Remember last week when I told you about the unanimous decision to gut the STOCK Act that prevented lawmakers from abusing their access to insider information on the financial sector as its regulators and investigators for personal financial gain, also known as insider trading? And how Congress and the President crammed the proposition through in under a week? It took literally only ten seconds to get through the Senate, and Obama signed it into law late on a Friday in hopes the media circuit will miss it over the usual weekend buzz and talk about the upcoming vote on “gun control,” or lack thereof?
Well, the good news for Obama is 99% of the mainstream media did miss it. The bad news for Obama is that the 1% that did catch it was Jon Stewart and the Daily Show.
Have at ‘em, Jon:
Oh Jon Stewart… you make everything better.
Seriously though, this gives me hope. Outside of FOX, whose hosts and hostesses act as one hive-mind collective force, the only individual member of the mainstream media that has ever had an effect on national politics is Jon Stewart. Back in late 2010, the Democrats introduced a bill that would provide health care to all emergency responders that saved lives on September 11th, but contracted health issues due to their acts of heroism (repertory problems, cancer, and other problems associated with working on ground zero for days and weeks). Republican Senators filibustered it and the bill died. Seriously. Why Democrats didn’t shame Republicans more on that is a mystery, especially considering why Republicans filibustered it. They gave the flimsy excuse that the spending for the program wasn’t off-set, which is still no reason to not do a bill of this importance in the first place, but what makes it even more intolerable is that the spending for the bill was off-set. The problem? It was paid for by closing some tax loopholes for foreign companies. Not American “job creator” companies; foreign companies, which is remarkable in and of itself that the government is spending taxpayer dollars on tax loopholes for foreign companies in the first place, but that’s another issue for another day.
So, quite literally, the Republicans filibustered a bill created by Democrats to provide health care to the emergency responders of 9/11 for the ailments they contracted while saving lives after the worst terrorist attack in US history because tax loopholes for foreign corporations were more important to their party.
Jon Stewart wasn’t having any of that. He dedicated an entire show to this bill, shining a light on it, and exposing the Republicans for the abominable, immoral act they had just committed. He was so effective he even got FOX News to turn to his side and attack Republican Senators for filibustering the bill.
I went and dug up this old video about what and how this exactly transpired if you don’t believe me. Watch it here:
Apparently one man can make a difference, and that one man is Jon Stewart. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t harbor any false hopes that this particular bill is salvageable. So much damage has been dealt to the STOCK act that it’s largely useless at limiting the corruption of our government by the banks and financial sector, but just knowing that Jon Stewart is watching Congress this closely, to notice something this minor and covered-up by the current establishment, gives me hope for future bills and legislation that attempts to stop corruption. And who knows, if he drives this one bill home hard enough, he may manage the impossible yet again and save it, though I don’t think it will be any time soon.
It’s good to know we’ve got at least one guy that big and that deep in the mainstream media on our side. Jon Stewart; America’s ace in the hole.
So, something happened last November that most people don’t realize. Puerto Rico, a US territory (not quite a state, not quite an independent nation) voted to become a state. I don’t just mean they had an election with the question “Do you want Puerto Rico to become a state of the United States of America?” on the ballot; I mean the people of Puerto Rico voted YES to the question of becoming a state. So apparently last November America gained a 51st state… but not a single person noticed.
Well, kind of… it’s… complicated.
The ballot question last November in Puerto Rico first asked how people felt about the current status of Puerto Rico in relation to the US government, and 52% of voters rejected the current status. The second question affiliated with the first asked Puerto Ricans what they would rather Puerto Rico be; a fully independent nation, a state, or a closely allied but still independent nation to the United States (all of which are separate from “territory” status… and don’t ask me to explain the difference, I’m barely following this as it is). 61% of Puerto Ricans voted to become the 51st state!
… Why is no one talking about this?
Because there’s some tricky legal mumbo-jumbo preventing it. In order to become a state, a majority of ballots cast must be in favor of statehood. 61% of all votes cast answering the second of the above questions favored statehood, but a sizeable portion of Puerto Ricans, for whatever reason, left the second of the above questions blank, even though most answered the first of the two, expressing dissatisfaction with their status as territory. When you count the non-votes as “no” votes against statehood, it’s only 45% of the population; not enough to become a state. To my understanding, however, this is more of a Puerto Rican policy regarding elections than an American one, because in America blank questions count neither here nor there and are not counted. So to Puerto Rico, 45% of people want to become a state, but to the US federal government, 61% of people want to become a state. It may be the other way around, so apologies if that’s wrong, but the fact is that depending on how you read the ballots, Puerto Rico may already be a state.
