How a Federal Government Shutdown Affects You

Here We Go Again.

News reports have been chattering about a possible government shutdown since July. Both Democrats and Republicans have been posturing and saber-rattling and making a lot of noise, but none of them bother to explain what that means for the public.

First, some background. Each federal fiscal, or budget, year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30. Fiscal year 2013 began on October 1, 2012 and ends on September 30, 2013. Fiscal year 2014 will begin on October 1, 2013. Federal law requires Congress and the president to agree on a final budget before each fiscal year begins. They couldn’t reach that agreement in 2012, so the United States government has been operating on a series of continuing resolutions since October 1. That means that the government can keep operating and paying its bills temporarily. When there is no funding, federal law requires the government to cease all non-emergency activities. The current resolution ends on Monday, September 30.

While it’s possible to operate on continuing resolutions, and without a real budget, indefinitely, it has been unlikely until now. The politicians usually make noise until one side or the other blinks. It appears that the Democrats have finally grown a spine and won’t give in this time.  But I could be wrong. Contrary to what many believe, the Constitution does not give all budgetary power to the House of Representatives or require budget bills to begin in the House. It doesn’t even require that Congress produce an annual budget. The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 does that, but not the Constitution.

Until we have a budget, the Republicans threaten to block new continuing resolutions and shut down the federal government unless the Democrats agree to eliminate all funding for the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. President Obama has said that he will veto any bill which does that.

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Mitt Romney on Food Stamps?

And Other Random Thoughts

Mitt Romney has said that he’s not concerned about “the very poor”, because they have the safety net. The TANF (cash welfare) benefit for a three-person household in Massachusetts is $618 per month. The average SNAP (food stamps) benefit is $264 for that family each month.
I sent an email to Mitt Romney’s campaign, daring him to prove to us all just how easy “the poor people” have it by living on a welfare and food stamp budget for a month. I don’t expect him to have the guts to do it, but it sure will be fun watching him squirm out of it.

Send him a message. Spread this around. Let’s see how much pressure we can bring.

Read More …


Occupy Pittsburgh. This is Your Movement

On Saturday, millions of people in more than a thousand cities in dozens of countries on six continents marched in peaceful protest of global financial corruption and economic injustice. Think about that. It’s never happened before. Even the multiple social movements in the 1960s didn’t organize a global event like this on a single day. Woodstock in 1969 and Hands Across America in 1986 weren’t this big.

More than 3,500 people gathered at Pittsburgh’s historic Freedom Corner to Occupy Pittsburgh. After an invigorating rally, they marched through Downtown, stopping at the headquarters of several local banks and corporations, and ending with another rally in Market Square. 

We were all ages, races, occupations, and lifestyles. Babies in strollers, little kids, soccer moms, employed, unemployed, self-employed, retired, students, LGBTQ, straight, veterans, young, old, rich, poor, religious, atheists, union leaders, union members, straight-laced, outrageous, aging hippies, second generation progressives, new hippies, middle class folks from the suburbs, anarchists, capitalists, elected officials, friends, families, and strangers marched together in self defense. I talked to a family from Ithaca New York who drove to Pittsburgh just for the event.

If you fit into any of those categories, this movement is about you.

Nathan Kilduff, a University of Pittsburgh student, said he skipped Pitt’s homecoming football game to Occupy because “Our generation has to handle these problems.”

The event was lively, friendly, happy, and peaceful. People helped each other. I got handshakes, high fives, and hugs from total strangers. The Pittsburgh police were remarkably helpful and calm. Uniformed officers stood on the fringes of the square, but not within the crowd. There was not a single tense or violent incident, and no arrests.

No, it’s not an “organized” movement of the corporate, top-down, authoritarian variety. But it’s not at all chaotic. I saw several TV news cameras early in the march, but they vanished quickly, as they always do. I didn’t see a single reporter interviewing participants. Yet the corporate media talking heads will continue to pretend that it confuses them.

We stand for the virtues and values that are missing from most of our public institutions. We stand for empathy, helpfulness, fairness, tolerance, caring, courage, respect, loyalty, responsibility, honesty, cooperation and opportunity. We stand against corporate and government greed and corruption. If any of those qualities are important to you, then this movement is about you.

