Nel's New Day

January 31, 2013

Gun Deaths – The Culture of Violence, Part 1

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The NRA would deprive you of the first and third, by redefining the second.”—Douglas Anthony Cooper

Nine days after she led her classmates in the King College Prep School Marching Band for the inauguration parade, Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down a few blocks from her school. Last year, gun-related murders in Chicago were 58 percent higher than the number of U.S. soldiers shot and killed in Afghanistan.

Three days earlier, seven people were killed and six wounded because of gun violence in Chicago. One of them was 34-year-old Ronnie Chambers whose mother had already lost her other three children to shootings.

Two days ago in Midland City (AL) Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65, killed a school bus driver, and kidnapped a six-year-old boy.  Witnesses reported that Dykes boarded the school bus filled with grade school children when it stopped at one of its regular drop-off points and brandished a gun, telling the bus driver, “I need two kids between the ages of 6 and 8.” The bus driver replied, “I can’t do that” and attempted to get away. That’s when Dykes shot and killed him.  The shooter then holed up in a bunker keeping law officers at bay. Three days later, he is still holding the boy in the bunker. Negotiators are trying to communicate with Dykes through a 4-inch-wide ventilation pipe. 

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), strong supporter of budget cuts to decrease funds for more police officers on the streets, said he wants high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons because budget cuts mean inadequate police forces.  This is the same senator who told Fox News that “Hillary Clinton got away with murder” when he talked about the four deaths in Benghazi.

The Missouri state senate is considering a law requiring all first-graders to take a gun safety training course. This is in a state that has no sexual education requirement to help students protect themselves from STIs or unintended pregnancies.

Fontana Unified School District superintendent authorized the purchase of 14 high-caliber rifles at $1,000 each to be stored on campuses around the district for use in attacks like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary. Two years ago the district closed its counseling program; the purchase of guns does not address students’ mental issues.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police collaborated with New Hampshire gun makers Sig Sauer and Sturm, Ruger & Company in a fundraising program. They will auction off a Ruger SR-556C assault rifle and 30 other guns, one each day of the month, to the highest bidder.

In St. Paul, Kirill Bartashevitch, 51, pointed his recently-purchased assault rifle at his teenage daughter and wife because his daughter got two B’s in school instead of straight A’s. He also threw his wife to the floor. He told the police that it wasn’t a problem because the gun wasn’t loaded and he had checked the chamber earlier.

These tragedies are only a few of the daily occurrences in the United States. Yesterday, the U.S. Senate held a hearing in an introduction to legislating gun laws. At the same time as the hearing, a man shot three people in a north-central Phoenix (AZ) office complex after the shooter did not do well in a civil mediation meeting. One of them has died, another is expected to die, and the man who did the shooting was found dead of a self-inflicted gun shot.

The Senate hearing got off to a violent start when NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and his bodyguards walked off the elevator in the Dirksen Senate Office Building yesterday. Finding TV cameras waiting for them, one of the men “bumped and body-checked journalists out of the way so they couldn’t film LaPierre or question him as he walked,” according to columnist Dana Milbank. After a journalist was pushed against a wall, congressional officials told the NRA officials that congressional procedures prevented manhandling.

Two years ago, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head while addressing her constituents in a Tucson Safeway parking lot. Six other people were killed by the shooter who had a semi-automatic weapon with a high-capacity magazine. Yesterday she read the following statement at a Senate hearing on gun violence. Everyone should hear her statement.

“Thank for inviting me here today. This an important conversation for our children, for our community, for Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”

At the hearing, James Johnson, Baltimore County chief of police and chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, said “the best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check.” But LaPierre said the NRA opposes closing the gun show loophole, claiming that background checks are pointless, as are other gun laws, because criminals and the mentally ill don’t abide by them. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) responded, “Mr. LaPierre, that’s the point. The criminals won’t go to purchase the guns because there will be a background check.”

Although–thanks to Congress–there is no formal process for tabulating the number of gun deaths in the U.S., an informal count shows that at least 1478 people have died because of guns in the United States since the tragic event at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown (CT).

January 30, 2013

GOP, BSA Worried about Losses

Whenever I travel, I pick up any newspaper I can find. Yesterday on my way home from Seattle, I read USA Today, with these large-print headlines: “Boy Scouts May Welcome Gays” and “Next Fight: Amnesty.” Both subjects show that the conservatives are getting nervous. The Republicans are afraid that they won’t get enough votes in the next election, and the BSA is afraid it won’t get enough money. For the former, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was very open about his part in immigration reform: “Elections. Elections. The Republican Party is losing the support of Hispanic citizens.”

In addressing their concerns about undocumented immigrants, the GOP isn’t afraid to ignore popular opinion on gun violence, taxes, education, and energy, but they want the Hispanic voters back.

Toward that end, four GOP senators have joined four Democratic senators to present a proposal designed to legalize many undocumented people: Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).  The GOP likes to refer to the plan as Rubio’s and ignore the fact that this position copies President Obama’s 2011 proposal. McCain was behind a comprehensive reform package in 2007 before he had to oppose his own plan—that he now again accepts—in order to get conservative support for his failed presidential campaign.

Basically most immigrants could apply for permanent residency but only after the U.S. puts much more funding into border “security measures.” The favored ones in the plan are those more highly skilled and those who work in agriculture, in other words, people who the senators find most useful.

A sticky issue is “securing the border” because this is only a plan with no specifics. McCain defined it this way: “I’ll know it when I see it.” Does this mean more money? More goals? If so, what numbers? The U.S. border patrol’s budget has doubled to over $3.5 billion in little more than a decade while the number of Southwest patrol agents has gone from 3,555 to 18,506 in just two decades. The costs of paying back taxes, fines, and green card fines would also be so exorbitant, up to 50 percent of their income which is on average under $40,000, that people could not afford the government’s requirements.

The next question is whether the GOP can find the votes on legislation. Without them, the GOP could be in worse shape for votes in 2012 when they want the Latino vote. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) is one example of legislators who will obstruct immigration reform. This is his statement after the senators released their proposal:

“Anyone who believes that they’re going to win over the Latino vote is grossly mistaken. The majority that are here illegally are low-skilled or may not even have a high school diploma. The Republican Party is not going to compete over who can give more social programs out. [Latinos] will become Democrats because of the social programs they’ll depend on.”

