Nel's New Day

August 31, 2013

A Look at Who Might Decide a War on Syria

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 1:24 PM
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Syria dominates the news after Secretary of State John Kerry gave an impassioned speech about the tragedy of at least 1,419 deaths from chemical warfare. Last week most people were opposed to involvement in Syria with 25 percent saying that they might change their minds if chemical weapons were used. Thus Kerry made the case yesterday that that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used these weapons, and President Obama is weighing “limited and narrow” action. Britain voted against military action so France has now become the United States’ BFF after they said they would strike. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a delay in any military action until inspectors present their findings.

Only the day before Kerry’s assurance, U.S. intelligence officers said that the picture is “not a slam dunk,” referring to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that intelligence about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk.” It was that “intelligence” that sent the United States into a disastrous and expensive war ten years ago, intelligence that as just plain wrong.

At least one-third of representatives in the House, led by Tea Party members, think that the president should consult with Congress before making any decision, possibly with the hope that they can vote down any military action. Today President Obama announced his decision to “seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.” In another world, this might make sense. Intellectually, this makes sense if we consider that these legislators are rational and thoughtful beings. Many of them aren’t.

The House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans whose only goal is to defeat every Democrat candidate by disagreeing with everything that the president recommends. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will shut down the government to get his own way in defunding Obamacare and cutting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. He said that his position “may be unfair” but he’ll do it anyway, holding the United States’ people hostage.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the House GOP’s budgetary chieftain, said that the GOP will only negotiate with Democrats over the budget if they can stop votes about the U.S. economy.When they aren’t threatening to shut down the government, the House GOP concentrates on blocking legislation, passing restrictions against women, and defunding Obamacare.

Impeaching the president is also on the GOP agenda. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) bragged about calling in lawyers to tell him how to impeach the president of the United States. In a sane world, he would need evidence, but GOP-land has its own rules. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) told people at a town hall meeting that the House would probably have enough votes to impeach but the Senate wouldn’t convict. He didn’t have any reasons either.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) was a little more careful; he told his constituents that the president was “perilously close” to the standard for impeachment. He also said, “Thank goodness it doesn’t have to happen in the Senate until they’ve brought charges in the House.” Once again, no evidence. The same with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who claimed that the only reason they couldn’t impeach the president is that Democrats control the Senate.

In addition to Cruz’s other insanities, he thinks that he can become president if he drops his Canadian citizenship. Although quiet during the entire “birther” kafuffle, he gets most of his support from Tea Party birthers. One of them has total faith that Cruz is a natural-born citizen because “as far as I am concerned, Canada is not foreign soil. That’s the way I look at it.” (It’s worth watching several times!)

Ten days ago after he failed to bring the IRS up on charges, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) promised to expand the probe of the four deaths at Benghazi. Yet when the U.S. government flew its personnel out of Yemen and the State Department urged all Americans in Yemen there to leave “immediately” because of an “extremely high” threat of a terrorist attack, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) described that people who left as “cowards that go running away.”

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) asserted that there is no such thing as white collar crime, because “for a criminal practice there has to be a gun.” (Maybe there’s no crime in Syria because they used chemical weapons?) Would he then think that there was no crime in Syria because chemical weapons may have been used?)
He asserted that bad financial decisions are the responsibility of the individual because that’s “the price we pay for the freedom to make all of the good decisions in our lives.”

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) has invited a clown to perform in his district–the same clown who gained notoriety by wearing an Obama mask and a broom sticking out of his baggy-pantsed rear. Stockman is also known for tweeting, “The best thing about the Earth is if you poke holes in it oil and gas come out.”

In GOP-land, legislators vote against anything that doesn’t benefit themselves. Arizona Republicans Sen. Jeff Flake, Sen. John McCain, and Rep. Paul Gosar all voted against emergency relief funding for SuperStorm Sandy victims, but after an Arizona wildfire, they complained that FEMA isn’t helping their state. The agency tried to explain that they had funded firefighters but couldn’t pay for uninsured private residences damaged in the fire. McCain said he’d call the president.

Along the same lines, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), whose family was on food stamps for two months, told an audience that huge proposed cuts to food aid would not impact anyone, that “not one person would lose a calorie or crumb that deserves it.” He thinks most Americans on food stamps actually deserve to starve although more than 50 million people in the United States don’t know where their next meals are coming from.

Those in GOP-land will make up any excuse to refuse immigration reform. After the president delayed one part of Obamacare because of administrative issues, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) said on the House floor that he wouldn’t vote for any part of the immigration plan. “One of the biggest fears we have about the Senate amnesty bill … is we can’t trust the president. We can’t trust him.”

McCain has wanted to support the Syrian rebels with “heavy weapons” for several months, despite the fact that ABC’s Martha Raddatz reminded him that some of the rebels are terrorists swearing allegiance to al Qaeda. “There aren’t that many” terrorists that he would provide with “heavy weapons,” McCain said. After a trip to Syria, a photo distributed to news organizations showed McCain with a group of rebels, two of them later identified as kidnappers of 11 Lebanese Shi’te pilgrims. On CNN, McCain told Anderson Cooper, “We can identify who these people are. We can help the right people.” It’s hard to tell who the “right people” are. 

Here’s a preview of debate about invading Syria. Two days ago, Gohmert insisted that Saddam Hussein “had weapons of mass destruction” and may have moved the stockpiles “over into Syria.” Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) supported Gohmert: even though Terry is opposed to military intervention in Syria, his “gut feeling” is that the Syrian government now possesses chemical weapons that came from fallen Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. He added, “[W]e all we know that Iraq had … chemical and biological weapons and then they weren’t there.”

Once again! Iraq’s WMD stockpiles didn’t exist. They couldn’t have been moved to Syria because Iraq didn’t have any.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) worries that U.S. might be “used to kill Christians.” He also thinks that debate should “start with the Constitution,” despite the fact that this document never refers to Christians—or God or religion–except to declare that people can be free from it. About 10 percent of the Syrian population, many of them Palestinian refugees, identifies as Christian. Has a bomb been invented yet to identify religions?

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) hopes he has a compelling reason for staying out of Syria: the United States cannot afford it. “Our military has no money left,” the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee said in a statement three days ago. He cited the $500-billion cut over the next decade mandated by the sequester. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff disagrees, having assured the president that they are ready to “strike whenever we choose,”

The body that should approve any action against Syria is the United Nations, according to former President Carter. “Punitive action” without a mandate from the U.N. Security Council or “broad support from NATO and the Arab League” would be “illegal under international law and unlikely to alter the course of the war,” Carter said.

We’ve regressed ten years—just with a different president. The disaster that started in Iraq ten years ago was all about oil—and this proposed war with Syria has the same motivation. That topic, however, probably won’t be mentioned in the debates.

August 30, 2013

Bullying Has Long-lasting Effects

safe spaceYou’d think that school officials would want to protect all of their students, wouldn’t you? You’re wrong, at least in Rutherford County (TN). When the national and state ACLU asked that students and teachers be permitted to hand “Safe Space” posters, the school board turned them down. Vice Chairman Wayne Blair said that there is no need for the posters.

GLSEN’s 2011 survey showed that at least 90 percent of students in Tennessee heard the word “gay” used in a negative way or other homophobic remarks. They also heard negative remarks about a person’s gender presentation. Students weren’t the only ones talking like this; 30 percent of students heard the school staff commented negatively on an individual’s gender expression, and 23 percent heard the staff use homophobic remarks.