That’s exactly why this month President Obama proposed $2.5 million in the 2014 budget to fund a new Puerto Rican referendum to figure this problem out once and for all. I’m not sure exactly how it will be definitive, but the administration is saying it will be. I’d be willing to bet unanswered questions will not count either way towards or against statehood, but that’s just a guess.
So basically, this happened.
Federal government: So, wait… did what I think happen, just actually happen? Did Puerto Rico become a state?
Puerto Rico: ………………….. *shrug* I dunno. We don’t like being a territory, I know that.
Federal government: Damn it, Puerto Rico! You’ve been dodging this question too long. I’m settling this. Election. This year or next. Answer. Once and for all.
Keep in mind that this has been going on for a long time. Puerto Rico’s possible statehood has been in question at least since the 1950s when they drafted their own constitution. The funny thing is, at that exact same time questions were rising about Hawaii and Alaska’s statehood (we only had 48 states at the time). It just seems that Puerto Rico never really made it clear, or at the very least, never made a definitive choice of statehood or independence. Obama may be putting a stop to that. So we may have a 51st state, and possibly as early as the end of next year.
Did you even know that Puerto Rico already has a Congressman in the US House of Representatives? Congressman Pedro Pierluisi represents Puerto Rico and is a member of the New Progressive Party (affiliates with the Democratic Party here in America, not unlike how Senator Bernie Sanders is an Independent, but caucuses with the Democratic Party [also, quick aside; one of their political parties is called the “Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party,” which I find hilarious. Imagine an “Americans for America Party.”]). Granted, Congressman Pierluisi is a non-voting member of the House… but that could soon change! Puerto Ricans also have US citizenship, their own constitution, bicameral legislator, and governor, but they do not have the right to vote for the American President, except in primary elections, even though the President is considered their head of state. In addition, the United States Congress delegates Puerto Rico’s powers as a government, even though their government is not granted all the protections of a US state. On top of all that the people of Puerto Rico do not pay the federal Income Tax, but they do pay the payroll tax and various other federal taxes. Puerto Ricans, therefore, are entitled to some benefits of Social Security and Medicaid, but significantly less than they would if they were a state despite paying in the same amount that they would as a state.
Just researching and typing all of this is confusing the crap out of me. No wonder Puerto Ricans are just freaking tired of this system.
Honestly, I don’t have much more to say about this story; I just think it’s awesome. It’s been so long since anything changed on this scale in America. This could serve to be a refreshing reminder that America is not complete. America is not flawless or static. America as we know her is not always going to be the same. Change happens. We see that culturally every day in the “culture wars” often demonized by right-wing commentators, most noticeably in changes in public opinion over gay marriage. If Puerto Rico becomes a state, it could serve as a refreshing wakeup call that in addition to culturally, America is constantly changing politically and legally as well, and that even the longest standing precedents and traditions aren’t untouchable.
Do you even realize what will happen if Puerto Rico becomes a state? We’ll have 102 Senators, with the Vice President filling in as a tie-breaker vote for 103 total. More than that though… we’ll have to change the flag! Or did you forget that those 50 stars each represented a state? Pretty much anyone reading this right now grew up with the flag exactly as it is, because the last state to join the union was Hawaii in 1959. My own dad was eight years old the last time the flag had to be updated. How is this not exciting?
But the absolute best part of this becoming a new political issue is what’s going to happen when this becomes an actual story in the mainstream media. Eventually it’s bound to if Puerto Rico is this close to becoming a state. Try to wrap your head around just how much the heads of right-wingers in this country are going to explode when they hear we have a 51st state… and it’s Puerto Rico, where Hispanics are the majority race and Spanish is their official state language. Oh, and they’ve come to take away the American flag and replace it with a new one.
BE AFRAID, RIGHT-WINGERS; it’s like everything they’ve feared happening in their craziest conspiracy theories wrapped up into a single, real political issue.
You can go to the Huffington Post to see several suggestions of how we might change the flag, as well as Cenk Uygur’s reaction to each design here.
Many of you have heard that New Zealand recently became the 13th country to legalize gay marriage, but how many of you have seen the actual footage of the deciding vote in parliament? The guys you see on the left side of the video (when facing the front of the room) are the conservative opposition to the gay marriage bill. Note they mostly do not applaud or stand after the calling of the final vote tally, but keep an eye out for them when you see what happens at the 1:18 mark.
The song is called Pokarekare Ana. It’s the unofficial national anthem of New Zealand, and it’s a love song in the language of the native people. Here’s a professional version of it.
