Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A plea for support: Netroot Nations

I need a little help right now.

I just applied for a scholarship to attend Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh in August. Democracy For America is offering the scholarship, but I need support.

If anyone is so inclined, add your support for me here. You will have to register first, but I appreciate any support.

Thanks in advance.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Considered Forthwith: House Judiciary Committee

Welcome to the fifth installment of "Considered Forthwith."

This weekly series looks at the various committees in the House and the Senate. Committees are the workshops of our democracy. This is where bills are considered, revised, and occasionally advance for consideration by the House and Senate. Most committees also have the authority to exercise oversight of related executive branch agencies. If you want to read previous dairies in the series, search using the "forthwith" tag or use the link on my blogroll. I welcome criticisms and corrections in the comments.

This week, we will look at the House Judiciary Committee. Next week, this series will look at the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committees have similar jurisdiction, but they are different enough to Justify a separate entry.

First, here's the members of the committee.

John Conyers, Chairman, Michigan; Howard Berman, California; Rick Boucher, Virginia; Jerrold Nadler, New York; Robert C. Scott, Virginia; Mel Watt, North Carolina; Zoe Lofgren, California; Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas; Maxine Waters, California; Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts; Robert Wexler, Florida; Steve Cohen, Tennessee; Hank Johnson, Georgia; Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico; Luis Gutierrez, Illinois; Brad Sherman, California; Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin; Charles Gonzalez, Texas; Anthony Weiner, New York; Adam Schiff, California; Linda Sánchez, California; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida; Dan Maffei, New York

Lamar S. Smith, Ranking Member, Texas; Jim Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin; Howard Coble, North Carolina; Elton Gallegly, California; Bob Goodlatte, Virginia; Dan Lungren, California; Darrell Issa, California; Randy Forbes, Virginia; Steve King, Iowa; Trent Franks, Arizona; Louie Gohmert, Texas; Jim Jordan, Ohio; Ted Poe, Texas; Jason Chaffetz, Utah; Tom Rooney, Florida; Gregg Harper, Mississippi

The House Judiciary Committee has an extensive jurisdiction and encompasses everything from the routine like law enforcement to things that just don't come up often like state and territorial boundaries. Just a few examples of subjects under the purview of the committee are national drug policy, wiretapping, copyrights and patents, civil rights, ethics in government, judicial procedure, and immigration law.

The committee is also potentially one of the most powerful. When rare things come up like presidential impeachments, admission of new states, treason, and constitutional amendments come up, the committee's actions are historic by definition.

Here's the full outline of the committee's jurisdiction:

1. The judiciary and judicial proceedings, civil and criminal.
2. Administrative practice and procedure.
3. Apportionment of Representatives.
4. Bankruptcy, mutiny, espionage, and counterfeiting.
5. Civil liberties.
6. Constitutional amendments.
7. Criminal law enforcement.
8. Federal courts and judges, and local courts in the Territories and possessions.
9. Immigration policy and non-border enforcement.
10. Interstate compacts generally.
11. Claims against the United States.
12. Members of Congress, attendance of members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner; and their acceptance of incompatible offices.
13. National penitentiaries.
14. Patents, the Patent and Trademark Office, copyrights, and trademarks.
15. Presidential succession.
16. Protection of trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies.
17. Revision and codification of the Statutes of the United States.
18. State and territorial boundary lines.
19. Subversive activities affecting the internal security of the United States.

In fact, any bill that contains civil or criminal penalties can be referred to the judiciary committee. Essentially, the committee would be considering whether or not the penalty is appropriate for the crime. This is another example of the possibility of multiple referral. The Speaker (or more accurately, a parliamentarian in consultation with the Speaker) can refer a single bill to multiple committees. A hypothetical bill that would levy a fine of $25,000 for spreading fertilizer on Sunday would likely go to the Agriculture Committee for consideration of the actual practice and to Judiciary to consider the penalty.

The result of such a referral, should it make it out of committee would be a mark-up (also known as the chairman's mark) which makes changes to the original text of the bill as well as a committee report explaining the law in plain language.

A few historical highlights

The House Judiciary Committee is one of the oldest standing committees. It was formed June 3, 1813 to consider bills related to judicial procedure in the fledgling judicial branch. Over the decades, the committee has been involved in the laws that restructured the federal court system. The history of the court system is available from the Federal Judiciary Center.

The committee has been involved in drafting all of the Constitutional Amendments since the 13th, which abolished slavery. This includes not only the handful that have actually been approved, but also the ones that have failed such as the Equal Rights Amendment.

The committee also has jurisdiction over presidential impeachments from the House side. The House brings charges of impeachment and it is the judiciary committee that actually writes the charges. This was the case in the impeachment of Bill Clinton and near impeachment of Richard Nixon. In contrast, a specially appointed committee drafted the articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson. This is important because the Senate must try an impeached president under the articles drafted by the House Judiciary Committee and approved by the full House.

Current investigations

We have been screaming for investigations into torture ("enhanced interrogation techniques" to Republicans and the media). The House Judiciary Committee is taking the lead on the investigation and we can expect hearings very soon. From the committee on April 21:

The Office of Professional Responsibility will soon complete a report concerning the former Justice Department lawyers who wrote these memos. The Judiciary Committee will subsequently hold hearings and investigate these matters. If the OPR report is delayed further, we will have hearings in the near term in any event. Critical questions remain concerning how these memos came into existence and were approved, which our committee is uniquely situated to consider.

There are no reports on the torture memos posted by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) yet, but presumably the office does not post such information until the conclusion of an investigation. This is fairly standard. These are very serious allegations and the office would not want to make premature public statements on such an investigation. Read more about OPR's process here.