The atmosphere was festive, but the messages were sincere and serious, as declared in the chants, signs, and T-shirts:

  • We are the 99 percent.
  • Separation of Bank and State.
  • OBAMA – Wish you were here!
  • Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.
  • End racist police brutality.
  • Stop the war on the working class.
  • Wall Street is in it to make a killing. I just want to make a living.
  • Free market = private gains, socialized losses.
  • Keep it Made in America.
  • Human needs, not corporate greed.
  • For sale – Our future.
  • The whole world is marching.
  • End corporate welfare.
  • You may say I’m a dreamer. I’m not the only one.
  • Well-behaved women rarely make history.
  • It’s about time.
  • My future is f***ed.
  • The people, united, will never be defeated.
  • Stop corporate funding of elections. Campaign finance reform.
  • When the poor get hungry, we’ll eat the rich.
  • Bring the troops home.
  • Health care not wealth care.
  • Abandon the bought Congress.
  • Don’t frack with Pittsburgh.
  • This is what democracy looks like.

And my favorite,

“I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one of them”.






As the rally permit expired and the crowd dwindled, a drum circle arose, filling the square with rhythm and dance. Eventually, the drummers formed a line and led the demonstrators up Forbes Avenue to Grant Street, ending at Mellon Green across the street from the William Penn Hotel.  They’ll be there, with permission, for the foreseeable future.

Anyone can attend a one-day event like this, but it takes a special kind of dedication and stamina to endure a long-term encampment. They’re occupying Pittsburgh to fight for your life, as well as their own, so stop in and visit. Take some food, blankets, magazines, medical supplies, or whatever you can spare. Show your support for their commitment. Take your kids and teach them about selflessness. You’ll be safe and you’ll be welcome.

No significant social change has ever happened anywhere in the world without public protest and demonstration. The world’s massive problems require us to launch a massive movement. This is just the beginning. The whole world is watching. If you want peace, work for justice.


For More Information

Occupy Pittsburgh
Occupy Together
Public Demonstrations Do Bring Change
Al-Jazeera Occupy reports

We’re Waiting for YOU, Mr. President

Tax Cuts Don’t Create Jobs. Work Creates Jobs.

President Obama visited Pittsburgh on Tuesday to gather support for his American Jobs Act. He appeared at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in South Side, where he toured the apprenticeship facility before addressing the crowd of about 300 local politicians, building trades union leaders, apprentices, and their instructors.

It was a well-run event, managed by competent, considerate White House staff, Secret Service, Pittsburgh Police, and IBEW volunteers. Obama appeared about 25 minutes late – not too bad for a Democrat.

He gave pretty much the same speech he’s been giving throughout the country, and that’s fine, since that’s the message that he needs to send. He talked about entrepreneurship, green jobs, and restoring American manufacturing. He noted that those long-term initiatives are important, but the economy needs a jolt right now. He spoke prior to the Senate’s preliminary vote on his American Jobs Act Tuesday, calling it the Senate’s “moment of truth”. Senate Republicans – and two Democrats – failed the American people yet again when they refused to end their filibuster.

Obama exhorted the crowd – and all working people – to contact legislators and demand to know why they won’t support the Jobs Act. He wants us to ask our representatives to explain exactly why they don’t want to put construction workers, contractors, teachers, first responders, and others back to work. He wants us to find out why they don’t want to fix our roads, bridges, sewers, damns, and schools. He wants us to contact legislators, tell them we need the bill. He said, “Any senator who votes “no” should look you in the eye and tell you exactly what they’re opposed to”.

Obama knows why Republicans are blocking the bill. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said that defeating Obama is the Republicans’ “number one priority”. Defeating Obama next year is more important than your family’s economic security. It’s more important than your kids’ education. It’s more important than public safety.

Obama’s too polite to say it, but I’m not. Republicans don’t want an educated workforce. Republicans don’t care how many Americans are unemployed. Republicans don’t care if our bridges and sewers are crumbling around us. The money in their pockets is more important to them than American lives. So yes, contact your members of Congress. Visit, write, fax, call, email, or use telepathy. Whatever it takes, tell your family’s story. Ronald Reagan and his buddies began the class warfare 30 years ago. It’s time for us to finish the fight. Stand up for yourselves. Defend your family. Tax cuts don’t create jobs. Work creates jobs.

Obama asks all of us to stand with him and demand that Congress “pass this bill”. We are with you, Mr. President. We’ve been here all along. But we need to know that you’re with us. Stand your ground. Stop appeasing the republithugs. Stop giving in to the Republicans’ childish demands. Stop surrendering every time John Boehner says boo. Can the American people trust you, Mr. President, not to abandon us again?

A magnet on my refrigerator says “Stand up for your principles, even if you stand alone.” Maybe I should send it to him.

Like I always say, Republicans have no morals; Democrats have no balls.
Where does that leave us?


For More Information:
President Obama’s American Jobs Act
Get Your Message to Your Legislators
U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Senate
Text and Summary of Jobs Act
Infrastructure Spending Stimulates the Entire Economy

Obama to Visit Pittsburgh for American Jobs Act

I’ll be covering President Obama’s event at IBEW Local 5, Pittsburgh, for his American Jobs Act tomorrow in South Side. Watch my column for the story.

