Nel's New Day

May 31, 2013

Finding Family in Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:54 PM
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When we are children, the term “family” usually describes parents, siblings, and close relatives. As we grow older, the term describes a group where we find a belonging, our place in life. In the LGBT community, this definition can override biological families, especially if these families reject us. Thus many of us prize our families even more than people in the straight world because of the effort required to find this group where we belong.

Celebrating the world of LGBT families, Dana Rudolph is holding the eighth annual Blogging for LGBT Families  Day, a time set between Mother’s and Father’s Day. Sponsored by the Family Equality Council and presented on Rudolph’s site, Mombian, the event, also honors LGBT Pride Month in its raising awareness of LGBT families, their diverse natures, and the way in which current prejudices and laws have a negative impact on families and their lives. Rudolph invites all bloggers to submit links to blog entries or videos to www.mombian.com on or before June 3.

I have a wonderful partner of over four decades, superb friends, and a close-knit relationship with some of my biological extended family. As for stories, however, I could think of nothing to say. Nothing, that is, until I thought about all the LGBT books that I read.

One of my many delights is membership in a committee called the Over the Rainbow Project from the American Library Association Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. I learned so much about the people in the over 900 LGBT books that I’ve read during the last three years that I realized some of them have become my family. I’d like to introduce you to a few of these from LGBT memoirs:

the-beauty-of-men-never-dies-199x300David Leddick is an 82-year-old man who didn’t start publishing books until he was 65 years old. Since then he has come out with 23 titles. The most recent, The Beauty of Men Never Dies: An Autobiographical Novel, he calls fiction. The reader is left to wonder which parts of these experiences and joys of life actually happened. Leddick is truly joyful, in the same way that my piano teacher, who lived much of his life in New York City, is. I think of both of them as uncles, and I appreciate both of them for their openness, both of them self-assured and confident after having led exciting lives.

Leddick described the book as  “a vivid tale of a life lived with panache at an age when most people think the adventure has already ended.” As Amos Lassen wrote, “Leddick has the unique advantage of not letting age affect him. He shares what he has lived through and he also shares his insights and opinions. He may be a voice from the past but he is also a voice of the present.” [Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press, $24.95]

into the gardenI think of Clyde Phillip Wachsberger as a great-uncle because of his Old World personality. His lifetime dream was to have a magical storybook garden. In his middle age, he found a soul mate to share it with him, and Wachsberger tells about their 28 years together in Into the Garden with Charles. Both text and illustrations show his love for plants at their small 300-year-old home at the small town of Orient at the end of Long Island where his dreams come true. The author’s life may have been restrained, but his enjoyment of the plant world is not. Written as a love letter, the book is as sweet and touching as those who people it. [Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28]

how_to_get_a_girl_pregnant_cover_half_jpegLike a little sister, Karleen Pendleton Jimenez has lots of drive and won’t let anything stop her from getting what she wants. In this case, she wants to have a baby, and she won’t let being a butch keep her from her goal. In How to Get a Girl Pregnant: A Memoir, she describes the entire struggle—finding sperm and then making sure it works. The two-year pursuit of pregnancy covers experiences, yearnings, and people who come into her life through donor profiles, friends, and other characters. And like a little sister, she’s funny in her determination to follow through with her biological needs. [Zurita/Tightrope, $19.95]

My-Two-Moms-ppb-updated1Pride is important in a family, and I take almost as much pride in Zach Wahls as I do in my biological niece. Maybe that’s why I think of him as a nephew. I first watched Wahls as he stood in front of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee to tell them about his lesbian parents and why they deserved to be married. The video of this speech was YouTube’s most-viewed political video of 2011. His book, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family, may require a box of tissues with its stories about his biological mother’s coming out to her staunch Iowa parents and decision to have a baby without a partner, her ensuing MS, and the wonderful relationship between the two women and indeed the entire family as they struggled with her illness. It’s a rewarding read. [Penguin/Gotham, $26]

before the rainLopez Torregrosa who writes about her vibrant yet melancholy love story in Before the Rain: A Memoir of Love & Revolution. She follows the woman she desires from a lucrative job to the equatorial heat of the Philippines, and her experience as a journalist gives her the ability to create a superb sense of place and person. The poetry flows through the language of this heartwrenching blend of revolution, danger, and romance. Torregrosa is like an exotic aunt, who returns to tell me about her adventures. [Houghton, $25]

prairie silenceI grew up in a small Nebraska town, and for that reason Melanie Hoffert’s stories in Prairie Silence resonate with me. As a teenager, she exchanged her life in North Dakota for city life in Minneapolis only to wonder in her 30s what it would be like to go back and live there. In her review of the book, Lydia Harris wrote, “Memoirs are more than a recitation of facts and events or a sensationalistic recounting. They are an account of an individual’s awakening, perceptual changes and growth.” In her memoir, Hoffert writes about her first crush on a girl, her first lesbian experience in college, and her attempts to keep her sexual orientation secret from the people who live in the small town. As she talks about her past and the present when she spends a month trying to fit in with her family and learn farming, she makes me feel as if she’s my cousin, one I don’t see very often but one who is willing to share her inner-most feelings in beautiful but clear images. [Beacon Press, $24.95]

one in every crowdAnother cousin is Ivan Coyote, a butch living in Canada. I first met Coyote in Missed Her—funny, passionate, intimate, poignant stories about growing up queer in a place that accepted her differences and her travels to the West Coast. In One in Every Crowd, her vignettes about a tomboy youth and a sensitive adult life shows her stereotypes, gender, and identify as she finds cruelty and kindness in unexpected places, places that she shares with the intended audience, young people, and those quietly sitting by, listening. Coyote is somebody you want to stay up late at night with, just drinking in all those amazing tales. [Arsenal Pulp Press, $15.95] [image]

Other members of my “memoir” family:

David Mixner, past presidential campaign advisor, writes about his country home in the tiny upstate New York town of Turkey Hollow and meditates on his past decades. At Home with Myself: Stories from the Hills of Turkey Hollow. [Magnus Books, $18.00]

Wonderful portraits and riveting narratives document the diverse lives of 140 gay men from across the United States in Scott Pasfield’s Gay in America. [Welcome Books, $45.00]

My mother is reflected both in Alison’s Bechdel’s graphic memoir Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama [Houghton, $22] and Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? [Grove Press, $15]

I taught, mostly high school, for over 30 years; my teaching family comes from these reflections in This Assignment Is So Gay: lgbtiq Poets on the Art of Teaching, edited by Megan Volpert. [Lethe Press, $24.95]

These are some of my family members. I look forward to adding to them in the coming years.

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May 29, 2013

Fear Drives Conservative away from Rational Thought

Recently, my blog about the plight of women prisoners in Arizona received several comments connecting the horrible treatment of women imprisoned for white-color crimes and prostitution to the guilt of Jody Arias, who viciously killed her ex-boyfriend five years ago. Some of the messages seemed to follow the traditional faulty syllogism of (il)logic: Arias is a bad person, and Arias is a prisoner—therefore prisoners are bad people. People who think like this attribute the actions of a few to the whole.

Recently, studies about the difference between conservatives and liberals have proliferated. One essay, “Differences in Conservative and Liberal Brains,” cites 16 peer-review studies in describing thought-processing differences between self-identified conservatives and liberals.

Conservatives spend more time looking at unpleasant images, and liberals spend more time looking at pleasant images.

Reliance on quick, efficient, and “low effort” thought processes yields conservative ideologies, while effortful and deliberate reasoning yields liberal ideologies.

