Nel's New Day

September 30, 2011

Bachmann Erases Part of the Alphabet

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:08 PM

A bit of humor from Andy Borowitz’s August 3, 2011 report:

Bachmann Proposes Slashing Half of Alphabet

‘Vowels Are Not Free,’ Says Tea Party Favorite

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – Fresh from the Tea Party’s triumph in the recent debt ceiling fight, Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) set the stage for another budget-cutting battle, proposing that the Federal government slash half the alphabet over the next four years. “The days of living large with a 26-letter alphabet are over,” Rep. Bachmann said.  “As anyone who watches ‘Wheel of Fortune’ knows, vowels are not free.”

If the Tea Party proposal becomes law, the United States will have to make do with only thirteen letters by as early as 2015, Rep. Bachmann said.

The push to slash letters from the alphabet already has broad support among the Tea Party faithful, who find the overabundance of letters an annoyance when it comes to composing protest signs.

Rep. Bachmann said that there would be tremendous cost savings with a thirteen-letter alphabet, or “afbat,” as she called it.

“With fewer letters, we would have fewer books, fewer schools, and lower taxes,” she said.  “Although we will have no taxes at all once we eliminate the letter X.”

Critics of the plan argue that it goes too far, since cutting the letter X would eliminate not only taxes but also the entire state ofTexas.

But for his part, Texas Gov. Rick Perry seemed unfazed by that possibility: “I would be proud to be Governor of the great state of Teas.”

Elsewhere, at the White House Vice-President Joe Biden offered an apology for his remark about the Tea Party: “Did I say terrorists?  I meant axe-murderers.”

September 29, 2011

Scott Opposes People’s Rights in Florida

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 3:04 PM

Past CEO of a huge for-profit health-care company, Gov. Rick Scott (FL), thought that he had found a way to save the state a fortune that he could then give to large corporations. Under his leadership Florida became the first state to require welfare applicants to take drug tests and refuse welfare for a year to those who failed.  The new law was based on Scott’s belief that drug use was extremely high among people applying for welfare. The ACLU has already challenged the constitutionality of this law, the first in the nation, as a violation of protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Back in 2004, a federal appellate court struck down a similar law in Michigan.

The result during the first few weeks of testing must have come as a shock to Scott: only 2.5 percent of those applying for welfare and forced to take drug tests came up positive, far below the state  and national average of over 6 percent.  Conservatives have had a lot to say about the Democrats waging a “class war” when they want the wealthy to pay the same percentage of taxes as the middle class. This law clearly demonstrates a class war based on erroneous beliefs and stereotypes: people are on welfare because they make bad decisions, they are lazy, and they are likely to be drug addicts who want to use taxes to get high. Even people who have been on welfare carry the same beliefs: the bill was sponsored by State Rep. Jimmie Smith, who had signed up for a federally funded program that helps poor families buy food for children up to 5 years old.

Scott’s “study” of welfare applicants and drug use is not the first. Florida’s 2001 pilot drug test program had the same results–no significant difference in drug use among aid recipients. A 1996 report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found no significant difference in the rate of illegal-drug use by welfare applicants and other people. Another study found that 70% of illegal-drug users between the age of 18 and 49 are employed full time.

Florida watchers came up with other recommendations for saving state money. Columnist and best-selling author Carl Hiaasen offered to pay for drug testing for all 160 members of the state legislature in what he calls a “patriotic whiz-fest.” This could be a good idea. Several elected officials have admitted to using (or have been caught with) illegal drugs while they continue to support locking people up for offenses they committed, and most often got away with, themselves.

Using Scott’s premise that “being clean and sober should be mandatory for anyone collecting public money,” I have another suggestion. Everyone receiving tax subsidies (that’s public money) should have to take drug tests. If they fail them, tell them that their subsidies are suspended and they should come back in a year to try again. Just think if we required monthly drug tests to management staffs of Exxon, Wells Fargo, Citibank, BP, General Electric, AT&T, Motorola, etc. as well as farmers and all others getting money from federal taxes.

Scott’s idea for saving money is costing the state more money than saving. Under the rules of the program, the state must reimburse recipients who receive negative test results. Out of the first 40 tested, the state paid about $1,140 for the 38 negative tests, while saving less than $240 a month by denying benefits over the two positive tests.

Looking at Scott’s background shows that he knows a great deal about fraud. After founding the Columbia Hospital Corporation, which merged with Hospital Corporation of America, he became CEO of Columbia/HCA, the largest private for-profit health care company in the U.S. Scott was forced to resign in 1997 amid a scandal over the company’s business and Medicare billing practices; the company ultimately admitted to fourteen felonies which cost it over $2 billion, by far the largest fraud settlement in U.S. history.

Columbia/HCA admitted systematically overcharging the government by claiming marketing costs as reimbursable, by striking illegal deals with home care agencies, and by filing false data about use of hospital space. They also admitted fraudulently billing Medicare and other health programs by inflating the seriousness of diagnoses and to giving doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors referring patients to HCA. They filed false cost reports, fraudulently billing Medicare for home health care workers, and paid kickbacks in the sale of home health agencies and to doctors to refer patients. In addition, they gave doctors “loans” never intending to be repaid, free rent, free office furniture, and free drugs from hospital pharmacies.

Trying to save money through drug testing of welfare applicants isn’t the only way that Scott has tried to help the poor people of his state. With the country’s fourth-highest unemployment rate, its second-highest rate of people without insurance, and a $3.7 billion budget gap this year, he turned away scores of millions of dollars in grants available under the Affordable Care Act. His justification is that he opposes Obama’s health care plan, but his refusal of federal money goes much farther than the parts of the law that he opposes.

Scott refuses to pursue grants worth many more millions, grants aimed at moving long-term care patients into their homes, curbing child abuse through in-home counseling, and strengthening state regulation of health premiums. He shunned money to help sign up eligible recipients for Medicare, educate teenagers on preventing pregnancy, and plan for the health insurance exchanges that the law requires by 2014. He also failed to authorize an $8.3 million federal grant won by a county health department to expand community health centers. Although he tries to look virtuous in these refusals, there is little connection to the “unconstitutionality” of Florida’s court cases against the health care law from Florida.

