Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday Mashup (7/23/11)

  • The Repugs non-jobs agenda staggers on (here)…
    A House committee has voted to reinstate a ban on US funding to organizations that offer or even refer women for abortions around the world. Often called the "global gag rule" or the "Mexico City Policy," the measure goes so far as to prevent health and aid organizations from even presenting abortion as an option.

    Republicans on the House Foreign Relations Committee included the prohibition in an authorization bill marked up this week. Here's the pertinent portion of the legislation:

    None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any amendment made by this Act may be made available to any foreign nongovernmental organization that promotes or performs abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.
    And as noted here…
    Critics of the Mexico City Policy refer to it as the "global gag rule", arguing that, in addition to reducing the overall funding provided to particular NGOs, it closes off their access to USAID-supplied condoms and other forms of contraception.[13] This, they argue, negatively impacts the ability of these NGOs to distribute birth control, leading to a downturn in contraceptive use and from there to an increase in the rates of unintended pregnancies and abortion.[13] Critics also argue that the ban promotes restrictions on free speech as well as restrictions on accurate medical information.[14][15][16][17] The European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development presented a petition to the United States Congress signed by 233 members condemning the policy. The forum has stated that the policy "undermines internationally agreed consensus and goals".[18]
    And as noted here
    The Mexico City Policy undoubtedly violates the free speech guarantees of international human rights instruments to which the United States is a party.ll3 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted without dissent by the UN General Assembly in 1948. The principles expressed in the UDHR include that all men and women are entitled to the right to freedom of opinion and expression.1I5 These principles are legally binding on the U.S. through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states: "Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference . . . . Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds , regardless of frontiers , either orally, in writing or in print . . . . " The global gag rule expressly violates the spirit of this agreement, as well as the explicit rights it seeks to protect. As such, the rule not only impairs the freedom of expression of U.S. - funded foreign NGOs that wish to pursue expressive communications with their own, separate funds, it also violates the rights of patients and citizens seeking medical advice to be fully informed.
    Gosh, the notion of universal human rights applicable to everyone regardless of your gender, ethnicity or political affiliation. How “pre-9/11” can you get (snark)?

  • Next, it looks like Turd Blossom is smiling (here)…
    The Internal Revenue Service has abruptly stopped its investigation of whether gift taxes are due from fat-cat donors to nonprofit advocacy groups, which are emerging as increasingly powerful, and stealthy, players in American politics.

    The tax is rarely levied, but the fact that regulators had finally questioned the donations raised hope that the I.R.S. might address an even more glaring problem: How partisan attack machines are allowed to pose as nonprofit social welfare organizations to avoid disclosing contributors. The agency’s timidity will invite even greater abuse of tax and election law by moneyed parties.

    I.R.S. officials, besieged by Republican complaints, backed off the gift-tax issue this month, lamely claiming that greater study was needed for a clearer policy. This decision compounds the enormous damage done by the Supreme Court’s decision last year allowing unlimited corporate and union money in campaigns.
    Dan Froomkin of HuffPo (remember him?) wrote a great piece here on this in which he notes the following…
    In Crossroads GPS's solicitations for money, the group describes itself as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization, and due to a controversial loophole in federal campaign finance rules, the names of donors to those organizations do not have to be disclosed publicly.

    But contrary to popular belief, Rove's group has not formally attained 501(c)(4) status. The group's application, requesting the IRS to classify it as a "social welfare" group, is still pending.

    And while the designation is typically not much more than a formality -- organizations routinely call themselves (c)(4) groups before they've been formally approved -- tax and campaign finance experts contacted by The Huffington Post said the IRS could well deny Crossroads GPS's application.

    IRS guidelines for 501(c)(4) status state that social welfare groups "must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community" -- which "does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office."

    Intervening in political campaigns isn't prohibited, it just can't be the primary activity.

    Were Crossroads GPS denied its 501(c)(4) status, the organization could be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in fines. And operating in secrecy would suddenly come with an enormous new price tag.
    If anyone out there is disposed to contact the IRS and ask them why they utterly caved on this decision, feel free to do so by clicking here.

  • Continuing, I give you last week’s Area Votes in Congress (here – not a lot to add from yours truly)…

    National flood insurance. Voting 406-22, the House passed a bill (HR 1309) to renew the taxpayer-subsidized National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through 2016 and start key reforms. The bill authorizes the program to add $3 billion in new debt to the $17.8 billion it already owes the Treasury. The program insures about 5.6 million residential and commercial properties located in flood plains in 22,000 communities.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

    Voting yes: Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), John Carney (D., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Michael Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Pat Meehan (R., Pa.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), Jon Runyan (R., N.J.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).

