Nel's New Day

February 29, 2012

DNA Testing Could Stop Executions

Human life is the focus of conservatives, if you listen to them describe a fertilized egg as a “person” and rail against birth control. But what about an adult’s life?

Last year Troy Davis was executed in Georgia, despite the total lack of evidence to show him guilty. Tyrone Noling is sitting on Death Row in Ohio, despite the possibility that a DNA test of a cigarette might exonerate him. One month from today, Thomas Arthur will be executed in Alabama for a 30-year-old murder, despite another person confessing under oath to the crime and shaky evidence.

Both Noling and Arthur have always maintained their innocence, and both cases have no physical evidence linking the men to the crimes. And both convictions could be overturned if state officials would permit DNA testing, in Arthur’s case a test so sophisticated that the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences cannot perform it. The state wouldn’t even be charged for this testing because Arthur’s attorneys are willing to do this. The testing could be accomplished by the execution date.

Prosecutors and judges prioritize “finality” in capital punishment cases at the expense of “accuracy” because they want no more delays.

Andrew Cohen, one of the nation’s leading legal analysts and commentators, wrote: “The case [Thomas Arthur] also raises questions about where we go from here on DNA testing. Should a state ever be able to block a new DNA test if it doesn’t have to pay for it? The questions from the past tell us how arbitrary and capricious capital cases can be. The questions about the future tell us how much of a fight is left ahead over capital punishment in America.”

I ask when conservatives will care about the lives of adults.

February 28, 2012

Santorum Goes over the Edge, Loses Two States

If it’s Tuesday, there must be an election somewhere. And there is—Arizona and Michigan. Newt Gingrich have been uncharacteristically quiet, which may change now that he just got another $5 million for his sugar daddy billionaire. He does have a 28-minute political ad that claims he can bring gas down to $2.50 and no longer be reliant on oil from “Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran.” These, of course, are lies because the president doesn’t control the gas prices and the U.S. doesn’t import oil fromIran. Despite his accusations of a massive reduction in U.S. development of oil, production surged during the first two years of President Obama’s administration after its downward trend in the previous five (Bush) years.

Ron Paul just indicates “anything that Mitt wants.” The rumor is that Paul wants Romney to pick his son, Rand, as vice-president. Both Gingrich and Paul know that both the states voting today were lost causes for them, and they moved ahead to Super Tuesday in another week.

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum spent the past few weeks smearing each other, trying to win Michigan. Republican Gov. Paul LePage (Maine) said, “If they continue to beat each other up, then maybe we should get somebody unknown to go against Obama. They’re damaging themselves. It’s like a marital battle. Somebody’s got to apologize.” Chances are very good that these two are way beyond that. Even if they did apologize, no one would believe them.

Romney continues to make bizarre comments, for example when he offers people the chance to visit his parents at the cemetery where they are buried and loving the height of the trees in Michigan—sort of like Rick Perry hugging his bottle of maple syrup in Vermont. Then there was the shirt that a fan gave him that said “Mitt Happens.” But he’s largely kept to the script of criticizing Santorum.

Santorum, on the other hand, keeps going farther and farther over the edge, either from arrogance or desperation. Last Sunday morning he told George Stephanopoulos: “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.  The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. This is the First Amendment.  The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion.  That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square.” He said more, but I can see your eyes glazing over.

Santorum was so hysterical that he said he wanted to “throw up” when hearing John F. Kennedy’s statement that he would not allow his Catholic beliefs to rule the country. Kennedy actually said, “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.” Santorum missed the fact that Kennedy paved the way for Santorum, a Catholic, to be as successful as he is.

The question is whether Santorum would want to “throw up” at this president’s statement: “Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.” He might, until someone told him that the president who said this was the revered Ronald Reagan.

After declaring that Obama has a “war on for-profit colleges” (Obama must be busy with all these “wars”), Santorum said, “President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!” He continued by claiming that Obama wants people to go to college because he wants them to be liberal. “That’s why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.

Santorum’s hatred of college is a 180-degree turn since 2006 when his Senate campaign website stated, “In addition to Rick’s support of ensuring that primary and secondary schools in Pennsylvania are equipped for success, he is equally committed to ensuring the every Pennsylvanian has access to higher education. Rick Santorum has supported legislative solutions that provide loans, grants, and tax incentives to make higher education more accessible and affordable.”

As in other situations, Santorum twisted what President Obama has said, including in his state of the union speech. Obama doesn’t use the term college; he says “higher education.” As Obama has pointed out, he wants every young person to have the benefit of an apprenticeship or education in a technical school, community college, or college/university. It’s exactly what Santorum wants, but he continues to denigrate the same vision from Obama.

With three university degrees, Santorum is so obsessed by his personal religion that he fails to remember his history. While campaigning in South Carolina, he said, “The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom… What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers. What we’re talking about are core American values.” Santorum overlooks the Crusades as the bloody medieval campaigns to take theHoly Landfrom the “infidels” (aka Moslems and Jews).

“I’m not a Washington insider,” Santorum claimed. Yet his $3.6 million income within the last few years came largely from “consulting” (aka lobbying) activities, and he was enough of an insider while he was in Congress to get millions of dollars in earmarks for his state. His ultra-partisan approach also gives him an insider aura.

