Nel's New Day

February 26, 2013

10th Circuit Court Clarifies the Second Amendment

For decades, conservatives in legislatures and on courts have made gun regulations so loose that those who claim Second Amendment rights are going into my state capitol waving guns. Last Friday may have been the turning point for the freedom of people to kill and main others, sometimes without any retribution.

“We conclude that the carrying of concealed firearms is not protected by the Second Amendment . . .” wrote Justice Carlos Lucero on behalf of a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In its ruling, the three-judge panel cited a Supreme Court ruling that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms is not infringed by laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons.”

In Peterson v. Martinez, a Washington State resident challenged Colorado’s concealed carry law, which restricts Concealed Handgun Licenses (CHL) to residents of Colorado. The state’s law allows people to have firearms in their homes, places of business, and vehicles, but to carry a concealed firearm in public places, residents of the state must apply with their local sheriff for a permit; the law allows “each sheriff to implement and administer.”

The court began with Peterson’s narrow point and then expanded into far-reaching national precedent against carrying a loaded handgun outside the home. “In light of our nation’s extensive practice of restricting citizens’ freedom to carry firearms in a concealed manner, we hold that this activity does not fall within the scope of the Second Amendment’s protections,” the court stated. The federal court also rejected arguments that Colorado’s CHL law infringed on the Equal Protection Clause and the Privileges and Immunities Clause.

To avert an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Tenth Circuit recounted several court rulings and state laws dating back to 1813 and, in addition, based its ruling on prior U.S. Supreme Court cases.

Peterson also used the argument that the ban on concealed carry permits for non-residents infringed on his right to travel, using an example from New York in which state residents paid less to cross a bridge than non-residents. The 10th Circuit explained that the right to travel was economic in nature. “The concealed carrying of a firearm does not impact his ability to pursue common calling or other employment,” the court said, adding that it didn’t limit his joining the National Guard or the military either.

“We conclude that carrying a concealed weapon is not a privilege or immunity protected under Article IV [of the constitution],” the court ruled. “Given that the concealed carrying of firearms has not been recognized as a right … we cannot declare this activity sufficiently basic to the livelihood of the Nation.”

Although gun lovers are fond of quoting the Second Amendment, they may not realize that the version ratified by the states is not the same as the one passed by Congress. Although the differences are slight, they can also change the meaning.

Congress: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

States: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Congressional capitalization of Militia and the comma after “State” could radically change the meaning of the amendment.

In addition, the term “regulated” means “to bring under the control of law or constituted authority.” Regulation means “an authoritarian rule dealing with details or procedure (safety regulations); a rule or order issued by an executive authority or regulatory agency of a government having the force of law.” When referring to “not be infringed,” infringe means “to encroach upon in a way that violates law or the rights of another.” Thus the Constitution allows the government to regulate gun ownership and use.

Although the GOP doesn’t provide government tracking of gun deaths in the United States, informal reports show almost 2300 deaths by guns since the Newtown (CT) massacre on December 14, 2012.

Thanks for reading the above blog. Posts will resume in a week.

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February 25, 2013

Reasons to Raise the Minimum Wage

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama dropped a bomb shell when he recommended increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 with subsequent increases for inflation. The far-right had screaming fits about this action losing jobs, destroying the economy, and decimating the wealthy.

What would be the effect of this increase? An additional $18 billion in local economies, added tax revenue, and stabilized families who could either keep their homes or find one. Thirty million people across the country make less than $9 per hour. Nearly five million people earn just $7.25, grossing $15,000 a year. The loss of manufacturing and public sector jobs has put more and more people at or close to minimum wage. With a wage of $9 per hour, a person could gross $18,000 per year.

Anecdotal evidence from the 20 states where the minimum wage is higher than the federal rate indicates no issues with job loss linked to salaries. In fact an increase in minimum wage may actually help through reduced labor turnover, significantly saving costs.

Every decade for the last half century, the minimum wage has fallen below inflation, making $7.25 much lower than its equivalent in the 1960s. Yet worker productivity has increased five-fold within the past 20 years. The profits go only to corporations and the wealthy so that they can stash is overseas.

Wal-mart employs 1.4 million U.S. employees, which comprises 1 percent of the U.S. working population. The company’s net profit of $15.7 billion is $11,200 net profit per employee, about 12% higher than the average profit-per-employee for privately-held companies in 2009. A 20-percent increase in wages will allow their employees to buy far more things from Wal-Mart while dropping the net profit to almost $13 billion without any extra sales.

An examination of four successful companies by Zeynep Ton shows the benefits of higher wages. High-performing employees, for example those at Costco who are paid much more than those at Wal-Mart, lead to good operational execution and thus high sales and healthy profits. By contrast at Wal-Mart, low labor budgets lead to poorly trained, poorly motivated, understaffed work forces, which then lead to poor operational execution, resulting in poor sales and razor-thin profit margins. This problem is evident with a recent drop in sales for Wal-Mart:  “February (month to date) sales are a total disaster… the worst start to a month I have seen in my… 7 years with the company.”—Jerry Murray, Wal-Mart’s vice president of finance and logistics.  

Even The American Conservative thinks that the U.S. government should raise the minimum wage, perhaps to $10 or “more likely $12 per hour.” The first rationale is that most minimum-wage jobs in this country  are retail or support services and thus cannot be outsourced. “Perhaps consumers would pay 3 percent more for Wal-Mart goods or an extra dime for a McDonald’s hamburger, but most of the jobs would still exist and the price changes would be small compared to typical fluctuations due to commodity and energy prices, international exchange rates, or Chinese production costs.”

The article points out that minimum wage in Canada is “well over $10 per hour,” France has more than $12, and Australia has nearly $16.50 with 5 percent unemployment.

As most economists agree, “raising the annual income …  by eight or ten thousand dollars would immediately send those same dollars flowing into the regular consumer economy, boosting sales and general economic activity. In effect, the proposal represents an enormous government stimulus package, but one targeting the working-poor and funded entirely by the private sector.”

To show that even big business wants a higher minimum wage, the article explains why Wal-Mart lobbied Congress in 2005 for an increase. The management of this company knows that their employees can’t even afford to shop at their own stores. But if they raise wages without a mandate, they’ll have to raise prices, losing business to competitors. If everyone has to increase wages, prices will go up everywhere. . If Wal-Mart can raise salaries, it can bring in about $1.3 billion in revenue while paying out just half that to its employees.

Increasing the minimum wage for people in the lower income strata would greatly help Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs funded by the larger paychecks. The government would have to pay less for Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). “Private companies should fund their own payrolls rather than rely upon substantial government subsidies.” I agree with these conservatives!

The same companies that complain about increased worker wages have no problem increasing executive salaries, dramatically shifting the distribution of income. During the 35 years before Ronald Reagan’s two presidential terms, the top one percent of U.S. households took an average of 10 percent of the nation’s income. By the time that Bush I took over, the top was given 15.5 percent of the income, and 12 years later when Bush II was appointed to president, this percentage changed to over 20 percent. When the recent recession let up, the three largest employers of minimum wage workers, Wal‐Mart, Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC), and McDonald’s, all more profitable, awarded their top executives multi-million dollar compensation packages.

