Monthly Archives

January 2017


Congress Blocked Obama On Climate Change

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Most Americans can still remember when Obama accepted the challenge of running for presidential position. His party, the democrats, did not fail in choosing him, as he won the elections and served as president of the United State for two terms.

During his campaign, Obama made promises regarding his aims to heal the planet. However, it seems that two terms are not enough to achieve such goals. Still, the former president should be commended for exerting so much effort.

On the other hand, though Obama attained some of his goals, these achievements are in danger of being banished by Donald Trump.

One of Obama’s achievements during his terms was his campaign on climate change. He appealed to world leaders to take action on the harmful changes that are currently happening in the world. He was supported in his action on controlling greenhouse gas emissions, but his battle ended in the senate.

Obama also approved federal funding for polishing America’s standards in renewables and use of fuel and focused on increasing production of domestic oil and gas production to lower fuel prices.

He worked with Environmental Protection Agency in hunting polluters and committing to a major international climate deal. These things can be considered as two his most prominent legacies, but they are in danger of being laid to waste as the next president of America is very intent of revoking the environmental regulations that Obama implemented.

Remarkably, Obama’s presidency was one of the hottest seasons in world’s history. A small Australian rodent became extinct because of climate change after resettlement of first climate refugees from southeastern Louisiana. Meanwhile, cities from New York to Miami Beach are predicted to be submerged in water in the near future.

According to Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman and climate change action supporter, the problem in climate change is inevitable, as proven by flooded streets during storms.

In 2007, Obama presented an aggressive energy plan centering on cap-and-trade system. The goal of this system was to cut carbon emission by 80% by 2050. The resulting level was said to be sufficient for scientists take actions in curbing global warming.

The plan will also set limits for carbon emissions, whereas companies will be provided with permits to buy and sell carbon allowances. Known as American Clean Energy and Security Act, the plan was expected to reduce aggregate emissions by 2020.

The legislation reached the House of Representatives in 2009, but it lost the battle because of various issues surrounding the Democrats and Republicans,

Former Colorado governor Bill Ritter thinks that Obama might have focused too much on Affordable Care Act, spending most of his political capital and not leaving some for American Clean Energy and Security Act.

On the other hand, some people think that Obama was too safe and never provided Republicans with enough opportunities to work with him in his reform actions. According to Inglis, Obama should have offered Republicans something in return for their support.

Though he made effort through finding environmental causes and clean energy, cap and trade did progress, and that was considered a loss during Obama’s first term. However, he promised to redeem himself when he run for a second term.

As he continued his battling climate change, Obama used executive action as beacon.

There were to great obstacles in reaching his goals. The first is increase in people who deny the truthfulness of climate change. On the other hand, some countries, such as India and Saudi Arabia, are worrying about the impacts on their economics in case actions against climate change, including fossil fuel, are implemented.

During his first term, Obama focused on implement various policy goals, including promotion of clean energy use in agriculture and carbon sequestration, and increase in energy efficiency of appliances, vehicles, and establishments. He achieved these goals through different federal agencies.

When he won another election, he added more strength in implementation of such strategy.

In 2013, Environmental Protection Agency present the first draft of Clean Power Plan. It was followed by the release of final revision in 2015. The final revision centered on coal-power plants, and it aimed at reduction of emissions by 32% after 25 years starting from 2005.

However, the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute did not take this well.

Meanwhile, some environmentalist still criticized Obama for allowing drilling in Gulf of Mexico and neglecting the issue on fracking.

Obama also supported expansion of hydraulic fracturing to lessen carbon footprint, though this practice results in large emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. This solicited another bashing from climate change campaigners.

On another matter, it was remarkable that oil production increased in US. In fact, it doubled from under 5 million barrels to 8.7 million barrels in November 2016.


Meanwhile, as the new president of the United States, Trump vows to reverse the regulations implemented by Obama. He can work his way around by not implementing Clean Power Plan and ignoring the Paris agreement.

On the other hand, Trump will find hard time battling Obama’s December 20 drilling moratorium thanks to the 1953 law does not include any clause that may allow other presidents to withdraw. However, the drilling moratorium can be challenged in court.

However, no one is unsure regarding Trump’s intentions, though experts claim that oil industry will surely prosper under his presidency. Meanwhile, it is certain that the economy will not approve all of Trump’s plans. In addition, warriors against climate change can only hope that the Clean Power Plan survives ruling in DC Court of Appeals.


How Christian Is 2017 Congress

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In recent years, lesser number of Americans made claims regarding their Christianity. However, people’s representatives are showing otherwise. The number of Christians in 115th Congress does not differ much with that of 87th Congress.