Former Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-WY) called Santorum a “very rigid man … a lot tougher than [former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich to deal with. And former Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH) said of Santorum: “I’m not opposed to bucking the establishment, but I always felt he was using the establishment for his own aggrandizement. I remember him saying, ‘You’ve got to give me a little slack. I need to vote for this for my state.’”

Santorum rejects prenatal testing, but, as one woman pointed out, this can kill the fetus. She reported on how her amniocentesis showed that medication was not helping her fetus’s Rh negative disease, caused by the pregnant woman’s negative blood type fighting with the fetus’s positive blood type. Because of the doctor’s awareness of the problem, the fetus could be delivered at the optimum time, saving its life.

Also on record as not wanting women to be in combat, he tried to clarify that gaffe by stating that he was worried about the men’s emotions, not the women’s. But his backup statement voided that justification, when he explained that women are “fully capable of flying small planes.”

Known for his refusal to believe in man-made climate change, Santorum referred to anti-fracking activists, the people who don’t want methane gas to explode from the faucet whenever it’s turned on, as a “reign of environmental terror.” He forgot to explain that he is a top recipient of money from drilling companies, and his campaign gets big oil bucks.

At least during the past month, Santorum has dropped his “income equality is good” and stop giving out food stamps campaign. Late night talk and comedy shows made mincemeat out him after this statement: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Santorum is campaigning to end the secular state, science-based information, education, and women’s health care with the return of patriarchy and the demonization of everybody but white, heterosexual, right-wing Christian males. Most conservative pundits recognize that he would be a lost cause as a nominee; even Santorum-supporter Rush Limbaugh said he “cringed” when he heard Santorum’s comment that he voted against his principles because politics is a “team sport.”

In her poem at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, Maya Angelou showed the way thatClinton’s administration wanted to be inclusive:

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African and Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.

Reading these lines makes me think about the people who Santorum would exclude from having rights, despite the U.S. Constitution: all women who want reproductive rights including birth control, all men who want their sexual partners to use birth control, all unmarried adults who wish to have consensual sex, all people who are not members of the Catholic or evangelical churches, all LGBT people, all people of color, all college-educated people, and all people who want a public education. His exclusionary believes leave about 5 percent of the people under the great tent of this nation—as far as Santorum is concerned.

There is hope, however, because Santorum lost both Arizona and Michigan. We’ll see what outrageous things he says within the next week to struggle for delegates in the next ten states.

February 27, 2012

Make People into Corporations

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:33 PM
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The advantage of a blog is that I can share writings that delight me with more people than my partner. A case in point is this op-ed piece in today’s Oregonian by Geoff Sugarman:

So corporations want to be people. They want unfettered access to our constitutional rights and the U.S. Supreme Court has given it to them. Well, I want to be a corporation, too. That’s why I founded the People are Corporations, Too PAC (PACPAC, for short).

Our aim is simple: If corporations get our constitutional rights, then we should get their tax breaks.

Raising my family is my business, and it has been ever since I went off to college. Until then, I was not much more than a product of my parents’ corporation. My personal corporate status was certainly cemented when my son was born in 1989. What do I produce? His name is Max. He works in the summer. He’s getting an education. He’s going to pay taxes for the rest of his life.

As a corporation, I can write off almost every single dollar I spend producing Max. I can deduct the cost of food, housing, clothes and electricity keeping him healthy and warm. I can deduct every single penny I spend on his education. I can deduct gas to take him to and from the thousands of practices, lessons and events that have helped shape him into a worthwhile product for the future. I can write off the cost of all those books he read, all those instruments he played. If I had a good enough accountant, I might even be able to deduct the cost of the toys and video games that help increase his dexterity and have kept him happy. 

Corporations get to write off almost every single cost of the widgets they produce, from the factories and the materials they use to the money they spend to promote their products. Some corporations can deduct so much that they pay little or nothing in taxes, and when they do pay taxes, their rate is far less than what I pay, especially on the state level.

Now they want freedom of speech to spend millions, maybe even billions, of dollars influencing our elections. I see through their ploy. They already control the economy. Now they want to control the political process, too. And I want to be part of their scheme.

So last month, I went down to the secretary of state’s office, filed myself as a corporation and paid my $100 filing fee. Then I created my own PAC. It’s time to take our power back.

When it comes time to pay my 2012 Oregon state taxes, I’m going to pay $150. That’s all S-corporations at my income level have to pay, so that’s what I’m going to pay, too. When the state comes after me for not paying enough taxes, I’m going to get a good lawyer and sue. Maybe I’ll make it all the way to the Supreme Court. And maybe those wise justices will decide that if corporations are people, then people are corporations.

Thank you, Mr. Sugarman.

February 26, 2012

The United States, a Theocracy

Let’s just face it. The United States is a theocracy. Let’s look at the indicators beyond the majority of the Republican presidential candidates swearing to the far-right conservatives that they were called by God to work for the nomination,

To encourage churches to intervene in campaigns—illegally—the Alliance Defense Fund held its annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in October. Fundamentalists and evangelical churches plan voter turnout drives and distribution of voter guides that tell the church-goers the candidate of the church’s choice.  Meanwhile, pastors such as the influential Dallas one, Robert Jeffress, tell all and sundry that Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is a cult member who should not become president. The claims that President Obama is a Muslim of an opponent of Christianity, started when he was elected to this office, have increased since Rick Santorum refers to his policy as a “phony kind of theology.”

