Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Controversial Bankruptcy Bill Passed

April 13(26), 2005
One week ago tomorrow, President Bush signed into law a new bankruptcy bill that will severely limit how citizens can clear their debts. There are two different kinds of bankruptcies most commonly filed for in the United States, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 bankruptcy (which accounts for over 70% of all filings) allows for non-state exempted assets to be liquidated and distributed equitably among one’s creditors, who are then legally obligated to drop the remaining debt. In this way, credit card companies lose billions of dollars every year, a figure that rests primarily on the shoulders of the risky spenders whom those corporations so aggressively target. A number of legislators are upset that, after using tactical practices designed to put people in their debt, the credit card companies themselves are now suffering financial losses.
Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires the filer to pay back their debts over a period of five years. Under the new law, most people will have to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy than will be allowed to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Democrats say that this is wrong, because credit card companies often deliberately create debt through incentives to younger customers who aren’t streetwise enough to resist the urge to spend. For many in deep poverty, Chapter 13 bankruptcy would be inadequate, only prolonging financial ruin instead of erasing it. While credit card companies will see roughly $1 billion in profits from the legislation, very few average people will be positively affected.
The new law will subject filers to a two-part income test. Exempting completely essential expenses like rent and food, the government will determine if you can afford to pay 25% of your non-essential income towards debt. After that, your income is compared to your state’s median income. If one’s income is above the median, they will be required to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and will not have the option of using the Chapter 7 provisions. For many, this will result with a situation in which they barely have enough to put food on the table every week, a miserable way to spend five years.
The “median income,” clause seems practical, but first looks are deceiving. What if you live in a state like, say, West Virginia, where the average income is extremely low? You could easily make more money than the median person but still live in relative poverty. The law also reduces the power of the courts (a cornerstone of the Republican agenda, anyway). Before, a court had large influence in determining which type of bankruptcy a person could file under, and often took specific circumstances into account. Now, no such option exists. In addition, the exemption that states are allowed to provide for assets had been sharply curtailed. Because of the more complicated regulations and restrictions, bankruptcy attorneys are likely to charge more. In the end, all that this does is create a good deal of both headache and heartache for people already going through a rough time. While the idea of holding people responsible for their debt (if they are abusing the system) is a good one, it needs to be perfected). Specifically individual predicaments really ought to be considered. Without this, the bankruptcy system can be neither efficient nor judicious.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Bolton Nomination is in Trouble

April 8(21), 2005
John Bolton’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations seems to be in jeopardy as Democrats mount an ever more extensive attack on the embattled official, delving deep into his government history. Bolton, whose contempt for the United Nations is as blatant as possible, came as a shock to many Democrats who couldn’t believe that the president had the political ineptitude to nominate such a man. At the same time, a number of people have argued that his intense dislike for inefficiency is just what an organization like the UN needs. The international body has been plagued in recent months by a host of eye-opening scandals that acted to expose the group’s impotence.
Most Congressional Democrats would likely shoot down the nomination for that reason alone. Conservative Democrats, based solely on Bolton’s reform platform, would probably be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. There are other issues, however, that cannot be overlooked. Startling evidence has emerged that Bolton, in his capacity as an intelligence officer, used excessive bullying to manipulate intelligence reports by threatening to eliminate subordinates’ jobs.
“This man is trying to get people to tell him what he wants to hear,” levelled Senator Barbara Boxer on CNN’s Crossfire. She said that such a method of workplace intimidation within the intelligence community posed, “an imminent threat.”
When she was accused by the show’s conservative co-host of participating in a witch hunt, she questioned, “I’m sorry, are you a Republican talking about a witch hunt? I find that funny.” The senator’s statement was greeted by enthusiastic applause from the crowd.
While Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman asserted that Bolton, “will be confirmed,” and that he’ll be, “an outstanding ambassador,” other Republicans offered a picture that was not so rosy, one grounded in firm reality.
“I’ve heard enough to know that I don’t feel comfortable voting for Mr. Bolton,” remarked conservative Republican Senator Voinivich of Ohio in a surprise revelation. He went on to say that some of Mr. Bolton’s tactics made him, “very uncomfortable.” He also described what he called a , “kitchen test,” which essentially asks, “Would you feel at ease sitting down with this person to have a conversation at your kitchen table?” With regards to Mr. Bolton, Senator Voinivich said that the answer was most certainly no. If such a test were used to screen all public officials, the government would likely work much better. Senator Voinivich should be commended for having the courage to stand up against a party majority that often treats its own dissenting members just as harshly as its most avowed political enemies on the left. It is sometimes hard to stand up for what you believe is right and follow your heart instead of your wallet, especially in today’s Republican Congress. Certainly, it’s much more politically acceptable to disagree with party policy if you’re a Democrat; indeed, that is the nature of the party (this whole website could be considered as divergent from Congressional Democrats). When you finally get down to it, Mr. Bolton just doesn’t seem like the kind of man who belongs in a sensitive diplomatic situation. Perhaps President Bush should begin making appropriate appointments (though that is unlikely). And unless the Republicans manage to trample on democracy by suspending the filibuster, Democrats will continue to block unqualified nominees to all government positions that require Senate approval. Conservative Democrat News will be writing more about the filibuster situation in the coming days.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

