedom Act as their best shot at limiting the NSA’s powers, Prupis noted. However, while the bill has bipartisan support and White House endorsement, it also faces opposition from both sides of the aisle. Some digital rights watchdogs, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have come out against the bill over what they say are “serious faults” with its reform efforts, particularly its decision to extend Section 215, even at a lesser capacity.

In a blog post published April 30, EFF legislative analyst Mark Jaycox and activism director Rainey Reitman called the USA Freedom Act “a small step instead of a giant leap,” particularly in comparison with previous iterations of the bill, introduced in 2013 and 2014, which offered stronger reforms but failed to progress through Congress.

The ACLU, which argued last week’s case in front of the Second Circuit, does not formally oppose or support the USA Freedom Act. However, the organization has criticized the House Rules Committee for barring consideration of amendments to the bill.

If the USA Freedom Act passes the House as expected, it will go to the Senate, where it faces strong opposition from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is pushing for a “rubber-stamp reauthorization of Patriot Act spying authorities,” the EFF’s Reitman said.

“2015 can and should be the year for powerful surveillance reform, and we’re urging the Senate to rise to this opportunity,” she added.

AMTRAK WRECK KILLS 8, CONGRESS ARGUES OVER RAILROAD FUNDING. Early indications were that speeding into a turn may have caused an Amtrak train to derail in Philadelphia (5/12), killing eightAmtrak and injuring more than 200, but Laura Clawson noted at DailyKos.com (5/13) that the House Appropriations Committee the next day to cut Amtrak funding by 20%. The rail service survived one House vote earlier this year that would have eliminated funding altogether, but Republicans insist that Amtrak should be run as a profit-making business rather than seeing it as transportation infrastructure that is necessary for the nation’s economy.

“Highways don’t make a profit—they get government funding (though even they don’t get enough of that these days),” Clawson wrote. “Amtrak should be considered in the same category as highways. It’s a public good that reduces highway congestion, gets people in and out of crowded cities efficiently, and has major environmental benefits over most alternatives. And there is demand—in recent years, ridership has been growing. But Amtrak’s crumbling infrastructure means that tunnels in need of repair or replacement become choke points and train speeds are limited by track quality.”

While Republicans propose to cut Amtrak’s budget from $1.4 bln to $1.13 bln, in comparison, China’s railway budget for the next fiscal year is $128 bln, National Journal reported (4/18).

10 FIERCE SENATE RACES SHAPING UP. Democrats have a great chance to win back the Senate in 2016 after losing their majority last fall, Jonathan Easley wrote in The Hill (5/12). Republicans must defend 24 seats, compared with only 10 for Democrats, and they must do so in an election year when turnout could favor their opponents. And retirements have made the GOP’s path even tougher.

In Wisconsin, Sen. Ron Johnson (R) faces the most uphill climb of any GOP Senate incumbent seeking reelection. Public Policy Polling in March showed Johnson winning 41% of the vote, to 50% for former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) if there is a rematch of the 2010 race, which Johnson won by 5-percentage-points in a great year for Republicans nationally.

If Johnson isn’t the most endangered GOP Senate incumbent, it is Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), who also represents a solidly blue state and won election in a midterm year. He’ll now have to win reelection in a presidential year, where turnout could be less favorable for him.

Kirk, who suffered a stroke in 2012, is expected to face Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both her legs in combat in Iraq. Polls show a dead-even race.

In Florida, with Sen. Marco Rubio running for president instead of re-election, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has thrown its weight behind Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), a centrist former Republican. Liberal firebrand Rep. Alan Grayson (D), also is considering a bid.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, a conservative lawmaker with Tea Party credibility, is so far the only declared candidate on the Republican side.

Nevada is the GOP’s best shot at picking up a seat currently held by Democrats. Still, Republicans might have had a better chance if Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hadn’t decided to retire.