President Obama’s American Jobs Act

Two weeks ago, President Obama sent his American Jobs Act to Congress. Eleven House committees are currently considering H.R. 12: Ways and Means; Small Business; Transportation and Infrastructure; Education and the Workforce; Energy and Commerce; Financial Services; House Administration; the Judiciary; Oversight and Government Reform; Rules; and Science, Space, and Technology.

The bill has not yet been sent to any Senate committees. At 412 pages, the bill is complicated but manageable. Given the politics, it will not move quickly. Congress just isn’t interested because it affects your life, not theirs.

Actually, Presidents do not introduce bills to Congress and they don’t pass laws. As in all occupations, those involved develop a shorthand way of speaking about their work. The U.S. Constitution gives legislative power only to Congress. Sometimes even popular books, TV programs, and movies get it wrong. That annoys me. This is how it really works.

The president, the cabinet and other advisors, and Democratic Congressional leaders outline the contents of the bill. They decide what they want and don’t want it to contain, its parameters, and other details. White House, cabinet, and Congressional staff members write the actual language. No, members of Congress don’t write legislation. They don’t have time. Depending on the subject matter, bills can be very complex. Nearly all include references to already existing legislation which must be clearly spelled out. Go to the Congressional legislative website and browse through a few.

Once the president approves the final version, he must ask a member of Congress to introduce it.  A member introduces a bill merely by placing it in the wooden box, called the hopper, on the clerk’s desk. That’s where we get the phrase that something is “in the hopper”. If no one agrees to do so, the bill cannot reach Congress and they will never consider it. I don’t know of a case where that’s ever been a problem. The clerk numbers the bills in the order they are introduced, unless a member reserves a particular number beforehand.

The president has no control over which committees consider the bill, whether the committees hold hearings, or whether it ever goes to the House and Senate floors for full votes. Learn about where our laws come from here.

Senate by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV introduced President Obama’s American Jobs Act in the Senate as S. 1549. Rep. John Larsen, D-CT introduced the identical bill in the House as H.R. 12. You can read the full text and follow its progress on  Thomas, the Congressional legislation website. A summary and more details are available on the White House website.

The bill contains plans to improve the American economy in five categories:


  • tax cuts for 98 percent of businesses
  • a payroll tax holiday for businesses that hire new workers or increase employees’ wages
  • expanding Small Business Administration loan limits, cutting red tape, and improving the patent system


  • Offering tax credits to encourage businesses to hire unemployed veterans.
  • Preventing up to 280,000 teacher layoffs, and keeping first responders including firefighters and police officers on the job.
  • Modernizing at least 35,000 public schools across the country.
  • Making immediate investments in infrastructure, modernizing our roads, railways and airports, putting hundreds of thousands of workers back on the job.
  • Project Rebuild: an effort to put people back to work rehabilitating homes and businesses and stabilizing communities, leveraging private capital and scaling up successful models of public-private collaboration.
  • Expanding wireless internet access to 98 percent of Americans and first responders by freeing up the nation’s spectrum.


  • Extensive reform to the unemployment compensation system.
  • A $4,000 tax credit to employers for hiring long-term unemployed workers.
  • Prohibiting employers from discriminating against unemployed workers when hiring.
  • Expanding job opportunities for low-income youth and adults by investing in promising and proven strategies and programs like summer jobs and sector-based training programs.


  • Cutting payroll taxes in half for 160 million workers next year.
  • Allowing more Americans to refinance their mortgages at today’s near 4 percent interest rates.

 The White House claims that the plan is fully paid for as part of the president’s long-term deficit reduction plan. Frankly, I think it relies far too much on tax cuts. Tax cuts do not create jobs. They create votes.

 The best thing about the plan is its heavy emphasis on infrastructure improvements. Infrastructure spending does not benefit only the construction industry. It creates jobs for every type of business, and the finished products will benefit all of those companies. You can read how that works here. And we desperately need to fix our infrastructure.

 Some ridicule it by calling it a “second stimulus”. That’s just fine with me; maybe it’ll work this time. The republithugs hijacked the original stimulus for their rich folks’ tax cuts, proving yet again that tax cuts do not create jobs.

 In his address to Congress on September 8, Obama urged them to pass the bill with “No games. No politics. No delays.” Yeah. I’d pay money to see that. Some have criticized Republicans for not wanting to sacrifice to solve America’s problems. Sure they are. They’re willing to sacrifice your life, your health, and your safety. They’re sacrificing the sound infrastructure, good schools, educated workforce, safe and healthy air, water, medicines, food, and workplaces that will improve all of our lives and protect all of us, all so they can have more money.