Many Tennessee students are also verbally and physically bullied: 88 percent of LGBT youth were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 64 percent were harassed because of their gender presentation. Worst of all, almost no LGBT youth had access to necessary support at school. Only 3 percent attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying program that specifically includes LGBT youth. While 87 percent could identify one supportive staff member, only about a third could identify many.

Posters won’t solve all these problems, but the school board refused even this small attempt at helping LGBT youth because of the terms “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” stating that they were of an inappropriate sexual nature. The school board’s attorney also accused the terminology of being inappropriately political.

Without any school support, LGBT youth may have nowhere to go for help. A 2011-2012 survey shows that approximately 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT: of those, 68 percent said they had experienced family rejection, and 54 percent said they had experienced abuse in the family.

The bullying that the school board denies has far-reaching effects for both the bully and the victim. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, bullies who were also victims have the biggest problems as adults—14.5 times more likely to develop panic disorder and 4.8 times more likely to experience depression. are 18.5 times more likely to have had suicidal thoughts, and females are 26.7 times more likely to have agoraphobia.

Previous research from Finland found the same adverse long-term outcomes, particularly anxiety for victims and antisocial personality disorders for bullies.

A newer report in Psychological Science shows the same affects as well as difficulty in keeping a job and poor social relationships. Because they had greater difficulty saving money, they were more likely to be poor. Those who were both bullies and victims are six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness or psychiatric disorder and to regularly smoke. Bullies also have a greater chance of riskier behavior and criminal records.

The hatred for LGBT rights from the religious right and schools was evidenced in a hate crime last Sunday in Orlando (FL). Three men taunted a women walking along a sidewalk, calling her “lesbian” and “dyke” before they got out of the car and raped her. One of the men supposedly said, “I’ll show you how a real man feels.”

A gay Iraq war hero was booed and shouted in San Antonio for supporting anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation and gender identity. A Tennessee church expelled an entire family because they wouldn’t reject a lesbian daughter. Bryan Fischer, American Family Association spokesman, wants the United States to follow Russia in its anti-LGBT laws which arrest and imprison people even for appearing to be or supporting of LGBT people.

Ex-gay therapist Jerry Mungadze continues the cruel stereotypes with his system of determining who is gay or possessed by demons by asking people to use crayons to color in a picture of the human brain. Black, gray, or brown—that’s possessed. And—of course!—pink proves a person is gay.

In Virginia, gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, currently the state’s AG, wants to bring back the anti-sodomy law. Tom Tomorrow’s black humor shows how doing so would impact people:


After a Pennsylvania county clerk issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Gov. Tom Corbett filed a legal brief against the action—because the state AG refused to stop the licenses. The legal team compared these licenses for LGBT couples to allowing 12-year-old children to be married. As usual with gaffes like this, Corbett has called the analogy “inappropriate,” according to Corbett’s spokesman.

Even after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA as unconstitutional, the Veterans Administration refused to provide federal benefits to veterans’ legally married spouses. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said that the law explaining these benefits define spouse and surviving spouse as someone of the opposite sex. Fortunately, a federal judge in California, Consuelo B. Marshall, declared the VA’s decision is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court didn’t even begin to overturn the 1,038+ unconstitutional federal laws that discriminate against same-sex couples. At this time, Social Security will give benefits only to married same-sex couples who live in states and other jurisdictions that recognize marriage equality. State and federal government will continue to model bullying for everyone in the United States, costing taxpayers a millions of dollars.

Even Wal-Mart has decided to allow health benefits to same-sex partners of its 1.3 million workers, in keeping with 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies. The VA might take note.

Note: The IRS is following the spirit of the Supreme Court anti-DOMA ruling. Legally married same-sex couples in the United States have achieved marriage equality for federal tax purposes no matter where they live even if they reside in a state that does not recognize the union. U.S. Treasury secretary Jacob J. Lew issued the following in a press release:

“This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change. Under the ruling, same sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. The ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA, and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.”

Refund claims can still be filed for 2010, 2011, and 2012, and some people may have special circumstances that allow them to file such claims for earlier years. Earlier today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that legally married same-sex couples will receive the same treatment under Medicare as opposite-sex couples.

August 28, 2013

Where Is the ‘Dream’?

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act passed the year after King’s speech and followed that with the Voting Rights Act. The United States, however, has failed to address the March’s goals for economic opportunity and equality, ten demands in civil rights legislation, public school desegregation, voting rights, job training, and an increased minimum wage.

  • Congressional comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation without compromise or filibuster-to guarantee all Americans access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, and the right to vote.
  • Withholding of federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists.
  • Desegregation of all school districts in 1963.
  • Enforcement of the fourteenth Amendment, reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disfranchised.
  • A new Executive Order banning discrimination in all housing supported by federal funds.
  • Authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when any constitutional right is violated.
  • A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers–Negro and white–on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.
  • A national minimum wage act that· will give all Americans a decent standard of living.
  • A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.
  • A federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination by federal, state, and municipal governments, and by employers, contractors, employment agencies, and trade unions.

During the 15 years after the 1963 March on Washington, conditions for blacks in the United States vastly improved, and legislation benefitted other groups—women, poor whites, other communities of color, people with disabilities, and senior citizens. Poverty rates dropped along with improvement in education, employment, and democratic participation. Congress and the president worked together to solve national problems.

Yet in two cases during the 1970s, the Supreme Court limited mandatory school-desegregation plans and declared that education is not a fundamental right. After that SCOTUS put limits on the ability of school districts to voluntarily create integration plans. Other decisions have put barriers in the way of people to take violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to court.

Ronald Reagan’s election as president in 1980 saw the growth of the Heritage Foundation, created after Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) lost the 1964 election to Lyndon B. Johnson, and Reagan moved Goldwater’s supporters into federal agencies and onto federal benches. The Federalist Society grew, creating a network of conservative lawyers who provided legal arguments to defeat social justice. Conservative media outlets like Fox News began to use their falsehoods to influence less knowledgeable people.

Fox contributor Laura Ingraham displayed a prime example of conservative media when she culminated her hateful responses to the anniversary of the March on Washington with a clip of the speech given 50 years ago by civil rights pioneer Rep. John Lewis (R-GA) and interrupted the speech with the sound of a gunshot and then long silence.  Following a commercial break, conservative columnist Pat Buchanan claimed that Lewis, Rev. Al Sharpton and other speakers at Saturday’s event were “part of a great racket.” He said, “What will these folks do, quite frankly, if they had to get up and admit we’ve got more opportunities than any large group of black folks anywhere on Earth today and our community is not making the most of it?”

Fifty years later, partisan divides gridlock the federal government, the GOP is setting back efforts to help the poor, unemployment and the need for jobs are elevated, and union-busting has caused loss of income for everyone except the U.S. elite.

Fifty years later people still carry signs asking for “Voting Rights,” “Jobs for All,” and “Decent Housing.” People still protest the vigilante killing of an unarmed black teenager in the South and his killer’s acquittal. People still denounce racial profiling in the country’s largest city.

Voting: Seven Southern states passed or implemented voter suppression laws in the two months since the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This decision followed a general election in which blacks waited twice as long to vote, on average, as whites. One in 13 blacks (2.2 million people) cannot vote because of felon disenfranchisement laws—four times higher than the rest of the population.