Conservatives react more strongly than liberals to disgusting images, such as a picture of someone eating worms.

Liberals have more tolerance to uncertainty (bigger anterior cingulate cortex), and conservatives have more sensitivity to fear (bigger right amygdala).

Conservatives have stronger motivations than liberals to preserve purity and cleanliness.

Conservatives and liberals react similarly to positive incentives, but conservatives have greater sensitivity to negative stimuli.

Conservatism is focused on preventing negative outcomes, while liberalism is focused on advancing positive outcomes. Thus conservatism seeks to regulate society via inhibition, and liberalism seeks to act in the interests of social justice.

Genetics influence political attitudes during early adulthood and beyond.

Compared to liberals, conservatives are less open to new experiences and learn better from negative stimuli than positive stimuli.

Conservatives tend to have a stronger reaction to threatening noises and images than liberals.

Liberals are more open-minded and creative whereas conservatives are more orderly and better organized.

When faced with a conflict, liberals are more likely than conservatives to alter their habitual response when cues indicate it is necessary. Liberals are more willing to accept risk with a tendency to seek out novelty and uncertainty. These characteristics come from the larger anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain that helps people cope with complexity. The difference in the liberals’ brains means that they are more likely to accept analytical data and scientific proof, and to reason problems out.

Conservatives are far more afraid than liberals, perhaps due to the conservatives’ larger right amygdale, active during times of fear and anxiety. Fear keeps people from change and learning while magnifying threats. conservatives have far more intense physical reactions to threatening stimuli. Conservatives want a huge system of national defense; in the United States, any threat is considered terrorism except for real threats like domestic violence and sexual assault.

Being fearful may enlarge the amygdale–the more fearful, the greater the increase.  The larger amygdale means the brain’s owner is more emotion-based and more resistant to change. The research about conservatives’ fear explains why there have strong anti-immigration and pro-segregation attitudes. Anyone outside their group cannot be accepted, according to their brain processing.

Conservatives’ fear of the world makes them pro-gun, mostly religious, more hostile to immigrants and all other ethnic minorities, fearful of attacks from other nations, anti-government involvement in their lives, pro-family, anti-welfare (because they see the poor as parasites on success), and pro-wealth. In addition, they hate complexity and compromise.

On the other side of the coin, liberals are more optimistic about the world, consider government as a vehicle for solving problems and improving well-being, want citizen protection left to police, less religious, more welcoming to immigrants, rely more on science and education to solve problems, favor negotiation and consensus-building over wars, willingly pay taxes to improve people’s lives, and are less interested in family ties for personal protection. They also support welfare programs for the poor to reduce social problems, crime, and child poverty; are suspicious of wealth that is inherited or obtained through unethical business practices; and feel that concentrating resources in the hands of the one percent impoverishes everyone else thereby undermining social trust.

One study successfully guessed the party affiliation of a large majority of the subjects. Determining the risk-taking behavior during a gambling experiment monitored by brain scans let the researchers guess those on the right and on the left for 83 percent of the participants. The risks were not necessarily different, but the brain activity varied.

Extreme conservatives, between 1 and 4 percent, have an even larger problem than the standard conservatives. Because their amygdalae are extremely small or inactive, they have absolutely no empathy. These people come under the classification of sociopaths or even psychopaths.

Sociopaths know exactly what they are doing and are very aware of how they are functioning socially. Their characteristics include glibness and superficial charm, narcissism, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative behaviors, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, pleasure in cruelty, need for stimulation, tendency to boredom, parasitic behavior, poor behavioral control, impulsivity, irresponsibility, sexual promiscuity, multiple marriages, and criminal versatility.

These people congregate in leadership roles in both the private and public sector, CEOs and politicians in particular. Sociopaths study people who possess emotions that they can best exploit, and fear is at the top of the list. The sociopathic leader knows how to push all the right buttons of the most fearful and then make false promises of reassurance to get their loyalty. Ayn Rand was a top example of a sociopath—an empowering figure for the frightened masses who leveraged their insecurities and fears to great personal advantage and aggrandizement.

While liberals try to lead with reason and collaboration, conservatives control the debate because they attack the person, not the problem. They deny reason in favor of emotion because they are controlled by the amygdale, the “white matter”  fight-or-flight center of the brain. Liberals try to process the problem through their “gray matter,” the anterior cingulate cortex.

Capitalism today is a prime example of sociopathy in its concept of “I’ve got mine so screw you.” More and more people suffer because of the concentration of wealth and power at the very top. Any attempt to move this to a greater sense of equity brings howls of class warfare, socialism, and government overreach from the conservatives. Any move toward taking away even one of the wealthy class advantages brings more howls of “unfair treatment.”

Homelessness, poverty, hunger, bad health—none of these is the responsibility of the conservatives.

The positive side of this research is that education may help conservatives  become more open and positive. Instruction in history, critical thinking, literature, and art can develop a person’s mind. A greater diversity of experiences in the world and exposure to different cultures can also lessen the fear. Brain change was proved more than ten years ago when brain scans showed the growth of London cab drivers’ hippocami as they spent more time driving and therefore learned more about the city.

The other side of the coin is that increased fear increases the size of the amydala, making people more and more conservative.  That’s the reason that conservative leaders operate on the hysteria of fear. Their mantra is “They’re coming after you!  Be afraid—be very afraid!” They also know that education changes people: that’s the reason that they try to control or block it.

These studies may upset conservatives. But they don’t believe in science so none of them will believe any of this information.

[Additional Note: A recent study shows that Republicans lie three times as much to the people of the United States as the Democrats do! More sociopathic behavior.]

May 28, 2013

Facebook Guidelines Need to be Changed

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:08 PM
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MySpace was a popular social network several years ago, but it was quickly taken over by Facebook and pretty much disappeared. Now, the most popular social network is showing very bad judgment.

Last week, protesters boycotted Facebook advertising because the network permitted images of domestic violence against women at the same time that it banned ads about women’s health. Companies that pulled their advertising include online bank Nationwide UK, Nissan UK, and J Street. Dove, a Unilever brand running a “self-esteem” ad campaign for women, faces pressure on Twitter although Procter & Gamble responded, “We can’t control what content they [our advertising] pops up next to. Obviously it’s a shame that our ad happened to pop up next to it.”

Zappos replied that users upset by an ad appearing next to a date rape image “click the X to delete the ad.” Zipcar is still advertising but “expressed to Facebook the critical need to block this content from appearing.” Audible will also keep its advertising on Facebook:

“Audible does not condone or endorse violence against women,” but it “takes pride in and respects the rules that govern our Facebook community and because of this we do not delete negative posts. However, we must delete, and will continue to delete, any content that contains offensive, graphic images.”

As of this morning, 15 companies have disassociated from Facebook advertising.

A Facebook spokesperson said that content featuring battered women, rape, and violence falls under “poor taste” or “crude attempts at humor, but it does not violate its policies. The network screens anti-Semitic, Islamaphobic, and homophobic hate speech but not images of violence against women. At the same time, Facebook rejected an ad about breast cancer because it showed a woman’s breast.

The ad about breast cancer disputes false claims that abortion causes higher instances of breast cancer. The company argued that the ad violated their guidelines preventing the “advertising [of] adult products or services, including toys, videos, or sexual enhancement products.” The ad linked to a page on the National Cancer Institute website reassuring women that “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

Michelle Kinsey Bruns, the online manager of Women’s Media Center and the creator of the ad, said that the rejection shows “the absolute inconsistency that Facebook is willing to apply to a woman’s body as an object of violence, but a woman’s body as a medical object is too scandalous to be approved.”

