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.

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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. 

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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

America’s Liberal Roots, Shunning, and Other Random Thoughts

John Boehner is right in forcing President Obama to justify U.S. military involvement in Libya, as per the 1973 War Powers Act. However, we all know that he would never do it if Obama was a Republican.

Herman Cain is just one more tired example of a dimwit Republican. He’s been saying that he would require Muslims to take a loyalty oath to work in the administration if he were elected president. This violates not only the First Amendment, but also the Constitution’s Article VI, Clause 3: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Why are so many who claim to worship the Constitution eversomuch just too lazy to read it?

America’s political roots are decidedly liberal. Committing treason, seceding from the British Empire, acknowledging the inherent equality of all MEN, and fighting a revolution for independence were very liberal, radical actions. It is highly unlikely that such liberal founders would write an ultra-conservative document.

The First Amendment’s establishment clause creates the separation of church and state.

I’m very disappointed in Rep. Anthony Weiner for putting himself into such a position. I wish him well and I hope he gets his life back on track. We need people with his ideals in Congress. But I can’t imagine what makes so many men think that any woman wants to get messages like those.

I’m also disappointed in Obama for not closing Guantanamo, not prosecuting the cheneybushers for war crimes, not appointing Elizabeth Warren to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, renewing the “patriot” act, and appeasing the republithugs at every opportunity. Will I vote for him again? You bet.

For 30 years, presidents and Congresses bought Alan Greenspan’s delusion that corporate executives will behave in something resembling a moral fashion, and thus don’t need to be regulated. This inspired our leaders to abdicate their constitutional duty to regulate commerce, leading to massive greed, corruption, and recession. Greenspan personally caused more damage to America and Americans than any other human being.

The Amish have a tradition of shunning community members who break their rules. I thought the practice was barbaric, but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps we should explore this option for conduct unbecoming a human being. I nominate Greenspan for the first spot.

The politically illiterate complain about “big government” controlling everything because they think it really does.

A section of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History honors the heroism, bravery, sacrifice, and camaraderie of US military throughout the centuries and the world. Their Iraq war display appears in the same section with the September 11 display. The description says: “Because of concern about Saddam Hussein’s regime, in March 2003 the United States and its allies launched preemptive strikes in Iraq.” They actually have the audacity to post that lie on the wall. The U.S. went into Iraq because littledick cheney wants more money. And he got it. It’s despicable that so many died for so little.

Your parents, teachers, and counselors lied to you. There is no permanent record that follows you throughout your life. No one knows or cares how many times you had detention in high school. Grow up.

Republithugs have created voter ID laws to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. The United States does not have a problem with unauthorized voting, or people voting multiple times, or illegal immigrants voting. It’s hard enough to get people to vote at all. This is about the republithugs trying, yet again, to SUPPRESS the vote. They’re trying to scare poor people and uneducated people into staying home. THINK ABOUT THIS, PEOPLE. Who benefits from low voter turnout, and keeping these folks away from the polls?

The republithugs claim that Congressional bills are not available for reading. They are liars. You can read every Congressional action at the Library of Congress site since 1996.

I don’t mind an honest difference of opinion, or a different philosophy of life. I do mind it when people flat out lie and make stuff up.

Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Sloganeering signage has probably put more dents in fenders than in voter opinion.  (From a Larry Evans email, 10/26/10)

America doesn’t just happen. The founders did not create a nation to have its citizens abandon it. America doesn’t work unless we all pay attention to it.

Why does the boss deserve to make 500 times more pay than the workers do?

Think back to when you were a kid. Remember the one in the crowd who always whiiiiiiiiined “It’s not fair!” when stuff didn’t go his way. That kid is now a Republican.

Employers can legally refuse to hire people who have red hair, or beards, or who wear blue shirts.  Yes, it is discrimination.  It is also legal. The only illegal forms of discrimination involve race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age over 40, and disability.

Judging by the way that most people write these days, they should sue their third grade English teachers for malpractice.

Children who are babied grow up to be idiots, or victims, or worse.

The American Medical Association should expel from its membership any “doctor” who works for a health insurance company.  It’s a conflict of interest and a violation of the Hippocratic Oath.  Doctors are supposed to provide health care.  Health insurance companies prevent people from getting health care.  I don’t care how many medical schools you went to.  If you work for a health insurance company, you are not a doctor.

Real life is not like your TV.  Stuff takes time.


For more information

Read the U.S. Constitution

Read a newspaper. Yes, really. Go to a store. Buy a newspaper. Read it.

We Are All Welfare Recipients

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.

The republithugs love to squawk that they adore the Constitution and chastise, belittle, and whine about “welfare recipients”. They won’t admit, even to themselves, that we are all welfare recipients and that every “welfare program” is constitutional.

The government’s six specific purposes, stated the Constitution, are: “ . . . to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . . .”

Those six tasks outline an enormous responsibility. Pretty much anything can fit into that list. It doesn’t lend itself to “small government”. The phrase “promote the general welfare” does not refer only to public assistance programs. It means that Congress has the power and duty to act in the nation’s best interest. We can always debate what’s in our best interest, but Congress and the states have enacted many programs, projects, and public works throughout America’s history.  Every American, including you, benefits from them. They are all public assistance programs.

The Constitution requires Congress to establish and maintain post offices, roads, bankruptcy laws, and trademark, patent, and copyright protections. At various times, Congress decided that cash assistance, SNAP (food stamps), WIC and other food assistance programs, public housing, Medicaid, subsidized childcare, and energy assistance are in our best interest.

I’ll bet you don’t know that every child who eats meals in school receives welfare benefits. School meals fall into three categories: free, reduced-price, and “full-price”. The federal government subsidizes every meal, including part of the “full-price” meals. So, if you or your children have ever eaten lunch in school, you benefitted from a “welfare program”, because Congress decided that it was in our national best interest.

