Rep. Barbara Lee is among lawmakers moving to ensure America doesn’t get sucked back into war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but all of her proposals were rejected Thursday and Friday.
Lee, D-Oakland, on Thursday introduced four amendments to the 2015 Pentagon budget bill. One would specify that no money in the bill can be used for deploying troops on the ground in Iraq; this failed on a 165-250 vote late Thursday.
Another prohibits funding for use of force under the 2002 authorization that Congress gave for military action in Iraq; this failed on a 182-231 vote late Thursday.
The third prohibits funding for combat operations in Afghanistan after December, the time at which President Obama said the U.S. combat mission there would end. This failed Friday on a 153-260 vote.
And the fourth prohibits funding under the use of force Congress approved in September 2001; this failed on a 157-260 vote late Thursday. Lee famously was the sole vote against the 2001 authorization for use of military force.
“We must not let history repeat itself in Iraq,” Lee had said on the House floor Thursday. “Because the reality is there is no military solution in Iraq.
Rep. Barbara Lee is proud to report the passage of her amendment to block funding for Army regulations which ban many natural hairstyles worn by women of color.
Updated guidelines released in March included twists, large cornrows and dreadlocks on its list of unauthorized hairstyles. Lee’s amendment, which prohibits any money being spent to implement these guidelines, was approved by the Appropriations Committee on a voice vote Tuesday and so will be included in the Fiscal Year 2015 Defense Appropriations Bill when it goes to the floor for a vote.
“I am pleased that my amendment to stop the implementation of the Army’s new discriminatory regulations passed the appropriations committee,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “The army’s use of words like ‘unkempt’ and ‘matted’ to describe the hairstyles of African American women are offensive stereotypes.”
Lee said that as the daughter of a veteran, she recognizes the need for uniformity in the military. “But targeting women of color with no consideration of the unique challenges they face in maintaining their natural hair is prejudiced and wrong.
“While I am pleased that the Department of Defense is reviewing the regulation, we must halt implementation until we have a more comprehensive understanding of the impact to service members of color,” she said. “With African Americans representing one-third of the women in the armed forces, the U.S. Army must ensure that any proposed guidelines and policies are fair, balanced and culturally appropriate.”
When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
— From “A Brave and Startling Truth” by Maya Angelou, written for and first read at the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in 1995
Politicos near and far commemorated the death of poet and author Maya Angelou on Wednesday.
From President Barack Obama:
“When her friend Nelson Mandela passed away last year, Maya Angelou wrote that ‘No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn.’
“Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer. But above all, she was a storyteller – and her greatest stories were true. A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves. In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya.
“Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, ‘flung up to heaven’ – and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.
Obama said he will cut the current U.S. force of 32,000 troops to about 9,800 as the U.S. combat mission formally ends later this year; the remainder will stay there to focus on training Afghan security forces and on counterterrorism efforts. The 9,800 will be halved and consolidated in Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, over 2015, and fewer than 1,000 will remain after 2016 to staff a security office in Kabul.
“Today, President Obama announced a path forward to fulfill his core promise: to enhance the security of the American people, to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly, and to bring us closer to the day when all of our troops can come safely home.
“The course of action unveiled today moves our nation step-by-step to a conclusion of the long conflict in Afghanistan. This strategy will ensure our military maintains a strong enough presence to continue supporting counter-terrorism operations, train Afghan security forces, and build on the efforts to return responsibility for the safety of the Afghan people to Afghanistan’s leaders themselves.
“The longest war in American history is now coming to an end. We have reached this moment thanks to the bravery of our troops and the sacrifices they and their families have made over more than a decade of conflict. As these men and women prepare to return home, we express our unending gratitude for their service and rededicate ourselves to never lose focus on our common mission: to protect the security of all Americans, preserve freedom for all families, and promote peace worldwide.”
“I respectfully disagree with plans announced today to leave nearly 10,000 troops and an unknown number of contractors in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and to extend U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan until 2016.
“After thirteen years at war, it’s obvious that there is no military solution in Afghanistan and it is far past time to end the war and bring all of our troops home now.
“At the very least, Congress should debate and vote on this agreement that will keep our troops in Afghanistan for years to come and will cost billions more in spending. Enough is enough.”
The USA Freedom Act, HR 3361, was amended after it arrived on the House floor, and some former supporters believed it had been watered down too much; for example, a requirement for an independent public advocate on the secret intelligence court that oversees the NSA was dropped from the bill.