DeLay's Doings

April 1(14), 2005
It’s hard to turn on a television these days without seeing something about Tom DeLay, a politician who is now under a constant attack from the Democratic Party and many ethical persons on both sides of the aisle. The besieged House Majority Leader has been cited three times by the House Ethics Committee for violations of Congressional rules. This makes Mr. DeLay the most cited member of the current Congress. With all of this commotion, what has Mr. DeLay been accused of, and what, if anything, has he done?
Despite claims to the contrary, by DeLay and by other Republicans, the senator has clearly violated several portions of the House ethics code. For example, DeLay has taken several overseas trips to South Korea since 2001, all of them paid for by a foreign agent and all thus in conflict with Congressional rules. Incidentally, the agent, Korea-U.S. Exchange, has the same address as a prominent Washington lobbying group that just so happens to be run by Ed Buckman, DeLay’s chief of staff.
DeLay has also been accused of using illegal fundraising methods to bolster his Texas campaigns. Similarly, the role that DeLay played in redrawing Texas congressional district lines has come under scrutiny, and a grand jury in that state is considering indicting him. Organizations in which DeLay has a hand have also been implicated in the ongoing inquiries against him.
For example, the National Republican Congressional Committee, a body to whom DeLay’s services have been invaluable, paid a $280,000.00 fine last year for improperly transferring over half a million dollars in campaign money that was used to run radio ads against the Democrats. DeLay’s wife may have also been involved; she and her daughter received approximately $500,000.00 in pay from Ed Buckman’s Alexander Strategy Group between 1998-2002.
Jack Abramoff, a close aide to DeLay who arranged ethically questionable foreign trips for the Congressman, is now under investigation for defrauding Indian tribes that hired him as a lobbyist. Abramoff recently declared that, “DeLay and those S.O.B.’s knew everything” about the alleged illegal doings. This, of course, contradicts DeLay’s statement that he thought his foreign ventures were financed by non-profit conservative groups.
Even the most staunchly conservative Republicans are hard-pressed to deny that DeLay’s activities at least merit further investigation (though they somehow persist in defending him), and a truly neutral observer could easily see that this man is nothing more than an enormously corrupt public official who has misused the trust placed in him by the people of the United States. It seems unlikely that Mr. DeLay will maintain his current status beyond the next few months. Republican Christopher Shayes is the first of what will soon become many Republicans to turn on DeLay as he becomes too politically hot to handle. That certainly hasn’t been the case up until now, though. When, several months ago, it appeared that DeLay would be charged, Congressional Republicans took swift action in changing House ethics rules so that the Majority Leader would not be forced to step down. This caused such a public outrage that the move was soon retracted. Many felt, however, that the debacle made a statement about the GOP’s fundamental nature; if existing laws don’t benefit their members, those laws will be shamelessly gutted so as to better accommodate government corruption on the right. Indeed, the current conservative clamor over Democrats, “disregarding the Constitution,” by opposing the nuclear action is rendered laughable by the DeLay scandal. Perhaps Democrats should convene meetings to reshuffle Congressional restrictions the next time that one of their own is in political trouble. If Democrats tried to distort ethical regulations to protect Nancy Pelosi, the religious right would be incensed, no doubt ranting that the nobility of Congress as an institution had been inalterably desecrated.
They would be right.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Republicans Begin to Turn on DeLay

March 31(April 13), 2005
In a long anticipated move, the Republican withdrawal from Tom DeLay’s camp has now begun in earnest. Republican leaders pledged to stand by the embattled leader, but as the scandal grew it became clear that dong so could cost many of them their constituent support. Many moderate Republicans, already troubled by the serious questions surrounding DeLay’s ethical conduct, may be moved to take action. One honorable Republican, at least, has finally spoken out.
Senator Christopher Shayes, a moderate Republican from Connecticut, said that, “DeLay is an embarrassment to his party and he should step down.”
Truer words were never spoken. Among Mr. DeLay’s ethical violations are three overseas trips he took that were paid for by partisan lobbyists. Though the House Majority Leader claims to have had no knowledge that his bankrollers were lobbyists (he says that he thought they were, “non-profit conservative organizations”), a close aide to DeLay has said, “That S.O.B. knew everything.”
Even ultra-conservative Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said, “DeLay has to come clean. He has to lay out what he did, why did it, and let the people judge.” The Wall Street Journal, that bastion of conservative laissez-fair business policy, says that DeLay has come to embody the worst aspects of big government and bis business that he purported to hate. We will be running an article within the very near future that details what Mr. DeLay is accused of.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Terri Schaivo Memo is a Republican Disgrace