Also removed from Facebook have been images of “mastectomies, breastfeeding mothers, and other non-sexualized depictions of women’s bodies” and labeling them as “pornographic,” while allowing photographs and forums that make light of abusing and raping women. That content often falls under the “humor” section of Facebook’s content guidelines.

Examples of what Facebook refused to remove—because of the “humor”—are a page titled “Slapping Hookers in the Face with a Shoe” and a picture of a woman lying in a pool of blood with the slogan “I like her for her brains.”

In The Guardian, Emer O’Toole defined the problem:

“The [protest]holds a mirror up to a pervasive element of our culture that many either fail to acknowledge or aggressively insist that feminists laugh off. Officially, violent misogyny is not condoned, and most corporations won’t endanger their brands by being associated with it. Unofficially, violent misogyny is still very much de rigueur. Facebook is a conduit between these official and unofficial attitudes to women and, as such, provides an opportunity for radical intervention.”

Since the protest started a week ago, over 100 women’s movement and social justice organizations have become involved, and people have sent over 60,000 tweets and 5000 emails in an attempt to end gender-based hate speech on Facebook.

The petition that people signed had four demands. The first one reads:

“Make a public statement that rape is never acceptable; that promoting sexual violence and violence against women is repugnant; that Facebook will remove content that advocates rape, sexual violence, and violence against women; and that the terms of service/community standards will be updated to specify this.”

Last month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was under fire because his political group to back immigration reform switched to spending millions of dollars on ads promoting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  Activist organizations, including MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and Progressives United, suspended Facebook advertising in protest. Zuckerberg’s PAC, supposedly a progressive organization, also ran ads praising Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) for trying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for attacking Obamacare.

According to activist Soraya Chemaly, Facebook plans to change its approach to hate speech. The response from Facebook read:

”We prohibit content deemed to be directly harmful, but allow content that is offensive or controversial. We define harmful content as anything organizing real world violence, theft, or property destruction, or that directly inflicts emotional distress on a specific private individual (e.g. bullying).

“We realize that our defense of freedom of expression should never be interpreted as license to bully, harass, abuse or threaten violence.”

Toward that end, they said that they would review and update their guidelines and update training for teams who evaluate reports of “hateful speech or harmful content on Facebook.” In addition, Facebook  claims it “will increase the accountability of the creators of content that does not qualify as actionable hate speech but is cruel or insensitive by insisting that the authors stand behind the content they create.”

We all need to watch Facebook and see if they live up to their promises.

May 27, 2013

Memorialize Deaths from Gun Violence

Memorial Day is dedicated to those who fell during wars. But nowhere is the day to mourn those who have fallen because, after almost two centuries of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, the Second Amendment came to mean that anyone in the country could freely own lethal firearms.

The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” For two centuries, courts interpreted the amendment, divided into two ungrammatical clauses, as the right of state militias—not individuals—to own and carry weapons. The “militia clause” trumped the “bear arms.”

The reinterpretation came in the 1980s, thanks to President Ronald Reagan, Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT), and the NRA, and the new theory became the law of the land. Not until the 21st century did the Supreme Court reverse the original position that the Second Amendment applied to state militias, and that decision was made by an extremist far-right court.

Even that court gave limits. In District of Columbia v. Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia  recognized that the right of the individual to own guns didn’t include all weapons:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose… We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”

The court also recognized that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” According to a footnote,

“We identify these presumptively lawful regulatory measures only as examples; our list does not purport to be exhaustive.”

The court concluded:

“Apart from the usual prohibitions of gun ownership by children, felons, illegal aliens, lunatics, and in sensitive places such as public schools, the propriety of which was not questioned in Heller, some states sensibly require that an applicant for a handgun permit establish his competence in handling firearms. A person who carries a gun in public but is not well trained in the use of firearms is a menace to himself and others.”

Gun obsession pervades the United States:

Adam Kokesh, who plans to lead 1,000 armed protesters into Washington, D. C. on July 4 in violation of the law, compares himself to Mahatma Gandhi who practiced nonviolent resistance to British rule in India. Kokesh has said that his march will be violent if “the government chooses to make it violent.”

Living Social offers experiences that mix alcohol and guns, some of them the type of assault rifle used to kill children in Newtown (CT) to kill children. Many of the deals include transportation on a party bus, and some have a meet-up points at restaurants that offer beer and burgers, giving buyers the chance to drink before the event begins. Living Social has claimed that it doesn’t intentionally promote drinking while shooting and they plan to be careful.

Starbucks might want to consider its willingness to allow concealed weapons. In 2011, a teenage girl in Cheyenne (WY) dropped her purse, causing her gun to discharge and the bullet to miss 43-year-old John Basile by about 12 inches. She had no training, including gun safety, but her mother encouraged her to point the gun at a “bad person.” This last week in St. Petersburg (FL) another woman dropped her purse and shot a customer in the leg. She said she forgot that she had it. Starbucks issued this statement:

“At Tyrone Square Mall, our primary concern is always for the safety of our customers and store employees, and we are thankful that the injuries sustained are reported to be non-life threatening.”

Aurora (CO), the same place as the horrific movie theater shooting, was the site of an accidental shooting when an employee at Rangeview High School accidentally shot a student who was getting a ride with him. Missouri passed a law allowing school employees to carry guns as voluntary “protection officers,” but Gov. Jay Nixon has promised to veto the bill.

Showing off her brand-new assault rifle in Federal Heights (CO), 22-year-old Anastasia Adair fell. Her gun went off, the bullet hitting her in the head and killing her. In Florida, a three-year-old boy accidentally killed himself with a 9mm handgun that his uncle owned.

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) is raising campaign funds through a gun raffle: “Enter the drawing to win a FREE Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, almost impossible to find in stores and the number one firearm on the gun banners’ wish list!” The winner will be announced on July 4, perhaps in time to carry it in the Washington, D.C. protest

Under the “what were they thinking category,” a Missouri theater hired actors to portray gunmen at the Iron Man 3 premier. People screamed and called the police. Manager Bob Wilkins said he was worried about safety but didn’t see anything wrong with the publicity stunt.

About District of Columbia v. Heller, former Justice John Paul Stevens said:

“While the post-decision commentary by historians and other scholars has reinforced my conviction that the Court’s decision to expand the coverage of the Second Amendment was incorrect, good things about the Court’s opinion merit special comment…. Even as generously construed in Heller, the Second Amendment provides no obstacle to regulations prohibiting the ownership or use of the sorts of automatic weapons used in the tragic multiple killings in Virginia, Colorado, and Arizona in recent years. The failure of Congress to take any action to minimize the risk of similar tragedies in the future cannot be blamed on the Court’s decision in Heller.”

The majority of people in the country support gun controls.

background check polls

They know they are not safer with the current situation of unlimited gun purchases. Countries with fewer guns, Australia for example, have less gun violence. There is a correlation between strong gun laws and lack of gun violence.

correlation gun violence and law

Forty percent of people in the United States want guns to “protect” themselves against the government. Corporations have pushed this idea in order to make money through selling weapons and ammunition. For example, the corporation-controlled American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is pushing a bill in Nevada to allow the purchase of machine guns.   http://www.prwatch.org/node/12100

US-POLITICS-GUNS-NRALosing sales to adults, gun manufacturers are push sales to small children.   At the recent NRA conference, 3-year-old Elaih Wagan became the youngest member because of her grandfather’s $1,000 birthday gift for a lifetime membership. U.S. Practical Shooting Association’s magazine Junior Shooters is aimed at kids age eight and up.

cartoon adsGun makers produce child-sized guns and then market them to smaller children with cartoon ads, like this Crickett style that a five-year-old used to kill his two-year-old sister.

