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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Mourn for the Dead. Fight for the Living.

Join us on Workers Memorial Day.

Thursday, April 28 marks the 23rd annual Workers’ Memorial Day. Each year, dangerous conditions kill thousands of workers on the job. Those hazards create illness or injury for millions more. Since 1989, the AFL-CIO has observed April 28 as a day to “mourn for the dead, fight for the living.” Labor unions and workers in nearly 100 countries observe the day.

The AFL-CIO chose April 28 because it is the anniversary of the founding of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This year marks OSHA’s 40th anniversary. OSHA is the arm of the U.S. Department of Labor that oversees workplace health and safety issues. Thanks to the labor unions, American working conditions have progressed a great deal in the last hundred years, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Since most of the products that we buy are manufactured overseas, we should remember that those cheap prices often come at a high cost. China and other third-world countries don’t have strict – or sometimes any – health and safety regulations. That’s one reason why their products are so inexpensive.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 workers died because the company owners put profits before people. It took sixty years for Congress to repudiate such callous behavior, when they enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Yet that attitude is still prevalent today. In fact, right now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Republican Committee are vigorously pushing their agenda to repeal the laws that protect your life. They want to return to the good old days of unrestricted child labor, absence of safety standards, sweatshops, and robber barons – all so they can pocket more cash.

Last year, BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and goooshed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for three months, because the company’s executives put profits before people. On April 4, Deepwater Horizon’s owner, Transocean, gave its executives BONUSES for their “exemplary safety record”. I’d love to see what a bad records looks like.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4,340 workplace deaths in the US in 2009; 42 of those workers lived in the Pittsburgh region

The Allegheny County Labor Council, the United Steelworkers, and the Labor and Religion Coalition of Western Pennsylvania sponsor Pittsburgh’s event. It will take place in Market Square, Downtown Pittsburgh, from noon to 1:00 p.m. This year, author, activist, and Special Assistant to the President of the Utility Workers of America, Stewart Acuff, will deliver the keynote speech. The event will include appropriate music, additional remarks, and ringing the memorial bell for each local resident who died on the job. Take a break from work to honor those who can’t go to work anymore.

As the event poster says,
        “On Workers Memorial Day, we will continue that fight. We will fight to create good jobs in this country. We will fight for the freedom of workers to form unions, to have a voice and      bargain for safe jobs, respect, and a better future. We will demand that the country fulfill the promise of safe jobs.”

The only way to fulfill that promise is to strengthen OSHA and workplace health and safety regulations. We’ve already seen that we can’t trust corporate executives to behave properly on their own.

Please join us.

 WHAT:                Worker’s Memorial Day Observance

WHERE:              Market Square, Downtown Pittsburgh

WHEN:                Thursday, April 28, 2011

                                Noon to 1:00 p.m.

WHY:                   Show our government officials that we the people DEMAND safe and healthy workplaces.

So the next time you don’t get hurt at work, please remember the struggles of people who fought for your health and safety, and please remember those who died along the way. Keep up the fight for those who follow us.


For more information:

Let’s Criminalize Poverty

Everything you think you know about welfare is wrong.

 Recessions are just so darned entertaining. Every time we have one, two things happen. First, politicians try to deflect attention away from their fiscal failures by turning Americans against each other. Then the great American middle class gets an education. They find out that there is not a bottomless well with buckets of cash and free stuff for the taking.

 A segment of our elected representatives declares that the nation’s economic woes are the fault of GAAAAASSSSPPP!!!! POOR PEOPLE. They tell us that if we weren’t giving so much money away in “entitlements” we would all have high-paying jobs with oodles of fringe benefits. They tell us that the poor are somehow evil and inferior, but that poverty can’t get “us” because “we” are “better”. Slimy politicians create a fear of poverty and the poor, and then exploit it to benefit themselves and their corporate buddies. They construct barriers to public benefits at the exact moment when millions more people need those benefits to survive.

Unfortunately, there’s always a segment of the newly unemployed that falls for this malarkey. Public scorn and ridicule of “welfare recipients” always increase. Unemployment benefits eventually expire and a large chunk of the “deserving poor” apply for public assistance benefits through several programs. Then they are suddenly the “welfare recipients”. That’s where the education comes in. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard freshly minted public benefits consumers tell me that they’re not like “those people”. Sorry, folks, you’re just like them. They just got there before you did.

For the record:

Since 1996, able-bodied cash assistance recipients can collect benefits only for a maximum of 60 months in their lifetimes. Yes, really.

The average TANF household size is 2.37 people. The average monthly benefit is $455 per household. Every able-bodied adult TANF recipient must actively search for work or attend an approved education or training program.

