Nel's New Day

September 30, 2013

Gleeful GOP Guts Economy with Shutdown

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:24 PM
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Today the Senate sent a cleaned up version of the Continuing Resolution to the House who returned the CR to the Senate with more anti-Obamacare language. The good news–for a very few–is that members of Congress will continue to be paid because they are considered “essential.” The bad news for most of the people is the GOP extortion will tear at the fragile economy of the United States.

In a satiric column, Andy Borowitz summarized the position of the House GOP regarding the vote that will shut down many parts of the federal government tomorrow:

“In a special Sunday radio address, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) delivered a health tip to the American people, advising them to delay getting cancer for a year. ‘We’re involved in a high-stakes fight over our freedom from centralized government control of our lives,’ said Mr. Boehner, speaking on behalf of his House colleagues. ‘You can do your part by delaying getting cancer.’ He added that heart disease, emphysema, and diabetes were among a laundry list of conditions that would be ‘patriotic to avoid for a year.’

“’If you delay getting any of these things for the next twelve months, together we will win this fight,’ he said. In closing, he reassured the American people that in the event of a government shutdown, members of Congress’ health benefits would remain intact: ‘We want to be in tip-top shape to continue to do the excellent job we’re doing for you.'”

The back-and-forth started ten days ago when the House sent a Continuing Resolution to continue funding the federal government with attachments that would defund Obamacare and eliminate the 2.7 percent tax on medical devices. The Senate returned a “clean” CR to continue funding the federal government, and the House retaliated with a CR that kept the anti-Obamacare provisions. As that CR was debated into early Sunday morning, Rep. Matt Salmon described the House mood as “ecstatic.”

Polls consistently show that people oppose a shutdown and are annoyed with political grandstanding, but Salmon said that the situation is “a win-win all the way around.” The New York Times described the mood of the GOP House members as “downright giddy.” Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) described his part in the closed-door meeting: “I said, like 9/11, ‘Let’s roll!’ ” Part of the “giddy” may have come from the alcoholic “spirits” that witnesses believed were being imbibed.

The Senate voted down additional provisions in the CR this morning. The House took the CR, added the anti-Obamacare provisions, and sent it back this afternoon. The Senate bounced the CR, minus the Obamacare provisions, back to the House this evening.

On Sunday morning Meet the Press, David  Gregory continually asked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)  about his inability to change people’s minds about Obamacare despite a 21-hour speech. Cruz only repeated, “I’m just trying to fight for 26 million Texans.” Of those 26 million Texans, 28.8 percent lack health insurance, compared to the 4.5 percent in Massachusetts with “Romneycare.” That’s at least 7,488,000 Texans who Cruz doesn’t represent. Cruz’s appearance today is a week after the Fox network, with the help of Karl Rove, eviscerated the man who wants to be president.

A government shutdown separates all federal workers into “essential” and “non-essential”—or more politely “excepted” and “non-excepted.” Managers at all federal agencies were directed to separate employees into these two categories. With a shutdown, essential workers stay without pay; non-essential workers close up shop for a half day and then go home.

Essential categories include national security, public safety, or programs in permanent or multi-year law such as Social Security and some veterans’ benefits. The U.S. military keeps operating, and air traffic controllers stay on the job. So do people in the areas of emergency medical care, food-safety inspections, border patrol, federal prisons, law enforcement, emergency and disaster assistance, overseeing the banking system (such as it is), operating the power grid, and guarding federal property.

Agencies with independent sources of funding, such as the U.S. Postal Service and Federal Reserve, keep running. Congressional members keep getting paid although their aides won’t unless they have specific appropriations. Essential workers won’t get retroactive pay for the shutdown unless Congress votes to give this to them.

