Nel's New Day

April 30, 2013

Background Check Votes Influence Voters

The NRA has protected conservative voters for decades, but that era may be coming to a close. Since the GOP senators voted against background checks for gun buyers, Public Policy Polling shows a serious drop for their approval ratings while recording spikes for senators that supported the bill. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) went down 16 points, and Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) ratings shrank 18 points from positive to negative. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) got a 52-percent rating of “less likely to support for re-election,” and 46 percent of his constituents said the same thing about Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). In those four states, at least 60 percent of voters support background checks.

Once considered by Mitt Romney for his vice-presidential candidate, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) lost 15 points, and the NRA is bailing her out by paying for advertising. Almost all of the loss in support came from independent and moderate voters, vital to the candidates of the party that is also rapidly shedding voters.

Ayotte is also having trouble in her town hall meetings during the recess. In Warren (NH), Erica Lafferty, whose mother, Dawn Hochsprung, was killed in Newtown (CT), referred to an earlier meeting with Ayotte after the senator had voted against background checks when she addressed Ayotte:

“You had mentioned that day the burden on owners of gun stores that the expanded background checks would harm. I am just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn’t more important than that.”

Quinnipiac saw ratings for Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), a bill co-sponsor, go up a net 7 points. Ayotte’s senior colleague, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) saw her approval ratings also rise 7 points after she voted in favor of background checks.

As for the legislature, 65 percent of voters wanted the bill passed, including 45 percent of Republicans. That was a Gallup poll, known for running a lower percentage than reality, which means the number of voters wanting the bill is probably higher.

Murkowski had been one of the most popular senators in the country; her vote lost her credibility with both Democrats and Republicans.  Her junior senator, Mark Begich (D), didn’t suffer as much, but he still dropped 8 points after the vote.

flakeOn his 100th day in office, Flake has become the most unpopular senator, with a 32 percent approval rating—even below Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who had held the title of “most unpopular sitting Senator” before the vote. In addition to going against the 70 percent of Arizona voters who want background checks, Flake sent a handwritten note to the mother of a son killed last summer at the movie theater in Aurora (CO) that he would “strengthen” background checks the week before he voted against them.  

Yesterday Flake laughed off the PPP survey, saying: “The only accurate poll they’ll do is the one the week before the election, so they can do well in terms of how they’re rated.” He might benefit from reading some editorial comments about Congress’s cowardice.

Flake did have second thoughts about his attack on the polls. Later yesterday he wrote on his Facebook page, “Nothing like waking up to a poll saying you’re the nation’s least popular senator. Given the public’s dim view of Congress in general, that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum.” He’s probably right: pond scum has a purpose.

brewerAnother piece of pond scum came out of Arizona this week. In the hopes of getting guns off the streets, Tucson held a buy-back event and destroyed the ones that they purchased. Arizona legislators didn’t like this, so they passed a bill, passed by Gov. Jan Brewer yesterday, that requires the bought-back guns to be sold.  The lawmakers tried to make people believe that destroying the guns is a waste of taxpayer resources. Therefore Arizona has made police departments into retailers, just putting these weapons back on the street.

We have to remember that Brewer is the same governor who signed off on the sale of the state’s capitol building before leasing it back at a higher cost.

Stupid doesn’t stop at the state line, however. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said that Congress should try to stop terrorists from buying guns. He said that doing this would this restriction would only reduce “the number of firearms nationwide” and undermine the rights of law-abiding Americans.

“Well, the terrorist, they are a part of, not by definition part of a criminal, because they are terrorists, but I would say the same thing is true for terrorists that is for criminals. And that is, if someone in the United States of America or any other place too the criminal element or the terrorist element they will be able to get those.”

Two important pieces of Inhofe’s argument: there is no reason to make laws because criminals won’t follow them, and terrorists aren’t criminals. That’s why al-Qaeda likes the United States. As spokesman Adam Yahiye Gadahn said in 2011:

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

If Inhofe truly believes that there is no use in making laws, the “lawmaker” is committing fraud by collecting his salary.

The same year, 2011, the GOP on the House Judiciary Committee, lobbied by the NRA, voted down an amendment to prevent people on the federal terrorist watch list from buying guns, even though a Government Accountability Office had found that suspected terrorists bought firearms and explosives from licensed dealers 1,300 times since 2004. Without this law, the older brother suspected of the Boston marathon bombing could have legally purchased up to 50 pounds of gunpowder and any number of guns legally just by going to a state adjacent to Massachussetts.

Peter Loewy, a retired Navy air traffic controller, self-identified marksman, and member of such organizations as the NRA and the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, wrote about how to solve the gun purchase problem by using “available technology and a grass-roots movement.”

Referencing the chips found in most electronics today—cell phones, cameras, thumb drives, newer cars, etc.—he recommended putting these in all guns. As he wrote, this technology is inexpensive and common, even appearing in many animals.

“Such chips could be affixed to the frame of every firearm and could include the name of the manufacturer, the date of manufacture, the serial number, the caliber and any other pertinent data. When the manufacturer sells the firearm, information about the sale would be written to the chip, as would the information about all subsequent sales. Firearms already in circulation could be allowed a reasonable time in which to have a chip installed. At the time of installation, information about the current legal owner of the firearm could be written to the chip along with firearm identification information.

“This would accomplish two things. First, the ownership history of any firearm in the possession of law enforcement could be quickly and easily obtained and compliance with legal requirements verified. Second, we would avoid the creation of a central database that would constitute gun and gun owner registration — the shoals upon which proposed legislation has foundered in the past.”

He continued by citing the benefits of such a plan. Because gun owners might take greater care in storing their weapons, fewer criminals and children would find these accessible. Society would be safer, and the Second Amendment wouldn’t be violated.

Can you hear that noise? It’s the sound of NRA and gun manufacturers screaming!

April 29, 2013

Tell GOP, Sequestration Causes Stress

Congress is gone on recess—again. No holiday, no national conventions, just gone for a week.  It may not make any difference because House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has been acting in a “post-policy” position for a long time. No big bills, just leave everything to the Senate before turning down everything that the Senate passes.

Steve Benen pointed out on the Rachel Maddow blog that the bills numbered from 1 to 10 are saved for the really big bills. During the 112th Congress, H.R. 1 was saved for the first 112th House anti-abortion bill. It’s been over 100 days in the 113th Congress, and only “big bill” is H.R. 3 which to force the building of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Last week, House Republicans thought about “fixing” Obamacare for perhaps the 40th time. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) tried, and the House was supposed to debate the bill. Immediately after the House approved bringing the measure to the floor, however, representatives were told that there would be no more votes. They said they might bring it back in May.

The House did introduce a bill to shield oil companies from having to disclose payments to foreign governments by changing a provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law. The purpose of the disclosure provision is to give greater transparency to poor African countries suffering from corruption. As always, oil companies are whining about the costly burdens and hindrances to competition from mandated foreclosures of their payments.

The House also managed an almost unanimous vote, 394-1, to enlarge government. The Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act will keep the Federal Helium Reserve open. U.S. companies need the gas for everything from party balloons to MRI machines, and the private sector didn’t step in to stop shortages. Although policymakers want the government out of the business because they say was created for blimps, a 1996 shortage made them less comfortable about losing the gas for scientific research, medical treatments, and semiconductor plants.