Reid’s handpicked successor, former Nevada Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto is so far unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval (Nev.) is popular and would be the favorite to win the Senate race, but he appears likely to remain in his current job. About a half-dozen other potential GOP candidates are waiting for Sandoval to officially bow out before deciding for sure whether to enter the race. Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), an Iraq War veteran and proven fundraiser from a swing-district, is considered by some observers to be the strongest option.

In Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman (R) has banked nearly $8 mln and his campaign has also rolled out hundreds of endorsements from GOP officials in the state, from Gov. John Kasich on down.

Portman is likely to face former Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) in the general election. The Democrat is a prodigious fundraiser with solid name recognition across the state. A Quinnipiac poll released in April showed Strickland with a 9-point lead over Portman, highlighting the strong headwinds Portman faces.

In Pennsylvania, Sen. Pat Toomey (R) should be in trouble. A former president of the conservative Club for Growth, Toomey won his seat in the GOP landslide of 2010. The state hasn’t gone for a GOP presidential nominee since 1988, and Democratic presidential candidates have consistently won the state by comfortable margins.

The problem for Democrats is that their only candidate challenging Toomey so far is former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), the retired Navy admiral bested by the Republican in 2010.

A Quinnipiac survey in April showed Toomey with a 13-point lead over Sestak. Toomey also ended 2014 with $5.8 mln in cash on hand, compared with $1.5 mln for Sestak.

Still, Toomey only edged Sestak by 2 percentage points in Pennsylvania in 2010. That suggests Sestak could defeat Toomey if the Democratic presidential ticket has coattails.

In New Hampshire, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) is in a similar situation to Toomey and Portman.

New Hampshire has gone for the Democrat in the last three presidential races, and in five of the last six overall.

If a Democratic presidential candidate wins the state in 2016, Ayotte will be in for the race of her life.

Polling suggests she would be in much bigger trouble if the state’s popular Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan enters the race.

A recent Dartmouth University poll showed Ayotte with an early 5-point lead over Hassan, although previous polls have shown Hassan with a small advantage.

If Hassan doesn’t run, the Dartmouth poll showed Ayotte with a 20-percentage-point lead over her next closest challenger, former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.).

Colorado looks like the only other realistic pick-up opportunity for Republicans in 2016 beyond Nevada. The GOP believes Sen. Michael Bennet (D-.) is vulnerable, but unseating him will be a heavy lift.

The former head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised more than $2 mln in the first quarter, making him one of only four Senate candidates to do so.  No Republicans have announced for the race yet. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) is expected to make his intentions known soon.

Still, it’s unclear whether he intends to run, and the GOP bench falls off markedly behind him.

In North Carolina, Sen. Richard Burr (R) has yet to attract a challenger, but Democrats believe former Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) would give Burr all he could handle if she could be persuaded to run.

Hagan lost to now-Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) by less than 2 percentage points in 2014, a wave election year for the GOP.

President Obama carried North Carolina in 2008 and narrowly lost it in 2012.

Indiana became a more attractive target for Democrats when Sen. Dan Coats (R) announced he wouldn’t seek reelection.

Former Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb is running for the GOP nomination, as is Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), a third-term lawmaker aligned with the Tea Party.

The race would instantly become a toss-up if former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) got in. Bayh has nearly $10 mln to campaign with. It seems unlikely he will run, though, considering he decided not to seek a third term in 2010 due to his frustration with politics on Capitol Hill.

President Obama carried Indiana in 2008, but it’s generally a reliably red state in presidential years.

FBI BROKE ITS OWN RULES IN TRACKING ANTI-PIPELINE ACTIVISTS. The FBI breached its own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against the Keystone XL pipeline, failing to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened files on individuals protesting against the construction of the pipeline in Texas, the Guardian reported (5/12).

Internal agency documents show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.

One FBI memo, which set out the rationale for investigating campaigners in the Houston area, touted the economic advantages of the pipeline while labelling its opponents “environmental extremists”.