 

shooting rangeThe January 2013 NRA publication Insights, a magazine for children, gives directions on building BB gun shooting ranges inside their homes for fun during long winters. It recommends hanging targets. BB guns send 22,000 people to the hospital each year, they create fatalities, and they can be indistinguishable from other guns for young children.

Stricter gun control could have saved many of the 851 children killed last year in the United States.

Extremists want no background checks, no waiting periods, no required liability insurance, no age limits, no training. Voting is a constitutional right, yet conservatives support hundreds of laws for waiting periods, registration, photo IDs, restrictive limits on voting times, etc. Voting has age limits. But extremists read the Second Amendment as unlimited rights to wreak havoc.

There were approximately 4,385 gun deaths between December 14, 2012 (Sandy Hook Elementary School) and April 17, 2013.  I use the term “approximately” because conservatives have prevented the government from keeping any statistics on gun violence. About 300 of these were kids.

End Note: In the week leading up to Memorial Day, TSA agents confiscated a record 65 guns from passengers at security checkpoints, 54 of which were loaded. The previous record was 50 guns (45 loaded) the week before May 10. These 65 guns were in addition to three hand grenades, 12 stun guns, two razor blades (one hidden in a shoe and the other in underwear), two joke-bombs, and other stuff such as “firearm components, realistic replica firearms, bb and pellet guns, Airsoft guns, brass knuckles, ammunition, batons, and a lot of sharp pointy things.” I appreciate the TSA!

 

May 26, 2013

Tornadoes, Atheism, Bigotry, Tolerance Plus the Supreme Court

Religion during the past week has presented a mixed bag of news. Pat Robertson seems to be mellowing. Three years ago, he told his viewers on the 700 Club that tornadoes are a sign of the End Times, and he traditionally blames LGBT people for any disaster. This week, however, he just asked the victims, “Why did you build houses where tornadoes were apt to happen?” He did move on to theology: “If enough people were praying, He would’ve intervened, you could pray, Jesus stilled the storm, you can still storms.”  So it’s the victims’ fault. 

Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka (KS) did stick to his hate script by blaming gay Jason Collins for the tornadoes. His website inadvertently helped tornado victims, however. Anonymous hacked WBC website, GodHatesOklahoma.org, and automatically directed viewers to a Red Cross donation site. People gave over $8,000 before the website was taken down.

Wolf Blitzer, too, struggled with theology surrounding the recent Oklahoma tornadoes. On live television, Blitzer referred to the survival as “blessed” three times before he asked, “You’ve gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?”

Holding her 18-month-son, Rebecca Vitsmun politely replied, “I’m actually an atheist.”

Blitzer stuttered, “You are. All right. But you made the right call.”

Still gracious, Vitsmun replied, “We are here, and I don’t blame anyone for thanking the Lord.”

Vitsmun’s honesty has  a benefit. Stand-up comic Doug Stanhope started an Indiegogo fundraising campaign titled “Atheists Unite” to help rebuild her home. People have already donated over $85,000 with almost two months remaining in the campaign. FreeOK is also selling t-shirts to benefit Vitsmun.

Glenn Beck attacked Blitzer’s interview with Vitsmun as a setup. According to Beck, a television producer “who is sympathetic to the atheist plight or just doesn’t like Christians” handpicked Vitsmun to be interviewed to “point out that in the middle of heartland in America, where most people are God-fearing, there are atheists there too.” Beck’s conclusion:

“We are not fighting against flesh and bone. We are fighting the forces of spiritual darkness and it doesn’t matter what people’s intent are, but I will tell you that that was there for a reason.”

Another atheist also made great news last week. When it was his turn to lead the opening prayer for the House session, Arizona state Rep. Juan Mendez changed the format:

“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.”

Mendez also quoted legendary astronomer Carl Sagan: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” He concluded his address by saying he hoped “Arizona’s non-believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers.” After Mendez introduced members of the Secular Coalition for Arizona sitting in the gallery, a member said she was “witnessing history.” Mendez then called himself one of just 1.3 million Arizonans not affiliated with a religious tradition or organization. That’s almost 20 percent, the same percentage for the rest of the United States.

If you want a scholarship to college, you might want to break the law by wandering around with guns.  After Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. learned that David Cole Withrow was arrested for taking guns onto school grounds, the North Carolina high school senior was offered a scholarship to Falwell’s school. Despite his first claim that he didn’t know the guns were in his car, he changed his story later.

Michele Bachmann has a solution for her giant GOP problem of repealing Obamacare. After the House passed its 37th repeal still knowing that their votes would go nowhere, she said:

“I think the President will ultimately be forced to repudiate his own signature piece of legislation because the American people will demand it. And I think before his second term is over, we’re going to see a miracle before our eyes, I believe God is going to answer our prayers and we’ll be freed from the yoke of Obamacare. I believe that’s going to happen and we saw step one last week with the repeal of Obamacare in the House. We have two more steps. We serve a mighty God and I believe it can happen.”

Bachmann gets two points, unlike Sarah Palin, for knowing the word “repudiate.” And she does blame God for the 9/11 and Benghazi attacks.

The new pope gets lots of points for his openness to all people who do good. In last Wednesday’s message on Vatican radio, he described the apostles as “a little intolerant” and disagreed with the idea that non-Catholics cannot do good. He said:

“If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter. We need that so much.”

This isn’t the first time that Pope Francis has used this message. In March,  he declared that the faithful and atheists can be “precious allies to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”

This speech makes an amazing change from the former pope who made all non-Catholics into second-class citizens in the same way that fundamental evangelical Christians do. This could be the first step toward peace.

More attention will be paid to the separation of church and state next year when the Supreme Court takes on a case about predominantly Christian prayers in public meetings.

Eight years ago, in an opinion warning of the “violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government,” retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor challenged her fellow conservative justices eager to weaken the wall of separation between church and state:

“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”

With the loss on the bench of O’Connor (originally a conservative), the Supreme Court has five justices who sometimes desert the system devised over 200 years ago. O’Connor supported the position that government cannot endorse a particularly religious belief or take action that might convey such a “message of endorsement to the reasonable observer.”

Since her departure, the Roberts’ court has taken pieces out of the wall between church and state one at a time. In Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, SCOTUS ruled that the president could provide money to faith-based groups with immunity. In Arizona Christian School v. Winn, SCOTUS allowed religious groups to receive taxpayer funding as long as these were structured as tax benefits and not as direct spending.

Next year’s case determines whether the government can “demonstrate . . . allegiance to a particular sect or creed.” In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the issue is whether a municipal legislature violated the Constitution’s ban on separation of church and state by beginning its meetings with overtly Christian prayers roughly two-thirds of the time. This case addresses the question of whether the constitution permits a government “endorsement” of religion of the kind rejected by O’Connor.

As usual, conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy will most likely be the swing vote in this case. He has said that “government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise.” The question is whether he will forbid anything in the Constitution’s ban on government establishment of religion.

May 25, 2013

Genetically Modified Democracy*

“Take Action” was the theme of last Saturday’s blog; since then people have been doing just that, including those who were willing to be arrested in Washington, D.C. during their protest against unfair home disclosures.