After rejecting money to help abused children, seniors, people in poverty, etc., he did take $2.5 million from the Affordable Care Act—for abstinence-only education. A Florida statute requires schools to teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the “expected standard.” The programs are not required to teach explicit HIV prevention methods, even if students ask about safer-sex practices. In 2007, people younger than 25 accounted for 15 percent of new HIV cases in Florida. Florida ranked sixth among states for its teen pregnancy rates in 2009. Among 2008′s teen mothers, 57 percent reported they weren’t using birth control, and 45 percent thought they couldn’t become pregnant. Furthermore, Florida had the fourth largest population of people living with HIV in the nation, with a nearly twice the national HIV-incidence rate among 16-19 year-olds in 2006.

Florida’s education “reform” legislation eliminates teacher tenure and bases 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations on standardized test scores. The legislation also calls for merit pay for test-score gains and requires districts to develop tests in every subject that is taught, including art, band, choir, physical education, and on and on. Only one problem for the schools: the multi-billion-dollar mandate is unfunded for both merit pay and test development.

Last spring Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal money to help build high-speed rail structures inside his state, a project that would have provided lots of jobs sending taxes to the state. Florida’s unemployment rate is 10.7 percent, down from 11.1 percent six months ago. After Scott turned down the funds, the Northeast Corridor has been allocated about one-third of that money. He didn’t save the country any money–just made things worse for the people of Florida.

In 2012 unemployed people won’t get up to 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits as they have in the past. The new law depends on the state’s unemployment rate; Florida is the first state to tie the two together. The law slashes unemployment benefits to a maximum of 12 weeks if the unemployment rate is at 5% or below. The most Floridians could get is 23 weeks, if the unemployment rate is 10.5% or higher. As in all other Florida decisions, the cut is to protect companies that pay unemployment taxes. The new law will save $32.10 per employer which Rep. Doug Holder, the legislation’s sponsor, hopes will entice all business to Florida.

Scott also signed a law that makes Florida the first state in which it’s illegal for any physician to “ask questions concerning the ownership of a firearm.” The reason for the law was a pediatrician’s question to the mother of a young child about whether she kept guns in the house. The mother refused to answer because “whether I have a gun has nothing to do with the health of my child.”

Every day in America 65 children and teenagers are shot; eight of them die. One-third of American homes with children under 18 have at least one firearm in them; more than 40 percent of those households store their guns unlocked; and a quarter of those homes store them loaded. Pediatricians are trained and explicitly advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics to inquire about the presence of open containers of bleach, swimming pools, balloons, and toilet locks in the homes of their patients to educate parents about potentially lethal dangers around the home. But not in Florida, at least when it comes to guns.

Another way that Scott tried to trample on people’s rights in Florida was a kangaroo-court system for foreclosures. With a huge backlog of these—more than 46000 last year, he created a secretive temporary courts to privilege creditors and disadvantage poor homeowners. This is done by turning Florida from a judicial foreclosure state (where the foreclosure has to be approved by the courts) to a non-judicial foreclosure state (where the lender merely has to advertise the pending foreclosure and can then foreclose if the owner does not go to court to oppose the action). The plan failed because, in non-judicial states, the bank has the deed, while in judicial foreclosure states, the borrower is the owner of the house, but has granted the lender a lien against it. It couldnt be applied retroactively.

Another of Scott’s failures was when the legislature tried to push through bills that allowed police to act as immigration officials and verify the immigration status of people they take into custody. The bills also required employers to corroborate job applicants’ immigration status through the federal e-verify program. Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, businesses that own private prisons, will be very disappointed. As part of his budget, Scott had shifted some public prisons over to private companies that receive $90 daily for every prisoner. Every new immigrant prisoner would have been a potential source of corporate revenue.

Tea Partyers in Florida claim that they want limited government, but it’s the state where the legislature piles more and more restrictions onto the people, as evidenced by the new anti-abortion bill just introduced. As if there weren’t enough last year!

Florida is the place where conservatives cheered the hypothetical death of someone without health insurance and booed a gay soldier. It’s also the place where the co-chair of Rick Perry’s leadership team believes that gay marriage causes tornados. Pam Olsen, founder of the Tallahassee House of Prayer, thinks that its increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage among American Christians is causing destructive natural disasters across the country.

Reporting on the new “reformed” Republican party certainly gives credence to the old saying “truth is stranger than fiction.”

September 28, 2011

Which Candidate Will Survive

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 5:20 PM

If you think that the roller-coaster ride of the Dow Jones has been wild during the past few months, just watch the polling for the Republican presidential candidates. Nobody seems more fickle than the conservatives as they swerve from one candidate to another. (Makes you wonder what their marriages are like!) No matter how people denigrate polls, they are vital in fundraising, the sole goal of any candidate in the 21st century.

Only three candidates are getting any campaign money these days: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul. With Friday for a critical fundraising deadline, Romney says that he can raise $18 million. Perry donors think that he can get $10 million, but his advisers say it won’t be that much. Paul got $1.6 million on just one day, his birthday on August 20. (He’s 76, headed for 78 if he managed to be inaugurated as president.)

The other candidates are underwater with only two of them, Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman, able to bankroll themselves. Huntsman wrote himself a half-million dollar check to keep his campaign moving, and Cain has loaned himself hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep afloat. Michele Bachmann spent most of her money in Iowa, Newt Gingrich is deep in debt, and Rick Santorum’s team admitted that he is barely scraping by.

The Huffington Post reports that politically engaged Republican activists have decisively soured on Rick Perry and warmed to Mitt Romney over the last few weeks. Although the survey was not a scientific poll, reports like this are why advisors are downgrading Perry’s fundraising ability. He even had trouble getting 28 people to attend a $10,000 dinner at the Willard (known by its beginning of lobbying) in Washington, D.C. last night.