[Note: Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-CA), the one “no” vote, indicated that it was a mistake and told the House clerk that she wanted it changed to “yes.”

With long-term jobless rates at the worst point since immediately following World War II, a Joint Economic Committee scheduled a hearing about this last week. It started with only one lawmaker there, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), vice-chair of the committee.  As the following photo shows, she was joined with only three of the 20-member committee: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CN), Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). The 16 people not in attendance missed testimony from a GOP economist and former Mitt Romney advisor who called this issue a “national emergency.”

Joint Economic Committee

Congress did find a vital bipartisan issue on which they agreed: inconvenience, in this case to Americans who can afford to fly. Last week, infuriated by the delays resulting from FAA furloughs to 15,000 air traffic controllers, the House budget committee called FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on the carpet. At least one of them, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) demanded to know why he wasn’t told about these furloughs in advance, calling the lack of information a “shocking lapse of management.”

Huerta carefully explained that the FAA had warned about the sequester furloughs in February. After his long explanation, Rogers said, “Well, lah-tee-dah. Everyone knew that.” The video is well worth watching, if only for the “lah-tee-dah” moment.

Fortunately, the United States has been saved from the horrors of inconvenience in air travel. Both parties pulled together to pass a bill giving the FAA the flexibility to avoid furloughing air-traffic controllers. Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), relieved that his plane was not delayed as he headed home for the recess, said, “I think we need to implement these in ways, not that cause the most stress to the American people, but that cause the least.” Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) just complained, “I vote to shift funds to stop FAA furloughs and now U.S. AIR says my plane home is delayed.”

Congress didn’t actually relieve the $85-billion sequester; it just made the FAA move the $630 million expenditure somewhere else. The GOP has no plans to do anything about the draconian cuts like the following “inconveniences”:

Long-term unemployment: 4.7 million Americans have been unemployed for longer than six months, and sequestration cut federal long-term unemployment insurance checks by up to 10.7 percent. Because of this, 11 states are thinking about dropping the program. The long-term unemployed have more trouble finding jobs because employers are hiring short-term unemployed first.

Head Start: Despite the substantial benefits of this program, 70,000 low-income children are being kicked out of Head Start and Early Head Start education programs.

Cancer treatment: Doctors and cancer clinics have to deny chemotherapy treatments to thousands after a 2 percent cut to Medicare. One New York clinic has refused to see more than 5,000 of its Medicare patients, and other cancer patients have to travel to other states to receive their treatments, an impossibility for lower-income people.

Health research: The loss of $1.6 billion to the National Institutes of Health jeopardizes important health research into AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. It also loses the nation $860 billion in economic growth and at least 500,000 jobs.

Low-income housing: 140,000 low-income families–primarily seniors with disabilities and families with children–lose rental assistance. Sequestration also cuts programs that aid the homeless and fund the construction of low-income housing.

Student aid: Increased fees on direct student loans are raising costs for students who are already buried in debt as budget cuts reduce funding for federal work study grants by $49 million and for educational opportunity grants by $37 million. The total cuts cost 70,000 college students access to grants.

Meals on Wheels: Tens of thousands of low-income and disabled seniors, who already had a shortage of food, will not even have this program.

Disaster relief: FEMA’s loss of nearly $1 billion in funding limits aid for families, cities, and states just as the spring storm season begins. Hurricane Sandy relief will also be cut by over $1 billion.

Heating assistance: 400,000 out of 9 million households will no longer get help with their heating and cooling bills. These cuts come on top of $1.6 billion in reductions since 2010.

Workplace safety: OSHA, with inspectors able to visit workplaces perhaps once in 99 years, has been cut by $564.8 million, leading to at least 1,200 fewer workplace inspections. This encourages explosions like the recent one in West (TX) that killed 15 people and injured another 200.

Child care: At least 30,000 children will lose subsidies for care.

I didn’t put defense in this list because the GOP will be screaming enough about this in the upcoming days.

The GOP has clearly shown that small government is important only when it doesn’t impact them. Whenever conservatives are asked what specific programs they want to cut, they cannot come up with any specific one. The purpose of the sequester was to affect everyone equally, but the second that wealthier people—those who can afford to fly—suffered the slightest impact, the GOP leaped to make life easier for them.

The rest of the sequestration hurts far more people in the country; they are going to risk the loss of cancer treatments, food, education, child care, homes, and safety. The entire nation will suffer from the economic recession that the sequester will bring. When the GOP legislators were traumatized by the loss of White House tours, this impact was mentioned 33 times as often as the effects of cuts on the poor. Yet the only impact that has been repaired by the Congress is the one called “inconvenience.”

In his study, “Economic Inequality and Political Representation” Larry M. Bartels examined “broad summary measures of senators’ voting behavior as well as specific votes on the minimum wage, civil rights, government spending, and abortion.” In short, he wanted to know who the senators listen to. To no one’s surprise, it’s the affluent constituents who get a response; the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.”

Bartels found that these disparities in representation are “especially pronounced for Republican senators, who were more than twice as responsive as Democratic senators to the ideological views of affluent constituents.” If that holds true for the House, the GOP majority means that the bottom third of the income distribution have no voice in Congress’s decisions.

Someone needs to tell Rep. Guthrie and all the other GOP Congressional lawmakers that the sequester is causing a great deal of stress and that they should fix it.

April 28, 2013

Fundamentalist Religion Creates RTS

Raised in the Assemblies of God denomination, Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Area and the daughter of Pentecostal missionaries. For 20 years she has counseled men and women in recovery from various forms of fundamentalist religion, people whose psychological symptoms whose psychological symptoms were either exacerbated by religion or caused by it. Two years ago, she began to wrote and speak about “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS), raising the question of whether toxic religion is merely misinterpretation.

Winell explains RTS as

“a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group… Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging because of 1) toxic teachings like eternal damnation or original sin 2) religious practices or mindset, such as punishment, black and white thinking, or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.”

One example of RTS comes from children’s fear and anxiety caused by images of hell while they are too young to process these ideas. Many people have suffered trauma from seeing the film A Thief in the Night that shows the horrors of “end times” for nonbelievers.

Depression, cognitive difficulties, and problems with social functioning are other problems from RTS. Because fundamentalist Christians believe that people are depraved and in need of salvation, teachings result in a loss of self-worth. Winell explained, “A core message is ‘You are bad and wrong and deserve to die.’” Some people deliberately injure themselves, engaging in cutting and burning their arms, because they believe they must be punished.

Devout Christians and Catholics try to persuade people that they are weak and dependent, that they must lean on God but “trust and obey.” The result is an inability to make decision.

People who are forced into conformity as children, as fundamentalists force them into, are left with no support system without the religion. They are left without a real choice, either stay in the terror of the religious beliefs or the terror without it. Fundamentalist religious teach fear about the world so that its members will not have the skills to leave. Losing this support results in anger, depression, and grief.

Asked about the difference between RTS and PTSD, Winell explained that RTS is about a specific harmful experience. Another difference is the difference in social context. For example, survivors of domestic abuse can easily be understood and supported. No one sends them back for more abuse in the way that someone might want people to return to their religion in the form of pastoral counseling, AA, or another church.