Looking a little bit deeper, the OPR is a part of the Department of Justice. They are responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct among the department's attorneys. OPR answers directly to the Attorney General. One of OPR's recent investigations (PDF link) which was conducted with the department's Office of the Inspector General, looked into politicization within the department. This report specifically concluded that Bradley S. Schlozman, a former senior official, did indeed make hiring and firing decisions based on ideology. The report recommends he be prosecuted and be declared unfit for future federal service. This issue is the focus of another investigation by the committee.

The committee has a host of other issues under investigation right now. These issues range from a nearly 500 page report on "The Imperial Presidency" to a report on NFL player injuries. A listing of the current investigations and major legislation is available here.

These investigations highlight the importance of control of Congress. It is doubtful that the committee (or any committee) would investigate these matters if the Republicans controlled the House. Without an investigation, there can be no subsequent repercussions for those involved in wrong-doing.


The full committee retains jurisdiction over the following topics:

(C)opyright, patent and trademark law, information technology, tort liability, including medical malpractice and product liability, legal reform generally, and such other matters as determined by the chairman.

There are five standing subcommittees. The chair and ranking member are non-voting ex-officio members of every subcommittee. In addition to their stated jurisdiction, the committee chair may refer other appropriate matter to the subcommittees.

Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy
The subcommittee has jurisdiction over:

antitrust law, monopolies, and restraints of trade, administration of U.S. courts, Federal Rules of Evidence, Civil and Appellate Procedure, judicial ethics.

Hank Johnson of Georgia is the chairman and Howard Coble of North Carolina is the ranking member.

The Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties

The subcommittee has jurisdiction over:

constitutional amendments, constitutional rights, federal civil rights, ethics in government,

Jerrold Nadler of New York is the chair and F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin is the ranking member.

The Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law

The subcommittee has jurisdiction over:

bankruptcy and commercial law, bankruptcy judgeships, administrative law, independent counsel, state taxation affecting interstate commerce, interstate compacts,

The chair is Steve Cohen of Tennessee and the ranking member is Trenk Franks of Arizona. (Note: for an example of gerrymandering in action, check out the map of Rep. Franks' district.)

The Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security

The subcommittee has jurisdiction over:

Federal Criminal Code, drug enforcement, sentencing, parole and pardons, internal and homeland security, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, prisons, criminal law enforcement,

The chair is Bobby Scott of Virginia and the ranking member is Louie Gohmert of Texas.

The Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law
The subcommittee has jurisdiction over:

immigration and naturalization, border security, admission of refugees, treaties, conventions and international agreements, claims against the United States, federal charters of incorporation, private immigration and claims bills, non-border enforcement,

The chair is Zoe Lofgren of California and the ranking member is Steve King of Iowa.

That's all for now. Next week will be the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a focus on the committee's role in judicial nominations and confirmations.

Crossposted on Daily Kos, Docudharma, and Congress Matters.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Considered Forthwith: House and Senate Ethics Committees

Crossposted at Congress Matters, Docudharma, and Daily Kos.

Welcome to the fourth installment of "Considered Forthwith."

This approximately weekly series looks at the various committees in the House and the Senate. Committees are the workshops of our democracy. This is where bills are considered, revised, and occasionally advance for consideration by the House and Senate. Most committees also have the authority to exercise oversight of related executive branch agencies. If you want to read previous dairies in the series, search using the "forthwith" tag or use the link on my side projects. I welcome criticisms and corrections in the comments.

This week, Considered Forthwith will examine both the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. These are two small committees with no standing subcommittees. For the sake of ease, I will refer to the two committees as the "House Ethics Committee" and the "Senate Ethics Committee."

Unlike other committees, according to chamber rules, Democrats and Republicans have equal numbers of seats. Here are the members of the House committee for the 111th Congress:

Democrats: Zoe Lofgren, California (chair); Ben Chandler, Kentucky; G.K. Butterfield, North Carolina; Kathy Castor, Florida; and Peter Welch, Vermont.

Republicans: Jo Bonner, Alabama (ranking member); J. Gresham Barrett, South Carolina; John Kline, Minnesota; Mike Conaway, Texas; and Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania.

On the Senate side, the members for the 111th Congress are:

Democrats: Barbara Boxer, California, (Chair); Mark L. Pryor, Arkansas; and Sherrod Brown, Ohio.

Republicans: Johnny Isakson, Georgia, (Vice Chairman); Pat Roberts, Kansas; and James E. Risch, Idaho.

Unlike many other committees, there is rarely a waiting list of members to get a seat on one of these committees. Members of the two committees are essentially asked to sit in judgment of their colleagues. Here's the evidence from our own David Waldman who references this article from The Hill.

Both the House and Senate Committees are charged with considering revisions to the chamber rules and laws regarding official corruption by members and staffers. They are also charged with investigating allegations of wrongdoing. However, the most important part of the job is routine ethics training and offering advice to members and staff. These functions help members and staffers from running afoul of ethics rules inadvertently or otherwise. (The anecdotal evidence I am personally hearing around town is that the committee is doing a fine job of answering questions in a timely fashion.)

Since the fallout from the Jack Abramoff and other high profile scandals, the two chambers have tightened their ethics rules, most in regards to campaign contributions and relations with lobbyists.