Thirty states explored school voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in 2011, the efforts driven by wealthy right-wing organizations, such as the Alliance for School Choice. Run by right-wing activist Betsy DeVos, the organization is joined by allies to provide vast resources and public relations expertise to push for school vouchers. These vouchers would benefit not only fundamentalist academies but also Roman Catholic parochial schools. Florida currently has a ballot initiative allowing the religious organizations to get taxpayer money. Arizona has already passed such a law that has passed judicial tests. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) also pushed a voucher program for the District of Columbia.

A relatively new lobbying group, the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has declared war on the separation of church and state in its goal to keep its taxpayer funding for church agencies while maintaining overly broad exemptions from the law. These agencies have become highly visible recently when they declared themselves exempt from involvement in birth control or same-sex marriage while still receiving government contracts and funds. Faith-based religious groups receive federal advantages that other non-profit groups lack. No federal regulations, no disclosure reports to show how much they’re spending, no transparency.

States plan laws that would require Christian proselytizing in public schools. Missouri, for example, has an amendment on the 2012 ballot that proposes to allow religious activities on all public property including schools. The open-ended bill even permits children to refuse to do homework on religious grounds. Florida’s bill, recently passed by the Senate and being considered by the House, lets students pray at school events. Tennessee is following Florida’s flaunting of separating church and state.

The far-right evangelicals also continue to demand that curriculum and textbooks include religious material, including creationism and refutation of man-made climate change. In Missouri last summer, a school district banned Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Oeckler’s Twenty Boy Summer because a local professor complained that the books advocate principles contrary to the Bible.

Those who believe that President Obama has declared a “war on religion” fail to recognize his current support of the Christian religion through government actions. The president said during his campaign in 2008, “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them–or against the people you hire–on the basis of their religion.” Yet he has not changed George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative that exempted faith-based groups from complying with anti-discrimination statutes. Religious groups can refuse to hire gays and lesbians even for secular work. In 2009, Obama put Alexia Kelley, an anti-abortion Catholic, in charge of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the HHS, where she oversees the distribution of more than $20 million in grants to religious groups.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is also considering a new rule allowing the use of taxpayer funds for the construction and repair of religious buildings overseas.

Under President Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, and the share of USCCB federal grants from HHS have increased from $71.8 million in the last three years of the Bush administration to $81.2 million during the first three years of Obama. In fiscal 2011 alone, the group received a record $31.4 million from the administration that the Catholics claim as anti-religious. Federal money can also go directly to churches rather than nonprofit charitable organizations.

Millions of dollars from the military budget benefits Christians. For over 18 months, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been examining these expenditures, such as the $125 million spent for “spiritual fitness” program. To develop “resilience,” those who serve in the military are required to take a survey biased so that nonbelievers are guaranteed to score poorly. Those people will then be forced to participate in exercises that use religious imagery to “train” soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality, namely Christian.

Department of Defense funds built the $30,000,000 mega-church at Fort Hood and the “Spiritual Fitness” centers scattered across the military bases. More spiritual fitness money goes for evangelical Christian concerts with overtly Christian music, light shows of large crosses beamed all over the stage, and Christian testimony or Bible verses songs. Most of the Army’s Strong Bonds program expenditures of least $30 million for retreats for soldiers and their families go to evangelical Christian retreats, many held at Christian camps and resorts, with evangelical Christian speakers and entertainers.

Children of military service people are also targeted by evangelical Christian groups that are financed by the DoD. The biggest one is Military Community Youth Ministries (MCYM), whose mission statement is “Celebrate life with military teens, Introduce them to the Life-Giver, Jesus Christ, And help them become more like Him.” MCYM has received $12,346,333 in DoD contracts since 2000 and use some of it to stalk “unchurched” military children by following their school buses. The DoD also hires Religious Education Directors to get the kids into Christian churches.

Congress keeps legislating Christian laws. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution that reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and encouraged its display in public schools and other public buildings despite the fact that this motto, put in place during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s, had not been challenged. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) has introduced a bill ordering the Secretary of the Interior to add a Franklin Delano Roosevelt prayer to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Both the Knights of Columbus and Rep. Denny Rehlberg (R-MT) are fighting the removal of a large statue of Jesus sitting on national forest land in Montana.

States are also working to create Christian law. In Georgia, the state legislature will consider a bill that would require all vehicle license plates to be emblazoned with “In God We Trust” unless drivers pay extra to cover up the message. A prime example of this nation’s theocracy is its anti-Sharia legislation. In 2010, Oklahoma passed, with 70 percent of the vote, the so-called “Save Our State Amendment,” barring enforcement of Islamic law. The challenge to this law is before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because the constitution bars government support for religion, legislation barring Sharia law is unnecessary. What appears to be necessary is a law banning Christian legislation, which would provide women with reproductive rights and same-sex couples with marriage equality.

The Christian religious right, both fundamentalists and Catholics, successfully intimidate their opponents by accusing anyone who wants freedom from religion that they are bigots who don’t believe in religious freedom. Their position of victimology comes from the enormous power that they wield over the anyone who disagrees with them. To these Christian conservatives, the definition of religious freedom is forcing everyone to live by their religion, whichever one of the 38,000 Christian denominations it may represent.

February 25, 2012

Protesting Conservatives Takes Odd Turns

In their protests against the men’s refusal to allow women to testify in the House hearing regarding President Obama’s decision to make contraception available to all women, Congresswomen boycotted the session. The ensuing publicity make the Congressmen who prevented women from having a part in their future brought the conservatives’ “war on women” to the forefront in a way that other protests have not been able to do.