“Our government has a responsibility to protect people’s civil liberties and our national security, and this legislation does both. It ends the government’s bulk collection of metadata, it strengthens oversight and improves accountability of our intelligence community, and it allows our intelligence community to continue their brave work to keep Americans safe.”
“Across the country, many people were surprised to learn that the privacy rights they believed were protected under the 4th Amendment did not apply to NSA surveillance of their communications.
“I originally cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act when it was introduced last yearbecause it was a small step toward reform and transparency. Unfortunately the bill was changed in key ways after committee action and will no longer provide the protections I sought.
“I voted against it today because it falls short of the Fourth Amendment protections Americans deserve.
“There is strong bipartisan concern that this bill makes it legal for the NSA to continue mass surveillance of U.S. citizens. Many civil liberties groups and leading tech companies share these concerns and felt compelled to withdraw their support.
“Without much needed improvements to the USA FREEDOM Act, Congress risks a continuation of mass surveillance in this extension of the Patriot Act.”
Lee, D-Oakland, spoke in support of the consensus resolution “Interaction between the United Nations, national parliaments and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.” The Inter-Parliamentary Union is an international organization created in 1889, long before the U.N., as a venue for world-wide dialogue, efforts toward for peace and cooperation, and establishment of representative democracy. Here’s what she said.
“Good morning and thank you, Mr. President. I am honored to be addressing the Assembly on behalf of the United States delegation as the United States Congressional Delegate to the 68th UN General Assembly. My colleagues and I recognize the close ties that are shared between the United Nations, national parliaments, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
“Let me also thank the distinguished representative from Morocco for presenting the draft resolution ‘Interaction between the United Nations, national parliaments and the Inter-Parliamentary Union’ (A/68/L.44) and the draft resolution’s co-sponsors.
“The United States Congress was a founding member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and played an active and prominent role for many decades. That is why I am especially honored and pleased that the United States supports and joins consensus on today’s adoption of the resolution.
“The resolution builds on previously adopted resolutions and has the important aim to promote a stronger role for parliaments in the debates and activities held at the United Nations and in the implementation of international commitments at the national level.
“Mr. President, the core mission of the Inter-Parliamentary Union is the promotion of parliamentary democracy, the elaboration of standards and criteria for democratic parliamentary practice, the protection of human rights, the political empowerment of women, and greater transparency and accountability at the global level, which are in line with United States interests and priorities.
“As a Member of Congress myself, I have participated in several delegations and meetings of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Most recently, I had the pleasure of hosting a meeting of parliamentarians at the United States Congress during the International AIDS Conference in July of 2012.
“Working with the Inter-Parliamentary Union over my congressional career, I have witnessed firsthand the important work in mobilizing parliamentary action towards universal access to HIV treatment care and treatment.
“Mr. President, I want to also note the important work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in working towards meeting the 2015 Millennium Development Goals and its contributions toward the post-2015 development agenda. Governance is a key goal for the next generation of development goals and the United States welcomes the presence of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in our shared quest to have strong governance goals.
“The Inter-Parliamentary Union also helps to strengthen parliaments and increase parliamentary capacity around the world to ensure effective, accountable governments, and the United States welcomes the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in this regard. The US also welcomes the initiative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to convene the 4th World Conference of Speakers here at the United Nations in 2015 as a contribution to the post- 2015 process.
“Finally, Mr. President, as the global community is ever so challenged contending with several complex challenges simultaneously, it is more important than ever for the Inter-Parliamentary Union and national parliaments at large to be involved in the work of the United Nations to promote peace and diplomacy, uphold international law, protect the human rights of all, support empowerment of women, and turn the tide of global climate change.
“My colleagues and I look forward to supporting and enhancing IPU’s activities at the United Nations. Thank you, Mr. President.”
Angry words flew hot and heavy today as the House voted 219-205 to pass a Republican-drafted budget that promises balance within a decade by making sweeping cuts throughout government and eliminating health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The nonbinding framework isn’t likely to be followed up by specific spending legislation, as it’s DOA in the Democrat-controlled Senate. But that didn’t stop critics from emptying their rhetorical cannons today.
“For the fourth consecutive year, House Democrats have stood united against Republicans’ broken budget priorities. But House Republicans have now fully embraced the destructive values of the Ryan Republican Budget – a road to economic ruin and an irresponsible assault on seniors, students, women, families and our future.