Jobs: Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began functioning two years after the March, employers still prefer white workers, according to Algernon Austin, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy. The unemployment rate for blacks (12.6 percent) is almost twice as that for whites (6.6 percent), about the same ratio as in 1963. The average household income for blacks ($32,068) is far below that of white families ($54,620) and declined by 15 percent from 2000 to 2010.

Job Training: The $38.6 billion in 2013 dollars budgeted in 1978 shrank to $8 billion in 2013 dollars by 2007. Congress consistently fails to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, the nation’s largest job-training program, for the past 15 years. Legislation also excludes important methods to improve services such as developing skilled workers through education and training.

School Desegregation:  Because of housing patterns, schools are segregated at the same rates as the late 1960s, according to Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of the education think tank Bellwether Education Partners. Three-fourths of all black students attend schools that are majority nonwhite.

Minimum Wage:  The value of the current minimum wage is below that in 1964, yet conservatives ridicule fast-food workers who have joined to fight for decent wages. At the time of the 1963 March, the minimum wage of $1.25 was equivalent to $9.25 today–$2 higher than the current minimum of $7.25. March organizers demanded $2 per hour, in today’s dollars more than $14.80, but by the time the minimum was raised to that level 11 years after the March, inflation had eaten up any advantage. ALEC, the corporate-controlled organization that hands out bills to GOP legislators, opposes any increase in minimum wages, calls for a full repeal of minimum wages, and works to prevent local efforts to enact living wage requirements. Meanwhile, fast-food and other low-wage workers are striking against low pay in Chicago, New York City, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, Seattle, Los Angeles, Raleigh, Atlanta, Houston, and Oakland.

Justice: While conservatives fight to load the bench with judges opposed to equal rights, the number of judicial vacancies has grown to emergency levels. There are not enough judges to hear cases on the country’s dockets.

Racism: Although all restaurants must now serve blacks, a group of 25 blacks were told to leave the Wild Wing Café in South Carolina after peacefully waiting for two hours to be seated. One white patron felt “threatened. This is just one of millions of racist acts in the U.S.

At last weekend’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial, the main themes were the same as 50 years ago—voter suppression, “stand your ground” laws, stop-and-frisk, and the question of jobs and union-busting. Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, talked about the “stand your ground” laws. She said, “We can think of ‘standing your ground’ in the negative. But I ask you today to flip that coin. Stand your ground in terms of fighting for justice and equality!”  One poster showed a picture of Rosa Parks who stood her ground by refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

Before he was killed in on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., had these comments about the Republican party. The GOP hasn’t changed since that time.

The 1964 Republican National Convention: “The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism.”

Sen. Barry Goldwater (GOP 1964 presidential candidate):  “While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand.”

Ronald Reagan: “When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor can become a leading war hawk candidate for the Presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events.”

The March on Washington was about jobs and freedom, and Congress is avoiding any discussion about both. The country needs to fight back against those who refuse to recognize the importance of economic equality and who define freedom as “freedom to oppress others.”

August 27, 2013

Iran, 1953; Syria, 2013

Our nation commemorates several anniversaries at the end of August. Yesterday was Women’s Equality Day because of women’s suffrage become federal law in 1920, and tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, featuring Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. Less noticed, however, was a tragic anniversary last week on August 19, 60 years after the United States, collaborated with Britain to overthrow Iran’s democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and thus keep Western companies’ control of the country’s rich oil fields.

Although the U.S. had no oil companies in Iran in 1953, the CIA joined the coup when Prime Minister Winston Churchill called in the debt for helping the U.S. during the Korean War. Therefore the U.S. government manipulated Western media into reporting Mossadegh as intemperate, unstable, and otherwise unreliable.

Mossadegh had clashed with the Shah Reza Pahlavi about the extent of the monarchy’s power. Once Mossadegh was arrested under a flimsy pretext, he was sentenced to prison and died in 1967 under house arrest. The shah, who fled to Rome during the coup, returned to a 26-year dictatorship complete with imprisonment, torture, and slaughter of dissidents. He also  invited BP—famous for the recent Gulf oil disaster–along with American, Dutch and French companies to enjoy the decades-long Iranian oil boom. Because the U.S. had done most of the work for the coup, they got a big chunk of BP. The U.S. also supplied Iran with military hardware and trained the new regime’s brutal secret police.

The coup of 1953 led to the American hostages in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran during the revolution of 1979 and the ensuing formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran ruled by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The overthrow of an elected, secular-minded nationalist in Iran led to its extremism in that and neighboring countries.Iran has never forgiven the U.S. anti-democratic self-interest actions six decades ago.

The facts have now been revealed in a newly declassified CIA document:

“Mosadeq, [sic] was neither a madman nor an emotional bundle of senility as he was so often pictured in the foreign press; however, he had become so committed to the ideals of nationalism that he did things that could not have conceivably helped his people even in the best and most altruistic of worlds. In refusing to bargain—except on his own uncompromising terms—with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, he was in fact defying the professional politicians of the British government.  These leaders believed, with good reason, that cheap oil for Britain and high profits for the company were vital to their national interests.”

If Mossadegh were flawed, it was because he was incorruptible and implacably committed to reforms, everything from pest control to unemployment compensation, from agricultural reform to housing, from women’s rights to religious freedom. His education in France and Switzerland and his belief in secular democracy put him at odds with those in the government who wanted religious control. Truman blamed the “blockheaded” British as much as Mossadeq for any tension in Iran, but Dwight Eisenhower took over the presidency in 1953.

Under the machinations of the new Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Alan Dulles, head of the CIA, Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson and CIA operative, met secretly with the shah and with General Fazlollah Zahedi to set Operation Ajax into motion. Their design was to replace the ethical Mossadegh with the general, a grain profiteer who was imprisoned by the British for working with Nazi agents to organize a tribal revolt at the same time as a German attack in Iran.

According to the CIA report, the “complete secrecy about the operation” with some leaked information, made it “relatively easy for journalists to reconstruct the coup in varied but generally inaccurate accounts.” Malcolm Byrne, National Security Archive research director, wrote that the report is the first time the CIA admits to “using propaganda to undermine Mossadegh politically, inducing the shah to cooperate, bribing members of parliament, organizing the security forces, and ginning up public demonstrations.”

Iranian newspaper editors were paid to spread lies that Mossadegh was pro-communist and out to destroy the armed forces. Claiming that they were ordered by Mossadegh, CIA-funded street thugs attacked religious leaders. General Zahedi bribed fellow officers to gain the needed military support against any resistance. Thousands of people were paid to participate in anti-government rallies. Members of parliament were bribed to—when the word was given—push a vote to dismiss the prime minister in order to “rescue” Iran from chaos. A firm believer in democracy, Mossadegh kept the police from taking action against the protesters and did not censor the newspapers.

In a 1979 interview, Roosevelt talked about the horrible example that the coup in Iran had established. Dulles was so caught up in the Iranian events that he wanted to duplicate them in the Congo, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Egypt, where he wanted to overthrow President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Roosevelt said he resigned from the CIA because of  Dulles’ plans. The Iranian venture did become the prototype for Vietnam, Guatemala, Cuba, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, et cetera although these full official records are still classified.