March 26(April 8), 2005
She may be with God, but the enormous debate that the Terri Schiavo case sparked continues here in Washington. A fervor was sparked several weeks ago in Congress when a Republican memo was leaked to the press. The document urged conservative lawmakers to pursue to Schiavo case because it would, “excite the pro-life base,” and because, “this is a tough issue for Democrats.” Following the uproar over the memo, Republicans derided it as a Democratic trick, something akin to the fraudulent National Guard documents that 60 Minutes aired during the 2004 Election season. Democrats insisted that they would never do something so despicable as plant an incriminating memo (the National Guard incident, annoyingly referred to as, “Rathergate,” was an honest mistake anyway and Rather apologized when he realized his error), and they have now been proven correct.
This week, the memo was identified as originating with Bryan Darling, a senior staff member to Republican Senator Mel Martinez of Florida. Darling has since resigned. Confornted with the reality of the memo scandal, most Republicans merely shrugged it off and try to downplay the issue of their own ethical shortcomings as much as possible. Bay Buchanan, a Republican activist and participant in the recent Minuteman Project on the Arizona-Mexican border (a legitimate and understandable reaction to an Administration that absolutely refuses to take responsibility for border security), referred to darling as a, “political hack.” She also claimed that the memo had only ever been read by, “this one guy,” implying that no one but the author had seen the document before it was leaked.
According to Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist and an altogether well-mannered and sensible woman, said that this was not so.
“This is another attempt at lowball tactics,” she said, while asserting that Mel Martinez and, “many other senators,” had received the memo. She concluded by declaring that the American people thought, “Congress should butt out of these issues.”
And, indeed, it would seem that Ms. Brazile is correct. A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC poll found that fully one-third of Republicans (over thirty percent) thought that Democrats should stop President Bush from going too far in imposing his own values on the country. Considering the nine-tenths of registered Republicans voted for President Bush in the last election, this is a considerable decrease in support. Added, another poll also finds that 51% of the American people feel that the country is going in the wrong direction, as opposed to only 34% who believe it is heading in the right direction.
“The American people are getting a good glimpse of what Republicans stand for, and they don’t like it,” Brazile said.
Most Republicans would rather just dismiss these statistics than face the reality of what they represent. Robert Novak, the co-host of CNN’s Crossfire, thought that Democrats were referencing these figures because, “Maybe they’re worried about losing the Catholic vote to the Republicans or the political success in Iraq.” Indeed, we’re certain that the resounding successes in the Iraq war, what with the progressive new government, the unified constitution, and the complete lack of insurgent activity are what has the Democrats so riled these days.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Report Confirms Baselessness of Iraq Conflict

March 19(April 1), 2005
In a report released yesterday, the a federal commission has confirmed what many of us already believe; that the entire basis for the initiation of the Iraq war two years ago was in fact flawed and that the supposed weapons of mass destruction (or even plans to build weapons of mass destruction) were non-existent. The report choruses the assertions of many scientists and military personnel; that Iraq didn’t have technology even remotely advanced enough to begin enriching uranium, and that Saddam Hussein’s regime likely had no intention of trying to obtain said technology.
The commission gave President Bush seventy-four recommendations that he could implement easily and without the permission of Congress, advising that he take their measures to heart and carry them out as soon as humanly possible. However, given Mr. Bush’s response to the findings of the 9/11 Commission (months after that body published its discoveries, the president has not yet acted on any of its requests), there is doubt as to whether he will take the necessary action and if he will do so quickly enough. To his credit, President Bush did order the commission’s formation following growing evidence last year that Iraq’s weapons of mass destructions were figments of the intelligence community’s imagination. Whether the president made this decision so as to sincerely find the truth or whether he did it to stave off rising political tension against him remains to be seen (the commission was formed near the 2004 Election).
The commission advised President Bush to concentrate more power in the hands of John Negroponte, the newly appointed Director of National Intelligence, and to fervently resist any challenges to Mr. Negroponte’s authority from within the intelligence community. The commission was adamant that turf warfare between the CIA, FBI, and other affiliated agencies not come between what it called, “true integration.”
One of the commission’s most controversial proposals is the merge of the counterterrorism and counterintelligence bureaus into one office, which some say may create an internal police within the United States. Eventually, it will be how that power is harnessed that will determine whether or not it violates Americans’ civil liberties.
While some provisions of the commission’s findings have already drawn criticism, the body is firm about the Iraq war.
“The intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its pre-war judgements Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” the report said bluntly.
“We simply cannot afford failures of this magnitude,” came another harsh assessment.
The president has already violated one of the commission’s tenets; the commission urged President Bush that Negroponte should not be the man to give the president his daily briefing and that he should not be summoned from important intelligence work to witness that briefing. The commission’s logic held that if Negroponte is made to focus too narrowly on day to day intelligence, he could be prevented from piecing together the fragments of a larger puzzle. President Bush has made clear that Negroponte will continue to brief him, an arrogant and dismissive choice from a president with a long track record of ignoring well-informed and knowledgeable advisers. All the same, it can only be hoped that some of the “dramatic change,” that the commission says is necessary to salvage our intelligence networks will actually be implemented.