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Democratic Committee Meeting

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Former Governor McDonnell to be Sentenced Jan 6th

Bob Goes to Prison, Pop Goes the Weasel

For this republican the buck doesn't stop here.   Bob is more into the my wife is a crazy bitch defense.   I don't think the judge will pay any attention to any of these letters written by the children.   If you remember the children were on the take too, all of their food was taken from the mansion and Jonnie kicked in money for their weddings and such.   This is one sorry republican who won't take responsibility for anything, Pat Robinson taught him well at his fine christian Regent university.

From Todd Schneider's interview with the Washingtonian

"The McDonnell children who didn’t live at the mansion removed “cases and cases” of Gatorade, soda, and bottled water from the kitchen, Schneider says. When the family’s twin sons moved out of their dorm at the University of Virginia, the first lady helped herself to mansion supplies in order to furnish their apartment, he says. “I’d be like, ‘I’m missing half my pots and pans.’ ” 

He saw one daughter take drinking glasses with the state seal on them, while another left with boxes of unused trash bags.    According to Schneider, she said,  “Why should I pay for it?” 

“Those people, they just had their hands in the cookie jar the whole time,” he says." 

The McDonnell children were stealing from the Gov's mansion, as well as taking cash, travel, etc. from Williams but now say it is all Maureen's fault. Too bad the "children" escaped prosecuted.  

Here is what the former gov and wife were found guilty of in Federal Court.

BOB, MAUREEN GUILTY — Count 1: Conspiracy to Defraud the Citizens of Virginia of Their Honest Services by Use of Interstate Wires 

BOB, MAUREEN GUILTY — Count 2: Use of Interstate Wire Communications to Further Scheme to Defraud the Citizens of Virginia of Their Right to Honest Services ($15K Wedding Check from Jonnie Williams) 

BOB, MAUREEN GUILTY — Count 3: Use of Interstate Wire Communications to Further Scheme to Defraud the Citizens of Virginia of Their Right to Honest Services ($50K MoBo Check from Jonnie Williams) 

BOB GUILTY, MAUREEN NOT GUILTY — Count 4: Use of Interstate Wire Communications to Further Scheme to Defraud the Citizens of Virginia of Their Right to Honest Services ($20K MoBo Check from Jonnie Williams) 

BOB, MAUREEN GUILTY — Count 5: Conspiracy to Obtain Property under Color of Official Right 

BOB , MAUREEN GUILTY — Count 6: Obtaining Property under Color of Official Right ($50K check from Jonnie to Maureen) 

BOB, MAUREEN GUILTY — Count 7: Obtaining Property under Color of Official Right ($15K check from Jonnie for wedding) 

BOB, MAUREEN GUILTY — Count 8: Obtaining Property under Color of Official Right ($2,380 green fees at Kinloch Golf Club) 

BOB GUILTY, MAUREEN NOT GUILTY — Count 9: Obtaining Property under Color of Official Right ($1,424 green fees at Kinloch) 

BOB, MAUREEN GUILTY — Count 10: Obtaining Property under Color of Official Right ($50K MoBo check from Jonnie) 

BOB GUILTY, MAUREEN NOT GUILTY — Count 11: Obtaining Property under Color of Official Right ($20K MoBo wire transfer from Jonnie) 

BOB NOT GUILTY — Count 12: False Statement (Bob McDonnell’s statement to Towne Bank) 

BOB, MAUREEN NOT GUILTY — Count 13: False Statement (Bob and Maureen McDonnell’s statement to PenFed) 

MAUREEN GUILTY — Count 14: Obstruction of an Official Proceeding (Maureen McDonnell letter to Jonnie about dresses)

On Jan 6th ACVDN predicts 11 years and 6 months for Bob and 8years for Maureen.   We will publish the actual prison time as soon as the judge utters them.

The Children Ask for a Light Sentence

One of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell’s daughters says his stunning downfall and conviction on public corruption charges can largely be attributed to the corrosive effects of just one person: her mother.

       Bob Models His New Rolex, Thanks Jonnie

Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky wrote in a blunt letter to a federal judge that it was former first lady Maureen McDonnell’s materialism and mental-health issues that derailed the rising political career of her husband.   The letter of support for Robert McDonnell was part of a trove of 440 submitted by his attorneys, who are seeking leniency at his Jan. 6 sentencing in Richmond.

 Bob and Maureen in Sports Car, Thanks Jonnie

“My mom . . . has always been concerned about getting discounts or freebees,” McDonnell Zubowsky wrote. “She hid her coordination with people for free or discounted things or services and she didn’t communicate with my dad because she knew he would not approve. . . . The testimony about my mom was not just part of a defense strategy and was not an attempt to ‘throw her under the bus,’ but unfortunately, was the reality.”

In letters to the judge, McDonnell Zubowsky and another daughter, Cailin Young, also echoed themes that emerged at Robert McDonnell’s trial this summer, saying their father was an upstanding and religious man who was privately struggling with a crumbling marriage.   Robert and Maureen McDonnell were convicted in September of using the prestige of the governor’s office to promote the company of nutritional supplement chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for lavish gifts and loans.

The McDonnell children said their parents rarely communicated because their relationship was so strained.   McDonnell Zubowsky wrote that she believed that her mother had mental health problems for years and that her father planned to address the matter after he left office.   She wrote that her mother was lonely as her father’s political career took off and that she sought solace in material things.   She also asked the judge to spare Robert McDonnell prison time because she is to give birth to his first grandchild in January.

Cailin Young wrote that it was immensely painful to see intimate details about her parents’ troubled private life splashed across TV screens and in newspapers daily during the trial.   She and other family members said the public humiliation and trauma of the conviction had shattered their lives and that they would have a difficult time if he 
were imprisoned.

“My Father is the heart and soul of our family and we will be lost without him,” Young wrote.   Her husband, Christopher Young, added that “the mere thought of life without him is so heartbreaking that I cannot even believe it to be possible.”

Robert McDonnell’s sister also took aim at Maureen McDonnell, writing in a letter that “some of his wife’s actions have been unilateral and have blindsided Bob and his family.”

The private pain and turmoil described by some of Robert McDonnell’s closest family members contrasts sharply with the public figure that emerges in the hundreds of other letters submitted by the defense.   From major policy initiatives to small kindnesses, the former Republican governor is described as a dedicated and tireless public 
servant, a principled prosecutor and compassionate boss.    Those submitting letters of support to the court include some high-profile names, such as former House leader Eric Cantor, preacher Pat Robertson and Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.).

But there also are letters from a legion of state legislators, staffers, campaign donors, former professors, acquaintances of McDonnell’s children and friends from high school and college. Anecdotes abound:   McDonnell organized a fundraiser for a professor with cancer in law school, he paid a constituent’s rent, he visited a stranger in the hospital and comforted a low-level staffer from Newtown, Conn., after the mass shooting there.

A story related by Martin D. Brown, a former adviser to the governor on prisoner reentry issues, was typical.    Brown wrote that he staged a father-daughter dance at the Richmond City Jail in 2013 for the inmates.   McDonnell not only came to the event, Brown wrote, but he also brought his own daughter and stayed for the entire dance. 

Afterward, he spoke to a group of prisoners about their prospects at the end of their incarceration.

“The Bob McDonnell I witnessed countless times, time and time again was a man of great compassion who could relate as comfortably with a ‘tatted up’ prisoner, welfare mother or child in need of adoption, as with a member of the General Assembly or dignitary,” Brown wrote.

                Bob Driving Jonnie's Sports Car.

Many suggested that McDonnell could not have knowingly taken a bribe, and some recounted stories of his sacrificing more lucrative jobs and career paths to pursue the public good.    One wrote of McDonnell’s turning down a position as a “rainmaker”  for a law firm because he didn’t feel that there was enough actual work involved.