The Hill writes that Perry’s Republican opponents are ganging up on him—and it’s working. Romney hit Perry on illegal immigration, Bachmann attacked him on the HPV vaccine, Paul criticized him on taxes, and Huntsman attacked his jobs record. Combine this with Perry’s problems at the most recent debate in Orlando, and he’s shooting down on that roller coaster. Even worse than his ability to articulate an answer on international affairs is that he thinks helping some undocumented people could be a good thing.

“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought here by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said at the Orlando debate. The suggestion that not helping these people is a morally inferior position will seriously offend his conservative base. After the Perry/Romney duel, Cain came out with 37 percent of the Floridastraw poll, followed by Perry with 15 percent and Romney with 14 percent.

The polls have shifted radically in the past month after Perry’s entry. He rode in like the guy in the white hat only to lose half to two-thirds of his lead during a few short weeks. Bachmann went down and stayed there after her success at the Iowa vote. Known as “the Republican who believes in science” (a rare bird these days), Huntsman consistently stays at the bottom but is rising in New Hampshire, polling ahead of Perry in that state. Romney comes in on top, but he’s a neighbor and even owns a house in the Granite State.

Both Romney and Perry are upping the ante by sending their wives out on the campaign trail. Anita Perry was in Iowa yesterday, and Ann Romney will head for South Carolina tomorrow.

After the Ames (IA) event and three debates, conservatives are back to shopping, but the pool is like the aftermath of a going-out-of-business sale. Sarah Palin has never said that she won’t run, but even Republicans question her ability to successfully join in the fray. Steve Schmidt, senior campaign strategist and advisor to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said on The Rachel Maddow Show, “She`s known by 100 percent of Republican primary voters and you look at some of the new polling out today. Republicans overwhelmingly do not  want to see her in the race. If she gets in the race, her poll numbers are in the second or somewhere between the second and third tier of the candidates.” Granted, there was no love lost between Schmidt and Palin, but he’s pretty on target. “She`s not going to be the Republican nominee. If she runs,  she`s in a space somewhere between Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain right now.”

Meanwhile New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie played cute as he sidestepped directly answering whether he would run for president in 2012 at his speech in the Ronald Reagan Library, instead referring to a montage of statements where he vigorously denied any intention to run. David Koch declared Christie “my kind of guy” at the secret June meeting in Colorado. Perry was at the same meeting, but maybe he isn’t Koch’s “kind of guy” because he has a heart—something that Christie proudly refuses to display. (He has since apologized for having a heart.) We’ll wait for the roller coaster to briefly stop, watch who gets off and on, and then see who gets to slowly ratchet up the tracks. For some of us, it’s our amusement for the next year.

September 27, 2011

Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:04 PM

“Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same”: this is the theme for the 30th Banned Books week created by Judith Krug and the American Library Association (ALA). This is an annual  celebration of the freedom to read while pointing out the dangers of censorship by spotlighting books challenged and often actually banned from libraries.

Conservatives claim that there are no banned books in this country because books that are not allowed in libraries can be purchased elsewhere. Not everyone can afford to purchase books, however, so people who cannot obtain books there are, in effect, shut off from access.

Although most challenged books remain on the shelves, they may be relegated to “special areas,” especially in school libraries. Complaints include sexually explicit material, offensive language, or violence, but many times people object to books about homosexuality because these books are considered “anti-family.” With records of almost 5,000 challenges to books over the past decade, ALA estimates that there are at least four to five unreported challenges for each one that they have identified. A challenge is defined as “a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”

ALA President Molly Raphael wrote, “Far more often than we may realize, individuals and groups have sought to restrict access to library books they believed were objectionable on religious, moral, or political grounds, thereby restricting the rights of every reader in their community. For example, this summer the Republic (MO) school board voted to remove Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer from the school library as a result of a complaint that the book ‘teaches principles contrary to Biblical morality and truth.’ More than 150 students and their families have lost access to those books; while a local and national outcry caused the school board to return the books to the library, the books are now on a locked shelf and unavailable to students absent the consent of a parent or guardian.”

She continued, telling about a child who heard her librarian read And Tango Makes Three, an award-winning picture book by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson about two male Emperor Penguins who raise a chick together in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. The book is ranked as the number one most challenged book in the U.S., based on challenges that claim that the book is unsuitable for its target age group because of its religious viewpoint and homosexual themes. At the end of the reading, the young girl stood and cheered: it was the first time that a book mirrored her home life with two same-sex parents.

This story hit home with me this last week when a six-year-old girl visited us last weekend with her lesbian mother and another friend. My office has hundreds of picture books. She went into the room to look at them while the rest of us talked—probably about politics–and came out a while later with Tango, a book that had been buried in stacks and stacks. Amazed at her ability to find this book, I went back to talking with my friends while she went back into my office—and returned with Christian, the Hugging Lion, another picture book by Parnell and Richardson, this one about the two men who purchased a lion from London’s Harrod’s exotic pet department in 1969. After I commented about her ability to find these two books about same-sex couples amidst all the others, her mother said, “She loves animals.” I think that she recognized a family similar to hers.

Equally egregious in banning information is the practice of filtering Internet access based on individual morality or religious views. Overly restrictive filtering of educational websites reaching far beyond the requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) means that legitimate educational websites are blocked by filtering software installed by schools. Because kids  can’t find the resources that they need at school, they do their research at home. Unless they don’t have a computer which means that once again they are left out of the educational process because they don’t personally own the means to get an education.

To show the problems of this, ALA has designated tomorrow as Banned Websites Awareness Day. Our local high schools are having a “Don’t Filter Me” activity in which students to try to access selected web sites with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender-related content to find out if their schools’ filters are blocking access to these sites. The ACLU has discovered that many of the most commonly used web filtering software packages block information about positive, age-appropriate LGBT issues and organizations.  When public school districts block these LGBT categories, preventing students from accessing websites for positive LGBT rights organizations, they often still allow access to anti-LGBT sites that condemn and/or wish to change the gender identity of LGBT people. This discrimination violates students’ rights under the First Amendment.