Office of Congressional Ethics

One major reform last year was the establishment of the Office of Congressional (OCE) Ethics as an independent entity serving the House Ethics Committee. The OCE board is a bi-partisan panel citizens, some of whom have previously served in the House. When an allegation is made, the board has 30 days to complete a preliminary review. If there is enough evidence, they may conduct a 45 day secondary review (with the possibility of a 14 day extension). The OCE board then offers a recommendation to the House Ethics Committee to either further review the allegation or drop the investigation. The Committee is, of course, free to take whatever action they choose, but due consideration is given to the report.

The board members are Former Congressman David Skaggs, D-Colo.,(Chairman); Former CIA Director and former Congressman Porter J. Goss, R-Fla, (Co-Chairman); Former Congresswoman Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, D-Calif.; Former House Chief Administrative officer Jay Eagen; Former Congresswoman Karan English, D-Ariz.; George Mason University Law Professor and former chief of staff of Federal Election Commission, Allison Hayward; Former Federal Judge and former Congressman Abner Mikva, D-Ill., (Alternate); Former Congressman Bill Frenzel, R-Minn., (Alternate). Source is this Reuters article, confirmed by the OCE webpage.

Other new ethics rules

The latest ethics rules do not differ too significantly between the two chambers. I'm concluding this diary with a brief outline of the new rules, some of which are very recent and others which date back to 2007. Many of these rules have numerous caveats and exceptions. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but to give a sense of what the rules state.

For a full breakdown, see the House FAQ page and the links on the side of the page and the Senate's overview (PDF file) as well as the main page for updates.

Gifts: Members and staffers may only accept $100 worth of gifts from the same source per year with an individual gift limit of $50. A gift to a spouse or dependent child is generally considered a gift to the member. A major exception is gifts made on the basis of a personal friendship rather than for access. ("Sure, I paid for Nationals tickets for the Congressman, but we have known each other since college. Besides, he paid for the Capitals tickets last week.")

Food: This is one of those examples of government regulations that makes you scratch your head and say, "hmmm...." Members and staffers are invited to different functions all the time where food and refreshments are served. Under the new rules, members and staffers may not accept meals from registered lobbyists. The intent was to stop shenanigans like this.

The way the rules are written, however, lobbyists can only offer things like coffee, pastries, bagels, and hors d’oeuvres. This has lead to the local "food on a stick" joke. Basically, if the food will fit on a toothpick, it is okay to accept it.

Travel: Members must receive pre-approval for official business travel paid for by a private organization. Additionally, it bans registered lobbyists from planning a trip and traveling with the member. There are also time limits on the amount of time the member may spend on travel time. I won't get too deep into the details and exceptions, but this rule addresses the issue of members and staffers leaving for "a business trip" in which "the official business" is a minimal part of a grand vacation.

Using official resources for campaign activities: This has been a standing rule since the 1970s, but it bears mentioning here. There was a time when members and staffers literally used their official, tax-payer sponsored offices for reelection business. That practice died after the Nixon era. However, members and staffers still need to be cautious, particularly on the phone and on e-mail. It is verboten to discuss campaign business on an office phone on using office e-mail, even if the conversation was unsolicited.

Transparency (done in conjunction with the appropriations committees): Members are now required to post all of their earmark requests on their websites. It seems like a small step, but it has huge implications. In the past, it was possible but very unwieldy to find every appropriations request that each member had made. New rules mandate that each member publicly state his or her requests.

This reform was partly in reaction to questions surrounding the now defunct PMA Group. PMA was a lobbying firm representing various defense contractors. PMA and its clients would make campaign donations to various members. Unsurprisingly, the largest recipients made earmark requests for the PMA clients in their districts. Here are two examples of that practice.

The members, of course, argue that the earmarks directly benefit their districts and the contributions are legitimate sources of campaign funding.

At any rate, using the earmark information and campaign contribution sources like the Center for Responsive Politics (, citizens and journalists can "follow the money." Using those resources and a couple of hours of work, I was able to track 2008 campaign contributions, fiscal year 2010 earmarks, and 2008 charges for lobbying services for two Democratic members of the House Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations (John Murtha and Jim Moran). If anyone would like that information, please e-mail me.

On a technical note, the earmark reporting is not perfect. Some members post their requests prominently while others just post them as any other piece of news which is cycled through in favor of fresher content. Generally, though, a search for "earmarks" or "appropriations requests" will bring up the relevant information.

Other earmark reforms: The House also announced (PDF file) that all earmarks will be subject to a 20 day review by relevant Executive Branch agencies to ensure that the expenditure is legal and that appropriations to the private sector will be awarded through competitive bidding.

The revolving door
: This provision is a "cooling off period" for Senators and Representatives. Former Senators must wait two years before lobbying Congress. The cooling off period is one year for Representatives. Additionally, members and staffers are prohibited from influencing hiring decisions on the basis of partisan gain (which makes giving a reference a delicate proposition at best). There are similar rules under President Obama's early Executive Order and the waivers that have been granted are giving fuel to the administration's critics.

The intent is to limit the influence former members have with the current Congress. A common Washington practice is to serve in government for a few years and quit to lobby the same people you worked with. To investigate the Revolving door phenomenon, check out CRP's work on the issue here. Another excellent resource is this National Journal article (which quotes one of my professors).

Finally, another useful link is the Office of Government Ethics. This is the Executive Branch office dealing with ethics in government. The Considered Forthwith series focuses on the Legislative Branch, but the link is included since this week's topic is ethics.

Next week will probably be a discussion about the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, particularly with their work on torture, wiretapping, and judicial nominations (Senate only).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Considered Forthwith: House Science and Technology Committee

Crossposted at Daily Kos and Congress Matters.