Labeling RTS is important because it gives the experience validity. It also encourages professionals to take it seriously, offering treatment and training.

Winell doesn’t lump all religions together. She explains:

“Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world. Religion in its worst forms causes separation.

“Conversely, groups that connect people and promote self-knowledge and personal growth can be said to be healthy. Such groups put high value on respecting differences, and members feel empowered as individuals. They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes. They encourage spiritual practices that promote health like meditation or principles for living like the golden rule.

“More and more, nontheists are asking how they can create similar spiritual communities without the supernaturalism. An atheist congregation in London launched this year and has received over 200 inquiries from people wanting to replicate their model.”

Polls show that more and more people are leaving religion; within just the last five years the “religiously unaffiliated” in the U.S. have grown from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent. More and more people are discussing RTS with almost 8 million hits on the Internet.

One major problem with fundamentalism in the United States is that it mirrors the Islam religion that they hate. Rebellion against a government, religious control, denial of science, absence of democratic process, religious law, subjugation of women, threats of violent force—all these are indicative not only of the Islam law but also the Christian fundamentalist approach. Megachurches and fundamentalist sects encourage violence, promoting gun ownership to overthrow the U.S. government.

The people who are frightened of what they call sharia law, based on the Koran, fail to realize that they are trying to impose the fundamentalist Christian law onto all the people in the United States. Evangelical fundamentalist Christians are the real terrorists who will destroy the United States if they gain power.

One prime example is the $130-million church in Dallas (TX), the First Baptist Church, with 11,000 members many of them oil company presidents, corporate lawyers, real estate barons, and a collection of very rich, very widowed dowagers. Before last fall’s election, Rev. Robert Jeffress told his congregation that if Obama’s winning the election would lead to the rise of the Anti-Christ. He had serious problems with Mitt Romney, however, because, according to Jeffress, Mormonism is not Christianity but a cult.

Judaism?  “Judaism, you can’t be saved being a Jew, you know who said that by the way, the three greatest Jews in the New Testament, Peter, Paul, and Jesus Christ, they all said Judaism won’t do it,” said Jeffress. Islam (like Mormonism) is “from the pit of hell,” a religion that promotes pedophilia, according to Jeffress.

In  Dallas money is holy, a form of blessing from God, instead of a temptation to evil for the soul. To be poor is a moral failing, and to be needy is to be diseased. Desegregation is also unchristian, according to Jeffress’ predecessor, W. A. Criswell, who was at the First Baptist Church in Dallas for over 50 years. True ministers, he argued, must passionately resist government-mandated desegregation because it is “a denial of all that we believe in.”

His belief remains in other churches throughout the South. The Appleby Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas, is one of the country’s fundamentalist churches openly promoting the idea that the Biblical Noah pronounced a curse on descendants of his son, Ham, whose descendants were black and fated to be an underclass of slaves. Their belief is that Satan is who “wants to eliminate color by interracial marriages.”

The teaching of such bigotry and ignorance doesn’t stay in the churches; thousands and thousands of children in the United States are homeschooled or in private schools—sometimes paid for by taxpayers—that teach the fundamentalist Biblical justification of racism and slavery.”

Freedom of religion in the United States has taught reasonable people that they must accept all religions, including those that would take over the country and remove our freedoms. All non-fundamentalists need to gather together—the religious and the non-religious—to keep the United States free for new ideas and progressive development.

April 27, 2013

What’s Missing from Main-Stream Media, April 2013

While the main-stream media concentrates on the Boston bombing, here are a few items that they missed or slighted:

Mark Sanford: The former governor from South Carolina running for representative who said that he was hiking the Appalachian trail for five days while he visited his mistress in Argentina and trespassed in his ex-wife’s home after he was ordered not to do so had arrived at a new low. After the trespass was made public, he ran a full-page ad in the Charleston Post & Currier with his personal cell phone number, asking people to call him “if you have further questions.” A Democratic-aligned super PAC, House Majority PAC, included the number in a fundraising email. In retribution, Sanford published an unredacted list of all his callers’ phone numbers.

The candidate has become increasingly peculiar in his actions. Although he’s running against Elizabeth Colbert Busch, he had a debate with a full-size cardboard poster of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in Charleston. The image brings back the memories of Clint Eastwood and an empty chair at the GOP convention last summer.

Sanford debates poster

Colorado Voting Bill Mailer: Images caused problems for other conservatives, this time a group connected to Colorado’s Secretary of of State. The House has passed a voting bill to improve the state’s laws. It would allow people to register on Election Day, automatically send mail ballots to all voters, and stop fraud through a real-time voter database. Republican county clerks and Secretary of State Scott Gessler oppose the bill. Using the address of Gessler’s former firm, the “Citizens for Free and Fair Elections” have sent out political mailers using a purchased image.

Colorado mailer light skin

There is a change in the image, however, from the original. The dark-skinned face of a woman in the original photo by Mark Wilson (Getty Images) to show long voting lines in Montgomery County (VA) were in 2012 has been digitally replaced in the mailer with the photo of another woman who is much lighter skinned.

Getty dark skinn

Fox Latino friendlyFox News: In an attempt to appear “Latino friendly,” Fox News used a positive photograph featuring a Latina to illustrate its article headlined “‘Illegal Immigrant’ Dropped from Associated Press Stylebook.” Including quotes from racial justice organization The Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.org, the article discussed the controversy referred to the term “illegal immigrant” as “controversial.”

But that was in Fox News Latino; FoxNews.com highlighted the story on its front page with a different photo and headline. The headline was switched to “AP Rules: Don’t Call Him an… ‘ILLEGAL?'”

fox Latino unfriendly

Later the headline was changed to “What’s in a Name? AP under Criticism for Nixing ‘Illegal Immigrant,'” but the photo stayed—just a bit smaller.

Mark Zuckerberg: Worth $13.1 billion following his creation of Facebook, Zuckerberg has agreed with the importance of changing from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. Now his new political group, which bills itself as a bipartisan entity dedicated to passing immigration reform, is spending big bucks on ads advocating anti-environmental causes including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and constructing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. It’s all in the name of business.

John-Mica_2-e1366991056439Washington, D.C.: The best piece of authoritarian patriarchy came last week from Rep. John Mica (R-FL). The topic was Washington, D.C., always at the mercy of Congressional whim, and its budget autonomy. Recently the city voted in favor of this by 85 percent. Unless both chambers of Congress pass a disapproval resolution which would then have to be signed by the president, the over 600,000 people in this city can decide how they spend the money that they pay into the city’s coffers.

Mica, a committee member who oversees the city’s budget, laughed at the vote and said:

“Well, when my kids were young teenagers, they always wanted budget autonomy too. But we always, you know, you allow them to go their own way, and if they get out of line, according to the Constitution, the Congress has the right to step in…As long as they are minding their P’s and Q’s, so to say, I think the government can back off. But we must remain vigilant.”

Pedro Ribeiro, Mayor Vincent Gray’s spokesman, responded to Mica, “Last time I checked, children don’t have a $6 billion local budget.”

