The 113th Congress Opens for Business

Just What is a “Congress” Anyway?


Every two years, Congress reboots. Like a bright New Year’s Day, it’s fresh, and clean, and brief. The 113th Congress assembled on Thursday, January 3 – a day for family and tradition, smiles and handshakes. They’ll return to the backstabbing soon enough.

For some reason, many Americans think that “Congress” is only the House of Representatives. It is not. Article I, Section 1 of the United States Constitution says:

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

That means that Congress makes the national laws and authorizes all federal spending. Yes, that’s right. The president can’t spend a dime without Congressional approval.

The Constitution requires that a new “Congress” convene every two years. In even-numbered years, every one of the 435 House seats and one-third of the 100 Senate seats, called a “class”, are up for election in November. The new Congress opens early in the following January. There are two sessions of each Congress; each lasts one year. The first Congress was elected in 1788 and assembled in 1789. The 112th Congress officially closed at noon on Thursday, January 3, 2013 and the 113th Congress opened moments later. The second session of the 113th will open in January 2014.

WHY don’t Americans know this stuff?

Read More …



Nationwide Grassroots Project Will Amend U.S. Constitution to End Corporate Power in Elections

Restore American democracy. Corporations are not people.

Who inspires you? Abolitionists? Suffragists? Union organizers? Civil rights workers? Peace activists? Occupiers? They all have one thing in common. They were ordinary people faced with extraordinary injustice. Then they stood up, walked out of their comfort zones, and into history. They made the world better for all of us. Now we can all join them. 

Thanks to our right-wing activist Supreme Court, corporations and billionaires now legally and proudly own our politicians. Our elected representatives no longer have to pretend that they give two hoots about us. Americans’ confidence in our public institutions is at an all-time low. But there is a way to turn things around. There are people already working on it. And we need your help.




An Overview of American Political Parties

Most of the American political debate centers on the two major parties – Democrats and Republicans. Today, most Americans are fed up with politicians and would like to eliminate political parties altogether, but it would never work. Aristotle noted that humans are political animals and will always form associations based on common beliefs and experiences. Or more succinctly, we spend our time with people who see life the same way that we do. Contrary to common belief, the US Constitution does not require a two-party system, or any parties at all. They’re not even mentioned.

A political party is an organization with a distinct view of the purpose of government and seeks to hold power in that government through the electoral process. In his farewell address to the nation before his retirement, George Washington warned us not to let the parties become too powerful. He said they too easily sink to pettiness and favoritism, and would distract from the important business of governing. Hmmmmm.



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 …


Republicans Want to Steal Your Vote

In 1957, then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson spoke for a proposed voting rights act: “This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies.”  Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act as president in 1965. Today, the Republican Party, tea parties, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other Koch brothers’ stooges are working feverishly to strip poor, minority, young, and elderly American citizens of their right to vote.

America’s segregated South had a long tradition of “whites only” voting. Even though the Constitution promised the vote to all citizens, white officials used poll taxes, voting tests, intimidation, and physical violence to keep blacks away from the polls. In 1964, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman worked to register black voters in rural Mississippi, until they disappeared late one night. The FBI found their bodies about six weeks later. In 1967, a federal jury convicted fifteen Ku Klux Klan members of conspiracy related to their murders. Today, the 1965 Voting Rights Act protects voting rights for all Americans.

For more than 40 years, Republicans and Democrats waged intensely competitive election fundraising and voter registration battles. When they realized that they were losing in 2008, RepubliKlans concocted a phony “emergency” and tried to steal voting rights from poor-minority-youth voters in several states. Their plan failed. Poor, young, minority, and senior citizens voted in record numbers, mostly for Barack Obama.

In January 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision declared that corporations are “people” and thus entitled to spend limitless cash to influence elections. Republicans jumped for joy, but their euphoria hit a snag. Since voting is limited, for the moment, to real flesh-and-blood people, corporations can’t vote yet. Real people still outnumber the corporations and their handlers. Obama’s successful presidential campaign proved that good community organizing and righteous dedication can beat their big bucks. So they created a plan to suppress the vote. Again.