Despite Salmon’s belief that this is a “win-win” situation, here are the losers:

  • In 2011, the government estimated furloughs without pay for 1.2 million federal employees in case of a shutdown. That’s 50 percent more than the 800,000 people sent home in the last round of 1995-1996.
  • People should forget getting visas, passports, entry into at least 400 national parks, monuments, and museums—the lights are off. That means the loss of millions—maybe billions—to lodging, eating places, retain places, etc. because people won’t travel to those areas.
  • No student or small business loans means that all these people put their lives on hold until the GOP House members stop drinking and get back to reality.
  • Gun lovers can’t add to their arsenals because the shutdown stops the processing of permits.
  • Nobody gets a federal loan for a house until the GOP decides to lift the government’s shutdown.
  • The National Institutes of Health won’t accept new patients for clinical research or answer hotline calls about medial questions, and the Centers for Disease Control stops monitoring disease.
  • Investigations into bankruptcy and child-support cases cease.
  • With no regulators, the EPA shuts down as do the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
  • People might get their Social Security checks, but they won’t get their questions answered or their addresses changed.
  • A backlog of veterans’ requests of benefits shrank from 600,000 to 450,000 in September. The shutdown reverses that trend.
  • IRS tax refunds along with farm loans and payments won’t exist during the shutdown.
  • A shutdown of more than one week would take money from public schools, that receive over 20 percent of their funds from the federal government, and the 14 million students on student grants and loans at over 6,600 schools.

And much, much more as identified in this 2011 memo from the White House when the GOP members in Congress played the same game. Congressional Research Service recently issued a 21-page document called “Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects.”

The mayor of Washington, D.C. is declaring all city services “essential” so the weekly 500 tons of garbage will get picked up as well as functioning in other city agencies including the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Public Works, and the D.C. Public Libraries.

What the country lost in the 1995-1996 shutdowns:

  • U.S. tourist industries and airlines lost millions of dollars from disruption of the passport and visa holdups and closed national parks. Business trips were also stopped, both here and abroad.
  • One-fifth, $3.7 billion, of federal contracts was put on hold with employees unpaid.
  • Drilling permits and processing applications for liquefied natural gas exports were stopped.
  • The FDA was spared in the last shutdown, but this time the review process for new drugs may be bogged down because the FDA is no longer considered “essential.”

One major system not impacted by a government shutdown is Obamacare, including the new online marketplaces that go into effect the same day as the shutdown. Medicaid expansion and federal tax credits helping with purchasing coverage both have mandatory funding.

Even scarier than the government shutdown from a lack of the CR is the possibility of disaster from the GOP not raising the debt ceiling. Former adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-A) and Moody’s economist Mark Zandi testified at a joint congressional hearing earlier this month on “The Economic Costs of Debt-Ceiling Brinkmanship”:

“If you don’t do [raise the debt ceiling] in time, confidence will evaporate, consumer confidence will sharply decline, [as well as] investor confidence, business confidence. Businesses will stop hiring, consumers will stop spending, the stock market will fall significantly in value, borrowing costs for businesses and households will rise.”

The government has enough money to pay its bills, debts that Congress has already accrued, until October 17. GOP legislators don’t seem to understand that raising the debt ceiling means that the country pays the bills—expenditures caused by GOP’s reduction of taxes and excessive costs for at least two wars.

Responses from people in the United States to the GOP’s current hostage situation:

  • Only 7 percent back the GOP’s plan to delay and defund Obamacare.
  • Less than one-third (26 percent) support the GOP’s ultimate and oft-stated goal of completely repealing Obamacare.
  • On Obamacare, 68 percent want the law to move forward as is or with improvements.
  • The same percentage (68 percent) agree that shutting down the government for even a few days is “a bad thing for the country.”
  • Four-fifths agree agree that threatening a government shutdown is not an acceptable way to negotiate.

Over and over, GOP legislators say that Obamacare passed with the approval of only one party. They ignore the fact that only one party in the House has passed the last 40+ votes to overturn the law.  Ted Cruz has called on Republicans to “stand your ground.” Florida has that law, and we know how well that worked out for Trayvon Martin and thousands of other people.

If the GOP stands their ground and shuts down the government tomorrow, remember one thing: Congress will still get paid.

[Did you know that there was a “panda cam” at the National Zoo to show the new baby panda bear? Never mind. It’s been shut down along with lots of other things that the federal government provides. Okay, GOP, the government isn’t into shutdown. But Obamacare just started!]