Before he made this comment, Mica admitted the city’s finance management has vastly improved since the dissolution of a Congressional control board. After they took control of the House in 2010, the GOP tried to force the progressive district to outlaw abortion, reduce contraception access, sell more guns, block union membership, cut public transportation funds, and pay for private schools.

Washington, D.C., with almost the same population as North Dakota, has no representation in the Senate. Their one delegate in the House cannot vote on the floor. Its economy is larger than those of 14 states, and its residents pay $1.6 billion a year in federal taxes, more per capita than any state. Washington, D.C. is a prime example of taxation without representation that people fought to overturn almost 250 years ago.

Bangladesh Factory:  The most disastrous event of last week was the crumbling of the Rana Plaza building, housing a major Bangladeshi garment factory. Over 350 people have died, hundreds more are injured, and as many as 900 are still missing. This tragedy, the third in five months, is even worse than the fire at the Tazreen Fashion Factory last November that killed 112 garment workers.

The second-largest exporter of garments in the world, this country relies on garments for 80 percent of its exports. Duty free access offered by Western countries and low wages turned Bangladesh’s garment exports into a $19 billion a year industry. Sixty percent of the clothes go to Europe, 23 percent to the United States takes 23 percent, and another 5 percent to Canada. Gap, Walmart, and other retailers of cheap clothing have fought any reforms that could stop such disasters.

Bank employees in the building escaped the danger after a crack developed in the building because they were told to stay home the next day, but garment workers were ordered to return.

Two years ago, labor groups tried to get the factories and buyers to sign onto a plan that would establish independent inspections to replace the infrequent and often corrupt government inspections. Unsafe facilities could be shut down as part of legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers, and unions. Companies would provide up to $500,000 per year to pay for the inspections.  All the companies—including Walmart, Gap, and Swedish clothing giant H&M—turned it down.

Walmart’s representative said it was “not financially feasible … to make such investments. Gap, which owns the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic chains, said the company refused because it did not want to be vulnerable to lawsuits and did not want to pay factories more money to help with safety upgrades. H&M wants factories and local government to take on the responsibility.

After last year’s Tazreen blaze, the labor group tried again to get the independent inspector plan adopted, but the factories and the big brands would not agree. Siddiqur Rahman, former vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, denied the factories are responsible for killing the plan and blamed the buyers.

Companies claim that they do private audits. Those don’t work, according to a lobbyist for garment workers, because of their confidentiality. If a company pulls its business after safety problems, it won’t tell competitors who will continue to place orders which keeps the unsafe factory open.  Thus we continue to buy cheap and be complicit in killing hundreds of garment workers, almost all of them women.

April 26, 2013

The First Nine Constitutional Amendments, An Easy Lesson

Until the rants of the Tea Party started to take over the media, the U.S. Constitution was looked upon as an important part of our heritage that courts used to determine whether laws fit into the overview of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. Less than five years ago, people like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) declared that everything the liberals do is unconstitutional, and three years ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) required that the entire constitution be read at the beginning of the 112th Congressional session so that all the bills would conform with the Constitution.

Representatives tried to read aloud with varying success–only a few glitches such as leaving out the piece blacks being only three-fifths of a person and skipping part of it because a couple of pages got stuck together. That part guaranteed “to every state in this union a republican form of government.”

They also left out the part written by the infallible Founding Fathers about runaway slaves, that if they escaped to a free state, the Constitution required that they not be freed but rather “delivered up” to their owners. Notable, too, was the omission of how the electoral college works, perhaps because the conservatives plan to get rid of it so that they can elect a GOP president.

Now Jon Stewart has brought to life the first nine amendments to the U.S. Constitution through playing clips of Fox pundits on The Daily Show, pontificating about the recent Boston bombing.

As Stewart said, “Anybody can toss away the lesser known amendments. Only a true patriot can set a course straight for the First.” And Bob Beckel, a host on The Five, did exactly that when he asked that the U.S. “cut off Muslim students from coming to the country for some period of time.” That eviscerates the First Amendment protecting freedom of speech, religion, and press as well as the right to assemble and petition the government.

Eric Bolling wanted wiretapping in mosques, attacking the Fourth Amendment that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and sets out requirements for search warrants based on probable cause.

Fox folks were highly incensed about suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev being read his Miranda rights, claiming he should be declared an enemy combatant and “intensely interrogated.”

“In the wake of an assault on our freedom and way of life, we have quickly jettisoned the Sixth Amendment–right to a fair and speedy trial–and the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination,” Stewart said. “What’s next?” Stewart left out the violation of the Seventh Amendment that provides for the right to trial by jury in certain civil cases, according to common law.

Sean Hannity doesn’t “believe” that waterboarding is torture. “There goes the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment,” Stewart continued. “Any others?”

Actually, yes there were. Ann Coulter said, “I want to know about this wife… I don’t care if she knew about this. She ought to be in prison for wearing a hijab.”

To Coulter’s impassioned plea, Stewart responded, “And down goes the Ninth Amendment! Down goes the Ninth Amendment! Ann Coulter doesn’t just want a police state. She wants a fashion police state.” (I had to look up the Ninth Amendment: it protects rights not enumerated in the Constitution.”

Thus Stewart showed that Fox wants to ignore seven of the first nine constitutional amendments in the treatment of the 19-year-old suspected of setting off pressure cooker bombs at the Boston marathon. It seems that Fox didn’t address the forced quartering of soldiers—but that’s only in peacetime, and the government seems to have declared the United States permanently at war somewhere.

Stewart asked if there were any constitutional right that Fox wants to keep after the Boston bombing.  “Since we’re just throwing amendments away willy-nilly, what if we wanted to track the weapons that any of these America haters bought, or do a background check?” Stewart said.

Visuals juxtaposed the 3,400 deaths from terrorism in the United States during the past 30 years with the almost one million deaths from guns during the same time. That was followed by a montage of clips from Fox, extolling the virtues of bearing arms in any situation and as many as people might want.

“Yes, it turns out there’s only one amendment in our constitution’s pantheon that is exempt from statistical analysis or emotional freak-out-itude, and it is the Second. So god help us if the Muslims ever decide to form a well regulated militia.”

Stewart

The written word does not do justice to this segment of The Daily Show. You can find the video here.  Send it to everyone you know, and make it go viral!

GohmertStupidity about the Boston bombing is as rampant in Congress as on Fox. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) accused President Obama of being influenced by Muslim Brotherhood members in his administration. On a radio interview yesterday, he said, “This administration has so many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America.”

Gohmert didn’t think this up on his own. Almost a year ago, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claimed Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the government, pointing a finger at top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Her false accusations led to Egyptian protests against the Secretary of State when she went there and the need for Abedin to have police protection because of threats against her life.

At that time, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) condemned Bachmann’s statements, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) described her claims as “pretty dangerous.” Even conservative Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) defended Abedin.

Gohmert, who gets his information from extremist right-wing media media such as World Net Daily, sits on the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

Meanwhile the conservatives are busy creating conspiracy theories: the government staged the attack to take over the government; the First Lady is hiding a Saudi student who was the real bomber; the Fox cartoon Family Guy predicted the bombing; the marathon organizers knew about the bombing before the race; the suspects’ uncle worked with the CIA; Facebook pages memorializing the blast were created before it happened; the dead suspect was an FBI informant; he’s not actually dead; and photos of the suspects at the scene of the crime were photoshopped.