Right-wing legislators and corporations created ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, to write model legislation for all state legislatures to restrict all individuals’ rights and expand corporations’ rights throughout the U.S. ALEC then funds the lobbying and organizing campaigns to get those bills enacted at the state level.

Your friendly neighborhood RepubliKlans are screeching about busloads of illegal immigrants driving around American towns voting at multiple polling places and about millions of unregistered people standing in lines throughout the land just waiting their turns to cast fraudulent votes over and over and over again.

Give me a break. The United States does not have a problem with unregistered people voting, or with anyone voting too many times, or with illegal immigrants voting. We have enough trouble getting people to vote at all.

THINK about this folks. If these abuses were so rampant, surely the thugs would be able to produce just one piece of actual physical evidence of such crimes. But no. All they have is stories. Stephen King doesn’t have that many horror stories. I’ve looked for evidence of voter fraud. There just isn’t much to find.

Lori Minnite, a political science professor at Barnard College, investigated allegations of voter fraud. She found that from 2002 to 2005, only 26 people were convicted of voting improperly. One was guilty of registration fraud, twenty voted while ineligible, and five voted more than once. Her 2010 book, The Myth of voter Fraud, updates that research and reaches the same conclusion. Republican allegations of widespread voter fraud are simply lies.

As always, RepubliKlans press on, despite the truth. They’ve introduced strict ID requirements for voters in every state. They want every single person to show a state-issued voter identification card, with a photo, before they can vote. So what’s the big deal? Why can’t a registered voter just show a driver’s license?

Actually, it is a big deal. Many young and low-income potential voters don’t have driver’s licenses. Many of the elderly give up their licenses when driving becomes difficult. States charge fees for non-driver photo ID cards and you must apply in person on weekdays. Students and low-income people can’t afford to miss a day’s school or work for that and often can’t afford the fees. The application process is difficult for those who are marginally literate. The elderly have trouble getting to the application office because they no longer drive. Think about how many of your own friends and family would be unable to vote with a law like this.

See. The law keeps the poor-minority-young-elderly from voting. And that’s what they really want. Gee. I wonder who would benefit from that.

They say they want to prevent “voter fraud”. Once again, they don’t believe this junk. They want you to fall for it. 

Republicans are all about freedom. They don’t like taxes. They don’t like regulations. They want to take BIG GOVERNMENT from our backs. Uh huh. They love freedom right up until it reaches your front door. Why are the RepubliKlans regulating a problem we don’t have, and ignoring the problems that we do have? How’s that for big government on your back?

This attack on the poor-young-minorities-elderly is just the beginning. If we let them get away with this, they’ll come for you next. Yes, really. They’ll invent some new phony emergency and their creative solution will involve restricting YOUR right to vote. It’s all part of their plan to destroy the middle class.

Contact your state representatives. Tell them to vote AGAINST new voter ID laws.

Don’t be afraid to vote. You can verify your registration, find your polling place, and other information at your state election office.

They don‘t want to keep you from voting twice. They want to keep you from voting at all. The only way to stop these abuses is to prove that they don’t work. The only way to do that is to VOTE.


For more information:

Register to Vote: State voter laws and registration deadlines

National Council of State Legislatures Voter ID Requirements

An Analysis of Voter Fraud in The United States

Voter Fraud and Election Integrity

How Safe is Our Election?


Get Your Message to Your Legislators

Our schools are supposed to teach this stuff, but they don’t want you to know it.

Did you check your email today? How many of those irritating “Make Congress do what we want. Sign our petition today” messages did you get? Okay, confess. How many have you e-signed and returned? They’re a popular community organizing tool, but they’re the least effective way to get your representatives’ attention. What’s the best way?

When Americans have suggestions, complaints, or problems involving the government, a popular axiom advises them to “write to your Congressman”. It’s a shame that far too few people take that advice; it actually does work. They do read the mail and messages. And they do reply, although it’s usually a generic form letter. They also employ staff members whose duties include handling constituents’ bureaucratic complaints. So yes, you can contact them if your Social Security checks have mysteriously stopped, or the post office won’t deliver your mail, or whatever.

