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Texas: Requiring Mandatory Burial of Aborted Fetuses

In the "you can't make this stuff up" department: By agency fiat (not even legislation)Texas plans on enacting requirements for mandatory cremation or burial of aborted fetuses.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state health officials to propose the changes, his office said Thursday, which were quietly put out for public comment this month.

...Texas, however, isn't waiting for lawmakers to pass a bill regarding fetal remains....State agencies in Texas are allowed to adopt some rules on its own without legislative approval.

..."Governor Abbott believes human and fetal remains should not be treated like medical waste, and the proposed rule changes affirms the value and dignity of all life," [Abbott spokeswoman] Matthews said.

How about Texas just secedes from the nation and takes its contradictory death penalty and right to life policies with it?

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Democrats Embarrass Themselves

This sit-in over gun control is the most childish, embarrassing display by Congress I've seen yet. Some news article said Bernie Sanders showed up but I don't know if its true because I refused to read it due to auto-play video. I turned on the TV and watched for 5 minutes. It was cringe-worthy. The Republicans were no better, but this is all so ridiculous and undignified. They should all go back to kindergarten.

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Senate Rejects Gun Control Measures

The Senate today failed to pass amendments to appropriation bills funding background checks on guns and sharing state mental health records with the feds.

Senators voted 53-47 on a proposal from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that would reauthorize funding for the National Criminal Instant Background Check System (NICS) and incentivize states to share mental health records with the federal system.

Then there was Sen. Diane Feinstein's amendment, also properly voted down:

Feinstein’s amendment would allow the attorney general to block the sale of a gun or explosive if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” an individual has or will be involved in a terrorist attack. It would allow the attorney general to block the sale of a gun to anyone under a terror investigation in the past five years.

There were four measures all together. The Senate failed to pass all of them. These kinds of laws will do nothing to reduce gun violence or stop terrorists. They will infringe on the privacy and liberty rights of the rest of us. Guns do not cause the rage. They are the means by which people express them. These laws are band-aids that fail to treat the infection.

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House Committee Passes Bill Requiring Women to Register for Draft

A House Committee has passed a bill requiring women to register for the draft upon turning 18.

Women would be required to register for the military draft under a House committee bill that comes just months after the Defense Department lifted all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units. A divided Armed Services Committee backed the provision in a sweeping defense policy bill that the full House will consider next month...

Total defense spending package in the overall bill: $602 billion.

War is not the answer. Either is the draft (which we haven't had since 1973.)

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Senate Dems Block Sanctuary Cities Bill

Senate Democrats blocked the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act yesterday by a vote of 54 to 45. Republicans needed 60 votes to keep the bill, introduced by Vitter of Louisiana, moving forward.

The bill would have stopped some law enforcement funding and community development grants to states and cities that don’t hold immigrants for federal immigration officials.

The bill would have also mandated a five- to 10-year minimum prison sentence for a person convicted of a felony or drug-related misdemeanors who reenters the United States illegally.

[More...]

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Rand Paul Ends 10 Hour "Filibuster"

Rand Paul has ended his 10 hour "filibuster" over the renewal of the Patriot Act.

Among his main points:

  • "We're using the Patriot Act to put [drug offenders] in prison."
  • "The presumption of innocence is an incredibly important doctrine that we shouldn't so casually dismiss."
  • Warrants need to be "individualized," because collective law enforcement is the root of much evil.
  • Internet/telephone/data companies should put up "unified resistance" to federal compulsion to turn over user data.
  • Forfeiture: "The government is "using records to gain entrance to people, and then tak[ing] their stuff without conviction."

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Spending Bill Denies Funding for Federal Medical Marijuana Raids in Approved States

Thanks to the passing of a little known amendmment inserted via amendment into the omnibus spending bill by by sponsors Rep. Dana Rorsbacher and Samm Farr, the DEA will be unable to conduct medical marijuana raids in states that allow medical pot. That's 32 states plus the District of Columbia.

Here's the actual text: [More...]

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Obama Signs $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

It's a done deal. President Obama has signed the $1.1 trillion spending bill.

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Senate Passes $600 Billion Defense Authorization Bill

Give it away, Give it away now. [Red Hot Chile Peppers]

While most of the Congressional news today is about the $1 trillion spending bill and the potential government shutdown (which won't happen), I'm more concerned about the $600 billion Defense Authorization bill that passed the Senate today and now goes to Obama to sign.

War-spending is a bottomless pit. The bill provides $521.3 billion for the military and $63.7 billion for overseas operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. [More....]

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House Passes DOJ Budget Amendment Restricting Funds Used to Fight Medical Marijuana

On Thursday night, the House of Representatives voted on the myriad of amendments to the proposed DOJ 2015 budget. Amendment No. 25, to prohibit the use of funds to prevent certain States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. passed, by a vote of 219 to 189. The roll call vote (no. 258) is here.