An example of the conservative male mentality comes from Washington state Senator Michael Baumgartner, challenging Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) for her re-election, when he denounced her for signing a Senate letter supporting the position that the “morning after” birth control pill be available over the counter at pharmacies.  Baumgartner said that Cantwell was not qualified to talk on the issue because she isn’t married but claims that he is because he has two daughters. He said nothing about Catholic bishops not being married.

The 1,000 activists who kept a silent vigil at the Virginia statehouse to protest the proposed invasive transvaginal ultrasound bill (the probe is eight to ten inches long) was a solemn struggle against the attempt toward eliminating women’s rights, including access to abortion and contraception, while the Republican presidential candidates make hay with their homophobic claims about reversing this nation’s movement toward diversity.

Other methods of protest are a form of black humor, for example the lesbian judge in Texas who refuses to marry people. Straight people, that is. Tonya Parker recently told members of the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas that she would not marry heterosexual couples: “I use it as my opportunity to give them a lesson about marriage inequality in this state because I feel like I have to tell them why I’m turning them away. So I usually will offer them something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry. I don’t perform marriage ceremonies because we are in a state that does not have marriage equality, and until it does, I am not going to partially apply the law to one group of people that doesn’t apply to another group of people.’ And it’s kind of oxymoronic for me to perform ceremonies that can’t be performed for me, so I’m not going to do it.”

Two lawmakers have found even more creative approaches toward the male war on women’s reproductive rights. Constance Johnson, a Democratic state senator in Oklahoma, addressed the “personhood bill” brought forth in the state, which would give zygotes the same rights as adults, by adding a provision that would treat any sperm not intended to fertilize an egg as an “an action against an unborn child.” Her language read: “However, any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.” Sad to say, Johnson later voted to table her amendment, and the personhood bill passed the Senate.

In Virginia, Democratic state Sen. Janet Howell introduced an amendment into the legislature that would have required men to obtain a rectal exam and cardiac stress test before they could receive a prescription for Viagra. Her amendment was in response to the bill mandating medical vaginal penetration before having an abortion even if women did not agree to the procedure. A few Republicans tried to explain that the consent at having sex carried over to the ultrasound penetration. Even if the explanation was at all rational—which it wasn’t—the rapes and incest were certainly not “consensual.”

Howell said, “We need some gender equity here. The Virginia Senate is about to pass a bill that will require a woman to have totally unnecessary medical procedure at their cost and inconvenience. If we’re going to do that to women, why not do that to men?” Fortunately, Virginia abandoned both the transvaginal ultrasound bill and the personhood bill—for now.

Texas has already passed a mandated sonogram law that requires women to have transvaginal ultrasounds because the majority of women get abortions during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, when the fetus is too small to be picked up on in an abdominal ultrasound. This law forcing vaginal penetration without a woman’s permission is in direct conflict to the Texas Penal Code that defines sexual assault as “intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent.”

Watching the insanity in other states, I’m grateful to be from Oregon where the Republican co-chair of the House, with the membership split 50-50 between the parties, said about the three important issues to discuss in the state legislature, “You have health care, you have education, and you have jobs.” What a refreshing change from the Republican-controlled states and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives where the “important” issues are eliminating voters with voter ID laws, making women second-class citizens through personhood and restrictive pre-abortion mandates, and eradicating unions to wipe out the middle class.

February 23, 2012

Is It Lying or ‘Puffing’

Puffing. That’s the term that we used for smoking a cigarette for most of my life. Now, thanks to Supreme Court Antonin Scalia, the word has a new definition. Yesterday the court discussed the constitutionality of the 2006 Stolen Valor Act which makes lying about having military honors a crime. During their exchange, justices voiced concern about laws that would potentially cause politicians and others to be indicted for lies and “exaggerations” about accomplishments or failures—false college degrees, extra-marital affairs, etc.

“In the commercial context, we allow a decent amount of lying. It’s called puffing. So maybe we allow a certain amount of puffing in political speech as well. Nobody believes all that stuff, right?” That’s Scalia’s take on whether political lies are acceptable.

Let’s take Newt Gingrich’s response to ads about his ethics violations during his tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives. “I was exonerated in every single case,” he said. After being charged, Gingrich agreed to pay $300,000 and admit he had “engaged in conduct that did not reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.” During the investigation, he submitted letters from his lawyers for which “the [House ethics] subcommittee was unable to find any factual basis.” Committee members stated that Gingrich “should have known” that the information in the letters “was inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable.” (Scalia would probably say that he was “puffing.”)

After the ethics committee voted 7 to 1 to reprimand him and require a $300,000 penalty, the full House passed the committee report by 395 to 28. Does this pass the Scalia test that nobody would believe Gingrich? I’m guessing not. When he claims that he was completely exonerated, millions of Americans nod their heads in agreement, thankful that the people accusing him of these ethics charges are wrong.

What about a state representative in Indiana, Bob Morris, who refuses to sign a resolution recognizing the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary because it is a “radicalized organization” that is “quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood” and that its agenda “includes sexualizing young girls” and promoting “homosexual lifestyles.” Morris’ lies has led to loss of members, meeting places, and status for the Girl Scouts because people believe him.

Jonathan Libby, a lawyer arguing against making lying illegal because of constitutionally-mandated free speech, said the law should not criminalize speech unless it “causes imminent harm to another person” or the government. He explained that laws against fraud and perjury were constitutional because those lies caused harm. The question here is the definition of “harm.”

Hundreds of politicians were elected in 2010 because they lied about their aims and goals. With their newfound power, they switched lanes from improving the economy and getting people jobs to their program of restricting people from voting, eradicating unions and fair wages, eliminating women’s reproductive rights, etc.–in short, doing harm. Now fewer than a couple of dozen people are providing over $100 million to “puff” about candidates, skewing the election in the way that they want.

Can a car salesperson justify lies about the condition of a used car by the new definition of “puffing”? Or would “free speech” justify lying about the condition of a house to a prospective purchaser?

Many years ago, I tried to smooth over a situation between a good friend and her young daughters by “puffing.” My friend firmly said, “I don’t lie to my children!” It was a great lesson in parenting that I’ve never forgotten. It’s a lesson that politicians have never learned. Their speeches show that they not only “shade the truth” but also openly lie about situations, knowing that they can persuade many people that what they say is factual.

Last night during the debate about whether women deserved contraception, the Republican presidential candidates talked about how our current culture is tragic because of “immorality.” I claim that lying to the people is also a form of “immorality.” How sad that a judge in the highest court of the United States would justify lying by the country’s leaders because we are not supposed to believe anything that they say.

The next time anyone accuses you of lying, just tell them that Scalia says you’re just “puffing.”

February 22, 2012

Arizona Hosts Last Republican Presidential Debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:48 PM
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Tonight was possbly the last Republican presidential debate for the year, and the four candidates were each desperate to prove his superiority over the others—back pedaling, spinning, and downright lying. During the past several months I have sometimes joked about the candidates, trying to point out the idiocies of each one. Tonight I just got downright angry—and afraid.

Ron Paul came off with the most reasonable approaches of the four on the stage. First, he protested the war cries from the other three when they declared that they would stop immediately stop Iran by extreme sanctions and worse—which would mean another preemptive war just ten years after the last one that we endured for over nine years.

Second was the discussion of birth control for women. After all the outrageous statements that candidates have made regarding preventing birth control for women and their strong support for personhood, which eliminates the most popular methods of birth control, they blamed society when moderator John King asked them about this issue.

As usual, Newt Gingrich was the first one into the ring with his attack on the media and President Obama. He said, “You did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide. OK? So let’s be clear here. If we’re going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama who, as a state senator, voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion. It is not the Republicans.” The “infanticide” argument comes from the fact that conservatives believe that a fetus is an infant; to them, anyone supporting Roe v. Wade would be “in favor of legalizing infanticide.” The president has been accused this since he ran for president because he fought to preserve women’s reproductive rights.

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney dived into the fray, agreeing that the whole problem is the high number of children born out of wedlock in this nation. Their solution is that all children should have a mother and a father. Once again, the voice of sanity came from Paul when he told the others that the fault did not lie with the “pill” itself although he did blame the problems on the “immorality” of society. Personhood issues didn’t come into the debate at all, nor did anyone point out that Santorum has publicly stated that birth control should be outlawed. When Romney tried to press Santorum about his statements on making birth control illegal, Santorum switched the subject to “Romneycare,” and the fight moved into a different arena.

Another waffle came during the discussion about the bailout of the auto industry. Until tonight Romney was adamantly opposed to George W. Bush’s plan (probably a problem with Romney getting votes in Michigan), but he drew back tonight. Questioned about his position on the bailout during the debate, he said that there was “no way” he would have let American car companies implode. For the first time he said that he recommended managed bankruptcy, but he seemed unaware that the only entity that has the tens of billions of dollars necessary for this financing is the federal government. I’m sure that Romney hopes that Michigan voters were watching his change of heart.

Lies: Newt Gingrich – “When I was speaker … we balanced the budget for four consecutive years.” Romney claimed that President Obama agreed to Russia’s demand to give up missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe and that he wanted to cut the Pentagon’s budget by “roughly a trillion dollars.” Actually the president negotiated with Russia over the scale of the system to win Moscow’s agreement to the Start arms reduction treaty, and the suggested Pentagon budget cut was half what Romney said.

More lies: Santorum claimed that the health care act adds tremendously to the deficit when the CBO found that it will reduce the deficit by $143 billion. In fact, repealing the Affordable Care Act would add $230 billion to the deficit by 2021.

The “oops” moment: Santorum said he voted for George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law even though “it was my against my principles” because politics is a “team sport.” He also tried to justify his voting in favor of Planned Parenthood.

The candidates consistently blamed President Obama for making mandates because a president has no right to do this. Yet they consistently made statements regarding how they would mandate a fix to the problems: war on Iran, repealing the health care act, etc. These people need a mirror!

The audience booed any time that a candidate suggested compromise. Joe Arpaio, treated with reverence and vaguely referred to as having some “federal issues,” was part of that audience. Arpaio, elected sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, has been under investigation for abuse of power, racial profiling, discrimination, election law violation, misuse of funds, and possibly more.

I’m angry partly because they won’t admit to the claims that they made earlier, and I’m afraid because someone might actually believe their lies. Yet, all except Paul obviously pandered to the audience and threw enough dirt on each other that there are enough sound bites for hundreds of anti-Republican-president TV advertisements. President Obama is still polling ahead of each of the four. As Scarlet O’Hara said, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

February 21, 2012

Candidates Enter the Debate Fray … Again

Political wonks focus on Arizona tomorrow when the next Republican presidential candidate debate starts on CNN at 5:00 pm (PT). We’ve had a four-week hiatus from the four white men posturing on a stage: Gingrich’s anger at the media forcing them into a corner; Paul’s earnestness about no government (including no war); Santorum’s whining about not getting enough air time; and Romney’s gaffes slipping into his cool answers. Santorum is the latest to reached his peak, up double-digits over Romney who just stays where he always has, while Gringrich has fallen after his wax wings melted when he got too close to the sun, and Paul keeps trudging forward.

Santorum has picked up a great deal of baggage since the last debate. Flush with his three-state victory in one day, he’s gone over the edge with his outrageous statements. Earlier, Gingrich seemed the idiot when he claimed that he would create a new state on the moon by the end of his second term in 2020. Now Santorum claims that prenatal testing results in abortions, that federally provided education is “anachronistic,” and that President Obama’s policies are not “based on the Bible.” The candidate wants to get rid of all three. Even Bob Schieffer lost his usual calm demeanor when he asked Santorum on Face the Nation, “What are you talking about.”

Even more bizarre among Santorum’s speeches is his claim that mainstream Protestant churches have fallen into the grip of Satan. During a 2008 speech at Catholic Ave Maria University in Florida, Santorum said: “[O]nce the colleges fell and those who were being educated in our institutions, the next was the church. Now you’d say, ‘wait, the Catholic Church’? No. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic, sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”

Gingrich has been so quiet lately that he has almost disappeared after the  visibility Sheldon Adelson gave him by providing $21 million to Gingrich-supporting super PAC Winning Our Future. Adelson now promises another $100 million, more than the $98.5 million spent by all super PACs this year. The eighth-richest person in the world worth $25 billion, Adelson said,  “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it.” He has a lot to gain: for almost 20 years, he’s lobbied to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Gingrich promised to do so on his first day as president.

It’s hard to beat Gingrich’s wacky statements. He said that unemployment insurance violates the Declaration of Independence’s “commitment that we have the right to pursue the right to pursue happiness.” Gingrich would solve this by enrolling all people seeking employment in a “business-led training program.” Never mind that the Declaration has no legal weight and that the unemployed and their former employers already paid into these benefits that people are to receive.

Even better, however, is Gingrich’s solution for finding undocumented workers. After ridiculing the federal government for not locating them when UPS and FedEx “track 24 million packages a day,” he recommends the following: “We send a package to everyone who’s here illegally and when it’s delivered, we pull it up in a computer, we know where they are.” He’s skipped just one important fact: UPS and FedEx need to know people’s addresses before they can deliver packages.

Gingrich tries to control the media about complaining about their mean-spirited attitude. To protect himself, he has said, “Politics has become a really nasty, vicious, negative business, and I think it’s disgusting and I think it’s dishonest.” He has conveniently forgotten his rise to power almost 20 years ago when he urged Republican candidates to win by calling their opponents “sick,” “traitors,” “bizarre,” “corrupt,” and “pathetic.”

Fox is still valiantly defending Gingrich despite his peccadilloes. One of the network’s regulars, a so-called psychiatrist named Keith Ablow, describes Gingrich as so charismatic that three women wanted to spend the rest of their lives with him, two of them felt this way although he was married, and “one of them felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married for the second time, was not exactly her equal in the looks department and had a wife [Marianne] who wanted to make his life without her as painful as possible.” Ablow suggested that with that power, people will be clamoring for a third Gingrich term and that Gingrich’s way of telling his wives the “incredibly painful truths” that he no longer loved them and was leaving them for other women could mean that he would be equally, brutally direct with America about whatever issues he had with the entire country. Ablow gives the term “spin” an entirely new dimension!

Romney suffers from criticisms about his fiscal affairs: he gave his kids $100 million without any taxes on either end; he stuffed some of his money off-shore in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland; and he profited from the Florida foreclosures—while at the same time he recommended that nothing should be done to stop them. His tax returns for just two years indicate that he makes as much money every day, seven days a week, as a middle-class taxpayer does in an entire year. And his suggested tax program would return more of that money to him than the less than 14-percent tax rate he has now.

Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum do have one thing in common: they want to base our nation’s laws on Christianity. These are some questions that I would ask at the debate:

For Rick Santorum: Because you denounced John Kennedy’s 1960 statement about the importance of separating church and state, would you carry out the Catholic bishops’ positions on abortion, contraception, and gay rights? If your answer is yes, would you then follow their positions on social justice in their opposition to war and capital punishment while believing in universal health care and caring for the poor?

For Newt Gingrich: Because you’re greatly concerned about Sharia law, would you oppose Catholic canon law too? Or would you believe that following Catholic law means that you should allow Muslims to follow their own religious law? Can you think of one example in which Muslims imposed Sharia law on non-Muslims in the United State sin the same way that Catholics impose their law on non-Catholics?

For Mitt Romney: Because Mormon scripture supports the superiority of white people, can you guarantee the enforcement of civil rights law, even for women and LGBT people?

These are just a few problems for these candidates. There’s much more to say about the onerous policies that these candidates would effect if they were elected.

February 20, 2012

Intelligence Separates Conservatives and Progressives

What makes the difference between conservatives and progressives? Although progressives are too polite to point this out, a variety of  studies show that the difference may come from intelligence. Gordon Hodson, a Canadian researcher, analyzed two large-scale, nationally representative United Kingdom data sets (a total of 15,874 people). According to the abstract of the study, “lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups.”

Because earlier studies found links between low levels of education and higher levels of prejudice, Hodson thought that studying intelligence was a logical next step. Hodson and Michael Busseris turned to two studies of citizens in the United Kingdom, one that followed babies since their births in March 1958 and another that did the same for babies born in April 1970. The children in the studies had their intelligence assessed at age 10 or 11. When they turned 30 or 33, the study measured their levels of social conservatism and racism.

In the first study, verbal and nonverbal intelligence tests asked people to find similarities and differences between words, shapes and symbols. The second study measured cognitive abilities in four ways: number recall, shape-drawing tasks, defining words, and identifying patterns and similarities among words. Average IQ was set at 100.

Social conservatives were defined as people who agreed with a laundry list of statements such as “Family life suffers if mum is working full-time,” and “Schools should teach children to obey authority.” Attitudes toward other races were captured by measuring agreement with statements such as “I wouldn’t mind working with people from other races.” Low intelligence in childhood corresponded with racism in adulthood. But the factor showing the relationship between these two variables was political: when researchers included social conservatism in the analysis, those ideologies accounted for much of the link between intelligence and bias.

People with lower cognitive abilities also had less contact with people of other races. “This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that intergroup contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining, and consistent with findings that contact reduces prejudice,” said Hodson, who published these results with his colleagues online Jan. 5 in the journal Psychological Science.

These aren’t the first studies to find the same result. Another analysis of U.S. data “confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice, a relation partially mediated by both authoritarianism and low levels of intergroup contact.” In another study, this one in the United States, Hodson and Busseri compared 254 people with the same amount of education but different levels of ability in abstract reasoning. They found that what applies to racism may also apply to homophobia. People who were poorer at abstract reasoning were more likely to exhibit prejudice against gays. As with the U.K. citizens, a lack of contact with gays and more acceptance of right-wing authoritarianism explained the link. For years, research has shown that open-mindedness, flexibility, and trust in others require an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking. Those with lower cognitive abilities desire order and need the maintenance of the status quo.

A libertarian (and probably nonpartisan) researcher, Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science, supports the progressive-smarter-than-conservative position in a paper published in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly. Data from one large survey of over 20,000 young people is particularly telling. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, often called Add Health, shows that the mean IQ of adolescents who identify themselves as “very liberal” is 106, compared with a mean IQ of 95 for those calling themselves “very conservative.” Kanazawa explains the reason behind the difference in this way: “Humans are designed to be conservative and it’s unnatural for humans to be liberal, being concerned about the welfare of millions of genetically unrelated other people.”

In an analysis of authoritarians, the religious fundamentalist core of the right-wing Republican base, Robert Altemeyer, a Canadian psychologist, has done extensive testing to isolate and describe the traits of the authoritarian personality and published his results in The Authoritarians. In short: “They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times and are often hypocrites.”

Lazar Stankov, a visiting professor at Singapore’s National Institute of Education, also published “Conservatism and Cognitive Ability” earlier this year in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence. In short: “Conservatism and cognitive ability are negatively correlated … At the individual level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with SAT, vocabulary, and analogy test scores. At the national level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with measures of education … and performance on mathematics and reading assessments.”

Using research in the United States, Philip Tetlock of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania reports that conservatives are less tolerant of compromise; see the world in “us” versus “them” terms; are more willing to use force to gain an advantage; are “more prone to rely on simple (good vs. bad) evaluative rules in interpreting policy issues”; and are “motivated to punish violators of social norms (e.g., deviations from traditional norms of sexuality or responsible behavior) and to deter free riders.” The Pew Research Center has provided some data for Tetlock’s analysis. More subtle distinctions come from a team of academic researchers collaborating at a website–www.YourMorals.org — designed to test a variety of theories about the connection between views on morality and politics.

Progressives score high on the need for peace and empathy with the world, mutual understanding, rehabilitation for criminals, fairness in income distribution, and shifting hierarchies. Conservatives emphasize the use of force in war, law enforcement, discipline of children, etc. and are more likely to believe in an “eye for an eye,” follow tradition, and accept the proposition that individuals are responsible for their own economic condition.

The increasingly authoritarian nature of conservatives explains the reason for the Congressional stalemates: 41 percent of Republicans surveyed in a USA Today-Gallup poll shortly after the November 2010 election agreed that political leaders should stand firm in their beliefs even if little gets done, compared to just 18 percent of Democrats. Nearly three-fifths of Democrats, 59 percent, said leaders should be willing to compromise to get things done, compared to just 31 percent of Republicans. Conservative politicians refuse to change their positions because “low information voters” will not re-elect them.

Any conservatives reading this will, by now, be screaming out the names of intelligent conservatives. These studies don’t show that all conservatives are more limited in cognitive abilities; clever politicians, lobbyists, journalists, etc. who promote rightwing ideologies have achieved power and influence. Many of their followers, however, don’t fit in the same category. Follow their mantras of President Obama as an “alien,” human-created climate change as an eco-fascist-communist-anarchist conspiracy, and the debt resulting from the greedy poor to identify the lower intelligence of the radical conservatives.

Respected conservatives agree that the current far-right conservatives have caused serious problems for the Republican Party. David Frum, former special assistant to George W. Bush, warns that “conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics.”  His concern is the “shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology” which has “ominous real-world consequences for American society.”