On to the hit parade, in order, from the most to the least effective methods:

1. A personal visit with your representative. Yes, members can and often do meet with private citizens, although their time may be scarce. Call for an appointment. Take a few friends for more impact.

2. A personal visit with the staff. Professional staff members have expertise in particular areas. Legislators rely heavily on their knowledge and opinions. And yes, your message does get through.

3. Attending a town hall meeting in person. They’re rarely as contentious as those you’ve seen on the news. Usually, few people attend and you have the chance to make your point and get real feedback from your representatives.

4. Participating in a telephone or online town hall conference meeting. I find them distracting and difficult to follow, but it’s an effort to make better use of time and technology.

5. Writing and sending a personal letter, by US mail or fax. Fax works better. Every piece of paper mail is checked for bombs and toxins before it’s delivered to federal officials. That delays it for about two months. Yes, really. The members don’t see all of the mail, but the staff log and summarize each letter for reports that the members do read. If the website contact information doesn’t list a fax number, call the office and ask for it.

6. A personal telephone call. The member is rarely available to speak to constituents by phone. However, staff members specialize in various issue areas, and you can ask for the specialist in the area of your concern.

7. Website contact form or personal email. Again, they’re all read, logged, and reported.

8. Signing and returning a mass form letter on paper. They’re noted and reported.

9. E-signing and returning an online viral petition or message. These petitions are more effective at raising money for a cause than for convincing legislators to change public policy.

The idea is that your message will have more influence when you put more effort into sending it.

Click the links for the contact information for:

President Barack Obama

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
(Phone) 202-456-1414
(Fax) 202-456-2461

Website contact form


Two US Senators represent each state. Pennsylvania’s senators are
Robert P. Casey

Pat Toomey

Senators in other states


Four Members of Congress represent Allegheny County in the US House of Representatives.
Jason Altmire

Mark Critz

Mike Doyle

Tim Murphy

House Members outside Allegheny County

PA Governor Tom Corbett
Other state governors

Eight PA state senators and 23 state legislators represent Allegheny County in Harrisburg

Find yours in the upper right-hand corner.

Other states’ legislators
Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato
There are six members of Allegheny County Council.


Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl Look at the bottom of the page.

There are nine members of Pittsburgh City Council.
If you live elsewhere in Allegheny County

If you live elsewhere in the US. Follow the links.


I’ve met with legislators and staff members from all levels of government and both political parties for nearly 30 years. As much as I agree with some and disagree with others, I can say that most are intelligent, hardworking, capable people who take their jobs seriously.

So, now you can contact everyone about everything that’s on your mind. Enjoy!


For more information:

Contact the League of Women Voters


How to Become President of the United States

The Presidential Election Processes

America’s next presidential election will beNov 6, 2012, more than 16 months from now. The candidates and the media have already begun the journey and it promises to be a great show. It’s a long and grueling process with many things happening at once.

Running a presidential campaign is an extremely difficult, expensive, and exhausting project. It involves three separate simultaneous procedures: legal, party nomination, and campaign organization. All candidates must follow the legal process, which is the easiest of the three. Each party controls its own nomination process. The campaign process isn’t required, but no candidate will win without it.

The Legal Process

State rules vary, but every state requires candidates to collect a large number of signatures from qualified, registered voters on nominating petitions. The petitions are filed with the state’s Secretary of State along with financial disclosure and other forms. There are strict deadlines for filing the paperwork. Candidates must also file financial disclosure and other documents with the Federal Election Commission.  Then you wait for Election Day.

The Constitution requires the Electoral College actually to choose the president. However, your vote does matter. Each state has the same number of votes in the Electoral College as it has members in Congress. Forty-eight states require their electors to choose the winner of the popular vote. Nebraska and Maine each give three votes to the entire state’s popular winner. Then each Congressional district’s popular winner gets one of the remaining votes. There are pros and cons to the Electoral College system and I’ll discuss them in a future article.