The GOP should be happy that the president recommended only $9 per hour. Some people suggest a greater increase, as much as $12.25 that would raise the annual salary to $25,000. According to one study, the cost to major retailers would be $20.8 billion, about 1 percent of the sector’s $2.17 trillion in annual sales. The raise would add $4 billion to $5 billion in annual retail sales because workers have more money.

“If retailers pass half the costs of a wage raise onto their customers, the average household would pay just 15 cents more per shopping trip — or $17.73 per year,” the study found. “If firms pass 25 percent of the wage costs onto their customers, shoppers would spend just seven cents more per shopping trip, or $8.87 per year.”

Nearly three-fourths of likely voters want a $10 minimum wage attached to inflation.  A 56% majority of voters believes that increasing the minimum wage would help the economy, compared to just 21% who say it would hurt the economy. Another 16% say it would have no impact.  Attacks against the minimum wage on fail to resonate with voters.

In rejecting the idea of raising the minimum wage, Republicans show that they have a low regard for workers who make so little money. The GOP calls them “takers” because they might not survive without Medicaid and food stamps. These people who make so little money are then derided because they won’t take responsibility for earning a living. Labor Day has always celebrated the work of laborers, but last fall House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) praised the business owners, ignoring the real workers.

Much more must be written about the minimum wage. But for today, I’ll end  with a map showing how many hours a month each person making minimum wage must work to pay for an apartment:

hours needed apartment

February 24, 2013

Aim for Freedom from Religion

All the scandals swirling about the Catholic Church and the pope may be shaking up the leadership. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland and the only cardinal invited to next month’s conclave, said that priests should be able to get married:

“For example the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry–Jesus didn’t say that. There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church–in some branches of the Catholic church–priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again. I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married.”

Celibacy has not always been a mandate in the Catholic Church. Most of Jesus’s apostles were married, and priests could be married until the eleventh century when Pope Gregory VII required that priests be celibate. Before then six popes had families with some of their sons then becoming popes.

The German Bishops Conference now says that Catholic hospitals can give emergency contraception to rape victims. After two Cologne Catholic hospitals turned away a rape victim, Cardinal Joachim Meisner said that the church was “deeply ashamed by this incident because it goes against our Christian mission.” Pope Benedict XVI’s secretary, Georg Gaenswein, told him that it was “justifiable” in rape cases to provide drugs to prevent conception. The Catholic Church, unlike many Evangelical fundamentalists, understands that “the ‘morning-after pill,’ …  has a preventive and not an abortive effect.”

At this time, however, the Catholic Church is confused about whether a fetus is a person. To some of the leaders, it may depend on whether denying the “personhood” of a fetus, as they are wont to do, will save them money. The decision goes back to a case in 2006 when a woman seven-months pregnant with twins went to the emergency room at St. Thomas More hospital in Canon City (CO) and suffered a massive heart attack. Her obstetrician, on call for emergencies that night, failed to answer a page, and the woman died. The fetuses did not survive.

The woman’s husband filed a wrongful-death lawsuit, maintaining that the doctor should have answered the page, told the hospital staff to perform a C-section, and possibly saved the fetuses. The hospital’s defense was to claim that this was not a wrongful-death case because the fetuses were not people.

Recent publicity surrounding the Catholic hospital’s defense of the lawsuit led them to declare that their original defense was “morally wrong,” but they blamed the lawyers for using this defense without the hospital’s approval.

This past week the National Organization of Marriage accused state Sen. Pat Steadman of being contemptuous of religion in response to Steadman’s speech on discrimination and marriage equality:

“Don’t claim religion as a reason the law should discriminate. We have laws against discrimination. Discrimination is banned in employment, and housing, and public accommodations, and so bakeries that serve the public aren’t supposed to look down their noses at one particular class of persons and say ‘we don’t sell cakes to you.’ It’s troubling, this discrimination. And it’s already illegal.

“So, what to say to those who claim that religion requires them to discriminate? I’ll tell you what I’d say: ‘Get thee to a nunnery!’ And live there then. Go live a monastic life away from modern society, away from people you can’t see as equals to yourself. Away from the stream of commerce where you may have to serve them or employ them or rent banquet halls to them.

“Go some place and be as judgmental as you like. Go inside your church, establish separate water fountains in there if you want, but don’t claim that free exercise of religion requires the state of Colorado to establish separate water fountains for her citizens. That’s not what we’re doing here.”

LGBT people aren’t the only ones who suffer from religious bigotry. After 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist sued a Rhode Island school because of its prayer mural dedicated to “Our Heavenly Father,” a florist refused to send a dozen red roses that the Freedom from Religion Foundation ordered for her, citing “religious reasons.” The FtF is now suing Marina Plowman, owner of Twins Florist in Cranston, on the basis that she violated state laws. Metaphorical roses have now been sent by Hemant Mehta: he started a scholarship fund for her which has reached almost $50,000.

Another Colorado organization is using a biblical passage for positive results. According to Isaiah 2:4,

“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

That’s exactly what the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission did. Partnering with Mike Martin of RAWtools—“war” spelled backwards—the group promoting social justice and sustainability has launched the “Guns-to-Gardens Tools” project. Colorado Springs Mike Warren, kicked off the event by donating the AK-47 assault rifle that he bought after the 9/11 attacks.

“I always had it in the back of my mind, there might be something I needed it for,” Warren said. “Sounds stupid now.” He added, “This thing will turn a human being into rags. The fact of the matter is, upon reflection, I concluded that it would be stupid for me to keep thing.” Martin said the gun will be “a garden trowel, a cultivator and a weed puller,” donated to Ranch Community Garden, a non-profit project that provides plots to local residents who lack garden space.

Religion is losing its control over government. Barna Group found that 66 percent of Americans believe that no one set of religious values should dominate in the U.S. On the other hand, 23 percent believe “traditional Judeo-Christian values” should be given preference over competing faiths. Only among evangelical Christians does that percentage rise to 54 percent.

It gives hope to those of us who believe that constitutional separation of church and state means freedom from religion for all.

February 23, 2013

No Compromise for VAWA

For 18 years the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) was the law of the land, passing in the year that Newt Gingrich took over the House and renewed every six years even when the GOP had control of a Congressional chamber and the presidency. Then the Tea Party came to town, and everything changed.

VAWA provides vital protections against domestic violence and sexual assault, providing assistance to victims through funding clinics, shelters, hotlines, and services. Greatly improving the nation’s infrastructure of dealing with rape and abuse, VAWA has saved countless women’s lives and livelihoods. It established the National Domestic Violence Hotline; trained law enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors to help victims; made stalking illegal; and updated laws throughout the United States to consider rape by a partner equal to rape by a stranger.