A total of 91% of the members of 115th Congress are Christians; such number is very near the 95% of the 87th Congress. Moreover, among the 293 Republicans seated on the new Congress, only two are non-Christians; they are Jewish.

Members of the Democrats are more varied but 80% of them identify themselves as Christians. Among the 242 Democrats, only 28 are Jews. The remaining small group of non-Christians comprises three Buddhists, three Hindus, and a Unitarian Universalist. Meanwhile, Democratic Representative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona does not affiliate herself with any religious affiliation, whereas another 10 skipped affiliating themselves with any religious groups.

New members of the House of Representatives are sworn to their duty in January 3, 2017.

Meanwhile, the numbers of Protestants in Congress decreased in number, similar to the trend observed in national data. From the total number of Protestants (75%) in Congress in 1961, the number dropped to 56% at present. On the other hand, the number of Catholics rose to 31% (starting from 19%). At present, the number of Republicans in Congress consists for 67% Protestants and 27% Catholics. Meanwhile, the current members of Democrats comprise 42% Protestants and 37% Catholics.

Research has shown that religious groups, including Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, have more representations in Congress. Meanwhile, in the whole US population, 2% are Jews, of which 6% hold positions in Congress. As for Buddhists, Mormons, Muslims, and Orthodox Christians, their percentage in the general population is almost the same as their percentage in Congress.

Meanwhile, one non-religiously affiliated group is underrepresented. People who consider themselves to have no religion account for 23% of the population, and representatives with such affiliation hold only 2% of Congressional positions.

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Planned Parenthood De-funded

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Before Thanksgiving, Donald Trump sent Marjorie Dannenfelser a voicemail. The message included Trump’s gratitude to the woman and her colleagues for the support that they have given him in the elections. To recall, Dannenfelser is the president of Susan B. Anthony’s List, a group who are against abortion practices. Trump made promises to the group; among these promises was defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Currently, Dannenfelser and other people who are against abortion are gaining the upper hand. Last Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Republicans will withdraw federal funding allotted for Planned Parenthood. They intend to do this by passing a budget bill and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

On the other hand, people supporting Planned Parenthood will not give up without a fight. They claim that abolishing an entire public health care system in the country is not possible, and that people who are opposing them should think about that can happen if people are deprived of the necessary care that they need.

Planned Parenthood is a legislative greatly opposed by people against abortion. If this program is defunded, significant impacts can be expected especially in those who are relying on government-funded health care services. Affiliates of Planned Parenthood received $533 million as government funds in 2014. This money was 40% of their total revenue, which was at that time was $1.3 billion. This government funding was given in form of reimbursements for services administered to patients on public programs, such as Medicaid. The services covered by this funding include STI testing and cervical screening. However, federal funds are prohibited for abortions. Data showed that 75% of the money provided to Planned Parenthood was given as reimbursements through Medicaid.

According to Judith Solomon, vice-president for health policy at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, there should be alternatives in case that funding for Planned Parenthood is ripped. However, the problem is there are no alternatives at the moment, and this becomes an issue especially in low-income women who are covered by Medicaid.

Republicans have higher chances of repealing Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood though Democrats will surely try to stop them. Moreover, Republicans hold a 52-48 majority to the Senate, increasing the possibility of enacting the defunding measure. Two senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, are worried about what lies ahead for Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, Rand Paul of Kentucky, disapproves repealing of Affordable Care Act if there is no concrete substitute plan in place yet.

SBA are fully intent on giving Democrats headache in their fight for defunding measure. At present, they are pressuring six senators who are expected to run for 2018 election; these senators include Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Jon Tester of Montana, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Bill Nelson of Florida. Last 2010 midterms, SBA list and its allies collaborated in beating Democrats who were against abortion but approved of Affordable Care Act.

In current election, Dannenfelser and her colleagues eyed 1.6 million voters, and their attention was centered on Hispanic areas in Florida and Democratic and independent areas in North Carolina and Ohio. They wanted to identify those who are more inclined to vote against abortion but are not regular voters, new Democrats, Independents, and Hispanics who are easily affected by issue on abortion. They succeeded in re-electing Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Roy Blunt of Missouri, all of which claimed support for their cause against abortion.

Meanwhile, after announcement of defunding of Planned Parenthood, Richards and Hogue went with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other members of House’s Pro-Choice Caucus in announcing their opposition. A new campaign was launched by Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Supporters are expected to stand with the campaign’s stand in opposing defunding of Planned Parenthood, and they will be joining various events in many cities across the country in the coming months. After Trump’s inauguration, Richards and Hogue encourage people to join the Women’s March on Washington, where they hope everyone who benefitted from Planned Parenthood will join in their fight.