Welcome to the third installment of Considered Forthwith. This approximately weekly series looks at the various committees in the House and the Senate. Committees are the workshops of our democracy. This is where bills are considered, revised, and occasionally advance for consideration by the House and Senate. Most committees also have the authority to exercise oversight of related executive branch agencies.

If you want to read previous dairies in the series, search using the "forthwith" tag. I welcome criticisms and corrections in the comments.

This week, Considered Forthwith Examines the House Committee on Science and Technology, chaired by Bart Gordon of Tennessee. The ranking member is Ralph Hall of Texas.

Here are the members of the committee:

Democrats: Bart Gordon, Tennessee (chair); Jerry F. Costello, Illinois; Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas; Lynn C. Woolsey, California; David Wu, Oregon; Brian Baird, Washington; Brad Miller, North Carolina; Daniel Lipinski, Illinois; Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona; Donna F. Edwards, Maryland; Marcia L. Fudge, Ohio; Ben R. Luján, New Mexico; Paul D. Tonko, New York; Parker Griffith, Alabama; Steven R. Rothman, New Jersey; Jim Matheson, Utah; Lincoln Davis, Tennessee; Ben Chandler, Kentucky; Russ Carnahan, Missouri; Baron P. Hill, Indiana; Harry E. Mitchell, Arizona; Charles A. Wilson, Ohio; Kathy Dahlkemper, Pennsylvania; Alan Grayson, Florida; Suzanne M. Kosmas, Florida; Gary Peters, Michigan; One vacancy

Note: No, not that Charlie Wilson.

Republicans: Ralph Hall, Texas (chair); F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin; Lamar Smith, Texas; Dana Rohrabacher, California; Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland; Vernon J. Ehlers, Michigan; Frank D. Lucas, Oklahoma; Judy Biggert, Illinois; W. Todd Akin, Missouri; Randy Neugebauer, Texas; Bob Inglis, South Carolina; Michael T. McCaul, Texas; Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida; Brian P. Bilbray, California; Adrian Smith, Nebraska; Paul Broun, Georgia; Pete Olson, Texas

The committee has an interesting history (PDF link). They are celebrating their 50th anniversary. After the Soviets launched Sputnik, the 85th Congress established the Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration. (This, of course, was the time when it was acceptable for the Soviets to be better than Americans at anything but sucking.) This select committee established NASA and the House Committee on Science and Astronautics. Over the years the committee gained jurisdiction over new technologies as they were developed and the name was changed several times. The current name of the committee was established in 2007.

The committee's core jurisdiction is the federal government's non-military research and development (R&D) activities. This includes encouraging R&D and overseeing those programs. As a direct result, the committee has partial or complete jurisdiction over several Executive Branch agencies. They are:

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Fire Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The jurisdiction of this committee illustrates two characteristics that many committees share.

First, the Committee on Science and Technology Committee is primarily an "authorizing committee." Authorizating committees review bills to create new agencies and programs and set spending limits for them. However, it is up to the appropriations committees to actually fund the new and existing programs. For example, the committee might decide that is it absolutely vital that the government develop a more efficient way to build widgets. They might authorize the creation of the Office of Widget Development (OWD). If the House and Senate Appropriations Committees disagree, they will simply not fund OWD. (On the other hand, the appropriators can only fund existing programs. They could not create OWD.) Two recent real world examples of authorization laws handled by the committee are the America COMPETES Act and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The second characteristic is overlapping jurisdiction. This means that more than one committee officially has jurisdiction over a particular topic. For example, Chairman Gordon wants to focus on Health Information Technology this year. The Subcommittee on Health (under the Committee on Energy and Commerce) also has a claim to this program. The upside is that one committee could ignore a worthy program, but another with related jurisdiction can champion the program. The drawback is that federal programs can too easily get caught in the middle of inter-committee conflicts, resulting in a lack of focus in program goals.

Late last year, the Committee released its agenda (PDF link) for the 111th Congress. Some of the highlights include:

Implement the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E). This program, designed to research innovative energy technology, would be based on the DARPA model of research. These are the people that brought us, among other things, the Internet (or a series of Tubes, if you happen to be a corrupt ex-Senator from Alaska with a penchant for Incredible Hulk ties).

Develop technical standards for Health Information Technology. HIT would digitize medical records and put them on a secure network. This will significantly increase the speed of treatment for patients who need or want to visit a health care facility he or she has never visited before. The problem is that doctors and hospitals need to request hard copies of medical records from other offices (sometimes a continent away). HIT would allow doctors to instantly pull up medical records from the secured database.

Prepare for Cap and Trade. If the plan passes Congress, there will be a need for technology to monitor compliance and monitoring.

Review the weather and ocean research work of NOAA.

Explore the expansion of international cooperation on space exploration and address the questions of commercial space fight.

Investigate the lack of attention to environmental justice at EPA.

Check out the full report for a complete rundown of the committee's plans for the next two years.

Finally, there are five subcommittees under the main committee:

Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation

David Wu is the chair and Adrian Smith is the ranking member. The subcommittee has a broad jurisdiction and oversight/investigative role. The jurisdiction includes:

all matters relating to competitiveness, technology, standards, and innovation, including:

1. standardization of weights and measures including technical standards, standardization, and conformity assessment;
2. measurement, including the metric system of measurement;
3. the Technology Administration of the Department of Commerce;
4. the National Institute of Standards and Technology;
5. the National Technical Information Service;
6. competitiveness, including small business competitiveness;
7. tax, antitrust, regulatory and other legal and governmental policies as they relate to technological development and commercialization;
8. technology transfer including civilian use of defense technologies;
9. patent and intellectual property policy;
10. international technology trade;
11. research, development, and demonstration activities of the Department of Transportation;
12. surface and water transportation research, development, and demonstration programs;
13. earthquake programs (except for NSF) and fire research programs including those related to wildfire proliferation research and prevention;
14. biotechnology policy;
15. research, development, demonstration, and standards related activities of the Department of Homeland Security;
16. Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer; and
17. voting technologies and standards.