The fact that even the conservative opposition stood to sing the national anthem, a love song, after passing a bill to legalize same-sex marriage is perfectly symbolic of the LGBT equality movement. All we want to do is promote love, and with love is how we’ve swung so many people to the right side of history. One of the comments I read about the video of parliament singing summed it up well; thank you New Zealand for showing the world what love sounds like.
It’s not often I dedicate an entire article to simply reiterate the words, postings, and videos of other people, but the reactions to the Senate’s abject failure to pass any sort of gun control legislation are so perfect that it’s like the words were taken right off my page. I’m not talking about the assault weapons ban or the high-capacity magazine clip ban or even universal background checks. This bill would have expanded mandatory background checks to include gun shows and online purchases, but still contained several loopholes such as if the transaction took place in a rural area it would be exempt. Even that was defeated by a minority of dangerously incompetent conservatives in both Republican and Democratic parties. The bill received 54 votes, but Republicans filibustered it, as they do all legislation, and so it was defeated.
It’s not often I have praise for Obama’s words. Normally they’re tainted with political double-talk that, when decoded, translates into promises of selling out liberal principles. This is not one of those times. For once, I actually whole-heartedly approved of the President’s message. There were a few nit-picky things I would have done differently but, considering who Obama is, this is about as passionate, blunt, angry, and honest about how Washington really works as he gets. Everything he said was important to hear, especially when he pointed out that 91% of Americans and over 80% of Republicans supported making background checks prior to purchasing a gun universal for all sales. Despite this, the efforts in the Senate failed, and it’s entirely because of corruption in Washington, which I was actually a little shocked to see Obama talk about so honestly. The NRA bought our politicians, as all special interests do, and used their power over them to defeat this measure that nearly all Americans agreed upon. Seriously; I’ve never seen a majority like that on a political poll. So for once I am entirely sincere in my thanks to Obama for at least calling the situation out for what it was; a shameful failure of the American political system because of the corruption of special interest and big money.
But for a more passionate response, we have to go to my man Cenk Uygur. Buckle up.
I know how it can feel being asked to just watch a video of a political commentator you might not necessarily agree with, but I would hope my gun advocate and conservative friends would watch the above video. Seriously, I don’t even really have anything more to say. I would just end up transcribing everything he said into this article. If you’re taking the time to indulge me to read this article, just watch the above video to get an understanding of what happened this week, how mad people are, and the whys to both of those questions.
To explain how the NRA and their bitch politicians managed to stop this bill with such a tiny minority of Americans and Senators, just watch his second video.
In the past I’ve pointed out clear-cut cases of obvious lying on the part of politicians and media outlets, but I’ve never seen an effort on such a large scale that involved such an abject, inarguable lie. It was literally written in the bill that no federal registry of guns was to be created. It is already the law that federal registries are prohibited. This bill would have even made it a felony to even propose a federal registry punishable with up to 15 years in prison! Yet politician after politician spoke out on the grounds that this bill would create or somehow inevitably lead to a federal registry. Any politician that argued against this bill on the fear-mongering tactic of a federal registry is an abject liar.
If a politician is willing to lie about something so brazenly, in order to do the will of a special interest group (any special interest) rather than carry out the will of their actual voting constituency, let alone do their job and defend them, why on Earth should we trust them on anything else that comes out of their mouth? If they are willing to lie on something that they can so easily be busted on, why trust them on more complex issues such as taxation, regulation, spending, worker’s rights, women’s rights, or anything else?
Senators Inhofe and Coburn were among the minority that defeated this extremely weak, watered-down bill and perpetuated these brazen lies. They’ve openly, inarguably lied to you, and yet I’d be willing to bet not a single conservative will hold that against them when election time comes. I wrote about this in an article where I tried to break politics down to a more minimalist, simplistic level for the politically simple-minded. If you’re unhappy with the way Congress is working right now, why do you keep voting for the same people?
This exact same sentiment was echoed by the final voice I have to evoke today; Gabrielle Giffords. Unfortunately, she still has great difficulty speaking (you know, because she was shot point blank in the head by a madman with an assault weapon), so it’s only the written word, but it was still a powerful, brutally yet necessarily honest, political and personal story. I won’t quote the whole thing in full hear even though I’d like to; I suggest everyone head over to her article in The New York Times and read it yourself when you have the time. I’ll still share with you some of her most poignant statements, starting off with what is very possibly the most powerful right-out-of-the-gate sucker punch I’ve ever seen come from a politician (save for maybe Alan Grayson).
SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets…
On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count…
I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending…
I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated…
Giffords ended her article by reiterating an earlier statement she had made the day the legislation was defeated, and where she passionately makes the case for the exact point I just made.