As specifics regarding this defunding have not been announced yet, impacts on Planned Parenthood and its affiliates remain unclear. It is possible that states or cities will decide on how much of cost services may be reimbursed without using the government’s money. According to Hogue, NARAL has received more donations after the elections, and they are looking for ways to provide “safe zones” to women in order to provide them with their needed services, including preventive health care.

Meanwhile, people who are against abortion are taking advantage of their current situation. Dannenfelser is exerting all efforts to ensure that Jeff Sessions gets the position of attorney general. Their group are also expecting that Trump will keep his promises to appoint a judge who will work on allowing states to outlaw abortion. It also appears that Trump provides his support in their attempt to pass a legislation abolishing most abortion practices after 20 weeks. Anti-abortion people are also keeping an eye on the senators who are up for re-election in 2018, promising that these people will not get their votes should they withdraw their support for anti-abortion programs. Moreover, Dannenfelser and her affiliates are hoping that they can make Hyde amendment a permanent law and reinstatement of Ronald Reagan’s Mexican City policy.

Voting Machines

Voting Machines Vulnerable

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In Allentown, Pa., Jill Stein made the news because of her petition to count votes in the state. Unfortunately, a federal judge thwarted her plans on Dec. 12. As candidate of Green Party, Stein already had small chance of discovering fraud or errors in votes because there was really nothing to count in the first place.

Pennsylvania is one of the 11 states that still use antiquated machines during elections. These equipment were purchased online, and printed ballots or paper-based backups are not available for recounting the number of ballots. Thus, people in the state really have no means of checking whether all votes were accurately recorded or tampered with.

At least 80% of population of Pennsylvania exercised their right to vote last Nov. 8 using those antiquated machines. Meanwhile, a non-profit group, VotePA, is already taking action to have these equipment be replaced with new ones. The group aims to acquire voting machines that can perform rechecking functions.

The use of digital voting machines is one of the most prominent dangers brought by implementation of US election system at very low budgets. Approximately, 1 in 5 voters used such machines to cast their votes in recent elections.


Trump Asks Congress To Build Wall

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One of Trump’s goals during his tenure as president of United States is construct a wall along border of the country and Mexico. He intends to fund this project using appropriations. News has it that the new president already gave a go signal to his congressional Republican leaders to make this happen this coming April.

As people would recall, Trump previously announced that he wants Mexico to pay for establishing such wall along the border, thus suggesting for that another country should reimburse the US for implementing its own project.

In January 6, Trump tweeted that using appropriations was a matter of implementing the project immediately and that the money will be paid by Mexico in the future.

According to Rep. Chris Collins, though American taxpayers would should the construction of Trump’s wall, the president would surely take actions to negotiate with Mexico and reimburse the money. He adds that Trump would have leverage as Mexico’s economy greatly depends on US consumers. Thus, negotiating with Mexico should not be that difficult.

Trump’s team believe they have the power to build such wall, but apparently, they lack the funds to proceed with the project. A senior House GOP source said that transition officials voiced out their willingness to fund the wall through a bill.

Meanwhile, Indiana Republican Rep. Luke Messer claims that funding the authorization should being with achieving Trump’s campaign pledge. Messer realizes that a large sum of money will be spent but he emphasizes that it is just a matter of priorities. In fact, he uses as example the border security bill previously proposed by Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul. The bill was estimated to cost $10 billion.

On other hand, Democrats will have hard time opposing government projects, such as building of the wall.

As for Mexico, its leaders are firm on their stand in not paying for the wall.

When Mexico foregoes paying for the wall, GOP can mean expanding the spending bill to billions of dollars before it is passed on April 28. However, such scenario would cause an uproar in Senate Democrats and can lead to government shutdown.

However, Republicans claim that Democrats should support funding the walls since they voted for the 2006 bill in the persons of Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, and Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana refused to make any comments whether the Congress is willing to pay for the wall. However, he emphasizes that the Congress is willing to cooperate with the president’s team in order to realize building of the wall.

According to Trump, the wall would cost around $8 billion. However, some analysts think that such price may reach up to $10 billion. Trump presented proposals regarding how he can make Mexico pay for the border wall, but some of the included measures are quite controversial, the money that will be collected is will not be enough to cover all expenses.