The average SNAP (food stamp) household size is 2.16 people, and the average monthly household benefit is $289 per month or $1.49 per meal. 74 percent of SNAP benefits go to children, elderly, and the disabled. One third of eligible Americans do not participate in the SNAP (food stamp) program.

Contrary to what the republithugs tell you, ONLY American citizens and certain classes of LEGAL immigrants can receive public assistance benefits.

Right now, several bills pending before the Pennsylvania General Assembly are specifically designed to punish people for being poor.

Senate Bill 719 would require drug-testing and periodic re-testing of all cash assistance recipients in the state. Sure, I’ll go along with that – just as soon as Pennsylvania’s most famous welfare queens stand in line to urinate in a bottle.

Let’s see. That would give us:

Dan Rooney and family (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Bob Nutting (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Jeffrey Lurie (Philadelphia Eagles)

Ed Snider (Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers)

Bill Giles and David Montgomery (Philadelphia Phillies)

the Chief Executive Officers of every Marcellus Shale drilling company in the state

and the CEOs of Exxon Mobil, Bank of America, General Electric, Chevron, Boeing, Valera Energy, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Conoco Phillips, all of whom do business in the state.

Cash assistance benefits are distributed to recipients through debit cards that work at standard automatic teller machines and in-store cash register terminals. House Bill 800 would forbid cash assistance recipients from getting cash from their own benefit accounts. That means that they could only spend their benefits in approved stores. They would not be permitted to pay their rent, or utilities, or buy a bus pass. Do you really think that’s a good idea?

You can get more information on the other bills from Just Harvest.

Meanwhile, Governor Tom Corbett’s budget will cut one billion dollars from public education, thereby giving all of us a local tax increase. Now, how is anyone supposed to get a decent job without a decent education?

This is just another plank in the republithug platform of criminalizing the poor, public employees, and the middle class. They don’t believe that everyone who needs help now and then is lazy, stupid, and morally inferior. They want you to believe it.

Please don’t fall for it.

If you need help, you can look at the Government Benefits Eligibility Tool. The online questionnaire will give you links to all of the programs that you might qualify for. You don’t have to give your name or identify yourself in any way unless you actually apply for benefits.

For more information:

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Just Harvest

Food Research and Action Center

Pennsylvania General Assembly

Government Benefits Eligibility Tool

Unemployment Lifeline

If you want peace, work for justice

Contact your legislators

Read the U.S. Constitution

Stand in Solidarity with Working People on April 4

By 1968, the legal and political struggles for civil rights had wound down. Martin Luther King turned his attention to the broader issues of human rights and social justice. He went to Memphis to support the city’s sanitation workers in their strike for collective bargaining rights and better working conditions. As usual, King had successfully linked the broad concept, human dignity, with the specific issues – subsistence wages and workplace safety.

On Thursday, April 4, he was murdered, his work left unfinished.  Activists, organizers, and advocates have continued the struggle ever since that day.

Now, America’s working families are under assault like never before. Dozens of elected republithugs are violating the law, flaunting court orders, and ignoring public will to drag us all back to the days of sweatshops and robber barons.

Are you going to let them get away with it?

Monday, April 4 is the 43rd anniversary of Dr. King’s murder. To honor his memory, progressive allies will host a nationwide collection of community events giving all Americans the opportunity to stand with working families, and STAND UP TO the Republithugs and their corporate masters. Local organizations have planned all of the events, and each is different. There will be marches, rallies, religious services, lobbying, demonstrations, teaching, stage performances, and other events.  

If you’ve never attended a demonstration before, don’t worry. I’ve been to many, and they’re great. If you don’t want to go alone, then bring a friend. Or bring your children. Yes, they’re completely safe. Come on, admit it. You’ve always wanted to do this. This is your chance.

Pittsburgh UNITED will host one of Pittsburgh’s events, a downtown rally and march protesting Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposal to destroy public education in Pennsylvania.

If you live near Pittsburgh, we’ll gather at noon at the EQT Tower, 6th Street and Liberty Avenue, and march to Corbett’s Pittsburgh office at Piatt Place, 301 Fifth Avenue (a distance of about 100 yards). Please join us.

If you live elsewhere, check here to find an event near you, or get help in creating your own event. It can be large or small, public or private. What’s important is the message that we all send on Monday.


For More Information

April 4 Events

If You Want Peace, Work for Justice

Do Protests and Demonstrations Make a Difference?

Working America

National Archives:  Records of King and Memphis sanitation strike

Congress wastes time and money on college football playoffs

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee is currently considering HR 390, the College Football Playoff Act of 2009. If enacted, the bill would require the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to establish a playoff system to determine which college football team is the national champion. The NCAA currently uses the Bowl Championship Series for that purpose. This is undoubtedly the most absurd use of Congress’ time that I have ever seen.

CONTINUE . . . .