Let’s keep something in perspective here, people; there are 535 members of Congress. You only have say in who three of them are. That’s literally half a percent of the total Congressional body. If you are truly dissatisfied with the failures of Congress, particularly because of the inherent corruption of the current system of power and incentive structure, then you have to stop voting for these guys. I don’t care if you primary them or vote for their opponent in the general election only as a punishment vote; when someone’s been around as long as some of our most corrupt politicians it’s much more likely they’re part of the problem than solution.
The rate of incumbency and the duration of a politician’s incumbency these days is enough to corrupt even the most honorable person. Our own Senator Inhofe has served in the federal Congress for 25 consecutive years. Okies continue to complain about the federal government, but continue to vote for the same old establishment politicians that have been around for a generation or more. Next year, Senator Inhofe is up for re-election once again, and I bet Oklahomans will just ignore all the brazen lies he’s told in the debate on gun control, amongst other issues (as if there weren’tenoughreasons to vote him out already).
So please heed my words when I tell you the best way to fix a broken Congress is simple; THROW. THE BUMS. OUT. Be they Republican or Democrat; corruption and complacency know no party lines.
To be fair, there are a few politicians that would be worth keeping in Congress, even though they are a vast minority at this point. Just off the top of my head, a few names that come to mind are Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rand Paul (R-KY), and maybe Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), as well as Congressmen Ron Paul (R-TX), Alan Grayson (D-FL), John Yarmuth (D-KY), maybe Keith Ellison (D-MN), and even Walter Jones (R-NC).
Sadly though, I’m not even so sure of even them any more because of S. 716. What is that, you might ask? Well, it revised an older bill known as the STOCK act which required lawmakers and high-ranking federal employees to publically disclose all “insider trading” and other financial dealings in an online database to prevent the abuse and exploitation of their exclusive access to financial sector information for personal financial gain. Lawmakers and their associating federal employees are privy to all sorts of “behind the scenes” financial information and tips about investing because of their positions and responsibilities in investigating, regulating, or just interacting with the financial sector. Insider trading is one of the most direct ways lobbyists can corrupt a politician or worse their staffers, who are the ones actually responsible for writing their legislation, scheduling meetings with lobbyists, collecting donations, and much more When the STOCK Act passed in 2012, Obama praised it as a much needed victory to help restore the “deficit of trust” between Washington and the rest of America. Well, last Friday, S. 716 was introduced to exempt all staffers working for lawmakers from this bill entirely, even though they’re privy to the same if not more information as the actual lawmakers. Not only did it pass, but it passed in record time. It only took 10 seconds to introduce, vote, and pass this bill through the Senate, 14 seconds through the House, and just four days later was signed by President Obama. Worst of all, this all happened unanimously. Every single member of Congress, including the ones I listed above, from Elizabeth Warren and Alan Grayson to both Ron and Rand Paul and even Senator Sanders all supported it.
That’s just really discouraging. Not only discouraging, but downright heart-breaking. But on top of all that, this was rushed through last week, and signed into law on a Friday afternoon in hopes that America would be too busy worrying about the upcoming background check bill to notice. Well, we noticed. We noticed your failure to provide transparency in the STOCK Act, and we noticed your even greater failure at defending the people by voting down the most common-sense, agreeable, popular piece of legislation that has come through Congress in a long, long time.
In the words of President Obama himself, many conservatives and gun-advocates are considering this devastating loss a victory. A victory for who? A victory for what? 91% of Americans supported expanding background checks. 54% of Senators supported expanding background checks. That alone is a good enough example of how poorly our representatives actually represent us, but even then despite a majority of Senators supporting it, it still failed. So I really want to know, conservative friends, who really won here? Is this progress? Is this how a representational democracy is supposed to work in your mind? Are Americans safer today than they were before this bill was defeated? Let me add to it my question from before; how can you continue to vote for someone who so obviously and brazenly lied to you? How can you vote for someone who so obviously and openly represents the will of special interest and their donors over the will of their own voting constituency? For nearly all politicians voting against this bill, this is the sad reality that has now reached a point where it can no longer be denied, which is perhaps the one good thing to come out of this. The curtain has been drawn back and we can see the feeble men behind the Great and Powerful Oz for all the sad sell-outs they are and nothing more. I only hope more people can open their eyes and see it now, because thanks to the NRA and their bought-and-paid-for whores, it’s more obvious now than ever.
What happened this week over this bill not to control guns, not to make a federal registry, not to ban assault weapons, not to ban high-capacity magazines, not to make background checks universal for all gun purchases, but just to slightly expand the current background check system was an absolute travesty of democracy.
Members of Congress are not doing their job to represent and protect the American people.
I have no choice but to hand out the greatest insult I have yet discovered to the Senators, pundits, lobbyists, and other politicians that opposed this measure.