 

September 29, 2013

September 28, 2013

News Hiding among GOP Shutting Down the Government

The news media has been fixated about the possibility of the U.S. government shutting down with a sideways glance at the first conversation between a U.S. president and an Iranian president in 34 years. The latest comes from The Hill which reports that the House voted to move more quickly on the Continuing Resolution that the Senate sent back to them yesterday. (The article reports that “just a handful of Republicans and Democrats” voted against changing the rule: that “handful” is actually 191 votes—44 percent of the members.)

Rapid voting won’t help because the GOP is adding two amendments to the Senate’s version of the CR, one delaying Obamacare for one year and the other repealing the 2.7 percent tax on medical devices in Obamacare. Another addition is a “conscience clause,” meaning that anyone, for example pharmacists, could refuse preventative care for women. This evening they’re just sitting around delaying the vote. It’s gone beyond ideological to thumbing their noses at women’s rights.

One governor who wants Obamacare is Kentucky’s Steve Beshear who wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “My State Needs Obamacare. Now.”  Pointing out that Kentucky is among the sickest, most unhealthy state in the nation, he credits the Medicaid expansion and Kynect health exchange for providing affordable coverage to more than 600,000 Kentuckians, creating 17,000 jobs, and saving the state $800 million. He writes to his GOP senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and others:

“So, to those more worried about political power than Kentucky’s families, I say, ‘Get over it.’ Get over it … and get out of the way so I can help my people. Here in Kentucky, we cannot afford to waste another day or another life.”

Here’s other news that hasn’t receive attention because of the concentration on Ted Cruz’s and the Tea Party’s games:

The best news is that 32-year-old Marissa Alexander will receive a new trial after serving of her 20-year prison sentence in Florida. Over three years ago, her husband  broke through a locked door into the bathroom where she was hiding, grabbed her by the neck, and shoved her to the floor. She escaped into the garage but couldn’t escape. When she returned  into the house with a gun, her husband said, “Bitch, I’ll kill you.” She fired the gun into the ceiling. The jury took 12 minutes to refuse her claims of self-defense. Firing a gun during a felony gives a mandatory 20-year sentence in Florida.

A state appellate panel reversed the conviction because the court had instructed the jury that she had to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The “stand your ground” law puts the burden of proof on the prosecutor. That’s the reason that the jury failed to award George Zimmerman a guilty verdict for killing Trayvon Martin. The appellate court also stated that Alexander didn’t have to prove she had been injured by her husband because he was not hurt in the shooting.

Alexander, who had no criminal record, had never been arrested, and she had a restraining order against her husband. She was prosecuted by Angela Corey, the same prosecutor in the Zimmerman case.

The next time that conservatives snarl about the current president having used illegal drugs in the past, think about their hypocrisy. According to an advocacy group trying to legalize marijuana, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), at least 100 million “successful Americans” have used marijuana and “even more” think it should be legal. These include such high-profile conservatives as presidential wannabes Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum as well as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and George W. Bush.

The same conservatives who want a “War on Drugs” also think that federal surveillance is important for their safety. A new audit of the Department of Justice finds that the statistics of terrorism have been overstated (aka falsified). In 2009, figures for terrorist convictions were inflated by 13 percent; in the next year, that rate of exaggeration doubled to 26 percent. The Department of Justice branch responsible for these figures, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), gave the reason as human error and “shoddy recordkeeping”—counting terrorists twice or counting those with dismissed charges as convictions. Convictions for non-terrorist crimes such as bank robbery, drug dealing, and animal fighting were also incorrectly classified as terrorist convictions. The insistence that NSA’s surveillance program disrupted 50 terrorist plots is equally false.

By not paying taxes, giant corporations have the money to sue countries around the world. Philip Morris has lawsuits against the Australian government to overturn public health laws aimed at reducing teenage smoking. Chevron has hired 2,000 lawyers in an attempt to avoid paying Ecuador $19 billion in damages due for the horrific oil spills they inflicted. Bayer is suing Europe to overturn their ban on bee-killing pesticide—all while investing millions with Monsanto to defeat an effort to label GM foods in the U.S.