Mike Lofgren, past staff member for the highly conservative Rep. John R. Kasich and current governor of Ohio, goes farther when he says that “the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today.” According to Lofgren, the Republican Party, with its “prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science” is appealing to the “low-information voter” or the “misinformation vote.” Most office holders probably don’t believe the “reactionary and paranoid claptrap” they peddle, Lofgren said, but “they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base.

Chief peddlers right now are Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. They complain that President Obama is hooking America on “the narcotic of dependency” (Santorum) and warn that government programs “foster passivity and sloth” (Romney). Congressional votes show that the current GOP majority is the most conservative since 1879—and only because the estimates don’t go farther back than that.

What the “low information voters” don’t realize is that the areas of the nation that elect the most “severely conservative” politicians are also the places where government programs provide the largest share of personal income. Residents of the 10 states ranking as “most conservative” received 21.3 percent of their income in government transfers, compared to the 17.1 percent of government income in the 10 most liberal states.

Adding to the “low information” issues for conservative voters is the understanding of government programs. Of those who declare that they “have not used a government program,” 44 percent receive Social Security, 43 percent receive unemployment benefits, and 40 percent receive Medicare. Conservatives delight in confusing these people by claiming that only the idle poor are on the government dole, and they succeed! The voters will be very surprised if they elect these politicians and find themselves literally without any government programs.

Conservatives do have some hope. Overall, they’re stronger! Last year, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper by Aaron Sell, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. They measured the strength of 343 students at a gym and then asked them to complete questionnaires that measured their proneness to anger, their history of fighting, and their fondness for aggression as a way to solve both individual and geopolitical problems. According to this paper, men (but not women) with the most physical strength were the most likely to feel entitled to good treatment, anger easily, view themselves as successful in winning conflicts, and believe in physical force as a tool for resolving interpersonal and international conflicts. Women who thought of themselves as pretty showed the same pattern of greater aggression.

February 19, 2012

Marriage Equality ‘Inevitable’

What is the reason for banning same-sex marriage? One man used the excuse,  “How am I supposed to explain to my kid that two men are getting married?” So how does he handle the non-stop news of the past few weeks regarding same-sex marriage across the country!? I’ll give him a clue. When I toasted the anniversary of two lesbian friends at Thanksgiving one year, I told my two grand-nieces, ages 5 and 7, “These are two people who want to share their lives together like your mother and father did when they got married. This is their anniversary.” It’s not rocket science!

But back to all the same-sex marriage talk this year. Washington and New Jersey legislators passed bills that legalized marriage for gays and lesbians in their respective states. Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the Washington bill; Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the New Jersey one because he wants people to vote for civil rights that should be provided by the Constitution. The Maryland House of Delegates passed marriage equality legislation with a vote of 71-67; the bill is on the way to the Senate.

North Carolina and Minnesota have referenda this year on constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage; Maine will probably have one to legalize it. Rhode Island is also considering a marriage equality law, and an Illinois lawmaker has proposed upgrading its civil union law to marriage equality.

Meanwhile the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of gay and lesbian marriage. It was a very narrow ruling, stating that California could not take away a right that they had given—the people who married in California before the passage of no gay/lesbian marriage Proposition 8 are still married in California. But it’s still a ruling.

A civil unions bill escaped the Senate Judiciary Committee in Colorado by a 5-2 vote. Obviously civil unions are not the same as marriage, but they are a start, if only to have a state supreme court say that it’s unequal and then legalize marriage. At this time, 11 states have either a civil union or domestic partnership law that gives same-sex couples the same state rights as married couples have. West Virginia plans to join these states.

With over one-third of the people in the nation living in states that either legalize same-sex marriage or give couples the same rights, the Democratic Party is moving toward adding a marriage equality plank to their national platform, a move toward erasing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (banning marriage equality) with the Respect for Marriage Act. Meanwhile, federal courts will hear three DOMA lawsuits in Massachusetts this year.

When Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriages eight years ago, people in this country opposed them by a 2-1 ratio. Now a slender majority supports them. Since gay/lesbian marriage in Massachusetts, state supreme courts in California, Connecticut, and Iowa have ruled in favor of them, and legislatures in another five states have legalized same-sex marriage. New Hampshire has also decided not to repeal its marriage equality law.

Michael J. Klarman, Harvard Law School professor and author of Same-Sex Marriage Litigation and Political Backlash, thinks that marriage equality is “inevitable.” According to Klarman, more and more gays and lesbians are becoming open about their sexual identity because the country is becoming more accepting. A factor that strongly predicts support for gay/lesbian equality is knowing a gay or lesbian. Most people don’t want to discriminate against those they know and love. The more people who come out, the more others know open gays and lesbians.

Young people are another reason that same-sex marriage is inevitable, Klarman said. One study showed a 44-percent gap between the youngest and the oldest survey respondents regarding gay/lesbian marriage. In 2011, 70 percent of those between ages 18 and 34 supported same-sex marriage.

Even conservatives see the legalization of same-sex marriage as inevitable. Less than a year ago, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on a Christian radio program that “it is clear that something like same-sex marriage … is going to become normalized, legalized, and recognized in the culture.” He continued, “It’s time for Christians to start thinking about how we’re going to deal with that.”

Klarman agrees with many others that there will still be a great deal of fighting about the issue, but let’s hope that he is right, that same-sex marriage is “inevitable.”

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