Trump’s website posted some of measures that the president intends to use to reimburse the expenditure for building the wall. These measures include remittance seizure, increasing fees on temporary visas to Mexican CEOs and diplomats, border crossing cards, NAFTA worker visas, and at ports of entry to US; potential tariffs and cutting of foreign aids.

However, when results of these measures are combined, Trump will only be collecting less than $1 billion, and this amount is significantly lower than the estimated cost of the wall. Meanwhile, should the president decide to impose remittance seizure, he would possibly face major legal hindrances and backlash from both domestic and international communities.

Every year, US foreign aid to Mexico amounts to less than $200 million. Thus, if such money should be diverted to funding of the wall, it will still be insufficient. Meanwhile, it is hard to estimate the revenue from tariffs without considering taxes.

One of the measures include increasing fees for visas, including border crossing cards. However, visas and border crossing cards cost $150–$250, when taking all into account the fees that would be collected from these, the amount would only be half a billion dollars.

Thus, it turns out that remittance seizure has the most potential in gaining funding source for the wall. Based on data of bank of Mexico, $24.8 billion in remittance payment was made to the country in 2015. Around 97% of these remittances in the first quarter of 2015 originated from the US. As a matter of fact, most of Mexico’s remittance payment revenue derives from the US. Thus, if all remittance will be seized, US would have enough money to build the wall.

Trump also intends to use the Patriot Act to require Mexicans to provide legal identification before the can engage in money transfer transactions, but this action can elicit a number of legal battles against Trump.

Courts may think that it is improper and illegal for Trump to use the Patriot Act against Mexicans because it was designed to target Radical Islamic terrorists. Moreover, Mexicans may be forced to resort to illegal ways of smuggling money to Mexico.

House Tries

House Tries To Gut Oversight

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Jan. 3, 2017 Scarborough blasts GOP decision to gut ethics office

In the new Congress, House Republicans already made their moves against independent watchdogs. This greatly impacts and results in dismantling major reforms adapted after Jack Abramoff scandal. Such move was led by lawmakers who were investigated in the past few years.

Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy already voiced out their concerns, but House Republicans pushed through in adopting the proposal made by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte. The proposal places the Office of Congressional Ethics under jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.

The office has complete authority to investigate and recommend necessary actions to House Ethics Committee as deemed necessary.

However, at present, the lawmakers will serve as eyes watching over the office. The office will also have limited scope in their work as the proposal prohibits them from considering anonymous tips against lawmakers. In return, the office will be incapacitated in disclosing certain results of their investigations.

As Trump occupies the presidential position, oversight is completely lenient regarding lawmakers’ potential conflict of interest, expenditure of campaign funds, and other related ethical matters.

Though Republicans that they agree with actions on “draining the swamp,” the only that they focused on so far is banishing the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. As mentioned by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, it turns are that ethics are the first victims of the new Republican Congress.

The actions against OCE was led by some house members who thought that they have been falsely accused of unethical behavior. These members pushed forward the proposal and eventually earned favorable vote of 119 to 74.

Rep. Blake Farenthold was previously accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer. Though OCE recommended probing of the issue, Farenthold obviously kept some grudge.

On the other hand, Rep. Peter Roskam was under investigation by OCE because of supposedly accepting impermissible gift during he and wife’s travel to Taiwan in October 2011. Though the trip was approved, the OCE believed that the Taiwanese government sponsored the trip. Moreover, Roskan’s daughter was reported to be in Taiwan during the trip, and OCE claimed that Roskam tried to include a visit to her daughter as part of their trip, which cost $24,000. Roskam denied the accusation, and the case was dropped not long after.

Office of Congressional Ethics was established in March 2008 by Democrats after the Abramoff scandal. The scandal involved a well-connected GOP lobbyist who pleaded on contriving plans to bribe public officials. Abramoff and other people who participated utilized campaign funds and called out favor to influence some house members, including former Rep. Bob Ney, who was sentenced to 30 months of prison.

OCE was supposed to be an outside agency that can hold a more robust oversight of members. However, in Goodlatte proposal, OCE will be designated as “Office of Congressional Complaint Review.” The office will now then be supervised by Committee on Ethics.

Essentially, the provision aims to shut down accusations against lawmakers. Goodlatte defends his proposal, claiming that it is focused on protecting rights of individuals who are under investigation. He also claims that his provision does not serve as hindrance to the great work done by the OCE.

However, watchdog groups are claiming otherwise. According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, such proposal destabilizes independence of OCE and poses danger to Congress members.

Moreover, if authority of OCE is weakened, the House will revert to the time when ethic violations are prevalent.