Meteor Blades noted at DailyKos.com (5/12) that the FBI has a long history of focusing attention on political activists, infiltrating dissident organizations, including totally peaceful ones, and in many instances acting as agents provocateurs to sabotage the work of perfectly legal groups established to oppose government policies, including wars of choice. “From the 1950s until publicly exposed in the early 1970s, the bureau ran COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), which infiltrated various organizations, forged documents, planted false stories in the media sometimes with the knowing assistance of “journalists,” harassed some people and smeared others with false rumors, spurred members to commit violent acts and engaged in actions that led to the murders of some activists. All in the name of national security.”

The bureau has made home visits to climate activists, asking them to identify other activists engaged in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and the extraction of bitumen from tar sands deposits. One of those groups, the documents show, was the direct-action group, the Tar Sands Blockade.

Together with Earth Island Justice, the Guardian obtained the partially redacted documents by means of a Freedom of Information Act request. One investigation, the documents show, indicate that the FBI was in “substantial non-compliance” with Department of Justice rules for handling sensitive issues. The documents show that the bureau investigated anti-Keystone activists without getting the US attorney general-required approval from the top lawyer and senior agent in the Houston field office.

VERIZON-AOL MERGER ‘MAKES NO SENSE.’ Verizon Communications’ plans to buy AOL for $4.4 bln, announced 5/12, is the telecom giant’s latest bid to expand its business to include mobile video and advertising services. If finalized, Verizon would also take control of AOL’s online news sites, including Engadget, The Huffington Post and TechCrunch, Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner said in a press release.

“Verizon’s bid for AOL is yet another example of how Wall Street’s short-term mindset shortchanges competition and investment. For the price it’s paying for AOL, Verizon could deploy its FiOS broadband service across the rest of its service area, bringing much-needed services and competition to communities like Baltimore, Boston and Buffalo. Instead, the company is spending a fortune to wade into the advertising and content-production markets. In terms of the latter, Verizon has already shown a willingness to block content and skew news coverage.

“It’s hard to see how this transaction is good for anyone but a few brokers and lawyers. For Verizon customers and shareholders, it’s just a tremendous waste of resources the company should instead use to build lasting — and profitable — broadband infrastructure.”

RAND PAUL BLAMES BLACK PARENTS IN BALTO., WON’T COMMENT ON HIS SON’S DUI. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) weighed in on the turmoil in Baltimore (4/28), standing with police and blaming the violence on a lack of morals in America.

“I came through the train on Baltimore (sic) last night, I’m glad the train didn’t stop,” he said, laughing, during an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham.

As for root causes, Paul listed some ideas of his own.

“There are so many things we can talk about,” the senator said, “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of a moral code in our society.”

He added that “this isn’t just a racial thing.”

Paul, who has branded himself as an advocate of criminal justice reform, also said justice must come from an investigation of the case of Freddie Gray, a black man who died of a spinal injury while in the custody of Baltimore police.

While Paul was willing to blame turmoil in black communities on poor parenting by blacks, he has had no comment on his son getting charged with drunk driving after a collision in Lexington, Ky., a few days earlier.

William Hilton Paul, 22, was cited on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol and failure to maintain insurance following a collision in Lexington, Ky., when Paul reportedly crashed a 2006 Honda Ridgeline truck into an unoccupied car at 11:24 a.m. Sunday (4/19).

The charges mark the third time that William Paul has had a run-in with the law involving alcohol, the *Lexington Herald-Leader* reported on its site Kentucky.com (4/22).

Paul, a senior majoring in communications at the University of Kentucky, was cited for possession of alcohol by a minor in October 2013 at the Keeneland horse racetrack.

In January of that year, he was arrested at the airport in Charlotte, N.C., and charged with simple assault of a 22-year-old flight attendant, consuming beer or wine underage, disorderly conduct and being intoxicated and disruptive on a US Airways flight.

The Charlotte charges were dismissed later under a deferred prosecution program for first-time offenders, after William Paul completed alcohol education classes and 150 hours of community service, the newspaper reported.

A spokesman for US Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential campaign told the Herald-Leader the senator “does not comment on any private matters in regards to his family.”

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2015


Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652