The United States Congress: Myths and Facts

Too many Americans don’t know what Congress is, or how it works.

Congress has most of the political power in the United States. Public support for Congress has reached another all-time low. Our disapproval should be based in reality, not in fantasy, rumor, or ignorance. Our schools don’t bother to teach this stuff.

What’s a Congress?
The Constitution requires that a new “Congress” convene every two years. Members are elected in November of even-numbered years and the new Congress opens in the following January. There are two sessions of each Congress; each lasts one year. The first Congress assembled in 1789. The 113th Congress opened in January 2013 and will close in January 2015, when the 114th Congress will open.

All of the bills that were pending before a Congress, but not passed, expire when that Congress ends. Anything that didn’t pass will have to be re-introduced.

Somehow, a lot of Americans got the idea that there is something called “Congress and the Senate”.  There is not. After the Preamble, the very first section of the United States Constitution defines Congress. US Constitution, Article I, Section 1:

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.

Yes, folks. Congress consists of the House AND the Senate. They are called the two “houses” or “chambers” of Congress.

And yes, ALL legislative powers. Presidents do not make laws. Government agencies do not make laws. Corporations do not make laws.  Political parties do not make laws.  Members of Congress make laws.  And we need to hold them accountable for the laws they make – or don’t make.  The Constitution does permit Presidents to issue Executive Orders and executive branch agencies to issue regulations, but those are not laws.

There is no limit to the number of terms that members of Congress can serve. They serve until they retire, die, or the voters elect someone else.

Read More …



Presidential Czars and the U.S. Constitution

 One of the most absurd tools that the Republicans use in their distraction campaign  against us is the incessant whining about President Obama’s “czars”. Because the monarchs of imperial Russia were called czars, they assume that you will believe that anyone associated with that title is a communist and, therefore, evil. Yes, that’s what they think of you.

The term dates back as far as President Woodrow Wilson’s administration during World War I, but it has never been the official title for a presidential adviser. It is purely a creation of the media. Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has appointed special advisers, which the media have termed “czars” because the actual job titles are too long for newspaper headlines. 

Read More …


Bachmann, Cain Would Defy U.S. Law Prohibiting Torture

During Saturday’s Republican presidential debate, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain supported waterboarding suspected terrorists. Cain even said that he doesn’t “consider” waterboarding to be torture. Sorry, Herman. I can “consider” he sky to be red. That doesn’t make it so.

Americans debated the value of torture for a decade. Since our “war on terror” began after September 11 2001, we’ve debated torture’s definition, whether Americans have tortured prisoners, whether it’s justified, and whether we should prosecute the people who authorized and committed it. The debate focused primarily on waterboarding.

According to the Washington Post, former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and others routinely ordered American personnel to waterboard suspected terrorist prisoners. President Barack Obama stopped the practice on his third day in office in 2009.

The U.S. Constitution’s Article VI states that the Constitution and all treaties made under it are the supreme law of the nation. In 1990, the U.S. Senate ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. That treaty defines and forbids torture. It requires every nation to prevent torture and to investigate and prosecute all allegations of torture in any territory under its command, promptly and thoroughly. There are no exceptions. War, public emergency, value of the information received, and the orders of superior officers do not justify torture.

The Constitution says that the treaty is our law. The treaty forbids torture and requires us to prosecute. Therefore, even if it produces useable information, torture is illegal, no matter how many people say otherwise. The U.S. government has no excuse and no choice. Waterboarding has been classified as torture since the Spanish Inquisition more than 500 years ago.         

Justice is often inconvenient, costly, time-consuming, and messy. It is always necessary. Either we enforce the law or we don’t. Even John McCain said, “It’s not about what kind of people they are. It’s about what kind of people we are.” Torture is a crime. The people who order, commit, and excuse it are criminals.

Why is it that those who claim to love the Constitution eversomuch can’t be bothered to READ IT?

For More Information:
Cain, Bachmann Say They Would Support Waterboarding
The Bush Administration Made Waterboarding Almost Routine
Executive Order 13491: Ensuring Lawful Interrogations
United States Constitution
United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Amnesty International: Terror and Torture

Voter Registration Deadline is Tuesday, October 11

If you want to vote in the general election on November 8, you must register by Tuesday, October 11. That’s next week. In a general election, the voters choose the candidates who will hold the offices that are open for election.  If you were registered for previous elections, you do not need to register again.

There are no federal elections in odd-numbered years. This year, Pennsylvania voters will choose judges in the Superior, Commonwealth, and Common Pleas courts, as well as local magistrates. In Allegheny County, the Executive, Controller, District Attorney, Treasurer, and Council seats are up for election. Municipal offices are also up for consideration, including many city, borough and township mayors, councilors, commissioners, and supervisors. School Board director seats, tax collectors, and some other offices are also open.

Local elections don’t carry nearly as much drama as federal and state contests, but are no less important. These are the people who are responsible for managing our local parks, streets, schools, and police departments. As Tip O’Neill said, “All politics are local.”