Today, a global movement against the giant chemical and seed corporation Monsanto, was started by Tami Canal of Utah, who was fed up with having to spend “a small fortune” in order to feed her family things she says “aren’t poisonous.” Canal’s call for a “food fight” on Facebook has led to 436 demonstrations in 52 countries and 250 cities around the world with over 2 million participants.

A short-term goal of March against Monsanto was creating awareness about the serious consequences of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). I was telling my partner about my plans for the blog, and even she—coming from a family of farmers–questioned what was wrong with having genetically engineered seeds.

San DiegoAnother goal was to encourage people to boycott Monsanto-owned companies that market their unsafe products. Companies need a mandate to label GMOs, laws that Monsanto pays millions of dollars to oppose. Canal wrote about dangerous products for children: “Froot Loops is 100-percent genetically engineered, and that’s a children’s cereal. That’s irresponsible and unacceptable on so many levels.”

People also need to demand further scientific research on the health effects of GMOs. Studies already show that genetically modified foods lead to pre-cancerous cell growth, infertility, and severe damage to the kidneys, liver and large intestines. Chemical herbicides sprayed onto GMO crops cause hormone disruption, cancer, neurological disorders and birth defects.

The ultimate goal is a total ban on Monsanto in the United States in the same way that at least 60 other countries worldwide have done.

Monsanto’s industrial agriculture approach is lethal:

The profiteering poisonous chemical company poses as agribusiness. Monsanto made its fortune killing and maiming people through Agent Orange in the Vietnam War and carcinogenic toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s). These accumulate in plants and animals that make up our food supply. Chemicals linked to Monsanto’s Roundup pesticides are linked to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and cancer. The company’s genetically engineered seeds contain massive amounts of Monsanto herbicides and pesticides. Earlier this year, a French court declared Monsanto responsibility for the chemical poisoning of French grain grower, Paul Francois, who suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller in 2004.

In Hawaii, Monsanto was joined by Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer and BASF to test their toxic chemicals, inundating the islands with over 5,000 tests and destroying the land and the health of the state’s natives. In addition to the use of deadly chemicals, Monsanto uses monocropping, repeatedly planting only one crop in the same spot. The system strips nutrients out of the soil and drives farmers to use the herbicide, Roundup. A side effect of the pesticides and fertilizers are climate change and reef damage, decreasing the biodiversity of Hawaii.

Now Monsanto is moving into the health food market. They have made a deal with DSM Nutritional Products to sell a new type of genetically engineered (GE) soybean: one with supposed nutritional benefits. This new soybean, filled with the typical Monsanto herbicides and other chemicals, is called the SDA Omega-3 soybean.

state departmentTaxpayers fund the State Department to support Monsanto. The biotechnology page of its Office of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Textile Trade Affairs reads: “Agricultural biotechnology helps farmers increase yields, enabling them to produce more food per acre while reducing the need for chemicals, pesticides, water, and tilling. This provides benefits to the environment as well as to the health and livelihood of farmers.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has increased the limits of Roundup residue allowed on grains and vegetables to even more dangerous levels. At the same time, Monsanto, Dow, and the biotech industry have applied for approval of a new and highly controversial generation of super toxic herbicide-resistant GE crops, including “Agent Orange” (2,4-D and dicamba-resistant) corn, soybeans, and cotton.

Monopoly puts farmers out of work. Farmers are forced to pay Monsanto a fee every year that they use their seed originally created by the company. In a recent Supreme Court Case, 75-year-old soybean farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, was ordered to pay Monsanto over $85,000 in damages for using second-generation seeds genetically modified with Monsanto’s pesticide resistant “Roundup Ready,” treatment. He had planted seeds purchased from the local grain elevator, which is usually used for feed crop. Monsanto even sues farmers whose fields have become contaminated with Monsanto’s seeds.

Once Monsanto created a monopoly, it increased the price of the Roundup herbicide and squeezed out conventional farmers using non-transgenic seeds so that they could not compete in the market. The company also uses its power to coerce seed dealers out of stocking many of its competitor products. An anti-trust suit against Monsanto was quietly closed last year. Over 30 years ago, Monsanto began buying out such seed companies as Asgrow (soybeans), Delta and Pine Land (cotton), DeKalb (corn), Seminis (vegetables), and Holden’s Foundation Seeds.

The Indian Ministry of Agriculture has stated that “more than 1,000 small farmers kill themselves each month, most of them because of their massive GM-generated debts.”

Controlling the food leads to privatizing the water. Private corporations already own 5 percent of the world’s fresh water, and billionaires and companies, including Monsanto, are purchasing the rights to groundwater and aquifers. Monsanto is accused of dumping its toxic chemicals, including PCBs, dioxin, and glyophosate (Roundup) into the water supply of nations worldwide before it privatized the water sources, filtering the water and selling it back to the public.

bluntMonsanto runs the FDA and writes its own protection laws for politicians that it has purchased. Ex-Monsanto executives run the FDA that fails to research long-term effects of GMO products. This last spring, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)  put the “Monsanto Protection Act” into the Agricultural Appropriations provisions of the HR 933 Continuing Resolution spending bill, which stopped a federal government shutdown. [photo] The Act bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds and keeps anyone from suing Monsanto regarding unsafe crops. Even if a court review determines that a GMO crop harms humans, the seeds can to be planted if the USDA approves them. Blunt said he “worked with” Monsanto to write it.

Environmental nightmares continue. Monsanto and other biotech conglomerates are connected to the decline of bee colonies in the US and abroad. When bees disappear, the food supply disappears. Butterflies and birds are also vanishing. The company has also concealed its pollution with toxic PCBs. Monsanto does not contribute to “sustainable agriculture” the way that it claims. Instead, it blocks adequate global food production. And more.

Monsanto’s policies and products promote pesticide resistance. Its increase of herbicide use perpetuates gene contamination because engineered genes tend to show up in non-GE crops.

State by state, legislators are introducing laws written by ALEC, the corporation-owned organization, to stop anyone from preventing Monsanto’s damage and allowing them to continue without judicial oversight. [photo]

Thanks to Tami Canal for increasing awareness of the mastermind behind the destructive pesticides and genetically engineered seeds that pervade the farm fields of the world.

Another person fighting Monsanto is Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who introduced an amendment to the upcoming Senate Farm Bill which would repeal the “Monsanto Protection Act.” This act will expire at the end of September when the temporary spending measure does unless it is rolled into the next one.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (V-I) proposed an amendment to the farm bill allowing Vermont and other states to require labeling on foods with GMO ingredients. Early in May, the Vermont House voted 99-42 calling for this legislation. Sixty-four countries around the world already require the labeling of genetically modified foods, including all of the European Union, Russia, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand. The American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association have passed resolutions that support labeling foods with genetically engineered ingredients.

Sanders’s amendments was voted down 71-27, and Merkley’s amendment was blocked in committee. Both said, however, they wouldn’t quit and agree that people have the right to know what’s in the food that they eat. Some people believe that states have a constitutional right to label food, if the federal government isn’t required to do this, thanks to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. This right has been ruled constitutional in federal court.

On the House side,  Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced a bill that “prohibits states from enacting laws that place conditions on the means of production for agricultural goods that are sold within its own borders, but are produced in other states”–meaning no GMO labeling. King’s amendment passed.

A new app, called Buycott, may help people avoid companies that sell GMOs. Although only on iPhone at this time, creators are working to develop one that can handle the enormous amount of traffic this this has generated.  Basically, you scan an item, and Buycott will show the corporate tree. If you join user-created boycott campaigns, you can see if it is made by one of the companies that paid to fight mandatory labeling of genetically modified food.