While going through my email requests for petition-signers, I came across this gem. The National Football League (NFL), a $9 billion a year industry, is tax-exempt because it claims to be a non-profit organization. The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, makes almost $30 million a year, more than the heads of Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart; the NFL controls more than $50 billion in contracts with television networks. Taxpayers fund stadiums where NFL teams play. The Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association aren’t tax-free: the NFL should have to pay taxes.

Allen West, famous for his sexist language while he was a one-term U.S. GOP representative from Florida, has left his job at Pajamas Media. There are two versions about why. West said he resigned. Others said that he was fired after he told a female staffer to “shut up” and called her a “Jewish American princess.” West described it as “an exchange.”

In closing most of its women’s clinics in Texas, legislators used the falsehood that the reason was women’s safety. Texas Tribune has now officially debunked that lie with a review of state inspection records for 36 clinics that provided abortions. Although auditors found 19 regulatory violations they claimed were risks to patient safety at six of the clinics not ambulatory surgical centers, none was severe enough to warrant financial penalties. The facilities’ corrective actions were sufficient to protect the patients. In the past five years, the Texas Medical Board took action for just three doctors who performed abortions, all for administrative infractions. During the past 15 years, however, the maternal mortality rate for Texas has quadrupled.

The tiniest blip on the radar is probably the most dangerous news for people in the U.S. and the world. Secret negotiations for the proposed “free trade” agreement among over 12 countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to be concluded in October, will destroy the U.S.’s ability to make laws protecting the country. A drastic consequence is the dissolution of our internet freedoms. Provisions in this agreement, according to leaks, deal with intellectual property, including online copyright enforcement, anti-circumvention measures, and Internet intermediary liability. If passed, the TPP provisions will infringe on privacy, freedom of expression, and innovation on the Internet.

Specific risks would include blocking deaf and blind people from existing uses of the Internet; forcing service providers to collect and hand over your private data without privacy safeguards; kicking entire families off the Internet for minor copyright infringements; giving media conglomerates more power to fine you for Internet use and remove online content—including entire websites; and creating a parallel legal system of international tribunals that will undermine national sovereignty and allow conglomerates to sue countries for laws that infringe on their profits.

After individuals and organizations began protesting TPP, the negotiations went farther underground with no meeting announcements from the U.S. Trade Rep. There may have been one in September in Mexico City during which countries resistant to U.S. demands to sign onto the standards may have been strong-armed into doing so. .

Congress members in Peru have presented a motion to demand a thorough and public debate on current TPP proposals and for trade delegates to give a comprehensive report on the ongoing negotiations. Chilean Senators recently called for a public debate on TPP, requesting the President to provide “timely and accurate” information on the affects of the agreement on their country. In New Zealand, a Parliamentary member is demanding answers from the Prime Minister about the secrecy of the agreement and how its provisions could undermine consumer protection laws. Canadian Member of Parliament Don Davies has called on the Prime Minister to give Parliamentary Member access to the TPP, especially in light of documents revealing how a small group of industry associations have had special access to Canada’s negotiating position. The Malaysian Cabinet released a statement saying that it would not be bound by a fixed timeline on TPP and calling for more transparency in the process.

At this point, the timeline for TPP’s conclusion is ambiguous. The U.S. Trade Rep Michael Froman continues to claim that the U.S. will not force countries to rush a deal by any particular deadline, while also stating that the Obama administration has placed top priority on concluding the TPP before the end of the year.

My favorite: Two weeks ago when First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up with Partnership for a Healthier America to encourage people to drink more water, Rush Limbaugh did his usual attack against her: “This is really absurd.  Drink more water?  It’s none of their business.  Why do they care?  You drink when you’re thirsty.” Hopefully, no one looks at Limbaugh as an example of someone in good health. At this point, one way to kill off conservatives would be for Michelle Obama to recommend breathing. Meanwhile, I’m trying to drink more water. It’s my personal protest against the right-wing conservatives.