Last February, the ACLU launched its “Don’t Filter Me” campaign to prevent censorship of positive LGBT web content in public schools nationwide. After persuading two Tennessee school districts to allow positive LGBT content through its filter, the ACLU, in conjunction with other organizations, is suing a Missouri school district that refuses to change its discriminatory filtering system.

“While we firmly support the right of every reader to choose or reject a book for themselves or their families, those objecting to a particular book should not be given the power to restrict other readers’ right to access and read that book,” said Barbara Jones, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.  “As members of a pluralistic and complex society, we must have free access to a diverse range of viewpoints on the human condition in order to foster critical thinking and understanding.  We must protect one of the most precious of our fundamental rights–the freedom to read.”

One ultimate goal of a democracy is for a person to learn to allow others to follow different paths. This goal has been a struggle in this nation since the Puritans tried to force everyone into their personal rigid mold. Banned Books Week with Banned Websites Awareness Day is one small step toward this goal. Think for yourself and let others do the same.

September 26, 2011

Troy Davis Executed in Georgia

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 5:14 PM

What do Jimmy Carter, the Pope, former FBI head William Sessions, and almost one million other people have in common? They all asked that there be a stay of execution—or even clemency—for a man convicted 20 years ago of killing an off-duty policeman. At 10:54 pm, Wednesday September 21, 2011 the state of Georgia killed Troy Davis. He died at 11:08. Bob Barr, a four-term Republican representative from Georgia and death penalty supporter, wrote,”Imposing an irreversible sentence of death on the skimpiest of evidence will not serve the interest of justice.”

Before he was executed, Davis offered to submit to a lie detector test, but the request was denied by prison officials. Until his death, Davis maintained his innocence and urged people to dig deeper into the case to find the truth. He said, “For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls.” There was no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime, and the gun what killed the off-duty policeman was never found. Seven of the nine witnesses have since withdrawn or changed their testimony. Three jury members said that they would now support Davis’ innocence. Other people have claimed a man who was withDavisthat night has told people he actually shot the officer.

Critics claim that the case highlighted the face of a corrupted justice system in the deep South, with a black man wrongly and hastily convicted of killing a white police officer.

Four years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a federal judge in Savannah to convene a hearing to consider new evidence. In August 2010, however, a U.S. District Court in Georgia ruled that Davis had failed to prove his innocence and denied him a new trial. The top U.S. court then turned down a subsequent appeal.

A further travesty beyond the racism, classism, and miscarriage of justice that encouraged the state to murder Davis is that the act made a profit for the people who made the drug and the person who killed Davis. CorrectHealth is the for-profit “medical company” that, according to the ACLU, “oversees all executions in Georgia.” Even the company’s methods of obtaining the lethal drug is fraudulent.

The Southern Center for Human Rights has filed a complaint with the Georgia Composite Medical Board against Carlo Anthony Musso, MD, seeking the revocation or suspension of his medical license based upon his illegally importing and distributing the drug, sodium thiopental, to be used in carrying out the death penalty.  According to law, no person or organization may import or distribute a controlled substance without first registering with both the Georgia Board of Pharmacy and the federal Drug Enforcement Authority of the Attorney General.  Musso, owner and operator of the Georgia-based companies CorrectHealth and Rainbow Medical Associates, had no such licenses when he imported sodium thiopental into the United States and distributed it to the departments of corrections in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The Georgia Department of Corrections secured its supply from a London-based pharmaceutical supplier (Dream Pharma) that operated out of the back of a driving school. In March 2011, the Drug Enforcement Authority seized Georgia’s supply. Musso’s company also purchased and imported a supply of sodium thiopental from Dream Pharma.

The death penalty has been used to kill innocent people many times. Since 1973, more than 130 people have been released from death row because of evidence that they were wrongly convicted. Seventeen innocent people sentenced to death were exonerated and released based on DNA evidence, and another 112 were released based on other evidence. Illinois is one of 14 states that stopped these executions. Troy Davis is one of many people who were executed despite serious questions about their guilt. He has called on his supporters to continue working to end the death penalty.

In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Herrera v. Collins that an individual’s provable innocence isn’t, by constitutional standards, enough for courts to grant a new trial. Each state has the right to declare clemency or continue the execution if the person can be proved innocent. Only the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has the right in that state to stop an execution. In Davis’ case, they refused.

Two-thirds of all those sentenced to death in the United States since 1976 have been in five Southern states where “vigilante values” (frequently lynching) persist, according to the legal scholar Franklin Zimring. Many defendants in capital cases are too poor to afford legal counsel; and lawyers assigned to represent them are poorly equipped for the job. According to a major study from the Senate Judiciary Committee, “egregiously incompetent defense lawyering” accounted for about two-fifths of the errors in capital cases.  Most prosecutors in jurisdictions with the penalty are elected and control the decision to seek the punishment. Within Georgia, Texas, and other states, differing politics from county to county have led to huge disparities in the use of the death penalty even when the crime rates and demographics were similar.

“The death penalty [is] a flimsy edifice erected on the shaky premise that we always get it right, that human systems always work as designed, that witnesses make no mistakes, that science is never fallible, that cops never lie, that lawyers are never incompetent. You have to believe that. You have to make yourself believe it. Otherwise, how do you sleep at night? So, of course, a prosecutor speaks confidence. What else is he going to speak? Truth? Truth is too big, too dangerous, too damning. Truth asks a simple question: in what field of endeavor have we always gotten it right? And you know the answer to that.

“So truth is too pregnant for speaking. Better to avert your eyes and profess your confidence. But one day, too late for Troy Davis, too late for too many, truth will out. Godspeed that day the cards come tumbling down.” This is an excerpt from a column by Leonard Pitts about the tragic murder last week. It is one of two columns that the editor of the Athens Banner-Herald  (GA) chose not to print because he thought that Pitts was wrong.