They also decided that . . .

clean water, clean food, and safe medications,

mental health and substance abuse research, information, and services,

public schools, community colleges, vocational and adult education programs, state universities, public libraries, and Sesame Street,

workplace health and safety regulations, car seatbelts and air bags,

public utility and nuclear facility regulation and toxic dump cleanup,

railroad, highway, maritime, and airline safety,

public defenders and refugee resettlement services,

farm subsidies, crop insurance, and agricultural information and support,

G.I. Bill benefits, veterans’ disability benefits, hospitals, and cemeteries,

public accommodations for the disabled, senior citizen centers, home delivered meals, and senior/disabled transportation services,

free tax preparation services, college loans, and insured bank accounts,

federal disaster aid, oil subsidies, bank bailouts, and guaranteed mortgages,

national, state, and local parks, museums, historical centers, and sports stadiums,

interstate highways, a national passenger train system, and major airports,

public roads, bridges, tunnels, sewers, and dams,

the National Weather Service, and reclaimed abandoned mines,

civil rights, equal rights, and human rights enforcement,

and a national internet system connecting the public with every facet of our government and with educational, cultural, charitable, and commercial resources

. . . are also in our best interest.

We all have personally benefited from many of these “welfare programs’. Yes, you too. A nation is only as strong as its people. These benefits make our people stronger and our nation better. So it might be a good idea to stop chastising, belittling, and whining about “welfare recipients”. People always gripe about BIG GOVERNMENT. Right up until they need it.


For more information:

A Day in the Life of Joe – Middle Class Republican

Read the U.S. Constitution

Connect to your government online

Public Demonstrations Do Bring Change

Wisconsin teachers, public employees, and their supporters have now been protesting Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting efforts by demonstrating in Madison for two months. Some of the people have been there every day. As the GOP attack on the middle class advances, an informal network of labor unions and other organizations sponsor supportive demonstrations throughout the U.S. participation in these events slowly grows, but I know that millions more support their goals.

Many Americans think that mass public demonstrations began in the 1960s. Actually, they’ve been around for hundreds of years, and they’re familiar throughout the world. Although we often use the terms interchangeably, protests, demonstrations, and rallies are different. Protesters oppose a particular situation, incident, or policy. Demonstrators may support or oppose an issue and want to express their views. There are many ways to protest and demonstrate. A rally is an event designed to instill enthusiasm about a topic in those who attend, similar to a pep rally.

Demonstrations are a necessary ingredient for social evolution.  No significant social, economic, or political change has ever happened anywhere in the world without some form of protest or demonstration.  Once we decide that we want change, we must get our message to the powers that be. Typically, those in power are monumentally oblivious to public opinion. They’re too isolated from real life. So our message must be loud and clear. Protests and demonstrations have accomplished many changes, including:

The American Revolution and the French Revolution,

Political independence for dozens of colonies throughout Asia and Africa, including Indian independence from Great Britain,

The abolition of American slavery, the civil rights movement, and the end of South African apartheid,

Women’s suffrage, women’s rights, and reproductive rights

The international labor movement, anti-Vietnam War movement, and the peace movement,

Temperance and prohibition, the repeal of prohibition, and drunk-driving laws,

American Indian movement, LGBT rights, and disability rights,

The environmental protection movement, and excessive police force,

And all of the movements toward democracy in the Middle East.

Some of the most important and respected world leaders have used protests and demonstrations to make their points, including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Mother Jones, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Russell Means, Cesar Chavez, Abbie Hoffman, Molly Rush, Harvey Milk, and Nelson Mandela.

Most Americans have a baffling fear of demonstrations.  In the 60s, demonstrating somehow became “un-American”. I was a bit too young to participate then, but I’ve attended many such events and I enjoy them. It’s the purest form of democracy in action. People are happy. Hugs and smiles abound. It’s an incredible feeling to stand in the middle of a crowd, knowing that, at least on this issue, WE ARE ONE. Everyone should experience a good, well-organized demonstration least once in life.

Our right to protest is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Sometimes, a demonstration includes civil disobedience.  That’s an action in which protesters try to make their political point by deliberately breaking the law. No one will ever force you to commit civil disobedience. In fact, the organizations that conduct civil disobedience actions train their members in what to expect, and make sure that they are ready to participate. Rosa Parks’ refusal to change her seat on the bus was an act of civil disobedience – and incredible courage.

Contrary to urban legend, few protests are violent or dangerous.  Most are peaceful, friendly, and invigorating. Arrests at demonstrations are actually quite rare. I’ve been to dozens of demonstrations, and I have never seen a single incident of violence. Yes, I know that things do occasionally get out of hand. I’m well aware of what happened at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. Sometimes, demonstrators try too hard to make their points. Sometimes the police are too eager to make arrests. Sometimes both things happen at once. But that’s also extremely rare. A riot is an entirely different thing. Really, I’m a big chicken. If I thought it was dangerous, I wouldn’t be there.

At the most recent demonstration in Pittsburgh, the April 4 action to protect the middle class, nearly 1,000 people jammed city sidewalks and spilled into the streets. There wasn’t a single inappropriate incident, and the Pittsburgh police were fully calm and helpful.

Now, I don’t recommend protesting as a lifestyle, but when there’s a demonstration on an issue that you truly care about, don’t be afraid to participate. Spread your wings. Try something new. Take a friend. It’s a great American tradition. History is made by those who show up. Hope to see you there!

For more information:

 “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”    – Margaret Mead –

Government 101: Take the Plunge

Many people hold some peculiar notions about our history, the Constitution, and the government. “We the people” can’t begin to solve our problems until we understand the governing process. It’s a big subject. Here’s some help.

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