The Amendment was co-sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Reps. Rohrabacher, Don Young (R-Alaska), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Steve Stockman (R-Texas), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)

Rep. Steve Cohen said:

“Marijuana does not make people commit crime. It makes them overeat.”

Also passing: An amendment to prohibit the use of funds to prevent a State from implementing its own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of industrial hemp. Vote was 237 - 170 (Roll no. 257)

Critical to the amendment's passage:

“This year’s huge vote increase can largely be attributed to the fact that lawmakers only recently began hearing the moving stories of the many children whose severe seizures are only relieved by marijuana,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, in a statement. “Being able to list these CBD states in the amendment text meant that more members of Congress that represent these states voted yes than otherwise would have.

Counting these states, 60 percent of the U.S. population lives in a place where state law disagrees with federal law.” [More...]

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Boehner Caves, Clean Debt Ceiling Bill Passed

The House of Representatives has voted 221 to 201 to pass a Clean Debt Ceiling bill. The bill extends federal borrowing authority for one year with no strings attached and avoids a Government shutdown at the end of February.

Without an increase in the statutory debt limit, the U.S. government would soon default on some of its obligations and have to shut down some programs, a historic move that would likely cause market turmoil.

The Republicans are in disarray.

The episode showed that Boehner still has difficulty exerting control over his fractious caucus, in which conservatives backed by the Tea Party movement hold considerable sway.

WAPO has more on Boehner's bad day.

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Amended Weakened Version of Sentencing Reform Bill Passes Judiciary Comm.

The media is full of praise for the Senate Judiciary Committee which yesterday passed a sentencing reform bill addressing mandatory minimum sentencing laws on drug offenses.

Not so fast. Here is S.1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013, as originally introduced by Senators Durbin, Leahy, and Whitehouse.

The version that passed the Judiciary Committee is a watered down, amended version of Durbin's bill. Durbin introduced a "Manager's Amendment" weakening the safety valve reform provision. Then the Committee approved amendments by Republican Charles Grassley that turned the bill into an enhanced crime bill, upping sentences and introducing more mandatory minimums for some non-drug crimes.

On mandatory minimums, the bill is an improvement, but far less than what is needed and certainly not historic. It reduces the mandatory minimum terms for drug offenses from 20, 10 and 5 years to 10, 5 and 2 years, respectively, and allows the 2010 crack cocaine sentencing reductions to apply retroactively to some classes of inmates, in the discretion of the judge. [More...]

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GOP: How To Stop Worrying and Love Government Default

It's that time of year again, what to do in the face of Republican threats to push the country into default! Oh, and this time, Republicans have a primer on How To Stop Worrying And Love Default:

Q: [T]he Treasury Department came out with [a report] that said that if the US does not raise the debt ceiling in time that there would be a catastrophic effect on the economy[.]

[Sen. RON JOHNSON (Tea Party Republican Wiscosin]: I think thatís Ė I think thatís highly irresponsible for the Treasury Department to be issuing those kinds of, I mean scare-mongering reports. The Treasury Department, I think the Secretary of the Treasury, I think the President of the United States ought to be trying to calm the markets, rather than scare them. The President really ought to be leading here. [. . .] There is absolutely no reason at all for this type of government to default even if we donít increase the debt ceiling. So I think itís highly irresponsible of this Administration to be doing the type of scare-mongering theyíre doing on this issue.

Wall Street is sanguine and thinks the absurdities of Ron Johnson and Ted Yoho do not matter, but I think they may be wrong, and I worry that President Obama is not setting the stage for the actions he may have to take in response.

The issues are practical, default would be catastrophic for the nation, and constitutional, the 14th Amendment prohibits federal government default. But the President's men have taken the unusual (and imo, wrong) position that his hands are tied. I'l explain why they are wrong on the flip.

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Amash Amendment on NSA Surveillance Fails

The House rejected the Amash Amendment to block funding for NSA's mass warrantless surveillance program.

The measure was narrowly defeated, 205-217, after last-minute lobbying by the Obama administration and House members on the intelligence panel, who said the program was crucial to national security.

The measure, from Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.), would have blocked funding for the National Security Agency to collect phone records unless they pertained to a particular person under investigation. The program came to public attention due to disclosures by Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee who recently released details of two classified programs.

Republicans with libertarian leanings joined with liberal Democrats in voting for the Amendment, but it wasn't enough. I, for one, sincerely appreciate their efforts.

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Senate to Vote on Immigration Reform Bill

The Senate is expected to pass the immigration reform bill today. There will be a vote at 4:00 p.m.

In addition to providing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, the bipartisan bill would double to 40,000 the number of federal agents on the U.S.-Mexican border and help provide American businesses with needed low- and high-skilled workers.

(Added: the use of the word "illegal" to describe immigrants is not allowed here, it was a quote in a Reuters news article. (another version here.) I just noticed it and struck the word. Newer Reuters articles aren't using the word.

The bill will then move to the House. Republicans in the House want their own bill. They oppose the path to citizenship in the Senate version.

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