All but a few developed nations have abolished the death penalty. Only 23 countries executed people last year. Despite the cheering of conservatives at the Republican presidential candidates for Texas Gov. Rick Perry allowing 234 (now 235) executions, each year fewer and fewer people in this country think that the death penalty helps bring justice and less crime. We can only hope that the nation will soon reach the tipping point to understand that execution is not in accordance with the Constitution and is in every way indefensible.

September 20, 2011

Lies about Obama’s Jobs Bill Proliferate

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 5:48 PM

President Obama has introduced his recommendation for a jobs bill (tax the rich and start a jobs stimulus), and the Republicans have countered with theirs (deregulate and de-tax the rich). Now the false accusations begin.

One that has flown around the Internet like a forest fire comes from last week’s blog post provided by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA). He starts with statistics on poverty: “an astounding one in six Americans are living in poverty.” Cantor wouldn’t find this “astounding” if he had watched the numbers rapidly rising since the Republicans declared war on the bottom 80 percent of the nation’s people.

Cantor continues with what he perceives to be Obama’s response to this crisis: “to demand a tax on donations to soup kitchens and other charities that help people desperately in need. The president’s proposal will impact approximately 40 percent of all the tax deductible contributions, and essentially penalize soup kitchens, hospitals and churches that provide essential services to those who need them most.”

Where did Cantor go wrong in his assertion? First, the proposed limit of deductions to 28 percent would be for only those couples making over $250,000 or singles making over $200,000. This change would affect only 2.9 percent of households.

Second, charitable contributions from that 2.9 percent of the households to “soup kitchens” are probably very minimal.

Cantor has recently received press for his refusal to provide emergency monies for people suffering from natural disasters unless “those monies will be offset with appropriate savings or cost-cutting elsewhere.” Looking at his history, we know that these “savings” will come from eliminating Medicare, Pell Grants, USDA free and reduced fee school lunch programs, WIC, ADFC, Section 8 rental assistance, and $600 billion from Medicaid and CHIP, which will leave millions of adults and children uninsured. Cuts from Cantor and most other conservatives promote not only poverty and hunger but also poor health and education. He was also willing to crash the country last summer during the deficit-raising talks if he didn’t get his own way.

If wealthy people are interested in helping the poor, they will probably continue their contributions even without the tax break. Examples are Warren Buffet, third richest person in the world who has pledged to give 99 percent of his wealth to charity, and Bill Gates, second richest person in the world who has donated over $16 billion to charity. On the other hand Pat Robertson, the wealthiest Evangelical Christian in the world, has donated almost nothing in his entire career and uses slave labor in a diamond mine in Africa. (He also said divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease was justified, but that’s another story.)

There’s sure to be lots of talk about Obama’s new jobs program at the next debate among the Republican presidential candidates on this Thursday at 9:00 pm (ET) in Orlando. Fox, Google, and the Florida Republican Party are sponsoring this event. I’ll be very surprised if there are any surprises.

September 19, 2011

Gays, Lesbians Can Now Ask, Tell

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 4:51 PM

Within a few hours life will be different for the hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians who were once in the military, are serving now, or want to join. In the past, being discovered as gay or lesbian in the military led not only to the loss of benefits but also the possibility of being forced to repay the costs of their education or enlistment bonuses. Others could not get jobs because of the negative “homosexual conduct” coding on their discharge papers or in some instances, less than honorable discharges. At midnight, September 20, 2011, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the ban on gays and lesbians in the military, ends.

The abuse of these people who wanted to serve their country by enlisting in the military started almost a century ago. Melvin Dwork, 89, knows well the pain of discrimination against gays. After almost 70 years of fighting to remove the term “undesirable” from his discharge, he succeeded over a month ago on August 17. Without the word “honorable,” a discharge refuses the recipient benefits including pension, health care, and a military burial. Dwork believes that the effect goes much deeper. “That word [undesirable] really stuck in my craw. To me, it was a terrible insult. It had to be righted. It’s really worse than ‘dishonorable.’ I think it was the worst word they could have used,” he said.

This decision is the first time that the Pentagon has taken such action on behalf of a World War II veteran since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The Board for Corrections of Naval Records pointed out Dwork’s “exemplary period of active duty” and noted that changing the terms of his discharge was done “in the interest of justice.” The Navy has said his benefits will be reinstated retroactively although it’s not clear whether Dwork will receive back pay for the last 67 years. At least his health care may provide for the hearing aid that he badly needs.

Dwork was one of about 100,000 gays and lesbians in the military who were discharged between World War II and 1993 and lost their benefits because of their sexual identity. Another 14,000 were forced out since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law was passed in 1993, but most of them received honorable discharges. Estimates indicate that another 60,000 gays and lesbians are now serving in the military. No one knows how many others have been affected by this ban.

One question is whether those who were removed from the military because of sexual identity will return. Hundreds of the almost 14,000 have contacted recruiters, but a big issue is rank. Many have lost years of promotion; they may also be forced into a lower rank than they had when they left. Other issues that affect the ability of discharged service members to return are their age and physical fitness and the military’s declaration that they are currently at full capacity. (Does that mean that they can get rid of the recruiters?)

Three discharged gay military members have filed a lawsuit asserting that they were unconstitutionally discharged and should be reinstated, presumably at their former ranks. One of them, a former major who was deployed at least four times to the Middle East, was among the highest-ranking members removed under the ban. Another is former Air Force officer Michael Almy who never told anyone he was gay; another service member snooped through his emails. After his discharge, his wing commander formally recommended that he be promoted to lieutenant colonel because of his outstanding performance. His discharge cost him, among other things, $1.5 million in retirement benefits.