“I do not know the Governor McDonnell who bargains campaign contributions and friendship for personal favors and still to this day do not believe that Bob McDonnell exists,”  wrote Bruce Thompson, a major Virginia Beach developer and McDonnell financial supporter.

McDonnell’s attorneys are pushing for U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer to sentence their client to community service, but federal prosecutors have argued that a probation officer’s recommendation of more than 10 years in prison is a more appropriate sentence.

Supporters wrote in their letters that they were saddened, perplexed — and even bewildered in some cases — at what had befallen McDonnell. Lawyers for both Robert and Maureen McDonnell declined to comment for this article.

“The greatest tragedy in all of this is the decades of honorable work, selfless dedication to the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the goodness of the McDonnell family is diminished,” said Maureen Clancy, a friend of the family.   “It breaks my heart and the heart[s] of countless people like me honored to call Bob and Maureen friends.”

 On Jan. 6th we will see if there is justice for Bob and Maureen or if Virginia and its laws become the laughing stock of the United States and beyond.


Now that the GOP has taken control of the Senate, the country waits to find out what the party will do with its new found power.

Congress has been notoriously gridlocked for the past several years — in large part due to Republicans, who used their majority in the House of Representatives and obstruction in the Senate to effectively veto Democrat initiatives.   Now that the GOP controls the Senate and the House, it's unclear whether more legislation will pass — or if the newly Republican Congress will just butt heads with the president more.

They'll force Obama to veto what he doesn't like

When Democrats controlled the Senate (which they still do until the end of the year), they were able to block Republican initiatives born in the GOP-controlled House.   The Senate would either vote against House initiatives, or simply let them die without coming to a floor vote.   But with a Republican Senate, the GOP will be more able to send its legislation to the president, who will have to either sign bills into law or veto them.

                         Soon To Be Known As Mr. VETO

In one sense, this is not a big deal.   Democrats will still be able to block GOP legislation that they don't like.   But forcing Obama to show what he stands for, instead of letting the Senate do the dirty work for him, could open the President up to more criticism.    Obama will appear as though he is impeding governmental progress, whereas Republicans will look like they're doing all they can to move things forward.

That said, former President Bill Clinton used his veto power against a GOP-dominated Congress 37 times, and still left office as one of the most popular presidents in recent history.

The GOP can regulate the president's judicial appointees and cabinet positions

The president can appoint federal justices and cabinet members with a simple Senate majority.  That was relatively easy to do with a Democratic Senate, but will be tougher with the Senate controlled by the GOP.

Presidents who face an opposing party in the Senate have historically still been able to successfully appoint a number of justices, but doing so will undoubtedly become more difficult.

A president's judicial appointees used to require approval from 60 senators.   But Democrats grew so exasperated by Republicans blocking Obama's nominees that in 2013 they changed the rule — so that the justices now need only a simple majority to pass through.

Obama may try to rush the appointment of an attorney general while the Senate is still controlled by Democrats over the next two months.    But if that doesn't happen, appointing an attorney general will probably become more of a headache, as Democrats would no longer have the votes needed to put a new person in office.

Republicans could push the Keystone XL pipeline into law

Legislation to start constructing an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas has bounced around Congress for some time now, though that period may come to a quick end now that Republicans have won a majority in the Senate.

The GOP has always been in favor of the pipeline, and now they have enough votes in the House and the Senate to bring the issue to Obama's desk.   The president is not guaranteed to veto it — but if he does, Republicans might find enough Democrats to side with them and win a supermajority to overturn a veto.

They can push back on immigration reform

Obama has promised comprehensive immigration policy reform since before he was elected to his first presidential term, but has been unable to reach a compromise between the two parties.   That's not likely to change before Obama finishes his final term in January 2017.

So the president has made clear that he will use an executive action — which requires no approval from Congress — to defer deportations for some undocumented immigrants before the end of 2014. More immigration executive actions may follow.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, soon to be Senate majority leader, said in a press conference on Wednesday that if Obama goes through with any executive actions on immigration reform, it would be "like waving a red flag at a bull."    The GOP believes this is an example of the president overstepping his authority, and this divide could cause even more bad blood that could push Democrats and Republicans further apart on other issues.

Republicans would try to make international trade agreements easier

The Senate has been controlled by Democrats for the entirety of Obama's term so far, but that doesn't mean they've always agreed.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has prevented the Senate from voting on "fast track" trade agreements that Obama wants — largely because union-backed Democrats are wary of such agreements.

These fast track deals are agreements between the United States and another country.   Right now, the Senate has the authority to vote on each piece of an agreement, but a vote in favor of fast-tracking these deals means the Senate could only vote on each agreement as a whole.

Reid doesn't like this idea, because it means the Senate won't know the details of what's being negotiated.   Obama wants it done, because other nations are wary of trying to work out a deal when the Senate could veto any piece of it.

Reid may not be a fast-tracking fan, but McConnell is.   Now this looks like it has a shot to sail through Congress.   But who knows what else will?    We'll begin to see whether Washington, D.C. has changed when January 2015 rolls around.

What Happens Next?

Here's what will happen.  The GOP crazies will do that same old crap they've always done.   They will crash the economy, shut-down the govt., transfer the wealth to the 1%, ignore climate change and doom this planet and all of us on it.   They will deny women equal rights, ban abortion based on fake science and ensure women who are raped live a life of horror with little chance for a abortion.   They will make education more expensive and constantly be at the beck and call of the Koch brothers.   At some point probably when the economy is down the tubes again the voters will wise up and realize the republican party represents some interests other than theirs.   As long as the common voter can be motivated to hate gays, blacks, immigrants and poor people then they can still be tricked into voting for the GOP.   In short you have gotten exactly what you voted for.   Now find me some Democrats with the stones to tell it like it is instead of pretending they don't know anybody named Obama.


Longtime Adviser To David Duke Donated To Steve Scalise

A longtime adviser to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke donated money to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Federal Election Commission records show.

The Daily Beast pointed out Wednesday that Kenny Knight gave Scalise $1,000 in 2008.

Scalise came under fire this week after it was reported he spoke at a 2002 conference hosted by the white supremacist group European-American Unity and Rights Organization.   The Washington Post reported Knight was one of the people who invited Scalise to speak at the event.   Scalise said he "didn't know" the details of the groups 
attending the conference and called accusations of connections to the white supremacist group "insulting and ludicrous."

Scalise has struggled this week to distance himself from Duke, who said the congressman is "a fine family man" with whom he often agrees.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) both backed Scalise on Tuesday, calling him "a friend" and "a man of high integrity and good character."

"More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate," Boehner said in a statement.

These republican leaders should circle the wagons and expend whatever energy it takes to defend this outstanding republican.   Since they have no agenda toward governing the country they have plenty of time to defend Scalise.   If these dirtbags don't stick together and look out for each other who will?   Only the voters in Scalise's district control his being a congressman but the republican leadership made him the number three and welcomed him to a leadership position.

Amherst Virginia Democratic News

Amherst Democratic News

Saturday, December 27, 2014

In Spite of the GOP Obstruction The Country is Recovering

In spite of all the best GOP efforts to stall and delay a recovery the economy improved.   The GNP is over 5% and the DOW finished above 18,000 and gas is around or below $2.00 a gallon.   For the republicans making the recession last was a campaign tatic.   It worked and the longer they stalled a recovery the more support at the polls fell their way.  

Imagine that obstructing the country's recovery and keeping the workers in turmoil and pain is your magic bullet to regaining power.   Imagine that and you have touched the soul of the GOP.  They could pretend and tell their dumbest voters that they were needed to save America.   The failures of the Bush administration were deep and the obstruction by the republicans made them last years longer than they would have had the GOP helped the Democrats heal the system.   