Well, at least there's nothing in there about volcano monitoring, though that program is under USGS.

The most recent work of the subcommittee has revolved around making electronic waste more environmentally friendly. (In other words, making sure the your computer does not pollute the environment after you hit it with a hammer for crashing for the fifth time today).

The Subcommittee on Energy and Environment

Brian Baird is the chair of the subcommittee and Bob Inglis of South Carolina is the ranking member. The subcommittee has the following jurisdictions:

1. Department of Energy research, development, and demonstration programs;
2. Department of Energy laboratories;
3. Department of Energy science activities;
4. energy supply activities;
5. nuclear, solar and renewable energy, and other advanced energy technologies;
6. uranium supply and enrichment, and Department of Energy waste management and environment, safety, and health activities, as appropriate;
7. fossil energy research and development;
8. clean coal technology;
9. energy conservation research and development;
10. energy aspects of climate change;
11. pipeline research, development, and demonstration projects;
12. energy and environmental standards;
13. energy conservation, including building performance, alternate fuels for and improved efficiency of vehicles, distributed power systems, and industrial process improvements;
14. Environmental Protection Agency research and development programs;
15. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including all activities related to weather, weather services, climate, the atmosphere, marine fisheries, and oceanic research;
16. risk assessment activities; and
17. scientific issues related to environmental policy, including climate change.

The subcommittee recently held a hearing on greenhouse gas emissions. Maybe all of this work will convince the climate change deniers (euphemistically "skeptics"), including those in Congress.

Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight

The subcommittee is chaired by Brad Miller of North Carolina and Paul Broun of Georgia is the ranking member. This committee has the power to initiate investigations into Executive Branch agencies under the committee's jurisdiction. Most recently, the subcommittee announced that they will continue to investigate the infamous toxic trailers in which Hurricane Katrina refugees were housed.

Subcommittee on Research and Science Education

The Subcommittee is chaired by Daniel Lipinski from Illinois and the ranking member is Vernon J. Ehlers of Michigan. When we grouse that the federal government should be doing more to encourage science and technology education, these are the people setting the priorities.

The subcommittee's jurisdiction includes:

1. the Office of Science and Technology Policy;
2. all scientific research, and scientific and engineering resources (including human resources), math, science and engineering education;
3. intergovernmental mechanisms for research, development, and demonstration and cross-cutting programs;
4. international scientific cooperation;
5. National Science Foundation, including earthquake programs;
6. university research policy, including infrastructure and overhead;
7. university research partnerships, including those with industry;
8. science scholarships;
9. computing, communications, and information technology;
10. research and development relating to health, biomedical, and nutritional programs;
11. to the extent appropriate, agricultural, geological, biological and life sciences research; and
12. materials research, development, and demonstration and policy.

Most recently, the committee held a hearing on informal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. This includes learning at museums, aquariums, zoos and on the Internet.

Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics

The subcommittee is chaired by Gabrielle Giffords from Arizona and Pete Olson from Texas is the ranking member. This subcommittee essentially serves the full committee's original function 50 years ago. They are primarily focused on space travel and exploration. Formally, the subcommittee has jurisdiction over:

1. national space policy, including access to space;
2. sub-orbital access and applications;
3. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and its contractor and government-operated labs;
4. space commercialization, including the commercial space activities relating to the Department of Transportation and the Department of Commerce;
5. exploration and use of outer space;
6. international space cooperation;
7. the National Space Council;
8. space applications, space communications and related matters;
9. earth remote sensing policy;
10. civil aviation research, development, and demonstration;
11. research, development, and demonstration programs of the Federal Aviation Administration; and
12. space law.

The committee's most recent announcement was the assignment of committee members. They did recently hold a hearing on the use of biofuels in aviation.

For further discussion of space topics, Vladislaw's daily Americans in Space series is highly recommended.

That's about it for this week. Next week's diary will consider the House and Senate Ethics Committees.

Friday, April 10, 2009

NOM, NOM, NOM. Fibbers extraordinaire

Crossposted on Daily Kos

First, I know that I am preaching to the proverbial choir on this. Please comment, but this diary is as much for lurkers, trolls, and freepers as it is for Kossacks.

Second, I am an entrenched GLBT ally. I have no direct and solely personal interest in same sex marriage, but I have family, friends, and Kos friends who are. That's more than enough for me to get involved.

Third, and this will come as the shocker of the week, but it turns out that the National Organization for Marriage is a bunch of liars.

Fourth, I haven't gone off on a good rant in a while and I don't have a date this Friday evening (or most Friday evenings for that matter). So this is my outlet for righteous indignation.

Fifth: I am the sort of person who reads methodology sections in academic papers. I actually enjoy this sort of thing.

If you haven't guessed. This diary is about the National Organization for Marriage's (NOM) bullshite advertisement that will run in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and California.

They are liars of the highest degree. We need to call them out on this. Their arguments are patently false and an effort to smear good people who do things they think are "icky."

If you really need to see it again, click here. It links to YouTube if you are one of those people who hate to give hits to the enemy of all that is good and right. This is not about how the Human Rights Campaign got their hands on the audition tapes (but that's pretty funny, too).