Since VAWA, partner violence and homicides fell: from 1993, the year before VAWA’s passage, until 2010, the overall rate of intimate partner violence in the United States declined by 64 percent. The number of women killed by partners dropped 43 percent.

vawa

Last April, the Senate passed another six–year extension to VAWA, but the House rejected it. This month the Senate passed VAWA, but the House opposes support for Native American, undocumented, and LGBT victims of DV and SA.

One sticking point with the GOP-controlled House, that has proposed a watered down version of VAWA, is the provision that would protect Native American women on tribal reservations. They ignore the statistics of sexual violence against Native American women. Three out of five are assaulted by their intimate partners, and 56 percent of these women have non-Indian husbands. Despite epidemic rates of domestic violence against Native women on reservations by non-Native men, local governments are not permitted to respond to crimes in their community if the perpetrator is not Native. Only federal prosecutors, often hundreds of miles away without local resources, are allowed to investigate and prosecute these crimes. On some Indian reservations, the homicide rate of Native women is ten times that of the national average.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is an example of the 22 senators–all men–who voted against VAWA, bigots who oppose protecting Indian women from non-Native men. He declared that VAWA was unconstitutional because white men would be deprived of their rights by facing a tribal court.  “On an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right?” he said. “So the non-Indian doesn’t get a fair trial.”

“The jury is supposed to be a reflection of society,” Grassley wrongly claimed. According to the Sixth Amendment, juries are drawn from the “state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” The U.S. Supreme Court decisions ruled that criminal defendants have a right to a jury “drawn from a fair cross section of the community” where the case is heard. Over 95 percent of Vermont is white, so the jury might be all white. On the other hand, the population of local communities on the Navajo Nation are largely Native American. Grassley’s statement indicates he thinks that Navajo jurors are less like to be impartial than whites.

Of these 22 senators, five senators are so anti-women that they voted against an amendment to ban human trafficking.  

Grassley has company in his anti-VAWA stance. Heritage Action, from the group headed by ultra-conservative Jim DeMint, and Freedomworks, one of the Tea Party groups,  are fighting VAWA’s reauthorization because it is “unprecedented, unnecessary and dangerous.” Claiming that VAWA is “bad for men,” the groups stated, “Under VAWA, men effectively lose their constitutional rights.” Because male victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking may also be covered, the only men who might suffer from VAWA are those who commit these violent crimes.

Sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), one of 17 GOP women who constitute 8.5 percent of Republicans in the House, the House bill removes rights from three specific groups of people:

Native American Victims: Tribal court sentencing on non-Native defendants would be limited to one year in addition to other options allowing defendants to evade justice in tribal courts. Non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on reservations could move their cases to a federal court if they feel their constitutional rights are not being upheld. The bill also eliminates the 2000 VAWA allowing tribes to issue and enforce civil protection orders against all persons, the only protection a tribal government can provide to victims of domestic violence from DV, stalking, and harassment.

LGBT Victims: The bill removes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the list of underserved populations who face barriers to accessing victim services, thereby disqualifying LGBT victims from a related grant program; eliminates a requirement in the Senate bill that programs that receive funding under VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity; and excludes the LGBT community from the STOP program, the largest VAWA grant program, which gives funds to care providers who work with law enforcement officials to address domestic violence.

Undocumented Immigrants: Undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence can be eligible for legal status only if federal or local officials certify that it would help investigate or prosecute criminal activity.

Last year, Grassley vote against the rights of these groups, saying that it was just the Democrats’ “election year politics.” He indicated that these provisions were included to make Republicans look bad in an election year. Instead of accepting the motivation to make the United States a better place to live, he follows the paranoid complaint from the National Review :

Democrats have nearly perfected the following exercise in cynical electioneering: 1) introduce legislation; 2) title it something that appeals to the vast majority of Americans who have no interest in learning what is actually in the bill, e.g., the “Violence Against Women Act”; 3) make sure it is sufficiently noxious to the GOP that few Republicans will support it; 4) vote, and await headlines such as “[GOP Lawmaker] Votes No On Violence Against Women Act”; 5) clip and use headline in 30-second campaign ad; and 6) repeat.”

Amanda Marcotte laid out the issue much better:

“There’s a long and ongoing history of rape and domestic violence being minimized and ignored by law enforcement and society at large. Domestic violence is frequently minimized as mere couple-squabbling. Rape is often written off as the victim’s hysterical reaction to bad sex or just desserts for a woman who broke one of the many unwritten sexist ‘rules’ about going out at night, being alone with a date, dressing a certain way, or drinking alcohol.

“VAWA addresses these realities, by strengthening law enforcement response and providing victim services that avoid victim-blaming or minimization, and is not, contrary to conservative hopes and dreams, an attempt to make up for women’s supposed physical or emotional inferiority.”

If the House version even gets out of committee, GOP members will whine about Democrats not compromising with them. Trying to find common ground by refusing rights to specific groups of people is like the agreement of 1787 that gave each slave in the South only three-fifths’ status of a white man in determining Congressional representation. Emory University President James Wagner declared this a good compromise. Denying people rights is never a good compromise.          

February 22, 2013

Whither the Sequester, Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:09 PM
Tags: ,

The sequester is due to take effect in seven days, March 1. The $85 billion to be cut during the next seven months reduces defense programs about 8 percent and domestic programs about 5 percent. Under the terms of the sequester, federal spending would be cut by $1.2 trillion from March 2013 to March 2021. In fiscal year 2013 alone, states will lose an estimated $6.4 billion in federal funding.

A New York Times editorial has itemized examples of these indiscriminate reductions.

National Security: Two-week furloughs for law-enforcement personnel reducing Coast Guard operations include drug control and aid to navigation, by 25 percent. Cutbacks in Customs agents and airport security checkpoints will “substantially increase passenger wait times,” the Homeland Security Department said, creating delays of as much as an hour at busy airports. The Border Patrol will lose the equivalent of 5,000 agents a year. The cut of $900 million in the Energy Department’s nuclear security programs will create delays in refurbishing the weapons stockpile and decrease of security at manufacturing sites. Environmental cleanup at nuclear weapons sites in Washington, Tennessee, South Carolina and Idaho will be delayed. FEMA’s disaster relief fund will lose more than $1 billion.

Air Traffic:  With about 10 percent of the Federal Aviation Administration’s work force of 47,000 employees on furlough each day, including air traffic controllers, to meet a $600 million cut, air traffic will be reduced, causing delays and disruptions, particularly at peak travel times.

Criminal Justice: Every F.B.I. employee will be furloughed for nearly three weeks over the course of the year, the equivalent of 7,000 employees. This $550 million cut will reduce the number of background checks on gun buyers and response times on cyberintrusion and counterterrorism investigations. A cut of $338 million for 37,000 prison employees results in a two-week furlough for each of them, with lockdowns at federal prisons that increase the chances for violence. It will also prevent the opening of three new prison buildings. With furloughs from a $100 million cut, federal prosecutors will handle 2,600 fewer cases: thousands of criminals and civil violators will not face justice, and less money will be collected in fines.