At least Barletta used the term “Latinos.” Jeb Bush is co-chairing an Hispanic GOP advocacy group attempting to teach Republicans in Congress to use “tonally sensitive” language. Hispanic Leadership Network Executive Director Jennifer Korn sent GOP members a memo that some of these directions:

  • Don’t use phrases like “send them all back,” “electric fence,” and “build a wall along the entire border.”
  • Don’t characterize all Hispanics as undocumented and all undocumented as Hispanics.
  • Avoid using terms like “illegals,” “aliens,” and “anchor babies.”
  • Don’t begin with “We are against amnesty.”

The memo, however, doesn’t address the way that the Senate proposal ignores the existence of bi-national LGBT couples separated because the federal government refuses to recognize them as legally married. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called these couples a “red flag” for Republicans and “not of paramount importance” to immigration reform efforts.” President Obama takes a different approach. His proposal “treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”

Because of the tens of thousands of these couples, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) is reintroducing “the Reuniting Families Act, a bill that reunites families by classifying lawful permanent resident spouses, children, and same-sex, bi-national partners as “immediate relatives,” and exempting them from numerical caps on family immigration. This legislation will reduce visa backlog and relieve families from prolonged and unnecessary separation and heartache.”

Loss of money—and in some cases outright rebellion from some troops—has led the BSA leadership to reconsider its refusal to allow any participation in BSA of LGBT scouts or leaders. Just seven months ago, they flatly said, “No!” to this. During that time, about 50 local United Way groups joined several high-powered corporations and charities to stop giving to BSA because its ban violates the non-discrimination requirements. Other organizations also promised to also withdraw their support. In addition, change.org collected over 1.2 million signatures protesting the LGBT ban.

BSA spokesman Deron Smith said that local sponsoring organizations might be free to decide their own policies regarding LGBT inclusion in its over 290 local councils governing more than 116,000 local organizations. This statement came just days after Pack 442 of Cloverly (MD) decided to drop its non-discrimination statement after its council threatened them with removing their charter.

As might be expected, the religious right is riled. American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer said that Jerry Sandusky-like pedophiles could become troop leaders. Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said that the inclusion of openly gay members undermines “the well-being of the boys under their care.”

Like another blog writer, Michael Hulshof-Schmidt, I question whether BSA leadership will go through with this or whether the BSA will still exert control to ban LGBT people from the scouts. If the shift does occur, however, it could be at a national board meeting next week. Another group protesting BSA bans are the atheists. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, said, “I would hope [the BSA] remove the rest of the bigotry and admit atheists as well.”

Another major story during the past week is the decision to allow women to serve in combat roles. The discussion since that act has been predictable: it’s a great idea, or women don’t belong there because they’re not strong and they invite sex from the men. The most remarkable quote came from Kingsley Browne during an interview by Samantha Bee on The Daily Show: “girls become women by becoming older; boys become men by actually accomplishing something.” I also appreciated Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s (R-IL) statement about having already been in combat: “I didn’t lose these legs in a bar fight.” No, she lost them as a helicopter pilot in Iraq.

Also the filibuster fight disappeared in a whimper. For the pros and cons of the Senate rules agreement, most of which I don’t understand, you can go to Daily Kos. With the loss of former Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), now Secretary of State, and the decisions of Sens. Tom Harkins (D-IA) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) not to run in 2014, the Democrats may appreciate that they can stop Senate action as easily as the GOP has done.

January 24, 2013

Obama’s Spending Slowest for over a Half Century

The crisis of the debt ceiling has been postponed until May 19 as the GOP kicked the mythical can down the road through a vote in the House. The Senate has yet to vote on it, but it’s very probable that they will. Meanwhile, the GOP is screaming about how much Obama spends. This is how he compares with the two earlier presidents:

govt expenditures

Bloomberg News wrote, “Federal outlays over the past three years grew at their slowest pace since 1953-56, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.” The following chart shows this.

Eisenhower

The GOP keeps pushing the myth that government spending is out of control. Not so. Unfortunately, the lack of government spending is hurting the economy. Now is the time for the government to make investments because of the low interest rates. More investment means lower employment which means better economic recovery which ends up in people paying far more taxes.

Conservatives are wrong on two points: (1) government spending is down, not up, and (2) the GOP is fighting the recovery through making government spending go further down.

Our economic recovery and our deficit problem can’t be solved by taking money from the bottom 99 percent of the people in the country. The less money they have, the less they can spend. The less they spend, the less the economy will recover.

It can be solved by removing “entitlements” from corporations and the wealthy. Lower taxes doesn’t cause them to hire more people. Their history proves that. And they don’t spend the money that improves the economy: they drop it into offshore accounts where they can’t get taxed.

Your Congressional representative may not know this. It’s up to you to tell them.

Another death because of a “responsible, law-abiding gun owner”: Two weeks ago, 4-year-old Trinity Ross was shot in the head by a 6-year-old. Trinity’s stepmother was babysitting four children and had left the room. A loaded revolver was found in the pocket of a coat left by one of the children’s fathers. Trinity died a week later.

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This is my last blog for the next week. While I’m gone, check this out! It’s mesmerizing.

January 23, 2013

We Need to End the Culture of Rape

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:58 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

For over a week, the media was obsessed with the mythical girlfriend of Manti Te’o, a Notre Dame football player, who was supposedly heartbroken because his beloved girlfriend had died last fall. Although he claimed that he had actually seen the young woman, it turned out to be a gigantic hoax.

But the death of a young woman connected to Notre Dame football players remained largely invisible as far as the media was concerned. Two years ago, Lizzy Seeberg was sexually assaulted by one of the football players. She reported this to the police who failed to investigate the assault. The attacker’s teammates terrified Lizzy, and she committed suicide. Another young woman taken to the hospital for a rape exam refused to accuse the Notre Dame football player who sexually attacked her because she had received bullying texts from the teammates. The university has called for an investigation into the Te’o event, but no disciplinary action was ever taken against the football players.