Now Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) believe that a nationwide shortage of ammunition has resulted from the Obama administration’s stockpiling. To stop this and create more “transparency and accountability,” they introduced the Ammunition Management for More Obtainability Act, AMMO act for short. Finally, a gun control bill from the conservatives!

These two Congressmen probably got their news from fringe websites like Drudge or Alex Jones’s Infowars. Even Brietbart.com, known for its crazy stories, described the idea as “based more on panic than fact.” These are the people who keep our country from moving forward.

April 25, 2013

‘Mission Accomplished’–Bush Has Library

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:55 PM
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One of my GOP friends, who is very socially progressive, keeps asking me when I’m going to stop blaming George W. Bush for the problems that we have now. I tell her that I’ll stop when the messes he caused get cleaned up. Today is the 10th anniversary of “Mission Accomplished,” when Bush made his misguided statement and the victorious banner was bravely unfurled over eight years before troops were withdrawn.

Today is also the day that Bush was joined by the current president and the other three living ex-presidents to dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The word “library” for this $250 million edifice is a misnomer: it is more of a museum and a Bush policy institute.

News clips, interactive screens, artifacts—even “hanging chads” from Florida’s punch cards—comprise the exhibits. The museum invites visitors to make the presidential decisions. A display makes the case for the Iraq war although the word “Iraq” was not mentioned at any time during today’s speeches. The “Mission Accomplished” banner isn’t in the library either. (Check this out for what else is missing–and a history of real presidential libraries. Clue: Busts of presidential pets Barney and Miss Beazley are there,)

bush_library2-620x412

As Bush stays invisible, his popularity grows. The GOP didn’t even invite him to their convention last summer. In time, memories fade. Here are some of Bush’s actions that we should remember:

  • Stole the presidency in 2000 when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor by stopping a recount of Florida votes that would actually have provided Al Gore with the necessary electoral votes.
  • Most likely stole the 2004 election as well, gaining vital electoral votes from Ohio despite unresolved questions about whether the former GOP Secretary of State altered the Election Night totals from rural Bible Belt counties.
  • Claimed he was a “uniter, not a divider” while campaigning for office before he launched his extremist right-wing agenda.
  • Hid his past as a party boy and a deserter during the Vietnam War when he went AWOL for over a year from the so-called “Champagne Division,” the Texas Air National Guard.
  • Signed more execution orders—152 people, including the mentally ill and domestic abuse victims—than any other governor in U.S. history while sparing only one life, that of a serial killer.
  • Raised more campaign money from corporate boardrooms than anyone at that time, paid for by CEOs who “educated” him about political wish lists.
  • Assaulted reproductive rights by cutting funds for U.N. family planning programs, barring military bases from offering abortions, putting right-wing evangelicals in regulatory positions where they rejected new birth control drugs, and issuing regulations making fetuses—but not women—eligible for federal healthcare.
  • Cut Pell Grant loans for poor students, affecting 1.5 million low-income students, and eliminated other federal job training programs that targeted young people.
  • Allowed corporations to destroy the environment through over 300 actions beginning with abandoning a campaign pledge to tax carbon emissions and then withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases as well as putting industry lobbyists in charge of agencies to keeping energy policies secret.
  • Allowed schools to reduce evolution to the same standing as the religious belief in “intelligent design.”
  • Destroyed learning in school through his “No Child Left Behind” initiative that made preparation for standardized tests and resulting test scores the top priority in schools.
  • Appointed Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who promote extremists pro-business and social conservative interests.
  • Gutted the DOJ’s voting rights section, including firing seven U.S. attorneys who did not pursue overtly political cases because of lack of evidence.
  • Caused average household incomes to fall 4.2 percent, the only recent two-term president to preside over such a drop.
  • Caused millions of people to fall below the poverty line, increasing that number by 26.1 percent.
  • Caused poverty among children to explode by 21 percent.
  • Increased the number of people who lacked access to health care by 8 million while people steadily lost employer-provided benefits.
  • Let black New Orleans drown during Hurricane Katrina and did almost nothing to help thousands in the storm’s aftermath and rebuilding.
  • Pandered to religious right, for example by flying back to the White House to sign a bill to try to stop  the comatose Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube from being removed, using the term “sanctity of life” that wasn’t present months later during Katrina.
  • Set record for fewest press conferences.
  • Took the most vacation time—1,020 days in two four-year terms equaling more than one out of every three days.
  • Gutted global political progress by pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol which set requirements for 38 nations to lower greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change.
  • Embraced global isolationism by withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
  • Ignored warnings about Osama bin Laden from White House briefings while proceeding with his determination to invade Iraq, even before 9/11.
  • Ramped up war on drugs instead of terrorists.
  • Kept reading the picture book The Pet Goat to school children for seven minutes after he knew that the World Trade Centers were attacked in 9/11.
  • Turned to Iraq instead of Afghanistan, despite Iraq’s lack of Al Qaeda link.
  • Attacked the credibility of United Nation weapons inspectors who were correct about no nuclear weapons in Iraq.
  • Lied about Iraq’s weapons that did not exist.
  • Launched a preemptive war, ignoring the U.N.’s refusal to authorize an attack on Iraq, caused hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, and forced more than a million refugees in an attack that killed almost 6,700 soldiers.
  • Abandoned the international Criminal Court by withdrawing from the ratification of the International Criminal Court Treaty, necessary to protect American troops from persecution.
  • Forced Colin Powell to present false evidence at the U.N.
  • Declared a war on CIA whistleblowers, leaking the name and destroying the career of Valerie Plame in retribution for her husband’s denial about a nuclear threat from Iraq.
  • Pardoned Scooter Libby, the man who actually leaked Plame’s name to the press.
  • Looted Baghdad except for the oil ministry.
  • Made the U.S. more dangerous by increasing Islamic radicalism and worsening the terror threat.
  • Allowing companies to give U.S. troops unsafe gear–from inadequate vests as protection against snipers to Humvees that could not protect soldiers from roadside bombs—resulting in an epidemic of brain injuries.
  • Continued war propaganda that used soldiers as PR props.
  • Failed to attend any soldiers’ funerals, even those in Arlington National Cemetery, about two miles from the White House.
  • Promoted the surge of war profiteering surged as corporate employers of top Bush officials made billions in Pentagon contracts starting with Vice-President Dick Cheney and Halliburton, which made $39.5 billion, and his daughter, Liz Cheney, who ran a $300 million Middle East partnership program.
  • Ignored an international ban on torture and created a secret system of detention.
  • Opened the Gitmo, the offshore military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, filled with men turned over to the U.S. military by bounty hunters.
  • Evaded domestic and military justice systems through renditions to secret detention sites in eastern Europe.
  • Violated U.S. Constitution by ignoring basic civil liberties, most notably his massive domestic spying program that used big telecom companies to monitor online activities of millions of Americans without search warrants or court authority.
  • Built a federal debt crisis of $4 trillion to $6 trillion through his preemptive war.
  • Cut veterans’ healthcare funding by several billion dollars, military housing by another $1 billion, and opposed extending healthcare to National Guard families when the members were deployed overseas.
  • Cut income taxes in a manner that sent approximately one-fourth of the cuts to the top 1 percent of incomes with only 8.9 percent going to the middle 20 percent of earners.
  • Turned the power-hungry, arrogant operators Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld loose on the people of the United States.
  • Escaped accountability for any of his actions.
  • And more about torture, Wall Street, lack of worker protections, etc.