Early Childhood Education:  About 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start, and 14,000 teachers and workers will be laid off, because of a $424 million cut. Parents of about 30,000 low-income children will lose child-care assistance.

Health and Safety:  A cut of $350 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will mean 25,000 fewer breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income women; 424,000 fewer H.I.V. tests; and the purchase of 540,000 fewer doses of vaccine for flu, hepatitis, and measles. About 900,000 fewer patients lacking insurance will receive primary care when community health centers are cut by $120 million.

Prices will rise and food will be less safe from black-market sales of unexpected food after a three-week furlough of all food safety employees produces a shortage of meat, poultry, and eggs. The intermittent shutting of meat-packing plants could cost the industry up to $10 billion in production losses. Air-monitoring sites and over 100 water-quality projects will be shut down while the $100 million cut from Superfund enforcement will permit companies to avoid cleaning up environmental disasters.

Research:  The cancelation and/or reduction of almost 1,000 grants from the National Science Foundation negatively affects research in clean energy, cybersecurity, and reform of science and math education.

Recreation:  All 398 national parks will have shorter hours while some will close camping and hiking areas. Some wildlife refuges may be shuttered, and firefighting and law enforcement will be cut back. Without resources to issue permits, inspect facilities, and do environmental reviews, development in oil, gas, and coal will be curtailed.

Environment: The EPA monitoring of oil spills, air pollution, and hazardous waste will be diminished, and the color-coded system that keeps schoolchildren and others warned to stay inside on bad-air days will be reduced if not eliminated. Consumers will have less availability to new models of cars and trucks because of longer times to determine whether these meet emission standards.

Defense Personnel:  Furloughs lasting up to 22 days will be imposed for civilian employees, who do jobs like guarding military bases, handle budgets, and teach the children of service members. More than 40 percent of those employees are veterans. The military’s health insurance program, Tricare, could have a shortfall of up to $3 billion, which could lead to denial of elective medical care for retirees and dependents of active-duty service members.

Military Operations:  The Navy plans to shut down four air wings on March 1. After 90 days, the pilots in those air wings to retrain them. The Nimitz and George H. W. Bush carrier strike groups will not be ready for deployment later this year because the service will run out of operations and maintenance money. Therefore the Truman and Eisenhower strike groups will remain deployed indefinitely, affecting thousands of service members and their families. Reductions of continuous bomber flights outside of Afghanistan will be reduced will be accompanied by cutbacks to satellite systems and missile warning systems.

Training and Maintenance:  The Army, which has done most of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, will be forced to curtail training for 80 percent of its ground forces; by the end of the year, two-thirds of its brigade combat teams will fall below acceptable levels of combat readiness. Air Force pilots expect to lose more than 200,000 flying hours. Beginning in March, roughly two-thirds of the Air Force’s active-duty combat units will curtail training at their home bases and by July will no longer be capable of carrying out their missions. Some ship and aircraft maintenance will be canceled for the third and fourth quarters of the fiscal year, resulting in fewer available weapons.

Labor: More than 3.8 million people jobless for six months or longer may have unemployment benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 percent. Thousands of veterans will lose job counseling. Fewer OSHA inspectors mean 1,200 fewer visits to work sites. One million fewer people can get help finding or preparing for new jobs.

In an open letter to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) addresses his speech at the Heritage Foundation and its relationship to the sequester before she lists a number of specifics. Boxer writes,

“You delivered a speech outlining four major issues that you say are now of great importance to you: education, health care, job growth and innovation… I am sure you are aware that sequestration would devastate all of these priorities. Here are a few examples of funding cuts that would take place in 2013 alone if we cannot reverse the sequester.”

The sequester means greater danger for everyone in this country through bad food and water, workplace accidents, less homeland security, and more crime while education and training will be reduced. At the same time, job loss of hundreds of thousands of people will likely throw the country back into a serious recession. Prices will rise, and salaries will go down.

ABC News reported what agency heads wrote about the effects of the sequester:

“Greater risk of wildfires, fewer OSHA inspections and a risk of more workplace deaths, 125,000 people risking homelessness with cuts to shelters and housing vouchers, neglect for mentally ill and homeless Americans who would lose services, Native Americans getting turned away from hospitals, cuts to schools on reservations and prison lockdowns. There’s also a higher risk of terrorism with surveillance limited and the FBI potentially unable to disrupt plots, closed housing projects, and 600,000 women and children thrown off WIC.”

They also predict less reporting of major storms, pest-infested crops, longer waits for passports, higher risk of terrorism, trouble tracking fingerprints, less security at facilities abroad, almost 2,000 fewer small business loans,

It’s not as if the people in the United States have not already suffered cuts. Education has lost $1.1 billion since 2010, eliminating 44 federal education programs. Food imports have skyrocketed, but the FDA has staffing to inspect only 2.3 percent of them. A housing program for low-income seniors was cut in half since 2010, resulting in no new housing and 10 seniors for each existing unit on waiting lists.

Heating for low-income homes was cut by one-third although energy prices have increased by 31 percent. Social Security has cut 6,500 workers and closed 23 offices with plans to cut 11 more despite the 700 percent increase in claims last year. With a 13 percent cut in subsidies for low-income family child care, only one in six children eligible for that assistance now receive it.

Prominent congressional Republicans have said they prefer these disastrous spending cuts to a balanced approach that would close wasteful tax loopholes for millionaires and special interests.

As a cartoon in my local paper wrote, “If a rock just passes by earth, it’s called an asteroid. And if the rock burns up in the atmosphere, it’s called a meteor. And if the rock hits the ground, it’s called a meteorite. But if it just sits there like a rock, it’s called Congress.”

February 21, 2013

Whither the Sequester, Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:12 PM
Tags: , , , ,

In an interview with Rev. Al Sharpton, President Obama said,

“My sense is [the GOP] basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations, and they would prefer to see these kind of cuts that could slow down our recovery over closing tax loopholes. And that’s the thing that binds their party together at this point.”

The president was talking about the sequester, set to take place on March 1 because the Republicans have refused to negotiate. Today he phoned House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Earlier this week, he called several Republican senators, including John McCain (AZ), Marco Rubio (FL), and Lindsey Graham (SC), after they criticized him for not talking to them about immigration reform.

To stop the sequester through the end of this year, the Democrats have a $110 million plan that provides an equal division between revenues and spending cuts. Implementing the Buffett Rule, it would phase in a 30-percent effective rate for incomes between $1 million and $2 million. Additional revenues would come from changing tax treatment of oil extraction from oil sands and end current tax breaks to companies who move jobs overseas.

The $55 billion in spending cuts, evenly divided between defense and non-defense programs, would save $27.5 billion by eliminating agricultural subsidies and another $27.5 billion though defense cuts. Defense cuts would not start until a $3 billion cut in 2015, after the end of the Afghanistan war, and be slowly phased in until 2021 with a $5 billion reduction. In opposition, some Democrats pointed out that Congress has already cut $1.7 trillion in spending while raising only $700 billion in taxes since 2010, 2-to-1 cuts over revenue.

Of course, they haven’t presented the plans to Congress because it hasn’t been in session for the last week. They’ll show up for a couple of days next week, not enough time to take care of the sequester before March 1.

Most of the people in the United States know that the Republicans are responsible for this manufactured crisis, despite the GOP insistence that the president is at fault, but all of us are helpless to do anything about it. With its goal of showing the weakness of the opposing party to gain seats in 2014, the GOP wastes time. They are not trying to help the economy grow or reduce joblessness because that might give a more positive view toward the Democrats. The Republicans want these “meat cleaver” cuts, and they don’t care if their actions will destroy the country.

In a last-ditch attempt to show that he is not at fault, Boehner has a 900-word op-ed in the Wall Street Journal trying to point a finger away from himself. Boehner’s words and the translation:

“During the summer of 2011, as Washington worked toward a plan to reduce the deficit” means he and the GOP held the nation hostage while the president offered him a 9-to-1, cuts to revenue.

“The president scuttled this bipartisan, bicameral agreement. His solution? A sequester” means that the president accepted over $1.2 trillion in spending cuts with no revenue which Boehner found inadequate and then agreed to give policy makers more time—typical Boehner “kick-the-can-down-the-road” approach.

“Ultimately, the super committee failed to find an agreement, despite Republicans offering a balanced mix of spending cuts and new revenue through tax reform” means that the GOP offered the possibility of tax breaks—some day.

“The president’s sequester is now imminent” means that the GOP voted for it and then spent months bragging about its own sequester.

“Unfortunately, [the president] has put forth no detailed plan that can pass Congress” means that President Obama provided a detailed plan that Boehner doesn’t like.

“By contrast, House Republicans have twice passed plans to replace the sequester with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect national security” means that they did it during the 112th Congress and the plan doesn’t carry over to 2013.

“The president has repeatedly called for even more tax revenue, but the American people don’t support trading spending cuts for higher taxes” means that he ignores “the American people” because they have supported closing tax loopholes.

“The president got his higher taxes — $600 billion from higher earners, with no spending cuts — at the end of 2012” means that Boehner forgot that he got his $1.2 trillion spending cuts with no new revenue in 2011.

“Republicans’ willingness to do what is necessary to save these [retirement-security] programs is well-known. But after four years, we haven’t seen the same type of courage from the president” means that Boehner hopes no one notices his and the GOP’s work to end Medicare and privatize Social Security into oblivion as well as the president’s willingness to “reform” these programs.

Part of the impending disaster comes from Boehner’s latest “new rule,” as ridiculous as those on Bill Maher’s show and equally created out of thin air: “The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years.” Unfortunately for the Speaker, his own caucus is getting nervous about the most recent proclamation. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), responded,

“There could be a significant number of Republicans that say, ‘I’m not going there because it would be too dramatic.’ I have said to my constituents, nobody is talking about changing Social Security and Medicare if you’re 55 years or over.’ I’ve been selling it for three or four years that way. So have many other members. Well, to balance in 10, that 55 years is going to move up to 58, 59, 60. It makes us look like we’re going back on what we were telling people when we were trying to sell this.”

Even the plan from the 112th Congress, less draconian than Speaker’s recent idea but still horrifying, wouldn’t balance the federal budget for almost 30 years. The last plan was so disastrous that GOP members weren’t willing to give specifics on the numbers. Now Boehner thinks that cuts in areas outside defense of one-sixth to one-third without any revenue can solve the country’s deficit problem by 2023.

This is Boehner’s message, phrased by Rachel Maddow: “(1) the sequester would do real harm to the country; (2) Republicans will allow it to happen anyway; and (3) this is a political winner for the GOP.”

This week, the president’s approval rating is 55 percent, his highest in three years; the GOP approval rating is 35 percent. These figures are according to a Bloomberg poll from February 15-18, 2013.

A poll from USA Today and the Pew Research Center shows that 76 percent of people in the United States, including 56 percent of Republicans, want a combination of revenues and spending cuts. Only 19 percent favor Boehner’s and McConnell’s cuts-only approach. The same poll shows that people are more likely to blame the GOP for negative results if the sequester is allowed to go into effect.

Tomorrow: what the sequester cuts.

February 20, 2013

Who Elected These People!?

The U.S. Representatives and Senators have gone home to tell their constituents what a great job they’re going while state legislators continue to spread their craziness in their capitols–all from the party that claimed they wanted to increase jobs and help the economy.

Former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), who served six terms and left in 2009, has admitted that he fathered an illegitimate child with Michelle Laxalt, the daughter of former Nevada Gov. and Sen. Paul Laxalt (R) and a top Washington lobbyist.  She raised Adam, their son, as a single parent and continually praised Domenici for his character and “integrity.” This story might not be important if Dominici had not supported Bill Clinton’s impeachment for covering up his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. According to Dominici, “I have concluded that President Clinton’s actions do, indeed, rise to the level of impeachable offenses that the Founding Fathers envisioned.” Domenici also voted for the sanctity of the Defense of Marriage Act.

In his appearance on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) came out with the real reason that he wants to destroy the economy by continuing the sequester. After Chris Wallace asked him if Graham really wanted to slash Head Start programs for 70,000 children, cut 2,100 food inspectors, and eliminate $900 million in loan guarantees for small businesses, Graham said that he would do it to get rid of Obamacare.

The supposedly kinder, gentler House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) struggled to explain the reason behind removing health care from people who need it on Meet the Press a week ago. Immediately after he talked with great sympathy about a 12-year-old child who has had cancer for 11 years, he moved, without segue, to how the child will benefit from lowering the deficit. Somewhere he missed the point that without health care, the child will die.

Virginia’s Gov. Bob McDonnell, once a possibility for vice-president until his proposed title meant “vaginal probe,” is following private industry to cheat employees. He’s limiting the number of hours for state employees to 29 per week to avoid paying for Obamacare, assuming that he can save $110 million a year in health care benefits. McDonnell failed to take into consideration the money that these people without insurance will cost in emergency care. Adjunct faculty in higher education may lose a third of their current wages. Teaching an almost full course load,  they are paid a one-time fee, but considered hourly wage employees. My question for VP McDonnell: will you also limit your weekly work load to 29 hours?

Virginia is known for other mind-boggling activities. Not only did Del. Robert G. Marshall (R) propose the idea of the commonwealth making its own money—because, of course, the United States is going to collapse, but the plan passed by a two-thirds majority earlier this month. Saner minds prevailed in the Senate that voted it down, perhaps in part because the U.S. Constitution does not allow states to have individual currency. Yet there are enough people in one of the original 13 states that believed this could be workable.

The Thirteenth Amendment, adopted in 1865, abolished slavery. This year, 148 years later, Mississippi made the vote unanimous. Although the state’s legislature voted in 1995, 120 years later, to do so, they failed to notify the Office of the Federal Register of that legislative action. This month they did so.

Republicans want freedom—or so they say. Missouri state Rep. Mike Leara (R) has proposed legislation making it a felony for lawmakers to so much as propose bills regulating guns. It provides that “[a]ny member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States, shall be guilty of a class D felony.” Like many other anti-gun law people, Leara, in ignoring the constitutional Speech and Debate clause, thinks that the U.S. Constitution is composed of only the Second Amendment.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long (Indiana) is introducing a measure calling for a convention where states could propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. His goal is to keep Congress from taxing and regulating interstate commerce. Article V of the U.S. Constitution permits this but only if two-thirds of all state legislatures demand the convention. Indiana conservatives criticize Long because he is preventing votes on measures he calls “blatantly unconstitutional.” The state’s house speaker Brian Bosma said he will carry Long’s measure if it reaches his chamber.

You can’t make up this stuff. Montana State Rep. Jerry O’Neil (R) is sponsoring a bill to allow defendants to “bargain with the court” to receive “corporal punishment in lieu of incarceration.” The bill would apply to not just misdemeanor crimes, but also felonies, though the bill requires that the “exact nature of the corporal punishment to be imposed” be “commensurate with the severity, nature, and degree of the harm caused by the offender.” John S. Adams, who covers the Montana legislature for the Great Falls Tribune, wrote, “Republican leadership has been doing its best to tamp down any potential bills the other side might use to embarrass the GOP as they work to craft a budget. This one apparently didn’t get tamped.” We can guess that Karl Rove’s new group won’t be funding O’Neil.

Another politician who probably won’t get Rove’s support is Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) who told 18-year-old undocumented student Jessica Bravo, “I hate illegals.”  She made an appointment to talk with him because she “wanted to explain that I have no other home than Costa Mesa, I wanted to speak for all those in my community who are too afraid to talk about their status.” When she told Rohrabacker her status, he became angry and shook his finger at her. As she left his office, Bravo told reporters that he asked if she had registered for the meeting. “Well, now I know where you live,” he had told her threateningly.

And scratch Rep. John “Jimmy” Duncan, Jr. (R-TN) off Rove’s list. Yesterday, in talking about the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) which the House has yet to act on, Duncan said, “Like most men, I’m more opposed to violence against women than even violence against men, because most men can handle it a little better than a lot of women can.” Despite his offensively ignorant sexist statement, he isn’t sure whether he will support VAWA.

Top on my list of stupid statements, however, comes from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in her outrage against raising the minimum wage to $9.00, as President Obama suggested in his State of the Union address. She began with the argument that young workers couldn’t learn responsibility as she did as a teenage retail employee in Mississippi:

“I remember my first job, when I was working in a retail store, down there, growing up in Laurel, Mississippi. I was making like $2.15 an hour. And I was taught how to responsibly handle those customer interactions. And I appreciated that opportunity.”

To those who think that $2.15 an hour isn’t much, like Blackburn does, consider that the $2.15 an hour she made between 1968 and 1970 is now worth between $12.72 and $14.18. Forty-five years ago, the minimum wage was $1.60, equivalent to $10.56 in today’s terms. Today’s minimum wage of $7.25 is equivalent to just $1.10 an hour in 1968 dollars, meaning the teenage Blackburn managed to enter the workforce making almost double the wage she now says is keeping teenagers out of the workforce.

Blackburn’s statement may be matched only by former Rep. Ron Paul’s appeal to the United Nations. The father of Libertarian Sen. Rand Paul is known for his anti-UN position: “American national sovereignty cannot survive if we allow our domestic laws to be crafted by an international body.” The owners of the domain name RonPaul.org, his own followers, have offered him the domain free along with their mailing list of 170,000 email address.  He turned them down and filed a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a global governing body that is an agency of the United Nations. Maybe they’ve settled: the link for the PDF of the complaint doesn’t work.

Right now, polling puts approval of Congress at 15 percent, four percent lower than a month ago. At that time, Congress was lower than used car salesmen, root canals, colonscopies, and cockroaches. It probably still it. Have a nice time talking to your constituents, Congresspeople!

February 19, 2013

Fracking: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

After waiting for months, New York activists have learned that the decision about whether to lift the state’s moratorium on fracking has been further delayed because the public health review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing has not been completed. The review of respiratory diseases, accidents and injuries, and birth outcomes is monumental because it is the first comprehensive studies of fracking health impacts at either state or federal level.

At the same time that officials are considering the serious health effects of fracking, President Obama may appoint pro-fracking Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy. Moniz has promoted natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to lower carbon pollution while new innovative forms of energy are being developed. Almost two years ago, he told the Senate Energy committee that water and air pollution risks associated fracking were “challenging but manageable.”

Fracking gets natural gas out of rock formations by bombing them with chemical-loaded fluid, leaving behind foul water, the water that goes to crops and animals that humans consume. But there’s another food/fracking connection. Because cheap synthetic nitrogen fertilizer require natural gas to be synthesized, an increasing amount of this fertilizer will come from fracked natural gas. Farmers will then become powerful allies in overriding regulations and fighting back opposition to fracking.

During the past decade, the U.S. fertilizer industry was offshored to places like Trinidad and Tobago, but the supply of natural gas there is disappearing. Fracking in the U.S. has made natural gas here abundant, driving prices drastically down, 75 percent less than in 2008. Fertilizer prices remain high because of high crop prices so fertilizer companies have hit a bonanza.

At the same time, taxpayers are paying for corporation profits. In Iowa, for example, huge fertilizer industries received over $70 million in tax incentives from Iowa and $161 million in property taxes rebates from the county where it is located. Another company is investing $1.2 billion to build a nitrogen plant in North Dakota. The company can sell a ton of anhydrous ammonia for $800, which costs about $82 worth of natural gas.

While taxpayers at local, state, and national levels pay these corporations to make this money, they taxpayers receive environmental liabilities from excess nitrogen seeping into streams and rivers that feed a massive algae bloom that erases sea life; emissions of nitrous oxide, 300 times more potent than carbon; and the elimination of organic matter in soil.

Practical farming could prevent this destruction. Adding “small grain” (oats or wheat) plus nitrogen-fixing cover crops, farmers can drop their nitrogen needs up to 80 percent. Corn is the most nitrogen-intensive among major field crops; crop rotation can solve most of their problems. But Big Ag is becoming as powerful as Big Oil, and the American Farm Bureau Federation wants fracking.

All over the country, people are screaming about the need for fracking because we’re short on fuel. But prices are too low here for the greedy corporations so gas companies want authorization from the Department of Energy to export more of it overseas. They already have permission to export the gas to the nation’s free trade partners, but these aren’t major potential customers.

Wanting bigger profits, companies need permission to sell the gas to such non-free trade countries as South Korea, India, China, and Japan. Sixteen gas producers are working to get this permission, and companies are getting permits to build huge facilities to convert the gas to liquid by chilling it to -260 degrees F. to ship it overseas. Thus far, just one state, Pennsylvania, has about 6,000 wells. Permission for exporting could build that number to 50,000 wells.

If the agency approves the permits, gas equal to over one-fourth of current U.S. consumption will leave the country. A year-old study published by the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration published in January 2012 concluded that domestic natural gas prices would rise dramatically if the U.S. began exporting.

In North Dakota “oil patch” boom towns, fracking has caused a spike in serious injuries and health problems—burns from hot water, hands and fingers crushed by steel tongs, injuries from whipsawing chains, bodies brought in from accidents on roads where truck drivers know that time is money. The impact of working outside in freezing weather, emotional isolation, poor nutrition, drug use, and heavy drinking combines with highly increased numbers of rapes, sexual assaults, and domestic violence.

Both workers and local residents suffer from the toxins related to oil and gas extraction. Doctors in Pennsylvania are now under a “gag rule” that keeps them from telling their patients about the chemicals that make them sick. A large number of workers lack health insurance, causing local hospitals and government providers to absorb the enormous costs from uncompensated treatment. The debt in just one hospital increased 2,000 percent to $1.2 million in five years.

If workers and residents survive the injuries, their health still isn’t safe. A byproduct of fracking is silica dust which, if inhaled, can cause lung inflammation leading to silicosis, an incurable respiratory condition known as silicosis. Or the inflammation can cause lung cancer, chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder, kidney disease, and autoimmune conditions. The situation is reminiscent of workers with health problems related to asbestos and coal exposure.

Fracking causes even more impacts:

Methane: Natural gas is a significant contributor to global warming pollution; scientists report alarmingly high methane emissions from these fields.  

Water Pollution: Methane released during fracking also ends up in the water. That’s how people living near gas drilling operations can light their tap water on fire. And companies aren’t required to inform people about all the chemicals used in their fracking process. Thanks to Dick Cheney, fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Water Consumption: Using between 2 million and 13 million gallons of water to frack a single well plus more to drill the well, fracking will make water shortages occur more rapidly than the crisis predicted by 2030. Most of this water is either not recovered or unfit for use, requiring disposal in an underground injection well. Texas and Pennsylvania already have water shortages.

Trucks: Drilling and fracking just one well can require 1,000 truck trips, causing pollution, accidents, wear and tear on infrastructure, and big bills for taxpayers.

Economic Fallout: Taxes pay for repair to the infrastructure and the health issues of uninsured workers. Beyond that taxpayers lose personal insurance. The Huffington Post reported, “Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. has become the first major insurance company to say it won’t cover damage related to a gas drilling process that blasts chemical-laden water deep into the ground.” Their memo said, “Risks involved with hydraulic fracturing are now prohibited for General Liability, Commercial Auto, Motor Truck Cargo, Auto Physical Damage and Public Auto (insurance) coverage.”

The cost doesn’t end with the health and insurance issues. Studies have begun to show a link between pollution, including gas, and crime.

Therefore huge corporations want to make huge profits selling gas offshore and driving United States prices up while destroying the environment and costing taxpayers a fortune. After the corporations have finished raping the land, the short-term jobs will disappear along with all the farming, tourism, dairy, and other jobs that vanished because of fracking. As Tish O’Dell, co-founder of the Cleveland-area group Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhoods, said,

“If water is contaminated and fish die, what are the fishermen going to do? If you have parks where people go for peace and quiet, what happens when you turn it into an industrial landscape? If you have an organic dairy and the soil is polluted, what does that mean? These are all valid questions.”

And all this because the conservatives lie to the people about fuel and energy.

February 18, 2013

Thoughts about the Presidents

Today is Washington’s Birthday, a federal holiday created in 1880. Technically George Washington’s birthday isn’t until Friday, but in 1968 Congress moved all federal holidays to Mondays. Back when I was in school, we celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and Washington’s birthday on the 22nd. Now people call the Monday before the 22nd “President’s Day” and ignore Lincoln’s birthday, but Congress never changed the name.

It’s a quiet day today. Congress has disappeared for ten days and can’t do any damage except for the stupid comments that keep coming out of their mouths. Because there’s the feeling that all presidents are commemorated on this day, here are a few facts about past presidents, sort of a mini-history/trivia lesson.

Although history books teach that George Washington was the first president of the United States, he was actually the eighth. The “Presidents under the Articles of Confederation” had the official title of “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.” Before these seven presidents there were 16 Presidents of the Continental Congress, but John Hanson was the ninth of these and the first to hold the title “President of the United States.” Hanson’s Birthday would postpone the federal holiday almost two months to April 14.

Although the Constitution requires that presidents be born U.S. citizens, the first seven presidents were not “natural-born citizens” of the United States, as the Constitution requires. Of course, that was because they were all born before there was a United States. Since then, however, controversies have arisen from time to time about this constitutional requirement.

Because the Constitution does not define “natural born,” the law has had to create a definition. The first one came from the Naturalization Act of 1790: “The children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens.” Later Title Eight of the U.S. Code filled in some gaps.

The argument about presidential citizenship flared up after “birthers” declared that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii and thus ineligible for the presidency. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) sent a memo, dated April 3, 2009, to Congress echoing the Naturalization Act and claiming that the definition of “natural born” would “include a person born abroad to parents who are United States citizens.”

President Obama was not the first president whose citizenship was questioned. The one other president who had only one U.S.-citizen parent, Chester A. Arthur, was rumored to have been born in Canada. Arthur became president after President Garfield was shot and killed.

If the place of birth were at issue, eligibility could have been questioned for Vice-President Al Gore, born outside of the United States in Washington, D.C. and for candidates Barry Goldwater, born in Arizona Territory, and George Romney, born in Mexico. The birthers never questioned the eligibility of John McCain to become president, who was born either at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station or in a civilian hospital in Colon City, Panama, according to his birth certificate. Neither place was identified as United States territory at the time although a 1937 law retroactively conferred citizenship on people born in the Canal Zone after February 26, 1904 and in the Republic of Panama after that date who had at least one U.S. citizen parent employed by the U.S. government or the Panama Railway Company.

One president was not even a U.S. citizen when he died. John Tyler, the 10th president, died in Virginia on January 8, 1862, as a citizen of the Southern Confederacy.

Over two dozen federal legislators have proposed constitutional amendments to change the requirement of natural-born citizenship for the presidency, usually because of a preference for a candidate. Rep. Jonathan Bingham (R-NY) introduced one in 1974 to allow Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to become eligible, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) presented the Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment in 2003 to make then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) eligible for the office.

By the 21st century, people expected the president to have college degrees, but ten presidents have not earned one, the most recent being Harry S. Truman. While in office, eight presidents owned slaves before it became illegal, and another four others also owned slaves while they were not sitting presidents. The last president to own slaves while in office, Zachary Taylor, had 100 on a Mississippi plantation. Ulysses S. Grant, freed his slave, William Jones, in 1859.

Only one president, James Buchanan, was never married. He was described as nearly inseparable from Alabama senator William T. King, who was known as “his wife.” Documents show that Buchanan was undeniably “the first gay president,” not Barack Obama as a sensationalist Newsweek cover proclaimed.