The situation at Notre Dame is not unique. After a two-year investigation, Human Rights Watch has uncovered “disturbing evidence of police failure” in the Washington, D.C. police force in their failure to investigate reports of rape. The 200-page report will be released tomorrow.

Carol Tracy of the Women’s Law Project, a legal advocacy group specializing in sexual violence cases, said, “This is a national crisis requiring federal action. We need a paradigm shift in police culture, because rapes and sexual assaults are being swept under the rug, and too many victims are being bullied.” In cities across the United States, the police list a large number of reported rapes as “unfounded cases.” Although the national average is 6 percent, Pittsburgh shelves 34 percent of its cases, North Carolina 31 percent, Atlanta 24 percent, etc. New Orleans shelved 50 percent of sex attack cases as “non-criminal complaints.” In New York, the number of recorded rapes declined, but the number of sex crimes labeled as mere misdemeanors rose.

According to experts, an average of 5 percent of reported rapes are falsified. Anything over that shows that investigators don’t believe large number of victims or threaten and arrest them.

Cities also report thousands of untested rape kits. Former Miss Arizona Hilary Peele is a rape victim-turned advocate after her rape kit was neglected following an attack in her apartment in 2004. Police didn’t test her kit for DNA until she had called every two weeks for eight months. In Cleveland, Ohio, serial rapist and murderer Anthony Sowell was caught in 2011 after killing 11 women, six of them after a rape kit was disregarded. Milwaukee serial rapist Gregory Below was finally sentenced to 350 years in 2011, but three of his victims said the police initially dismissed their cases.

The country has one-half million or more untested kits are stacked up around the country. In Illinois alone, 80 percent of rape kits were untested as of 2010. In Michigan, the Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy, discovered over 11,000 untested rape kits, some dating to the 1980s.

Even worse, some states require women or their insurance companies to collect the evidence in these rape kits. In 31 states, rapists can get visitation rights if their victims carry pregnancies full term.

If you think that rapes only happen at Notre Dame or in India or in Steubenville, you are wrong. A person is sexually assaulted in the United States every two minutes, and many of these are in small towns, including where you live. For every 100 rapes, only three lead to jail time for the rapist.

These problems were made very clear at our most recent local NOW meeting when a special prosecutor for sex crimes in our Oregon Coast county spoke about the rape culture of this area. She talked about her first case when she took this position. The case had been abandoned in the DA office for four years because they thought it couldn’t be successfully prosecuted. Although it was common knowledge among the young man’s peers that he had raped several girls, he came from a well-liked family in the community.

Because the rapes were common knowledge, his freedom communicated the message–every day–that rape is acceptable. As the prosecutor said, every community has privileged kids who can act with impunity. People make justifications for not prosecuting rape: the victim was drunk, she is one of “those people,” she dressed like she wanted it. With their sense of entitlement, perps get told that it’s okay to violate “some people.” Forcible rape is frequently called “innocent sexual experimentation.”

It’s not just the rapists who make the act of sexual assault acceptable to the community. Police officers (as the report on Washington, D.C. shows) who overlook rape, attorney generals who ignore the arrests, and the judges who have their own biases, like the one in California who said that there is no rape unless the woman is “torn up inside”–these are the people who legitimize rape.

The talk by this international authority on sexual assault was tragic enough, but her message about the culture of rape in our community was compounded by the people who did not attend. Local police officers, prosecutors, judges, the DA, and all the other people who can stop the rape culture were notified. They just didn’t think it was important to come. That absence reinforces the silence that perpetuates the rape culture of any community. People are left to say, “It doesn’t happen in my county.”

Many times, a meeting likes this ends when people leave the room. I hope that this isn’t going to happen this time. One person attending has already written a letter to the local newspaper which read in part:

“We were disheartened that community leaders, law endorsement, and elected officials chose not to attend. It seems to send a message that sex abuse is to be tolerated and kept quiet, in effect sending a message to victims that nothing will be done if they report.”

The agenda for the next local NOW meeting is to develop a strategy designed to change the rape culture of our community. I look forward to reporting on that plan.

January 22, 2013

Roe v. Wade Protects Women

Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Because this right is being threatened across the United States, a coalition of over 50 organizations,  The Trust Women/Silver Ribbon Campaign, is working to keep this family-planning ability.

Almost half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and at least one-third of all U.S. women have an abortion sometime during their lives. Without legalized abortion, women live in shame and pain—and sometimes don’t live at all because illegal abortions kill.

According to Ellen Shaffer, abortion continues to be stigmatized by the well-funded minority movement, many of whom promote violent acts to stop women from seeking their legal rights. Every clinic in the U.S. that provides abortions has experienced systematic harassment, and doctors who perform abortions have been targeted and murdered. In 2009, a church was the site of a violent killing when an anti-reproductive rights zealot shot Dr. George Tiller point blank while he was serving as an usher. The media perpetuates the myth that these killers are each a “lone wolf.”

Women who self-identify as born-again or Evangelical Christians have 20 percent of the abortions. Yet fundamentalist Christians have gone so far as to re-write the Bible to prove that their God disapproves of abortion.

Instead of addressing the issues of economy and unemployment, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) co-sponsored a fetal personhood bill in the 113th Congress less than a week into the new House session. The bill follows the failed Mississippi initiative in granting full Constitutional rights to one-celled human embryos before they are even implanted in the uterus. Part of H.R. 23 allows a rapist to sue his victim to keep her from getting an abortion. Last year, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a state personhood initiative as “clearly unconstitutional” because it blocks a woman’s legal right to have an abortion.

On the second day of the House session, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) re-introduced legislation to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

The majority of people in the United States support Roe v. Wade and believe people should have the right to make decisions about personal reproductive health. Eighty percent of likely voters say a woman should be able to make her own personal decisions about her pregnancy, including 56 percent of voters who call themselves “pro-life.” To keep these rights, people need to stand up and be counted instead of staying invisible. That is the goal of Silver Ribbon.

January 22 is the first day of Trust Women Week. You can make your voice heard. My voice came through the following letter that our local chapter of NOW submitted to the media across our county:

During the past 40 years, no Supreme Court decision has caused greater dissention than Roe v. Wade, the ruling that deemed abortion during the first three months a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. On Tuesday, January 22nd, people who believe in women’s reproductive rights celebrate this momentous Supreme Court decision. No one claims that abortions are good, yet an overwhelming 64 percent agree with the Roe v Wade decision while only 31% disagree.

Without legalized abortion, women will get illegal ones at great personal danger. Before Roe v. Wade, when only 20 states had some legalized abortion, about 1.2 million women died each year from illegal ones. Legalizing abortion dropped the mortality rate of the procedure over 85 percent from 4.1 to 0.6 per 100,000 abortions.

Although some state governments have overwhelmingly passed anti-abortion laws within the past two years, a total of 135 bills, criminalization of the procedure does not prevent abortions. The rate of abortions is highest in Latin America where it is considered a crime in most of those countries.

Anti-choice people argue that millions of viable fetuses are aborted. In truth, 88 percent of abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and almost 99 percent are completed within the first 20 weeks.

The predominant reasons for abortions are poverty and ignorance. If you care about eliminating abortions, you should:

  • Require sex education for all teenagers. Mississippi had no mandatory sex education until last year and is still teaching abstinence-only in over half the school districts. That state also has the highest teenage pregnancy rate – 55 of every 1,000 teen girls get pregnant, a rate almost 80 percent higher than the federal level of 31 per 1,000 teen girls. Fifty percent of all pregnancies are not planned; 87 percent of teen pregnancies are unintended.
  • Provide free contraception for every fertile woman. A two-year study of 9,000 women in St. Louis showed that free birth control led to much lower rates of abortions and births to teenagers. The abortion rate of these women was 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women compared to 13.4 to 17 abortions in other St. Louis areas and almost 10 abortions per 1,000 women nationally.
  • Support Planned Parenthood and other women’s clinics. Without availability to the education and contraception that these provide, women will end up pregnant, and many of them will resort to abortions whether these are legal or not. Almost half the women getting abortions were not using contraception.
  • Mandate that all health care practitioners talk to patients about family planning. In Oregon the “One Key Question” initiative enlists doctors, nurses, and other health-care practitioners to ask women if they want to become pregnant in the next year. If yes, they talk about prenatal care and having a healthy baby. If no, they talk about contraception.
  • Provide free child care. Many women have abortions because they cannot care for children while keeping their jobs. Many children of women denied abortion will end up in foster care, costing taxpayers more money than funding child care, at least $30,000 to $100,000 before adoption — if foster parents could be found. Orphanages, an alternative, result in serious health issues for the children as shown by children in Romania.
  • Provide affordable education. Without education, women cannot support their children. They also cannot rely on men to provide for them.
  • Demand that women have equal pay with men as well as a living wage. Teenage girls denied abortion services, for example, are three times more likely to go on welfare. Seventy percent of women getting abortions are economically disadvantaged; statistically there are fewer abortions during a good economy.
  • Make men get involved with pregnancy. Guarantee that men care for children through both emotional and financial support.
  • Stop the “slut” culture. Teens may get abortions because of the shame and guilt heaped on them by both peers and adults. Educate young people that they can get help without emotional suffering.
  • Keep religion out of politics. The “slut” culture and the lack of education and contraception come from the religious beliefs that pregnancy out of wedlock, sex education, and contraception are wrong. The Constitution provides for separation of church and state. Religion should not create reproductive rights laws.

To paraphrase the common statement from gun supporters, “abortions don’t cause death; people cause death.” People who don’t provide ways to stop unwanted abortions contribute to them.

A final note: Although there is not easy access to legal abortions on the Oregon Coast, there is help for women who need them: The CAIR Project (http://www.cairproject.org/abortion/oregon/), NRO Network for Reproductive Options (http://www.nroptions.org/), and Oregon Public Health (http://public.health.oregon.gov/).

January 21, 2013

Corporations Are Not People

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:33 PM
Tags: ,

Today,  January 21, is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday to celebrate the life of the man who was shot and killed almost 45 years ago when he went to Memphis to support union rights. It is also the day that the first black president is inaugurated for the second time. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion across the United States.

Today is another anniversary of a Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to make unlimited concealed donations to political candidates. This ruling permitted almost $1 billion to be fed into last fall’s election with the public not knowing who is donating the money to the super PACs.  About two-thirds of all the money went to just ten of these PACs with 89 percent of the funds going to attack the opposing candidate. Consultants think that these ads adversely affect the democratic process. The attacks were so vicious that even some Republican candidates came out in opposition, despite the fact that 90 percent of the funding benefited the GOP positions.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke about how the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United is “corrosive” to our democracy. Republican senators have told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), “You’re leading us off the cliff here. This is a crazy place for us to be, defending secret unlimited money. We’re one scandal way from owning this mess.”

One of the provisions of Citizens United is that there be no communication between the super PACs and the candidates’ campaigns. As long as super PACs act independently of the candidate, there is no danger of corruption, the high court reasoned. An analysis of this election showed that these rules were broken to the point that super PACs sharing mailing addresses and offices with the chosen candidate’s own election campaign.

During the last three years, seven states, countless small towns, and more than 300 cities have passed resolutions calling for the overturn of Citizens United. The most recent one is Los Angeles, where the city council has voted to draft ballot language for voters to determine whether there should be limits on campaign spending and whether corporations are “people,” as the Supreme Court declared.  If passed, L.A. will also urge Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 ruling. During the past two years, Congressional legislators have tried to put 17 bills to do this, but none of them made it to the floor for a vote.

Common Cause is a leader behind the city and state resolutions. Derek Cressman, director of the organization’s Campaign to Reverse Citizens United, said, “The results we’ve seen so far from these ballot measures have been beyond our hopes and expectations.” The ballot measures all passed, winning from 72 percent to 81 percent of the vote, including the red state of Montana where 75 percent of the voters supported overturning the court’s ruling.

Cressman said he got the idea for local ballot measures from the 17th Amendment, which brought about the direct election of U.S. senators in 1913. For years, a constitutional amendment to elect senators by popular vote instead of appointing them was proposed in the House but, not surprisingly, was blocked in the Senate. But when Oregon put the matter to a popular vote, followed by twenty-nine other states, Congress felt enough pressure to pass the amendment. All constitutional amendments must have two-thirds approval in both the House and Senate and then approval by two-thirds of the states.

Short of a constitutional amendment, Democrats have tried to pass a Disclose Bill that would require publicly traded corporations to disclose their donations to these super PACs through expanding the Securities and Exchange Commission’s authority to require disclosure of financially relevant information to include small political expenditures. The NRA told legislators that voting for the Disclose Act would count against them on the NRA scorecard.  SEC officials are now designing a disclosure rule for corporate political expenditures.

Survival in politics usually means having a sense of humor. Here are some ways that people have used the Supreme Court’s statement that corporations are actually persons:

  • Carpooling: California resident Jonathan Frieman put his corporate paperwork on the passenger seat on his commute in the freeway carpool lane. The judge found Frieman guilty, but he plans to appeal.
  • Marriage: Angela Vogel successfully filed for a marriage certificate in Seattle and held a public wedding with “Corporate Personhood,” but the relationship was shortlived. The license was revoked because Corporate Person couldn’t consent.
  •  “Welfare Mamas”: If people like Mitt Romney call people who don’t pay taxes “moochers” and “the 47 percent,” then corporations that don’t pay taxes fall into that category. ExxonMobil, Bank of America, GE, and Chevron are just a few of these “welfare mamas.”
  • Murder: When executives bankrupt companies, such as Hostess Foods, they are killing one of the “people.” Although no one has acted on this yet, the CEOs should be taken to court for murder. When executives bankrupt a company, in the eyes of the law, they are essentially ending a life. Stephen Colbert used Romney as an example of a serial killer.
  • Candidate for Political Office: Murray Hill, Inc. ran for a Congressional seat in Maryland in 2010 with the slogan “For the best democracy money can buy.” Its problem was that the company could not register as a Republican because it could not prove U.S. citizenship.

Even McConnell attributes human feelings to the corporation “people.” In his concern that requiring companies to disclose their campaign spending would stifle their free speech, he says that the demand for transparency exposes these corporations “to harassment and intimidation.” That’s in comparison to the past term of “accountability.” At one time, McConnell supported reforms to create transparency of campaign funding.

The Watergate scandals over 40 years ago started with secret campaign money. Even the Supreme Court Citizens United decision upheld the constitutionality of disclosure requirements on corporations and other outside groups. This part of the ruling needs to be upheld.

Tomorrow is the culmination of the debate regarding the change of Senate filibuster rules. Either the Senate does it tomorrow, or the same dysfunction will exist in that chamber for another two years.

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A Las Vegas police officer, 52-year-old Hans Walters, killed his police officer wife, 46-year-old Michelle Walters, and their son. Walters had worked for the Las Vegas police department for over 20 years; associates said that they had detected nothing wrong. At least 1100 people have died of gun deaths since the Newtown (CT) massacre.

January 20, 2013

Good News for Separation of Church & State

During the last decade, the fundamentalist Christian religion has tried to control the entire legal process of the United States. Here is some hope that this process may have started failing.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias has ruled that names of church leaders who mishandled child sex abuse allegations will be made public in 30,000 pages of internal Archdiocese of Los Angeles records. The private mediator asked that the names be blacked out to save further embarrassment to the church and “guilt by association.” The judge disagreed, saying that parishioners who learn from the files of a priest accused of abuse in their local church “may want to talk to their adult children” about their own experiences. Lawyers for the church were upset because they had already blacked out the names and didn’t want to pay for redoing the work, a job that could take months.

Supporters of stem-cell research were pleased over a week ago when the Supreme Court failed to review a challenge to federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research. Abortion-rights opponents, who equate research involving embryonic stem cells with murder, criticized the court’s decision. Appellate judges had acknowledged ambiguity in laws governing stem-cell research but ultimately deferred to the National Institutes of Health, which supports the studies. Scientists believe that stem-cell research, who believe it will yield treatments and cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Christian fundamentalists in Florida, pleased with a new law to allow prayer in school, may not be pleased with the outcome. The Inspirational Messages law allows students to write and read these messages. Overlord Lucien Graves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, has said that they promote many of the same ideas as major religions and should be included in the “inspirational messages.”  The bill dictates that school officials are not permitted to mediate, approve, or participate in these “inspirational messages,” which expand upon the two minutes of silence for quiet prayer or mediation previously observed in Florida public schools.

This coming Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal across the United States. Despite the huge spate of anti-abortion laws passed by states in the last two years on religious grounds, some religious people support the right of women to control their bodies.

Before the Supreme Court legalized abortion, clergy were among the staunchest supporters of women seeking an abortion. The Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, an underground network that counseled women and led them to compassionate, competent doctors who provided abortion care, grew to about 1,400 clergy operating on the East Coast during the 1960s to serve women from across the nation. Rev. Howard Moody—who was born in Texas, lived in New York, and died in 2012 at age 91—created the network and considered it one of his most important ministries.

Five years after the Roe decision, a number of religious organizations voiced support for the decision in a 1978 ecumenical study document. American Baptist Churches wrote, “Abortion should be a matter of personal decision.” The American Lutheran Church agreed, recognizing the “freedom and responsibility of individuals to make their own choices in light of the best information available to them and their understanding of God’s will for their lives.” The Church of the Brethren voiced support in the document for women who, “after prayer and counseling, believe abortion is the least destructive alternative available to them.”

The 1978 ecumenical study document articulated the inherent value of the fetus and the importance of reducing the need for abortion. It also held up values of humility, freedom, justice, balance, compassion, and responsibility. Since that time, a different translation of the Bible by pro-life advocates now determines that God is opposed to any abortion, wanting people to protect fertilized eggs from the time of conception. In fact, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is sponsoring a bill to that effect, the third of his career. (He has evidently abandoned the need to improve the economy and job market.)

Candidates who want to keep raising money from the issue of abortion need to move the “pro-life” movement to the fertilized egg. With advanced technology, over 60 percent of abortions are now completed before the ninth week and 90 percent before the 12th. Increased use of contraception has drastically decreased abortion rates because prevention of pregnancy is more accessible. The rate in 2008 was 19.6 per 1,000 women, two-thirds of the rate in 1981. In the past, women who would afford the cost of contraceptives rarely needed abortions; with its free contraceptives, Obamacare will shrink the rate of abortions for the poor.