September 27, 2013

Zombie Monsanto Law Must Be Stopped

A piece of good news hiding among the lack of Cruz Control antics this week is the Senate’s decision to drop the Monsanto Protection Rider. Last March Monsanto paid Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) $64,000 to put a rider into the must-pass farm bill to protect companies that sell GMOs from any lawsuits. The Secretary of Agriculture was instructed to allow the cultivation and sale of GMO crops even though they posed a potential risk to farmers of nearby crops, the environment, and human health. Monsanto wrote the language for the rider and then gave it to Blunt. That exemption for companies such as Monsanto, however, disappears in just four days.

The House put the Monsanto Protection Rider back into the House version of the short-term appropriations bill, the Continuing Resolution (CR) that also including the defunding of  Obamacare. But that rider was stripped from the appropriations bill that the Senate returned to the House.  Some of the Democrats who voted against the rider may be hurt in their upcoming elections. For example, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), appointed to the Senate in 2012, knows the danger that genetically-modified crops present to his state.

A new group, the New Democrat Coalition, may be more supportive of protecting Monsanto and GMOs. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) knows how bad GMOs are for his state agriculture. A member of the New Dems, Colleen Hanabusa, plans to primary Schatz and follow the group’s support of big business through lowering their tax rates, eliminating regulations, and establishing the Trans Pacific Partnership described as “the wish list of the top 1 percent.” In their advocacy of big corporations, the New Dems see biotech as the “future of the U.S.,” pushing to extend patents and give corporate welfare to the companies.

GMO companies want to keep people ignorant of the contents of their food. don’t even want to let people know what is in their food. Here’s what many people don’t know:

  • Labeling genetically engineered foods (GMOs) will not cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
  • Buying certified organic products does not let consumers avoid GMOs because food companies are permitted to use the term “natural” for products with GMOs.
  • Labeling laws will not result in new lawsuits against farmers, food producers, and store owners about food label terminology. It’s actually Monsanto that continually sues farmers across the country for growing their own seeds.
  • Labeling GMOs will not create a “bureaucratic nightmare” for grocers and retailers.
  • Genetically engineered do pose health safety risks. A study showed that GMO corn sprayed with Monsanto’s Round Up herbicide resulted in massive tumors, organ failure, and premature death in rats. Other studies link these foods to allergies, organ toxicity, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders, birth defects, high infant mortality rates, fertility problems, and sterility.
  • GE foods are not as, or more, nutritious than organic foods that contain higher levels of beta carotene, vitamins C, D and E, health-promoting polyphenols, cancer-fighting antioxidants, flavonoids that help ward off heart disease, essential fatty acids, and essential minerals. GMO corn has 14 parts-per-million (ppm) of calcium while non-GMO corn has 6130 ppm, or 437 times more. Non-GMO corn also has 56 times more magnesium and seven times more manganese than GMO corn.
  • The World Health Organization, American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences and other respected medical and health organizations do not conclude that GE foods are safe.
  • We do not need GMOs to feed the world because GE crops don’t lead to greater crop yields. Conventional plant breeding, not genetic engineering, is responsible for yield increases in major U.S. crops.
  • The creation of GE seeds is not comparable to the cross-breeding that our ancestors did to create hardier versions of heritage crops. Cross breeding is the product of guided natural reproduction, while GMOs are created in a laboratory using high-tech and sophisticated techniques. One of these techniques involves gene-splicing which is used to cross a virus or a bacteria with a plant. These untested, unnatural creations are the antithesis to what our ancestors did, and what responsible farmers do: cross-pollinate different varieties of the same plant to help naturally bring forth desirable characteristics.
  • GE crops do not reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides. In fact GE crops greatly increase the use of these toxic chemicals. According to a new study by Food and Water Watch, the “total volume of glyphosate applied to the three biggest GE crops — corn, cotton and soybeans — increased 10-fold from 15 million pounds in 1996 to 159 million pounds in 2012” with the overall pesticide use rising by 26 percent from 2001 to 2010. The use of GE crops are now driving up the volume of toxic herbicides needed each year by about 25 percent.
  • GE crops are harmful to the environment. In addition to polluting the environment with herbicides and pesticides, GE crops lead to biodiversity loss and the emergence of “super bugs” and  “super weeds” that threaten millions of acres of farmland, thus requiring the need for even more dangerous and toxic herbicides. GMO use endangers many critical species, including the honey bee, frogs, birds, fish and the Monarch Butterfly. The island of Molokai in Hawaii has had its air and water quality destroyed by Monsanto’s almost-2000-acre test facility. Worldwide, people in areas around GMO farms report horrific bloody skin rashes, an uptick in asthma, and toxic pesticides that leach into the groundwater.