Instead, let's discuss some of the more outrageous claims that the ads makes. HRC studied these too, but it bears repeating.

One of the secrets behind effectively marketing a tenuous moral position is to take "facts," embellish them with heart-wrenching personal stories, and produce believable "lies."

NOM was nice nice enough to cite the sources of their claims here (warning: NOM link). Let's take a look at the four arguments that NOM makes.

“I’m a California doctor who must choose between my faith and my job.”

NOM says:

Shortly after the California Supreme Court redefined marriage in California law, a California Court of Appeals heard a case involving a doctor who had referred a woman in a same-sex couple to another doctor for artificial insemination because of his religiously based conscientious objection to participating in the procedure. The court held that the doctor could claim no religious exemption to the civil rights law under which she was sued because of the State’s compelling interest in ending sexual orientation discrimination,

HRC helpfully counters that this refers to Benitez v. North Coast Women's Care Medical Group in California. Lambda Legal helpfully adds that Guadalupe "Lupita" Benitez was denied fertility services for a year because she is a lesbian.

Was that a Hippocratic Oath or a Hypocritical Oath they took? Where does a fertility doctor get off (hee, hee, pun intended) deciding who can and who cannot have a child. Incidentally, the studies show that children from same-sex actually thrive.

Can't let logic get in the way of facts, though.

Next up:

“I’m part of a New Jersey church group punished by the government because we can’t support same-sex marriage.”

NOM lets us know that:

A N.J. Methodist Camp Association was denied part of its tax exemption when it declined to allow a portion of its property to be used for a civil union ceremony.

They even include a citation to a New York Times article about the supposed affront to the church's rights.

It turns out that this particular church owns a pavilion on a boardwalk on the New Jersey shore. The church refused a request from a lesbian couple to hold their commitment ceremony there. This is a violation of the state's civil rights act. As a result, that portion of the church's property was not recertified for its property tax exemption. That portion is less than one percent of the church's property.

A tragedy, I know. I tend to disagree with the tax exempt status that religious organizations enjoy. Well...

...I turns out that the church had the tax exemption under the state's Green Acres Program. This program offers tax breaks to encourage land owners to open land to public recreation and conservation. The tax break is NOT based on a religious exemption at all.

This is a misleading claim on NOM's part. In this context, it is fair to call it a lie.

Next on the docket:

“I am a Massachusetts parent helplessly watching public schools teach my son that gay marriage is OK.”

Again, from NOM:

This statement is based on the case of Parker v. Hurley, 514 F.3d 87 (1st Cir. 2008). In this case, parents of young elementary school students objected to curriculum and class room discussion meant to inculcate in the children the idea that there are no differences between the marriages of men and women and those involving same-sex couples.


To the facts, here's the article from the Boston Globe.

It turns out that two parents sued the school board because the public school initiated discussions about same-sex couples. In true civil rights fashion, the students learned tolerance for same-sex couples. The issue obviously has salience in the state since the state allows same-sex marriage.

The couples, David and Tonia Parker and Robert and Robin Wirthlin (who I'm sure worry every night about the scourge of teh gay every night), sued. Had they succeeded, the district and presumably all of the public schools in Massachusetts would have been prohibited from teaching about this topic. Of course, that opens the door for white supremacists to sue to remove any mention of Black History Month, Creationists to set the beginning of science at 4000 BC. You get the idea.

Instead, the judge told these people to pound sand.

From the Globe article.
In his 38-page decision, Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf of US District Court said that under the US Constitution, public schools are "entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy."

"Diversity is a hallmark of our nation," he said.

Wolf said that the couples, David and Tonia Parker and Robert and Robin Wirthlin, have the option to send their children to private schools or home-school them. He also said they can work to elect a School Committee that might change the curriculum, but that they have no right to dictate what the school district teaches.

Classic. Of course, this will lead these these jokers to actually home school the kids and rant about having to pay public school taxes. I fear for the mental stability of the kids.

Finally, from NOM:

“But some who advocate for same-sex marriage have not been content with same-sex couples living as they wish. Those advocates want to change the way I live. I will have no choice.”

I KNOW! I've been to the meetings. GLBTs and their allies are actively formulating plans to intentionally change the way straight folks live. BULL SHIT! The worst that happens is that greater acceptance of GLBT just opens hearts and minds.

Anyway, NOM cites this Times article. The article is little more than an academic and legal discussion about the potential tax exemptions offered to church-related operations (schools, colleges, wedding halls, charities) and the laws related to hiring people at those places and serving people seeking charity services. This paragraph was particularly enlightening:

Asked by a reporter for The Chicago Tribune whether a conservative Christian college would risk its tax-exempt status by refusing to admit a legally married gay couple to married-student housing, Cass Sunstein, a constitutional scholar at the University of Chicago Law School who had not been at the Becket conference, answered, "Sure — and if pigs had wings, they would fly." He dismissed the idea as a scenario "generated by advocacy groups trying to scare people."

Naturally, the bold is mine.

The National Organization for Marriage is a bunch of disingenuous right wing nutcases and bona fide liars. They are a hate group on par with the Klan, but they speak with a sympathetic tone (emphasis on pathetic). In NOM's defense, they have never actually killed anyone. That does not make Matthew Sheppard any more alive, however. If you or your allies inspired a hate crime, you are in some way morally culpable. The same holds true for the Freepers quoted in articshadow's latest diary about their asinine comments.

These people are no better than racists, sexists, antisemitists, or any other prejudiced assholes. They need to be held accountable.

