Nel's New Day

May 20, 2013

‘Don’t Frack with Me!’

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 11:18 AM
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During the same week that saw fracking fan Ernest Moniz appointed as head of the Department of Energy (DOE), the Interior Department released its revised proposal for fracking federal and Indian lands. The public has 30 days to comment.

Fracking, aka hydraulic fracturing, is forcing huge amounts of water with unknown chemicals deep into the ground to break up the shale to release oil and natural gas, with toxic results for land, water, and people as well as the possibility of earthquakes in the area.

It may be a better plan than the one that they pulled almost a year ago because industry officials oppose them. Energy companies are required to disclose the chemicals used in the process, they have to have management plans for the great volume of “flowback water,” and they are required to verify that the flowback water doesn’t escape into groundwater.

Yet they can use “FraFocus” to meet the rules’ chemical disclosure requirements, meaning that companies don’t really have to disclose what toxic chemicals are used. Companies are also permitted more “flexibility” in showing that the cementing jobs in the wells are adequate. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, also a fracking fan, said  that it “has been done safely for decades.”

Conservatives argue that fracking is vital to provide energy for the United States. Yet last week the DOE approved the release of 1.4 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas to be sent overseas to nations lacking a free-trade agreement with the U.S. That agreement is for 25 years. Nineteen more permits are pending while government studies refuse to acknowledge the dangers of fracking.

Some Democrats are also on the side of fracking. Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania from 2003 to 2011, is trying to get his neighboring state, New York, to join the fracking bandwagon. Rendell is a paid lobbyist for driller company Range Resources Readers and is a paid consultant of Elements Partners, a private equity firm with big stakes in several energy companies that are engaged in fracking.

His eloquence omits that fact that the drilling of over 150,000 wells for natural gas has transformed large swaths of rural Pennsylvania into basically industrial zones, inundated with huge trucks, wastewater ponds, and traffic jams. Air pollution is higher in counties with drilling than those without, and residents complain about round-the-clock noise. People who live in the frack zone suffer from projectile vomiting, headaches, breathing problems, mysterious skin rashes–the list goes on.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is being sued for producing deceptive lab reports and then using them to dismiss homeowners’ complaints that shale gas corporations have contaminated their water, making them sick. The nickname for DEP is “Don’t Expect Protection.”

Democratic state representative Jesse White is demanding that state and federal agencies investigate the DEP for “alleged misconduct and fraud.” A 2011 study shows 353 industry chemicals that could damage the skin, the brain, the respiratory, gastrointestinal, immune, cardiovascular, and endocrine (hormone production) systems. Twenty-five percent of the chemicals found by the study could cause cancers.

These chemicals come from water (including bathing), air, soil, and food—in short, anyone near fracking is surrounded. The chemicals are also synergistic: according to veteran toxicologist David Brown, “The presence of one agent can increase the toxicity of another by several-fold.”

In a blow to all corporations, including fracking companies, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that there is no corporate right to privacy under that state’s constitution. Judge O’Dell Seneca cited the text of the 1776 Pennsylvania constitution, the history of its various provisions, related recent case law from other states and policy considerations, and rejected the various claims by corporate lawyers stating, “Nothing in that jurisprudence indicates that that right [of privacy] is available to business entities.” He added that the 14th Amendment “use of the word ‘person’ that makes its protections applicable to business entities” does not apply to Pennsylvania’s constitution.

Although businesses have legal rights protecting them from unreasonable searches and seizure of property, they do not have the right to personal privacy, according to Seneca.

“This Court found no case establishing a constitutional right of privacy for businesses, and it uncovered only one case that allowed a corporation to assert a state-based right to be free from unreasonable searches and siezures in a criminal matter.”

In summation, Seneca wrote:

“It is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have ‘no spiritual nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘thoughts,’ ’emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists… They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are like grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, and prune at their pleasure and need.”

Not all New Yorkers are enchanted with Rendell’s enthusiastic support for fracking. After a fact-finding tour to the northern Pennsylvania town of Troy, state Senator Terry Gipson, a Democrat from the beautiful Hudson Valley, wondered what would happen after the oil companies finished plundering the land:

“Envision a time when the trucks are gone, the lease money is spent, the trailers and the diners are empty, and all that is left is unusable farm land with a contaminated water supply. What will these people do then?”

Gipson’s concerns have been echoed by many others who lived through the oil boom and bust of the twentieth century which led to economic disaster.

New Yorkers have moved from support of fracking to opposition, especially in its conservative upstate. The state has 55 municipal bans against fracking and 105 moratoriums. Oil companies have gone to court with the argument that only the state can prohibit drilling, but the state supreme court disagreed. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still sitting on the fence about fracking, failing to meet all deadlines thus far to make a decision. At this time, he has no “timeline” to decide.

A past strong supporter of fracking, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, has now said that “the science on the impact of fracking is far from settled,” according to the Associated Press.

Another boost for anti-frackers came from a California judge in April. A federal magistrate judge in San Jose, California ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to analyze its impact on 2,500 acres in Monterey County, part of the Monterey shale formation four times the Bakken formation centered in North Dakota. Oil from federal lands accounted for about 5 percent of that retrieved by fracking, and 98 percent of BLM land is in western United States.

In earlier blogs, I’ve written about the dangers of fracking such as pockholes and radiation leaks, but following are some that I failed mention:

Methane-Spewing Geysers:  Because regulators don’t require frackers to search for abandoned wells,  unplugged, forgotten wells, like the 1932 Butters Well in Pennsylvania’s Tioga County, literally burst with gas when drilling displaces underground pockets of methane. The same thing can happen with cracks in the ground.

Eminent Domain: A Chesapeake employee said, “If properties don’t want to sign, if we have 90 percent secured of the well that we need, we have the power to put these people in the lease without their permission….  We can do whatever we want.”

Milk Production Dips: Milk production decreased by 19 percent in Pennsylvania’s counties with 150 or more Marcellus Shale wells compared to a 1.2 percent decrease in counties with no wells.

Contaminated Wine: Dirty water means dirty crops and then dirty wine. A Brooklyn winery boasted, “Many of our wine bar’s seasonal menu items include ingredients grown on upstate farms.” There’s no fracking there—yet.

Contaminated Food, Stillborn Calves, and Poisoned Animals: Fracking fluid consumption killed 16 cows in Louisiana, and hundreds of others raised near fracking sites are being reported affected. When 28 beef cattle in Pennsylvania were exposed to fracking fluid recently, 8 of 11 calves birthed thereafter were stillborn.

Earthquakes: Cuadrilla Resources, a UK energy company, admitted that their fracking has caused earthquakes and other seismic events. The UK has stopped fracking until they look into the situation. Earlier this year Arkansas declared a moratorium on fracking because of a “swarm” of earthquakes in the state.

As journalist Richard Schiffman wrote, “We don’t know nearly what we should at this stage, given that massive swaths of the U.S. are already being fracked–and that most of that fracking is going on virtually unregulated by states which, tipsy on the revenue bonanza from the drilling, have been giving gas companies what amounts to a free pass.”

This last week, Vermont became the first state in the country to outlaw fracking. Let’s hope more states say, “Don’t frack with me!”

May 19, 2013

Religion, Our Country’s Culture Crisis

As I grew up, politics and religion seemed to be separate, unlike the last few decades. My partner (a very smart person!) and I pondered about when and how the fundamental evangelical Protestants became the power in the United States.

After the rigid Puritans settled the New World during the seventeenth century, other persecuted religious groups coming to America diluted the Puritans’ power. Although evangelicals, Baptists, and Methodists proselytized the colonies in the eighteenth century, thinkers behind the organization of the new country were largely Deists who, in their rejection of the Christ’s divinity, were comparable to today’s Unitarians. They were the ones who cemented the “wall of separation” between church and state. At the same time, the American Revolution strengthened the view that God was “partial” to this country.

During the nineteenth century, revivals crossed the country in spurts, and new religions such as the Mormon Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Church of Christ, Scientist gained their footings. The revivals of the early twentieth century established fundamentalist Christian religions such as that of the Foursquare Church from Aimee Semple McPherson, immortalized in the Elmer Gantry, a book by Sinclair Lewis made into a movie starring Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons. During its early popularity, this religious approach occurred primarily within poorer populations and in the South. After the 21st Amendment overturned prohibition in 1933, Protestants seemed to be a religion that didn’t try to control people in the United States through the government.