Religious acceptance of reproductive rights for women is important. As the Southern Baptist Convention reasoned when it supported Roe v. Wade, if the government could tell a woman what to do with her body, it could also tell Baptists what they could—or couldn’t—do with their religion. That’s an important reason for separation of church and state.

An update on yesterday and GAD: There were actually five people injured at gun shows yesterday. In Indiana a 54-year-old man accidentally shot himself in the hand outside the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife Shot while loading his .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun in the parking lot. In Medina (OH) a vendor at the Medina County gun show had to be transported to the hospital by EMS after accidentally shooting himself. In Raleigh (NC), site of the other three injuries, the Dixie Gun and Knife Show  closed down yesterday after the injuries and no longer allow people to bring personal guns to the show.

Today in Albuquerque (NM) 15-year-old Nehemiah Griego killed both his parents and three of his nine siblings with an assault rifle. All victims suffered multiple gunshot wounds. The father, Greg Griego, spent 13 years as volunteer pastor at the Metropolitan Detention Center. The killer did not have a criminal record.

If anyone tries to convince you that we don’t need gun laws because law-abiding gun owners are responsible, ask them to watch this video.

January 19, 2013

Today Is GAD

I have a very close friend who sometimes exclaims “Gad!” when surprised, shocked, or upset by something. Now “GAD” takes on a new meaning: January 19 is “Gun Appreciation Day.” Its website states: “On 01.19.13 go to your local gun store, gun range or gun show with your Constitution, American flags and your ‘Hands off my Guns’ sign to send a loud and clear message to Congress and President Obama.”

“Guns are Safe and Sexy,” reads one headline on the site. Organizer Larry Ward is so intent to prove that GAD’s backers are not extremists that the white supremacist group  American Third Position (A3P), a political group that describes itself as representing “the unique political interests of white Americans,” has disappeared as one of the sponsors. Another radical sponsor, the Social Security Institute, remains. SSI warns of one-world-government control.

Ward said the idea for GAD came from the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary because of gun protesters outside the NRA’s D.C. office. His office for Political Works that represents Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) libertarian Revolution PAC among others is next door to the NRA. In an initial response to the NRA protesters, he leaned out his window and yelled, “Arm the teachers, arm the principals.”

When people criticized Ward for holding his gun-loving celebration on the weekend of Martin Luther King Day and the president’s inauguration, he claimed that Martin Luther King would have agreed with him. His reason is that if the slaves had been armed they could have stopped slavery. (I won’t even try to work through the illogic in this statement.) About the inauguration, Ward said, “It didn’t necessarily hurt that it was two days before inauguration. I don’t mind poking the bear occasionally.”

Ward has also stated his opposition to a background check, even for people who mentally ill. “We should not, at any point in our country, take away someone’s constitutional right because they’re sick.”

Another Larry, Larry Pratt, feels as strongly as Larry Ward about gun rights. Director of Gun Owners of America, Pratt complained on Fox about the liberal bent of Justice Antonin Scalia who authored the ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller which struck down the city’s ban on handguns and greatly extended individual gun ownership. Pratt seems to be offended that Scalia has said that the government could ban such weapons as “hand-held rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes.” Pratt said that the amendment says “shall not be infringed.”

Pratt has also called for the president’s impeachment. This is his message for Congress:

“When are you going to impeach this guy? When are you going to defund his illegal activities? Republicans can’t continue, at least I hope they cannot, continue to be spectators while the country is being torn apart. The left, which is largely made up of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s blood as being necessary for our salvation, view inanimate objects as possessing their own will.”

So who are the NRA leaders, the organization that has pushed the nation into being the most heavily armed in the world with a death rate equal to the next 23 nations?

  • Tom Selleck: The Magnum, P.I. star, gun buff, and vocal gun-rights supporter was the top vote-getter in 2008’s board election.
  • Ted Nugent: His statement, “If Barack Obama becomes the next president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year,” got him a meeting with the Secret Service.
  • Oliver North: The Iran-Contra conspirator and Call of Duty (computer/video game franchise) pitchman said, “I love speaking out for the NRA in large part because it drives the left a little bit nuts.”
  • Marion Hammer: The woman who stood behind Florida’s Stand Your Ground law that killed, among others, Trayvon Martin.
  • Patricia Clark:  The record-holding shooter lives in Newtown (CT), home of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
  • Robert K. Brown: The former Special Forces soldier and big-game hunter is also the founder and publisher of Soldier of Fortune, which was sued in the late 1980s for running want ads for mercenaries and guns for hire.
  • David Keene: The current NRA president and former chairman of the American Conservative Union has a son in prison for ten years after firing at another driver during a road rage incident in 2003.
  • Wayne A. Ross: After Sarah Palin nominated him for Alaska’s attorney general, he was passed over because of his homophobic and sexist comments.
  • Ronnie G. Barrett: The founder of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing invented the .50 sniper rifle, which can penetrate armor from more than 4,500 feet and is legal for civilian purchase in 49 states.
  • Larry Craig: The former Idaho senator sponsored a  law protecting gun makers from liability in connection with their products being used by criminals in 2005, the year that the NRA spent $1.8 million lobbying Congress.  That was the year before NRA got Congress to pass the law that the Senate had to approve the director of the Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco Agency. AFT has not had a director approved since the law went into effect.
  • Grover Norquist: The president of Americans for Tax Reform that calls upon everyone in Congress to sign a pledge not to ever raise taxes who said after Newtown, “We have got to calm down and not take tragedies like this, crimes like this, and use them for political purposes.”

Of the entire board, 93 percent are white, and 87 percent are men.

One week after the Sandy Hook tragedy, the NRA blamed—and lamented—the violence in video gaming, trying to convince that this was the cause of gun deaths and not guns.  Less than a month after the shootings, the NRA rleased a shooting app, called “NRA: Practice Range,” billed as an “educational … resource” that “[i]nstills safe and responsible ownership through fun challenges and realistic simulations.” The targets are coffin-shaped, with red bullseyes at head- and heart-level. The free game “NRA: Practice Range” is offered on iTunes and allows would-be snipers to choose a weapon to fire at an indoor gun range, an outdoor range or for skeet shooting practice.