    Energy-efficient bulbs. Voting 233-193, the House failed to reach a two-thirds majority needed to repeal new standards designed to increase the energy efficiency of light bulbs by 30 percent. The standards are fostering bulbs such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that cost more than traditional bulbs but which are expected to save households $100 a year on average.

    The standards will take effect next year under an energy law signed by President George W. Bush in 2007. Backers of this bill (HR 2417) denounced the efficiency rules as a federal overreach that will unfairly limit consumer freedoms, while defenders said they would cut nationwide energy costs by $12 billion annually.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

    Voting yes: Dent, Fitzpatrick, Gerlach, LoBiondo, Meehan, Pitts, Runyan, and Smith.

    Voting no: Andrews, Brady, Carney, Fattah, Holden, and Schwartz.
    Your Republican Party – gluttons on energy now as always.
    Clean Water Act. Voting 239-184, the House passed a bill (HR 2018) shifting power to administer certain sections of the Clean Water Act to the states. In part, the bill would strip the federal Environmental Protection Agency of authority to veto Army Corps of Engineers wetlands policies without state concurrence; bar the EPA from issuing new water-quality standards in certain instances without the approval of the affected state; and give states more leeway to issue clean-water permits without federal interference.

    Backers said the bill would set a proper balance between federal and state powers, while critics said it was written to help polluters such as mountaintop mining and factory farming.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

    Voting yes: Dent, Gerlach, Holden, Meehan, Pitts, and Runyan.

    Voting no: Andrews, Brady, Carney, Fattah, Fitzpatrick, LoBiondo, Schwartz, and Smith.
    The clip below from The Rachel Maddow Show explains once more why this was an incredibly wrong-headed piece of legislation (actual good votes by Mikey the Beloved, LoBiondo and Smith).

    Advanced energy research. The House voted, 214-213, to increase funding for the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency from $100 million to $179.6 million in fiscal 2012. This would restore the agency's budget to its 2011 level. Created in 2009, the agency, in concert with universities and corporations, fosters basic research and new technologies aimed at establishing U.S. superiority in the field of energy. The amendment was added to a $31 billion energy appropriations bill (HR 2354) for fiscal 2012, which was later passed.

    A yes vote backed the amendment.

    Voting yes: Andrews, Brady, Carney, Fattah, Fitzpatrick, Holden, Gerlach, LoBiondo, and Schwartz.

    Voting no: Dent, Meehan, Pitts, Runyan, and Smith.
    I hope Mikey is feeling all right – these are actually TWO good votes in a row; I’m shocked (and LoBiondo again and Gerlach? Wowsers!)

    Update 10/3/11: By the way, here is more than a little bit of energy hypocrisy from Pancake Joe and Chris Smith, as well as Todd Platts, who rarely gets a mention around here.

    Millionaires' taxes. Voting 51-49, the Senate failed to reach 60 votes for ending GOP blockage of a bill (S 1323) stating the sense of the Senate that any agreement to raise the national debt ceiling and curb deficit spending should include "a meaningful contribution" from millionaires and billionaires. The nonbinding Democratic bill was vague on what form the contribution should take but was widely seen as a call for higher taxes on the wealthy.

    A yes vote was to advance the bill.

    Voting yes: Thomas Carper (D., Del.), Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Chris Coons (D., Del.), Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.).

    Voting no: Pat Toomey (R., Pa.).
    “No Corporate Tax” Pat hearts his base once more (he is every bit as loathsome as I knew he would be during the election last year).

    This week, both chambers took up fiscal 2012 appropriations bills as well as proposed constitutional amendments requiring a balanced federal budget.

  • Update 7/24/11: A hat tip to one of my senior correspondents for this (looks like Mikey voted to fund energy development but then, for some reason, voted against the final appropriations bill...a real head-scratcher there).

  • Finally, this tells us that “Comic-Con” is taking place in San Diego, and U.S. senators were asked to pick their favorite comic book heroes. John Kerry chose Charlie Brown “because he’s always screwing up,” John Cornyn and Orrin Hatch more or less chose Superman, and Joe Manchin chose “Bazooka Joe” (huh?). Oh, and Marco Rubio wondered whether Batman was really a superhero after all.

    No word on whether or not Sen. Mr. Elaine Chao or Orange Man Boehner chose Aquaman, which would be appropriate because, if their gamesmanship on the debt limit continues, the probability exists that our entire economy could end up under water (here).
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