Steven Kinzer’s Bitter Fruit tells about the CIA’s 1954 coup in Guatemala leading to mass slaughter of Maya Indians, and All the Shah’s Men describesthe Iranian coup. An excellent article gives a brief history that led up to these tragic events, starting with the British involvement in Middle Eastern oil, and a bibliography about the U.S. corruption and deceit.

Parts of the 1953 coup were repeated 20 years later against Salvador Allende in Chile when the U.S. participated in the overthrow of the elected socialist president. Following decades of being considered a beacon of democracy and political stability, Chile was controlled by despot Augusto Pinochet in a reign of terror that lasted 16 years.

These are just a few of the U.S.-involved coups in the last century, some of them against democratically-elected leaders. In the beginning of this century, George W. Bush started preemptive wars against two separate Middle Eastern countries, and a decade later, we are facing another one in Syria. The Congressional war hawks demanding an attack on Syria are led by former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who has support among some lawmakers.

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) has gathered at least 37 legislator signatures on a letter asking the president to reconvene Congress for a debate about and vote on any military action in Syria, per the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Even senators who support punishing Syria for its alleged chemical weapons attacks are requesting Congressional approval before any action against Syria.

At this time, the United Nations has not determined that there were attacks with chemical weapons or who might have carried them out if these indeed did happen. Extreme caution should be demanded, especially based on the country’s track record of lying to the world about the need for global violence.

August 26, 2013

Women’s Equality Day: Don’t Destroy Right To Vote

President Barack Obama has declared that today is Women’s Equality Day; 93 years ago the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, mandating that women in the United States can vote, became law, thanks to 24-year-old Harry Burn, a member of the Tennessee Assembly, and his mother, Mrs. J.L. Burn (Febb Ensminger) of Niota.

Proposed by Congress on June 14, 1919, the amendment needed ratification from a minimum of 36 states out of the existing 48. By Summer 1920, 35 states had approved the amendment. Three more states refused to call special sessions, but Tennessee met to vote on the proposed amendment. Burn was committed to vote against the ratification until he received a letter from his mother, which he held during the voting session on August 18, 1920. The letter read in part:

“Dear Son: Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt! I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the “rat” in ratification. Your mother”

Burn’s “yea” vote broke the 48-48 tie, allowing the amendment to move into the U.S. Constitution. The next day he spoke to the House, telling them that his mother had asked him to vote in favor of the amendment and that she had always taught him that “a good boy always does what his mother asks him to do.”

Nine-three years after Burn voted for women’s suffrage, the constitutional right to vote is in danger. Within the past few years, 12 states passed laws requiring that voters show photo identification in order to vote, and another 13 states are considering this legislation. Other punitive laws include shortening the time to vote, restricting the number of precincts, limited voter registration, purging legitimate voters from registration, and putting hurdles in the way of voter reinstatement. It is estimated that at least 5 million legal voters may be disenfranchised from voting, despite the fact that voter fraud at the polls is almost non-existent.

Currently North Carolina is the epitome of voting restrictions, trying to prevent voting by college students although the Supreme Court ruled against this practice. Ironically, whenever Gov. Pat McCrory was asked about the specifics of these laws, he indicated that he didn’t know what was in them although he signed them.

These decisions from GOP-controlled county election boards are shown by the the one in Watauga County:

  • Eliminate the Appalachian State University (ASU) early one-stop voting site.
  • Outlaw any verbal public comment at Board meetings.
  • Require that the 27-year Elections Board Director not be allowed to meet with anyone in her office without supervision.
  • Mandate that anyone calling into the local BOE office have their names recorded.
  • Move the “New River” precinct (a heavily populated precinct in and around the town of Boone) out into the very corner of the precinct into a virtually unknown location and as far away from municipal voters as possible.
  • Combine three Boone precincts into one Super Precinct consisting of 9,300 voters and 35 parking spaces—and as far away from Appalachian State University as possible.

The Supreme Court ruling against the Voting Rights Act, allowing the Justice Department to allow punitive voting “reforms” from going into effect, is just one step to support the GOP plan to win elections by stopping Democrats from voting. A bigger problem is the opinion that Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in an Arizona case about its requirement that new voters present citizenship documents, stating that states—not Congress—decide who has the right to vote.

Also Bush v. Gore (2000), which appointed George W. Bush as president, ruled that U.S. citizens don’t have a constitutional right to vote for the president. State legislatures control that right through their legal ability to appoint presidential electors. The only control that the constitution has on voting is to ban discrimination on the basis of race (15th Amendment), sex (19th Amendment), and age (26th Amendment). In fact, when Susan Myrick explained the North Carolina law, she said, that people who went to the wrong precinct could use provisional ballots. She then said, “[The provisional ballot] probably won`t be counted.”

Not all Republicans are satisfied with the GOP attempt to stop voters. When former Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke in North Carolina, he said that the state’s voting restrictions are bad for the public—and the Republican Party.

“I want to see policies that encourage every American to vote, not make it more difficult to vote. It immediately turns off a voting block the Republican Party needs. These kinds of actions do not build on the base. It just turns people away. You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud. How can it be widespread and undetected?”

Dallas County is the first county in Texas to request an injunction against the state’s voter ID law. By a 3-2 vote, the commissioners’ court stated that the requirements would disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters. A hearing is set for September 27 with a trial possibly next summer. Meanwhile, several counties have either had or are scheduling elections.

Texas is already trying to defend itself against a federal lawsuit because a federal court has found that the state used racial discrimination to draw its district lines. Texas AG Greg Abbott’s defense uses the claim that the state drew the lines in an effort to win the elections: “[i]n 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.”

Following is a letter that I wrote to my local newspaper. Readers are welcome to use any part of it that they wish to educate their community about the voter suppression in the United States:

“To the Editor:

“Seventy-one years ago, 92-year-old Rosanell Eaton was one of the first blacks in North Carolina to pass a literacy test allowing her to vote. In the year of her first vote, 1942, women in the United States had been able to vote for 22 years after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution became law on August 26, 1920—42 years after it was first proposed.

“Now, 93 years after women earned the vote, more females vote than men, but state voter-suppression laws are threatening women with loss of the vote by demanding photo ID at the polls. The argument for these draconian laws is voter fraud. Misrepresentation at the polls, however, has averaged one case each year for the past ten years. On the other hand, photo ID laws disenfranchise millions of voters.

“Eaton is one of those. Her name on her birth certificate differs from the name on her driver’s license and voter registration card, and taking care of this problem will require excessive time and money. For example, when 91-year-old Virginia Lasser went to the Tennessee department of motor vehicles to get a photo ID, she found a line of 100 people in front of her, no place for her to sit, and no help from state workers even after she asked. Lasater has voted and worked on campaigns for 70 years.

“Dorothy Cooper, 96, took a number of documents, including her birth certificate, to get a photo ID, but the birth certificate had her maiden name. She was denied, despite the fact that she voted under the Jim Crow laws of the 20th century.

“Viviette Applewhite, 93, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 years ago but can’t get a photo ID because her papers were stolen from her purse. She paid the fees to the state of Pennsylvania for a birth certificate but still wasn’t able to get it.

“Many elderly people don’t have birth certificates because they were born at home. Some states require a birth certificate to get a photo ID, but people cannot get a birth certificate without a photo ID. The certificates also cost between $7 and $30, a large amount of money for the very poor.