NRA-practice-range

NRA graves

The free guns include a Beretta M-9 handgun, a Colt M-16 assault rifle with 15-round clip or a Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun.
Users can upgrade to a MK11 sniper rifle for only 99 cents. Gun manufacturers also sell their firearm brand names to the gaming industry to be used as product promotion.

Apple approved the manufacturer’s recommended age rating of 4 and up for the disturbing game. It’s “the most authentic experience possible,” the gamemakers said, touting its real-life gunshot sounds and arsenal of free weapons.  After even NRA members protested the age, Apple changed its age to at least 12 years of age with an added warning that the game depicts “intense” and “realistic” violence. But the game is still available—free.

Opponents of gun claims constantly claim that only criminals kill people, that all law-abiding gun-owners are responsible. Following NRA wishes, the Chatfield School in Lapeer (MI) hired a 32-year retired sheriff’s deputy as armed guard for the charter school academy of almost 500. On January 14, three days after he was hired, he left his weapon unattended in a student restroom.  

Once again a supposedly responsible gun-owner, this time a patron at the Dixie Gun and Knife Show in Raleigh (NC) who wanted to sell his 12 gauge shotgun to a private buyer, accidentally fired it, injuring three people including a sheriff’s deputy.  Today’s shooting wasn’t an isolated incident.

As of last Thursday, there have been 1016 gun-related deaths in the United States since December 14, 2012, including the 28 related to the Newton (CT) massacre and the other 15 deaths on the same day.

I say, “Gad!”

January 18, 2013

A Letter about Entitlements to Rep. Kurt Schrader

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:49 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Last week I wrote a letter to Rep. Kurt Schrader (R-OR) indicating my distress regarding his repeating myths that guns don’t kill people. In addition to this statement, he wrote an op-ed for The Oregonian asking people to “demand the [House] members agree to $800 billion in entitlement reform.” When he said “$800 billion,” I’m guessing that he means over a decade, which means $80 billion per year.

Here is my response to Rep. Schrader:

Cutting entitlements might help reduce the deficit so I am providing some suggestions about the ones that I would “demand” the House members to eliminate.

First, the House should do away for the following entitlements that they passed in the “fiscal cliff” bill: NASCAR, $43 million over two years; railroads, $165 million a year; movies, $150 million for two years; mining companies; Goldman Sachs Headquarters “tax exempt financing,” $1.6 billion; off-shore loophole for banks; $9 billion; foreign subsidiaries, over $750,000 million a year; and bonus depreciation, R&D Tax Credit, $110 billion for two years. I’m sure that there are far more than these, but these are the ones that I could easily find. Just these would take care of the $800 billion that you want to cut.

If that isn’t enough, however, here are some other entitlements that could be cut: tax financial transactions, $100 billion a year; tax preference for capital gains and dividends, $80 billion per year; no progressive estate tax on large fortunes, $40-60 billion per year; overseas tax havens, $100 billion per year, and subsidies for excessive executive compensation, $18 billion per year.

Another way to save money is the Public Option Deficit Reduction Act, allowing consumers to opt into a government-run health insurance plan in the Obamacare exchanges. This could save up to $100 billion over the next decade. Passing the Dream Act could cut the deficit by $2 billion, and a cap-and-trade policy would be another $20 billion. That’s another $12+ billion.

Taking care of the following entitlements can save you $6 trillion in ten years—much more than just $800 billion: close multiple loopholes in the capital gains law, $174.2 billion; eliminate the capital gains altogether, $900 billion; reduce the “non-defense expenditures” for U.S. overseas military bases and other military perks by 20 percent, $200 billion; allow the government to negotiate with drug companies, $220 billion; enact DoD-friendly cuts to military budget, $519 billion; enact Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s “Fairness in Taxation Act” for very high earners, $872.5 billion; eliminate corporate tax loopholes, $1.24 trillion; and create a financial transactions tax for high-volume Wall Street trading, $1.8 trillion.

Huge entitlements go to the oil industry. It’s the most profitable industry in history, on track to make profits of over $100 billion in 2012. Yet we taxpayers will still give the industry $40 billion in tax giveaways over the next ten years unless you change this. They’ve been racking in tax money for almost 100 years and will continue for another 100 if you don’t change this. U.S. corporations have increased their after-tax profits by 171 percent during the past four years; they can afford to pay more than the minimal taxes—sometimes under five percent—that they do now.

Rep. Schrader, I’m guessing that you don’t consider Social Security as an “entitlement” because it has nothing to do with budget deficits. Law demands that all SS money comes from its trust fund which has been in surplus for almost two decades because of contributions. The only “deficit” is when the trust fund collects on the government IOUs, but I’m sure you agree that the government should pay its debts.

In case you do consider SS an “entitlement,” please remember that benefits are already meager for most SS recipients. The median income for people over 65 in the U.S. is less than $20,000. I’m sure that you understand how little this is for an annual salary because you make at least eight times as much. Almost 70 percent of people depend on SS for half of their income, and the average SS benefit is less than $15,000 a year.

You might think that Medicare is another “entitlement,” but people also pay into that account. The answer is not to deny people Medicare funds but to do something about the exorbitant cost of health care in the United States. This country already spends almost 18 percent of our entire economy on health care compared to an average of 9.6 percent in all other wealthy countries. Paying double, however, doesn’t make people in the U.S. healthier. In fact, the life expectancy at birth (78.2) in this nation is shorter than other rich countries (averaging 79.5 years), and the infant mortality (6.5 deaths per 1000 live births) is almost 50 percent higher than theirs (4.4).

Computers with patient records cannot share data, resulting in costly errors as this information has to be reentered. And insurance companies make lots of money because doctors and hospitals have to collect from the insurers who get paid for collecting from policy holders. A major occupational category at most hospitals is “billing clerk,” and a third of nursing hours are devoted to documenting what’s happened so insurers have proof. Cutting Medicare and Medicaid costs won’t stop this; it just ends up in less care. Medicare’s administrative costs are about 3 percent, well below the 5 to 10 percent in large self-insuring companies—and much lower than the 25 to 27 percent of premiums. That 3 percent is far below the 11-percent costs of private plans under Medicare Advantage.