How dumb is George W. Bush? Jonathan Chait has an assessment.

According to his autobiography, his favorite job ever was being a sporting goods salesman at Sears. Would that he had stayed there!

April 24, 2013

No Outrage for Texas Explosion

If you were anywhere near a television set or newspaper last week, you would know that two young men set off a bomb at the Boston marathon and that they had been captured, one dead and the other in the hospital. The news about the three deaths caused by the bombs and the injured people dominated the media.

But fewer people knew about the 15 deaths and 200+ injuries in a little-known Texas town after an explosion at a fertilizer plant a week ago today. Yet the media largely ignored the explosion after the first day.

West Fertilizer’s function is to store, distribute, and blend fertilizer for farmers. The state has as many as 1,150 of these plants, all so small that they have few regulations.  Owned by Donald Adair, the plant had no sprinklers and no water deluge systems. There were no fire walls. With no fire suppression systems, there was no way to stop the fire after it started. It is also the reason that so many first responders died in the explosion.

The plant did have 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, the chemical used to build the Oklahoma City bomb in 1995 that killed 168 people, and 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, considered flammable and potentially toxic. EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) requires companies to submit plans describing their handling and storage of certain hazardous chemicals. Ammonium nitrate is not among the chemicals that must be reported. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality gave the plant a permit for handling anhydrous ammonia without checking to see if the company added the necessary safety equipment.

Last summer the plant was fined $5,250 for improperly labeling storage tanks and transferring chemicals without a security plan. Adair said that the plant had corrected the problems. The year before that, it was cited for not having an up-to-date risk management plan. The submitted plan said that the plant didn’t have any flammable substances. A citation in 2006 was issued after the complaint of a strong ammonia smell, the same claim as the night of the explosion.

The year 1985 was the last visit from the Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) inspection. It found one serious and two additional violations; the company was fined $30. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is so understaffed that a plant like West Fertilizer might expect a state inspection every 129 years. OSHA has 2,000 inspectors to cover the 7,000,000 workplaces in the United States. Yet the House 2011 budget, supported by Texas GOP representatives, would have reduced OSHA by $99 million.

Even seven years ago, Texas’ environmental agency knew that the plant was handling 2,400 tons a year of the explosive ammonium nitrate, deadly when heated to extreme temperatures or exposed to shock. Nobody seems responsible, however, for ensuring the safety of the people at and around the plant. The state environmental agency just makes sure that the blast doesn’t spread pollution; the federal pipeline agency governs only transportation, not storage; and the state chemist’s office, which came ten days before the explosion, has no legal authority in the arena of fire or explosive safety.

There are no uniform federal rules for ammonium storage. Fire safety experts have best practices for protection, but the company did not follow any simple safeguards such as storing the ammonium nitrate far away from other buildings and fire sources as well as installing a water system to cool the fertilizer before it could explode. Texas has learned nothing from the 1947 ammonium nitrate explosion at Texas City that killed at least 581 people.

West beforeEven without any inspections, common sense zoning might have stopped some of the carnage. Two of the three schools in the town were across the street from the plant. On the other side of the plant was a child’s playground and, behind that, a retirement home. The explosion could have very easily happened during school hours. Two months ago, a controlled brush burn near the plant evacuated the middle school. Recently West Fertilizer burned wooden pallets near the stockpiled explosive material on the site. [Photo: West (TX) before explosion)

West-texas-map

More photos are available here.

West afterThe explosion caused severe fire damage to the middle school and leveled an apartment building next to the plant as was a nursing home nearby. And of course, there were the 50 to 60 homes destroyed in this town of less than 3,000. The cost is estimated at over $100 million. [Photo: West (TX) after explosion]

All the federal representatives for the West (TX) area—Rep. Bill Flores, John Cornyn, and Ted Cruz—want federal aid for their suffering constituents. All three of them, Republicans, may have forgotten that they all voted against sending any aid to those suffering from Superstorm Sandy unless it was matched by federal cuts.

There is one regulation that Donald Adair and West Fertilizer ignored. Any fertilizer plants and depots holding 400 pounds or more of ammonium nitrate are required to inform the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, this one little plant in western Texas stored 270 tons of it last year, 1,350 times more than 400 pounds that should have been reported to DHS.

The Texas agency is not required to share this information with the DHS, and the company ignored the reporting requirement. Ammonium nitrate is a substance highly useful in making bombs, yet no one in Congress has evidenced any concern about what happened in West, Texas, and what this means for the safety of the country. At this time, companies are responsible to self-report the quantities of volatile chemicals that they have. Without doing this, facilities cannot be monitored in order to prevent sabotage and keep chemicals from falling into criminal hands.

Eighteen years ago, Timothy McVeigh and others put 2 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer mixed with racing fuel into a truck and blew it up in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City. Eighteen years later, they could still buy the same substance.

The media and Congress continue to rage at the 19-year-old young man and his connection to Muslims while exhibiting no outrage about the death and destruction in Texas and no concern about easily available chemicals for making bombs. At the same time, conservative lawmakers threaten the country’s security by shrinking budgets, opposing regulations, and fighting agency connections.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been charged with one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction in the U.S. His “weapon” was a couple of pressure cookers, some gunpowder, and a batch of fireworks. Yet the media ignores a man who concealed the fact from the federal government that his company stores a massive amount of chemicals that killed at least 15 people, injured at least another 200, and caused more than $100 million of property damage.

April 23, 2013

All the United States Could Look Like This

ED athabasca River 2 This is the  Suncor Energy upgrading refinery on the banks of the Athabasca River.  [Copyrighted photo; photographer not identified.]

You can see more photos of the tar sands oil destruction in Canada at this website.

ED tar sands

Located in northern Alberta, Canada, within boreal forest and peat bogs, the Athabasca Oil Sands covers 54,000 square miles, an area larger than England. It is the world’s largest biome, stretching across Alaska, Canada, Sweden, Finland, inland Norway, Siberia, Northern Minnesota, Upstate New York, New Hampshire, Maine, northern Kazakhstan and Japan. The conifers such as fir, spruce, and pine are vital to our ecology because they provide carbon, regulate climate, and prevent mud slides and flooding. The history of these trees goes back over 300 million years, twice as long as flowering plants. These two photos demonstrate a before-and-after view.

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Imagine going to work and coming home to find this in your yard. That’s what happened in 22 households in Mayflower (AK) in mid March when the Pegasus pipeline broke. None of the people had any idea that there was even a pipeline in the vicinity.

ED Sludge in the Driveway at Mayflower

They found this when they drove into their subdivision.