“The voter suppression laws don’t refer specifically to women, but that gender is affected in greater numbers than men. Most men have not changed their names since they were born and are more likely to have documents from their work and their military service. Women who worked as domestics are far less likely to have Social Security cards and drivers’ licenses than men.

“Only 66 percent of voting-age women with proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal names. Also 52 percent of women don’t have their legal names on their birth certificates. In some states, women are required to bring both their birth certificates and documents proving legal citizenship—twice as many documents as men have to bring to the polls in order to vote.

“At this time, over a dozen states have photo ID laws, and another 15 have pending legislation or laws that are being questioned in court. With the Supreme Court decision that states can make any restrictive laws that they wish, that situation may change. Currently, Oregon is the only state in the nation that requires vote by mail although occasionally politicians consider changing the law, using the argument that many other activities such as buying alcohol or flying require photo ID. We hope that they will remember that transportation and purchases are not guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution; voting is.

“If you are one of the people in the United States who think there is no problem in obtaining the necessary photo ID in states with these laws, you are a member of the elite. The women of the United States and of Oregon celebrate the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and Oregon’s voting laws that give us equality in the voting process.

You can commemorate Women’s Equality Day by spreading the word about voter suppression in the United States.

August 25, 2013

Christian Groups Not Charitable

Tax-exempt status for churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples on the basis of being charitable institutions allow religious groups to collect a fortune without any responsibility to the state that they try to control.  Dylan Matthews summarized a report from the University of Tampa that investigated how much money religious groups are declaring tax-free. The total, which doesn’t include local and income and property tax exemptions or charitable deductions worth addition tens of billions of dollars, is at least $71 billion. No one is exactly sure because religious groups are not only exempt from paying taxes but also exempt from reporting donations.

“When people donate to religious groups, it’s tax-deductible. Churches don’t pay property taxes on their land or buildings. When they buy stuff, they don’t pay sales taxes. When they sell stuff at a profit, they don’t pay capital gains tax. If they spend less than they take in, they don’t pay corporate income taxes. Priests, ministers, rabbis and the like get “parsonage exemptions” that let them deduct mortgage payments, rent and other living expenses when they’re doing their income taxes. They also are the only group allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes (and benefits).”

People who participate in a religion claim that the organization does charitable work, yet it’s almost entirely for people of their own religion. And the percentage is much less than most people realize. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) gave $1 billion to charitable causes between 1985 and 2008, but that munificent sum is .07 percent—less than 1 percent—of its annual—not 23-year—income. The United Methodist Church did better, giving about 29 percent of its revenues to charitable causes in 2010.

“Operating expenses” totaled 71 percent of all expenditures in 271 U.S. congregations, most of it paying the ministers’ salaries. By comparison, operating expenses for the American Red Cross is 7.2 percent. Even Wal-Mart annually gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities, 28 times the money that the United Methodist Church allocates for charity and almost twice as much as the LDS Church gave in the past 25 years.

If religious groups want tax exemptions for their charitable work, then that should be separated out from the rest of their expenses. Others may claim that these groups are tax-exempt because of separation of church and state, but religious subsidies favor religion over nonreligion. Because religion is favored, it has more resources to change legislation, create widely consumed media, and influence public policy. Religious groups, as Barb Dempsey, mayor of Mount Clemens (MI) pointed out, get a free ride for all infrastructures that they use such as fire protection, police, and roads.

Fundamentalist Christians want the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, but see nothing wrong with having taxpayers provide money to support them. A common way for a group to control all people is to paint itself as the victim. In that way religious groups can victimize others, usually by forcing their religious views on others. Christian groups complaining about these issues are actually taking “freedom of religion” from other people:

  • Christian groups complain that banning “gay conversion therapy” for minors violates parents’ “freedom of religion” to psychologically warp their children through an abusive practice. The true victim is LGBT youth who are threatened by their parents, forced back into the closet, and lose their own religious freedom.
  • Christian business owners complain about the new regulations requiring insurance plans to cover–free–preventive care including contraception. They want the ability to deny earned benefits to employees if the owners disagree with the employees personal choices. The true victim is the person who pays into health insurance while the business owners cheat the government that tries to maintain savings through lack of unwanted pregnancies and childbirth.
  • Christian groups complain that they are oppressed by secular expressions of holidays instead of having their personal faith affirmed by everyone.  The true victim from the Christian obsession is the 25+ percent of the people in the United States who do not identify as Christians and all the other people who would prefer that holidays represent diversity.
  • Christian groups complain about the ban on schools leading students in prayer, calling it “government tyranny” and declaring it the reason for society’s moral decay. The true victim is the person who doesn’t share the exact religious view as the person who leads the prayer. Any official or official-seeming prayer is an endorsement of one view over another, indicating that those who fail to share those views are less worthy.
  • Christian groups complain that marriage equality is gaining strength in the United States because marriage should be only for opposite-sex couples. The true victim is the LGBT person or their children who don’t receive equal rights; excluding LGBT people from the right to marry cannot protect heterosexual marriages. No one’s life is affected by marriage equality except the people who choose to engage in same-sex marriage.

Some of the recent events in the name of religion:

  • People who attend a Catholic Church in Fresno (CA) are convinced that the liquid coming from a tree in front of a cathedral is God’s tears. Tree experts say that the liquid comes from aphides, tree lice, that suck the sap and then excrete honey dew.
  • RidgedaleThe Ridgedale Church of Christ (TN) forced Linda Cooper out of the congregation, despite her family’s membership in the church for the last six decades, because she sat with her lesbian daughter, a local police detective, at an event on same-sex benefits for the local police department.
  • After a youth minister was charged with sex offenses, Spring Creek Baptist Church (Clarksville, TN) promised to protect its children. The church offered an optional first aid course for Sunday School teachers, and a second employee sexually abused another child.
  • Vineyard Community Church Camp Counselor, Zachary Anderle climbed, naked, on top of a 13-year-old boy and put his penis on top of the boy’s crotch while other boys were watching. A committee from the Tennessee church determined it was “horseplay” while Anderle’s lawyer explained that Anderle was disciplining the boy.
  • Chicago Cardinal Francis George has pulled funding from a coalition of immigration groups that support same-sex marriage in Illinois.
  • The Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark (TX), run by Kenneth Copeland Ministries, has long been a strong anti-vaccination stronghold. Currently church members are experiencing a major outbreak of measles.
  • Pastor Terry Holcomb has started wandering through Huntsville (TX) carrying an AR-15 Bushmaster rifle to to protest a Texas law which permits gun owners to openly carry long rifles but not handguns, which must be concealed and can only be carried by individuals with valid concealed carry permits. He is also posting videos of himself doing so on YouTube.
  • As conservative Christian legislators move funding from legitimate women’s clinics to right-wing “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs), more women are forced to seek help from these places. An investigation into Virginia’s CPCs has revealed the lies and shame-based information that their employees disseminate about the risks of hormonal birth control and contraceptive devices as well as judgmental messages about a decision to be sexually active before getting married. The falsehoods include chances of getting breast cancer, carcinogens in contraception, and the chances of aborting a fetus after using hormonal contraception. “The only safe sex is no sex,” the employee said and added, “Confined to a marriage, of course, sex is expected — you believe in God, that’s the whole plan of God.” The proceeds of Virginia’s DMV license plate, “Choose Life,” directly fund CPCs.
  • The state of California has no secular drug treatment program. This might change after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state should compensate an atheist parolee for returning him to prison because he refused to participate in a religious-based drug treatment program. The court also ordered a district judge to reconsider whether to stop state officials from mandating treatment programs that emphasize God or a “higher power.” [This may be a small step toward “freedom of religion.”]

school is armed rightAnd a bit of black humor to start the week:

The Arkansas Christian Academy near Little Rock posted signs notifying the public that school staff is now armed. One sign in particular warns, “Any attempt to harm children will be met with deadly force.”