A recent study shows that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, may be “the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment” because it damages cellular systems throughout the body. It’s also the most popular herbicide on the planet and therefore likely to be pervasive in the world’s food supply. Scientists reported “signature of sarin” in Syrians who died several weeks ago, the same signature as the contents of Roundup.

A 2012 study published in the journal Archives of Toxicology shows Roundup to be toxic to human DNA even when diluted to concentrations 450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications. Industry regulators and long-term studies look at glyphosate in isolation, instead of looking at Roundup’s full formulation, which includes secret added ingredients. These “confidential” and unlabeled ingredients, when measured as a whole, affect all living cells, including human cells.

Genetically-engineered seeds are available for three of the four major crops in the U.S.: corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Planting GE wheat seeds is illegal, but an Oregonian farmer found GE wheat growing in his fields last June, 12 years after Monsanto stopped its field trials. That one discovery risked the possibility of wheat farmers in Oregon not being able to export any of its crops because other countries such as Japan and China don’t want GE crops. The farmers could lose up to $3 million.

This month, a broker rejected an alfalfa crop in Washington state after testing positive for the genetic presence of Roundup Ready. The fourth-most widely grown crop in the United States, alfalfa has a value of about $8 billion; exports hit a record high of $1.25 billion last year. Washington is one of the nation’s biggest export alfalfa producers. In addition to being unable to export alfalfa to many countries, farmers may not be able to sell the crop for feed to domestic livestock because of GM contaminants.

Jack Heinemann, a New Zealand scientists, thinks that people may not be able to contain GE crops. A GE rice variety never commercialized was exported to France in 2006, and GE corn unapproved for human consumption showed up in Taco Bell taco shells.

The FDA reported that Monsanto concluded the wheat it tested was safe. With the reemergence of the wheat, Monsanto assures consumers that the FDA declared the safety of this wheat over a decade ago. In essence, Monsanto told FDA that the wheat is just fine so they are now saying that the FDA says that the wheat is safe.

Another danger comes from pharma crops, those engineered to produce pharmaceuticals or a toxic industrial compound. The USDA approved almost 400 field tests of these crops starting in 1991. In 2002, stalks of corn designed to produce a pig vaccine were mixed with $2.7 million worth of Nebraska soya beans for human consumption.

Large GMO companies such as Monsanto don’t want people to know that rat poison is an ingredient in their food products, and they don’t want people to file lawsuits against them if someone accidentally finds out. The House has voted to let Monsanto put poison in their seeds with impunity. Tomorrow they will probably hold the country hostage so that GOP House members will continue to be paid for their GMO support. Monsanto also spent $4.5 million to defeat an initiative to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods—in just one state.

For the past six months, no farmer could sue Monsanto for the damage to their crops, but Monsanto was able to sue farmers if seeds accidentally migrated into their fields. This has to stop. Zombie bills are those that seem to have a life of their own, that keep rising up. The zombie bill of the Monsanto Protection Rider needs to be eviscerated–permanently.

September 26, 2013

Dumb & Dumber – The Gop Party Can’t Quit

After Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) got to make his long speech, ending yesterday, about defunding Obamacare, the Senate was supposed to vote on the Continuing Resolution. That didn’t happen, but lots of other things did.