Some conservatives didn’t give up trying to stop the repeal of the gay/lesbian ban in the military. House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and the committee’s personnel chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) wrote to the Department of Defense complaining that lawmakers still had not received copies of all policy changes connected to the repeal. (Wilson is the representative known for yelling “You lie” during one of President Obama’s State of the Union speeches.) The letter argues that Congress and military personnel need to be fully informed of the impact of repeal before military leaders can say the force is ready for the change. Earlier in the summer 23 Republican lawmakers petitioned the White House to halt any repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law because of continued concern and debate about the wisdom of changing the law.

To memorialize this momentous occasion, HBO will air a documentary on the history of the policy to ban gays and lesbians in the military, its implementation, and the harm that the policy has caused individuals’ lives and careers and perhaps the military itself. The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will be shown at midnight tonight and primetime tomorrow.

If you want more information about the fight to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military, get Aaron Belkin’s e-book, How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  Belkin is director of the Palm Center, a California-based research group leading research on issues connected with gays and lesbians serving in the military.

September 20, 2011 can also be celebrated as the release date of OutServe magazine, published by the association of actively-serving LGBT military personnel. The September 20th Repeal Issue will honor the gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women “who have proudly served their nation.” OutServe magazine has also launched an interactive website where readers can comment, share articles, and order both digital and print versions of the magazine. The website will also feature exclusive videos and member blogs not found in the print edition.

Some issues regarding gays and lesbians in the military are still unsettled, including a court case heard by a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. When the Log Cabin Republicans sued the government on the basis that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban was unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips agreed with the Log Cabin Republicans. Later the 9th Circuit Court put off this ruling to see if Congress would change the law. It did, and the U.S. government wants the court to vacate Phillips’ decision, declaring it moot.

Dan Woods, an attorney for the Log Cabin Republicans, disagreed, saying that a decision needed to be made because lawmakers or future administrations in Washington could decide at some point to reinstate the ban. “If this case does not go forward on the merits and you don’t affirm it on the merits, the government will be completely unrestrained in its ability to again ban gay service in the military,” Woods said. “We have multiple presidential candidates promising as part of their campaign platforms to repeal the repeal.”

Declaring the law unconstitutional would also provide a legal path for thousands discharged under the policy to seek reinstatement, back pay, or other compensation for having their careers cut short or their veteran’s benefits withheld, Woods said. Judges have still not made a ruling on this case.

Now that Congress (the Democratic one last year, not the Republican one this year) has decided to drop its military discrimination against gays and lesbians, they need to move on to remove the stigma from transgender people. Existing military regulations still classify them as “unfit for service.” Transgender-identifying people are barred from entering the armed forces, and transgender service members can be “separated” from the military. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs confirms that transgender veterans have access to medically necessary healthcare including sex-specific care and transition-related procedures. The only exception is for sex-reassignment surgery.

Partners of gays and lesbians serving their country also lack equality: federal laws keep them from benefits such as base housing, health insurance, certain death benefits, legal counseling, and access to base commissaries. The positive side is that U.S. State Department has already granted as many rights for partners of gays and lesbians as are legal, such as diplomatic passports and their inclusion in calculations for housing and cost-of-living allowances at overseas posts, to same-sex couples.

At least for now these men and women serving their country and their partners no longer need to hide who they are. In the meantime, tomorrow we’ll just appreciate one small step for gay and lesbian equality.

September 18, 2011

U.S. Falls behind Other Countries in Internet Speed

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:08 PM

It’s Sunday evening, and I’m researching my latest topic, Internet speed. (A recent e-mail from a friend inspired the idea.) Like almost everyone else’s experiences in downloading material on my computer, I can sometimes access my searches almost instantly; other times I wait—and wait—and wait.

We in the United States like to think that we’re the best at everything. Actually we’re falling farther and farther behind the rest of the countries in the world. Internet speed is a prime example of this problem. Lithuania has the fastest Internet speed; Latvia is fourth. The United States? We’re 31st. Unless we’ve gotten farther behind since yesterday.

After a federal appeals court ruled a year ago in favor of Comcast because current law gave regulators limited power over Web traffic, Internet services companies were allowed to block or slow specific sites and charge video sites like YouTube to deliver their content faster to users. The lobbyists have done it again. Congress could have made regulations to stop this, but that would mean offending corporations, and Congress hates to do that.

The Federal Communications Commission wanted to require companies to give Web users equal access to all content, even if some of that content is clogging the network. Conservative Republicans oppose giving the FCC more power, on the grounds that Internet providers should be able to decide what services they offer and at what price. The result is companies’ keeping the access speed as slow as they want unless users pay extra. The Obama administration also wanted the FCC to shift billions of dollars in money from a fund to provide phone service in rural areas to one that helps pay for Internet access in those areas. Nope. FCC can’t do that either. Nationally 28 percent of households lack Internet access, most of them in rural areas.

Overall within the states,Montana is the slowest. Maybe because it’s so big? And Virginia, with its proximity to Washington and all those important politicians, is the fastest. Idaho ranks close to the bottom too. The same file that takes one second in Andover (MA) to download requires almost 12 seconds inPocatello. Check this out to find how fast your connection is.

People who don’t have the problem of slow downloads can say that it’s just the kids who want to download music and games who have the problem. Not so. This issue goes into problems of public safety, education, and economic growth. Economic growth is what conservatives say they want. Remember the old saying, “Time is money”? “This is about our overall competitiveness,” said Jonathan Adelstein, the administrator of the federal government’s Rural Utilities Service and a major advocate of broadband. “Without broadband, especially in rural areas, kids might not reach their full potential. And we can’t expect to be competitive in a global economy.”

Not everyone openly agrees with Adelstein. According to Gynii A. Gilliam, executive director for the Bannock Development Corporation, a nonprofit group working for economic growth in the Pocatello area, Allstate Insurance is opening a $22 million call center in Pocatello, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a service center there.