After you register, REMEMBER TO VOTE!  Don’t worry about the new voting machines.  If you can work an automatic banking machine or a TV remote controller, you can work a voting machine.  If you’re nervous about it, there is more information and a demonstration on the Allegheny County Elections Division website. The site can also help you locate your polling place and the workers can  help you at the polling place on Election Day.

If you don’t know for whom you should vote, now is the time to do some research.  In my experience, television commercials and campaign literature are practically useless in giving information.  Advertisers design them to make you remember and feel good about the candidate.  You can visit the candidates’ own websites, attend campaign events like rallies and town meetings, and read in-depth news coverage and voters’ guides.  In the end, vote for the candidates who reflect your views most closely.  No single candidate will be perfect, but you know what’s important to you. 

It is illegal for anyone to keep you from voting.  You cannot be fired from your job or evicted from your home, for voting.  No one can tell you how to vote.  If you can’t get to the polling place on Election Day, you can get an absentee ballot, but don’t wait too long.  November 1 is the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot, and completed ballots must be returned by November 4 at 5:00 PM.

You can find more information about voting and some of the issues from the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh, Community Information Center. An excellent guide is available online at  Click on the “Guide for New Citizens”.

A summary of the voter registration rules

WHO:  In order to register, you must:

  • Be a US citizen for 30 days or more on election day
  • Be at least 18 years old on election day
  • Be a resident of Pennsylvania, and your election district, for at least 30 days on election day

¬  You do not have to have a residence to register to vote.  You can be homeless, but you must have a mailing address. 

¬  You may be able to vote if you have a criminal record.  Go to for details.


  • In order to vote in a primary election (in May of each year) you must register in a political party. 
  • You do not have to register in a party to vote in the general election (held in November).
  • You can change your party registration any time you wish.
  • Even if you haven’t voted recently, you are still registered.  Call the Election Division or check VotesPA to be sure.
  • If you moved, changed your name, or want to change your political party, you must register again.

 WHEREThe Allegheny County Election Division office is located in the County Office Building.

542 Forbes Avenue, Room 604, Pittsburgh, PA  15219 (Downtown)

Phone: (412) 350-4500, Fax: (412) 350-5697


October 11, 2011            Registration forms must be in the Elections Division office, or postmarked, for the November 8 General Election

November 1, 2011         Last day to apply for a civilian absentee ballot for the November 8 General Election

November 4, 2011         Last day for County Board of Elections to receive completed absentee ballots

HOW:  Registration forms are available in several places:

  • Allegheny County Elections Division office, 604 County Office Building, Downtown
  • Many state and local government offices
  • Most state and local legislators’ offices
  • Many public libraries, community agencies, and state liquor stores 

¬  You can also find the form online at the Pennsylvania Department of State. You can download, print, complete, sign, and mail the form to the address below.  It must be postmarked by the registration deadline. Return the completed form to:

Voter Registration Section
Allegheny County Division of Elections
542 Forbes Ave., Room 609
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-2953

¬  You can get absentee ballot applications at your County Election Bureau office or at

For More Information:

League of Women Voters

PA Department of State

Allegheny County Election Division

Federal Election Commission


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?


Why Congress Can’t Get Anything Done

And What You Can Do About It

America has serious problems. We need serious adults, working together, to solve them. Our government is supposed to do that, but most members of Congress care more about pleasing their big bucks corporate campaign donors than in doing the job that we hired them to do. Republicans claim to believe in the “free market”. Well WE are the market they’re trying to reach.

There are two chambers of Congress—the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Constitution allows each chamber to make its own operating rules. The party holding the majority of the seats controls the chamber and committees have enormous power. The majority party leaders appoint all committee chairs, who are nearly always majority members. In this Congress, Republicans control the House and the Democrats control the Senate.

There are 435 House seats, distributed among the states by population. The current House contains 193 Democrats and 240 Republicans. With a full House, a bill needs at least 218 votes to pass the House. Now, with two vacancies, 217 votes will pass a standard bill.

There are 100 Senators, two from each state. They include 51 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them, and 47 Republicans. In case of a tie vote, the Constitution empowers the Vice President, currently Joe Biden, to break the tie. Senate rules require only 51 votes to pass most bills, but any senator can call a filibuster, which stops a bill dead in its tracks. It takes 60 votes, called cloture, to end a filibuster and permit a final up-or-down vote on a bill’s merits. House rules do not permit filibusters.

Every bill must pass both House and Senate, and be signed by the president, to become law. Congress can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote. That’s 292 House and 67 Senate votes.

Given the numbers, House Republicans can do pretty much whatever they want to do. House Democrats don’t have enough votes to pass anything without support from at least 25 Republicans. The 53 Senate Democrats hold a technical majority, but Republican filibusters stifle nearly all Democratic bills. The Senate Democratic majority can prevent bills passed by the House Republicans from going further.

Teapartiers wield much more power than they deserve. They made SO much noise about “We the People” in the 2010 election, but only 14 percent of Americans are strong tea party supporters.  Only 74 House members and 10 Senators identify themselves as teapartiers, all registered Republicans. That’s only 16 percent of the entire Congress and 29 percent of the Republicans. The other 71 percent of Republicans are terrified to stand up to them.