*Thanks to Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association for the title of the blog.

May 24, 2013

The GOP – Not Even Penny-Wise While Pound Foolish

Yesterday, a part of the I-5 bridge that crosses the Skagit River in northern Washington state collapsed, sending two vehicles down 50 feet into the 46-degree, 15-foot-deep water and three people to the hospital. With no loss of life, the loss of this bridge, which carries 71,000 people each day, may not seem like a big deal. But it is.

People have been well aware that bridges and other infrastructures across the country are crumbling. Almost six years ago, a Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people drew attention to the expanding disaster caused by Congressional unwillingness to address this problem. Last year, the Federal Highway Administration reported that 67,000 of our 607,000 bridges are structurally deficient. That’s almost 11 percent of all bridges, only one percent less than when the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. Motorists take 210 million trips daily across at least one deficient bridge.

Some studies  identified bridges needing the most work, and some states installed sensors to track bridges’ deterioration on a computer. With a lack of funding, however, bridges, with an average age of 42, failed to receive the attention that they need. The nation has a C+ for maintaining bridges, and governments need to add $8 billion annually to their investment to take care of these bridges.

A truck with an excessively tall load striking a steel girder may have caused the collapse over Washington’s Skagit River. Naysayers could claim that the bridge was probably fine. But safe bridges are not classified as “fracture critical,” which means that the entire structure can be brought down if only one major part fails. Inspected twice during the last year, the bridge received a sufficiency rating of 47 out of 100 at its November 2012 inspection. The state average is 80, according to an Associated Press analysis. Built in 1955, the bridge is one of almost 2,000 bridges in classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

The real news is that public construction spending is lower than it’s been in over 20 years.

bridge construction

In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about addressing “an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair.” As he put it, “Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire–a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids.” He supports the “Fix-It-First” program, but as Matt Yglesias explained:

“[P]oliticians and real-estate developers like to open brand new roads with fun ribbon-cutting ceremonies and new subdivisions. Finding money to actually maintain roads we already have is less appealing. Consequently, we get too many miles of road (and too much sprawl), but the roads suck. The fix-it-first concept is to flip this and make sure we’re maximizing the value of our existing roads before we build new ones.”

The president’s recommended a partnering with the private sector to create jobs through the investment in vitally needed projects. A government investment of $10 billion to create and capitalize an independent National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) could leverage $200 billion of total infrastructure investment from private sector partners and state and local governments.

The GOP is interested only in manufactured scandals that they hope will bring down President Obama and the Democrats, spending and tax cuts, and the elimination of women’s rights. They want to continue hearings on Benghazi, questioning former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; bring Lois Lerner back to question her about the IRS despite her clear intention to invoke the Fifth Amendment; investigate Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about fundraising for Obamacare; press forward on a national anti-abortion law which would be unconstitutional; and otherwise avoid governing the country.

Boehner and the rest of the extremists in Congress don’t consider that the United States is approaching an economy in which goods cannot be easily transported from one city or state to another because the country doesn’t have the bridges and roads and rail to do this.

The collapsed bridge in Washington has cut off the highway into Canada from the western states of California, Oregon, and Washington. This cuts private profits. Failure to invest in roads and bridges would total $3.1 trillion in lost GDP growth in the next eight years, lose 3.5 million jobs, and cost private sector companies over $1 trillion.

Eighteen months ago, Senate Republicans, with the help of Nebraska’s blue dog Ben Nelson and Connecticut’s independent Joe Lieberman, blocked the piece of President Obama’s jobs act, which would have provided for $60 billion in infrastructure spending.

At the same time, House Republicans were determined to pass a bill that would tie new infrastructure funding to federal revenue generated from an expansion of domestic energy production. At that time, 27 percent of the bridges in Ohio, Speaker John Boehner’s home state, were either “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” including 171 bridges that are part of the national highway system.

Almost a year ago, Mark Thoma, economist and Fellow at the American Century Foundation, wrote about how he was stunned by Congress’s inability to fund infrastructure investment because it would meet the GOP goal of a boost to the general economy.

“At a time when interest rates are as low as we are likely to see, when labor and other costs are minimal due to lack of demand during the downturn, and when the need is so high, why aren’t we making a massive investment in infrastructure, which is ultimately an investment in our future? There are many, many public investments we could make where the benefits surely exceed the costs–these are things the private sector won’t do on its own even though they are highly valuable to society–so what are we waiting for?

“If there’s any policy Republicans ought to be able to support, it’s infrastructure spending. It’s inherently a supply-side policy, it helps to promote future economic growth, and it’s an investment with large, positive net benefits. But Republicans see a ‘we won’t build that’ approach to infrastructure spending. . .”

For the past five years, interest rates have been at all-time lows, and construction workers have been largely unemployed. Investing in the infrastructure would have been a bargain. Bridges are not the only piece of infrastructure that are approaching crisis. Highways, wastewater treatment facilities, electricity grid, and tunnels are rapidly deteriorating without maintenance.

In a survey of airports last month, not one U.S. airport was rated in the top 25. Only 17 were in the top 100. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport fell to 30th from 24th a year ago.

The sequester will make this even worse because of the need for senators and representatives to fly on time. The $253 million paying for more prompt airplanes comes from airport maintenance and construction. President Obama said:

“We’re using our seed corn short-term. And the only reason we’re doing it is because right now we’ve got folks who are unwilling to make some simple changes to our tax code, for example, to close loopholes that aren’t adding to our competitiveness and aren’t helping middle-class families.”

More scary statistics here—and these are two years old! The GOP is intent to create a country with a non-government, and they are willing to destroy the concept of “general welfare” in order to do this.

May 23, 2013

Virginia Sets Tone for GOP Crisis

The Virginia election for governor is over five months away on November 5, and the Democratic primary for their candidate is set for June 11. Yet the race is worth watching not only because of GOP stupidity but also because of the dissention between the conservatives who don’t  hide their anger and bigotry and the ones who know that showing this behavior might lose them elections.

In the case of the Virginia GOP selection for governor and lieutenant governor 2013 candidates, the stupidity comes from the Republicans decision to select these candidates through a convention of GOP activists, sure to pick an extreme-right winter, rather than letting people select candidates in a primary.

And what picks they are. People  shook their heads about Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ken Cuccinelli with his  extreme record for anti women’s and LGBT rights. He even challenged a court decision that ruled Virginia’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional. Until last weekend, he represented the extreme right wing of the party. The selection of E.W. Jackson for  lieutenant governor, however, moves Cuccinelli toward the center.

Scott Keyes wrote:

“If you were to put the dregs of conservative Internet comment sections into a pot, boil them down to their essence, then run the resulting product through a sieve to get it to its rawest, most pure form of vitriol, it would probably look something like E.W. Jackson’s Twitter feed.”

Keyes also picked 20 of Jackson’s 662 tweets to show the man’s nature. One of them said that LGBT people make him feel “ikky.”

Jackson

Jackson is notorious for his off-the-wall—one might say unhinged–statements:

Gays and lesbians: Jackson said that they have “perverted” minds, are “very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally,” and are bigoted against African Americans and Christians. […]”

Homosexuality: “It attempts to poison our children, divide them from their parents and the teaching of the church and basically turn them into pawns for that movement so that they can sexualize them at the earliest possible age.”

Gays and lesbians in the military: The “repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ law is a disaster of historic proportions and it must be reinstated.”