Will Republicans Support Trump Infrastructure Costs

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In the past decade, the Congress and the White House spent considerable amount of money on transportation. However, in recent campaign elections, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump promised to allocated more budget in reconstructing infrastructure in the whole country.

Clearly, both Clinton and Trump support the idea of repairing the US’s roads, bridges, airports, rail systems, and ports. However, issues arise regarding source of money that will be spent on such repairs, and whether the federal government can handle such expenses.

These issues then should challenge the candidates to ensure fulfilling their promises and presenting concrete plans regarding infrastructure.

Rep. Daniel Webster is a member of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He supports the candidates’ plan for transportation but he doubts whether the attention given to industry will last for long no matter who won the elections.

According to him, when presidents present goals that they want to achieve in their first 100 days in position, only one or two get accomplished, and he does not think that the new president will focus on transportation.

Proposals made by recent US candidates would remind people of Obama’s actions for infrastructure in 2009. As one can remember, the now former president allocated a large portion of his economic stimulus package to transportation.

On the other hand, Clinton’s proposal includes $275 billion for infrastructure. This amount will be spent in a matter of five years, and the money would supposedly come from business tax reforms. A portion of the fund will be allocated to national infrastructure bank, a loan and loan guarantee program for ensuring that private funds will not have a hand in transportation projects all over US.

Meanwhile, Trump plans on spending twice the budget proposed by Clinton.

Based on their proposals, the candidates believe in importance of investing in new and improved roads and bridges. They think that focusing on transportation industry will also create more jobs, which will benefit the economy.

In 2009, Obama succeeded in pushing through Congress his $840 billion stimulus plan. A total of $105 billion of the money ended up in infrastructure. However, the new administration may have a bit of tough time achieving similar goals. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S. C., another member of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is in full support of such programs but he firmly believes that spending such amount of money should be done accordingly. Moreover, as noted by Sanford, it seems that no one is asking how such money will be spent and who will be responsible for taking care of such expenses.

Aside from issues concerning expenditure, demands for major infrastructure may not be a great problem as new administration will be start their duty in improved economic environment along with currently recovering construction industry.

As mentioned by Robert Puentes, presiden and CEO of Eno Center for Transportation, people in Washington agreed in 2009 that work should be provided to people, and investing in transportation is one mean of making such thing possible. However, at present, he claims that the country is under an entirely different economic climate.

Certainly, there will be critics who will not approve right away any plans regarding infrastructure. Even Obama’s infrastructure stimulus plan was not free of criticism. Detractors criticized the plan for centering on projects that should have been implemented right away and gave people jobs but took a while before breaking grounds.

Thus, these so-called shovel ready projects were truthfully well not formulated given the amount of time eaten by planning and review processes. As a result, these projects were considered unsuitable for creating jobs. As Michael Sargent of Heritage Foundation adds, heavy infrastructure and construction would necessitate skilled labor. However, most of unemployed workers lack such skills.

After the stimulus plan, Obama faced difficulty in gaining support from conservatives for his major infrastructure plans. As a matter of fact, lawmakers repeatedly ignored Obama’s “Grow America Act.”

Meanwhile, in the past, Congress paid attention on implementing short-term extensions of Highway Trust Fund. The fund was expected to cover most infrastructure projects but it failed in a number of cases.

Highway Trust Fund is fueled by federal gasoline tax, which remained at 18.4 cents/gallon since 1993. However, the revenue is quite lower at present because a number of Americans now drive less.

In December, the Congress attempted to extend the Highway Trust Fund by passing a five-year $305 billion bill. However, this bill fails to discuss the issues on funding shortfalls and focuses on short-term financing provisions to make for infrastructure spending.

Though Republicans, which hold majority of House of Representatives, are not that interested in infrastructure, presidential candidates already stirred waters, and more eyes are now turning to federal government’s role in transportation spending.

Meanwhile, with absence of federal actions, some states decided to take matter in their own hands and started seeking for means of funding their infrastructure projects.

Some states, including Iowa, Wyoming, Idaho, and Maryland, raised their gasoline taxes. Apparently, states were left with no choice but to look for sources of funds. In relation to this, when people see where funding originates, they become more willing to contribute to paying infrastructure needs.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Lee plans on proposing Transportation Empowerment Act, which will provide states with authority to handle their infrastructure needs. Some conservatives support these types of legislations and even claim that federally-led transportation projects are not generally needed at the moment.

People like Puentes recognize the need for maintaining infrastructure of the country but the they think that federal government need not be constantly involved with it. On the other hand, Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania claims that federally funded spending and building processes should be more efficient.