John F. Kennedy’s election started that included eight years of Democratic presidents. This was the time when the conservative Southern Democrats left the party for the GOP and when conservatives laid the groundwork for later domination. During the next 24 years, the only Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, was a Southern Baptist who served just one term. 

Ironically, Tea Party that claimed to have no concern for social issues ultimately gave fundamentalist Christians the power that they craved. These conservative factions gained control through the organization of savvy politicians such as Dick Armey (formerly of FreedomWorks) and funding from corporations that found their ideology useful in adding to corporate wealth.

As the growing Tea Party was co-opted by fundamentalist Christians, it changed from the party for smaller government and no taxes into one that worked to change the United States into a theocracy. The result was a larger, controlling government because of restrictive laws to force people into their morality and their obsession to investigate anything they thought could damage the opposition. The corporations continued to financially support them because the Tea Party members support laws that increased corporate wealth. 

Now the dichotomy between fundamental and mainstream Protestantism is causing a crisis of identity within the nation. In Clash!: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are, Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Connor address the acrimony between the two parts of Protestantism.

Moderate Protestants believe in science as part of their religion, and the history of their persecution in Europe showed them the importance of the wall between religion and government. Fundamentalists don’t agree. Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a Southern Baptist, calls evolution a mere “theory,” and Texas Gov. Rick Perry agrees. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), an evangelical Lutheran, dismisses both evolution and climate change, calling it “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”  Other Republican leaders—Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, etc.—go along with the non-belief in science.

The country’s only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Santorum, a Catholic who ran for president last year, reported that when he first read these words, he “almost threw up.”

Conservative Protestants want clear social hierarchies, traditional moral codes, and more God in their lives. Their God is their best friend while moderate Protestants have a more distant God. Although warmer, the conservatives’ God is more wrathful, angrier, and more punishing while moderate Protestants see their deity as more benevolent and forgiving.   

An example of this punishment comes from a Texas judge, John Roach Jr., who invoked his “morality clause” and punished Carolyn Compton for living with her partner out of wedlock. If the partner doesn’t move out within 30 days, Compton will lose her two children. Because Texas does not recognize same-sex marriage, Compton cannot marry, Page Price, her partner of three years. Therefore she loses her loving partner or her children to an abusive man.

Fundamentalists also perceive God’s punishing the entire country. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) recently claimed that the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Benghazi attack were judgments by God as a way to punish America.

Pat Robertson’s recent marriage advice to a woman who called his program and asked how to forgive her cheating husband shows the fundamentalist perspective of hierarchy.

As the woman was talking, Robertson interrupted her:

“Stop talking about the cheating. He cheated on you. Well, he’s a man, okay. What you do is begin to focus on why you married him in the first place, on what he does good.” 

“Does he provide a home for you to live in? Does he provide food for you to eat? Does he provide clothes for you to wear? Is he nice to the children, do you have a happy family? Does he take the kids to sporting events? Does he go out and watch their Little League games? Does he share with you stuff that is going on? 

“And…uh…is he handsome, or is he, you know, what is it? Start focusing on those things and essentially fall in love with him all over again, and I recommend that you reach out and touch him. Touch his face! Hold his hand. Look into his eyes. Talk to him…”

“He must have some good points, or you wouldn’t have married him. So, give him honor, instead of trying to worry about it…but recognize, like it or not, that males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.

“Reach out and think of the good stuff, then begin to thank God that you have a marriage that is together and that you live in America and that good things are happening…” 

Thus the Seventh Commandment applies only to women. 

Will Robertson continues his belief about LGBT people, who he equals with murderers and rapists and thieves? Or continue to believe in Bachmann’s theory of punishment about the 9/11 attacks being caused by feminism, ”a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”? When pigs fly?

The Arizona government has established the same anti-LGBT punishment policy. After Phoenix included LGBT and disabled citizens in its anti-discrimination law to give them rights in housing and employment, religious leaders, including the Roman Catholics, said that the new law could “trample on religious liberties.” To save religion, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth and Sen. Steve Yarbrough reintroduced a tweaked, already-defeated bill as an amendment to an unrelated bill in order to skip a second public hearing. 

Language for the bill written by a conservative group, Center for Arizona Policy, states that no government entity can “burden” religious freedom, a “stand your ground” law for the religious. It allows people to discriminate against anyone they want if they claim religious grounds as an excuse—discrimination based on personal belief. The bill passed the Arizona House by a vote of 32-24.  

The Christian News calls it a way “to expand protections for the free exercise of religion.” The bill now goes to the Senate which has 17 Republicans of 30 members. At least one Republican representative had a bit of sense. “Can I create a religion and then claim infringement?” asked Kate Brophy McGee. 

What an interesting idea! Would that happen if we have a theocracy or do we have to follow just one religion,  that of the fundamental evangelical Protestants. 

May 18, 2013

Saturday Catchup: Maps, Police Brutality, Michigan School, Shelter Dumping, Agency Heads

The GOP has obsessed about scandals and President Obama’s failures during the past week, while the media has obsessed about the GOP obsessions. The scandals, much to the GOP dismay because of their hard work, are falling apart, thus today’s blog moves on briefly to other news.

Maps fascinate me, and geography students at Humboldt State University (which is in California’s northern hippie-heaven) have developed a doozey called “Geography of Hate.” They examined more than 150,000 geocoded tweets that indicate the location of the user for the time between June 2012 and April 2013, searching for ones with racist, homophobic or anti-disability words.

After deciding whether the tweets were using the terms in a hateful way, they determined that a majority of hateful tweets come from smaller towns and rural areas. For example, some of the biggest spots for homophobic tweets are along the border of Oklahoma and Texas, and one of the biggest hubs of racist tweets is in a seemingly empty area of western Indiana. Far more racist tweets come out of the middle of North Dakota than in Fargo. Homophobic tweets have a wider spread across the nation than racist ones which are centered in the Southeast. You can pull up the map to find any county in the country.

The project is a follow-up to a similar study on floatingsheep.com that mapped racial tweets after President Obama’s reelection in 2012. In both cases, students used the Dolly Project (Digital Online Life and You), an archive of geolocated tweets, for the data. 

Another map shows the dominant religion in each state: red, Evangelical Protestants; blue, Catholics; yellow, Mainline Protestants; and green, Other (which means Mormon in the three green states). This map of religion has a strong parallel with political “red” and “blue” states. Only four states with an evangelical plurality went for Barack Obama in the 2012 election: Florida, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. And only four states with a Catholic plurality went for Mitt Romney: Arizona, Louisiana, Montana, and Nebraska.

Largest_religious_plurality_by_state

Because the information from Association of Religion Data Archives is limited to people who belong to congregations, the numbers of “unclaimed” in each state may skew the results. For example, the Pacific Northwest may not be dominated by evangelicals because it has more “unclaimed” people. States with the highest “unclaimed” percentages are Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Alaska, and Nevada. People who want the exact numbers in all the states can go to this Google document.

The point, however, is that the map of religion in the United States looks a lot like the map of politics.

YouTube is inundated with videos of police brutality, and actions of the police trying to prevent this from happening, are backfiring. Makia Smith is suing the Baltimore Police Department, the police commissioners, and police officers for beating her up and smashing her camera because she filmed the officers beating up a man. She claimed that Officer Church said, “You want to film something, bitch? Film this!” Then he reached inside her car, grabbed her telephone-camera out of her hand, threw it on the ground, and smashed it with his foot. Three other officers joined Church in beating up the woman before arresting her.

Church failed to appear for trial, twice, and prosecutors dropped the charges. She still had to hire a lawyer to recover her impounded car.

Last week in Bakersfield (CA), David Silva was beaten to death by eight Kern County police officers. The 911 caller said she taped everything from when the sheriffs arrived until Silva was left dead in the street. A few hours after the death, the police went to the witnesses’ home to confiscate videos. After a witness, Melissa Quair, refused, the police brought a search warrant and took the phone and video. Jason Land, another witness, was arrested.

The FBI is now checking into the death after video footage came up missing on one of the phones. One of the deputies confronting Silva has the same name as a deputy accused in the 2010 death of a man who was struck 33 times with batons and tasered 29 times. The lawsuit resulted in a judgment of $4.5 million for the plaintiffs. The death of a jail inmate in 2005 at the hands of three deputies resulted in a $6-million civil judgement.

Several days after the attack, all the police officers accused of being involved in the beating were still on duty.

Last July, Washington D.C. police confiscated Earl Staley’s smartphone after he photographed a police cruiser hit a motorbike and then hit the rider, who was bleeding on the ground. When he got the phone back, the SIM memory card containing all his data, passwords, and photographs had been removed. The confiscation came one day after police officers were ordered not to take phones from people who were photographing them. Stakey is suing.

In a good news/bad news story, the Buena Vista School District (MI) has re-opened after closing on May 7 when it ran out of money. It took over a week for the state to release enough money to recall 27 laid-off teachers and let the 430 students finish the current school year. The irony of the situation is that the teachers offered to work for no pay until something could be worked out, but Gov. Rick Snyder, responsible for $1 billion cuts to education, refused to let them despite the fact that the state constitution guarantees every child a free education.

Again on the good side, Nevada’s health department is no longer sending psychiatric patients on a one-way bus trip out of state in an action called “shelter dumping.” Over 1,500 patients had been sent from Rawson Neal hospital (Las Vegas) before the policy was changed.

The Sacramento Bee broke the story, using James Flavy Coy Brown as an example. He arrived from Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services (Las Vegas) with his walking papers, a schedule detailing his 15-hour bus ride from Las Vegas to Sacramento, a three-day supply of medication (including one for schizophrenia), and directions to call 911 for help. His “address at discharge” read “Greyhound Bus Station to California.” Officers took the confused man to Loaves & Fishes which provides daytime services to homeless people.

The most amazing news of the past week is that the Senate approved President Obama’s nominee to head up Medicare and Medicaid, Marilyn B. Tavenner, by a 97-7 vote. The agency will now have its first confirmed chief in six and a half years since Dr. Mark B. McClellan left in October 2006. The agency spends more than $800 billion a year, more than the Defense Department.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), still working for his re-election, voted against Tavenner. The other Republicans opposing Tavenner were Sens. Michael D. Crapo (ID), Jim Risch (ID), Ted Cruz (TX), Ron Johnson (WI), Mike Lee (UT), and Rand Paul (KY). The president’s first choice who was never confirmed, Dr. Donald M. Berwick, was a temporary recess appointment for 17 months in 2010-2011.

In even more astounding news, the Senate unanimously confirmed a new Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz. It’s understandable that the conservatives would support him because of his love for coal mining, oil drilling in the Arctic, and fracking everywhere. The Senate Energy Committee has also cleared Sally Jewell, the former CEO of outdoor retail giant REI and friend to fracking, to lead the Interior Department.

Next week, however, the conflicts and the GOP’s manufactured scandals will return, including the discussion of Gina McCarthy, nominee for the EPA head, and Richard Cordray, nominee for director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The GOP has sworn that they will never vote for anyone for that position—it’s like “no new taxes.” If the GOP frustrates the Dems enough, it could bring the end to the filibuster.

May 17, 2013

Hope for Gun Controls

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:21 PM
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Despite the GOP stranglehold on the House, there may be hope for a change in our country’s gun culture. Following is a summary of “9 Reasons Why Progress on Stronger Gun Laws Is Within Reach” from the Center for American Progress. Authors are Arkadi Gerney, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and Chelsea Parsons, Associate Director for Crime and Firearms Policy at the Center. As always, the original article has far more information; you may want to refer to it.

The horrible massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton (CT) brought hope for a shift in the country’s laissez-faire approach toward gun ownership. This killing of 28 people appeared to be a tipping point in the United States’ attitude toward violence. Yet discouragement followed the failure of a bipartisan amendment introduced in the Senate by Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). That vote, one month ago today, garnered 54 votes, but the GOP demanded 60 out of 100 votes for a simple majority for the amendment to expand gun background checks to all gun shows, online purchases, and advertised sales.

Here’s the good news:

Swing-state momentum:  Mayors against Illegal Guns has worked to build a coalition of mayors, over 150 in Pennsylvania alone, to change the gun culture of the states.  CeasefirePA, has also built a vast network of grassroots supporters in Pennsylvania. A group of survivors and family members of victims from the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting have teamed with local mayors and other advocates in Colorado to advance gun-violence-prevention legislation. In his campaign against Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Ken Buck found his extreme pro-gun position became a liability. Even Virginia made small progress.

Evolving demographics:  A culture shift on guns in the United States is evidenced by the declining percentage of households with guns, down to 34 percent from 50 percent in the 1970s, driven by declining gun-ownership among young people. Household gun-ownership rates among people under 30 fell to 23 percent in 2012 from a high of 47 percent in the 1970s. The same young people evidence increasing concerns about the widespread presence of guns in society. Fifty-two percent said that they feel safer in communities with fewer guns, and 60 percent expressed concern that gun violence may affect them or their communities in the future.

A new center of gravity: Mayors against Illegal Guns started with 15 mayors seven years ago and grown to almost 1,000 mayors with 1.5 million grassroots supporters. Survivors of gun violence are becoming more organized. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband Mark Kelly recently formed Americans for Responsible Solutions to advocate for stronger gun laws and contest the 2014 elections, and affected families from Newtown have also organized.

Widening divide between the NRA leadership and public opinion— even among gun owners: The discussion over gun-control laws has made it clear that the NRA leadership does not represent the opinion of most people in the United States or even most gun owners who largely support expanded background checks. The NRA intransigence on issues such as these checks is creating an increasing disconnect from even its own constituents. Last December, 49 percent of gun owners said that the NRA represented their views on guns only “sometimes” or “never.”

The NRA’s path not followed: Once a sportsmen’s organization focusing on marksmanship and hunting, NRA has been taken over by hardliners determined to establish the organization as a premier ideological advocacy group. NRA’s response to the 1999 shooting at Columbine was support for “absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools.” Thirteen years ago after the Newtown shooting, the NRA demanded guns in every school. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who once scored high with the NRA, came out against them in the background checks as did seven other NRA A-rated senators: Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA); Joe Donnelly (D-IN); Martin Heinrich (D-NM); Joe Manchin (D-WV); John Tester (D-MT); Pat Toomey (R-PA); and Mark Warner (D-VA).

Democrats and progressives are re-engaged: Since 1994 when Democrats lost the entire Congress, with the idea that it was connected to their votes on the assault-weapons ban, lawmakers adopted the myth of the NRA’s electoral omnipotence. Democrats’ fear of the gun issue brought passivity and then abuse from the NRA. The series of mass killings in the United States resulted in cracks, and the Newtown killings may have broken the orthodoxy of avoiding guns. President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Reid, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) again made fighting gun crime a priority and reducing gun violence a Democratic tenet.

Recent election results: The NRA spent more than $17 million in the 2012 election but got only a 1-percent return on its investment. More than 99 cents of every dollar went to losing campaigns. The reverse was true. Heavily-favored pro-gun advocates such as former Reps. Joe Baca (D-CA) and Debbie Halvorson (D-IL) both lost their recent elections with the opposition of groups who urged tighter gun laws.

Closing the intensity gap: In an interview with Jon Stewart, former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) said that communication from constituents can sway a lawmaker’s vote. A Fox News poll conducted days after the vote showed that three times as many people in the United States—68 percent—said that they were likely to support a candidate who voted for expanded background checks. This polling was supported by those for specific senators. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) lost 15 points in her rating, and 50 percent of New Hampshire residents said that her vote against background checks made them less likely to support her. At the same time Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) approval rating rose to its highest level ever. Other opponents–Mark Begich (D-AK), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Dean Heller (R-NV), Lisa Murkowksi (R-AK), and Rob Portman (R-OH)—all saw declines in public support in the wake of their votes against the checks.

The numbers: Gun violence, both mass shootings and everyday gun massacres, is not abating; it’s a problem distinct to the United States, linked to lax laws that give criminals and other dangerous people easy access to guns.

33: The average number of people murdered with a gun in the United States every day.

283: The average number of people shot in the United States every day.

40: The average number of children and teenagers shot in the United States every day.

10 times higher: The accidental-firearms death rate among children in the United States compared to other high-income countries.

31,000: The average number of homicides, suicides, and fatal accidents involving firearms in the United States every year.

6.9 times higher: The homicide rate of the United States compared to 22 high-income countries.

85 percent: The percentage of attempted suicides with a gun in the United States that result in fatalities.

8 times higher: The firearm suicide rate among children in the United States compared to other high-income countries.

500 percent: The percentage that the risk of homicide increases when a gun is present in a domestic-violence situation.

57 percent: The percentage of mass shootings that began with the targeting of a girlfriend, spouse, or former intimate partner.

63: The number of U.S. law-enforcement officers killed with firearms in 2011.

6.6 million: The estimated number of guns sold each year in the United States without a background check.

80 percent: The percentage of convicted criminals who acquired the guns used in their crimes through a private transfer.

90 seconds: The amount of time it takes to complete 91 percent of background checks.

38 percent lower: The number of women killed with a firearm by an intimate partner in states that require background checks for all handgun sales, compared to states that do not require such background checks.

2.5 times higher: The average export rate of crime guns in states that do not require background checks for all handgun sales at gun shows, compared to states that do require such background checks.

Conclusion: The Senate vote one month ago today was only the first round in the newly invigorated movement for common-sense legislation to reduce gun violence in our country. President Obama said, “We can still bring about meaningful changes that reduce gun violence, so long as the American people don’t give up on it.” There are many reasons to be hopeful with strong leadership in the White House, courageous lawmakers in Congress, and well-organized and passionate grassroots advocates. With overwhelming public support, we will succeed in enacting measures to prevent gun violence and make all of our communities safer.

May 16, 2013

Obamacare Repeal Vote for the 37th Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:07 PM
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They did it. They really did it. Once again the House insisted on voting to repeal Obamacare, already a law approved by the Supreme Court. Today the vote was 229-195 with all Republicans and Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson (UT) and Mike McIntyre (NC) voting in favor of repealing the law.

How many times have there been votes on Obamacare? Yesterday, David Fahrenthold and Ed O’Keefe published a list that comes to 36, making today’s vote the 37th. That number doesn’t count votes in the Senate which would bring the total to the mid-50s.

Just voting has taken a great deal of time, but there have been untold additional hours in litigating and otherwise working to dismantle the president’s biggest legislative accomplishment. Today is at least the 43rd day since the GOP took over the House in January 2011 that they spent the day voting on this issue. That’s 43 days out of 281 days that they have held votes during that time. That’s 15 percent of the time on the House floor to repeal Obamacare.

Some people might consider this lack of activity an embarrassment for the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put it a bit stronger when he said they have “truly lost their minds.” He explained his statement this way:

“Albert Einstein defined insanity as follows: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If his definition is true—and I won’t argue with Einstein—then House Republicans have truly lost their minds.”

If, through some magic, the House bill would pass the Senate and then be signed by the president, it would cost taxpayers $109 billion over the next ten years through the loss of Obamacare’s taxes, fees, and spending cuts.

More than that loss, however, is the loss to over one-third of the people in the United States. At this time these people would be the losers with the repeal of Obamacare:

129 million with pre-existing conditions would again be at the mercy of insurance companies;

105 million would again have lifetime limits on insurance company coverage;

71 million—including 34 million seniors—would lose no-cost preventive care, including mammograms and contraception;

18 million in the middle class would not receive a tax credit averaging $4,000 a year starting next year;

17 million children with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage;

13 million consumers who received more than $1 BILLION in rebates last year because Obamacare requires insurers to spend 80 percent of premiums on actual medical care would lose any future rebates;

6 million young adults—3.1 million of them previously uninsured–currently allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance would no longer have this benefit;

6 million seniors receiving discounts—more than $6 billion so far—on prescription drugs would lose this benefit.

In addition, new resources to fight fraud would be eliminated, efforts that recouped $4.2 billion just this past year because of attempts to defraud seniors and taxpayers.

The GOP’s obsession with taking health care benefits away from more than 100 million people in this nation is a waste of time, a waste of money, and harmful to the tens of millions of Americans already benefiting from Obamacare. It’s a major reason that this Congress is the most unproductive ever.

One estimate for all this effort from the GOP House is at least $55 million. That’s what it has cost to continually try to eradicate the legislation that will help most of the people in the United States by providing affordable health care.

Think Progress has four ideas on how this $55 million could have been used to help the people of the United States:

Restore cuts from sequestration to Title X family planning programs and Title V maternal and child health services. The 5-percent cut to their budgets costs them $47.5 million. The House could use their $55 million to expand funding for these important programs.

Double the Department of Justice’s budget for sexual assault services, which has currently been authorized a $50 million budget. The funding for this program goes to states to support rape crisis centers and other nongovernmental organizations to provide direct intervention, core services, and other assistance to the victims of sexual assault. Current funding is so inadequate that some states receive less than $300,000 and many programs lack the resources to meet victims’ needs.

Grant a request for $50 million to train 5,000 new mental health professionals as part of a new initiative to expand mental health treatment and prevention services. People who oppose any gun-control legislation yammer on about the gaps in the mental health system; the House could use its $55 million to start filling these.

Help states implement paid leave policies. President Obama included a $50 million State Paid Leave Fund in his 2011 budget to provide start-up support for states that want to enact paid leave for workers. More than 40 percent of workers lack access to paid sick leave, leaving them with no choice except to go to work when they are sick or their sick family members need help. The $55 million could help them.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) perfectly described the idiocy of today’s vote against Obamacare in the House:

“The guys who’ve been up here the last year, we can go home and say, ‘Listen, we voted 36 different times to repeal or replace Obamacare.’ Tell me what the new guys are supposed to say?”

He, like all the other GOP representatives who pushed House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) into the insanity of a 37th vote, just wanted to prove that they could cast a vote against Obamacare, a law that helps the people of their states.

Almost one-fourth of the children in Mulvaney’s state live under the poverty level, the percentage of people in poverty in South Carolina is higher than the national average, the unemployment rate is higher than the national level, almost 70 percent of the adults in the state are overweight or obese, and South Carolina is one of the unhealthiest states in the nation, ranking 46th in the nation. Obamacare helps Mulvaney’s constituents, and he votes against it.

The media about today’s vote didn’t concentrate on the results: those were a given. They concentrated instead on the repetitive uselessness of the vote—not good press for a political party trying to win the next election.

After its abject failure in last fall’s election, the Republican party commissioned a report on how to remake its image. One piece of advice was to be the party that is for something instead of always against something. The GOP House freshmen didn’t get the memo.

As Susan Milligan wrote:

“Voting dozens of times to repeal the health care law goes well beyond putting members on record. It merely serves to show the American public how dysfunctional Congress remains, with the hallowed chambers–where wars and budgets and civil rights have been debated–being converted into campaign arenas.”

Recently, Boehner wrote on his Facebook page that “Americans need common-sense solutions to create jobs.” Yet under his leadership, the House has passed not one job-creation bill. As leader of the House Republicans, he controls the issues in the House. Yes, Speaker Boehner, people in the country need these solutions. What are you doing about it, Speaker Boehner?

 

May 15, 2013

GOP Searches for Prey

The Komodo dragon is the biggest lizard in the world, about 10 feet long and weighing about 150 pounds. Their size puts them in control of their environment, ambushing their prey, although they tend to eat a great deal of carrion. Their teeth allow them to tear huge chunks of flesh, eating up to 80 percent of their weight in one meal. Dragons of equal size may wrestle, with the losers either retreating or getting killed and eaten by the victor. They also eat their young if the juveniles don’t hide in trees. These creatures have a great deal of trouble hearing and very bad night vision. In captivity, they almost never breed.

Watching the GOP party makes me think of the Komodo dragons, starting with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He’s on the road with his new book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of 380 personal and professional rules. One of these  is “You never want a serious crisis [to] go to waste.”

About this rule, Rumsfeld said, “A crisis can permit you to do things you couldn’t absent an opportunity like that to change the nature of things.” That’s what the GOP party has done since Barack Obama became president, and right now they’re working even harder on it that usual.

Seemingly unable to cause a disaster with their Benghazi pseudo-investigation, they moved on to the latest controversies, the IRS targeting specific groups for additional investigation and the DoJ’s examination of Associated Press’s telephone logs.

Despite the president’s declaration that the IRS targeting these groups is “intolerable and inexcusable” and the IRS acting commissioner’s resigning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are out for blood. They are positive that the IRS has committed criminal acts and are calling for an investigation. McConnell’s approach is bearing fruit because the Tea Party has finally endorsed him as the GOP Senate candidate in 2014.

Their declarations have a few problems. First, the IRS targeted liberal groups as well as conservative ones for additional scrutiny. Conservatives may not realize this because USA Today didn’t mention this fact until the 18th paragraph of its article and then just a few words. But Emerge America was denied tax-exempt status and forced to disclose its donors and pay taxes. None of the GOP groups have complained about having their applications rejected. Progress Texas and Clean Elections Texas had the same kind of scrutiny. Subjected groups from all political spectra removes the onus from the IRS.

Nobody has even called the IRS efficient or competent so it shouldn’t come as a surprise now that it isn’t. Perhaps a permanent commissioner at the IRS agency would help. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), in his “look-at-me-for-president” demeanor, called for the commissioner to be fired. In fact, there is currently no commissioner because Bush’s appointee—in charge while the Tea Party felt targeted—resigned last November, and the Senate, including Rubio, was clear that they wouldn’t approve any of the president’s nominations. It’s status quo for Senate approvals: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives hasn’t had a director since 2006 because of Senate refusal to act on nominees.

This is the first time that the IRS targetings have become a national scandal, but it isn’t the first time that they have done this targeting. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) found only one Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (NC), to join him in an investigation during the George W. Bush administration when the IRS threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena after an anti-Iraq War sermon the Sunday before the 2004 election. At the same time conservative churches across the country were mobilizing voters to support Bush.

In 2004, the IRS went after the NAACP because its chairman criticized Bush for being the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the organization. In 2006, Public Interest Watch, with 97 percent of its funding from Exxon Mobile, got the IRS to investigate Green Peace, who had labeled the oil company the “No. 1 Climate Criminal.” At about that time, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) wanted “legislative changes” to define the differences between politics and social welfare, but the Senate never got around to it, leaving the IRS auditors to make up their own rules.

The second problem is that decades of laws, regulations, and court decisions are vague and contradictory. The tax code requires that a 501(c)(4) must operate “exclusively” to promote social welfare, a category that excludes political spending. Some court decisions ruled that a minimal amount of political spending would be permissible, but the I.R.S. has for years maintained that groups meet that rule as long as they are not “primarily engaged” in election work, a substantially different threshold. Nobody knows what “primarily engaged” means.

Meanwhile huge SuperPACs are getting away with being tax-exempt while doing massive advertising campaigns. Crossroads has the tax-exempt status, claiming involvement primarily on research and educational activities, but spends most of its money on political advertising.  American Tradition Partnership doesn’t even bother to file federal tax returns.

The third problem, according to Lawrence O’Donnell, started with the Republicans in 1959 when the meaning of the section related to Section 501(c)(4) was changed from “exclusively” to “primarily.” Ezra Klein wrote in the Wonkblog, a great summary of the current IRS troubles:

“The IRS does need some kind of test that helps them weed out political organizations attempting to register as tax-exempt 501(c)4  social welfare groups. But that test has to be studiously, unquestionably neutral.”

O’Donnell said, “If in 2010, there was a flood of Tea Party applications for tax exempt status and many fewer applications for tax exempt status from liberal political groups, then it only makes mathematical sense that more questions would be directed at Tea Party applications.”

Yet the GOP is determined to pin the IRS problems on the president. Although he has no proof, Grassley said that the IRS was “getting pressure from somebody either high up in the Obama campaign or high up in the White House.” There’s nothing to support his position, but GOP love conspiracy theories.

While the GOP is up in arms about the IRS scandal, they have stayed quiet about the phone logs subpoenaed from Associated Press. Even critics of Attorney General Eric Holder like Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) just say they’ll see “how this plays out.” Even the other Texas senator, Ted Cruz, is silent about it. There’s a good reason. Last year, Republicans called for an explanation of the national security leaks—in short, they asked for exactly what happened to AP. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) insisted on reporters being subpoenaed.

With their interest in subpoenaing the media, the GOP certainly won’t approve of the “reporter shield” bill that the Obama administration has requested Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to reintroduce. Such a law would help reporters protect the identity of their sources. Republicans killed similar bills in 2008 and 2010.

The situation can be summarized within the length of a tweet: “GOP calls on Holder to investigate leaks. Holder appoints US Attorney. US Att. subpoenas AP records. GOP calls on Holder to resign.” Steve Benen adds “that the U.S. attorney subpoenaed AP records thanks to an existing vulnerability the administration doesn’t support, but can’t fix thanks to Republican opposition.”

Even Bush’s former AG Albert Gonzalez, who couldn’t even find a law firm to hire him, entered the discussion. He cited a time when he decided against subpoenaing a reporter’s notes but skipped over his massive domestic wiretapping program and “improperly gained access to reporters’ calling records as part of leak investigations”—a lot, according to the New York Times. 

Thus the GOP, feeding on carrion, are stuck with a non-existent Benghazi investigation, an IRS debacle coming from the GOP lack of ability to take action, and a press-government interaction that’s bound to make them look bad. We can guarantee, however, that they’ll continue to tear huge chunks out of the first two while ignoring the third one, that is a serious problem for continued democracy in the United States. And of course, the GOP won’t do anything about finding jobs for the people in the United States.

May 14, 2013

GOP View of Benghazi Falls Apart

No one questions that the killing of four people, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, at the Benghazi consulate was a tragedy. But the fallout after this disaster has been disgusting as conservatives put everyone involved on the grill—over and over. During the GOP flack last October, Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name for consideration for Secretary of State, but the House came back for another round of hearings in January. I thought that was the end of the investigations.

Like a zombie, however, it’s come back to life after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s high level of popularity. Sunday’s Meet the Press spent most of the show on the issue with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) as the star. The real star, though, was conservative columnist David Brooks.

For 15 minutes, Issa tried to justify his accusation of a coverup because an email had 12 changes and because the administration didn’t answer all the questions. One of Issa’s big talking points was that the president was wrong because he said “act of terror” instead of “terrorist act.”  He called both former CIA Director David Petraeus and Ambassador Pickering liars, even though he was sitting beside the ambassador.  Issa looked like a fool.

The real star, however, was conservative columnist David Brooks. In a follow-up discussion, he said:

 “My reading of the evidence is that a very terrible event happened at a CIA, basically a CIA facility, they went into intense blame shifting mode, trying to shift responsibility onto the State Department, onto anywhere else, and the State Department pushed back. They said no, it is not our fault. It’s your facility. And so they push back and they say why we are suddenly releasing information that we haven’t been releasing so far. So the CIA was super aggressive, there was some pushback, out of that bureaucratic struggle all the talking points were reduced to mush and then politics was inserted into it. So I don’t think we should necessarily say this is politics intruding on a CIA pure operation.”

That’s it in a nutshell: Benghazi is not the big story that the GOP want.

Refusing to be a GOP shill, moderator David Gregory ran the list of casualties at embassies over the past decades, but Issa just ignored it in the same way that he ignored the casualties at 13 embassies and consulates during Bush’s two terms—96 people killed and at least 90 people wounded. Republican lawmakers made no outcry after 241 members of the military were killed in the Beirut Barracks Bombing of 1983, despite the fact that the blame was placed on Reagan’s administration because the president ignored then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger’s attempts to change Reagan’s military orders.

One of Issa’s arguments is that the military should have charged over to Benghazi to save the day. Bush’s and Obama’s former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates disagrees. On Face the Nation, Gates called these ideas “cartoonish” and agreed with testimony given by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint  Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

Gates said:

“We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East—despite all the turmoil that’s going on—with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. And so, getting somebody there in a timely way would have been very difficult, if not impossible.”

In referring to dangers from surface-to-air missiles, he considered the sending of military aircraft in the volatile situation as too risky. “I would not have approved sending an aircraft,” Gates said, “a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.”

Trying to make hay out of nothing, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a GOP presidential candidate in 2016, travels the country, proclaiming, “I think it precludes Hillary Clinton from ever holding office. I think her mistakes were of such significance that she should never again be in that position, to make those decisions.”

Less than two months ago, Congressional members saw what they now perceive as the damning emails when lawyers from the Office of National Intelligence briefed House and Senate Intelligence Committee members. At that time, House Speaker John Boehner declined to attend or send a representative. Both Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) had said that briefing satisfied their concerns. No one from the House raised any questions. The emails were also shared with Congressional members during the confirmation of CIA Director John Brennan, who was confirmed 63-34.

Six months and one week after the 2012 election, Karl Rove’s Super PAC, American Crossroads, has launched the first ad for the 2016 campaign, using the Benghazi disaster and targeting Hillary Clinton. Polling shows that the smear campaign isn’t making a difference. Voters trust Clinton over the GOP on Benghazi by a 49 to 39 margin, and her +8 favorability at 52 to 44 is identical to that in late March. Meanwhile Congressional Republicans have a 36 to 57 unfavorability rating. By a 56 to 38 margin, voters say that passing the immigration reform bill is more important than a focus on Benghazi, and passing a bill requiring background checks for gun purchases is higher by 52 to 43.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) described Benghazi as ten times bigger than Watergate and Iran Contra put together. Even more outrageous is former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s comment, “I think it’s one of the worst incidents, frankly, that I can recall in my career.” Even worse than the lies and intelligence failures of 9/11, the Iraq War, the outing of Valerie Plame, the disasters in Afghanistan, the travesty of Abu-Graib, the failed response to Hurricane Katrina, the stock market debacle, the recession, the deaths in consulates and embassies on his watch, …?

After the Tea Party’s three-day boycott of Fox News last weekend, protesting the network’s lack of Benghazi coverage. Fox and Friends put out a highly “edited” video of President Obama. It lies about his statements regarding the “sideshow” of the GOP party. Their falsehoods have gone viral across the Internet on right-wing blogs.

Satirist Andy Borowitz gave a quality description of  the GOP dilemma:

“A deep divide has emerged within the Republican Party over whether to waste Congress’s time investigating Benghazi talking points or repealing Obamacare, G.O.P. lawmakers confirmed today.

“House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), sounded the first discordant note at a press briefing this morning, telling reporters, ‘The time for wasting day after day investigating Benghazi is over. The American people are counting us to waste our time repealing Obamacare yet again.’

“Warning that ‘the American people don’t have an endless appetite for meaningless political theater,’ Cantor added, ‘If we’re going to do something that’s purely symbolic, pointless, and detached from reality, I say it should be repealing Obamacare for the thirtieth or fortieth time.’

“Rep. Cantor’s comments drew a strong rebuke from Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has spearheaded the investigation into Benghazi: ‘Quite frankly, we have all the time in the world to blow repealing “Obamacare. The moment to waste our time investigating Benghazi is now.’ Noting that previous attempts to repeal Obamacare had cost the taxpayers approximately fifty million dollars, Issa said, ‘I think we’re entitled to spend at least that much, if not more, investigating Benghazi again and again and again.’

“But even as the debate raged over whether Obamacare or Benghazi was more worthy of Congress’ wasted time, House Speaker John Boehner offered a third point of view: ‘Personally, I think the time we’re wasting on Benghazi and Obamacare could be better spent blocking progress on guns and immigration.’”

After her appearance on Meet the Press, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote an excellent summation:

“If my Republican colleagues are serious about conducting real oversight on the tragedy in Benghazi, they should start by looking in the mirror….

“But Republicans choose to ignore these facts and are instead running negative ads and raising campaign dollars off the tragic events in Benghazi. Republicans tried and failed during the 2012 presidential election to use this tragedy for political gain and now appear eager to recycle these failed attacks. Their efforts are clearly aimed at the 2016 presidential race….

“As a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I well remember Secretary [Hillary] Clinton’s testimony following the Benghazi attack. She took responsibility and pledged to do everything in her power to put corrective measures in place….

“Republicans are shamelessly seeking to turn this tragedy into ‘Benghazi-gate’– comparing it to the Watergate scandal. Let’s remember: Watergate involved Republicans paying campaign money to break in and bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Benghazi involves Republicans cutting money for embassy security–funding that was clearly desperately needed.

“But Republican efforts to manufacture a controversy surrounding this tragedy are not only disingenuous, they are dangerous because they take our eye off the ball and divert attention from where it should be: protecting the American people and those who bravely serve our country overseas.”

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/3019154/posts  The plethora of GOP Congress members should take heed of Boxer’s advice instead of calling for a special investigative committee into Benghazi. Perhaps they will after today’s breaking news about the recently “leaked” emails. It now appears that someone falsified them to make it appear that the White House was trying to hide what happened.

After the unraveling of their Benghazi arguments, the GOP may switch their target to the IRS for targeting conservative fund-raising groups and the DoJ for obtaining Associated Press telephone records.

May 13, 2013

Immigration Reform Divides GOP

The split between the two parties has grown into internecine war during the past two years, but now the battle has moved over to the GOP party as the immigration reform bill is creating a deep divide between the far-right conservatives and the extremists. (The moderate Republicans are now almost extinct.) As the Senate Judiciary Committee started to work on over 300 amendments to the 844-page bill, the tear between the two parts of the GOP daily became increasingly obvious.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) a politician with a very checkered past, leads the opposition, even calling the bill’s architects “dishonest.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is fighting back with his own “myth vs. fact” campaign, probably difficult for a politician whose positions tend to lean toward “myth.”

Republicans know their party’s survival is dependent on more more votes from women and people of color, especially after the announcement that Mitt Romney got only 17 percent of the minority vote, but this knowledge doesn’t affect some of the vitriolic speech.

Starting out as a bipartisan act, the proposal was drafted by four Republican and four Democratic senators. The bill strengthens Southwest border security and creates new guest-worker programs, especially for the badly needed low-skilled labor. The magical path to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S. would require 13 years along with paying back taxes, fines, and fees.

A major player on the extremist, anti-immigration side is the Heritage Foundation, newly headed by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). Supposedly a non-partisan “think tank,” the group published a report last week claiming that the bill would cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion, a number that came out of thin air. In contrast, the Social Security Administration estimates that the reform would add more than $275 billion in revenue to Social Security and Medicare, increase the gross domestic product by 1.63 percent, and provide more than 3 million jobs over the next decade. 

The report drew much controversy after the discovery that co-author Jason Richwine believes that  race determines intelligence. Richwine said:

“You have Jews with the highest average IQ, usually followed by East Asians, then you have non-Jewish whites, Hispanics, and then blacks. These are real differences, and they’re not going to go away tomorrow, and for that reason we have to address them in our immigration discussions and our debates.”

Even the lead author of the report, Robert Rector, admitted that he wrote the report for Heritage Foundation without looking at the entire bill. The Rector/Richwine report of 2013 is a 180-degree turn from the 2006 report published in 2006 that noted, “Worker migration is a net plus economically.”

Following ridicule—except from white nationalist websites—Richwine resigned, and the Heritage Foundation tried to distance itself from him. Yet the far-right organization is still stuck with his presence on their report, created to give cover to GOP lawmakers who wants to reject the bipartisan immigration reform bill.

One of DeMint’s dissenters is “no-new-tax” Grover Norquist, who claims that the bill would increase tax revenue by growing the economy. (I always worry about my thinking when I agree with Norquist.) Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention has asked that lawmakers consider “the human dignity” of the immigrants, and evangelicals started a pro-reform prayer campaign last Wednesday. Although formerly friends with DeMint, Rubio took particular umbrage at the Heritage Foundation statements.

Attempting to drown the bill by weighting it down, Congressional lawmakers have proposed the following amendments:

Prevents undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens. Sort of defeats the purpose of the bill. (Sen. Ted Cruz, TX)

Require DNA testing. This is to compare against the Combined DNA Index System at the FBI. (Sen. Orrin Hatch, UT)

Prohibit undocumented immigrants from applying for permanent residence if they qualify for any government assistance. No supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), no the temporary assistance for needy families program (TANF), no supplemental security income benefits (SSI), no nothing. (Sen. Jeff Sessions, AL)

Ban humanitarian travel. Anyone returning to a home country for any humanitarian reason, such as visiting a sick relative, couldn’t reenter the United States. The current provisional legal status requires authorization for such travel. (Sen. Chuck Grassley, IA)

Deletes family re-unification. Points on a green card for entering the country would not allow points for siblings of U.S. citizens. (Sen. Jeff Sessions, AL)

Mandate in-person interviews for 11 million immigrants. That will most likely add a few decades to the process for 11 million people. (Sen. Jeff Sessions, AL)

Limit visas to South Korea. E-5 visas from all South Korean immigrants will be withheld until the country removes its age-based import restrictions on beef. (Sen. Chuck Grassley, IA)

Enforces head-of-household deportation and cause family separations. The current bill allows immigration to decline to deport people if they believe this would result in hardship for his or her U.S. citizen child. The party of family values doesn’t believe in keeping families together. (Sen. Chuck Grassley, IA)

Prevent low-income undocumented immigrants from seeking legalization. People have to make above 400 percent of the poverty line (more than $92,000 for a family of four) instead of the current bill that requires 100 percent of the poverty line or show regular employment. Sessions may not be aware that about two-thirds of the people in the United States make under this magical 400 percent—and in his state, 70 percent make less than that. (Sen. Jeff Sessions, AL)

Restrict visas for refugees. Nobody could apply for refugee and asylum status until one year after the Director of National Intelligence submits a review related to the Boston bombings to Congress. (Sen. Chuck Grassley, IA)

Allow undocumented immigrants to be hired, but only as domestic workers. These would specifically include cooks, waiters, butlers, governessess, maids, valets, gardeners, footmen, grooms, and chauffeurs. (Mike Lee, UT) 

Allow for racial profiling. Federal law enforcements could take into account a person’s country of origin when allowing them into the country. This comes from the party that’s screaming about the IRA’s profiling of Tea Party organizations despite the fact that these organizations have had a high rate of IRS “issues” during the past two years. (Sen. Chuck Grassley, IA)

Although conservatives fight any additional government spending except for defense, five Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to increase, by an undetermined billions of dollars, money spend on border security. Cruz wanted to triple the number of border patrol agents on the border and quadruple the technological infrastructure—probably meaning “the fence.” That would cost the country about $60 billion and stop any undocumented people’s movement toward citizenship by ten years. The measure failed in a vote of 5 to 13; even Arizona’s GOP senator, Jeff Flake, voted against it.

During the 2012 fiscal year, the government spent $18 billion to secure the border, employing 21,000 agents and building 650 miles of fencing in the past eight years. The existing bill already appropriates $3 billion to increase border security with the government able to spend billions more.

In a recent poll, 83 percent of respondents said they supported a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally, as long as certain requirements—such as the ones on paying fines and back taxes, passing a criminal-background check and learning English–were met. Unlike extremist lawmakers, these people agree with President Reagan’s 1986 position when he signed a bipartisan immigration reform package that extended amnesty to any immigrant who entered the country illegally before 1982. 

Conservative columnist David Brooks made great sense in the immigration debate when he excoriated the opposition to the proposed bill by declaring that the “one core concern” is control, the desire to restrict conservatives in the country, assimilation, love, social mobility, skills, and the inevitable. His take on the situation is well worth reading.

Or for great dark humor on immigration reform in the Senate, just watch Jon Stewart.

May 12, 2013

Extreme Christian Beliefs Parallel Sexual Urges?

Tebow-JesusA classic behavior that men have with female prostitutes is to force them to their knees in an act of submission. The man must be totally in charge and tell the woman that she has been very, very bad and therefore must be punished. Or a woman fantasizes about totally helpless man, who is tied up. Think of Tim Tebow posing for GQ. Thus comes a parallel between extreme Christianity and kinky sex.

In religion, fundamentalism is used to describe a rigid adherence to existing doctrine without any flexibility. Although the term is frequently used to describe evangelical Protestantism, the Catholics have the same adherence. They both subscribe to the belief that the Bible should be taken as a literal document from God.

About the the similarities between sex and extremist religion, Valerie Tarico wrote:

“I am not suggesting that Christianity is all about sexual arousal, even sublimated or redirected sexual arousal, though that most certainly is a part of the picture. I am suggesting that kink and Christianity appear to tap an overlapping array of social and psychological impulses that include sexual arousal, moral emotions like shame and disgust, our tendency to seek hierarchy, our desire to escape rationality, our heightened sensory acuity in the presence of emotional arousal, and our tendency to take every pleasure to its extreme. In all of these, the themes of dominance and submission, inflicting pain, and receiving pain, have parts to play.”

Pleasure and Pain: Think of the writings of St. Teresa of Avila in her sixteenth-century vision of mystical union with God:

“In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by the intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God.”

Mother Theresa said that love isn’t real unless it hurts and told a suffering woman that her pain is the kiss of Jesus. Her order, the Missionaries of Charity, practice self-mortification techniques such as wearing a spiked chain called a cilice. Other real Opus Dei mortifications are described in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code.

Self-inflicted pain may produce a release of endorphins similar to that in runners when they push past a pain threshold. Although penance and self-mortification may not always be erotic, but, like kink, it is used as sensory enhancers.

Bondage and slavery:  Master-slave relations are frequently found in the Bible, beginning with Adam who sleeps with his female clone and Abraham who has sex with his half-sister/wife Sarah as well as her slave. Lot’s daughters, after being offered to a mob, get their father drunk so that they can conceive by him. The temptress Delilah ties up Samson and finishes her time with him by sapping his strength through cutting off his hair. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines—sex slaves. Unlike biblical stories, however, current BDSM sex must be consensual by all parties in order to be legal.

Tarico explains that “the most common stimulus in the Christian tradition is the crucifixion itself, with its glorified, beatific images of Jesus hanging and swooning, eyes half lidded.” The actual Jesus was have been a short, ordinary-looking Semite, but our culture has created him in a well-muscled, fairly tall image with perfect skin and a face of beauty, according to the artists’s perception. Sort of like Tim Tebow.

coffee_spankingDiscipline: Wife-spanking, like child-spanking, maintains God’s hierarchy, as defined by fundamentalist Christian leaders, “with the husband as the head of the household, and the wife as his helpmeet.” Spanking is used for the “four D’s” (Disobedience, Disrespect, Dishonesty, or Dangerous [as in dangerous choices… reckless driving, disobeying doctor’s orders, etc]). Some CDD marriages also use non-corporal disciplines, such as writing lines, or the temporary forfeiture of a favorite privilege.” The website justifies spanking by popular culture such as a coffee advertisement. [photo]

But spanking is done in the bedroom on a bare bottom in an erotic fashion. The preacher doesn’t spank anyone, man or woman.

Dominance and Submission:One BDSM website for Christians states, “A BDSM relationship between a dominant husband and submissive wife is actually the ideal of marriage set out in Ephesians 5:22-26 taken to its logical conclusion.” The author of Ephesians had this to say:

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

The New Testament states, “It is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord. Women are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate” (I Corinthians 14:33-35). This theology of “male headship” teaches that a woman’s greatest glory lies in bearing children and serving her husband. Protestant reformer Martin Luther put it bluntly: “If a woman dies from childbearing, it matters not; she is there to do it.”

In the Bible, the policy of submission includes men housing concubines, claiming war captives, and giving away daughters in marriage. The Bible also sanctioned sex without the woman’s consent.  Tarico asks, “Do Christian teachings and practice simply draw on the same aspects of human psychology and physiology as kink or do they actually lay groundwork for BDSM sexuality?”

Those interested in pursuing sex in the Bible can find further information in Jennifer Wright Knust’s Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire and Michael Coogan’s God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says.

Coogan maintains that “there is sex in the Bible on every page, if you just know where to look.” Talking about “hands” or “feet” could be a reference to genitals, as in the Song of Solomon. In one passage, the prophet Isaiah threatens that God will shave hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” In the Old Testament, Ruth lies down after dark next to Boaz and “uncovers his feet.” She then spends the night “at his feet.”

Knurst points out that the judgmentalism on sex in the Bible always has exceptions. The Old Testament permits divorce, but the New Testament does not—except in “Matthew” when he says that Jesus said he will allow a man to divorce an unfaithful wife. Divorce is permitted in the Old Testament—but it’s forbidden in the Gospels. Knurst also states that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about the danger of having sex with angels.

Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wants people to read the text only when they have someone to explain it to them. “[Not] everyone’s equally qualified to read it,” according to Mohler. “All kinds of heresies come from people who read the Bible and recklessly believe that they’ve understood it correctly.” (Back to the hierarchy!)

Control is also obvious in a letter from Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin after Rhode Island became the tenth state to legalize marriage equality. Among other offensive statements, Tobin cautioned that even attending a same-sex marriage would be spiritually damaging:

“Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies, realizing that to do so might harm their relationship with God and cause significant scandal to others.”

(I’m still trying to figure out what “cause significant scandal to others” means.)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is helping to lead the charge to drive LGBT people away from the Catholic Church. After an offensive column telling them that they will be “welcome” in his church if they “wash their hands,” a group of ten Catholics went to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral after they had rubbed ash on their hands. 

Gay-Catholics-with-Dirty-Hands

The door was locked, and the police were called. Kevin Donohue, who identified himself as being in charge of operations for the cathedral, told the group that they could come inside after they “washed their hands.” The church must have been in great fear: they were surrounded by four police cars, eight uniformed officers, a police captain, and a detective from the Police Commissioner’s LGBT liaison unit.

Like the evangelicals, the Catholics have a policy of excluding LGBT Christians, their families, and their straight allies. Religious leaders are fond of the term “hate the sin; love the sinner.” Every time they repeat this phrase, they condemn people to life without love.

The Catholic Church puts masturbation on the same level as homosexuality, in that it “constitutes a grave moral disorder” and that it “is an intrinsically and seriously disordered act.” Yet I have yet to see a letter from a bishop about not masturbating or a column from a cardinal telling masturbators to wash their hands.

May 11, 2013

Take Action for Mother’s Day

As I write my blog almost daily, I wonder how I can improve the dire situation that the people of the United States suffer. I sign tons of petitions, donate to causes, write occasional letters to the newspaper, talk politics with people, attend meetings, and, in the past, marched in protests in our small town.

Over a year ago, I cheered on the fighters in Wisconsin who tried to protect their unions and mourned their losses, especially the return of Gov. Scott Walker to his post despite his illegal actions. After that, conservatives popped up everywhere like superbugs that spread throughout hospitals, sickening everyone who objects to the GOP’s goal of eradicating the middle class.

Occupy Wall Street—and many other places—gave some hope, but people can live in a park only so long. Across the country now, however, people are acting in opposition to legislation and corporations to create move toward a better world.

Students in NYC occupying Cooper Union are demanding that their education remain free. And spare me the conservative attitude that students should pay a fortune for their education. If we want a skilled workforce, we need to educate them like countries around the world including Europe and the Middle East do.  Students in Philadelphia walked out in protest of budget cuts that are cheapening their education. Chicago students and teachers are protesting against the closing of schools that define their communities.

A massive student-led movement over 400 campuses is pressuring university administrations to divest their school endowments from the fossil fuel industry, with growing success at the Rhode Island School of Design. In Madison (WI) students occupied their chancellor’s office demanding the school cut their contract with a food vendor known for willfully abusing its employees.

Fast food workers have been on strike in St. Louis, demanding their employers treat them like human beings and pay them a living wage.

This weekend, activists in Baltimore are celebrating the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign by marching the 150 miles to Washington to protest the cruel, intertwined systems of mass incarceration, police brutality, and private prisons.

On May 25, people in over 30 countries will participate in the March against Monsanto, showing their opposition to the corporation that has poisoned food supplies, bribed politicians to keep quiet about their crimes, and caused an epidemic of poverty and suicide among thousands of farmers around the world.

In North Carolina, doctors, preachers, lawyers, raging grannies, students, and others are willing to be arrested as they protest the GOP control of the entire state government that has attacked voters’ rights, health care policies, welfare management, and public education. Their weekly gatherings at the state legislature for “Moral Mondays” has resulted in 50 arrests, but they’re not stopping.

Dr. Charles Dr. van der Horst, 61, was arrested during his protest against the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid with federal funding, limiting health care access for almost one-half million people. He also opposes legislation which requires photo ID to vote and decreases the number of days in voting.  Van der Horst also fights legislation from people who claim to be “pro-life” who then cut early childhood education programs and access to Medicare.

Rev. William Barber, head of the state chapter of the NAACP, said that this fight will move to the courts and raise money for candidates and awareness about the legislators’ actions. He said they had already talked to legislators and the governor who ignored them. Barber was also part of the protests in Wake County (NC), arrested for refusing to leave school property, when he acted with dissenters against the GOP-controlled return to school segregation.

North Carolina’s latest outrageous bill is to mandate fiction to be taught to seventh graders as fact. The past week, the state Senate Health Committee passed a bill requiring all these students be taught that abortion is one of significant risk factors causing a woman to have pre-mature deliveries later in life. An impressive set of health organizations agree that this is not true.

Another protest movement garnering success is boycotting Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers. Within the year starting with Limbaugh’s statements about Sandra Fluke being a “slut,” the vast majority of Cumulus radio network advertisers have left Limbaugh, and the company has lost $5.5 million. Forty-eight out of 50 major network advertisers have excluded not only Sean Hannity but also Limbaugh.

The courts may also take care of his hate speech. According to Dick Armey, former chair of Freedomworks, that organization and Heritage Foundation have been paying Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to promote their right-wing agendas. Yes, it’s free speech, but FCC rules mandate that the recipients of the money make this public:

“Any broadcast station employee who has accepted or agreed to accept payment for the airing of program material, and the person making or promising to make the payment, must disclose this information to the station prior to the airing of the program.”

The boycott continues. Here is a petition that you can sign.

You can also help stop the Koch brothers from buying the Tribune newspaper group. After extensive lobbying and messaging in the media, the Koch brothers have decided to go directly to the newspapers to publish their message of taking over all the country’s net wealth and eradicating the middle class. The Tribune papers include eight major publications in the United States: the Los Angeles Times, the Allentown Daily Call, the Chicago Tribune, the Orlando Sentinel, the Baltimore Sun, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Hartford Courant, the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Virginia, and Hoy, the nation’s second-largest Spanish-language paper.

The Koch brothers bankrolled Scott Walker’s anti-union movement in Wisconsin and went on to take aim at public unions, lobbying, and pensions across the country, spending $4 million in California alone to restrict unions’ political activity. Two major Tribune stakeholders are the investment management firms managing billions of dollars in public pension funds. If Koch buys the Tribune group, public employees will be forced to support their anti-union attacks.

So eager to purchase themselves several of the nation’s major newspapers, the Koch brothers are allegedly prepared to submit a bid of $1 billion over the current value of $600 million to $700 million. Conservatives are already mentally watching the evacuation of journalists: Chicago Tribune’s Cal Thomas is waxing ecstatic over the day when his office is rid of the “liberal quitters” and full of “unbiased” people like him. Thomas wrote that the Koch brothers could provide “ideologically balanced coverage”—sort of like Fox News.

Public sector employees have some control over the purchase. They can require their investment managers to choose between them or the Koch brothers. You can help keep the eight newspapers more independent from right-wing ideology by signing this petition or searching the Internet for others.

Fortunately, people in the Congress like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) continue to fight against corporations. We need to support them. And we can do this by celebrating Mother’s Day tomorrow, not with the commercial, corporation-driven belief that it’s a day for eating out and flowers but with its original meaning.

After the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” issued a proclamation asking women to form peaceful resolutions to international conflicts and avoid war. Most casualties of wars, whether the current ones in the Middle East and the ones imposed by conservatives and corporations, are women and children.

In her proclamation, Howe wrote, “We will not have urgent questions decided by irrelevant agencies.” We need to stop “irrelevant agencies” from undermining our quality of life.

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