Nel's New Day

March 31, 2013

Paganism, Other Easter Traditions

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:57 PM
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For almost three-fourths of the people in the United States, today is Easter Sunday. (For the rest of us, it’s another day to get some work done or go have fun with friends and family.) For the religious, here’s a bit of background on Easter’s connection to pagan traditions and other customs connected with the popular holiday:

1. Easter falls on a different date each year because it is on the first Sunday after the full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. Reason: The god Attis of the Cybele cult was sotor, reborn each year with this resurrection celebrated on the Friday after the full moon after the Vernal equinox—now Good Friday—and lasted three days. Rome worshipped Attis into the third century, and Christianity adopted the date for their own savior. The cult faded, but the date stayed because of tradition.

2. The name “Easter” comes from the goddess Eostre, the Mother Goddess of the Saxons of Northern Europe. Reason: Eoestre represented the bright, growing half of the year, and Holda held sway over the cold, dark winter. The dates of Easter are so close to Walpurgisnacht that they may have been concurrent at one time, the night giving way to the first day of Summer. As with many other pagan observances during the early history of Christianity, this one was adapted for the new faith to get more converts. Early missionaries knew that they could more easily get people to celebrate a new name than a new date. Other sources state that Easter comes from Astarte, one of the titles of the Chaldean goddess, the queen of heaven.

3. The story of Jesus was similar to that of other sotor gods in pre-Christian cultures; i.e., Attis, Adonis, Tammuz, Dammuzi, Dionysos, Marduk,  and Amun. Being born of a Virgin, hanging “between earth and sky,” dying and arising again after 3 days–these and other details occur in all stories of a savior god. Pagan Christs by John M. Robertson gives more information about these gods and their stories.

4. Easter’s tradition of eggs and lilies comes from their symbolism of fertility, creation, and rebirth. Many ancient cultures’ creation myths involved the earth being hatched from an egg. Ancient Persians and Egyptians exchanged colored eggs, usually red, in honor of spring. Greeks and Romans adopted the custom and extended the color palette. Because eggs were forbidden during Lent in Medieval Europe, they became very popular at Easter. Eastern Europeans created intricately designed and beautifully colored eggs, In Russia, Faberge eggs were first created as elaborate Easter gifts for the Russian royal family to give to friends.

Eggs were originally colored with natural plant dyes from plants. Red onion skins resulted in a soft violet color, carrots produced yellow eggs, and cherry juice gave us red eggs. The Russian word for the art of egg-coloring is “pysanka.”

The Easter lily has long been revered by pagans of various lands as a holy symbol associated with the reproductive organs and considered a phallic symbol.

6. People eat ham for Easter dinner, not as an insult to Jews, as some people have thought, but because pagan cultures slaughtered meat animals in the fall, preserved them during the winter, and finished everything off in the spring.  Eating lamb for Easter dinner comes from the Jewish Passover holiday when a sacrificial lamb was eaten, along with other symbolic foods, at the Passover Seder. The Christians adopted the lamb as a symbol of Jesus and retained the custom.

7. Hot cross buns come from the wheat cakes baked in honor of Eostre. Christians replaced the horns on on top of the buns with crosses and had the cakes blessed by the Church. People in England believed that hanging a hot cross bun in the house would protect it from fire and bring good luck for the coming year.

8. The Easter bunny came from the rabbit representing the moon to the Egyptians. The hare was a totemic animal of the goddess Eostre, symbolizing fertility for Spring. In Germany, the Easter Bunny was like Santa Claus, delivering Easter treats to children and known as Osterhase. The children would build a nest for him to leave their eggs in, a custom that evolved into the modern Easter basket.

9. Easter eggs were once used as birth certificates in Germany. When families could not get to a town hall to file a birth certificate in the nineteenth century, they would provide an egg as identification. The egg, dyed and inscribed with the person’s name and birth date, was a legal document accepted by courts and other authorities.

10. Easter customs: In England, doors and windows are opened on Easter Sunday so that the sun can drive out any evil within. Rain on Easter morning means rain on the next seven Sundays. Finding a double-yolk egg on Easter is a sign of good luck. Getting up early on Easter and swimming in a cold stream will ease rheumatism pain.

A trauma for conservatives today was Google having the audacity to post a photo of—gasp!—Cesar Chavez on its search engine today to celebrate the birthday of the Mexican-American activist who battled for workers’ rights? Chavez is so revered that some states including California, Colorado, and—yes—Texas have a state holiday on his March 31 birthday. In 2011, President Obama declared March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day. Some conservatives declared that they were switching to the engine, Bing, http://www.bing.com/  because it had Easter eggs, possibly religious symbols to them.  (The image was very pretty!)

March 30, 2013

CPAC Tidbits for the Future

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:02 PM
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CPAC was finished a few weeks ago, but the stories from the conservative convention have become legend, showing the warped attitudes of conservatives toward the real world. Keep in mind that these are people who believe that the voters didn’t oppose their policies, just their “packaging.” We can probably expect quotes from the politicians to appear during the upcoming election–only 30 months from now!

Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA) and Torture: “If the choice was to hear 70 political speeches or to go waterboarding, well, I’d have to think about that.” [I guess it’s a joke.]

Charles Butler and Single-Parent Families: The conservative talk show host blamed women with an agenda “on the booty call” in the session, “Fatherless America: The Headwaters of Poverty, Crime & Social Dysfunction.” He claimed that the problem comes from all women who are tricking men into have children they don’t want.

Pamela Geller and CPAC’s Refusal to Give Her a Speaking Slot: The professional Islamophobe claimed that Grover Norquist was in league with the Muslim Brotherhood, both determined to spread Shariah law throughout the United States. She did get to moderate a panel.

Orly Taitz and the Birther Issue: The Birther Queen attended Geller’s panel about Islam where she repeatedly interrupted the speaker demanding answers to her questions about why Geller’s panel was not addressing her urgent issue of President Obama’s birth certificate. Security guards escorted Taitz out of the room.

Sarah Palin and the Big Gulp: In blue jeans, the former vice-presidential candidate sucked on a huge soda to ridicule Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to start curbing the nation’s obesity problem. Palin has demonstrated food issues for a long time; there was her ridicule of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative with her “s’mores” routine. Even Republicans are disgusted with Palin: Former Bush strategist Matthew Dowd said CPAC “totally diminished its credibility” by inviting Sarah Palin to its annual conference.

Wayne LaPierre and His Guns:  The NRA CEO claimed that government wants to keep records of gun ownership so the Chinese can hack them or the list could be handed over to Mexican government. The Second Amendment isn’t just an American right, according to LaPierre, it’s the right that protects all other rights: “If you aren’t free to protect yourself when the government puts its thumb on that freedom, then you’re not free at all.” In his work to ensure that mentally-ill people have the right to own guns, one wonders if he is afraid he will make that list because of the number of people who call him crazy.

Scott Terry and Slavery:  Although CPAC was not responsible for everyone who purchased a ticket, it did encourage these people in their craziness. This North Carolina white segregationist and self-identifiied descendant of Confederate President Jefferson Davis stated from the audience that slaves should have been grateful for food and shelter. At a session called “Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You’re Not One?”, Terry maintained that white people have been “systematically disenfranchised by federal legislation” and would be fine with a society in which black people were permanently subservient to whites.