Four presidents became president after they lost the popular vote, the most recent being George W. Bush. The others were John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison—all in the 19th century. Two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached and acquitted, and a third, Richard Nixon, resigned before the impeachment process moved to trial.

In this case, history is stranger than fiction when one considers the frenzied impeachment of Bill Clinton during the last few years of the 20th century.

In honor of my left-handed partner, I want to add that eight presidents, including President Obama, have also been left-handed.

As of 2013, not one woman has served as U.S. president, unless you include the powerful wives of Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan. In the rest of the world, women have been elected president in Argentina, Finland, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Liberia, Malawi, Malta, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Korea, and Sri Lanka. Another 50 countries have had women heads of state. Another 13 countries have had women representatives of heads of state. Six Muslim countries have elected women heads of state. 

Yellow: Female head of government; Blue: Female head of state; Light Green: Female head of state/government (combined); Dark Green: Female head of state and female head of government

Yellow: Female head of government; Blue: Female head of state; Light Green: Female head of state/government (combined); Dark Green: Female head of state and female head of government

Rumors proliferate, however, that former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with an approval rating of over 70 percent, may be a 2016 presidential candidate. Would she run against Ryan? Or Rubio? Or Christie? Or another Bush? Or another Paul? Or, or, or?

February 17, 2013

First Pope in Almost 600 Years Quits

My question on this Sunday: did lightning strike the Vatican because the pope quit? Everyone else wants to know why the pope quit. [image] Hours after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, a bolt of lightning struck the rod atop St. Peter’s Basilica. Agence France-Presse gave the photo credit to Filioppo Monteforte, who has photographed the pope extensively for over a decade.

lightning

Although the photo’s authenticity has been questioned, Fairfax Media Nick Moir said, “It’s probably not that rare for St Peter’s to get hit.” He added that there’s no way to verify when the photograph was taken. It can be verified, however, that the pope is leaving, the first time that a live pontiff has done so since 1415 when Pope Gregory XII resignedto resolve which of three people should be the pope.

The timing of his departure on February 28 is peculiar, coming during Lent before Palm Sunday and Easter, two big days of celebration for the Catholic Church. He gave his advanced age, 85, as the reason, saying that the changing pace of the modern world has left him unable to “adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.” Despite physical and mental decay, most other popes stayed until death. Only four others have left the office, believing that their prayer and suffering as they approach the end are a part of their position. None of those who resigned gave cited health as the reason.

One reason for the pope’s resignation could be the increasing connection with cases of sexual abuse by priests under the charge of Cardinal Roger Mahony, then Archbishop of Los Angeles. When he first tried to evade the law after covering for his priests’ crimes, the pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, oversaw Mahoney’s actions. In an unprecedented move, Mahoney has been publicly rebuked by current Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez, and stripped of any public duties. The records, including letters from Mahoney to Ratzinger, are becoming public record because of a recent court order

For instance, in a 2003 letter to Ratzinger, Mahony says of Father Lynn R. Caffoe that between the priest and one boy, there were 100 “instances of masturbatory and copulative acts,” according to an account in the Los Angeles Daily News.But Mahony never reported Caffoe’s alleged crimes to police, and Ratzinger apparently never instructed him to.

Mahoney’s lack of ethics continued after he hid the priests’ illegal behavior. In trying to find money to pay the settlement with victims abused by priests, he stripped the cemetery maintenance fund. The $115 million that he took comprised 88 percent of the fund contributed by families of dead Catholics into an account used for the care of graves. Although his move, approved by the Vatican, was not illegal, his secrecy indicates that he knew how angry Catholics would be.

The pope has scheduled a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano for Saturday, February 23 to discuss securing protection and immunity from prosecution from the Italian government. This action may have been caused by a diplomatic note sent from an undisclosed European government on February 4, stating the intention to issue an arrest warrant for Ratzinger. He resigned less than a week later.

The International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State (ITCCS) has asked President Napolitano to refrain from assisting Ratzinger in evading justice. In part, the letter states, “Under international law and treaties that have been ratified by Italy, you and your government are forbidden from granting such protection to those like Joseph Ratzinger who have aided and abetted criminal actions, such as ordering Bishops and Cardinals in America and elsewhere to protect known child rapists among their clergy.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based non-profit legal group, has requested an inquiry on behalf of the Survivors Network, arguing that the global church has maintained a “long-standing and pervasive system of sexual violence” despite promises to swiftly oust predators. The complaint also accuses Vatican officials of creating policies that perpetuated the damage, constituting an attack against a civilian population. Vatican officials have announced that Joseph Ratzinger will remain a permanent resident of Vatican City so that he will have legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him.

The pope will leave legacies other than the sexual abuses of children. In his push for prescribed gender roles Benedict’s legacy, he described moves toward egalitarianism as “a violation of the natural order.” On his watch, the church equated the ordination of female priests with child sex abuse. Under the pope’s leadership, the Catholic Church has fought against U.S. regulations to provide reproductive health care for all women. He set up an investigation of nuns in the U.S. because all they did was care for the sick and the poor.

Also on the pope’s agenda is his opposition to equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender individuals. Less than a year ago, he said that Catholics should oppose marriage equality and defend opposite-sex marriage against “every possible misrepresentation of their true nature.”  He also used his Christmas speech to denounce marriage equality, saying that it destroyed the “essence of the human creature.”

In a meeting with Speaker Rebecca Kadaga of the Ugandan Parliament, a primary supporter of a bill that would kill people for homosexual acts, he blessed her although the Vatican later denied such a blessing.

The pope stated that the Islam Quran urges that religious faith should be imposed by force. It does not.  In fact, the Quran states:

“Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians–any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. “

He angered Jews when he lifted the excommunication of a British bishop who denies that Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers. Bishop Richard Williamson and three other bishops who belong to the Society of Saint Pius X were allowed back into the fold.

Under his rule, the Catholic Church maintained the lack of equality between men and women, the sins of LGBT people, and importance of its priests over the victimization of children.

With the pope, for all intents and purposes, gone, the world is guessing about his replacement. Those in Latin America, comprising almost 40 percent of the 1.2 Catholics in the world, think that it’s time for a pope to be from one of their countries after three decades of German popes. Catholics in the United States hope for the first pope from our nation, with some of the U.S. cardinals having held important positions at the Vatican.

The choice will be made by 110+ cardinals under the age of 80, over half of them appointed by the current pope and over half of them from Europe. Of the 11 from the United States, two of them, Mahoney and Cardinal Justin Rigali, lost their positions because it was found that they kept clergy on assignments after indictments for child molestation.

On his most recent show, Bill Maher said that he doesn’t care who becomes pope. The shredded separation between church and state in the U.S., however, demands that everyone who cares for equal rights should care about the positions of the pope selected by the Catholic Churth. Over half of our nation’s population are Catholics and Evangelicals, many of whom try to oppress the rest of the population with their religious beliefs. Those of us who want freedom from religion will be affected by the new pope, especially if he continues to eradicate rights for women and LGBT people.

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