“Today, Republicans voted to raise taxes on middle class families with children, while giving $200,000-plus tax breaks to millionaires. They voted to destroy three million jobs over two years, while protecting tax breaks for corporations shipping jobs overseas. They voted to end the Medicare guarantee for our seniors, ransack the education of our children, and surrender our global economic competitiveness. With this budget, Republicans have voted to hollow out the middle class and dismantle the American Dream.
“Democrats have a better plan: create jobs, strengthen the middle class, invest in the future, reduce the deficit, and build an economy that works for everyone. We should be renewing emergency unemployment insurance, raising the minimum wage, and passing comprehensive immigration reform that will grow our economy, empower small business, spur innovation, and reduce the deficit by nearly $900 billion. Republicans’ backwards priorities are the wrong path for our nation, and unworthy of the American people.”
“My focus is on finding long-term solutions to reduce the unbearable burden of debt we have placed on future generations. Right now we are more than $17 trillion in debt, meaning each man, woman and child is responsible for over $55,000 each. The out-of-control spending must be stopped and replaced with responsible choices that give real solutions and certainty to families in the Central Valley.
“I will also keep up the fight to protect our seniors, who have seen their Medicare plans cut by more than $300 billion under the Affordable Care Act. Because of the cuts, I introduced the Seniors’ Right to Know Act, which informs the more than 14 million seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage nationwide about how the Affordable Care Act is affecting the healthcare plans they rely on every day. We cannot allow the healthcare law to stand in the way of us keeping our promise to our seniors.”
Activists organized in part by the California Nurses Association rallied Friday at congressional offices in 22 cities – including four in Northern California – to call for a tax on Wall Street speculation to relieve economic inequality and address basic needs.
The Oakland-based union scheduled the events for Friday because it’s the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who at the time of his death was amid a campaign for economic justice that included anti-poverty and worker-rights issues.
The bill would levy a tax of 50 cents on every $100 of stock trades and smaller amounts on transactions of bonds and derivatives. Its goal to reduce harmful financial market speculation; discourage high-volume, high-speed trading; and slow down proliferation of complex derivatives while raising hundreds of billions of dollars per year for jobs, health care, education, the fights against HIV/AIDS and climate change, and more.
Several dozen countries have similar taxes, and the United States had one until 1966. Business leaders including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Pollin, and Larry Summers have recommended adopting a financial transaction tax, and after Wall Street’s crash 1987, such a tax was endorsed by President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. And former Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, carried a similar bill in 2010.
There’s no chance the Republican-led House will ever advance this bill.
Still, Northern California activists rallied Friday at the offices of congressmen George Miller in Concord, Mike Honda in San Jose, Ami Bera in Rancho Cordova and Jeff Denham in Modesto – three Democrats and a Republican, respectively.
“My patients are trying to heal from an illness or surgery and when they go home they are forced to make a decision between buying medication or food,” California Nurses Association co-president Malinda Markowitz, an RN at San Jose’s Good Samaritan Hospital, said in a news release. “That’s why I want Rep. Mike Honda to support the people of this community by supporting the Robin Hood Tax.”
The nurses’ union notes King once said, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have nots. The question is whether America will do it.”
Rep. Barbara Lee says Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s language on poverty and race “is disgusting and divisive and should never be accepted in our national discourse.”
This all started March 12, when House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., spoke about his legislative proposals for reforming poverty programs during his appearance on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America. “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee said.
Lee, D-Oakland, issued a statement that same day saying Ryan’s comments were “a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”
Lee said that as a Budget Committee member herself, Ryan’s claims about racial dynamics of poverty “are not only statistically inaccurate, but deeply offensive.”
“Instead of demonizing ‘culture,’ and blaming black men for their poverty, Mr. Ryan should step up and produce some legitimate proposals on how to tackle poverty and racial discrimination in America,” she challenged. “His uninformed policy proposals continue to increase poverty, not solve it. My colleague is demonstrating a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the issues in urban and black communities.”
That brings us to Tuesday, when O’Reilly brought the exchange up during his interview with Ryan.
O’REILLY: So I understand you had a phone call with Ms. Lee. How did that go?