Healthcare costs would be further contained if Medicare and Medicaid could use their huge bargaining leverage over healthcare providers to shift away from a “fee-for-the-most-costly-service” system to a system focused on achieving healthy outcomes.

I realize that you are proud of being a part of the disappearing Blue Dog caucus and part of the new No Labels coalition to reform Washington. I ask you to use the coalition to deny ALEC laws and support the people in the nation who make less than $250,000 by eliminating the entitlements for the wealthy, the drug and insurance companies, other corporations like the oil industry, and the defense bloat. Don’t let the GOP continue to pay out these entitlements.

Please support your constituents instead of the conservative GOP who wants to make the poor and middle class suffer while increasing the wealth of the rich and the corporations.

January 17, 2013

What Happened to Filibuster Reform?

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:10 PM
Tags: , ,

Filibuster reform: discussion of this seems to have faded since the twin crises of the debt ceiling and gun control issues. Yet it’s still swirling around in the blogosphere. Theoretically, any changes in Senate rule have to be done on the first day of the session which was January 3, the only day that rules can be changed through a simple majority. If there is an attempt any other time, the GOP is sure to—ahem—filibuster changes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has extended the first legislative day of the new Congress, however, until Jan. 22. (This website provides extensive information on the filibuster process.)

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have launched a petition to get support for eliminating the silent filibuster. Currently, senators can just say that they are filibustering and then go back home without having to actually standing and speaking on the floor. The proposal is also to eliminate the motion to proceed, typically offered by the majority leader to bring up a bill or other measure for consideration.

Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) have a scaled-back plan, supported by at least six other senators, that would sunset in two years.  Instead of a rules change, the proposal would ask Senators who want to object to unanimous consent, or threaten to filibuster, to do it in person on the Senate floor. That’s how it’s done now—and the GOP members refuse to follow this “recommendation.” In addition, the proposal states that the Senate shouldn’t go over the 30 hours of post-cloture debate time (as if that’s a major problem), and that the Presiding Officer could always call for a vote if nobody objects. Those are the current rules that have caused massive obstructionism and delay during the past several years.

Even when the talking filibuster was part of Senate rules, the filibustering Senators could use quorum calls and other practices such as dilatory motions or forced roll-call votes to avoid speaking. “Without a talking filibuster, obstructionist Senators will still be able to silently stall any piece of legislation they want without any accountability,” he writes.

Currently, the motion to proceed is eligible for a filibuster. Thus a minority of 41 Senators can force the Senate to extend debate on whether to start a debate on legislation. Udall-Merkley would eliminate this circumstance, so that proceeding to debate could not be filibustered.

On the other hand, Levin-McCain propose that ending the filibuster on the motion to proceed could happen only if the majority permits two amendments from each side of aisle, resulting in poison pill or messaging amendments. The underlying legislation would require 60 votes for final passage, but the amendments would demand only a simple majority vote. Example: the Democrats might have a bill on funding health care, and the GOP could amend it to defund Planned Parenthood. Most likely the result is legislative paralysis like the current situation.

To set up a conference committee, reconciling differences between legislation passed separately by the two houses of Congress, the Senate needs to pass three motions (to insist on its version of the legislation, request a conference with the House, and appoint conferees), all of which can be filibustered. If the minority wishes, they can force the Senate to spend 12 days to get through all three steps.

Udall-Merkley would consolidate the three motions into one and end filibusters against that motion so that a bill already passed by the Senate (and already subject to filibuster) can get to a conference committee with the House. The underlying legislation is still subject to filibuster after it gets back from conference. Although the McCain-Levin would consolidate the three motions into one, it could still be filibustered.

Udall-Merkley reduces post-cloture debate to two hours on all nominations except for Supreme Court Justices, a change from the four days of floor time on every individual nominee. McCain-Levin adds the 531 Presidential-level nominees to a streamlined process by going directly to the Senate calendar instead of through committee review, but every Chair and Ranking Member would have the opportunity to strike these new nominees from the list. That would eliminate most of the nominations. At this time, 75 seats on the federal bench, including Chief Justice John Roberts’ former position on the DC Circuit Court—vacant since he left in 2005.

Reid has a compromise proposal that would require a filibustering minority of senators to occupy the floor and speak after the debate has begun. They would staill retain the ability to force a 60-vote threshold for the first motion to begin debate. After that, the majority could advance legislation, or nominations to the minority could try to block it. Thus at least 51 senators would have to remain in the chamber to maintain a quorum rather than the current rule of keeping just one senator on the floor until the majority caves. Reid said, “If somebody wants to stall things let them stand and stall, not hide back in some office someplace.”

Reid’s plan would also eliminate a rule requiring a 30-hour gap between cloture and a final vote on a measure to make it easier for the Senate to go to conference with the House.

Merkley said, “As of this point, the only person who has said that he will definitely oppose Reid’s package if it is to be done with 51 votes is Senator Levin.”

Senate majority might have approved the Dream Act, campaign finance reform, and equal pay for equal work. None of these bills could come up for a vote, however, because they were all filibustered. When one considers the extent of filibustering during the last Republican minority, it is sure than at least one, and perhaps more, of the president’s nominees for cabinet seats will be filibustered. Although in the past a few cabinet nominees have been voted down in a majority vote, none has ever been filibustered.

A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in late November found that 65 percent of Americans believe senators should have to participate in debate for the duration of a filibuster, while only 9 percent of those polled said that senators should be able to filibuster without being physically present. The Senate is ripe for change because of the unprofessional behavior of the GOP Senate minority during the past six years.

Speaking of the GOP, House members are currently safely ensconced at their Williamsburg retreat. Part of today’s agenda was a panel on “Successful Communication with Minorities and Women.” The location is in the gracious Burwell Plantation room, named after the famous Virginia slave plantation, on the remnants of the Kingsmill Plantation.

Since January 1, 2013, at least 496 people have died of gun deaths in the United States, including 20-year-old Caitlin Cornett, her 53-year-old uncle Jackie Cornett, and her 12-year-old cousin Taylor Jade Cornett. The gunman had bought the semiautomatic pistol the same day at a pawn shop.

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