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ed best paper towels

Exxon used paper towels to clean up the horrible mess–the same process BP used on the Gulf Coast after the its oil spill disaster.

ed gulf cleanup

Three years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, people are still finding hundreds of beached dolphin carcasses, shrimp with no eyes, contaminated fish, and ancient corals caked in oil. More photos.

ed even  messier in wilderness

Outside Mayflower near the highway.

ED Nancy ZornOne of the best photos of the Keystone pipeline is of Nancy Zorn, a 79-year-old Oklahoma grandmother, who locked her neck to a piece of heavy machinery to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline. She said: “There is the Cree Indian prophecy, which inspired Greenpeace. ‘There will come a time when the Earth grows sick and when it does, a tribe will gather from all the cultures of the world who believe in deeds and not words.’”

Update: Yesterday, the EPA provided its report on the  State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS); it rated the statement as having “Insufficient Information.” That means that the agency doesn’t know enough to assess the pipeline’s environmental impact. The EPA gave these reasons:

Increased carbon pollution: The EPA noted that the statistics for this are alarming and questioned the State Department’s assertion that the increase is inevitable even without the tar sands project.

Not inevitable: The State Department claimed that the oil would come out of the ground no matter what. EPA disagreed, stating that the report is incomplete, using outdated modeling. It also fails to consider the expense and infeasibility of rail shipping as an alternative to the pipeline.

Need for renewable energy to power pumping stations on pipeline: If this is not used, the pipeline itself will actively emit GhG emissions.

Difficulty in cleanup: Because diluted bitumen is extremely dense and sinks to the bottoms of lakes and rivers, tar sands oil is particularly dirty to clean up. The EPA notes that diluted bitumen is very dense and sinks to the bottom of rivers and lakes. Normal cleanup methods don’t work, and the highly toxic dilbit “could cause long-term chronic toxicological impacts” to wildlife. EPA wants a revised, rethought response plan before any permit is issued for a pipeline.

Affect on drinking water: The pipeline was moved away from the Nebraska Sand Hills, but it is still scheduled to cross the Ogallala Aquifer. The State Department’s report did not address any alternative paths to avoid the water pollution.

The difference between the assessments by the State Department and by the EPA are the same as the difference between a report prepared by a firm paid by the pipeline’s owner and by officials with environmental concerns.

April 22, 2013

Conservatives Aim to Destroy the Environment

For the past two Earth Days I have posted Ann Hubard’s rich photographs showing how special the planet can be. This year, she is on vacation in parts of the Southwest that has kept its beauty. Therefore today, I will write about one of the greatest potential disasters in the United States, and tomorrow I will post photographs of how conservatives want our country to look. When Ann returns, I’m sure that she will provide more gorgeous photographs to give us hope.

Today is the 43rd annual celebration of Earth Day. It was also supposed to be  the last day that the government took public comment on the proposed Keystone Pipeline that would move tar sands oil from Canada through Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. The State Department plans to post all 800,000+ comments and and has decided to permit further public comment during the National Interest Determination period. During the one public hearing on the pipeline project, hundreds of opponents attended the central Nebraska meeting and begged for the pipeline’s rejection.

The Keystone Pipeline is a very bad idea.

  • Oil companies are gutting Canada’s boreal forest, one of the last wild places on the planet; they have already created a waste zone the size of Chicago.
  • Oil companies have to mine at least two tons of sand to get just one single barrel of tar sands crude called bitumen that requires extensive refining to be converted into fuel.
  • Producing tar sands crude generates up to 4.5 times more climate-changing carbon emissions as the production of conventional crude oil, as much as putting 4.3 million more cars on the road.
  • The pipeline would carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year, equivalent to 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
  • The pipeline would cut through states with more than 250,000 ranches and farms and cross nearly 1,500 American waterways from the Yellowstone River in Montana to Pine Island Bayou in Texas.
  • Oil companies have had 5,611 pipeline failures that have killed 367 people, injured nearly 1,500 more, and spilled more than 100 million gallons of oil into our waters and over our lands.
  • Oil companies would create only 3,900 short-term jobs during construction, and only 10 percent of those would employ people living in the area of the pipeline. Following construction, the pipeline would require 35 jobs.
  • Most of the oil doesn’t stay in the United States. it will be exported.
  • The ten spills (or more!) during just the last month have been largely not covered by the media.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) thinks that “Exxon should be patted on the back for the way they handled [the spill.]” The back pat would be for refusal to pay for the cleanup, the pittance ($10,000 house cleaning) allocation per household affected for weeks with their land permanently destroyed, and the inability to use anything except paper towels to wipe up the oil. He continued with the usual ignorant statement connecting the Boston bombing to the pipeline:

“I mean, would we rather buy oil from the Middle East that sponsors the acts that we see like at the Marathon that we just saw yesterday? I don’t know if that was actually sponsored by them or not but that’s the acts that they support.”

A Department of Energy analysis noted that Keystone XL will have virtually no impact on Middle East imports to the United States. And oil companies are the top donors to Mullin’s campaign.

Another buy-in to the oil industry is the company that Arkansas’ Attorney General Dustin McDaniel hired for the “independent analysis of the cleanup” of the Mayflower oil spill. Witt O’Brien has participated in most recent high-profile oil spills, all of them botched up—Exxon Valdez, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy.

After 1 million gallons of tar sands dilbit spilled into the Kalamazoo River, Witt O’Brien covered up the disaster by thinning out the oily debris and mixing mud into it. Witt Obrien ordered its employees: “Rake it into the soil. Cover it with grass. Cover it with leaves. I want you to hide it–to dupe the EPA and the [Michigan Department of Natural Resources].”

Witt O’Brien also worked with the BP Deepwater Horizon dispersant cover-up. They applied 1.1 million gallons of surface dispersant in the Gulf and another 720,000 gallons of subsea dispersant, claiming that it would change the oil into something edible for Gulf creatures. It doesn’t, but Witt O’Brien did the PR spin for damage control.

Five years ago, Witt O’Brien also got a $300,000+ contract “to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project.” Many of Witt O’Brien’s employees have worked for Shell Oil, Exxon, etc. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is also part of Witt O’Brien.

One of Witt O’Brien’s former clients is IFC International, a consulting firm hired by the U.S. State Department to do the Keystone XL Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Energy Secretary nominee Ernest Moniz was paid over $300,000 and given 10,000+ shares for two years on IFC’s board of directors.

An open supporter of nuclear power and fracking for shale gas, Moniz worked as a long-time corporate consultant for BP. He also accepted millions of dollars to sponsor studies at MIT. Under the auspices of the MIT Energy Initiative, the report, “The Future of Natural Gas,” was funded by the front group for Chesapeake Energy, the shale gas industry’s number two domestic producer. Of course, the report was extremely positive about gas as a “bridge fuel.”

Steven Colbert best summed up Exxon’s mishandling of the Mayflower debacle:

“Why haven’t we heard anything about the cleanup of that rupture in the Pegasus pipeline that spilled 150,000 gallons of tar sand oil? Well, that’s because Exxon has contained the cleanup [pause] coverage by threatening to have reporters arrested for trespassing.”

Showing workers power-washing oil into storm drains, Colbert said, “Of course the oil is going into the storm drains. They’re just putting back in the ground where it came from. It’s called recycling, duh.”

About the common 21st-century practice of cleaning up oil spills with quilted paper towels, he said:

“See, Exxon is employing a time-honored cleanup technique pioneered by drunk guys. You just throw some paper towels down on whatever you spilled and just get out of there. Of course, there are other drunk guy options like hiding the spill with a strategically-placed coffee table, or better yet, just flip Arkansas over like a couch cushion.”

Like most of Colbert’s and Jon Stewart’s shows, there’s as much fact as comedy in their reporting.

Evidencing the growing polarity in the United States is the contrast between the first Earth Day in 1970 under President Nixon and the current attitudes in the country. Although fewer people place importance on environmental issues than 42 years ago, more people are trying to protect the environment through limiting electricity use, eating organic food, and recycling. In 1971  88 percent of the poll’s respondents said it was important to restore and enhance the national environment compared to 80 percent now. The “very important” category dropped from 63 percent to 39 percent.

The New York Time is a reflection of this growing indifference to the destruction of the environment: last year they cut their Green blog and the reporters to cover this subject. Fortunately, smaller organizations are continuing to pursue news about  the subject. Inside Climate News is one of the best, and three of their reporters—Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer—were recognized with a Pulitzer this year for their national news reporting. Their coverage of the recent Exxon spill in Mayflower was superb, especially considering the way that the oil company tried to keep anyone outside the corporation away from the site.

Exxon has also kept the pressure on the media by preventing the Little Rock television stations from running advertising critical about their actions.

Conservatives want the teenager who allegedly set a bomb in Boston last week to be treated as an “enemy combatant.” Conservatives want everyone to have easy access to as many guns and as much ammunition as they wish. Conservatives also wish to kill the country and its people by shipping Canada’s tar sands product across the entire nation so that oil companies can send it out of the country.

April 21, 2013

New Pope Also Censures Nuns for Work with Poor

Over 50 years ago, Pope John XXIII called a council of Catholic bishops from around the world to deliberate on the Church’s direction. The progressive Vatican II met for three years and made tremendous strides ahead in the Catholic guidelines. Mass could be celebrated in a language that people could understand instead of Latin, and the ecumenical bridges were built between Christians and other religions including Jews. Nuns came out of the convents to “live the Gospel” through service with the poor and in prisons and hospitals.

The progressive pope, however, was replaced with Paul VI who declared birth control to be an “intrinsic evil” even for married people, despite the majority report of his own theological commission. The dark curtain of Catholic control was further lowered when Paul II opposed “liberation theology” movements in Latin America where priests and nuns stood with the poor against oppressive right-wing movements. The defense of the all-male priesthood and Church’s official concealment of their sexual abuses continued.

Pope Benedict XVI carried the suppression of the nuns farther when he tried to stop the actions of 80 percent of the 57,000 U.S. nuns who belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) because they concentrated on their care of the poor. The Vatican’s explosive report accused the nuns of “promoting radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” because they didn’t march around opposing abortion and marriage equality.

LCWR, according to Benedict, was to be controlled by Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. He and two other bishops were assigned to oversee a rewriting of LCWR’s statutes, review its plans and programs, approve speakers, and guarantee that the group properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual.

Last year Catholic leaders were so disillusioned that such bishops as Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan said that his church is “200 years out of date,” so focused on sex that its leaders may be considered a “caricature in the media.” U.S. bishops made positive statements about the value of unions, immigration reform, and safety nets for poor people. They described Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan as failing “a basic moral test.”

The new pope, Francis, offered a bit of hope for a  more progressive Catholic Church perception. Initially he showed the desire for a simpler and less formal life which included giving aid to the poor. This new attitude indicated the possibility that the nuns in the United States could move on with their vocation of helping the poor instead of fighting pressure from the Vatican. This is not to be.

Like his predecessor, Francis has now expressed concern that these nuns have “serious doctrinal problems.”  Nuns meeting last week with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, the new head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department, and Sartain were told that Pope Francis has already endorsed Pope Benedict’s criticisms. Muller told the sisters their job is to promote “cooperation” with local bishops and bishops’ conferences, according to Religion News Service.

Kenneth Briggs, the author of a book about the Vatican’s clash with U.S. nuns, said Francis’ backing of the Holy See’s unyielding line was “a major blow” to prospects for more dialogue. “It seems like the Vatican has put a more appealing salesman in charge of the same old product,” Briggs said.

Sister Simone Campbell of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying group, said that she would wait to see if these orders change in the future. She added:

“The censure [of the LCWR] has always been about politics. And politics are shifting in the church right now. We know when politics shift, there are opportunities and there are risks. But we are concerned that Catholic sisters below the decision-making level are caught in the bigger picture of Vatican politics. We’re sort of the soccer ball here. My most optimistic self had hoped that CDF report would never be mentioned again, but in light of the broader politics, I think it was overly optimistic of me.”

John Allen, a Vatican specialist for The National Catholic Reporter and CNN, has described the tension between the sisters and the bishops as one that is really about “what it means to be Catholic in the 21st century.” Other people are guessing that a major problem in changing the orders for the U.S. nuns comes from the immediate past pope still being alive, that he is casting a shadow over any changes that Francis might want to make.

The Vatican approved of the LCWR for decades until Cardinal Bernard Law started an investigation into its activities. Law resigned as Boston archbishop in 2002 because of his role in the clergy abuse scandal and moved to Rome in 2004 to become pastor of a basilica. He served on several influential Vatican boards until his recent retirement at age 80.

Research on goals and processes of ethical beliefs of men and women indicate a distinct difference between the two genders with the female caring component missing from male ethical conceptions. James Fieser suggests that the male “emphasizes rules: moral laws, abstract notions of justice, lists of dos and don’ts, ideal standards of right and wrong.”  According to Fieser, men have a “preoccupation with rules in general, and the need to postulate scientific laws, legal statutes, and social policies.”  In contrast, “women see morality as the need to care for people who are in situations of vulnerability and dependency.”

These opposing attitudes are reflected in Christian religion across the United States that is dominated by men. In all the conservative groups, women are subservient to the domination of men.

The emphasis on “rules” is reflected in these two news stories:

According to a woman’s lawsuit in Philadelphia, a priest sexually assaulted her after he asked to see her for “counseling” and then “smeared her menstrual blood on her face.” When detectives asked the priest for an interview, he said that he could not talk with the police because the events were under the seal of confession. The case was not pursued until the woman filed her suit, and the priest has been sent to Poland.

For almost a decade, openly gay parishioner at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church (Oceanside, NY) was an active member of his church. Nicholas Coppola visited the home-bound, taught fifth-graders in preparation for confirmation, and served as a member of the Consolation Ministry and St. Vincent de Paul.

Three months after he married David in a ceremony attended by some St. Anthony members, the pastor removed him from all parish activities. A letter complaining about Coppola’s sexual orientation had been sent to the diocese bishop. Two months later, U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that the Church must welcome the LGBT community and not be “anti-anybody.”

The ultimate of “rules” in the U.S. may be the law. Seven states bar atheists from holding public office: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The statutes are unconstitutional, based on a Supreme Court ruling in 1961, but they can always overturn that ruling.

Meanwhile, I hope that the nuns get back on the bus for another tour and continue to help people who have fallen through the safety net.

 

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