Wearing a Rick Santorum sticker, he said, “I didn’t know the legacy of the Republican Party included women correcting men in public” after a woman in the audience challenged his statements. Several in the audience cheered and applauded Terry’s outburst.

Dinesh D’Souza and More Slavery: This outsted Christian college president, filmmaker, and author said, “One problem with liberalism is the notion that slavery involved the theft of labor from African Americans.” He has expanded his wacko theory that the president’s worldview is shaped by Kenyan anti-colonial sentiment against Great Britain to all liberals. [Of course, Newt Gingrich agreed with D’Souza at one time.] Let us not confuse this anti-colonial worldview of the U.S.’s founding fathers who stated in the Declaration of Independence that King George “plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.” D’Souza showed a trailer from his upcoming film that indicates slavery was merely an entrepreneurial exercise on the part of the slave-traders.

Angela Logosmasini and Cloth Grocery Bags:  This senior fellow from Competitive Enterprise Institute explained to her audience that these bags can kill people and that they need to save plastics which are under assault. In a panel discussion, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Plastic Water Bottles, Fracking, Genetically Modified Food & Big Gulp Sodas,” Logosmasini explained how plastic grocery bags saves lives.

Katie Kieffer and Contraception: The columnist at Townhall.com claimed that Obamacare is sexist because it provides free birth control. In a panel, apparently in opposition to Barbara Walters TV show The View, that was called “The Right View…and the REAL Issues,” Kieffer reinforced Butler’s “booty call” comments. “Obamacare is sexist because it puts guys off the hook,” Kieffer explained. “All he has to do is say, oh, that’s not my fault; you should have been using Obama’s free birth control.”

Newt Gingrich and His Candles: The former establishment GOP presidential candidate bashed the “Old Guard” to ally himself with the Tea Party, who he calls the “pioneers of the future.” According to Gingrich, “Republican establishment is just plain wrong.” Holding up a candle, he explained that the GOP establishment is “trapped in the age of candles” and the Obama administration is trying to redistribute the candle wealth. [I don’t know what he means either.] He said that the GOP should invent the light bulb and complimented Sen. Paul Rand (KY) and Gov. Scott Walker (WI). In a bizarre switch, he praised Citizenville, the new book from former San Francisco (Democrat) mayor and liberal Gavin Newsome. In conclusion the man who wants “tax cuts for the rich” is pleased with the new pope who will challenge conservatives on the poor.

Michele Bachmann and the List of Lies: The Minnesota representative threw lots of red meat to the hungry audience, but it was all pink slime from a self-published book that had no sourcing for its claims. Accusing President Obama of spending $1.4 billion for perks in running the White House, including walking the dog, she failed to recognize that the Bush White House cost $1.6 billion to operate in 2008. She also ignored the fact that $1.1 of that was for Secret Service and the chopper fleet. If Bachmann is right, the president has saved the country $200 billion, not counting for inflation. The Washington Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler “There really aren’t enough Pinocchios for such misleading use of statistics in a major speech.” [The White House groundskeeper has walked every president’s dog since Nixon because he likes dogs!]

Ann Coulter and the Shotgun Approach: Sandra Fluke doesn’t need to worry about sex because she has a bad haircut, former President Bill Clinton is a “forcible rapist,” CPAC cut out 300 pounds this year (in a covert reference to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie), and on and on. Or Coulter says. The major complaint, however, from not only the CPAC speakers but also House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) is that closing the White House tours is saving $2 million.

Daily Kos has a chart that helps identify differences among the radical conservatives. Very well worth looking at!

March 29, 2013

Let’s Keep Talking about Gun Legislation

When people in the United States woke up on December 14, 2012, to discover that massacres from assault rifles weren’t going to stop, the media started to point out that the vast majority of people in the country wants universal background checks as a way to keep felons and the mentally ill from buying guns. The majority also thinks that large clips on assault rifles that allows people to riddle the bodies of small children with over 150 bullets in less than five minutes aren’t necessary.

When President Obama delivered his State of the Union address last month, he didn’t ask members of Congress to pass any particular laws. He just asked them to treat the gun bills in the same way that they address budget bills and anti-abortion bills—just give gun bills a fair hearing. He said, “Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote.”

But Senate Republicans are determined to stop any debate on gun laws. And they have a very strange reason for the planned filibuster. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) argued that they will filibuster a floor debate so that they will have a “full debate.” He plans to stop legislators talking about gun bills so that there will debate the issue. Maybe he means that he wants the “full debate” to happen out in the corridor, away from television cameras.

Lee has company from four other GOP senators: Ted Cruz (TX), Jim Inhofe (OK), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL). One can guess at the reasons that these five conservative senators think that the Senate is no place to discuss gun laws. Maybe they want to keep the topic from getting any publicity. Or maybe they don’t want people to hear about some of these events around the country within the past few weeks.

The young man who complained “Why can’t we just have segregation?” at the CPAC panel “Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You’re Not One?” was accompanied by a student at Towson University (Maryland), part of the newly formed “White Student Union.” According to its blog, its purpose is to save the campus from the threat of black people:

“…every single day black predators prey upon the majority white Towson University student body. White Southern men have long been called to defend their communities when law enforcement and the State seem unwilling to protect our people. The virtue of white Christian womanhood is under attack at Towson University by degenerate criminals seeking to rob our women of their God given innocence.”

With this goal, there are more Trayvon Martin killings on the horizon.

Why should the law prevent perpetrators of domestic violence from owning guns? Yesterday, Mark R. Miscavish, a former state trooper killed his wife, Traci Miscavish, inside a central Pennsylvania supermarket Thursday and then killed himself, just days after she filed for divorce. He was arrested two months ago for trying to bind her with duct tape after she had left him and then returned to the house for some of her personal belongs.  At that time he pulled out a gun, threatened to kill her, and tried to drag her back into the house. A passerby rescued her. She had a protection order against her husband, but he was allowed to keep his gun. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than two-thirds of spouses and ex-spouses killed by their partners between 1990 and 2005 died at gunpoint.

Thanks to the Armed Citizen Project, high-crime areas in Tucson (AZ) will have more shotguns. Realtor Shawn McClusky, who failed in his attempt to be mayor of the city, plans to spent $12,000 to give these guns away. For several years, Tucson has tried to raise taxes for their police and fire departments while McClusky has led the Tea Party to block these in the name of anti-government and anti-spending. As a result, Tucson lost 155 of 1113 sworn officers in the past four years, the same time that the population has increased from 517,000 to approximately 600,000. Nearly 100 of the current officers are currently funded by COPS grants, another program strenuously opposed by the Tea Party.

One person who won’t be allowed to buy a gun in Arizona is retired Navy captain Mark Kelly, husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who was shot in the head over two years ago while speaking to her constituents in front of a Safeway north of Tucson. After Kelly went to buy a gun at Diamondback Police Supply Co. on March 5 to show how easy it was, owner Douglas MacKinlay decided to rescind the sales because Kelly was not going to keep it. Kelly had planned turn the gun over to the police after the transaction. MacKinlay said he was donating the gun to be raffled off by the Arizona Tactical Officers Association–maybe ending up in one of those “high-crime” areas.

One of those so-called “responsible gun owners” might be 34-year-old Christopher Stanlane in Fairmont (NC). He shot and killed his ten-year-old son, Christopher Stanlane, Jr., while cleaning his shotgun. The elder Stanlane was on his couch wiping down his gun while his son sat in front of him watching television. Like Giffords, the 10-year-old was shot in the head; unlike Giffords, he didn’t survive.

Marcus Scott survived being shot in the head by another driver in Mesquite (TX). Thinking that the person driving the car in front of him was drunk, he pulled up near it. Leonard Young waved a fake badge and waved him over. Scott slowed down to look at the other car’s license plates, and Young stopped, jumped out, and fired 15 shots at Scott. Young went to the police station to complain about Scott, and Scott went to the hospital with a bullet in the back of his head.

A bored nighttime custodian in Cincinnati decided to use the basement of a school for target practice. A teen in Orlando fatally shot his younger brother because he thought he was an intruder. And the stories just keep coming.

While profits soar for gun and ammunition manufacturers to over $1 billion in profit this year and the NRA rakes in millions to lobby legislators, the 30,000+ gun deaths a year cost the health care system and the economy tens of billions of dollars. This is just an estimate because lobbyists have limited federal agencies in researching the subject, and legislators fight efforts to treat gun injuries and deaths as public health issues.

“Death from firearms is not inevitable. It is preventable,” said Georges Benjamin, a physician and the executive director of the American Public Health Association. He watched the human and economic toll from gun violence when he ran the emergency department at one of Washington, D.C.’s largest hospitals and later led the health department. “The cost to the health care system was enormous,” he said. “It’s just absolutely enormous.” Gun-related fatalities are on pace to surpass deaths from automobile collisions by 2015.

A combination of the direct medical costs of treating fatal gun injuries and the economic damage of lost lives cost the United States $37 billion in 2005, the most recent year for which an estimate is available. Non-fatal gun injuries also cost an additional $3.7 billion that year. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, says the total domestic economic impact of the firearms and ammunitions industry broadly is $31.8 billion a year.

Federal medical research agencies are forbidden by law to finance studies to reduce the harm from guns or, as the law phrases it, “advocate or promote gun control.” Law stopped the Center for Disease and Prevention in 1996, and the prohibition now extends to the entire Department of Health and Human Services.

Injury prevention research can help. Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans dying in motor vehicle crashes has decreased by 31 percent. Deaths from fires and drowning have been reduced even more, by 38 percent and 52 percent, respectively. This progress came from interpreting research findings into effective interventions, not banning automobiles, swimming pools, or matches. Instead, it came from translating research findings into effective interventions.

gun

What can be done with guns? Here’s one great idea. After confiscating and publicly destroying some 6,700 weapons in the city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s Secretary of Defense gave some mangled guns to Mexico City artist Pedro Reyes, who turned them into musical instruments.

Two of his creations are being exhibited at the Lisson Gallery in London. Imagine, an orchestra of 50 instruments from flutes to string and percussion instruments, is designed to be played live.  The second, Disarm, can either be automated or played live by an individual operator using a laptop computer or midi keyboard.

Swords into plowshares.

March 28, 2013

DOMA = ‘Skim-Milk Marriage’

Exchanges during the Supreme Court during the last two days demonstrate the dinosaur opposition toward marriage equality of conservatives and the understanding regarding discrimination of  banning same-sex marriage with the middle ground between these two extremes.

No one is likely to know rulings on these two cases about allowing same-sex couples to marry in this country until June when SCOTUS contemplates recessing, but most people interested in the issue are guessing. I’m going with the majority of the media: couples in California will most likely be able to get married, and DOMA will be overturned. No more, no less. These decisions will result in a multitude of lawsuits while governments try to sort out this chaos.

Five justices–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—appeared to support the position that the group of citizens who sponsored and voted for Proposition 8 had no legal standing to bring the case to the Supreme Court. If the five agree to dismiss the case, Prop 8 would probably still be overturned in California, but there would be no precedent on the issue for the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, I love the statements, clueless or otherwise, made within the arguments. My absolute favorite came from Justice Ginsberg when she said that DOMA provided “two kinds of marriage; the full marriage, and then this sort of skim-milk marriage.”

Ginsberg said this to Paul Clement, the lawyer that my tax dollars are paying to enshrine discrimination against me personally as he argues the continuance of DOMA: “Mr. Clement, if we are totally for the States’ decision that there is a marriage between two people, for the federal government then to come in to say no joint return, no marital deduction, no Social Security benefits; your spouse is very sick but you can’t get leave; people—if that set of attributes, one might well ask, What kind of marriage is this?”

Clement tried to explain that DOMA was not intended to exclude same-sex couples but was just enacted to define marriage for federal purposes. Justice Kagan didn’t accept his argument, however, saying that Congress’s passing was “infected by dislike, by fear, by animus.”  She said, “Well, is what happened in 1996—and I’m going to quote from the House report here—is that ‘Congress decided to reflect an honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”’

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli disagreed with Clement: “There are no genuine administrative benefits to DOMA. If anything, Section 3 of DOMA makes federal administration more difficult [because of a patchwork of state laws]. And the fundamental reality of it is, and I think the House report makes this glaringly clear, is that DOMA was not enacted for any purpose of uniformity, administration, caution, pausing, any of that.”

Justice Sotomayor said, “So they can create a class they don’t like—here, homosexuals—or a class that they consider is suspect in the marriage category, and they can create that class and decide benefits on that basis when they themselves have no interest in the actual institution of marriage as married?”

In the argument that SCOTUS should let the states decide a definition of marriage, lawyer Roberta Kaplan said, “You’re not taking it one step at a time, you’re not promoting caution, you’re putting a stop button on it, and you’re having discrimination for the first time in our country’s history against a class of married couples.”

The above statements were all made during the DOMA argument. Prop 8 arguments the day before sometimes got a bit saltier.

In an exchange with the pro-Prop 8, anti-marriage equality lawyer, Charles Cooper, Justice Kagan asked him how letting gay couples marry harmed traditional marriages. “How does this cause and effect work?”

Cooper answered, “It will refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples.” According to Cooper, the key to marriage is procreation. [One-third of the Supreme Court’s sitting justices, married at one time, did not procreate. In fact, George and Martha Washington didn’t procreate.]

Justice Stephen Breyer responded, “I mean, there are lots of people who get married who can’t have children. To take a state that does allow adoption and say—there, what is the justification for saying no gay marriage? Certainly not the one you said, is it?” [Breyer’s statement was followed by Justice Samuel Alito awkwardly trying to make a joke about Strom Thurmond having a child in his seventies.]

Kagan agreed: “I can just assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of fifty-five, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.”

In questioning discrimination against LGBT people , Chief Justice John Roberts tried to point out powerful the LGBT lobby: “As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case.” [Endorse maybe, but 31 states will have constitutional amendments declaring that marriage is “between one man and one woman,” and only nine states have legalized marriage equality.]

Justice Alito tried to point out that the court shouldn’t rule in favor of marriage equality because it is so new: “But you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? I mean we—we are not—we do not have the ability to see the future.” [The first same-sex couple came to SCOTUS over 40 years ago in Baker v. Nelson. Marriage equality is not an institution in the United States because the Supreme Court and Congress prevented it.]

“Same-sex marriage is very new,” Justice Alito complained. “It may turn out to be a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing.” [Maureen Dowd asked, “If the standard is that marriage always has to be ‘a good thing,’ would heterosexuals pass?]

“Same-sex couples have every other right,” Roberts said, “It’s just about the label in this case.” [This piece of wisdom came from the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court?!]

Verrilli reminded the justices that the argument by opponents of interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia was to delay because “the social science is still uncertain about how biracial children will fare in this world.” [The court’s rationale is exceptionally ironic when one considers that a biracial person born before Loving now sits in the White House.]

Justice Kennedy demonstrated that he understood the plight of many families: “There are some forty thousand children in California, according to the red brief, that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?”

Justices spent time during the Prop 8 trying to figure out how they got into the situation of arguing the case.  “I just wonder if the case was properly granted,” said Justice Kennedy.

Justice Sotomayor seemed to agree: “If the issue is letting the states experiment and letting the society have more time to figure out its direction, why is taking a case now the answer?”

Theodore B. Olson, lawyer for the two couples fighting for marriage equality, said about Prop 8, “It walls off gays and lesbians from marriage, the most important relation in life thus stigmatizing a class of Californians based upon their status and labeling their most cherished relationships as second-rate, different, unequal and not O.K.”

When Cooper rose to give his rebuttal at the end of the session, Justice Kennedy asked the first question. “You might address,” the justice said, “why you think we should take and decide this case.”

Justice Sotomayor said it all in her question for Prop 8’s lawyer, Cooper: “Outside of the marriage context, can you think of any other rational basis, reason, for a state using sexual orientation as a factor in denying homosexuals benefits?”

And Cooper responded, “Your Honor. I cannot.”

Justice Clarence Thomas said the same thing both days: nothing.

edie

The case challenging DOMA was brought by Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old New York widow who inherited a large estate when her spouse died. Because her spouse was a woman, she faced a federal estate tax of $363,000. Justice Ginsberg’s “skim-milk” argument came from Clement’s argument that DOMA prevents states from “opening up an additional class of beneficiaries,” i.e. married gay couples “that get additional federal benefits.” The 80-year-old justice took exception to the term “additional benefits” immediately following Kennedy’s statement that there are at least 1,100 federal statutes that affect married couples. Every same-sex couple prevented from a partner’s Social Security benefits, tax-free health benefits, freedom from estate tax, etc. etc.

[During your leisure time, check out these 60 best anti-DOMA signs.]

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March 27, 2013

End LGBT Job Discrimination

Marriage equality has been the focus of media this week as the U.S. Supreme Court addressed two separate cases about allowing same-sex couples the opportunity for legalized marriage. Fox has started stirring up its audience into a froth, fomenting the fear that a ruling in favor of marriage equality would result in removing Christianity from our country and wiping out all the advantages that religion—primarily Christians—have. But there’s an even scarier thing going on for all LGBT people.

I want all the straight people in this country to consider what would happen if they were to be fired because they are—gasp!—heterosexual. Little do they know that this could happen in 29 states. It most likely won’t because straight people are in the majority in the United States, but their employers could legally use this excuse. That’s because Congress consistently refuses to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Passing ENDA would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees. Introduced in every Congress since 1994 except for the 109th Congress from 2004-6, the concept of ENDA has failed since 1974. A version of the law failed in the Senate by a single vote in 1996. Even a Democratic Congress in 2006 couldn’t pass it, even after ENDA dropped protection for transgender people, perhaps because George W. Bush threatened to veto the measure. Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) voted for ENDA in 2007.

Following Democratic gains in 2008, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced ENDA that included transgender people. Failing in that Congress, the two men introduced the bill again in 2011 when a Senate committee held a hearing on the measure, the first such hearing to include testimony by a transgender witness.

Courts cannot protect LGBT employees fired because of their sexual orientation and gender identify because LGBT people are not classified as a “suspect class,” a group with a set of criteria indicating that they are probably the subject of discrimination. ENDA supporters argue that the Constitution guarantees equal protection and due process for all. The American Psychology Association (APA) argues the homosexuality is a personal identity and not a “choice” and that all employees should be judged by the quality of their work performance instead of completely unrelated factors.

Conservative Christians believe that there is no discrimination against LGBT people and that ENDA would negatively impact religious organizations. The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), are afraid that schools would be required to hire transgender teachers.

In the current 113th Congress, with Frank no longer in the House, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) plans to be the lead author of the next ENDA. One source stated that the new bill may have changes related to religious exemption and disparate impact to make the legislation’s protections stronger for LGBT workers than previously written. ENDA has previously included a strong religious exemption. In the most recent version of the bill, Section 6 provided an exemption for religious organizations and businesses that were also exempt under Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964.

Three weeks ago, the Family Research Council sent out a fundraising email warning its recipients that this “dangerous” and “totalitarian” bill is possible. Tony Perkins explained that ENDA would “give special rights to men and women who engage in homosexual behavior.” To far-right Christians, having a job is an example of “special rights.”

A public opinion poll from 2011 shows that almost three-fourths of voters (73 percent) support protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination. Even two-thirds of Republicans supported nondiscrimination laws. Even Catholics (74 percent) and seniors (61 percent) are in favor of workplace protections for LGBT people. Even voters who describe themselves as being unfavorable toward LGBT people support nondiscrimination by 50 percent.

Yet 90 percent of these voters don’t understand that that these protections are not in place: they think a federal law protects LGBT people from workplace discrimination. ENDA affects far more people than equality of marriage and of lesbians and gays in the military, but the bill is largely ignored by most people, including President Obama.

There’s a 99-percent chance that the bill won’t even see the light of day in the current, Republican-dominated House although Ryan claims that the GOP will support ENDA—sort of. The GOP even strongly opposes universal background checks for gun buyers although 91 percent of the people support this. But if any heterosexuals are fired because of “sexual orientation,” they might want to consider support of ENDA.

As columnist Ruth Marcus wrote, “The movement for marriage equality is enormously important; its trajectory toward success is nothing short of astonishing. Yet no American should be asked to choose between the right to marry and the right to work. Every American, regardless of sexual orientation, is entitled to both.”

March 26, 2013

Scalia Needs to Resign

In the past, no one knew how many of the Supreme Court justices would vote in many decisions. They didn’t even consistently follow follows the politics of the presidents who appointed them. For example, the progressive ruling on Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion in the United States was supported by justices appointed by Richard Nixon.

For the past few decades, however, SCOTUS decisions have rarely been surprising. Perhaps now people can more accurately guess who justices will vote on almost any issues because of the rapid increase of communication about justices’ backgrounds and perspectives that contributes general understanding about their opinions or separate takes on constitutional issues. Or maybe the lines are so delineated that people can guess the decisions.

This year, people interested in the marriage equality are wondering how several justices will rule on the two cases being heard today and tomorrow, one regarding Proposition 8 in California and and the other DOMA (Defense of Marriage).  Both Prop 8 and DOMA ban same-sex marriage. Six justices are in play for the decision, which will probably be issued in June. Justice Samuel Alito is almost certainly a vote for the status quo of no marriage equality, but there is no question about two justices, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

Scalia has been more open than any other justice in his opposition to marriage equality. Some of his offensive comments have been made in connection with earlier cases regarding homosexuality.

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In response to Romer v. Evans when SCOTUS held that Colorado could not have a constitutional amendment motivated completely by animus towards LGBT people, he said, “I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible–murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals–and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct.” He also said that giving LGBT people second-class status is like any other law “disfavoring certain conduct,” such laws disfavoring “drug addicts, or smokers, or gun owners, or motorcyclists.”

In Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia agreed that an outright ban on “sodomy” “undoubtedly imposes constraints on liberty,” but “so do laws prohibiting prostitution” or “recreational use of heroin.” Also in rejecting the Lawrence majority’s conclusion that private sexuality between consenting adults receives “substantial protection” under the Constitution, he responded “[s]tates continue to prosecute all sorts of crimes by adults ‘in matters pertaining to sex’: prostitution, adult incest, adultery, obscenity, and child pornography.” Later in his decision, he compared gay sex to bestiality.

Scalia also suggested that the bond between two men or two women in a committed relationship is no greater than the bond between two “roommates.” After all animosity, he concluded his Lawrence dissent with this assertion: “Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals.”

One of Scalia’s arguments when he wrote the minority dissent for the 6-3 decision in Lawrence, was that this case set the scene for legalized marriage equality. “Today’s opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned,” Scalia wrote.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion said the Court’s ruling against anti-sodomy laws “does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.”

Scalia’s retort: “Do not believe it.”

“This case ‘does not involve’ the issue of homosexual marriage only if one entertains the belief that principle and logic have nothing to do with the decisions of this Court,” he wrote.

The Reagan-appointed justice accused the majority on the Court of having “taken sides in the culture war” and having signed on to the “homosexual agenda.”

Although it’s been years since Scalia equated laws banning sodomy with those barring bestiality and murder, he still supports this position. Speaking at Princeton University late last year, he explained his statement by saying, “I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think it’s effective.” He also repeated his earlier argument: “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against these other things?” 

Earlier last year, he again compared homosexuality to abortion and murder. At a speech before an audience at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. last October, he said, “The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.”

As Bill Press wrote, there was a time when Supreme Court justices were “seen and not heard,” but now a few of them are “spouting off all the time.” He added that it is “pretty scary to have someone like this on the Supreme Court” and that Chief Justice John Roberts should force Scalia to recuse himself from the two marriage equality cases facing the Supreme Court.

Yet Scalia claimed at the Southern Methodist University earlier this year that he never expressed personal views on gay marriage in public or in his rulings. He also said that a crucial part of his post as Supreme Court justice is reaching decisions, even if they contradict one’s personal beliefs. After SMU professor Bryan A. Garner pointed out that he and Scalia had differing opinions on some issues such as marriage equality and gun control, Scalia retorted, “I haven’t expressed my views on either of those. You’re a bleeding heart.”

Scalia has admitted to a fear of and possible loathing for gays and lesbians but insisted in a Fox News interview that he leaves personal feelings at the door of the courtroom . . . or possibly the university lecture hall.

Because Scalia believes that the U.S. Constitution is not a living document, that it’s “dead, dead, dead,” he is bound to vote against marriage equality because gay rights are not specifically protected by that document, drafted in the eighteenth century.

As a Supreme Court justice, Scalia isn’t legally bound by the rules of judicial conduct that apply to judges in all other U.S. courts. He has the legal—if not ethical—right to say anything he wants regarding cases before the court. He doesn’t have to obey the rules of conduct that require judges to avoid the appearance of impropriety, defined as “when reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances disclosed by a reasonable inquiry, would conclude that the judge’s … impartiality … is impaired.”

The only way that Scalia can be removed from the Supreme Court bench is for the House of Representatives to indict him for “high crimes and misdemeanors” and the Senate to convict him of such lack of “good behavior.” Technically, Scalia has done nothing illegal; he just behaves in an unethical manner. Only one Supreme Court justice has been impeached, Samuel Chase, and that was over 200 years ago.  Although the House indicted him, the Senate found him not guilty.

When Scalia became a judge, he said that he would retire at the age of 65 because that was the age necessary for full salary in retirement. He loves the power and won’t quit, but it’s far past time for the 77-year-old justice to hang up his robe.

March 25, 2013

Woodward Teaches Readers to Question

Ever since I saw the movie All the President’s Men, I have considered Bob Woodward my hero because he was instrumental in bringing down a corrupt president using illegal actions to win his second presidential election . What a difference 40 years makes. Compared to George W. Bush, Richard Nixon doesn’t look too bad, and Woodward has become almost a villain.

Woodward’s legendary reputation may have finally ended when he accused White House senior official Gene Sperling of trying to intimidate the journalist. According to Max Holland, however, this fictionalizing seems to be a pattern for Woodward throughout his entire career. In adopting the style of New Journalism, Woodward and his co-author, Carl Bernstein, employed a novelistic style for what should have been a non-fiction book. Newspaper editor Barry Sussman said that the two were “wrong often on detail” about what happened in the newsroom and that they tended to “sentimentalize” their information.

Since the Woodward/Berstein papers were opened in 2007, other problems can to light in the inconsistencies between the notes of interviews with Deep Throat, aka Mark Felt, and how these notes were used in the book. It appears that statements attributed as quotes in the book may not have been Felt’s words and may be substantially altered. The book also has information not included in the notes.

References to the so-called Canuck letter, a 1972 letter to the editor of the Manchester Union-Leader, also never appeared in the notes. This letter alleged that then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Edmund Muskie had used the term Canuck to refer to constituents of French-Canadian descent around the time of the New Hampshire primary, and Woodstein alleged that the letter typified the “dirty tricks” thought up by the Nixon White House or campaign.

When Holland asked Woodward about these discrepancies, Woodward said, “I may have had a distinct recollection [while we were writing the book, and reviewing the notes] that something was in quotes … and so I may have put quotes in it.” These discrepancies also appeared in reporting aboutJudith Hoback, the bookkeeper for the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP). The book quotes Hoback as saying, “But Sally [Harmony, burglar Gordon Liddy’s secretary]—and others—lied.” In Bernstein’s notes from the interview, however, Hoback never asserts that anyone at the CRP “lied.”

All the President’s Men gave the impression that Mark Felt was leaking the information out of principle. The authors wrote that Deep Throat “was trying to protect the office [of the presidency], to effect a change in its conduct before all was lost.” Evidence shows, however, that Felt may have used these leaks as a tactic to undermine L. Patrick Gray, acting director of the FBI, and become FBI director after J. Edgar Hoover’s death. A top Justice Department official said, “[Felt] had enough contact with the press that he might have tried to use his Watergate information to hurt Gray.” Yet Woodward has always called Felt a “truth-teller.”

Since Watergate, Woodward has diligently tried to show that his investigation into Watergate wasn’t just a fluke. Like Orson Welles and his one-time success withCitizen Kane, Woodward spent his life looking for another success like the one he had at the age of  30. He never lost the craving to retain the high respect he gained from revealing the Nixon scandals.

Yet Woodward continued to have questionable episodes. In 1987, he reported a four-minute interview with CIA director William Casey; the family disagreed with Woodward’s description of its unfolding and conclusion. In the Valerie Plame affair, Woodward ridiculed a investigation into the leak of a CIA officer’s name without telling the public that he was the first reporter to be told about the leak.

Worse was his treatment of Jeff Himmelman, hired to research Woodward’s 2000 book Maestro, a “fawning tribute to Alan Greenspan,” according to Holland. Greenspan was the Fed chairman whose ideology brought about the worst recession since the Great Depression. At the same time, Himmelman gained access to the papers of Woodward’s former editor Ben Bradlee and found an interview. Among these were notes showing that Bradlee felt that the representation of Woodward’s meeting with Deep Throat in the underground garage was inaccurate. Disturbed by Himmelman’s report of Bradlee’s statement, Woodward smeared his book, calling it “alarmingly dishonest” and a “total dishonest distortion.” Woodward compared Himmelman with Nixon on Politico.

Describing All the President’s Men and its aftermath, Holland wrote:

 “[Woodward and Bernstein] wrote a self-glorifying account of their role, seemingly altered information from their notes, apparently reneged on a pledge to Deep Throat, then later downplayed evidence that Mark Felt was leaking for self-interested reasons. And finally, when a former Woodward lieutenant came across some facts that undermined the narrative that Woodstein had dined out on for decades, Woodward responded to this heresy by attacking the writer’s integrity.”

As Dennis Johnson writes,

How reliable is Bob Woodward? From the very first there have been those who thought, well, he was making shit up. Lots of people questioned whether there ever really was a Deep Throat, for example, when All the President’s Men came out. Even after former FBI associate director Mark Felt claimed to have been Deep Throat, doubts continued that the former agent–his mind clearly fogged by age–was quite the drama-prone informer depicted in the book.

“Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment noted one of the better known counterpoints in his book, In Search of Deep Throat–that Simon and Schuster editor Alice Mayhew, who edited All the President’s Men, “told [former presidential counsel John] Dean that she was the one who had invented the detective story structure for the reporters’ book.

“Woodward’s second book, The Bretheren, co-authored by Scott Armstrong, contained so many outlandish assertions about the behavior of Supreme Court Justices behind the scenes that, in a front page review for the New York Times Book Review, Renata Adler famously declared that every sentence in the book should end “with the caveat ‘if true.’”

After riding on the Watergate explosion for almost 40 years, Bob Woodward lost all credibility when he appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox show and attacked President Obama’s past relationship with Ayers. The release of emails between Woodward and Sperling show a collegiality far from Woodward’s accusations of being threatened. It is a sad ending for a formerly venerable reporter.

The message from Woodward’s debacle is that so-called journalists’ reporting is always subject to doubt. So-called non-fiction books may be enjoyable reading, but their accuracy must always be questioned.

March 24, 2013

Can We Keep the U.S. From Being a Total Theocracy?

Each week Steve Benen writes a segment called “The God Machine” on the Rachel Maddow blog. This week he addressed the “renewed tensions between the religious right movement and the political party that ostensibly fights for its interests.” The focus is on the autopsy that the Republican National Committee released this past week, the “Growth and Opportunity Project.”

“The Republican National Committee this week unveiled a lengthy report, providing an ‘autopsy’ of what went wrong in 2012, and offering a blueprint for how the party can get back on track. The RNC’s vision covers quite a bit of ground, detailing possible plans on procedure, tactics, strategy, outreach, and just a pinch of policy.

“But to an almost surprising degree, the Republican National Committee’s plan is entirely secular. The ‘Growth and Opportunity’ report uses the word ‘Reagan’ six times, but there are literally zero references to God, Christianity, and/or the Bible. For a party that has spent several decades claiming to be the arbiter of morality and “family values,” the RNC’s secularism was unexpected.

“And for the religious right, disappointing. McKay Coppins had an interesting report on this, asking, ‘When the great Republican resurrection comes to pass, will conservative Christians be left behind?’

“To many religious conservatives, the report was interpreted as a slight against their agenda and the hard work they have done for the party.

“’The report didn’t mention religion much, if at all,’ said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. ‘You cannot grow your party by distancing yourself from your base, and this report doesn’t reinforce the values that attracted me and many other people into the Republican Party in the first place. It just talks about reaching out to other groups.’

“Sandy Rios, an Evangelical radio host and Fox News contributor, said the RNC report’s proposals amount to a ‘namby-pamby’ abdication of religious values, and warned that the party could soon lose the grassroots engine that has powered its electoral victories for decades.

“’They should be deeply concerned they’re going to be alienating their base,’ Rios said, adding, ‘It seems to me that the leadership of the party is intent on that course. Most Christian conservatives are not going to be party loyalists over principle, and so the GOP has a lot more to lose than Christians.’

“The RNC’s Sean Spicer defended the report, arguing that the report ignored the religious right because the movement has ‘always done a fabulous job,’ so the party doesn’t see this as an area in need of attention.

“The truth is more complicated, and for the party, more politically perilous.

“Reince Priebus has spent a fair amount of time lately reflecting on 2012, and it seems clear that he sees the Republicans’ culture war as an electoral loser–the American mainstream, and especially younger voters, just don’t hate gay people, reproductive rights, and the separation of church and state the way the GOP base does. To grow the party, Republicans won’t just have to change the way they talk about issues, they’ll very likely to have to change which issues they’re talking about.

“It’s why the RNC’s report also makes no mention of ‘abortion,’ ‘marriage,’ ‘religion,’ or even ‘pro-life.’ These aren’t the issues that will help the party become more competitive on a national level.

“But this is where the Republicans’ identity crisis gets tricky. Reince Priebus wants to use religious right activists as the party’s grassroots base–there just aren’t enough oil company lobbyists to work phone banks and engage in door-to-door activism–but also wants to pretend the religious right agenda isn’t at the core of the party. For the movement, this isn’t good enough.

“Reince Priebus also wants to signal to the American mainstream that his party isn’t dominated by culture warriors, and the GOP’s support for a right-wing social agenda is purely superficial, but Republican policymakers–at the state and national level–continue to focus on reproductive rights and gay rights, either out of sincere beliefs or motivated by a desire to pander to the religious right movement the RNC is content to ignore.

“It’s an untenable, unsustainable dynamic. If Republicans continue to obsess over social conservatism, they’ll struggle as a national party. If they don’t, they’ll alienate the voters they need to compete. The RNC’s report hasn’t papered over this problem; it’s helped put a spotlight on it.”

Meanwhile, religious bills proliferate across the United States.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) has signed a bill that forces schools to give students an open forum to push their religious beliefs on others. Students must be permitted to express their beliefs at school events such as football games or morning announcements as well as organizing religious groups on campus. If a teacher assigns a paper on evolution, students can write about creationism with impunity. They can also refute any other science facts such as human anatomy or climate change.

Although Kentucky’s governor, Steve Beshear vetoed the “religious freedom” act, the bill goes back for an override vote next week and will probably pass. The bill reads:

“Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A ‘burden’ shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.”

In the past, similar laws have allowed graduate students in social work to refuse services to gay people, schools to fire women for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, pharmacies to not fill prescriptions for birth control, and wedding service providers to shut out gay and lesbian couples.

Other religious takeovers:

Vouchers: Ten states and the District of Columbia allow and in some cases, require that creationism be taught in private voucher schools.

Creationism in public school science classes: This year alone, Colorado, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma have attempted to pass bills requiring creationism be taught or allowing the questioning of evolution in the classroom. Montana State Rep. Clayton Fiscus (R-Billings) is trying very hard to get a creationism-in-class bill passed in that state.

Prayer/Proselytizing in public schools: Last year, Missouri passed their “right to pray” amendment which also permitted students to skip homework that they feel “offends their religious beliefs.”

Exemptions for “Conscience”: Leading the charge is the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a D.C. advocacy group that promotes policy that adheres to “Judeo-Christian tradition.” The EPPC is in the process of forming “religious freedom” caucuses in every state and has been successful thus far in nine states.

“Prayer” caucuses at the state level: Similar to “religious freedom” caucuses, “prayer” caucuses are the pet project of Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA). The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation wants lawmakers to “use the legislative process–both through sponsorship of affirmative legislation and through opposition to detrimental legislation–assist the nation and its people in continuing to draw upon and benefit from this essential source of our strength and well-being.” Thus far eight states have a “prayer caucus”: Maine, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, and Mississippi.

It’s time for people in the United States to decide whether we will allow the far-right evangelicals to turn this nation into a total theocracy.

March 23, 2013

GOP Legislators in Denial after Autopsy

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:22 PM
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For the Republicans who can’t understand how they’ve alienated women, minorities, the poor, LGBT, and anyone else who doesn’t fit into the white culture:

The  RNC autopsy following their losses in the 2012 general election, “Growth and Opportunity Project,” concluded that the GOP candidates can connect with women voters by “softer language,” fewer “graphs and charts,” and a collection of women doing media appearances. Translation: women aren’t smart enough to understand all that “information” and will vote for Republicans if other women tell them to do this. Republican strategist John Feehery said on Bill Maher’s show (March 22, 2013) that the GOP just needs to be nicer to people.

Igor Volsky has also prepared a fine chart of what the autopsy says as compared to the existing GOP policy.

Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL) attacked Tom Perez, even before President Obama nominated him as Secretary of Labor, for serving as board president of an organization that advocates on behalf of low-income immigrants and Latinos. Sessions uses the term “illegal immigrant” three times in one paragraph. This is Sessions’ MO: he used it four years ago when opposing the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) said, “Thomas Perez’s record should be met with great suspicion by my colleagues for his spotty work related to the New Black Panther case.” Two different investigations showed that the DOJ had no improper motive when it dismissed the case, and the decision to drop the allegations against the New Black Panther defendants happened five months before Perez took over the Civil Rights Division.

Arkansas Republicans passed a law requiring voters to show photo ID before they can cast a ballot on the day after the GOP autopsy was presented. These popular laws in red states will prevent 2 to 9 percent of registered voters, mostly low-income, students, and people of color, from casting a ballot. The state’s Democratic governor Mike Beebe is expected to veto the bill.

Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), Jeff Sessions (AL), John Cornyn (OK), Mike Lee (UT), and Ted Cruz (TX) think that the debate on immigration reform is moving way too fast. After all, it’s only been six years since the Judiciary Committee started the process under George W. Bush.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) opposed Gina McCarthy, an expert on federal air quality law, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency not because he disagrees with her but because he wants a “concrete timeline for progress” on the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project. Even the Army Corps of Engineers has declared this $100-million piece of Missouri pork as a “swine” and “a bad project”–“an economic dud with huge environmental consequences,” draining more acres of wetlands than all U.S. developers drained in a usual year and cutting off one of the last piece of Mississippi River floodplain still connected to the river.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) objected to a routine Senate resolution commemorating Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week. The hundreds of resolutions like “World Plumbing Day” passed by Congress are merely ceremonial, lacking any power of law. Cruz’s office said that he objected to the resolution because he wanted more time to examine the 500-word resolution that had already unanimously passed the House and typically passes without objection every year.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) opposed Caitlin Halligan’s nomination to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C. because she argued the state’s case as former Solicitor General of New York. He announced that he would filibuster her because “she’s got gun problems.”

 

http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/03/21/17400961-pauls-perplexing-personhood-palaver?lite   Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a self-identified libertarian wanting strict limits on government power over people, has introduced “fetal personhood” legislation to give constitutional rights to “preborn humans.” The legislation would “ban abortion altogether at the federal level” and would probably ban hormonal birth control and in-vitro fertilization.

Kansas Republicans are proposing an anti-abortion law that would prevent anyone associated with an abortion provider from working in a public school or even volunteering in a classroom. Republican Rep. Arlen Siegfreid stated that the bill would “prohibit an abortion clinic secretary from bringing cupcakes to school for his or her child’s birthday party.”

FreedomWorks, the highly conservative Tea Party organization, created a promotional video with one segment showing a giant panda supposedly performing oral sex on then secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Two female interns were asked to participate, one wearing the panda costume and the other a Clinton mask.

Six influential Republicans (including GOP Reps. Darrell Issa, CA; John Kline, MN; and Frank Lucas, OK) are raising money for Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) Unopposed, he was re-elected after he pressured a former mistress, also his patient, to get an abortion and agreed with his wife that she should have two abortions, one because they were having trouble with their marriage. DesJarlais opposes legalized abortion.

The Arizona Senate has given preliminary approval to “reject a federal action that the people determine violates the United States Constitution.” If passed, SCR 1016 would prohibit the state and local government from using their employees or finance resources to enforce, administer, or cooperate with any federal action or program they determine is not “consistent with the Constitution.”

Arizona voters already rejected a 2012 measure, also from state Sen. Chester Crandall (R), that would have amended the state constitution to read: “Arizona declares its sovereign and exclusive authority and jurisdiction over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within its boundaries,” nullifying federal authority over areas of the state controlled and protected by the federal government. Other states considering this unconstitutional nullification are Texas, Indiana, Wyoming, Kentucky, Arkansas,  and Alaska.

Arizona has another law that is equally wacky. State legislators want a law forcing transgender people to only use public restrooms, dressing rooms, and showers associated with the gender listed on their birth certificate. This extremist legislation from state Rep. John Kavanagh (R) appears to be a reaction to a Phoenix human rights bill prohibiting gender identity discrimination in public accommodations.  Violation could be punished by fines as high as $4,000 and imprisonment of up to six months.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) gave the following answer when asked if his views on marriage equality had changed:  “I’m not gay. So I’m not going to marry one.” Chambliss’ statement that he would oppose marriage equality because it didn’t affect him is reminiscent of Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-AZ) position that eliminated the requirement of maternity care from employers’ benefits. He said, “I don’t need maternity care. So requiring that on my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) had an answer for Kyl’s illogic: “I think your mom probably did.”

These are just a few of the examples showing how the GOP continues to alienate everyone except white men. Next week, the GOP goes into the Supreme Court to support the discriminatory DOMA, continuing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to prevent marriage equality. Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) abusive budget, that Republicans passed this past week, significantly benefits top-income earners and corporations while severely penalizing everyone else.

GOP members also want to slash the corporate tax rate as profits skyrocket and wages for middle and lower income people shrink. At the same time, the GOP continues to pass bills that eradicate the benefits of Obamacare, either 36 or 39 times depending on who’s counting, in order to get rid of free contraception to women and allow employers to deny birth control to their workers. The GOP also voted against equal pay for equal work and stonewalled the Violence against Women Act for almost a year.

Yet Republicans still believe that it’s their messaging—or packaging—that keeps voters supporting the Democrats and not their actual policies. The autopsy shows the problems, but GOP legislators stay in denial.

March 22, 2013

GOP Issues Autopsy for Last Year’s Election

Since the GOP lost the presidency, the Senate, and the popular vote for the House, there has been much gnashing of teeth and agonizing over why the intelligent people of the United States would not elect Republicans. The  initial GOP strategy has been to pay for a study that would explain what the rest of us all know—that the anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-woman party caters only to wealthy white men, probably mostly old.

Earlier this week, the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” aka “autopsy,” was released with much fanfare by Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus. Prepared by a five-member Republican National Committee panel, the 100-page report based on 52,000 contacts with voters, party consultants, and elected officials was designed also as a roadmap. In his introduction of the conclusions, Priebus said, “As it makes clear, there’s no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement.”

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Some of the recommendations don’t sound at all like the GOP. It calls on legislators to “embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” Of course, the GOP definition of “reform” isn’t always rooted in reality.

Priebus said the RNC has committed $10 million to reach out to minority communities, but he said nothing about “self deportation” and “the most sweeping voting restrictions since Jim Crow.” Another area where Priebus will send money is the RNC technological infrastructure: Republicans are convinced that the only reason that the Democrats did so well in the last election was its massive database.

What will probably upset rank-and-file Republicans? Priebus praised Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) accepting marriage equality, saying, “I think it’s about being decent. I think it’s about dignity and respect, that nobody deserves to have their dignity diminished, or people don’t deserve to be disrespected.” No other GOP legislator is following Priebus’ lead, and this position is guaranteed to alienate the far right.

The document stated that “third-party groups that promote purity are hurting our electoral prospects.” There were no names, but it sounds like increased tension with the far-right wing, including the Club for Growth.

Imagine current GOP legislators agreeing with this paragraph from the report! I can just hear the screaming about “socialist warfare.”

“We have to blow the whistle at corporate malfeasance and attack corporate welfare. We should speak out when a company liquidates itself and its executives receive bonuses but rank-and-file workers are left unemployed. We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.”

In an interview with politico.com, Priebus said,

“[O]ur party has divorced itself from the American culture … [We] would make fun of the president for going on ‘The View’ — and you’ve heard me say these things — … you know, talking hoops for half an hour on ESPN.  That’s where a lot of America is at, and I think we’ve got to get with it …”

The message didn’t trickle down. Every year President Obama appears on ESPN’s March Madness to share picks for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) led the hue and cry that the president should be working on the budget and claimed President Obama’s act was “a shocking failure of leadership.” Scalise was followed by a YouTube video from the House Republican conference; other Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), went on social media to demand a new budget that they would ignore.

Speaking of leadership, the House went home today, having accomplished almost nothing except passing the continuing resolution that should have been taken care of last year. That chamber is scheduled to meet 126 days this year, an average of 2.4 days each week. That gives them 239 days off for the year. During their brief sessions, the only bills of substance, usually denying women and other people rights, are ones that have no chance of passing the Senate.

The report admits that minorities don’t feel respected by the GOP but doesn’t bother to explore why. Lots of recommendations about having a presence in black churches (who’s going to do that?!), hiring minority outreach directors, etc. but no substance. The states just continue to present bills to restrict minority and poor voters. Republicans still have a strong history of believing the president is a Muslim born outside the United States.

Even Republicans understand the problems of voter laws in GOP-controlled states. Michael Steele, who held Priebus’ job during the GOP’s highly successful win in 2010, said,  “How does Reince Priebus reconcile his approach and his agreement with voter registration policies that many in the black community view as anti-black, racist, whatever the term happens to be.”

These lines from the report show that the five people who prepared it are still pretty clueless:

“Our candidates and office holders need to do a better job talking in normal, people-oriented terms”

“Establish an RNC Celebrity Task Force of personalities in the entertainment industry … as a way to attract younger voters.”

“There have been too many debates [in the last two Republican presidential primary races.”

“RNC must rebuild a nationwide database of Hispanic leaders” and “The RNC should develop a nationwide database of African American leaders” and “APA [Asian and Pacific Islander] leaders.” (This just occurred to them?)

“We should speak out when CEOs receive tens of millions of dollars in retirement packages but middle-class workers have not had a meaningful raise in years.” (But not do anything about it?)

“Eight of the 10 states with the lowest unemployment in America have Republican governors.” (Skipping the fact that 7 of the 10 states with the highest unemployment in America also have Republican governors–GA, SC, MI, MS, NJ, NC and NV. GA and NJ weren’t in the bottom 10 four years ago, and 7 of the 8 states with the lowest employment were there four years ago.)

“Instead of connecting with voters’ concerns, we too often sound like bookkeepers. We need to do a better job connecting people to our policies.”

Republicans should “encourage governors to embrace diversity in hiring and appointments to the judiciary, boards and commissions.” (Some people call this affirmative action that conservatives are suing institutions because they use it.

“Women need to hear what our motive is–why it is that we want to create a better future for our families and how our policies will affect the lives of their loved ones.” (Does that include GOP opposition to reproductive freedom, insurance coverage for contraception, the Lily Ledbetter Act, and the Violence Against Women?)

“We can’t expect to address these demographic groups if we know nothing about them.” (This is a new idea?)

The autopsy does have some specific plans. Chapter 43: Friends and Allies (Third Party Groups), Section 1:1 Define the D’s Early and Track ‘Em (page 54):

“Well-funded conservative groups should seek to hire activists to track Democrat incumbents and candidates with video cameras constantly recording their every movement, utterance, and action. Within the applicable legal constraints, we need to create our own video content, bank it, and release it when it suits our candidates’ needs.

“An allied group dedicated solely to research to establish a private archive and public website that does nothing but post inappropriate Democrat utterances and act as a clearinghouse for information on Democrats would serve as an effective vehicle for affecting the public issue debate.”

So one of the answers to winning elections is to stalk opposing candidates.

As Dan Berger pointed out, the report doesn’t overcome the White Vote strategy that prevents the GOP from changing because the party needs the racism, sexism, nativism, religious bigotry, and homophobia for its constituents. Republicans can’t change strategies because, in opposition to their core principles, they would have to embrace social and economic equality.

The Right believes that “property rights” are absolute and sacrosanct; that the free market system is based on the unfettered transfer of property (and the right to gouge people as much as anyone desires); and that market forces must not be interfered with–regardless of their accompanying deleterious economic, social and political effects.

The current GOP party is providing an embarrassing richness of ideas that will sink the ideas–and possibly the entire party. More about that in the next few days.

 

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