For the map lovers, BuzzFeed has mapped out the religions of the 435 U.S. House members by district. Of the 31 religions, including 26 different Christian sects, Catholics, with 136 members, make up the largest group, followed by Baptists (66), Methodists (45), Anglicans/Episcopalians (35), Presbyterians (28), and Jews (22). There is one atheist. The majority of Catholics and Jews are Democrats with the other religions have a majority of Republicans.

religious demoniations

August 24, 2013

The Keystone XL Pipeline Needs to be Stopped

Good news came yesterday when the State Department announced that its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline may be postponed until next year because of allegations that the department hired a reviewer of the project who has a conflict of interest. Keystone needs a cross-border permit to finish the northern part of its pipeline carrying Alberta tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental Resources Management, hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental review did extensive work for TransCanada and the many oil companies that stand to benefit if the pipeline is built. In addition, the company lied on its federal conflict of interest disclosure forms by declaring that it no such ties.

The tar sands of Alberta, containing an estimated 169.3 billion barrels of oil, are estimated to be the third largest reserve of crude oil on the planet, behind only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, and are also the most polluting source of energy on earth. If the pipeline is approved, it will transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil every day and emit 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. Building the pipeline would be the equivalent of adding 37.7 million new cars on the road every day and firing up 51 new coal power plants. Substituting tar sands oil for conventional oil increases global warming emissions by 20 percent.

randy thompsonPeople are becoming more cautious about transporting the oil across the United States. Randy Thompson, a rancher in Martell (NE) is one person fighting the pipeline because it goes through the Ogallala Aquifer which lies under the eight states that the pipeline would cross.


He wrote that TransCanada said that people could use bottled water if the pipeline gets breaks, releasing oil into the water source. As Thompson said:

 “Now that’s a bunch of bunk. To get up in the morning and shower with a bottle of water? These guys have got to be kidding.  As far as I’m concerned, TransCanada and their Keystone XL pipeline can go to hell. I don’t want any part of them, not in my land and not in Nebraska.”

The existing parts of the Keystone Pipeline have shown serious flaws, including dents and welds that forced the company to dig up and rebuild dozens of sections in the southern section. TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Midwest had 12 spills in its first year starting in June 2010, the highest spill rate of any oil pipeline in U.S. history. The company had promised that there would be no more than one during that first year.

Whistleblower Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada employee, testified to a Canadian Senate committee this summer about the company’s “culture of noncompliance” and “coercion” with “deeply entrenched business practices that ignored legally required regulations and codes” and carries “significant public safety risks.” He said that he has seen the same “breaches of construction quality” in parts of TransCanada’s Keystone XL already laid in Texas.

“There’s thousands of cracks in the system — it’s just which ones will become the problem? It’s low probability, high consequence,” Vokes said.

Also in early summer, President Obama said that the pipeline would not be a major job creator and could actually raise gasoline prices. He added that his decision of whether to approve the pipeline would be connected to climate change, that it would receive the necessary federal permit only if the “net” effects of the pipeline did not “significantly exacerbate” carbon pollution. In his statements, the president also said that Canada could “potentially be doing more” to curb emissions from the oil sands.

Gasoline prices would rise because multinational companies investing in tar sands oil would ship more of the product pouring through the Keystone from Gulf Coast refineries to overseas countries which has a high demand for diesel and gasoline. Even the Canadian crude currently sent from Canada into the Midwest could easily be diverted into the Keystone to satisfy overseas demand.

At this time, the tar sands extraction site at Cold Lake, Alberta is suffering from a giant oil leak that, thus far, can’t be contained. Oil companies pressurize the oil bed to force bitumen to the surface; the resulting blowout has caused the bitumen to seep out of control, poisoning the environment. The company can’t find the location of the leak that’s been going on for at least three months.

Ordinary oil floats on top of water when it spills; tar sands oil sinks to the bottom of water or soil, thus creating far more disaster to its surroundings. The same thing happens with the hundreds of ruptures in the pipelines that have spilled more than one million gallons of tar sands oil in rivers, wetlands, and drinking water reservoirs.

The wastewater also destroys the environment. When 9.5 million liters of salt and heavy-metal-laced wastewater leaked into wetlands that the First Nation tribes used for hunting and trapping, every plant and tree died. Before that leak, other major spills included over 4 million liters of oil and water from pipelines run by two different companies.

As more people look into pipeline ruptures, the news gets worse and worse. The Apache Corporation claimed that their leak came from aging infrastructure, but the pipeline, designed to last 30 years, was only five years old. Alberta’s Energy Minister Ken Hughes hid a pipeline safety report pending the Keystone decision in the U.S. after a spill that leached 475,000 liters of oil into the Red Deer River, a major drinking water source. Over the past 37 years, Alberta’s pipeline network has had 28,666 crude oil spills plus another 31,453 spills of other liquids used in oil and gas production  from salt water to liquid petroleum. That’s an average of two crude oil spills a day—every day.

TransCanada’s proposed internal spill-detection systems for the Keystone XL in the U.S. would permit spillage of more than 12,000 barrels every day, 1.5 percent of its 830,000 barrel capacity before any warning occurred.

British Columbia is smart enough to reject the Northern Gateway, a pipeline across their land from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean. According to Environment Minister Terry Lake, Enbridge had not satisfactorily answered the BC government’s questions during the hearings. Unfortunately, the Canadian government has the ultimate authority over the pipeline decision, but the BC ruling may affect its ruling.

british columbia

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate-controlled organization that writes conservative bills for states, has taken an interest in the Keystone. An oil-industry lobby group has provided them a model bill to limit states’ abilities to negotiate “low-carbon fuel standards” to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. The purpose of the ALEC bill is intended to block environmental agreements.

Inaccurate” is one way that the U.S. Department of the Interior described the State Department’s conclusions that the impact of the Keystone XL pipeline on wildlife would be temporary, saying that the impact could have long-term, adversarial—possibly permanent–effects. A 12-page letter from the Interior Department lists a number of serious issues from constructing both the pipeline and the related infrastructures that the State Department had ignored.

We can only hope that a U.S. permit for the Keystone XL pipeline is looking more and more unlikely.

August 23, 2013

Stop Guns in Starbucks; Responses to Gun Comments

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:32 PM

Last week, a responder asked some provocative questions about a column on gun control; below are my answers to his questions.

The Comment asked which states have more deaths from guns than car accidents. According to the Violence Policy Center, gun deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 12 states and the District of Columbia during the year 2010. Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. This is an increase from 10 states during the previous year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 14 states, adding Missouri and Ohio to those in the VPC report. Because the NRA has stopped an accurate count of gun deaths, there may actually be more states in which these are higher than deaths from car accidents.