 And our esteemed leaders will keep right on handing it to them.

 For More Information:

Library of Congress site for legislative information: H.R. 12 and S. 1549

White House: American Jobs Act of 2011

Infrastructure Spending Stimulates the Entire Economy

Find out where the original stimulus funding went


Join Your Friends and Neighbors in the Labor Day Parade

On Monday September 5, Americans will observe the 130th Labor Day celebration. The Allegheny County Labor Council will host its 30th consecutive parade downtown.

Pittsburgh’s parade is one of the largest Labor Day events in the United States, with nearly 200 groups and 80,000 people participating. Everything good about your standard of living came to you through the organized labor movement. First celebrated by the Knights of Labor in 1882, Congress proclaimed a national holiday in 1894.

While labor unions have always celebrated Labor Day, many people are still confused about their purpose. The first unions arose in the middle ages, as artisans from the various skilled trades formed “guilds” to represent their common interests. They were stonemasons, carpenters, weavers, teamsters, and others. The old guilds gradually disbanded, but the idea didn’t die. Unions resurfaced in the mid nineteenth century, after the American Civil War.

They continued to grow, especially during the 1930s. By 1960, one-third of all American workers belonged to a union. Union membership declined from the late 1970s through the 1980s due to national political, economic, and social conditions. Now, only about 13% of working Americans belong to a union. You can trace the rise and fall of the American middle class with the rise and fall of labor union membership.

Individual members belong to local unions, usually organized by occupation. Locals belong to a national or international union, such as the United Steelworkers of America, or the American Federation of Teachers.  Most unions belong to associations such as the AFL-CIOChange to Win, and the Industrial Workers of the World. Fifty-six individual unions, representing 10.5 million workers, belong to the AFL-CIO – the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. Dedicated organizers founded both the AFL and the CIO in Pittsburgh, and the combined organization is one of the most influential in the United States. The Allegheny County Labor Council is the local chapter of the AFL-CIO.

Pittsburgh is also the birthplace of three major unions – the United Steelworkers, International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Ironworkers, and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers.

Labor unions brought benefits to every working person in America, whether they belonged to a union or not. They are primarily responsible for establishing the middle class. We take these things for granted, but none of them existed before the rise of the unions.

• An eight-hour workday

• A five day work week
• Paid sick days, vacation days, and holidays
• Family and medical leave
• Health, life, and disability insurance
• A pension
• Safe and healthy working conditions
• Proper job training


Unions have campaigned for the minimum wage, wage and hour laws, ending child labor, and workers’ rights and privacy on the job. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages for union workers in all types of occupations are higher than for non-union workers. Union workers are better trained and less likely to be involved in workplace accidents and deaths. If you benefit from any of these things, THEN THANK A UNION MEMBER.

Unions created the day to honor the contributions of all workers – union and nonunion – to our economic and social life. It’s especially important now when corporatists and political thugs are attacking American workers like never before. Do you REALLY believe that teachers caused the Wall Street crash in 2008? Really? Do you REALLY believe that abolishing unions will fix everything that’s wrong with the economy? Really?

Today, our unions are still fighting for our families while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Republican Party, and others are trying to destroy them. They’re not only trying to destroy unions. They’re coming for you next. Unions made our lifestyle possible. If you want to keep it, then support our unions.

No one questions the right and wisdom of business owners sticking together to support their interests, but many employers are outraged when their employees do the same thing. There are chambers of commerce, business owners’ associations, trade associations, and all sorts of groups actively promoting business interests to the government and the public. Yet they don’t want workers to have those same rights, and will often stoop to illegal tactics to break the unions. Unions represent the common interests of their members – and all workers – to the business owners, the government, and the public.

As President John F. Kennedy said,
“The American labor movement has consistently demonstrated its devotion to the public interest. It is, and has been, good for all America. Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor–those who cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized–do a disservice to the cause of democracy.”

I’ve marched with my husband and Iron Workers Local 3 in every Pittsburgh Labor Day parade since 1982, and I’ve always had a wonderful time. It’s second only to Christmas in our family. So join us at the parade on Monday, and bring your family.

It begins at 10:00 A.M. and travels from the Civic Arena to the United Steelworkers building on the Boulevard of the Allies. Participating groups begin to assemble at about 8:30.

If you belong to a union, find out where to meet your group. If not, then come to watch. Wave to your friends and neighbors from every occupation. See your teachers, your mail carrier, your bus driver, the local hotel and restaurant staff, TV and radio personalities, news reporters, employees at our health care facilities, and the construction workers who erect our buildings, and say “thank you”.

And on this of all days, remember.


For more information: