Nel's New Day

July 19, 2013

Laws Support Animal Cruelty

The party of small government, aka Republicans, has been sweeping the country with laws against revealing animal cruelty. People investigating the meat industry have discovered levels of cruelty that I won’t even describe although they are available in some of the links in this article. In attempts to expose this abuse for meat recalls or criminal cruelty charges and convictions, activists have documented the scenes, usually through video-taping the activities.

In retaliation, conservative lawmakers have passed legislation, thanks to meat industry lobbyists, that criminalize those who publicize their processes. The meat industry doesn’t want consumers to see how their food is prepared for fear that they won’t buy the product. Meat consumption had already shrunk 12 percent from 2007 to 2012.

Factory farms in the United States are legally protected against trespassing, but these “ag-gag” laws block everyone from exposing animal cruelty, food-safety issues, poor working conditions, etc. People are prevented from taking a photo or video of a factory farm without permission, even if the person is standing on public property. Legislation also stops documentation by people who work at factory farms, and laws require mandatory reporting within a few hours to eliminate the possibility of documenting patterns of abuse.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million people become ill and 3,000 die each year in the United States from food-borne illnesses. Last year Ohio State University researchers determined that health care costs from food illnesses amounted to $78 billion a year. In April, Tyson Foods settled for $4 million with the federal government because of ammonia releases.

North Dakota, Kansas, and Montana passed laws in the early 1990s, making it a misdemeanor to enter facilities that are closed to the public or to take photographs and audio/video recordings. In 2012 Iowa passed an ag-gag bill, and Utah and Missouri soon followed.

The first animal cruelty indictments of farmworkers in U.S. history occurred in July 1999 after a three-month investigation into a North Carolina pig farm. Two months later, floodwaters from Hurricane Floyd spread manure lagoons all over the state. To protect themselves, meatpackers began to instigate the rolling back of family-farm protection laws, and huge corporations bought up smaller Midwestern meatpacking plants. Three of the biggest packers—Smithfield, Cargill, and Hormel—gained special exemptions to the family-farm protection law by agreeing that they would not engage in price-fixing of feed or livestock and would not seek to punish whistleblowers.

Some states even exempt factory farms from animal cruelty restrictions.  The government also encourages the growth of factory farms, also known as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, by shifting billions of dollars in environmental, health, and economic costs to taxpayers. In the past decade, tens of billions of taxpayer dollars were used to provide grain subsidies only to CAFOs–subsidies not available to farms that raise animals on pasturelands. Despite having 7,800 inspectors for 6,200 federally inspected establishments including slaughterhouses, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service has no authority to inspect farms where animals are raised and not slaughtered for cruelty violations.

In the states, the ag-gag law trend is slowing. Only one bill passed in 2013: Arkansas made an “improper animal investigation” by someone who is not a “certified law enforcement officer” a Class B misdemeanor (with the potential for a civil penalty of $5,000). Bills failed in nine other states: California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont. In Tennessee, the legislature passed the bill, but Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed it because the state attorney general found the bill constitutionally suspect.

North Carolina legislators introduced its ag-gag bill after an undercover investigation showed horrific violence against turkeys at five Butterball farm. Mercy for Animals turned over their information to law enforcement officials who used a warrant to raid the property. The result was the first ever felony conviction for cruelty to birds used in agriculture.  Dr. Sarah Jean Mason, the director of Animal Health Programs with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, pled guilty to obstruction of justice charges because she tipped Butterball off about the raid and compromised a criminal investigation. On the same day that a fifth employee was convicted of cruelty to animals, North Carolina introduced a bill to hide any animal  cruelty and corruption in the state.

On the federal level, however, the GOP is trying to prevent any state from enacting laws to protect consumers’ food products. An amendment from Rep. Steve King (R-IA) would remove states’ rights to pass any laws governing the production or manufacture of agricultural products involved in interstate commerce.

The first person to be prosecuted under the Utah law, 25-year-old Amy Meyer, faced a Class B misdemeanor for agricultural-operation interference. If convicted, she could spend six months in jail. Two months after she was charged on February 19 and one day after the case hit national headlines in the media, prosecutors dismissed the charge because the prosecutor discovered she had done the filming on public property.

Meyer may be free, but George Steinmetz, a freelance photographer working for National Geographic, was arrested in late June on a charge of misdemeanor criminal trespassing in Garden City (KS) for taking photos of a feedlot from a paraglider. Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascu said that Steinmetz and his paraglider instructor, Wei Zhang, were charged because they didn’t have permission to take off from private property and didn’t tell anyone they were going to take photos. The question is who owns the air above property.

In addition to keeping consumers from photographing its property, the meat industry is trying to stop any labeling about where animals were born, raised, and slaughtered. Cattle and pork associations are taking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to court because of its new rules issued last May that requires this information to be made public. The memories of mad cow disease and the horsemeat scandal explains the importance of new USDA rules for telling consumers where their food originates.

As ag-gag bills wane,  laws criminalizing anti-fracking activists grow, starting in Pennsylvania. Once again, the bill stops transparency by making it a felony to take photos, video or audio on private land used for “agricultural purposes”; downloading or distributing any such recordings; and entering agricultural property if one plans on recording. Those doing the fracking on land that could otherwise be used for “agricultural purposes,” however, are protected from any documentation. All illegal activities occurring during fracking would be shielded.

Conservatives claim to cherish the U.S. Constitution which includes free-press and free-speech rights. Yet they quell attempts to make corporate-wrongdoing transparent by making criminals out of people who try to expose crimes. Repressive laws state that activists bringing a light to animal abuse are engaging in “an act of terrorism.”

The identical nature of  laws in separate states is no accident. They come from the “bill mill” of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which distributes model bills to conservative state lawmakers. These legislators then introduce the bills as their own, trying to hide the corporate leaders who are paying them to legislate in this manner. ALEC gave the ag-gag bills to state legislators as the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act in 2002.

“If you think this is an animal welfare issue, you have missed the mark,” said Amanda Hitt, director of the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign. If people can be prevented from blowing the whistle on animal abuse, they can also be prevented from stopping environmental and workers’ rights abuses.

July 18, 2013

Today’s Good News Includes Obamacare

Good news today! Nelson Mandela’s health is improving as he celebrated his 95th birthday. The Senate cobbled together a deal to keep interest rates low on student loans until the economy improves. And federal judge Willian Conley kept abortion clinics open in Wisconsin until he has more time to consider a permanent injunction against the restrictive law rushed through in nine days and signed in private by the governor on a holiday weekend. The current legal proceedings require the state of Wisconsin to prove that it has a “legitimate governmental interest” in imposing additional regulations on abortion providers of seeking admitting privileges from local hospitals, a requirement unique to these clinics.

In the Senate, the Republicans kept at least part of its promise by confirming two more of President Obama’s nominees following yesterday’s confirmation of Richard Cordray for the Consumers Financial Protection Bureau.

Tom Perez is now the next Secretary of Labor after stiff opposition because he pushed for a minimum wage for domestic workers in Montgomery, promised to “throw the book” at employers who withheld pay from immigrant workers, saved an important piece of the federal fair housing law, and collected hundreds of millions of  dollars from major banks that charged minority homeowners more than whites seeking a mortgage. As head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division for the past four years, he enforced voting rights by  opposing the voter ID trend across the nation and sued the infamous Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, accusing his office of racially profiling Latinos during a crackdown on undocumented people in his county.

Gina McCarthy’s 59-40 confirmation for director of the Environmental Protection Agency was opposed by Democrat Joe Manchin (WV) because of what he called  an “over-regulatory rampage” against the coal industry. One of her positions during 25 years in the environmental policy world was leading the the EPA’s air pollution office since 2009. Although McCarthy held posts under five Republican governors, including Mitt Romney, the Senate held up her confirmation for 136 days until the Democrats threatened the GOP with removing the filibuster for executive nominees. Senators opposing McCarthy have accepted over $25 million from fossil fuel industries.

The House of Representatives will no longer use my taxpayer money to defend the unconstitutional statute DOMA, banning marriage equality. This decision may allow lesbian and gay service members and veterans to receive the same married benefits as opposite-sex couples. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “Rather than trying to delay justice for particular married gay and lesbian couples and their families, Speaker Boehner should immediately file motions to end House Republicans’ involvement in the remaining cases and stop spending taxpayer dollars to defend unconstitutional discrimination.”

On the same day that President Obama delivered a speech on the benefits of his Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report showing that the average of the least expensive mid-level health plans are 18 percent lower than the CBO had estimated when the law was passed. One of the biggest arguments against Obamacare was that young people in the country would be forced to purchase expensive health insurance. Yet HHS expects that a plan for a 25-year-old in Los Angeles County would be $174 per month without a government subsidy and only $34 per month (with a tax credit) for someone making $17,235.

New York state regulators said yesterday that policies sold through the law’s insurance exchange would cost about 50 percent less than currently available policies. Ten other states also announced lower rates including Oregon, Montana, Louisiana, and California. Lower rates come from open competition, once something that the  GOP supported.

Earlier this year millions of people in the nation received insurance rebates because of the “medical loss ratio” provision requiring insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual medical care instead of profits and overhead. An average rebate of $100 was sent to 8.5 million people this year, and consumers received another $3.4 billion savings because insurance companies lowered their premiums to comply with the law.

People may not hear the good news about Obamacare because today the media has focused on the 38th and 39th times that the U.S. House again voted on the health care law, passed by Congress and ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. One bill agreed with President Obama’s delay in the law’s employer mandate, and the other extended the delay to the individual mandate. Of the 147 media pieces including “Obamacare,” 120—almost all—mentioned the House vote whereas only 71—fewer than half—discussed lower premium rates.

The following will be classified as either good or bad news, depending on your perspective. After taking off almost the entire month of August, House leadership has penciled in just nine workdays during September. The farm bill stops on September 30, and other bills, such as immigration reform, voting rights, and student loans, are vital. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has objected to reports of shrinking productivity in his chamber, but the 112th Congress that ended in December 2012 was the least productive session since the 1940s when one considers the total number of bills passed. Thus far, the 113th has been less productive.

The GOP is providing great fodder for comedians. Last night Stephen Colbert addressed the House’s inaction, citing the immigration bill kerfuffle. Although the Senate bill would double border security, creating more border agents than FBI agents, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) complained that it overlooks “the need for border agents in the interior of our country.” Colbert responded, “When will we build the border wall with Florida?  We can’t let those maniacs in our country. It’s legal to shoot each other down there.”

Yesterday the GOP majority on the House Appropriations Committee, with the help of two Democrats, reaffirmed the legal sale of guns to people suspected of terrorism to buy guns. In six years, the people on the watch list tried to buy weapons 1,228 times and were approved 91 percent of the time. To those who say that the terrorist watch list shouldn’t be used because it’s flawed, I say, “Fix it.”

The Appropriations Committee also passed an amendment “to block the ATF from continuing to require the reporting of purchases of multiple firearms in border states.” People in the United States are responsible for part of Mexico’s bloody drug war because many of the guns used are sold in U.S. stores. If the philosophy is “first, do no damage,” it’s good news that the House meets so few days.

Maybe the best news from yesterday is that at least one GOP Senator understands the dysfunctional Senate leadership. When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he could have done better than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in negotiating the filibuster agreement, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) called out, “Bullshit.” Now somebody needs to do something about the House.

July 17, 2013

Conservatives Follow Tribal Leaders

Rachel Maddow sometimes refers to the “crazy uncle,” the relative who hates liberals but doesn’t have any support for his beliefs. The same thing happens with commenters on blogs, for example the person who responds to statistics about the dangers of “stand your ground” laws who fails to substantiate claims that these laws are vital and the country needs stronger self-defense laws.

As an idealist, I believe that I only need to provide supporting facts in a discussion to persuade others to understand my position. Not so, wrote Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and a social psychologist in the New York University Stern School of Business.  The argument is about something other than the subject being discussed. Politics has nothing to do with facts, figures, and rational policy debate and everything to do with a person’s basic moral beliefs and group loyalties.

One question I continually ask my partner is how people can oppose something that will help them. Obamacare, for example, which makes health care cheaper and better for almost everyone in the country. Or the conservatives on food stamps  or Social Security who vote for politicians who will take these programs away from them.

Haidt has become more conservative, and the book can be simplistic at times. Yet he has some interesting points to make. He said:

“We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses, and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided.”

According to Haidt, six fundamental ideas provide the foundation for individual moral systems: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. With these principles, other related themes contribute to the moral weight: divinity, community, hierarchy, tradition, sin, and degradation.

Haidt explains that politics is “a tribal phenomenon,” in which belonging to a group is more important that individual need. The greater a person’s investment in an ethnic group, city, occupational group, etc., the more the inclination to vote for politicians who are thought to advance those interests.

Political beliefs give a sense of belonging, meaning, and purpose. Because they display a person’s moral character, people won’t change their minds about climate change or abortion because doing so would betray the tribe. Political debate shows a “team membership,” according to Haidt. Because of the focus on membership in a group, conservatives care primarily about their own tribe and are more indifferent to the people they consider outsiders. Helping people in another community isn’t natural, according to conservatives.

To Haidt, morality is like food: if something tastes good, we keep with it. If not, we reject it. In the same way, people may accept God, authority, and karma because these appeal to the moral taste buds. Conservatives find feminism and welfare distasteful while the themes of faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, law and order appeal to them. Those on the left, conversely, focus on care and fighting oppression.

Much of the difference between people on the right and on the left lies in their separate perceptions of fairness. While the left focuses on equality, the right cares about whether people deserve the outcome. Social conservatives are convinced that poor people didn’t do the necessary things to overcome their poverty and don’t deserve bailing out. The left, however, has far more compassion for people who are suffering.

 

The conservatives’ rage comes from their desire to “catch cheaters and slackers.” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted out “You lie!” during President Obama’s 2009 speech on healthcare when the president said his healthcare reforms would not be available for people who are in the country illegally. Wilson could not believe he was wrong about people getting something that Wilson thought they didn’t deserve.

People on the left appear to show more compassion for the vulnerable, whether or not they are in the country legally. Rational discussion does not make the people on the right more compassionate or the ones on the left less caring about those who need help. Haidt explained the difference in this way:

“If you believe that it’s faster to drive to the airport than take mass transit, and I give you evidence that mass transit is faster, there’s a good chance that I’ll change your mind, because your goal is actually to get to the airport more quickly. With political and moral questions, our goal isn’t ‘the truth.’”

Although where the person grows up is important to political views, so is genetics, according to Haidt:

“Our genes predispose us to seek change, diversity, and variety, or order, stability, and predictability. People with different brains will find different kinds of arguments and different social settings attractive. To understand political attitudes fully, you have to understand a range of factors, including genetics, neuroscience, childhood development, adolescent development, and cultural psychology.”

Despite his position that people don’t reason, Haidt believes that a person’s mind can change after two minutes of reflection on a good debate. There is less and less chance of debate, however, because the country suffers from severe partisan segregation. In 1976, 27 percent of people in the nation lived in highly partisan counties. That percentage increased to 48 percent in 2008.

The segregation also comes from the lack of communication in Congress. Haidt believes that returning to the practice of federal lawmakers moving their families to Washington, where they would socialize and build a friendly basis, would greatly increase cooperation.

Rapid globalization has begun to destroy such traits of a dispersed world as tribalism and righteousness. Unfortunately, the inability of people to adapt to this change is leading to greatly increased promotion of violence. The moral tastes for sanctity or authority may indeed destroy all of us.

It does appear that people in the United States are more connected to each other than with the people they elect as lawmakers. Using a recent American Values Survey, Don Baer and Mark Penn concluded that outside of abortion and the Second Amendment, people in the United States have a great deal in common:

“According to the poll, large majorities of Americans now say that contraception, interracial marriage, sex education in schools, unmarried cohabitation, stem cell research, gambling, and divorce are morally acceptable. Even pre-marital sex and having children out of wedlock are morally acceptable to the majority of Americans under 65, and homosexuality is morally acceptable to the majority under 45. While marijuana is still about a draw (47 percent morally acceptable to 51 percent morally objectionable), for the most part what used to be ‘counterculture’ is now, simply, culture.”

Baer and Penn also found from the survey that most people distrust corporations and oppose the wealth inequality. “Over 80 percent of Americans say that if we want to regain our unity, we need to shrink the gap between rich and poor.” Only 40 percent of people think that the rich worked harder than others, and a majority thinks that people who are elected are just working for the wealthy.

“Americans aren’t feeling divided by a failure to agree on a set of common values; they feel divided by the failure of our civic and corporate leaders to represent those values themselves.”

Yet the tribal belief will keep people voting for conservatives even if they disagree with how these lawmakers represent them. Unfortunately for the conservative tribal leaders, young people are largely developing a different moral taste.

July 16, 2013

GOP Backs Down from the Filibustering

High in the media during the last several days has been the term “nuclear option,” which means a simple majority vote in the Senate to remove the possibility of filibustering presidential nominees. In 1957, Vice-President Richard Nixon wrote the opinion that the U.S. Constitution gives the presiding officer the authority to override Senate rules in this way. After discussion in the majority party, Democrats seem to have the necessary 51 votes, and the GOP decided that they might need to play nice–at least temporarily. The entire Senate met secretly last night with no media present, and the Republicans reluctantly agreed to vote on a confirmation for seven of President Obama’s nominees.

This afternoon, Richard Cordray was confirmed to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by a vote of 66-34. President Obama nominated him 700 days ago, but Republicans thought that by refusing to confirm any  head for that agency that they could stop the 2010 Dodd-Frank law. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who helped establish the rules that aids consumers in issues such as credit cards and mortgages, was the first person considered for a nomination, but Senate GOP members adamantly opposed her nomination. They may now regret their earlier refusal to consider her because of the power she wields in the Senate.

Other pending nominees are three to serve on the five-member National Labor Relations Board and leaders of  the Labor Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and Export-Import Bank. President Obama had appointed two board members earlier, but the Senate maintained it was illegally done because they had not recessed when they left town. A federal judge decreed the temporary nominations unconstitutional, and the board was again left with only two members.

The current dysfunction of Congress began almost five and a half years ago in the night of President Obama’s first inauguration. Congressional GOP leaders met to plot against the new president, agreeing that they would provide no cooperation or compromise—just continual obstruction.  During that five and a half year period, McConnell consented to stop the blockage but failed to live up to his word.

GOP senators have loudly protested the filibuster when Democrats were in the minority several years ago. Reid’s office has helpfully compiled a video of GOP senators calling for filibuster reform in 2005. For example, former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), now head of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, gave a compelling case for blocking filibusters when he said,   “Now that the American people have clearly spoken by democratically electing a Republican president and a Republican majority in the Senate, 41 senators are attempting to deny the will of the people.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who voted to filibuster several of President Obama’s judicial nominees, proclaimed, “I would never filibuster any President’s judicial nominee, period.” Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jeff Sessions (R- AL), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and John Thune (R-SD) all labeled such filibusters unconstitutional.

After the GOP’s whining about the Democrats’ filibuster, seven Senate Democrats relented and voted to confirm the three nominees. One was Judge Priscilla Owen, who had taken thousands of dollars worth of campaign contributions from Enron when she sat on the Texas Supreme Court before she reduced Enron’s taxes by $15 million. Another was Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who compared liberalism to “slavery” and court decisions upholding the New Deal to a “socialist revolution.”

In 1949, Senate rules created the current process requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster on a presidential nominee, 36 executive branch nominees have needed this “cloture” vote—almost half of them under President Obama.

According to last night’s agreement, filibusters are permitted for legislative and judicial nominees, but the GOP cannot refuse the president the right to fill key vacancies. Without a director, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau cannot issue rules and perform other key tasks. Advancement in the climate change agenda is prevented until there is a director for the Environmental Protection Agency. Both workers and employers will be hurt without new members on the National Labor Relations Board with its function of ruling on collective bargaining disagreements between unions and companies.

The agreement last night developed from several developments:

McConnell has abdicated his former position of working compromises with Senate Democratic leaders and has been replaced by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). McConnell still has the title of minority leader, but McCain appears to be the party’s chief negotiator.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case about NLRB recess appointments. If SCOTUS supported the president, the GOP could no longer block recess appointments by saying that they didn’t really recess the Senate. Confirming nominees to the board will make the case moot.

Without confirmed members, the NLRB will not function after August 27. This may be part of the reason that Democrats confronted the GOP senators.

The Dems can threaten the nuclear option any time that they want. If the GOP senators start blocking executive-branch nominees, the threat can re-emerge. And it may happen soon.

Although the agreed-upon confirmations should be done before the Congressional August recess, the Senate will need to approve a new Secretary of Homeland Security because Janet Napolitano is leaving and a new commissioner for the Internal Revenue Service, a position empty since November 2012. President Obama will also need to name a new head for the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, and the Senate needs to confirm three nominees to the D.C. Court of Appeals, a court second only to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some senior GOP senators, including McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), are sure to block those judicial nominees on the grounds that the court already has a quorum. It’s their position that all President Obama’s judicial appointments need to be blocked so that a future president, in GOP minds a Republican, can continue to load the courts with conservatives. One of the positions has been empty since 2005 when Chief Justice John Roberts left for SCOTUS.

Reid said that he has had to overcome 413 filibusters, and the GOP will probably not stop their games. There may be another secret meeting of senators regarding these and other nominees.

July 14, 2013

Fundamentalists Can’t Turn the World Backwards

It’s almost as if fundamentalist evangelical Christians are suicidal because of how much they look forward to the Rapture—the idea that Jesus will come back to Earth, leaving no one alive. Four out of ten people in the United States think that their Christ will show up here by 2050. That may be the reason that they have no interest in preserving the planet for future generations.

According to “End Times Theology,” a study by political scientists David Barker and David Bearce, “A belief in the Second Coming reduces the probability of strongly agreeing that the government should take action [in slowing climate change] by more than 12 percent.” The reason is that “end-times believers ‘know’ that life on Earth has a preordained expiration date, no matter what—and that all Christians will be raptured before the going gets too tough.” Over three-fourths of Republicans identify as end-timer believers.

Discussing the study, one woman epitomized the extremist Christian’s apathetic, fatalistic attitude toward climate change: “Of course I don’t want [polar bears] to die, but you also have to realize this is just a part of the world coming to an end like it’s supposed to. And there’s nothing really that they can do.” She continued, “That’s why we need to be educated in the Bible, so we know what signs to look for. Because you’re just wasting all that money on research when it’s, sadly, not going to help.”

End-believers plan for the future, however, by keeping bank accounts and sending their children to college. Many of these people reason that people should not do anything about the climate because “God is in control.” Maybe that’s the reason that the conservatives want to give all their money to the wealthy and the corporations and destroy the United States. But why do they bother to take Social Security and Medicare from older people and food stamps from the poor if there is nothing that can be done. They are paying their legislative representatives to do nothing.

Until the Rapture, however, fundamentalist Christians complain about giving rights to those not of their religion. Pat Robertson on Monday complained that Facebook doesn’t have a “vomit” option for photographs of same-sex couples. He followed that statement three days later by saying, “We are not anti-gay.” Robertson thinks that gay people are just confused straight people “because they have forsaken God, it’s not something that is natural and when people reunite with the Lord, the Lord will get their priorities the way it is supposed to be.”

The televangelist gives reasons for this LGBT confusion, one being child abuse: “A lot of people are into this homosexual thing because they’ve been abused….” Another reason is that some gay people “maybe got some chromosomal damage that’s different from heterosexuals.” His solution is another ex-gay ministry to emerge after the disappearance of Exodus “to help people who want out.”

In discussing LGBT people, Robertson warned that the land will “vomit you out.” He explained that Leviticus puts homosexuality on the same abomination level as incest and bestiality “and those who do that in the Old Testament were stoned to death.” Like other fundamentalists, he said, “Which is going to take precedence, the Supreme Court of the United States or the holy word of God?” Following their literal reading of the Bible, the extremist Christians may think about purchasing slaves.

Also last week, Robertson recommended following Egyptians by overthrowing President Obama because of Obamacare.  “You know, they revolted in Egypt against the oppressive actions of the Muslim Brotherhood and this example of state socialism is something that Americans should rise up against,” he said, complaining that it was a partisan initiative.

Conservatives conveniently forget that Republicans, led by the Heritage Foundation, proposed the Affordable Care Act in the 1990s. And they’re still upset because President Obama won the last democratic election, despite the massive illegal efforts to stop people voting.

The Church of England suffers from the same ambivalence toward LGBT people as Robertson. It launched an anti-homophobia school campaign at the same time that it affirmed its opposition to marriage equality. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said, “The majority of the population rightly detests homophobic behavior or anything that looks like it and sometimes they look at us and see what they don’t like.” Approximately 20 percent of UK students are taught in a Church of England school. It appears that the religious group wants people to like them more.

The former Archbishop claimed that marriage equality will destroy society, shred heterosexual marriage, and damage children. (Sounds like the U.S. fundamentalists!) The Church of England has also moaned about how legal marriage equality will force the schools to “teach” gay marriage.  Without accepting marriage equality, the Church will most likely fail in its anti-homophobic campaign.

States in the U.S. suffer the same ambivalence as the Church of England. The Supreme Court ruled that the nation recognizes marriage equality just days before Indiana made state marriage equality a felony. According to an Indiana law, same-sex couples applying for a marriage license in the state after July 1, 2014, can be punished by 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. Anyone performing a same-sex marriage, including clergy and judges, will be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. Indiana has made same-sex illegal in a statute, but they plan a constitutional ban when legislators meet in the January-March 2014 session.

Pastor Kevin Swanson suffers no ambivalence on Generations Radio. The Colorado wildfires have already been blamed on abortion and LGBT people; Swanson has added a third problem—the way that people, mostly women, dress. He started out with complaints against women wearing “a male style of dress” in the 1980s followed by Sen. Carol Moseley Braun dressing in a pants suit in 1993. “Pantsuits, pantsuits everywhere,” Swanson said before he moved on to video on a 14-hour flight from Australia.

“I’ve never seen so many breasts in all of my life …. I mean every form of aberrant sexuality and women’s breasts are shown in front of me almost nonstop for fourteen hours. It’s just such an oppressive, horrible, horrible world,” Swanson declaimed before he moved on to androgyny.

“How many young boys are running out and doing the metrosexual thing with the skinny pants and the little fairy shoes. They’re working on the gender blender for themselves and they don’t want to look like a man and God is just so upset, He hates it when man are not manly in their approach. 1 Corinthians 6 speaks about homosexuality and feminine behavior and feminine dress for men. God does not want men to be androgynous and feminine like in their approach; He gave them facial hair for a reason.”

Christianity is also a good excuse to not pay taxes, according to a software entrepreneur who has failed to pay income tax for a decade. Doing so would break his “blood covenant” with God, according to Chester Evans Davis, 56, of Oregon City. He said, “My hands, my feet, my words, my ideas, my labor, my actions are all and have been given to the Lord for his glory.”

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon didn’t buy the argument and found Davis guilty of transferring money in an effort to hide it from the government, attempting to file harassing liens against federal officials, and trying to obtain arrest warrants against IRS employees. Davis now owes $7.1 million in taxes and penalties along with eight years and one month in prison. Most of the success in his company, ESA International, came from federal contracts. Davis’ friend Thomas Schultz, who called himself a “private attorney general,” said that “the labor of a human being is not a taxable commodity.”

Sadly for all these people, the world seems to be inexorably moving forward instead of returning to earlier centuries.

July 13, 2013

We Need to Stop “Stand Your Ground” Laws

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:19 PM
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The six women on the jury in the George Zimmerman delivered their verdict earlier this evening: he was found not guilty of the charges. Florida law permits anyone to stalk a person and then shoot that person in case of an altercation. Zimmerman was carrying a gun as he drove his pickup to follow the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. After the police told Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, Zimmerman continued his mission. If he had obeyed the police, there would have been no trial because there would have been no death. The law allowed Zimmerman to kill Martin.

Thirty-one states have some form of  these “stand your ground” laws, backed by the National Rifle Association. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), controlled by huge corporations, has provided the template to this law across the country and hope to add more states to its total.

Florida’s skewed view of “stand your ground” is demonstrated by two cases. A few months ago, a 70-year-old man in Brandon (FL) shot and killed a man having sex with his wife in the living room. He claimed that his wife was “fornicating” with the man, but in court he used the excuse that he thought she was being raped. A jury deliberated two hours before finding the man not guilty.

Three years ago, a 31-year-old woman with no criminal record tried to get some personal belongings from her former home and found her estranged husband there. They argued, and she feared for her life. Her husband agreed that she was in danger: “I was in a rage. I called her a whore and bitch and … I told her … if I can’t have you, nobody going to have you,” he said in a deposition. She first hid in the bathroom, and when her husband tried to break down the door, she fled to the garage. It was locked, so she came back with a gun legally registered to her.

Her husband said, “I told her … I ain’t going nowhere, and so I started walking toward her … I was cursing and all that … and she shot in the air.” He admitted that she was acting in self-defense, trying to frighten and stop him but not harm him. “The gun was never actually pointed at me … The fact is, you know … she never been violent toward me. I was always the one starting it,” he said. No one was hurt.

Last year, a jury took 12 minutes to find her guilty of aggravated assault. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In both these Florida cases, the people used the defense of “stand your ground” that holds that a person has “no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.” The man who shot his wife’s lover to death was successful and walks free. The woman who shot at a wall to scare an abusive husband failed and sits in prison.

The man is white, and the woman is black. The Tampa Bay Times found a great disparity between judgments based on the defendant’s ethnicity. Seventy-three percent of those killing a black person faced no penalty with the “stand your ground” defense. Only 59 percent of those who killed a white person got off. The Urban Institute determined that in “stand your ground” states, 34 percent of homicides of white shooters killing black victims are deemed justifiable. When black shooters kill white victims, only 3 percent of the deaths are ruled justifiable.

Economists at Georgia State, using monthly data from the U.S. Vital Statistics, found a significant increase in homicide and injury among whites, especially white males in states with “stand your ground” laws. Data from the Health Care Utilization Project reveals significantly increased rates of emergency room visits and hospital discharges related to gun injuries in states which enacted these laws. In Florida, self-defense claims have tripled since the law was passed.

The author of a Daily Kos blog summarized the problem with “stand your ground” laws:

“The people who’ve embraced the Stand Your Ground laws and all the rest of that agenda are people whose lives are driven by fear. They can claim all the noble purpose and higher principles they like; it’s still fear in the driver’s seat. But not just fear alone. It’s also about inspiring fear in others. It’s about making your enemies (whomever you wish to target) too afraid to challenge you. It’s about always getting your way – because others are afraid to get on your bad side, and because you don’t trust them enough to deal with them any other way. It goes hand in hand with going through life as the biggest, baddest bully. When your life is built around fear, it’s the logic that safety and power comes from making others fear you more than you fear them.”

As the writer pointed out, fear motivates people in the United States to attack any country perceived to be a threat, accept civilian causalities in drone strikes, and put people into prison without legal charge while subjecting them to torture. Fear makes people tolerant of spying on the country’s citizens without provocation and drives them to violate most of the U.S. Constitution.

Because of this fear, people collect unknown quantities of guns, carry them everywhere, and pass laws  allowing people to claim self-defense for killings.

July 12, 2013

Fracking: Legacy to Our Children

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:39 PM
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Gasland II made its debut on HBO this week. Sequel to the 2010 film Gasland, Josh Fox again addressed the disaster of fracking throughout the country, picking up after the U.S. House hearing on the FRAC Act that would have regulated the industry of natural gas drilling. The bill never received a vote.

After great difficulty, Fox managed to fly over the Gulf of Mexico. He said, “Journalists would call up the FAA to clear flights, and BP would answer the phone.” In an interview with Mother Jones, Fox explained why fracking causes great damage in climate change: “Methane, when it’s in the atmosphere, is up to 105 times more potent at warming the climate than CO2 is in a 20-year time frame—in this short window of time that we have now to tackle climate.”

Much of this methane comes from leakage: 9 percent in Colorado and Utah; 3 percent in New York City; and 17 percent in Los Angeles, making it 17 times more powerful than coal. Replacing coal with gas doesn’t solve the problems of greenhouse emissions.

Corporations who want to use land to frack are destroying aquifers because the benzenes can’t be taken out of the water. Because of the breakdown of cement in wells, 5 percent of these leak immediately after installation, and 50 to 60 percent will leak within the next 30 years.

Fox must be making a difference in his investigation. One of his sources reported that an EPA representative was told to stop their investigation. As Fox said, when science conflicts with policy, science disappears.

The grassroots efforts may save the country. Fox reported that every small town in the southern part of New York state has an anti-fracking organization. The same thing has happened in Pennsylvania.

A non-profit group in southern Illinois has set up plans that other areas could model to fight fracking. SAFE (Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment) has a number of practical ideas starting with taking “before pictures” and making recordings for documentation. Test for radioactivity; do water testing, including the flow test; update appraisals and tax assessments; test blood for chemicals; organize EMT and first responders for emergencies; enact restrictions; and educate people about objecting to permits.

In May, the poor, conservative ranching Mora County (NM) became the first county in the United States to ban hydraulic fracturing. Roger Alcon, 63, said, “I don’t want to destroy our water. You can’t drink oil.” In November 2010 Pittsburgh was the first city to outlaw fracking, and more than a dozen cities in the East have followed suit since then.

In publicizing his new movie, Fox has appeared on a variety of talk shows, including Bill Maher. Another guest, Jonathan Alter, made a classic statement after he dismissed Fox’s expertise of researching the subject for over five years. Alter said, “I read an article in Scientific American” to show that Fox was wrong about  the dangers of fracking. First, Alter’s reading “an article” scarcely qualifies him as able to make any talking points about the subject.

Second, Scientific American articles give both sides of the issue. In reporting on Radisav Vidic’s assessment on fracking’s impact in Pennsylvania, the article also pointed out that Vidic had no baseline data and could not anticipate what would happen. He also did not evaluate the water or the health of people in proximity to the gas wells. Other scientists also disagree with Vidic’s conclusions.  To learn about a subject, people need to read more than “an article.”

Samples of more articles about fracking:

Major earthquakes thousands of miles away can trigger reflex quakes in fracking areas, according to a recent study published in the journal Science. Fracking waste fluids “kind of act as a pressurized cushion,” said lead author Nicholas van der Elst of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. “They make it easier for the fault to slide.” The study looked specifically at Prague, Oklahoma, linking  the increased tremors there to Chile’s February 27, 2010, quake. The study also found that big quakes in Japan and Indonesia triggered quakes in western Texas and southern Colorado.

Fracking may contaminate drinking water near these natural gas wells. Studies have found increased amounts of methane and other gases up to six times higher in drinking water located within less than a mile from drilling operations, according to Robert Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University in Durham (NC).  Research suggests that the gas may come not just from the ground but also from leaky steel pipes using in extraction.

Fracking may be threatening the sufficiency of water in the United States. The process not only contaminates underground supplies but also uses 2 million to 4 million gallons of water for each job. The EPA estimates that the 35,000 oil gas wells will demand between 70 billion and 140 billion gallons of water each year, equal to the water use in 40 to 80 cities with populations of 50,000 people. Water is already at a premium in areas when the most fracking is done. The nonprofit Ceres found that 92 percent of the wells in Colorado are in extremely high water-stress areas, and in Texas more than half were in high or extremely high water-stress areas, even without the terrible droughts that the state is suffering.

The gas industry is considering the use of propane instead of water; Texas already has about 100 wells that use propane instead of water. The use of propane requires the addition of toxic chemicals, again secret ones as fracking with water uses. The flammability of propane caused two fires in Alberta (Canada) in 2011 which injured 15 workers.

Fracking is also inefficient. Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea, who has studied fracking for over 40 years, reported that using millions of gallons of water per well to yield what he says is just 10 percent to 15 percent of oil and gas out, is “very inefficient and inelegant.” Propane, he said, “is expensive and nobody really knows how much it takes to develop a typical shale gas well with a lateral that is a mile or two long.”

An explosion at a well near New Milton (WV) shows the dangers of fracking. Last week the Hinterer 2H well on the Ruddy Alt pad, operated by Antero Resources, had a serious underground fire that burned for days and injured at least seven. Four or five workers were flown to West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh although their condition is not known. This isn’t the first time that specific well has had problems.

Almost a year ago, three workers were injured when a spark ignited methane gas several hundred feet underground. DEP cited Antero for failure to control the well. Antero has had 17 violations of state code in the past three years, including failure to prevent waste runoff, report discharges, and contaminating waterways. In January 2013, a violation warned “imminent danger water supplys [sic] threatened by allowing pollutants to escape and flow into the waters of the state.” Two years ago, another Antero gas well was shut down after mud contaminated with drilling chemicals spilled into a nearby stream.

Almost two years ago, the EPA concluded that fracking by the drilling company Encana had caused contaminants in drinking water wells near Pavillion (WY). Unexpectedly, the EPA turned over the investigation to the state of Wyoming that received a $1.5 million dollar from Encana to continue the effects of fracking.

Now the EPA has moved its timeline for the release of its fracking student from 2014 to 2016. In the meantime, the gas and oil industry continues to take over the country—especially in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Ohio. “In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted,” Mario Salazar, a former EPA engineer, told Scientific American. “A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”

That’s the legacy that we are leaving our children.

July 11, 2013

Perry an Example of Conservatives

What’s worse than cutting the amount of food stamp funding from the farm bill? Eliminating them entirely. And that’s what the GOP House members did this afternoon in a 216-208 vote—no Democrats for the bill and 12 Republicans voting against it. The farm will has always been a total package: subsidies and benefits to farmers and nutritional programs such as SNAP to the poor, but House GOP leaders hope that separating them will entirely get rid of this help for hungry people.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) pointed out that the bad policy ignored the bipartisan policy of the House Agriculture Committee. The farm bill that the House passed is for five years, but the food stamps would be on an annual basis if it could even pass, which is most unlikely. The biggest cuts to food stamps in history came in 1996 when then Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed turning the program over to the states, but the bill had to provide food stamps for it to pass the Senate. The law authorized SNAP for only two years.

Republicans are perfectly happy spending the bulk of taxes to make military toys that don’t work and to go into other countries to kill people while denying food the poor—primarily women, children, and elders. Stuart Varney, who hosts a Fox “business show,” rants against providing help to people while ignoring the fact that many of them are hard-working employees at places like Walmart with salaries below the poverty level.

Texas is a fine example of poverty, both physical and intellectual, in this country. The state has known only the devastation of George W. Bush and Rick Perry as its leaders for almost two decades. Last Monday, Perry announced that he will not run for another term, and instead finish by  “working to create more jobs, opportunity and innovation.” He may be considering another run for president so that he can destroy a much larger area of the world.

Only 18 percent of Texas Republicans support him in this, and a survey showed him coming in sixth with 7 percent. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had 27 percent support. Republican strategist Ford McConnell said that Perry was pretty much gone after the famous “oops” episode when the governor failed to remember the third government agency (EPA) that he wanted to eliminate even after his co-debaters tried to help him. I also remember the time in Vermont when he had a goofy smile on his face while cuddling a small bottle of maple syrup. Another “oops” moment was when he couldn’t remember how many justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Perry’s legacy in the state of Texas shows how he would rule the nation if such a disastrous event were to occur:

Self-identified “pro-life” Perry presided over more than 260 executions—thus far—more than any other governor in history. After vetoing a bill banning executions of mentally disabled people, he executed a Mexican national who had been denied his right from the Mexican consulate and at least one man who was probably innocent.

Perry supported the state in its immunity for corporations and obsessive deregulations that resulted in the disaster of the fertilizer plant explosion in West.

Perry lambasted the government’s so-called socialist policies and swore he would gut FEMA while he begged the president for federal assistance after the fertilizer plant’s explosion.

Perry decried the 2009 federal recovery package, recommending that the state reject the money for the sake of independence, but balanced the state’s budget with billions of dollars from federal stimulus funding.

Perry called climate change a “contrived phony mess and a scam to make money.”

Perry, after the horrific drought and heat in 2011, tried to solve the problem by betting Texas residents to “pray for rain.”

Perry called evolution “just a theory that’s out there.”

Perry’s latest debacle is that his vigorous fight for the bill to close clinics in favor of ambulatory surgical centers would greatly profit his sister. In 2011 he pushed for and signed “emergency legislation” requiring women to have unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds before they were permitted to have legal abortions. Texas is also the place where two women were subjected to cavity searches—without a change in plastic gloves—after they were picked up for speeding.

Perry led Texas into becoming the nation’s worst polluter, leading the nation in carbon dioxide emissions and providing the home to half of the worst mercury-emitting power plants. His solution to avoid complying with an EPA ruling when he was in violation of the Clean Air Act was a lawsuit against the federal government. The governor also called the 2010 BP oil spill an “act of God” and then call for more oil drilling.

Perry tried to opt the state out of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, claiming that these programs are “Ponzi schemes” and unconstitutional. These programs actually bring billions of dollars into Texas.

Perry worked to continue legal discrimination against LBGT people. A staunch defender of the state’s unconstitutional anti-sodomy law, he blasted the Supreme Court after they overturned the law in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. Calling the justices “nine oligarchs in robes,” he evidently remembers the number of SCOTUS judges ten years ago. During his presidential campaign in 2012, his anti-gay ad against open service by gays and lesbians in the military accused President Obama of holding a “war on religion.” His speech last Monday boasted the state’s defense of “the sanctity of marriage” through writing discrimination into the state’s constitution.

Perry supported nullification of federal laws and threatened the secession of Texas from the United States.

Perry refuses to let the federal government provide healthcare for low-income residents in the state. More than 25 percent of Texans, 6,234,900 and growing, lack health care coverage. Then he has the gall to claim that Texas has the “best health care in the country.”

Perry vetoed bipartisan Equal Pay legislation after a GOP-controlled legislature passed the bill. He stated that he didn’t want regulations regarding women before he pushed through the highly restrictive restrictions against women.

Perry wants to repeal the 16th and 17th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to eliminate federal income tax and to stop people from electing federal senators. In his book Fed Up!, he wrote that both were passed only “a fit of populist rage.”

Perry is an example of the wacko, narcissistic Republicans, many of whom are in Congress. Like Perry, they are obsessed with opposing the president, keeping health care from a large number of people in the United States, and creating a government based on fundamentalist Christianity which includes the submission of women to men.

Now they’re readying the fight to take the debt ceiling hostage, demanding big budget cuts from President Obama and other Democrats. Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI), authors of the draconian budget, and John Boehner (R-OH) are meeting with other conservatives such as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) who bragged about their talks.

One of their goals is privatizing Medicare; another is drastically cutting spending in  the SNAP food stamp program and block-grant Medicaid while incorporating the chained CPI which would artificially revise the cost of living to disadvantage those on Social Security and Medicare. Another GOP plan raises the eligibility age for Social Security.

Conservatives continue to stall because these plans won’t pass the Senate. While they appear to give options to the White House, they plan rigid positions. As usual, Ryan is the key to debt-ceiling strategy walks. His major problem is that the deficit is falling faster than at any time since World War II which takes away their bargaining power.

The GOP is alienating everyone except white men, mostly older ones. Conservatives refuse to move forward on immigration reform unless all undocumented immigrants are criminalized. Conservatives refuse to do anything about voting rights, hoping that keeping minorities and poor people from the polls will put Republicans into control. Conservatives refuse to pass a reasonable interest rate for student loans, despite the fact that the current rate nets $51 billion for the U.S. Conservatives refuse to help poor people who lack food, shelter, and health care. Conservatives refuse to pass legislation that would improve the economy while they try to control women through taking away their reproductive rights.

Those actions—or inactions—leave them with a base of fewer than 30 percent of the people in the country. Having gerrymandered districts in the majority of states to control state legislators and the U.S. House, the GOP is convinced that it can continue with its lack of responsibility. The election in less than 16 months will show whether they are right.

July 10, 2013

Stop Mining at the Grand Canyon

grand canyon_2The Grand Canyon has been an icon of our national park system even before Woodrow Wilson declared is a national park in 1919. Almost 5 million people visit it each year to see its two-billion-year history. With the creation of Lake Powell, designed to gradually release water into the Colorado River after the Glen Canyon Dam was built in 1963, the Grand Canyon has been at risk. The beaches are disappearing along with native fish species that existed there for millions of years. Millennium-old American Indian burial sites are washing away. With no regular flooding, river banks are overrun by tamarisk bushes, and boulders washed out of side canyons are making the rapids more difficult to navigate.

“The Grand Canyon river corridor is getting nuked,” said David Haskell, a retired National Park Service officer who directed the Grand Canyon science center from 1994 to 1999. “It’s in the final stages of having the natural ecosystem completely destroyed and replaced with a man-made one because of the presence of the dam.”

Before the Glen Canyon was built, the sand washed down the river provided food for insects, food for fish and birds. Spawning beds for fish and sand bars where plants can grow and river rafters can sleep require this sediment. A 1996 experiment to open Glen Canyon’s floodgates raised the Colorado by 13 feet, but the new beaches disappeared in two years.

Now the government has found another way to destroy the Grand Canyon. The U.S. Forest Service has decided to allow the Canadian company Energy Fuels Resources, Inc. to begin operating a uranium mine near the park. The Canyon Mine, located on the Kaibab National Forest six miles south of the park, was originally approved in 1986. It became the subject of protests and lawsuits by the Havasupai Tribe and others because of impacts on groundwater, springs, creeks, ecosystems, and cultural values connected to Red Butte, a Traditional Cultural Property.

mineUranium mining rips up huge tracts of land to extract radioactive material for use in nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants, sending radioactive pollutants into the air. One of these is radon gas, which had no safeguards when the approval was made in 1986. With almost no environmental standards, the process falls under the Mining Law of 1872 that has no safeguards for soil, wildlife, people and water resources. This antiquated law actually gives mining a priority over all other uses of public lands.

Mines closed almost three decades ago still pollute streams in the area. The Orphan Mine at the South Rim of Grand Canyon closed in 1969 but still contaminates Horn Creek with radioactive runoff.  Recently, the National Park Service began a clean-up effort for that mine that will cost taxpayers millions.

The Canyon Mine falls within the one-million-acre “mineral withdrawal” approved by the Obama administration in January 2012 to protect Grand Canyon’s watershed from new uranium mining impacts. The withdrawal prohibits new mining claims and mine development on old claims lacking “valid existing rights” to mine. In April 2012, the Forest Service determined that there were “valid existing rights” for the Canyon mine, and in June it issued a report trying to explain its decision to allow the mine to open without updating the 27-year-old environmental review, developed during the Reagan administration. The Havasupai tribe and three conservation groups are challenging this.

mine 2The mine is located on a site sacred to the Havusupai and other tribes, including the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo. The Navajo are still fighting for a comprehensive cleanup of the hundreds of abandoned uranium mines scattered across their reservation, mines blamed for decades of health problems and deaths among residents unknowingly exposed to radioactivity. [Left: From Common Dreams comes this photo of the Canyon Mine with the Grand Canyon six miles to the north.]

evn-canyon  0327110900smLast year the Interior Department imposed a 20-year federal ban on new uranium mining covering 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon, but Energy Fuels Resources claims that its rights are grandfathered. Those rights were obtained before people could understand the dangers of uranium mining. Applying for a permit in 1984, Energy Fuels Resources did preliminary surface work two years later but stopped before the mine became operational because the price of uranium dropped.

In addition to contributing to the beauty of the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River supplies water to 30 million people in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and other Southwestern cities.

You can use your vote to oppose the mine and support the Grand Canyon and its watershed. http://act.credoaction.com/sign/grand_canyon

July 9, 2013

The GOP Looks for a Few Good Vaginas

Distress with the majority of women voting for Democrats during the 2012 general election, the GOP is trying to bring the fairer sex back to the fold. A practical way would be to change some of its policies such as denying women our reproductive rights, equal pay, immigration laws, etc. Maybe even stop being patronizing and controlling. But that isn’t their approach. After an expensive report revealed that a majority of women are not happy with the GOP platform, leaders set out to tell women that Republicans like women.

For example, Rep. Renee Ellmers and 18 other Republican women put together the Republican Women’s Policy Committee with a really nice website and Facebook page to show women that the GOP party likes women. http://rwpc.ellmers.house.gov/  It’s got really nice photographs of women legislators unlike the real ones when all the male lawmakers get together to make life harder for women. And it’s got promises like telling people that the GOP will protect women from being forced to have health insurance.

The latest GOP endeavor is Project Grow which stands for “Growing Republican Opportunities for Women.” (It’s also an acronym for “Gerrymandering Republicans Oppose Women.”) “We need to be a party that allows talented women to rise to the top,” according to the RNC publicity. The GOP still hasn’t figured out that women can be annoyed by the control thing of being “allowed” to do something which is actually their right. Needing a woman to lead the grow project, the GOP selected as a leader Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who opposes pay-equity measures for women and voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The GOP has a ways to go to “allow” women into their camp. The House Democratic Caucus is one-third women compared to the 8 percent of women in the House GOP majority. Last year almost twice as many Democratic women filed paperwork to run for the House as Republicans, and over three times as many Democratic women were elected.

In the new legislative session this year, state lawmakers have introduced over 300 bills to eradicate women’s reproductive rights. The House passed an anti-abortion bill, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is working on one in his chamber.

Project Grow was launched just before the week of the Fourth of July when both Ohio and Wisconsin passed unconstitutional anti-choice bills. Texas would also have succeeded if the media hadn’t pointed out that the GOP leadership cheated by changing the time clock. Now Texas, accompanied by North Carolina, is charging along toward a more successful outcome for the conservatives, despite the vast majority of voters opposing their bill.

Sarah Slamen, 28, tried to explain the facts of life to the legislators while testifying. Three men had to haul her out of the court because she was giving very uncomfortable information to them. This is one women that the GOP will not get to “grow.” [The video is well-worth watching!]  In an interview with Daily Kos, state Sen. Jane Nelson said that Slamen was being disrespectful but never stopped the 13 hours of testimony that “called women murderers, killers, promiscuous, thoughtless, and selfish.”

Part of Slamen’s statement was to be the way that Gov. Rick Perry’s sister, Milla Perry Jones, would benefits from the closures of clinics because she is head lobbyist for allied surgical centers and doctor-owned hospitals that has given $4 million to get Perry’s bill passed. The Texas Observer had pointed out that these facilities overcharge for tests, procedures, and services.

The Texas House committee passed the bill, that will close all except five clinics, onto the House which also approved the bill. They will take a formal vote on it tomorrow morning. Democrats pointed out that GOP committee leaders “limited testimony at a public hearing, declined to hear from hundreds more waiting to testify and refused to consider Democratic amendments–and at times even failed recognize Democrats to speak at all to raise questions.”

walkerMost of the GOP action last week surrounding anti-abortion bills took place in the dark of night, Wisconsin included. Gov. Scott Walker’s signature was barely dry when the new law was taken to federal court where a judge blocked part of the law for ten days. A hearing is scheduled for July 17. [Left: Scott Walker]

In his 19-page ruling, U.S. District Judge William Conley noted that the admitting-privileges provision of the new GOP law serves “no medical purpose” and was rushed into law for no apparent reason. It is up to state officials to prove that it safeguarded women’s health, he wrote, which he said “does not bear even superficial scrutiny on the current record.” He also agreed that the law had been rushed onto the books, noting that it was proposed, passed, signed and enacted in just 34 days, a timeline he called “precipitous.” 

“[T]he State,” Conley wrote, “must demonstrate that the regulation is reasonably related to ‘the preservation and protection of maternal health’ but it failed to do so.” In addition, he pointed out that “the majority of patients are at or below the federal poverty line.”

Last night 64 members of North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” protesters, now in their tenth week, were arrested for objecting to a bill that limits abortion access. The weekly rallies have grown from a few dozen in the early weeks to over 2,000 people. State GOP legislators claim that their protests make no difference, but the activities are beginning to affect tourism in the state.  The state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said, “The current environment makes it very challenging to market North Carolina.”

Last week’s bill mandating clinics performing abortions to conform to the standards of ambulatory surgery centers was pushed through the Senate without a public hearing. The state House has scheduled public hearings on the bill today.

Cecil Bothwell, a city councilman from Asheville (NC), summed up this attack on women: “It amazes me that they claim they don’t want government intervening in health care issues [about Obamacare], yet they want to tell women what to do with their bodies.”

Tanya Glover, 34, came to the protest because the legislature’s lean education budget slashes services for her special needs child. “This state has gone to hell and it’s hurting my family,” Glover said.

Her description fits the 30 states controlled by the GOP.

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