RYAN: Well, I have known Barbara for many years. Look, there was nothing racial whatsoever in what I said. And if you listen to the full context of all of my remarks, it’s pretty clear. So what I would like to do and I mentioned this is, let’s get beyond throwing baseless charges at people. Let’s not impugn people’s motives or characters and let’s have a real conversation about what we really need to do [[is]] to truly fight poverty in America. If the status quo was working so well, then we wouldn’t have to do that. It’s not.
O’REILLY: They don’t want a conversation. With all due respect to you because I think you are a good man. They don’t want a conversation. They don’t want to solve the problem. These race hustlers make a big living, and they get voted into office, by portraying their constituents as victims, and it’s all your fault and it’s my fault, it’s the rich people’s fault, it’s the Republicans’ fault. It’s everybody’s fault except what’s going on. And what’s going on, as you know, is the dissolution of the family, and you don’t have proper supervision of children, and they grow up with no skills, and they can’t read and speak, and they have tattoos on their neck, and they can’t compete in the marketplace. And that is what is going on. But if you say that you are a racist. So, no matter what you say congressman, you are going to be branded because the race hustlers don’t want to solve the problem.
BOOM! Lee is not amused.
“Unfortunately we’ve come to expect language like ‘welfare queens,’ ‘food stamp president,’ and now ‘race hustlers’ from the right wing and Mr. O’Reilly. It is disgusting and divisive and should never be accepted in our national discourse,” she said Wednesday.
“For us to achieve the American dream for all, we must engage in this conversation that has been sparked about race and poverty, even if it is difficult for some. Racial discrimination, poverty, and income inequality remain issues that must be debated and addressed, and these kinds of ‘code words’ only get in the way of solving the real problems,” Lee said.
Congress has a responsibility to “come together to present a budget and funding priorities that create opportunity for all,” she continued. “We must make critical investments in job creation, education, and job training. Among many issues, we must address extending unemployment insurance, raising the minimum wage, enacting criminal justice reform, and securing voting rights for communities of color, so that we can truly find solutions to these critical issues.”
Rep. Barbara Lee led several dozen community members and activists Tuesday on a march through a McDonald’s in East Oakland to protest the company’s alleged wage theft.
Three class-action lawsuits filed last week accuse the Illinois-based fast-food giant and three of its California franchisees of stealing employees’ money by forcing them to work off the clock, shaving hours off their time cards and not paying them overtime, among other things. Similar cases have been filed in New York and Michigan.
“This illegal wage theft must stop … Enough is enough,” said Lee, D-Oakland, speaking into a megaphone inside the McDonald’s at East 12th Street and 25th Avenue.
She had just led a chanting, sign-carrying crowd down 25th Avenue and into the restaurant, where employees and puzzled patrons looked on as she praised the activists.
“It takes a lot of courage to do this… You inspire me,” she said. “You deserve to live the American dream. You deserve fair wages.”
As soon as Lee finished speaking, Oakland Police officers demanded that the protesters step outside; the rally continued in the parking lot. “Fill my wages, not my fries – make our wages super-size,” they chanted, along with the labor slogan, “Si se puede.” Several carried signs that said “I’m Hatin’ It,” a play on a famed McDonald’s catchphrase.
“We’re all fed up, we’re tired of this,” said Ilda Amador, 25, of Oakland, who said she has faced similar problems while working at Jack in the Box. Rhonesha Victor, 24, of Oakland, said the same of her job at KFC, noting fast-food workers make meager wages to start with and can’t afford to let their employers take advantage of them. “These companies, they have to pay.”
Matthew Murray, a San Francisco attorney representing workers in one of the California cases, called Lee’s participation “a reflection that these are important issues, that workers are stepping up to assert their rights is a big deal, and that multinational corporations like McDonald’s have to follow the law, too.”
Murray said attorneys’ ongoing investigation “suggests that this is a long-standing problem and a widespread problem,” and the company “exerts extensive control over its franchises, including over its franchises’ labor practices.”
McDonalds employs about 1.8 million people in more than 34,000 restaurants worldwide, including more than 14,000 in the United States. More than 80 percent of McDonald’s restaurants are franchised.
“McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants,” spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said in a statement issued in response to the lawsuits. “We are currently reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits. McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators are each committed to undertaking a comprehensive investigation of the allegations and will take any necessary actions as they apply to our respective organizations. McDonald’s restaurants remain open today—and every day—thanks to the teams of dedicated employees serving our customers.”