I nominate NOM for fuckbags of the year.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Considered forthwith: House Financial Services Committee

Crossposted at Congress Matters

Welcome to the second installment of "Considered Forthwith." This approximately weekly series looks at the various committees in the House and the Senate. Committees are the workshops of our democracy. This is where bills are considered, revised, and occasionally advance for consideration by the House and Senate. Most committees also have the authority to exercise oversight of related executive branch agencies.

Some Considered Forthwith diaries will consider a single committees and others will consider committees of both houses if both the House and Senate have committees with identical or nearly identical jurisdiction. If you want to read previous dairies in the series, search using the "forthwith" tag. As always, I welcome criticisms and corrections in the comments. Eventually, this diary will be crossposted on Daily Kos.

This week, Considered Forthwith considers the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Barney Frank of Massachusetts. The ranking member is Spencer Bachus of Alabama. It seems the Republicans have their own version of the site here, but it's not very informative.

This is a large committee.

Democratic members of the Committee are:
Barney Frank, MA (chair), Paul E. Kanjorski, PA, Maxine Waters, CA, Carolyn B. Maloney, NY, Luis V. Gutierrez, IL, Nydia M. Velázquez, NY, Melvin L. Watt, NC, Gary L. Ackerman, NY, Brad Sherman, CA, Gregory W. Meeks, NY, Dennis Moore, KS, Michael E. Capuano, MA, Rubén Hinojosa, TX, William Lacy Clay, MO, Carolyn McCarthy, NY, Joe Baca, CA, Stephen F. Lynch, MA, Brad Miller, NC, David Scott, GA, Al Green, TX, Emanuel Cleaver, MO, Melissa L. Bean, IL, Gwen Moore, WI, Paul W. Hodes, NH, Keith Ellison, MN, Ron Klein, FL, Charles Wilson, OH, Ed Perlmutter, CO, Joe Donnelly, IN, Bill Foster, IL, Andre Carson, IN, Jackie Speier, CA, Travis Childers, MS, Walt Minnick, ID, John Adler, NJ, Mary Jo Kilroy, OH, Steve Driehaus, OH, Suzanne Kosmas, FL, Alan Grayson, FL, Jim Himes, CT, Gary Peters, MI, Dan Maffei, NY

The Republican members are:
Spencer Bachus, AL (ranking member), Michael N. Castle, DE, Peter King, NY, Edward R. Royce, CA, Frank D. Lucas, OK, Ron Paul, TX, Donald A. Manzullo, IL, Walter B. Jones , NC, Judy Biggert, IL, Gary G. Miller, CA, Shelley Moore Capito, WV, Jeb Hensarling, TX, Scott Garrett, NJ, J. Gresham Barrett, SC, Jim Gerlach, PA, Randy Neugebauer, TX, Tom Price, GA, Patrick T. McHenry, NC, John Campbell, CA, Adam Putnam, FL, Michele Bachmann, MN, Kenny Marchant, TX, Thaddeus McCotter, MI, Kevin McCarthy, CA, Bill Posey, FL, Lynn Jenkins, KS, Christopher Lee, NY, Erik Paulsen, MN, Leonard Lance, NJ

Author's aside: Yes, that Ron Paul; and No, not that Christopher Lee

Ever since the real estate/mortgage/credit market/insurance/general banking meltdown, this committee has been a key player within the Legislative Branch. It has also turned Rep. Frank into a favorite guest on the 24 hour news networks. (Just try going more than two days without seeing him on MSNBC during the day.)

Additionally, because of the nature of committees, nothing having to do with TARP funds or other financial bailouts passes without Frank's influence. Here's a link to recent TARP reports.

The committee's jurisdiction, as posted on the website, is as follow:

The Committee oversees all components of the nation's housing and financial services sectors including banking, insurance, real estate, public and assisted housing, and securities. The Committee continually reviews the laws and programs relating to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and international development and finance agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Committee also ensures enforcement of housing and consumer protection laws such as the U.S. Housing Act, the Truth In Lending Act, the Housing and Community Development Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, the Community Reinvestment Act, and financial privacy laws.

To parse that a little bit, that covers regulation of the domestic banking and securities industries. Chairman Frank has been instrumental in writing many of the recent reforms including American Housing Rescue & Foreclosure Prevention Act (which President Bush signed last summer) and the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights (which died in the Senate last year, but has again just passed the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit of the House Financial Services Committee).

The committee also oversees the real estate market and insurance market to (in theory) ensure that those industries do not take advantage of consumers. Of course, this is the committee that has the responsibility to decide whether to regulate or deregulate these industries.

The committee also oversees public housing. Too often, we have a negative view of public housing. We picture inner city "projects." On the other hand, I have toured public housing that is in excellent shape. Admittedly, those apartment buildings were in rural areas and headed by a very competent and responsive staff. The point is that the housing projects are only as good as the local managers. Among other programs, The Department of Housing and Urban Development also runs the Section 8 program. This program offers poor people vouchers to help cover the rent. Public housing is supposed to be a last resort for people. My experience has been that many public housing recipients are senior citizens on fixed incomes and families who have hit hard times.

Finally, the committee deals with legislation and oversight affecting the World Bank and the IMF.

Author's aside: These areas are far outside of my areas of expertise, so I will have to leave the explanation at this. I do want to make one quick note. A series of Supreme Court cases have allowed corporations to be defined as "persons" under the 14th Amendment. As such, Congress has a responsibility to regulate corporations. For example, there are laws on the books to prevent me from defrauding another person. It is only fair that there be laws on the books to prevent a lender from defrauding me. The next time some free marketeer tries to argue for deregulation, remind them that corporations "are people too," with both the rights and legal constraints of individuals.