President Obama: He has “Muslim sensibilities” and sees the world “from a Muslim perspective.” Also he “seems to have a lot of sympathy for even radical Islam” and “certainly does have a lot of affection and favor for Islam, that seems to be his priority…Christianity, I don’t really think about that with him, I really don’t, that’s a joke.”

President and Michelle Obama: President Obama and the First Lady “don’t understand our country, I don’t think they even like it,” warning that the Obamas are “the intellectual cousins and heirs of a Communist, collectivist way of thinking which is anathema to what this country is all about.”

Democrats: The party embraces a policy agenda “worthy of the Antichrist.” He’s argued that the “repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ law is a disaster of historic proportions and it must be reinstated.”

Democratic leaders: They are like “slave masters” who make sure that black people who disagree with them are “punished.”

Liberals: Those who support gay rights “have done more to kill black folks” than the “Ku Klux Klan.”

Planned Parenthood: “The Democrat Party has created an unholy alliance between certain so-called civil rights leaders and Planned Parenthood, which has killed unborn black babies by the tens of millions. Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.”

While he was running for Senate in 2011, Jackson called the Constitution’s original clause to count blacks as three-fifths of a person an “anti-slavery amendment.” The purpose of the clause was to increase voting and political power in the South while not giving slaves any rights. Jackson’s statement was directed against President Obama because of a sermon in the church that he attended. Arguing that it was inappropriate for the president to remain in a church where the pastor would bring up slavery, Jackson said, “This is 2011. The issue of slavery was settled 146 years ago.”

During his campaign last year, he said that God would turn the blacks “overwhelmingly” against the president. That’s the election in which President Obama received 95 percent of the black vote.

While a minister and attorney in Boston 25 years ago, he opposed desegregating public housing developments, calling it “social engineering.” After the federal government discovered that the city had prevented blacks from moving into this low-income housing, it ordered Boston to have a plan that would allow them into these developments. In a speech, Jackson said that he believed people should be allowed to live apart from other races and that he, too, didn’t like being told what to do.

When the interviewer asked Jackson if he felt he was being “used” by white politicians, Jackson said, “Well, the scripture says it’s a good thing to be used in a good cause.” With the GOP desperately searching for minorities, Jackson is again useful.

Jackson didn’t get the nod from the GOP conference until the fourth ballot. Last year, he came in fourth in his U.S. Senate campaign and received about 5 percent of the vote.

How do the less extreme Republicans feel about Jackson’s pick? Virginia Lt. Gov Bill Bolling said that the surprise GOP pick to succeed him had made “simply indefensible” comments in the past that would only serve to reinforce negative perceptions about the party.

Asked if Jackson was trouble, another senior Virginia Republican responded, “Oh. My. God. Yes.” The danger, the Republican said, is that Jackson will bring Democrats to the polls who might otherwise stay home. “You just don’t want one candidate to rile up the base of the other side. That’s what you’re trying to avoid.”

Cuccinelli can’t afford to alienate the people who put Jackson into his running-mate position, but he also can’t afford to be so extreme that he loses the more moderate vote. To effectively separate himself from Jackson, Cuccinelli issued this statement:

“We are not going to be defending our running mates’ statements, now or in the future. The people of Virginia need to get comfortable with each candidate individually, and that’s what this process is all about.”

Cuccinelli can afford to separate himself: in Virginia, the two top positions are decided separately so he still has a chance even if Jackson loses. Twenty years ago, Republican George Allen kept his distance from conservative homeschooling Mike Farris and won the governor’s position while Farris lost to a Democrat for lieutenant governor. The same kind of ticket splitting happened in 2005.

When questioned about his extreme views, Jackson said, “I say the things that I say because I’m a Christian, not because I hate anybody, but because I have religious values that matter to me.” He also calls himself “Virginia’s Hermann Cain.”

The Virginia election this fall is the symbol of the GOP crisis—the more common-sense Republicans working toward rebranding while the extremist Tea Partiers just let it all hang out. Virginia GOP spokesman Garren Shipley said, “The race for lieutenant governor will be fought on economic ground as opposed to social policy.” Time will tell.

May 22, 2013

House Passes Another Useless, Destructive Bill

Overturning Obamacare—for the 37th time—was the focus for the House of Representatives last week. This week they have wasted their time with the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Today with the help of 19 Democrats, GOP representatives approved a H.R. 3, “The Northern Route Approval Act,” declaring that a cross-border presidential permit was not needed from the president to approve the Canada-to-Nebraska leg of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

I call the action useless because it has to go through the Senate, where it will most likely fail, and then be signed by the president, who said that he veto it. In a memo yesterday, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said that the House bill “conflicts with long-standing Executive branch procedures.”

They did spend time proposing amendments, allowing nine of them to Democrats, some concerned with pipeline safety and clean-up costs for pipeline spills. All of these failed along party lines. And it’s only the seventh time that the House has voted on the bill, wasting fewer millions of dollars than on Obamacare.

The proposed pipeline would carry dangerous tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. That Oklahoma to Texas leg is finished, and TransCanada needs permits to get the oil to Nebraska.

Conservatives are quite insistent about getting the pipeline approved because of all the money that they have taken from the oil industry. Congressional members have taken $56 million from fossil fuel interests, $36 from just oil industry interests. The pipeline supporters have paid almost $400,000. Members opposing the pipeline have received less than $50,000.

Just three weeks ago, the Pegasus oil pipeline that devastated the Arkansas community in Mayflower and surrounding area, again developed a leak, this time in Missouri. Although the leak was small, it shows the problem with pipelines, especially when oil companies claim that they are not responsible for clean-up because of the chemicals added to the tar sands oil. The leak also occurred while the pipeline was closed.

Oil companies have a history of not paying for the damage that they cause. Three years after the epic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that caused 11 deaths, the BP, the responsible company, is lying about the dispersant used for clean-up and refusing to pay for the countless illnesses that workers have suffered.

It’s not as if the company can’t afford to pay: their 2013 first quarter profit was $4.2 billion. In the first three months of this year, BP made enough to almost pay the $4.5 billion fine levied against the corporation. BP put aside $8 billion of medical expenses related to the spill, but the illnesses of people who did the clean-up are not covered by that settlement.

BP has almost $28 billion in cash reserves and paid CEO Bob Dudley $2.7 million last year. The company gave over $400,000 in federal campaign contributions and spent almost $9 million on lobbying.

Perhaps new Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz can persuade BP to loosen their purse strings for the people suffering from their toxic chemicals. He did serve on the company’s Technology Advisory Board for six years.

Some of the people on the Keystone pipeline route are beginning to fight back. Residents of Manchester, a Houston neighborhood, now realize that children trying to play in a park playground in the shadow of an oil refinery get sick. People living near there are subject to chronic headaches, nosebleeds, sore throats, and red sores on their skin that don’t heal for month.

When they try to document the problems at the playground, they are told that they cannot photograph the playground where they take their children, but guards video people who go there. An activist teacher, her partner, and a few other young people have set up a community space in the yard of a house with free donated clothing, food, information on air pollution, meetings of local government officials, and trainings in skills like talking to the media and filing pollution complaints with the city.

After a small rally and march last year, two activists from the Gulf Coast locked themselves to trucks entering a the oil refinery and launched a 45-day hunger strike, demanding that the oil refinery divest from the Keystone XL pipeline. People who actually live in the community lack the resources and support to protest like this.

The Keystone XL pipeline is “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet,” according to former NASA climate scientist James Hansen. Tar sands crude oil is much more toxic than regular crude, and contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, and 5 times more lead. That makes it a threat to everyone who lives along its path.

