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

Why We All Need to Vote on Tuesday

Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. We should all vote. I know you’re fed up with politicians. Believe me, I am too. I’d rather go bowling than vote for these clowns, and I don’t care for bowling. But in times like these, it’s more important than ever to choose our representatives carefully.

I live in Brentwood, and often write in “None of the Above” in municipal elections. This year, I’ll be writing in four names for mayor and council – Jonny Gammage and three young Brentwood men. Gammage died at the hands of Brentwood police officer John Vojtas in 1995. Brentwood police, including Vojtas, Milton Mulholland Jr., and Gerald Mikelonis routinely violate the others’ civil rights. The young men symbolize my son and the hundreds of other victims of Brentwood’s ongoing criminal enterprise, which operates with the approval of the police chief, mayor, council members, and borough manager. Maybe one day the cowardly locals will wake up and take a stand against their criminal cops, instead of bragging that they all went to high school together.

You can do something similar in your town.

County and municipal elections happen in odd-numbered years. So Tuesday’s election covers county and local offices and a handful of state and county judges. If you’re not registered to vote, it’s too late this time, but you can still register for the next primary election in April here. If you’re already registered, you can confirm your registration and locate your polling place in Allegheny County here.  

Allegheny County positions open for election:
Judges, County Executive, County Controller, District Attorney, Treasurer, and Council Members
County Council members serve staggered 4 year terms. Voter will choose representatives for odd-numbered districts this year.

City of Pittsburgh positions open for election:
City Council, City Controller, Library funding referendum

Other municipal positions open for election:
Some mayors, many Council members, district magistrates and constables, School Directors

There are far too many candidates to list here, but you can look at the Keystone Progress voter’s guide for a list of county candidates.

So why should be bother to vote when it’s “only” a local election?

All elected officials in the United States take an oath to uphold, and are supposed to understand, the six purposes of government, as listed in our Constitution:
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.

Elections are important because government officials – the ones we elect and those they hire – decide how much taxes we pay and how those taxes are spent.  They determine whether to build or repair our roads and bridges, what our schools teach, and what social services to provide, and to whom.  These folks have the power to clamp down on criminal cops who don’t hesitate to violate citizens’ civil rights.

Local elections are more crucial than ever before because the Republicans’ demands for federal and state governments to abandon their responsibilities force the local governments to try to take up the slack.

Government decisions favor the rich instead of the poor because rich people vote more than poor people do. People least likely to vote are new voters, people with lower incomes, with disabilities, with criminal records, minorities, youth, and women.  According to the US Census Bureau, people who earn more than $100,000 per year vote at a rate of nearly three to one over those who earn less than $30,000. 

So, if you don’t like current conditions, you CAN change them.  Voting is just the beginning.  Be informed about the issues important to you. Contact your elected officials, either on your own or as a group with your friends, neighbors, family, or co-workers. Join an organization that works on things you care about. If there isn’t an organization, start one. 

State and federal laws protect your voting rights.  You cannot lose your job, or your benefits, or be evicted for voting.  People with felony convictions, who are registered, can vote in PA once they are no longer incarcerated.  Homeless people who are registered can vote.  People with disabilities can get help from the person of their choice in the voting booth. No one can harass or threaten you at the voting station.

The Allegheny County Election Division supervises all elections in the county. There is a Judge of Election at each polling place to help you if there is a problem with your registration.  An Allegheny County Common Pleas judge will be on duty Election Day to handle voting disputes.  Call 412-350-5463 to report a problem. If you are not permitted to vote, insist on a paper provisional ballot. You can vote on that ballot and county election officials will confirm your registration status later. If your registration is valid, your vote will be counted.   

All polling places are open on Tuesday, November 8, from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Take your children, so they can learn about voting.  You do not need your voter registration card to vote, but you do need to show ID if this is your first time voting at your polling place. All of the standard forms of ID are accepted.

If you’ve never voted before, don’t worry. There is a large sample ballot hanging on the wall of the room.  You can look at it all you want and chat about it with anybody working the polls (inside or outside) or other voters who might be there.  Take your time.  Think about what’s important to you.  Don’t worry about using the new voting machines.  If you can use an automatic banking machine, you can operate a voting machine.  There’s a demonstration video online.  The poll workers will help you if you ask.

So vote.  Believe me, you’ll feel great afterward.

For more information on the candidates
Keystone Progress: Pennsylvania Progressive Voter’s Guide

For more information on voting and elections
PA Votes
PA League of Women Voters 
Allegheny County Elections Division 


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.

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