12 states

As the VPC report pointed out, firearms are the only “consumer product manufactured in the United States that is not subject to federal health and safety regulation.”  As Dr. David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, notes in his 2004 book Private Guns, Public Health:

“[T]he time Americans spend using their cars is orders of magnitudes greater than the time spent using their guns. It is probable that per hour of exposure, guns are far more dangerous. Moreover, we have lots of safety regulations concerning the manufacture of motor vehicles; there are virtually no safety regulations for domestic firearms manufacture.”

The “Comment” also claims that the NRA believes in protections balanced against rights.” During the past decades the NRA has successfully fought sensible gun laws through lobbying and pressure on legislators with the following extreme results:

  • The ATF can inspect firearms dealers only once a year, allowing them to break policies and laws for 11 months and 30 days after an inspection.
  • Gun dealers are not required to check their inventory. In the 20 percent of gun stores audited, about 20,000 guns disappear each year. The ATF cannot require the other 80 percent of gun dealers to check their own inventories and report back.
  • Record-keeping penalties have been reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. If an audited gun dealer is missing 1,200 guns, for example, the dealer cannot be charged with a federal offense.
  • The ATF is prevented from computerizing purchase records for firearms, forcing them to find guns used in criminal acts by looking through boxes of records or microfiche. (Younger people may not even know what microfiche is!) This restriction wastes resources and makes crime gun tracing harder and slower. In the day of computerization, this is the process that the NRA forces the ATF to follow in tracing a gun: contact the manufacturer to identify the distributor who should have a record for the dealer; if one of these three sources is out of business, a typical situation, ATF sifts through 445 million snapshot images of sales records.
  • The ATF cannot publicly release data regarding dealers selling guns related to crimes. Before that 2003 law went into effect, the agency found that Badger Guns & Ammo (West Milwaukee, WI) sold more firearms used in crimes than any other U.S. dealer. When notified of this, the store promised to change sales practices, and the number of its guns decreased. After the 2003 law, the number of Badger guns linked to crimes again increased.
  • The ATF cannot require gun dealers in the southern four border states to report the sale of multiple rifles or shotguns to a single individual.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had its research funding frozen after it released a study showing the keeping guns in the home increased the risk of homicide. Research restrictions were extended to the U.S. Health and Human Services after a study showed that a person carrying a gun was four-and-a-half times more likely to be shot than an unarmed person. [If the NRA really believed that carrying a gun makes a person safer, they would welcome research instead of blocking it.]
  • The government is forced to prove that a gun dealer was “willful” if they sell a firearm to a prohibited person, such as a felon. Corrupt dealers can avoid prosecution by claiming that their violations were mistakes and not intentional because the extremely high bar for action makes it almost impossible for the ATF to have a case.
  • Law enforcement is hampered in identifying and investigating illegal firearm trafficking operations because of restrictions on how they can use trace data from the ATF.
  • The FBI is forced to destroy background check documents on the same that they they are filed.
  • The FBI is also limited on the sharing of data from traces.
  • Congress severely underfunds the ATF, keeping the same number of agents as 10 years ago, and blocked anyone from directing the agency for over six years.
  • People on the terrorist list who cannot fly on airplanes are permitted to buy guns.
  • People can purchase guns from people other than gun dealers without any background check.
  • Any laws passed to protect people from gun buyers have few or no penalties including the federal law that all states enter the names of felons, perpetrators of domestic violence, and the mentally ill into the federal database for background checks.
  • The mentally ill regain the right to buy guns easily in many states that also fail to keep track of these people.

No “protections balanced against rights” exists. Between 70 and 90 percent of NRA members want bans on high-capacity ammunition clips and semi-automatic assault weapons, prevention of people with mental illnesses from acquiring guns, and universal background checks. Yet the NRA leadership stops just these common-sense regulations every way that they can.

Basically, the NRA blocks any record-keeping that would trace guns to criminals, keep criminals from purchasing firearms, develop an awareness of reasons behind gun deaths, or attempt a way to solve the number of deaths from our country’s gun culture. It raised the bar for prosecution while lowering the penalties for breaking the law. There is no balance in the world of NRA, only power and money—the more the better.

Another Comment read asked for “even one example of someone using a .50 caliber rifle in a crime.”  People have stolen them, possessed them in attempted murders, and murdered people with them. In the last few months, Adam Wickizer killed his ex-wife’s boyfriend with a .50 caliber rifle, and the police chief of Nuevo Leon (NM) was killed by a sniper. Search warrants have found .50 caliber rifles in the homes of drug growers and manufacturers. Ed Brown threatened U.S. marshals who had an arrest warrant for him. These are only a few crimes connected with this specific weapon. People may claim that only criminals will have these guns illegally, yet all guns were originally purchased in a legal fashion before they ended up on the streets.

“I really don’t see much evidence of [tragic mistakes with cars, boats, swimming pools minimized by regulations]. People who drink to near passing out seem to be able to get, and often keep, a license until they kill someone,” wrote one reader. People who operate on not seeing “much evidence” in their personal lives may benefit from researching the subject.

As Amitai Etzioni wrote in a special for CNN over a year ago:

“The United States has more gun-related deaths than any other industrialized country. The rate of gun-related deaths in the United States is more than double that of the next-highest industrialized country and eight times more than the average of its economic peers, according to data from the University of Pennsylvania’s Firearms and Injury Center.

“The U.S. firearms mortality rate is more than 70 times higher than industrialized Asian countries, like Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. An average of 32,300 Americans died each year from gun-related injuries between 1980 and 2006. Among the many victims are children whose parents own guns to protect themselves against intruders.

“As someone who has experience using guns, I suggest that most homemakers are more likely to be killed in a gunbattle with an intruder than to kill him. It is ridiculous to argue that criminals kill people, not guns. Nor could Seung-Hui Cho have killed 32 people and injured 18 others at Virginia Tech with a knife instead of handguns.”

For these reasons and many others, I applaud tomorrow’s “Skip It on Saturday” from Moms Demand Action, asking that people not get their coffee at Starbucks, a popular gathering place for gun enthusiasts who take their firearms to protect them while buying their beverages for that one day. Corporate headquarters at Starbucks prohibits guns and does not allow its employees to carry firearms. This mandate shows that the company recognizes the danger of “packing”; the company needs to also create a place of safety for its customers as well. Moms Demand Action also provides a petition to stop Starbucks from allowing guns in his businesses.

I appreciate the comments that people make, giving me the chance to add more background to my columns.

August 22, 2013

Reading Can Change Lives

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:01 PM
Tags: , ,

If you ever identify so closely with a fictional character that you find yourself feeling his or her thoughts, beliefs, and emotional responses, you may have participated in a phenomenon called “experience-taking.”

According to researchers at Ohio State University, people may end up changing their behavior, although perhaps only temporarily, after being “lost” inside the world of a fictional character. For example, people who strongly identified with a fictional character who overcame obstacles to vote became significantly more likely to vote themselves. Other people who read about characters of a different race or sexual orientation develop a more favorable attitude toward these people with less of an inclination to believe stereotypes about them.

Co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University Lisa Libby said, “Experience-taking can be a powerful way to change our behavior and thoughts in meaningful and beneficial ways.” Geoff Kaufman, a graduate student at Ohio State who led the study, added, “Experience-taking changes us by allowing us to merge our own lives with those of the characters we read about, which can lead to good outcomes.”