People who live in the area of the proposed pipeline and think that it is a boon don’t understand that they can lose their land. Several states have granted eminent domain authority to private entities, including oil and gas companies. Thus private companies can force the sale of anyone’s property even if the seller is unwilling to do so.

The Supreme Court cemented this deal in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) when it ruled that the city of New London could take private property and give to a private company for “economic development.” The people were all forced out, the houses knocked down, and the land left lying fallow because the private company never followed through with its “development.”

When North Carolina legalized fracking, it also gave private entities the right to take private property. This law is not restricted to just laying pipelines; the private companies are now designated as “public enterprises,” giving them unlimited rights to anyone’s private property. Pennsylvania and Texas have the same rights to anyone’s property.

We don’t need the pipeline. First, it will provide approximately 3,000 jobs for the first two years and then only 35 jobs for maintenance after that. Second, the oil that is refined will largely be shipped out of the country so that people in the United States don’t benefit from it.

And third, alternative forms of energy exist. In Washington, D.C., where the conservatives in the House voted today to destroy the environment and give away private property, Union Station has started using only wind power for its energy and will continue that for another three years. The nearly 19 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year will come from wind farms, reducing gasoline consumption by 1.4 million gallons.

union station

Wind energy grew 28 percent in 2012. According to the America Wind Energy Association:

“Over 6,700 new wind turbines were erected, which produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 3.5 million homes. Overall, America finished the year with 45,100 wind turbines that can power 15.2 million homes.”

This sounds much better than promoting vast desolation of the land and chronic illnesses.

May 21, 2013

Humanity Missing for Oklahoma

The first stories out of a disaster—nature, evil, human stupidity, etc.—after expressing how horrible it is, are about the wonderful way that people step up to the plate, the way that they help those in need. That’s what makes America, people are proud of saying.

Headlines today are filled with the tragic devastation of yesterday’s tornado in Oklahoma. But the numbers of deaths and photos of destroyed buildings are not the real story. The news that should be sent out in every newspaper is the one about the group that doesn’t want help the victims, the group that rejects the philosophy of “humanity first.” That group is the U.S. Congress GOP.

For decades, federal disaster relief was automatic, with bipartisan support after disasters in communities across the nation. But recently, especially after the Tea Party gained their current status in Congress, many conservatives consider emergency resources only after Democrats cut the same amount from another part of the budget. The demand is ideological, not economic, but that doesn’t change their minds.

Thirty-six senators, including Oklahoma Republicans Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe, voted against providing relief in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy that killed 161 people and destroyed billions of dollars of property in 24 states less than seven months ago.

Yesterday, a tornado in an Oklahoma City suburb, two days ago killed 24 people and injured at least 240 people, 60 of them children following deadly tornadoes last weekend. These tornadoes are just the beginning of the season: 53 million people can be at risk because of these weather patterns.

Oklahoma currently ranks third in the nation after Texas and California in terms of total federal disaster and fire declarations. The population of Oklahoma is just over 3.8 million, whereas Texas has over 26 million and California, over 38 million.

President Obama signed a disaster declaration for Oklahoma following severe snowstorms this year in late February. In January of 2007, Coburn urged federal officials to speed disaster relief aid after the state faced a major ice storm, and the next year Inhofe praised the emergency relief given to 24 Oklahoma counties after severe weather.

Now Coburn is again demanding the callous “offsets,” cuts to the budget before tornado victims can receive FEMA funding for disaster relief. This is a pattern for him: he pushed for offsets after a terrorist blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring over 680 others.

At the same time that he refuses any relief without offsets, Coburn issued this statement: “As the ranking member of Senate committee that oversees FEMA, I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay.” He also said that it was “insensitive to even talk about” budgeting for relief funding now. “It just shows the crassness of Washington versus the sensitivity that we need to have,” he added.

Inhofe is cagier than Coburn. Although he hasn’t declared his intentions regarding a vote on help for the victims of his state, he did say that the Oklahoma situation was “totally different”—maybe because it was in his home state. Yet nowhere has he declared support for the Oklahoma victims. One of Inhofe’s big objections during debate on Sandy’s relief was the fact that it included $28 billion for future disasters. Coburn objected to the same funding.

Two of Oklahoma’s five House members, all Republicans, voted against assistance to people following Sandy. Rep. Tom Cole was smarter: he said he supported Sandy relief because of potential tornadoes in his home state. This morning, he said on MSNBC, in referencing the catastrophic 2011 tornado in Joplin (MO), “Frankly, one of the reasons that we try to be sympathetic to people in other parts of the country” is that “we’re always one tornado away from being Joplin. I didn’t think it was going to be quite this soon.”

“Coburn is taking his own constituents hostage as budget-cutting human shields,” AMERICABlog’s John Aravosis wrote, adding: “We wouldn’t need to be holding a bake sale every time Mother Nature hiccuped … if the Republicans would stop spending a trillion on this war and another trillion on that tax cut.”

Especially in the wake of the sequester cuts, the notion that the federal budget is larded with easily eliminated spending is ludicrous. Would Coburn like to see more kids thrown out of Head Start? More seniors losing Meals on Wheels? The federal deficit is shrinking faster than at any time since just after World War II, but Coburn insists that someone, somewhere, must lose their federal help so Oklahoma can get it instead.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita left one in 50 children without homes; the financial crisis increased this to one in 45 children—a total of 1.6 million in 2010 without a permanent place to live. Forty percent of these children are under the age of 6. The Southern states have the worst access to homeless shelters.

This tragedy of children without homes didn’t appear in the United States until the early 1980s, when it exploded. In the early 1980s, only one percent of people in homeless shelters were children and families; in 2011 children and families made up 41 percent of people sleeping in shelters.

A report from the Family Housing Fund shows that President Reagan initiated the rapid increase. Ralph da Costa-Núñez, who worked in New York Mayor Ed Koch’s administration, said:

“It was the gutting of the safety net. Reagan cut every social program that helped the poor. Then there’s inflation so their aid checks are shrinking. Where are they going? Into the streets, into the shelters.”

Rather than provide low-income housing, Reagan believed that the market would take care of the problem. By 1985, the number of low-cost units had fallen to 5.6 million, and the low-income renter households had grown to 8.9 million.

President Clinton’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Act, which decreased welfare from 12.3 million per month in 1996 to 4.4 million June 2011, was hardest on women and children. Conservatives find this a success story, but children and families are living on the streets. Caseloads stayed static through record joblessness, and women and children make do by scavenging the trash and returning to abusive relationships.

The result is an increase of psychological disorders for both children and their mothers. “Half of school-age homeless children experience anxiety, depression, or withdrawal compared to 18 percent of non-homeless children,” according to the Traumatic Stress network. Male homeless children are more aggressive and females, more withdrawn. All of them are prone to more chronic illnesses, endocrine dysfunction, and stunted growth. School is a disaster not only because of these problems but also because of the instability caused by constantly moving from one place to another.

Conservatives who blame the problems on laziness and “hustling the system” decrease benefits and increase the homelessness. And Coburn wants to make the problem worse by insisting on “offsets.”

States are also gutting their budgets to give money to the wealthy, and people in North Carolina are fighting back with their protests on “Moral Mondays.” One recently arrested woman is 80-year-old former educator Barbara Parramore who is fighting for the return of funds for education. The photo on the right is Parramore with her daughter, Lynn Stuart Parramore. The left one is her mug shot.

barbara parramoremug shot

 

 

 

 

 

 

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