Indeed, speeds for Idaho’s businesses can be as fast as those anywhere. The secret is that customers have to pay for it. Idaho is among the states with the greatest disparity in speeds available in urban areas versus rural areas. Even Gilliam acknowledged that her home service is sluggish. “It feels like it’s moving in slow motion,” she said. “A lot of times I’ll start downloads and not complete them.” She said she was happy as long as she could get e-mail.

That’s limited government. We’re 31. After Moldova and Slovakia and …  At least we’re ahead of Estonia. Bless those anti-regulation people who protect us and give us freedom.

September 17, 2011

Listen to Candidates–And What They Don’t Say

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 5:46 PM

People decide on their favorite candidates based on what they hear from politicians. One piece of advice from Lee Hamilton, former representative (D-IN), is that people should listen carefully because “they [politicians] usually know what they’re talking about, are cautious when they don’t know, and are adept at wording their sentences for maximum appeal.” (Of course, Hamilton was the chair of  the House Task Force that cleared President George Bush when he was accused of going to Paris 12 years earlier to cinch a deal of weapons for Iran in exchange for retaining American hostages to be delivered to President Ronald Reagan and not to outgoing President Jimmy Carter. Not necessarily a source of reliable advice.)

In the last election, people listened carefully to their favorite conservative and Tea Party candidates as they promised to lower taxes and provide more jobs. Much to the voters’ surprise, these candidates went in a different direction after they were elected. For example, Wisconsin police and firefighters were amazed when their candidate, Gov. Scott Walker, decided to take away their union rights and lower their take-home pay. Other people were amazed when the Tea Party people campaigned on lower taxes and increased employment before they spent all their time taking away women’s reproductive rights and trying to erase Medicare and Social Security.

Although the House of Representatives claimed that their repeal of President Obama’s health care act would stop “job killing” and that the retention of money going to the wealthy would “create jobs,” no act directed toward creating jobs was introduced for the first eight months that these Tea Party folks were in office. Even now, the conservatives’ approach to reducing unemployment, ala Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), continues to be reduction in spending, taxation for the wealthy, and regulations.

The Republican presidential candidates have continued the pattern of ranting about needing jobs, but their campaigning and the questions at the debates have clearly avoided “moral” questions. There has been no discussion about abortion, none about LGBT issues such as same-sex marriage and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” which now allowed gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military (at least after September 20). They have said enough about these subjects earlier for people to know that they oppose reproductive and LGBT rights, but watching them campaign and debate, however, shows even more about how they would govern if elected president.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced to a cheering audience that the 234 executions during his terms were based on “thoughtful” consideration and all justified. He also refused to intervene in Cameron Todd Willingham’s execution—“even after significant evidence emerged showing that arson had not caused the fire (thus exonerating Willingham)” Perry believes that once a decision is made that there is no change. The highly conservative U.S. Supreme Court disagrees. This past week it blocked an execution because jurors were told that the murderer posed a greater danger to public safety because he was black. Perry had refused to intervene in that execution either. Perry’s governing: never change your mind even if you’re wrong.

Current Republican candidates had shown their indifference to the plight of their potential constituents. For example, when Wolf Blitzer, as moderator for the recent Florida Tea Party debate, asked who should pay if a healthy young man chooses not to have health insurance and then he needs it because something “terrible” happens and he goes into a coma. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) answered, “What he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself,” once again to the cheers from the audience. He didn’t say that the man in the hypothetical case should be left to die, but he did say that in the past that the community, the neighborhood, and the churches would take care of sick people. Evidently that’s his solution now. Over one-fourth of the people in Paul’s state lack health insurance; nationwide 16.3 percent do not have this insurance with the number rising each day. Paul’s governing: hope that neighbors will solve the problems.

Well-known for her mistakes in history, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has moved onto the health field in a caring manner—if it might destroy a competitor. To refute Perry’s suggestion that he mandate that a vaccine for young girls preventing a sexually transmitted virus that could result in cervical cancer, she said that the vaccine is linked to “mental retardation.” Bachmann is totally wrong in this statement, but her staff justifies her mistakes with a passion. Ed Rollins, her former campaign manager, said, “Mrs. Bachman’s an emotional person who basically has great feeling for people.” People who know her, promised anonymity, said that she is influenced by the last person she speaks with on an issue, a frightening strategy for a U.S. president—or even a representative of the people. Even conservative pundits, including Rush Limbaugh, came out against her mistaken claim. Is it possible that this statement is “the nail in the coffin in her campaign” as Jim Dyke, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, stated? Bachmann’s governing: whatever the last person just said.

The choices that candidates make in selecting their staff also tell a great deal about them. A month ago Mitt Romney selected Robert Bork as a member of his campaign’s legal advisory team. That’s the same Robert Bork whose views of the law and Constitution were so extreme that the Senate rejected his 1987 Supreme Court nomination. Bork opposes the Civil Rights Act and claims that the Equal Protection Clause does not apply to women. According to Bork, the country is unwilling or unable “to suppress public obscenity, punish crime, reform welfare, attach stigma to the bearing of illegitimate children, resist the demands of self-proclaimed victim groups for preferential treatment, or maintain standards of reason and scholarship.” Abortion, technology, affluence, hedonism, and modern liberalism are gradually ruining the nation’s culture, he said. This is the man who will advise Romney. Romney’s governing: pick the most conservative person you can find to give you advice.

Hypocrisy is something that follows most politicians. For example, former Sen. Rick Santorum pushes his beliefs in small government and no earmarks (now special project money because earmarks are against policy in the House of Representatives). Yet in 2003 he managed to get over $3.1 million in federal earmarks for social conservative causes–over $1 million of which has gone to the anti-gay Urban Family Council. He endorses national service, promotion of prison ministries, “individual development accounts,” publicly financed trust funds for children, community investment incentives, strengthened obscenity enforcement, covenant marriage, assorted tax breaks, and more.  He is opposed to a constitutional (or, as far as one can tell, moral) right to privacy, which he regards as a “constitutional wrecking ball” that is contrary to the principle of the common good, and the notions of government neutrality and free expression. He even thinks the government has a right to ban contraception. Freedom to Santorum must mean freedom for people who agree with him. Santorum’s governing: talk small government and then force people into your version of Christianity.