If you have any interest in the banking industry, the Committee's webpage is a good place get news on upcoming regulation changes.


All of the block quotes come from the committee's webpage.

The Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises is chaired by Paul E. Kanjorski of Pennsylvania.

(T)he subcommittee reviews laws and programs related to the U.S. capital markets, the securities industry, the insurance industry generally (except for health care), and government-sponsored enterprises, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It also oversees the Securities and Exchange Commission and self-regulatory organizations, such as the New York Stock Exchange and the NASD, that police the securities markets.

Presumably one of the busiest subcommittees these day, Kanjorksi's committee oversees the SEC and financial organizations like the New York Stock Exchange. They also oversee Freddy and Fannie, which help low income people and first time home buyers purchase homes. They also handle regulation of the securities and insurance industries (but not health care insurance).

The Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit is chaired by Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois.

The subcommittee oversees all financial regulators, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Federal Reserve, all matters pertaining to consumer credit including the Consumer Credit Protection Act and access to financial services, as well as the safety and soundness of the banking system.

The FDIC is the organization that insures your deposits up to $100,000 (temporarily increased to $250,000). If your bank goes under, the federal government will cover a loss of up to $100,000. The Federal Reserve (The Fed) is the nation's central banking system, a quasi-public system. These are the folks who raise and lower interest rates to either slow or stimulate the economy. Technically, this is the rate that banks charge to each other for borrowing money. Other banks follow suit by raising or lowering rates they charge to borrowers. (There's a lot more to it, but again, I am not an expert on finance.)

The Subcommittee Housing and Community Opportunity is chaired by Maxine Waters of California.

(The subcommittee) oversees the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Government National Mortgage Association. The subcommittee also handles matters related to public, affordable, and rural housing, as well as community development including Empowerment Zones, and government-sponsored insurance programs, such as the National Flood Insurance Program.

That's pretty self explanatory.

Note: The next two subcommittees are not detailed on the committee website. The following information on jurisdiction is from this and this Wiki sites. It seems the two subcommittees were split with this Congress and it is likely that their respective jurisdictions are so new that the website has not been updated yet.

The Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology is chaired by Chairman Melvin L. Watt (NC).

The website offers no explanation. However, monetary policy refers to the government's control of the money supply. There are only two ways for the government to control the money supply. One is to change the interest rates. This, of course is the purview of the Fed. It seems like there would be turn battles between this and the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. Any enlightenment would be welcome. The other way to control the money supply is to either print more money (risking inflation) or taking money out of circulation (reducing the amount of money available to citizens). The subcommittee also handles legislation dealing with the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Presumably, this is the committee that brought us the states quarters program (I have a full set).

The Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade is chaired by Chairman Gregory W. Meeks (NY).

Again, the website offers no details on the jurisdiction. This subcommittee deals with legislation dealing with the World Bank, IMF and the Export-Import Bank.

The Export-Import Bank is new to me. Here's their mission statement:

The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is the official export credit agency of the United States. Ex-Im Bank's mission is to assist in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets.

Ex-Im Bank enables U.S. companies — large and small — to turn export opportunities into real sales that help to maintain and create U.S. jobs and contribute to a stronger national economy.

Ex-Im Bank does not compete with private sector lenders but provides export financing products that fill gaps in trade financing. We assume credit and country risks that the private sector is unable or unwilling to accept. We also help to level the playing field for U.S. exporters by matching the financing that other governments provide to their exporters.

Ex-Im Bank provides working capital guarantees (pre-export financing); export credit insurance; and loan guarantees and direct loans (buyer financing). No transaction is too large or too small. On average, 85% of our transactions directly benefit U.S. small businesses.

With more than 70 years of experience, Ex-Im Bank has supported more than $400 billion of U.S. exports, primarily to developing markets worldwide.

The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is chaired by Dennis Moore of Kansas.

In something that will become a theme throughout this series, this is among the most important subcommittees. Most committees have an oversight subcommittee.


(The subcommittee) conducts oversight of the agencies, departments, and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction. The subcommittee also conducts investigations on any matter within the jurisdiction of the Committee, and evaluates the need for any legislative changes to the laws and programs within this jurisdiction.

Oversight committees are the ones who conduct investigations into allegations of misconduct in executive branch agencies. This is one of the oft overlooked parts of checks and balances. There is an academic debate about whether oversight committees should spend the time and resources to constantly monitor agencies (police patrol) or only respond when a problem is brought to light (fire alarm).

There is no comprehensive list available of all of the agencies over which the subcommittee has jurisdiction. The vague wording allows the subcommittee to initiate an investigation if they can show that the committee has jurisdiction. Obviously, the SEC, FDIC, Fed, Mint, HUD, and Fannie and Freddy are covered. If anyone has more info, it would be most appreciated.

Just one more note on oversight. There is a value in overlapping jurisdiction. If there is obvious corruption in a particular agency and the oversight subcommittee with primary jurisdiction refuses to investigate, another oversight sub could make the argument that they also have jurisdiction and conduct their own investigation.

Finally, here is the value of sitting on a committee. Ron Paul has introduced a bill calling for an audit of the Fed. As a member of the committee that would receive the bill, he is in a strong position to lobby for its passage. Frank and Paul have worked together in the past. From the New York Times:

We first bonded,” recalls Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat, “because we were both conspicuous nonworshipers at the Temple of the Fed and of the High Priest Greenspan.

They have also cooperated on marijuana decriminalization and a bill to allow and regulate online gambling.

Up next week: The House Committee on Science and Technology (mostly because I have a friend who works for the committee).