Let's Fix This Country


Exxon Contretemps Escalates as Congress Gets Into the Act

Expect lawsuits unto the end of time

Investigative reporting last fall by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News revealed that Exxon hid research into climate change, all the while funding groups to debunk
global warming. That led to investigations of their own by a growing number of state attorneys general, with New York's Eric Schneiderman leading the charge.

But in a don't mess with Texas backlash, Republican Representative Lamar Smith of that state and chair of the House science committee has started a firefight on behalf of Texas-based Exxon, alleging a conspiratorial collaboration between Schneiderman's office and climate change activist groups, and calling on him to turn over all communications with such groups from 2012 forward.

The ranking Democrat of his own committee has accused him of improper use of the committee in an “ideological crusade” premised on “baseless conspiracy theories.”

Smith's letter to Schneiderman accuses him of acting “under the color of law to persuade attorneys general to use their prosecutorial powers to stifle scientific discourse, intimidate private entities and individuals, and deprive them of their First Amendment rights and freedoms”. It's an odd claim. The allegations against Exxon are of…


How to Get Rid of Gerrymandering:
First, Get Rid of Congress

“We've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around”, President Obama has said. He was referring to the practice of gerrymandering, of political parties rigging districts so as to assure the election of their candidates. It has been with us for two centuries, is manifestly undemocratic, yet the Supreme Court avoids confronting it, and Congress likes things just as they are.

Once every ten years, based on the population census, each state usually must reconfigure its voting districts, first to conform to the number of congressional representatives that its newly-counted population permits, and then to arrive at approximately equal numbers of voters in each district. That upheaval creates a bonanza for the party that controls a state's legislature. All too often they set about packing as many as possible opposition party voters into the fewest districts, while spreading their own voters so that they are the majority in many districts. The result is congressional representation skewed in the ruling party's favor.

Both parties follow the practice.…


White House Acts to Thwart Overtime Abuse

Making good on a pledge of two years ago

Changes in overtime rules announced by the Obama administration have businesses in an uproar. Currently, they are required to pay extra for overtime only to workers who are paid a salary of less than $23,660 a year ($455 a week). That threshold is set to soar to $47,476 ($913 a week). Come December 1st, anyone earning less than that doubly high threshold becomes eligible for time-and-a half pay for work in excess of 40 hours a week. The rule does not apply to those whose work is classified as executive, administrative or professional.

Businesses complaining the most are those paying little more than the current $455 threshold while requiring more than 40 hours of work for no extra pay. In the more extreme cases that can equate to less per hour than the federal minimum wage.

In the more general case, to adjust, employers are expected to reallocate work to curtail hours, fill in with part-time workers, raise the pay of those near the new threshold to just above it to avoid the overtime mandate, or cut salaries of those now working long hours such that added overtime pay amounts to the same paycheck.

nothing new

Obama is making the change in…


A Gallery of Gerrymanders

Crimes against geography

The contorted shapes that gerrymandering produces are grotesque reminders that our democracy needs an asterisk. The word derives from 1812’s governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, who rearranged election districts to his liking. The shape of one of them

The 1812 cartoon in the Boston Gazette mocking the shape of one of Gov. Gerry's contrivances.

reminded people of a salamander. Hence Gerrymander.

Here is a selection of the most notoriously contrived to make an election outcome a certainty for the party controlling the process.

Maryland's 3rd District: As your eye will bear witness, this bug splat is
considered the most gerrymandered district in the country. Connected by tiny threads and leaping…

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Flashpoint in the South China Sea

A U.S. guided missile destroyer sailed last week within 12 miles of an artificial island constructed by China to symbolically insist that navigation of the seas will remain free, that the international convention's 12-mile exclusion can only be declared by a sovereign owner of territory, and that disputed Fiery Cross Reef does not belong to China.

Yet now China is moving still further from its takeover of certain of the Spratly and Paracel Island chains to Scarborough Shoal, clearly far from China and on the edge of the Philippines (click map to expand).
Simultaneously, China says it will build floating nuclear power plants to provide power to the bases it has been building in the South China Sea.

The U.S. is preoccupied by the messes we helped create in the Middle East and Central Asia, but it should be clear that the future clash is with China and that future is already upon is, as we forewarned in last year's series Don’t Believe China Is Looking for a Fight?, China’s Military Buildup: It’s Aimed at Us, War With China: Is It Already Here?, and China’s Master Plan: Drive Us Out of 'Their' Pacific. We are eyeball to eyeball waiting to see who blinks.


Consumers Likely to Regain Access to Courts

Clauses in credit card and bank account fine print that forbid consumers from joining class actions to remedy disputes are headed for a ban. That new prohibition looks certain to be promulgated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog agency set up in 2010 as part of the Dodd-Frank banking act. Corporations blocking consumers from the justice system and subjecting them to their own biased arbitrators for decisions has been a recurring topic here — three years ago in Think You Can Take It To Court? Think Again, a year ago in Maybe You'll Have Your Day in Court Again when the CFPB indicated it was examining corporate appropriation of civilian rights, and last November in Corporations Appoint Themselves Judge and Jury — It's in the Fine Print, coincident with the The New York Times finally awakening to the injustice in a lengthy three-part series.



Memo to Congress: The IRS Is Where the Money Comes From

The "tax gap" — the amount of taxes Americans owed but failed to pay — reached almost half a trillion dollars a year for the years 2008 through 2010 — an average annual loss of $458 billion, according to an analysis by the Internal Revenue Service.

That led Republicans in Congress to go on the warpath, naming the closing week of April "IRS Week" and summoning the IRS chief, John Koskinen, to answer for the agency's appalling inefficiencies in four hearings over eight days conducted by efficiently overlapping congressional committees.

To vent its wrath, the Republican-controlled House passed half a dozen measures to penalize the tax agency. "House Republicans are finding new ways to rein in the IRS", said the conservative Weekly Standard. No bonuses until service improves, is one of them. Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Finance Committee, said the IRS should to do a better job. “This recent data further underscores the need for the IRS to get… Read More »

state secrets

The Biggest Cover-Up of All — Saudi Royals’ Links to 9/11

With U.S.-Saudi relations at low ebb, the bill moving through Congress — just passed unanimously by the Senate — that would permit the families of 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom for its alleged involvement has led to threats. As retaliation the Saudi foreign minister came to Washington to say the kingdom would unload some $750 billion of U.S. assets lest they might be frozen if the lawsuit were allowed to go through.

The Obama administration has lobbied hard against the bill, infuriating those families, who effectively represent some 2,600 Americans and almost 400 from 90 countries who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001 attacks, and who find it inexplicable that their government favors the Saudis over the lives of its own people.

the 28 pages

The bill, which has broad bipartisan report, has again raised the question of why the American
President Bush with then Crown Prince Abdallah,
now King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

public is not allowed to see 28 pages that were removed from the 2002 report of the joint congressional investigation of the attacks. That those pages have been locked away in a secure basement room in the Capitol building for going on fourteen years fairly shouts that the Saudis have something to hide so inflammatory that first George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama for almost eight years, have seen fit to protect the Saudi royal family. President Obama has twice, and in-person, assured family members that he would have the pages released, but has gone back on his pledge. Obama is clearly running out the clock.

The media have been more concerned with Congress's bill, a troublesome foray into foreign policy, and the White House response, and has made only passing mention of the… Read More »

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