Experience-taking doesn’t occur in all reading. Research shows that it only occurs when people forget about themselves—their own self-concepts and self-identities. For example, most college students were unable to experience the phenomenon while reading in a cubicle with a mirror. “The more you’re reminded of your own personal identity, the less likely you’ll be able to take on a character’s identity,” Kaufman said.

The study included 82 undergraduates, registered and eligible to vote, who were assigned to read one of four versions of a short story about a student enduring several obstacles on the morning of Election Day (car problems, rain, long lines, etc.) before entering the booth to cast a vote. This experiment occurred several days before the 2008 November presidential election. At least one version was written in first person (“I entered the voting booth) while another was in third person (“Paul entered the voting booth”). Versions featured a student who attended the same university as the participants or protagonists who attended a different university.

After reading the story, the participants completed a questionnaire to measure their level of experience-taking–how much they adopted the perspective of the character in the story. For example, they were asked to rate how much they agreed with statements like “I found myself feeling what the character in the story was feeling” and “I felt I could get inside the character’s head.”

Participants who read a story, told in first-person, about a student at their own university had the highest level of experience-taking, and 65 percent of these participants reported they voted on Election Day. In comparison, only 29 percent of the participants voted if they read the first-person story about a student from a different university.

Another experiment explored outcomes if people lose themselves in a character who initially appears to be similar but then is shown to be different from the reader. In one experiment, 70 male heterosexual college students read a story about a day in the life of another student. In one version, the character was revealed to be gay early in the story, in another the student was identified as gay late in the story, and in the third, the character was heterosexual. Students who read the story in which the character was identified as gay late in the narrative reported higher levels of experience-taking than did those who read the story in which the character’s homosexuality was announced early.

Those who read the gay-late narrative reported significantly more favorable attitudes toward LGBT people after reading the story than did readers of both the gay-early narrative and the heterosexual narrative. Those who read the gay-late narrative also relied less on stereotypes of homosexuals: they rated the gay character as less feminine and less emotional than did the readers of the gay-early story. Similar results were found when white students read stories about a black student, who was identified as black early or late in the story.

Libby said experience-taking is different from perspective-taking, in which people try to understand what another person is experiencing in a particular situation without losing sight of their own identities. “Experience-taking is much more immersive; you’ve replaced yourself with the other,” she said.

The key is that experience-taking is spontaneous: it happens naturally under the right circumstance. “Experience-taking can be very powerful because people don’t even realize it is happening to them. It is an unconscious process,” Libby said.

By comparison, watching a movie does not provide the experience taking. With that medium, viewers engage only as spectators which limits their ability to imagine themselves as characters.

Another stereotype that the study may not have addressed is that of gender. Sede Makonnen has put together a list of ten authors who will change the stereotype that a hero has to be male. In these fantasy novels, young women are as heroic—perhaps even more so—as young men. Although the books were published for young adults, their quality makes them transcend the ages of readers. (My favorite might be Patricia Wrede, but it’s hard to decide!)

Is it possible that people who exhibit openness toward others have a wider reading experience that those who tend to be narrow in their beliefs? This research seems to support the fundamentalists who don’t want their children to read about the world: young people may learn to accept diversity.

August 21, 2013

Rapists May Get Visitation, Custody Rights

Rape should not be a reason for a woman to have an abortion, according to many conservatives and rigid religions. What happens if a girl or woman follows the conservative position to save the fetus’s life and keep the baby after it is born? In some states, the rapist can get legal paternity rights over the child born from the rape.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one woman is fighting her rapist over this. After H.T. was raped, she lived with her mother, who had to quit her job to care for H.T.’s baby. Both H.T. and her mother have repeated told state officials that they want no contact for themselves and for the child with the rapist. H.T. asked during the criminal request for the rapist to pay criminal restitution instead of child support, thereby releasing her from any legal proceedings concerning him, but the sentencing judge refused. When she asked the Supreme Judicial Court for Massachusetts to review that judge’s decision, the one justice found that she lacked standing to challenge the judge’s order. H.T. would have to appeal the judge’s order in family court.

If H.T. doesn’t participate in the court proceedings for the 16 years, she can lose custody of the child. At the same time, she has to pay legal fees for the court proceedings. For 16 years, she lives under the threat of her rapist gaining parental rights if he tries to do this in order to avoid child support orders.

A year ago, H.T. and her mother found out that the rapist was trying to get visitation rights with the two-year-old child. He said that he would withdraw the request if he didn’t have to pay the $110-per-week child support. The complaint declares:

“An estimated 35,000 babies are born from rape every year. No state court has ever issued an order such as the one at issue here. Granting the plaintiff’s requested relief will inhibit state court judges in Massachusetts and elsewhere from similarly depriving rape victims of their liberty, personal autonomy and due process.”

Shauna Prewitt, a lawyer and rape survivor, has reported that 31 states allow rapists to sue for visitation rights. Shortly after her daughter’s birth in 2005 when Prewitt was pursuing charges against her accused rapist, he served her with papers demanding custody of their daughter. Missouri did not allow Prewitt to directly fight the custody request; the court needed to file a petition independently. Missouri has a law allowing the court to terminate parental rights in rape cases upon conviction. Statistics indicate that between one-third and two-thirds of women impregnated through rape carry the fetus to full term and keep the child.

As many as 91 percent of rapes are not prosecuted, and of those, only about half lead to a felony conviction. In the 19 states with laws addressing custody of rape-conceived children, 13 demand proof of conviction to waive the rapist’s parental rights. Two states have provisions that apply only if the victim is a minor and another one, only if the minor is a stepchild or adopted child of the rapist. Another three don’t deal with custody but restrict parental rights of a father or mother who sexually abused the other parent.

A Maryland state senator tried to get a law passed that used preponderance of evidence, when a jury needs to be at least 51 percent sure that the rape occurred. Thus far, the bill has failed despite testimony from several women about their continued harassment after rapists asserted parental rights.

Oregon passed a conviction-based law in 2011. Indiana passed a bill through the Senate, but it was modified in the House to authorize an advisory committee to study the issue first where it was dropped.

Last January, State Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R) proposed a bill in New Mexico that would require rape victims to carry their pregnancies to term during their sexual assault trials or face charges of “tampering with evidence.”  

HB 206 stated that both the pregnant woman and her doctor would be charged with a felong punishable by up to three years in state prison by “procuring or facilitating an abortion.” After national recognition—and embarrassment for the proposed bill—Brown said that she didn’t mean that the woman and the doctor would be guilty, that the bill was “poorly written.”

The proposed bill follows a year of GOP legislators, both federal and state, trying to add the term “forcible” to rape in order for raped women to get assistance. For example, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) removed the term “forcible rape” from updates to the state’s Child Care Assistance Policy under conditions for those seeking assistance—again after the mandate hit the national media. Martinez claimed that she used the term because the same language is in childcare regulations in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Maryland, and Maine. The New Mexico policy is not clear about whether women need to seek child support from their rapists because getting child care assistance.

Statistics indicate that between one-third and two-thirds of women impregnated through rape carry the fetus to full term and keep the child. The GOP wants to prevent all abortions, yet they refuse to pass laws that will protect the women who choose to not get an abortion and keep their children. Conservatives care only for fetuses–nothing for women and children.

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