Herman Cain deserves a mention among Republican presidential candidates because he is running close to the top of some of the polls. He has no government experience which makes him likable to some people. (I always wonder if the same people would be as pleased to have a doctor with no experience or training.) He’s a fast learner, though, because he avoids directly answering questions, such as this one from Today Show substitute host Savannah Guthrie: “You said essentially your inexperience–the fact that you have never been elected and never held public office–is a plus. My question to you is if you were still a CEO, if you were in business, would you hire someone for a key role who had no experience whatsoever in business.” When he claims that he has run a business and can run a government, looking at his federal campaign filings may indicate how he would be president. They show that Cain’s presidential committee, Friends of Herman Cain, spent $448,000 on air travel in the first half of 2011, nearly $2,500 a day, and nearly $100,000 in the first half of the year—or $538 a day—on hotels, some of them very expensive. (Cain likes the Ritz Carlton chain although he also dropped $5,102 in a single day at the famous Beverly Wilshire Hotel.) Craig Robinson, the former political director of the Iowa Republican Party, wrote on his site, “If Cain’s campaign was being run like a business, it might be on the verge of bankruptcy.” Cain’s governing: spend lots of money.

The finest hypocrite, however, is Perry. He’s the man who leads a state in which 25 percent of adult men have no health insurance. In an attack on family planning services for low-incomeTexaswomen, he signed a budget bill reducing the state’s family planning funding by two-thirds. He and the state legislature have joined to defund Planned Parenthood, an important source of contraception for low-income women. He prides himself on managing childbirth through abstinence when he explains why teenagers need no sex education—this in a state that has the highest rate of teen pregnancy. Perry is a hypocrite in this case because he had a vasectomy as his preferred contraception, surgery that costs over $1,000 without insurance. So Perry can afford one, but probably half the men inTexascannot. Nice job, Perry. (I mention this personal information about Perry because he refuses reproductive rights to others.) Perry’s next governing: do as I say and not as I do.

Former President Jimmy Carter said, “If the misery if others leaves you indifferent and with no feeling of sorrow, then you cannot be called a human being.” Republican presidential candidates should be examined to see if they can be called human beings.

September 16, 2011

Where the Country’s Money Went

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:08 PM

Why does the United States have such a high deficit? Right now it’s in the neighborhood of $12.7 trillion—a pretty pricy neighborhood although less than last January. So how did this amount double in the last decade?

Over their 10-year lifespan, George W. Bush’s tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 reduced tax revenues by around $2.4 trillion, with $474 billion of that coming in the first four years. The first-term impact of those tax cuts is equivalent to about $574 billion in today’s dollars, or about 1.1 percent of gross domestic product.

President Obama signed two major pieces of tax-cutting legislation into law. The first, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, directly reduced a family’s income tax bill by up to $800 and reduced tax revenue by about $116 billion. The act also patched up the alternative minimum tax, providing $70 billion in tax cuts, and cut a wide array of business taxes, together totaling another $60 billion. All told, the Recovery Act included $243 billion worth of tax cuts through 2012.

The biggest piece of another tax-cutting law, The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, was the two-year extension of all the Bush tax cuts and alternative minimum tax relief at a cost of more than $400 billion. (Remember the tantrum that conservatives had until this was passed?) In addition, the deal extended a variety of business tax cuts and incentives, which reduced revenues by some $150 billion and cut the estate tax—a tax paid by only a very few super-wealthy, massive estates—by $65 billion. (Again, the temper tantrums.) The bill also cut the payroll tax paid by employees by 2 percentage points, delivering more than $110 billion in tax cuts to working Americans. With all these combined, President Obama has already signed into law tax cuts amounting to more than $900 billion from 2009 through 2012.

What upsets conservatives, however, is that Obama’s tax cuts are far more targeted at the middle class than the ones from Bush. While his tax cuts gave more than half the benefit to the richest 20 percent, 85 percent of the Making Work Pay tax credit went to the bottom 80 percent of households. Because the very wealthy don’t pay payroll taxes on all of their income, the payroll tax cut, too, benefits the middle class much more than the Bush tax cuts did.

Bush’s $2.4 trillion plus Obama’s $.9 trillion comes to over $3.3 trillion. At the same time the cost of the Iraq and Afghan “wars” has passed $4 trillion—and that’s without the regular military expenditures. Homeland Security efforts have added another $1.1 trillion.

Combining the loss of revenue with the extensive expenditures to make people in the United States feel safer has resulted in at least $8.4 trillion—two-thirds of the current deficit. The $12.7 trillion deficit means that each one of 312,228,615 people in the United States owes $40,668.38. Without the lowering of taxes, the wars, and the homeland security, each person in the United Stateswould owe $26,898.77.

Without these expenditures and lack of revenue, better leadership during Bush’s two terms could have further reduced the deficit. President Clinton had developed a plan that could have paid off the deficit in the next decade. Instead Bush lowered the taxes at the same time that he went into war, a sure bet for disaster, and then led the country into another disaster when the housing bubble exploded, causing high unemployment and home foreclosures. Throughout his tenure, Bush encouraged people to spend more money than they had in the mistaken belief that this would strengthen the economy. Then he pushed them into buying houses that they could not afford because he believed that all people should own houses rather than renting their homes. Losing taxes from all the resulting unemployed people led the economy on a drastic downward spiral. Conservatives are still doing nothing to save the country from this crisis.

The next time that someone cries about how our children and grandchildren will have to pay for the sky-high deficit, explain to them that the only solution is to add revenue from the people who have sacrificed nothing for the past decade—and won’t feel any sacrifice if their taxes are raised now. The people of the United States have made the choice to pay trillions of dollars into the military and homeland security so that can be protected. It’s the freedom of the voters who much now live with the results.

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