That’s all there is to the legal process, but the party nomination is much more complicated. Every presidential election involves dozens of candidates, though most voters are aware of only two or three. The two major parties – Republican and Democratic – and sometimes a strong independent or third-party candidate, get most of the media attention. Some of the third parties are larger, better funded, and more organized than others. Candidates who are not affiliated with a particular party are listed as “Independent”. Most of the other candidates are not on the ballots in every state because they don’t have enough money or large enough organizations to run the big campaigns that get the attention. Most of the fringe candidates are trying to make some political point, but some are just goofy.

The Party Nomination Process

The Constitution doesn’t mention political parties at all, and no candidate is required to belong to a party. However, parties are just one example of humans’ compulsion to arrange ourselves into groups. Third party and independent candidates rarely win elections.

For major party candidates, seeking the party’s nomination is the first phase of a presidential campaign.  This happens through a demanding system of caucuses and primary elections running from mid-January to mid-June. Republicans compete against Republicans and Democrats compete against Democrats to see who will represent the party against the other party’s candidate in November’s general election.

President Obama is the Democratic incumbent candidate, meaning that he already has the job and is running to keep it. Our Constitution’s 22nd Amendment limits presidents to two four-year terms. Obama is running for his second term. No Democratic candidates have come forward to run against him yet. Several Republicans are running for their party’s nomination.

The parties will organize televised debates among their groups of candidates so that the public can get to know them and begin to form opinions. We are at this phase of the process now. The Republicans have already held two debates. The next will be July 10 in Las Vegas. The Democrats won’t need to hold debates if no Democrats run against President Obama.

In a caucus, voters from each voting district meet in party groups to discuss the merits of the various candidates. They try to convince each other to support their favorite candidates. Then they vote. Five states – Iowa, Nevada, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Colorado – hold caucuses.

The remaining 45 states hold primary elections in which the parties choose their candidates for the general election. Some states hold open primaries in which any voter can vote for any candidate, regardless of party. Others hold closed primaries in which voters can vote only for the candidates in their own parties. Each party’s rules allot a number of delegates to each state, based on its population and other factors. The candidates for delegate slots also run in the primary elections and the winning delegates vote at the parties’ conventions in late summer. 

During the primary/caucus season, most of the candidates will leave the race when they don’t have enough money or public support.

There is usually only one major candidate left standing by the time they get to the parties’ conventions in July or August. But sometimes public support is split among two or more candidates. At that time, the delegates vote for the nominee according to some very complex rules. At the end of the conventions, each party has chosen its presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Then the general election campaign begins and the winning Democratic and Republican candidates compete against each other. There are usually a few debates between them during this phase as well.

Campaign Organization

When deciding whether to run, the candidates begin posturing, exploring, and extending feelers to see if there might be enough public interest. They hire campaign managers and personnel, line up support from organizations, corporations, and wealthy donors. They recruit, train, and organize volunteers. Candidates and campaign leaders create and refine their messages, themes, slogans, platforms, positions, materials, advertising, and websites. They schedule campaign appearances, interviews, and other functions. They register voters and implement their Get Out the Vote plans. The most vital part of any campaign is fundraising, fundraising, fundraising.

The political parties help with their candidates’ campaigns, sometimes leading to tensions and disputes about who’s in charge and what their plans are.

All of these things happen at once, in a nation with 3.8 million square miles, nearly 310 million people, and nearly 150 million registered voters. Meanwhile, the candidates are physically and mentally exhausted but straining to remain alert, patient, polite, and trying not to say anything dumb. It doesn’t always work.

Enjoy the show, and remember to VOTE.

For More Information

General Information on Elections and Voting

Register to vote

Read the U.S. Constitution

Federal Election Commission

The Electoral College

State and Territorial Election Offices

2012 Election Central – Debate Schedules, Primary/Caucus Schedules, Candidate Status, Convention Info, News Updates, and more

Democratic National Committee

Republican National Committee

Descriptions of Political Parties