Helping was too much for republicans to handle so they stopped and or slowed down every effort to create jobs and boost the economy.   The republicans won and got control of the House and the Senate.   The voters bought the GOP garbasge hook line and sinker and here we are today with a nation in recovery and the GOP taking over.  That's the same GOP that destroyed the economy to begin with.  The republicans couldn't govern then and they won't govern now but here's the Big Difference. 

Democrats will help govern the country, something the republican party never did.    Democrats will do that which is best for the country and President Obama can and will veto the tea party right wing conservative ignorance that the republican party runs on.

The GOP does not believe in science or education or fair wages.   They have sold themselves to the upper 1% and big business and could not care less about normal working people.   Here is the real GOP magic trick, they use the money from the upper crust to craft ads for the masses that proclaim the parties interestr in normal workers and promote a division of hate between classes and races that allows them to get just enough votes to stay in power.   The republican party motivates the voters to vote against their self interest, to sell out the futures of their children.   That's quite a trick and the republicans play it over and over.   That doesn't speak well for the intellect of the GOP voter.

Given Republican economic history, the 2 largest depressions in our history, the only 2 times they have had control of congress and White House for more than 8 years.. why does anyone listen to them on economics, when they never show supporting economic data.. . . . just GOP beliefs.

Check out this Info.

Recessions Since 1950 and Party in White House at Onset

Jul 1953 - May 1954 Republican
Aug 1957 - Apr 1958 Republican 
Apr 1960 - Feb 1961 Republican
Dec 1969 - Nov 1970 Republican
Nov 1973 - Mar 1975 Republican
Jan 1980 - July 1980 Democrat
Jul 1981 - Nov 1982 Republican
Jul 1990 - Mar 1991 Republican
Mar 2001 - Nov 2001 Republican
Dec 2007- Jun 2009 Republican

There have been 22 recessions since 1900.

16 have started under Republican leadership, 6 under Democrat leadership and the 2 worst 1929 and now when Repubs had control of WH and congress for more than 8 years(the only times in history)

The NBER does not define a recession in terms of two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP. Rather, a recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.   For more information, see the latest announcement from the NBER's Business Cycle Dating Committee, dated 9/20/10.

Info provided by

Public Information Office
National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc. 
1050 Massachusetts Avenue 
Cambridge MA 02138 

Here's how taxes don't work.

What we have now is decades of a more or less strict adherence to the gospel that tax cuts for the highest income earners are good.  The trend began with President Kennedy, but his cuts were hardly radical.  He lowered rates when the American economy was humming along, no longer paying for World War II and, relative to today, an egalitarian dreamland.  To put things in perspective, Kennedy cut rates to around 70 percent, a level we can hardly imagine raising them to today. The huge drops -- from 70 percent to 50 percent to less than 30 percent -- came with the Reagan presidency.

In comparison to decades of cuts, Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama each raised taxes at the top by a historically insignificant amount.   Obama also proposed modest tax increases, raising taxes on families making more than $250,000 from 33 to 36 percent, and on individuals making more than $200,000 from 36 to 39.6 percent.  These increases failed in the House.   The Tea Party abd the GOP killed the small adjustments that would have leveled out the tax system.   They did not do that for the workers and normal rax payers.   They represented the upper 1% who own and manipulate the republican party.

A 90 percent top marginal tax rate doesn’t mean that if you make $450,000, you are going to pay $405,000 in federal income taxes.  Americans have a well-documented trouble understanding the notion of marginal tax rates.  The marginal tax rate is the amount you pay on your income above a certain amount.  Right now, you pay the top marginal tax rate on every dollar you earn over $406,750.  So if you make $450,000, you only pay the top rate on your final $43,250 in income.

A very high marginal tax rate isn’t effective if it’s riddled with loopholes.   These are the games the GOP plays with the average3 tax payer.   Along with propoganda like advertising for the republican the average voter stands dam little chance of know what is in his best interest.    The middle class carry the burden of financing this country and if the GOP has its way will never see relief.   

The U.S. economic outlook for 2015 will be significantly different depending on your vantage point.   If you’re wealthy, 2015 will probably be another year of celebratory wealth creation.

If, on the other hand, you’re not, 2015 will feel an awful lot like 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009.   Wall Street and the U.S. government will tell you the economy is doing well, but it won’t feel like it.

In fact, according to a national survey, 70% of Americans believe the U.S. economy is permanently damaged, while 84% do not believe the economy has improved since the recession ended in 2009.

How can this be?

The stock market is, after all, the barometer for the country’s economic health.    Since the markets bottomed in March 2009, the S&P 500 has climbed approximately 200%, the NYSE is up 165%, the NASDAQ is up more than 260%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained more than 165%.

With the major U.S. indices reaching uncharted territory almost daily, many have concluded that the U.S. economy has recovered.    Unemployment levels have dropped to just 6.1% and inflation is in check.    Further, the Federal Reserve is winding down its bond buying program and at the current rate, will wrap up its quantitative easing (QE) strategy this fall.    Mission accomplished!

The fact of the matter is that the U.S. is doing spectacularly well.    Well, Wall Street is.

Economic Background

The Great Recession in the U.S. started in December 2007 and lasted for 18 months.   In late 2008, in an effort to help kick-start the economy, the Federal Reserve initiated its generous bond buying program (quantitative easing) and sent short-term interest rates tumbling to near zero.   The low interest rate environment was supposedto encourage banks to lend more money to businesses and people.

This didn’t happen exactly like it was supposed to. Instead of making it easier to get money, America’s big banks tightened their lending rules, taking the opportunity to strategically invest the money themselves.

Granted, the banks were more than willing to lend to well-heeled Americans.   Keeping interest rates artificially low has made it cheaper to borrow and is generally recognized as the fuel that’s been propelling the stock market increasingly higher.

Since the Federal Reserve enacted its quantitative easing strategy, the S&P 500 has soared more than 200% in value. During the same timeframe, the number of Americans receiving food stamps has essentially doubled to 46.23 million, or one-sixth of the American population.

As a broader measure, since the Great Recession began, the top one percent of earners have seen their incomes rise more than 30%, while the bottom 99% saw their earnings rise 0.4%.   During the so-called recovery, the top one percent captured 95% of the total growth in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the widening gap has slowed the five-year recovery and contributed to Standard & Poor’s (S&P) cutting its growth estimates for the economy.    Because (in part) of the income disparity, S&P estimates the economy will grow 2.5% annually for the next decade—down from a forecast five years ago of 2.8%.

This is a little less optimistic than what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected.  In 2012, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 2.8% and in 2013, it slowed to just 1.9%. In 2014, the IMF expects U.S.   GDP growth to hit 2.8% and in 2015, it expects an even three percent.

Unemployment Analysis & Forecast

Again, the stock markets may be doing well, but the underlying fundamentals that hold the U.S. economy together are not.   Yes, the jobless rate is down to 6.2% from nearly 10% four years ago, but that number is a little misleading.

Other gauges have become harder to assess and may reflect persistent weakness, including the number of people jobless for more than six months, the millions who are working part-time but want full-time jobs, and stagnant wages.   On top of that, the underemployment rate (U-6) remains at an eye-watering 12.6%.   (Source: “The Employment Situation July 2014,”  Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, August 1, 2014.)

For those who have jobs, they’re making less than they did before the Great Recession.   Wages for workers at every pay level, save for the bottom 10%, declined from the second half of 2013 through to the second half of 2014.   And there’s no indication wages will increase.

For 70% of the workforce, inflation-adjusted hourly wages are still lower than they were in 2007.  Over the same period, inflation (CPI) has risen 15%.   The best time to be a worker in America was in the late 1990s, when wage growth was broad-based and strongest for the lowest income earners.

Even U.S. housing, the bright spot in the U.S. economy, isn’t as robust as many think.   The Case-Shiller Home Price Index may be up 25% since the beginning of 2012, but it still needs to climb an additional 20% just to break even with its pre-recession levels.

Real Estate Analysis

Where are Property Prices HeadedAnd despite the ultra-low interest rates, first-time home buyers are being priced out by all-cash purchases.   As a result, the number of first-time home buyers getting onto the property ladder is lagging, accounting for just 28% of all purchases.    The 30-year average, and a number that economists consider to be healthy, is 40%.

The National Association of Realtors also notes that nearly half of Americans said student loan debt is a huge obstacle to buying a home.   First-time home buyers are an important part of the U.S. economy, and if they don’t buy homes, they can’t pay for upgrades, renovations, new appliances, or furniture.   If they aren’t buying, construction companies aren’t building or employing as many people either. And that adds up.   (Source: Gaffney, J., “CFPB director: Student loans are killing the drive to buy homes,” HousingWire web site, May 19, 2014.)

Historically, residential investment (construction, remodeling, etc.) has averaged around five percent of U.S. GDP. Housing services, which includes gross rent, utility payments, and imputed rent (an estimate of how much it would cost to rent owner-occupied units), averages between 12% and 13%—for a combined total of 17% to 18%.    (Source: 
“Housing’s Contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP),”  National Association of Home Builders web site, last accessed September 3, 2014.)

Analysis for Investors

Despite the obvious economic warning signs, investors are not yet ready to throw in the towel. And they continue to be increasingly optimistic toward a stock market that many believe is both overvalued and ripe for a correction.

But it appears as though investors don’t care if the markets are overvalued so long as it keeps going up. While bearish indicators continue to surface on a regular basis, there’s no reason to think the markets are going to correct in the near term.

To appease shareholders, companies are going to continue to financially engineer their earnings. While using cost-cutting measures and cash to repurchase shares and increase dividend payouts is a short-term investment strategy used to boost earnings and support stock prices, more and more investors seem content with this strategy.

Eventually, companies will need to report sustainable revenue growth.    It’s going to be difficult for a country that relies on consumer spending to drive roughly 70% of its GDP to run at full steam when the vast majority of the population is struggling.  

Economic Factors

Economic factors outside the U.S. will also have a serious impact on the U.S. economy in 2015. Russia, one of the world’s biggest economies, is on the brink of a recession as a result of sanctions related to ongoing conflict in Ukraine.   Russia’s economic ministry halved its 2015 GDP forecast from two percent to one percent.

This past summer, it was reported that Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone, had fallen back into recession.    Germany, the region’s largest economy, is grinding down and France, the second-biggest economy in the eurozone, is also in a precarious position.

In the second quarter of 2014, Germany reported a decline in its GDP—this represents the first decline since the first quarter of 2013.    In August, the ZEW Indicator of Economic Sentiment (a survey on the health of the German economy) posted a massive decline, collapsing 18.5 points to a lowly 8.6 points.    Having been declining for more than half a year, the index is now at its lowest level since 2012.    This does not bode well as we head into 2015.    (Source: “ZEW Indicator of Economic Sentiment – Economic Expectations Decline Significantly,” ZEW web site, August 12, 2014.)

France, the second-biggest economy in the eurozone, is in a worse spot economically—and a recession may just be around the corner.   In 2013, France’s GDP rang in at just 0.4%.    During the first half of 2014, France’s GDP came in at zero.   In addition to a stagnant economy, France faces record unemployment and a growing deficit.   On top of that, Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned the autumn months would continue to be difficult.    (Source: “In Q2 2014, French GDP held steady,” National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies web site, August 14, 2014.)

What in 2015?

It doesn’t look like 2015 will be a prosperous year for the eurozone, especially when you consider its three biggest economies are in jeopardy.   Why should we, as Americans, be worried about the eurozone economy?

Approximately 40% of the public companies that make up the S&P 500 derive sales from Europe.   If the eurozone faces a sustained economic slowdown, the corporate earnings of American companies will suffer.   As a result, America won’t be able to skirt the consequences of an economic slowdown in the eurozone because the U.S. economy itself remains weak.

After all, it’s been the lethargic U.S. economy that has necessitated near-zero interest rates for six years.   And there is serious doubt as to whether or not the U.S. economy can sustain higher rates.   With that in mind, it’s difficult to imagine the U.S. could weather a global economic slowdown unscathed.

That doesn’t mean the stock market won’t continue to do well; it all depends on when the Federal Reserve decides to start increasing interest rates. Initially, the Federal Reserve said it wouldn’t raise interest rates until the U.S. economy was on sustainable economic footing.   Many take that to mean a jobless rate of 6.5% and inflation of 2.5%.    The unemployment rate is already below the 6.5% target and U.S. inflation is near 1.5%.

At the same time, there is more to the U.S. economy than those two indicators.   It’s quite possible the U.S. economy will hit those targets in early 2015 and the Fed chooses not to raise interest rates because it believes there is too much uncertainty.

The Federal Reserve will announce on March 18, 2015 whether or not it will raise interest rates from zero.   If the Federal Reserve decides the economy is on the right path and raises interest rates sooner than expected, it’s quite possible the stock market will go through a short-term correction.    An increase of 50 basis points could shock the system and negatively impact the broader economy—making it more difficult for people and businesses to borrow and lend.

If this were to happen, investors might want to consider banking stocks and growth stocks.   Over the remainder of the year, the Federal Reserve would monitor how the economy is doing and decide whether or not to move interest rates higher…or lower.

Maintaining the current ultra-low levels would signal there is still work to be done and that rates will probably not rise until later in 2015—possibly October.    If this happens, investors will, in all probability, remain bullish, sending the stock markets higher over the coming seven months.

Waiting to announce an interest rate hike until October 2015 would allow the U.S. economy more time to set itself on a more stable, sustainable course.   It would also allow the U.S. economy time to better understand or assess where the global economy is heading.

Because an interest rate hike in October 2015 would be expected, it would come as less of a shock.    As a result, the major U.S. stock indices would be prepared to absorb the expected hike.

What kind of companies thrive on higher interest rates?   Few are looking forward to interest rate hikes more than banks.   America’s big banks have been the biggest winners of the Great Recession and quantitative easing.   When the U.S. financial system was on the brink of collapse, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government stepped in and bailed out America’s big banks.   The six biggest banks were given $160 billion and they borrowed as much as $460 billion;  they profited from cheap, taxpayer-funded dollars.

And America’s big banks did well.   JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE/JPM) has seen its share price climb almost 350%, Morgan Stanley (NYSE/MS) has seen its share price increase more than 450%, Bank of America Corporation’s (NYSE/BAC) share price is up more than 500% since early 2009, and Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE/WFC) has seen its share price climb more than 625%.

Even in the low interest rate environment, America’s big banks have made a lot of money.    But low interest rates mean there is a limit to what banks can charge.   With the country’s banking industry on strong financial footing, America’s big banks want interest rates to climb.

When interest rates do start to increase, lending institutions will raise the amount they charge for the loans faster than what they pay on deposits.   For America’s big banks, these higher rates will translate into higher profits.

2014 Winds Down

As 2014 winds to a close, I’m reminded of how much can change in 12 months.   The year began with an economic contraction and ended with growth roaring at 5%.   Oil prices fell from over $100 a barrel to $56 a barrel, putting an extra $108 billion into consumers’ pockets.    The unemployment rate dropped from 6.6% to 5.8% as approximately one million Americans found jobs or gave up looking for work.

The New Year will bring even more change, for good or for ill.  From interest rates to the new Republican majority, here are five things that could significantly alter the U.S. economy in 2015:

Interest Rate Increase

The Federal Reserve is widely expected to increase interest rates in 2015 after six years of keeping them near zero following the financial crisis.  This would mark a needed return to more normal monetary policy, but the transition could be rocky.    The stock market could take a hit as rates rise.  The market has proven very sensitive to Fed policy, as evidenced by its run-up last week following the FOMC’s announcement that they would be “patient” raising rates.   Additionally, consumers may borrow less as loans become more expensive, putting pressure on the housing and auto industries.

Oil Shock

Oil prices are likely to continue to fall amid weak demand and increased American oil production.  While the drop in oil prices is bruising the energy industry, it functions as a positive shock to the economy.   Consumers, spending less on gas, have more money to put towards other expenditures.  This could spur economic growth to higher than expected levels, since consumption comprises nearly 70% of GDP.

Debt Ceiling

The U.S. is scheduled to hit the debt ceiling in March 2015, setting the stage for a political showdown as the potential for default is leveraged for political concessions.   This has both positive and negative potential.   On one hand, the debt ceiling could be used put forward modest budget reforms that make the U.S. economy more robust in the long-term.   On the other, prolonged debate over the debt ceiling could inject considerable uncertainty into the economy, and actual default would be ruinous.

Global Slowdown

Weak global growth poses a threat to our nascent economic recovery.   The IMF estimates that there is nearly a 40% chance of the Eurozone re-entering a recession in the next six months.   Asia is facing headwinds, with contracting GDP in Japan and slowing growth in China.   Even emerging markets are slowing due to weak demand and increased 
geopolitical conflict.   All of these factors could dampen U.S. growth prospects by restraining U.S. exports.

The New Republican Majority

The new Republican majority in the Senate and House has a significant opportunity.  While there will be a temptation to pass symbolic votes — such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act — these bills will not become law under the current President.  Instead, Republicans should use their newfound power to pass serious, pro-growth proposals that will be hard for the President to refuse.  This includes, but is not limited to, opening up the Keystone XL pipeline, lowering corporate tax rates, and allowing for more high-skilled immigration.   These policies have wide bipartisan appeal and would increase economic growth and job creation.   I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for republicans to act in the public good.   Rather you should expect them to continue to be the slaves of the upper 1%ers.

Overall, the U.S. economy is expected to perform well next year.   The Federal Reserve is predicting GDP growth ranging anywhere from 2.6% to 3.0%.   There are relatively few outside factors that threaten to curtail this progress, aside from a severe global slowdown or unforeseen geopolitical conflict.

The biggest game changers in 2015 are likely to come from within the U.S. Between the Federal Reserve raising interest rates and Congress negotiating on the debt ceiling and pro-growth policies, our policymakers have an inordinate ability to shape how the economy performs next year.   Let’s hope republicans get serious and the parties work together and get it right.   Hope is all we have.

CORRUPTION Runs A-muck in the GOP

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise Spoke At White Supremacist Conference In 2002Founded in 2000 by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke (served as a Louisiana state representative from 1989 to 1992), EURO seeks to fight for "white civil rights."   The group is recognized as a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.    As the SPLC notes, the group is largely inactive, serving primarily 
as a vehicle to promote Duke's books.

"EURO already was well known as a racist hate group at the time that Steve Scalise apparently spoke to its workshop, and it is hard to believe that any aspiring politician would not have known that," Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement to The Huffington Post.   "In any case, it's worth noting 
that Scalise apparently did not leave even after hearing other racist speakers spouting their hatred."

Many conservatives aren't buying Scalise's story. RedState's Erick Erickson writes that he finds it highly unlikely the congressman would not have known this was a Duke organization at the time of the event. And then he sticks in the knife:  "Trent Lott was driven from the field in 2001 for something less than this."

White supremacy runs deep in the Louisiana region Scalise now represents in Congress.   The 2004 race for Louisiana's 1st Congressional District included Democrat Roy Armstrong, an ex-Ku Klux Klan leader and spokesman for Duke.   Duke himself had mulled a run for Congress that year, having just been released from federal prison, but ultimately Armstrong ran instead.   Republican Bobby Jindal, who is now the governor of the state, won the race in a landslide, but Armstrong managed to pick up more than 19,000 votes.

And now Steve Scalise is a republican leader and the House Majority Whip, Happy New Year.

Rep. Michael Grimm, republican representative of New York, to resign from Congress after admitting to tax fraud

Around this time last year, Rep. Michael Grimm of New York was asked about his campaign finances.    He responded poorly.   Grimm told the reporter, "If you ever do that to me again, I'll throw you off this f***ing balcony."

Fast forward to now, and Grimm's legal woes have finally caught up with him.   The New York Daily News reports the congressman will step down after pleading guilty to one count of tax evasion.

The congressman has been dogged by allegations that he concealed over $1 million in profits from federal tax authorities while running a Manhattan restaurant prior to entering Congress.

Despite the charges, Grimm coasted to victory in the November midterm elections over his Democratic opponent Domenic Recchia.   Now that he's stepping down, there'll need to be a special election to fill his place.

Grimm's sentencing, which could come with jail time, is scheduled for June 8.

Alabama GOP Corruption Scandal

The Republican Speaker of the state’s House of Representatives just got nailed on a 23-count corruption charge. So why did the state’s Dems go out with a whimper last November?

It’s the ultimate October surprise:   Two weeks before Election Day, one of the most powerful politicians in a state faced a 23-count indictment on ethics charges.   It should change everything, right?

Not in Alabama.

Mike Hubbard, the Republican Speaker of the state’s House of Representatives, was indicted for using his political office to solicit favors from a variety of wealthy and powerful Alabama figures.    However, this did not have a big effect in the election last November.

Under Hubbard’s leadership, Republicans took control of the Alabama State House for the first time since Reconstruction in 2010 while attacking Democrats for an entrenched culture of corruption.

It’s not because this isn’t a scandal, or even that Alabama voters have grown used to seamy side of politics, as two recent former governors convicted of felonies.

Instead, it’s because of gerrymandering and the weakness of the Democratic Party in Alabama.

Democrats in Alabama are so weak that that incumbent U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions doesn’t even have an opponent, while Democratic gubernatorial nominee Parker Griffith has switched parties twice in the past few years.

Republican voters everywhere look the other way when it is one of their own.

If this steps on your toes then find another place to stand.

A person known for being honest and having strong ethical principles is regarded as having a high degree of integrity, and is the polar opposite of a corrupt person known for dishonesty and fraudulent conduct.   There is an adage;  “you are known by the company you keep,”   that means one’s personality is defined by those they identify with, and it is curious why any person would embrace corrupt and dishonest people to inform their identity.    One might believe, errantly, that Americans would demand their leaders possessed a high degree of integrity, but that belief implies that all Americans are honest and driven by strong ethical principles.    Sadly, that is simply not the case.

It is reasonable to assume there are still Americans who have a semblance of integrity, but there is a large sector of the population that not only condones and admires corruption and dishonesty, they celebrate it in their elected government representatives;  these corrupt Americans are the Republican base.    Dutifully, Republicans have 
stepped up to meet their base’s demand to be corrupt, and dishonest, and it is evident in the preponderance of Republican governors under investigation for all manner of corruption.   

What is telling about their supporters’ own lack of ethical principles is that these Republicans’ polling numbers are much higher than one would expect. 

Apparently, corruption is as cherished as a virtue among conservatives as overt racism, misogyny, jingoism, religious extremism, and general hatred.

There are currently 11 Republican governors either under indictment, under investigation, or under intense scrutiny for their ethics violations and outright crimes. 

According to a report, the 11 sitting Republican governors are involved in scandals of their own creation, and nine of the eleven ran for re-election. 

Most are either led in the polls or stayed competitive with their challengers informing that, at least in their respective states, their base embraces their corruption and in some cases supports their intent to take their corrupt ways to the U.S. Senate.

One former Republican governor, South Dakota’s Mike Rounds, is seeking a Senate seat and openly admitted last Tuesday that he spent $600,000 of taxpayer money on a meat-packing company a former top cabinet official was going to work for when Round’s administration was winding down.    The money went directly into the cabinet member, Richard Benda’s pocket in the form of a salary at the now-shuttered meat-packing plant;   Northern Beef. There is not a clearer case of conflict of interest, or blatant Republican corruption, any American will likely ever hear about;  much less an admission of complicity from a senatorial candidate.

The controversy is centered around Northern Beef’s connection to the EB5 visa scandal that allowed wealthy foreign investors to invest in a local South Dakota business in exchange for going to the head of the immigration line for valuable green cards.   A private company headed by Governor Rounds’ employee, Joop Bollen, brought in $100-million to fund Northern Beef, but defrauded South Dakota taxpayers out of $140 million;  that was in addition to the $600,000 of taxpayer money Rounds provided for his departing cabinet member’s salary.

 Benda, as South Dakota’s tourism secretary, provided “nominal” oversight for the scandal-ridden S.D. EB-5 program, parlayed it into a 
job with the company running Northern Beef, then convinced then-governor Rounds to provide taxpayer dollars for his own salary at the private company.

Northern Beef went out of business in less than a year, the debacle cost S.D. taxpayers an additional $4.4 million (at least), and when state investigators got too close to exposing the governor’s part in his cabinet member’s conflict of interest;  Richard Benda took his own life.   It is the ultimate display of honor among thieves for Benda to “take one for the Rounds’ team” to conceal the former governors’ involvement in a clear conflict of interest and misappropriation of state funds investigation; 
something the Republican senatorial candidate Rounds certainly was aware of.   Republican voters see the fraud, investigations, misappropriation of taxpayer dollars as qualities that make Rounds well-qualified to represent them as a Republican Senator and corrupt politician.

Recently, another Republican governor, Alaska’s Sean Parnell, is facing intense scrutiny for remaining silent and not investigating gross Alaska National Guard abuses including sexual assaults of young women when he first received complaints. The eventual federal investigation discovered that multiple sexual assault reports were mishandled, including recruiting officers taking advantage of young women in high schools, military helicopters used for personal reasons, and money embezzled from the Guard’s family assistance programs.

Joining Parnell under scrutiny is his Republican Attorney General and Senate candidate Dan Sullivan who continues to refuse to answer questions regarding the Alaska National Guard abuses and fraud.   Specifically, Sullivan will not say how early as attorney general he knew about the abuses Parnell kept covered up, or when Parnell informed the state’s lead law enforcement official about the sexual assaults and fraud in the Alaska National Guard.   Eventually the truth will come out because Anchorage police continue opening up new lines of investigations.   Likely, the new investigations will only embolden Republican voters to support their Republican heroes with renewed enthusiasm;   Sullivan has not suffered any ill-effects from his alleged involvement in the fraud and sexual abuse cover up and is leading in the polls before the election.

These corrupt Republicans are just the latest to join the ranks of sitting Republican governors under investigation by authorities.   Among the corrupt Republicans under indictment, investigation, and intense public scrutiny and running for re-election are; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with two separate investigations including one federal inquiry for illegal fundraising activities at the national level.   Ohio Governor John Kasich is keeping pace with Walker with several separate investigations for a variety of crimes including one ongoing FBI investigation for taking bribes; something Ohio voters must consider quite admirable since Kasich had a very substantial lead 
over his Democratic challenger.

The list of Republicans being investigated goes on and on, and many are leaders in the Republican-Teabagger movement including Nikki Haley (SC), Rick Perry (TX), Nathan Deal (GA), Paul LePage (ME), Rick Snyder (MI), Tom Corbett (PA), Chris Christie (NJ), and Sam Brownback (KS).   

What they all have in common is that regardless the 
corruption plaguing them, Republican voters are standing solidly behind them informing that conservatives support fraud, corruption, bribery, election-rigging, cover-ups, and stealing taxpayer money as a virtuous principle of Republican ideology.

The tendency for Republican corruption permeates the movement and is not reserved for national politicians or gubernatorial and senatorial candidates as evidenced in California’s Central Valley and likely throughout the United States.   For the second time since the 2012 general election, state-level Republicans were caught red-handed  
illegally funneling campaign donations in violation of the state’s campaign finance laws.    Instead of even a semblance of shame or remorse, at least at being caught, the revelation their local Republicans broke the law motivated GOP voters to attack long-standing election laws as another underhanded dirty trick;  it is the same claim N.J. Governor Chris Christie made because Americans exercise their right to vote.

Of course Republicans are corrupt;  they cannot win elections, garner campaign donations, or reward their corporate donors without a high level of malfeasance and criminality.   However, what is telling about a large portion of the voting public is that they are just as corrupt for supporting, donating, and voting for Republicans they know are dishonest, corrupt, and have no moral or ethical principles even as they claim Christianity is the guiding force in life and governing.

It is getting increasingly difficult to find even an iota of redeeming quality or value in any Republican politician or their corruption-loving base.    A Republican politician or their supporters may claim they hate corruption and demand integrity from their compatriots, but when they continue to support corrupt Republicans, vote for 
them, or donate to their campaigns, they reveal that their deeply-held principles are founded in corruption and dishonesty.   Americans who support corrupt Republicans may not literally keep company with dishonesty Republican politicians, but they are birds of a feather and their deep-seated lack of integrity and unethical principles are 
exposed by the corrupt Republicans they vote for.

If you support the republican party you need to become aware of what you are saying about yourself.     Wise up for the New Year.

Amherst County Virginia Democratic News

Amherst Democratic News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Normalizing Relations with our close neighbor Cuba

Pope Francis says President Obama Did The Right Thing 

ACVDN calls Francis The Hardest Working Pope, ever as he supports Obama on Cuba.    What Do You Think?     It started way back in 1961  and should have been settled years ago.

Pope Francis had quite a 78th birthday.    The pontiff began Wednesday with prayers and a birthday celebration with tango dancers near St. Peter’s Square.    His day ended with a historic diplomatic breakthrough between Cuba and the United States — and the disclosure that the Argentine pope played a key role as broker.

Francis is being credited for helping bridge the divide by first sending letters to President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba, and then having the Vatican host a diplomatic meeting between the two sides in October.

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision,” Francis said in a statement issued Wednesday night by the Vatican.

The Vatican’s most senior official after the pope, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state, moderated the October meeting after the two countries sought out the Vatican as a trusted broker near the conclusion of their negotiations.

For Francis, the breakthrough on Wednesday burnished his efforts to reposition the Vatican as a broker in global diplomacy.   He has already waded into Middle East protests, hosting a prayer summit meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian presidents that bore few tangible results.    Soon afterward, Israel began its military assault against 
Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, in Gaza.

But Francis has quickly become one of the world’s leading figures, and his role in the United States-Cuba breakthrough undoubtedly is tied to his status as the first Latin American pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

“He knows the Cuban situation by heart,” said Gianni La Bella, a professor of contemporary history and an expert in Latin American Catholicism, as well as a member of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a liberal Catholic group active in international affairs.    “He visited when he was a cardinal and has a strong relationship with the archbishop of Havana, who is obviously a strategic player in this.”

In April, the Vatican and Cuba celebrated 79 years of diplomatic relations as they jointly staged a photography exhibition at a church in Rome. Although the Vatican has had problems with Havana, it steadfastly opposes the American embargo and has kept diplomatic lines open.

Fidel Castro visited the Vatican in 1996 and met with Pope John Paul II.   Two years later, John Paul visited Cuba, where he criticized the embargo as causing hardship for ordinary people and called for it to be rescinded.    His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, also visited Cuba, in 2012.

“I was in Cuba for almost two years, and I understand what this news means to the island,” said Msgr. Angelo Becciu, once the Vatican’s ambassador to Cuba.    “It opens new scenarios and gives great hope to all Cuban people.   The cease of the embargo will encourage and revitalize the island’s perspectives, as well as its economy.”

After he became pope in 2013, Francis was expected to revitalize the church in the Southern Hemisphere.    But his background has also helped the Vatican reposition itself as an independent actor in diplomacy, less tethered to European or
 American world views than in the past.

Francis’s appointment of Cardinal Parolin as secretary of state was also significant.   Long considered one of the Vatican’s most talented diplomats, Cardinal Parolin served as apostolic nuncio in Venezuela, one of Cuba’s closest allies. From that perch, Cardinal Parolin gained a sophisticated understanding of regional dynamics and the Cuban predicament, Professor La Bella said.

“The Vatican’s knowledge of the Latin American situation is at a very high level, and very direct,” he said.

Monsignor Becciu, currently a member of the State Secretariat in the Vatican, added that Wednesday’s announcement, on Francis’s birthday, was certainly a “beautiful present for the Holy Father.”

Climb in the way-back machine and we'll travel to January 3rd, 1961 when it started.

In the climax of deteriorating relations between the United States and Fidel Castro's government in Cuba, President Dwight D. Eisenhower closes the American embassy in Havana and severs diplomatic relations.


The action signaled that the United States was prepared to take extreme measures to oppose Castro's regime, which U.S. officials worried was a beachhead of communism in the western hemisphere.   The immediate reason cited for the break was Castro's demand that the U.S. embassy staff be reduced, which followed heated accusations from the Cuban government that America was using the embassy as a base for spies.    We now know that that was true, we were using the embassy as a base for spies.

Relations between the United States and Cuba had been steadily declining since Castro seized power in early 1959.   U.S. officials were soon convinced that Castro's government was too anti-American to be trusted, and they feared that he might lead Cuba into the communist bloc.   Early in 1960, following Castro's decision to sign a trade treaty with the Soviet Union, the Eisenhower administration began financing and training a group of Cuban exiles to overthrow the Cuban leader.   Castro responded by increasing his program of nationalizing foreign property and companies.    In return, the United States began to implement cutbacks in trade with Cuba.   The diplomatic break on January 3, 1961 was the culmination of an increasingly acrimonious situation.

Severing relations marked the end of America's policy of trying to resolve its differences with Castro's government through diplomacy.   Just over two months later, President John F. Kennedy unleashed the Cuban exile force established during the Eisenhower years.   This led to the Bay of Pigs debacle, in which Castro's military killed or captured the exile troops.    After the Bay of Pigs, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was one of the chilliest of the Cold War.

Normalizing Relations and US Politics

 President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.

The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro.   The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of 
mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.

We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,”  Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House.   The deal, he added, will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”

In doing so, Mr. Obama ventured into diplomatic territory where the last 10 presidents refused to go, and Republicans, along with a senior Democrat, quickly characterized the rapprochement with the Castro family as appeasement of the hemisphere’s leading dictatorship.    Republican lawmakers who will take control of the Senate as well as the 
House next month made clear they would resist lifting the 54-year-old trade embargo.

This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and son of Cuban immigrants.   “All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.”

For good or ill, the move represented a dramatic turning point in relations with an island that for generations has captivated and vexed its giant northern neighbor.   From the 18th century, when successive presidents coveted it, Cuba loomed large in the American imagination long before Fidel Castro stormed from the mountains and seized power in 1959.

Mr. Castro’s alliance with the Soviet Union made Cuba a geopolitical flash point in a global struggle of ideology and power.    President Dwight D. Eisenhower imposed the first trade embargo in 1960 and broke off diplomatic relations in January 1961, just weeks before leaving office and seven months before Mr. Obama was born.   Under 
President John F. Kennedy, the failed Bay of Pigs operation aimed at toppling Mr. Castro in April 1961 and the 13-day showdown over Soviet missiles installed in Cuba the following year cemented its status as a ground zero in the Cold War.

But the relationship remained frozen in time long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a thorn in the side of multiple presidents who waited for Mr. Castro’s demise and experienced false hope when he passed power to his brother, Raúl.   Even as the United States built relations with Communist nations like China and Vietnam, Cuba remained one of just a few nations, along with Iran and North Korea, that had no formal ties with Washington.

Mr. Obama has long expressed hope of transforming relations with Cuba and relaxed some travel restrictions in 2011.   But further moves remained untenable as long as Cuba held Alan P. Gross, an American government contractor arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for trying to deliver satellite telephone equipment capable of cloaking connections to the Internet.

After winning re-election, Mr. Obama resolved to make Cuba a priority for his second term and authorized secret negotiations led by two aides, Benjamin J. Rhodes and Ricardo Zúñiga, who conducted nine meetings with Cuban counterparts starting in June 2013, most of them in Canada, which has ties with Havana.

Pope Francis encouraged the talks with letters to Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro and had the Vatican host a meeting in October to finalize the terms of the deal. Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Castro by telephone on Tuesday to seal the agreement in a call that lasted more than 45 minutes, the first direct substantive contact between the leaders of the 
two countries in more than 50 years.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Gross walked out of a Cuban prison and boarded an American military plane that flew him to Washington, accompanied by his wife, Judy.   While eating a corned beef sandwich on rye bread with mustard during the flight, Mr. Gross received a call from Mr. Obama. “He’s back where he belongs, in America with his 
family, home for Hanukkah,” Mr. Obama said later.

For its part, the United States sent back three imprisoned Cuban spies who were caught in 1998 and had become a cause célèbre for the Havana government.    They were swapped for Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban who had worked as an agent for American intelligence and had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years, according to a senior American official.    Mr. Gross was not technically part of the swap, officials said, but was released separately on “humanitarian grounds,” a distinction critics found unpersuasive.

The United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking, while Cuba will allow more Internet access and release 53 Cubans identified as political prisoners by the United States.    Although the embargo will remain in place, the president called for an “honest and serious debate about lifting” it, which would require an act of Congress.

Mr. Castro spoke simultaneously on Cuban television, taking to the airwaves with no introduction and announcing that he had spoken by telephone with Mr. Obama on Tuesday.

We have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations,” he declared, emphasizing the release of the three Cubans. 

President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.”

Only afterward did Mr. Castro mention the reopening of diplomatic relations.   “This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been resolved,” he said.    “The economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease.”    But, he added, “the progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems.”

Mr. Obama is gambling that restoring ties with Cuba may no longer be politically unthinkable with the generational shift among Cuban-Americans, where many younger children of exiles are open to change.    Nearly six in 10 Americans support re-establishing relations with Cuba, according to a New York Times poll conducted in October. Mr. Obama’s move had the support of the Catholic Church, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Human Rights Watch and major agricultural interests.

Five and a half decades of history show us that such belligerence inhibits better judgment,” he said. “Two wrongs never make a right. This is a game-changer, which I fully support.”

But leading Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner and the incoming Senate majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, did not.    In addition to Mr. Rubio, two other Republican potential candidates for president joined in the criticism.    Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called it a “very, very bad deal,” while former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said it “undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba.”

A leading Democrat agreed.   “It is a fallacy that Cuba will reform just because the American president believes that if he extends his hand in peace, that the Castro brothers suddenly will unclench their fists,” said Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the outgoing chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a Cuban-American.

While the United States has no embassy in Havana, there is a bare-bones facility called an interests section that can be upgraded, currently led by a diplomat, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who will become the chargé d’affaires pending the nomination and confirmation of an ambassador.

Mr. Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to begin the process of removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, and the president announced that he would attend a regional Summit of the Americas next spring that Mr. Castro is also to attend. Mr. Obama will send an assistant secretary of state to Havana next 
month to talk about migration, and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker may lead a commercial mission.

Mr. Obama’s decision will ease travel restrictions for family visits, public performances, and professional, educational and religious activities, among other things, but ordinary tourism will still be banned under the law.    Mr. Obama will also allow greater banking ties, making it possible to use credit and debit cards in Cuba, and American 
travelers will be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol products.

These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,”  Mr. Obama said.  “It’s time for a new approach.”

He added that he shared the commitment to freedom for Cuba.    “The question is how we uphold that commitment,” he said.    “I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing 
for over five decades and expect a different result.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday that starting to trade with Cuba "is probably a good idea" and that the lengthy economic embargo against the communist island "just hasn't worked."

The debate over President Barack Obama’s announced changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba will face a tough test at the Senate Appropriations Committee next year.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is expected to become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations, said Tuesday he would mount an effort to prevent the use of funds for a U.S. embassy to open in Havana.

I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba. Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time,” the South Carolina Republican said Wednesday 

A fact sheet released Wednesday by the White House said the embassy in Cuba would be among the administration’s priorities.

In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process.   As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks 
in January 2015, in Havana,”  the White House said.

Of course, U.S. ambassadors are also subject to the Senate confirmation process, meaning that even if the State Department worked around Graham on funding the embassy, there could be a fierce confirmation battle on the floor of the Senate.

This Jerk, Ted Cruz, Opposes any and all things President Obama tries to do.   He is pro publicity for himself.

Graham’s Democratic counterpart at the subcommittee that funds the State Department, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, has long advocated a more open relationship with Cuba, as well as the release of humanitarian worker Alan Gross, who had been held in Cuba for about five years.

We already have an interests section in Cuba, so that horse is out of the barn there,” Leahy said, adding that Americans traveling to Cuba would be looking for an embassy in the event they need help.

I don’t think American businesses, certainly those businesses we’ve talked with, wouldn’t like it,” Leahy said. “It is beneath the United States of America.”

Six decades after the start of the U.S. embargo, Cuba remains a country where dissent is severely punished. Many brave Cubans have been imprisoned for political reasons.   We all want to see a free Cuba whose citizens can choose their leaders, have unimpeded access to information, and criticize their government without fear,” Leahy said in a statement earlier in the day.    “But like President Obama and a majority of Americans, I have long recognized that unilateral sanctions have failed completely, and that democratic change will more likely come through a policy of normal diplomatic relations and open engagement with the Cuban people.”

Leahy traveled to Cuba Wednesday morning along with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., as part of the delegation bringing Gross home.

Here's the question.    How long do you continue doing something that is not working?     After 54 years of failure Why Not Try Something New?    There is very little leadership in politics, just people who take money and direction from their owners. 

 Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is hitting back against Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Cuba in a preview of a possible debate between two presidential hopefuls. 

In a series of tweets at Rubio on Friday afternoon, Paul called the Florida senator an "isolationist" for opposing the opening to Cuba announced by President Obama on Wednesday, turning a label often used against himself around. 

On Thursday night, Rubio had said that Paul "has no idea what he's talking about" when it comes to Cuba.    Paul, who is less hawkish on foreign policy than the traditonal Republican view, has backed Obama's move to establish an embassy in Cuba as well as ease travel and economic restrictions. 

Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, has strongly opposed Obama's move.    Both Paul and Rubio appear to think the issue is a winner for them, and are making their messages known.    Paul also wrote a Facebook post. 

Other possible Republican candidates, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have also opposed Obama's Cuba move, highlighting Paul's contrasting position.    Many GOP observers been critical of Paul's support for the Cuba move, fueling their skepticism of his foreign policy. 

Paul linked to a Florida International University poll this summer that found a majority of Cuban-Americans support opening up relations with Cuba.

For his part, Rubio argued on Thursday night, in appearance on Fox News's "The Kelly File," that there are "holes" in the embargo that allow money, goods and visitors to flow in, and he pointed to the Cuban government as the problem. 

"Look, Venezuela's economy looks like Cuba's economy now," Rubio said.   "You can't even buy toilet paper in Caracas.    And there's no embargo on Venezuela.    What Venezuela has in common with Cuba, is they both have adopted radical socialist governmental policies."

"And I would expect that people would understand that if they just took a moment to analyze that, they would realize that the embargo is not what's hurting the Cuban people," Rubio added. "It's the lack of freedom and the lack of competent leaders."

Jeb Bush just threw his hat in the ring for 2016.    He has worked for years for a bank that in 2012 was fined 300 million dollars for doing business with Cuba.    The Bank Barclays, paid Jeb Bush over a million dollars a year and he worked for them when they got fined for breaking the sanctions and he still works for them today.    This morning Jeb Bush announced that he will step down from his post at that bank two weeks from now.    Bush attacked Obama for seeking to normalize relations with Cuba.    Jeb Bush is a two bit phoney pandering to the older Cuban Americans who inhabit Miami.    

Republicans Up To Their Old Tricks

Republicans Never Learn, they want to fight a war over a woman's reproductive rights and they want to use the womb as the battleground.

A bill proposed by a Republican state lawmaker in Missouri would require a woman seeking an abortion to obtain notarized consent from the baby's father, even if he is physically abusive toward her.

Is Missouri the nations most backward and ignorant state?    Does Missouri beat Mississippi and Alabama and Texas out for that honor?    The solid republican south seem to live in another zone, another time period.

The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Rick Brattin, told Mother Jones that while the bill has exceptions for rape victims and to protect the life of the mother, women in domestic violence situations are not exempt from having to ask the father's permission. "What does that have to do with the child's life?" Brattin said. "Just because it was an abusive relationship, does that mean the child should die?"

In explaining the bill to Mother Jones, Brattin channeled Todd Akin, the former Republican congressman from Missouri who, during a failed 2012 Senate bid, said that women who are victims of "legitimate rape" have mechanisms in their bodies that prevent them from getting pregnant. Brattin said his bill would require a woman to be able to prove that a "legitimate rape" happened in order to avoid having to ask for a man's consent for the abortion.

The Supreme Court decided years ago (Casey v. Planned Parenthood, 1992) that a woman did not need to notify a spouse to get an abortion.    Why do the rubes in the Missouri GOP keep proposing these perverted laws affecting a womans right to reproductive healthcare?    Do Missouri voters who elect these clowns spend all their time minding someone elses business?    It must be hell to be pregnant in Missouri and have a bunch of busybodies trying to make decisions for you.

"Just like any rape, you have to report it, and you have to prove it," said Brattin. "o you couldn't just go and say, 'Oh yeah, I was raped,' and get an abortion. It has to be a legitimate rape."

The quicker Mr Brattin returns to doing whatever it is that he is qualified to do, the better.    This man has no business making laws that affect human beings but it really is not his fault.   He was elected and this misjudgement falls on the voters.

Brattin introduced the bill on December 3 for the next legislative session, but it has not moved yet in the Missouri House.   He said he was inspired to change the laws around abortion consent because he was required to obtain his wife's consent before having a vasectomy.

There are no laws in the United States, however, requiring men to seek permission from women before having a vasectomy.    Mother Jones notes that some individual medical providers in Missouri have a policy requiring the partner's consent. Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization, told The Huffington Post there are legal reasons some providers might require spousal consent.

"It could be that the physician is afraid of being sued," she said.

If Brattin's bill gains traction in the state legislature and becomes law, it will likely be blocked by the courts.    The Supreme Court decided in Casey v. Planned Parenthood in 1992 that requiring a woman to notify her spouse before having an abortion is unconstitutional.

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