Despite the Congressional oath of office, they owe their allegiance to the corporations who paid for their campaigns but they pander to the teapartiers. Mainstream Republicans are so out of touch with reality that they think the teapartiers represent public opinion.

Teapartiers don’t have a different vision of government, as traditional Republicans do. They want NO government. They want no services, no goals, and no sense of community. They whine incessantly about the Constitution, yet they’re always wrong when they quote it. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Congressman Ron Paul declared that every conservative who objects to government spending should “. . . take care of yourself, don’t ask the government for anything”. (Source, Paragraph 17) Sure. I’d pay money to see that happen.

And that’s why Congress is stuck. That’s why we need grownups in Congress who understand that we can only solve our problems with common sense and compromise. President Neville Chamberlain has compromised to the point where he might as well be a teapartier. Republicans stomp their feet and hold their breath until they turn blue. Republicans have no morals. Democrats have no spine.

Every now and then someone suggests holding a national referendum on a particular issue, like raising taxes on gazillionaires, or same-sex marriage, or creating jobs. A referendum is a public vote on an issue rather than a candidate. That’s just not possible. Our Constitution does not permit a national referendum on any subject.

In order to hold a referendum, we would have to amend the Constitution. Then we would have to get a particular referendum question onto the ballot according to the procedures outlined in the amendment. And then we would all have to convince a majority of voters to support our particular position in the referendum. That would take about a billion dollars and about 10 years of serious community organizing. Good luck.

The Supreme Court may have given corporations the same status as people, but corporations still don’t vote. Real people vote. I vote. You can vote. We can’t count on Congress to do their jobs, so we have to push them. We all can influence Congress. Yes we can, but don’t waste your time with online petitions. They’re the least effective method of making social change. The article linked below has more information on influencing Congress. Demand that your representatives honor their oath of office.

“I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

We may be stuck in neutral until the 2012 elections, but this is a good time to learn the issues and exercise your lobbying muscles. Learn where your members and the committee chairs stand. Don’t believe everything you see on TV. Read newspapers. Watch C-Span. Yes, really. Read the Constitution. Ask yourself who benefits from public policies.

  • Who benefits from shipping jobs overseas?
  • Who benefits from destroying labor unions?
  • Who benefits from decimating public education?
  • Who benefits from demolishing the middle class?
  • Who benefits from gazillionaire and corporate tax cuts?
  • Who benefits from allowing the infrastructure to crumble?
  • Who benefits from unlimited corporate campaign donations?
  • Who benefits from cutting Social Security, Medicare, and social services?
  • Who benefits from preventing the poor and the unemployed from voting?

You can be your own lobbyist. Your future is worth a couple of hours a week. Call, write, and visit your legislators. Volunteer for your candidate’s campaign. You know what’s important to you. Stand up for yourself. Demand that your representatives represent you. And then vote.

 And remember. WE ARE ONE.

 For More Information:

Congress by the Numbers

The White House

House of Representatives

U.S. Senate

Information on all Congressional Legislation

On the Issues—Legislators, In Their Own Words

U.S. Constitution


Get Your Message to Your Legislators

Watch Out America. They’re Coming for You Next

We Are All Welfare Recipients


Jobs in Pittsburgh: Speak Your Mind at Two Events

Are you fed up with Corporate America collecting $$billions$$ in tax cuts while refusing to create jobs? Join your neighbors at two important events.

Community Meeting with UPMC Officials

UPMC has come under much public criticism for some of its corporate decisions, including closing Braddock Hospital, scrapping plans for its vaccine formulating facility in Pittsburgh, threatening to end its contract with Highmark health insurance, and violating its “charitable” status by putting its own finances above the public good.

Meanwhile, they’re creating new jobs at facilities in Italy, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, and the Middle East, and plan to expand in China. They refuse to create jobs in Pittsburgh because they’re not profitable enough. Those decisions have killed thousands of jobs in Pittsburgh.


ONE Pittsburgh will host a community event for you to speak with UPMC officials about these decisions and how they affect your family.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

6:30 P.M.


Hazelwood Car Barn

5344 Second Avenue

Hazelwood, Pittsburgh   

For More Information:

Call 877-793-4238 or go to ONE Pittsburgh online.

ONE Pittsburgh is a coalition of community, labor, and faith organizations.



Community Jobs Rally and Town Hall With Members of Congress


Our communities need JOBS. But Congress is giving tax breaks to millionaires and corporations who refuse to create jobs.  

Members of Congress will be present to hear what you have to say.

Tell Congress to invest in citizens before corporations.



Monday, July 18, 2011

5:00 to 8:30 P.M.



Rally for Jobs, with free food and community speakers

Across the street from the Kingsley Association, 5:00 to 6:30 P.M.

Town Hall

Join Reps. Mike Doyle (Pittsburgh), John Conyers (Detroit), and Raul Grijalva (Arizona) on the Pittsburgh stop in their nationwide tour to hear your concerns about jobs and the economy, 6:30 to 8:30 P.M.


The Kingsley Association

6435 Frankstown Avenue

East Liberty, Pittsburgh

For More Information:

We Are One Western Pennsylvania