The media had a field day comparing Cruz and the real Texas filibusterer Wendy Davis, who fought draconian anti-women state laws. Cruz is “aimless and self-destructive” (New York Times editorial board), elitist (GQ),  and likely guided more by presidential aspirations than principles (CNN). Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, called Cruz, his former Princeton colleague, an “arrogant jerk” — and worse.

Davis, Texas state senator, was the subject of a glowing Vogue profile and became a superstar on almost every major network.  She was the “Sunday Spotlight” for ABC’s This Week and was interviewed by Jeff Zeleny in the dinner theater where she once waited tables. Even conservative columnist Peggy Noonan described Davis as “so spirited, she has such energy and she seems to have such commitment.” As Dylan Byers wrote on Politico, “When a Democrat like Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis filibusters against abortion restrictions, she is elevated to hero status, her tennis shoes become totems. When Cruz grandstands against Obamacare, he is a laughingstock in the eyes of many journalists on Twitter, an “embarrassment” in the eyes of The New York Times editorial board.”

Since Cruz’s speech, Huffington Post has discovered that he doesn’t accept government health insurance because his wife’s employment as a regional head of a Goldman Sachs division gives him top-notch health insurance. According to a 2009 New York Times report, top executive officers and managing directors at the bank participate in a health care program that costs Goldman more than $40,000 in annual premiums for each participant’s family.

what a tea partier looks likeAfter yesterday’s vote to move ahead on the Continuing Resolution to keep the government functioning past this coming Monday, GOP greed bogged down the process into inaction by demanding a bizarre set of conditions. Without these, they plan to shut down the government and send the economy into a tailspin. Originally conservatives (aka Tea Partiers to right)  just wanted to defund Obamacare, but their list has vastly expanded just five days before the U.S. shuts down:

  • Approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline: After 3,900 temporary jobs, the pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast would support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs. Annual emissions would be “the equivalent of 6 million cars on the road,” according to the EPA.
  • Weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:  The GOP has had a strong yen to promote predatory lending practices from banks and financial institutions.
  • Cut $120 billion from federal health programs over the next decade:. In addition to repealing other benefits for health reform, this would increase Medicare costs.
  • Increase offshore oil drilling and energy production on federal lands: The GOP wants to have new drilling on the entire U.S. Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast off Southern California, and much of Alaska’s offshore space despite the fact that Congress refuses to make drilling safer after the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
  • Block federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions: In 2007 the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA can regulate carbon dioxide under the 1973 Clean Air Act. With the discovery that exposure to air pollution kills about 200,000 people a year, the GOP wants to reverse the EPA control. Up to 3 million premature deaths could be avoided each year globally by 2100 if aggressive emissions cuts are made.
  • Restrict most forms of federal industry regulation: The GOP wants all major regulations to need Congressional votes and nullify any not approved within 70 days. Such a law would require federal agencies to have Congressional approval for changes  in vehicle safety standards, reductions in greenhouse emissions, or streamlining the FDA’s process for approving new drugs.
  • Pass a tax-reform blueprint that the GOP finds acceptable.
  • Block any ways to combat climate crisis. 
  • Eliminate Net Neutrality for a free and open Internet.
  • Extend destructive sequestration spending cuts.
  • Execute pro-corporatre tort reforms, including limits on medical malpractice lawsuits. 
  • Ban abortions after 20 weeks.

And there may be more! Meanwhile Democrats are asking for nothing except to keep the country functioning.

More Republicans are angry about the behavior of the ultra-conservative legislators. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) lambasted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) after they refused to agree to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) request to move up a cloture vote on a continuing resolution funding the government from Friday to Thursday evening. Corker argued that the Senate should act as soon as possible in order to give their House colleagues more time to avert a government shutdown, criticizing Cruz for putting on a “show” meant to attract attention instead. Corker said:

“It’s my understanding again, relative to this vote tonight happening tomorrow instead, is that my two colleagues, who I respect, have sent out e-mails around the world and turned this into a show possibly, and, therefore, they want people around the world to watch maybe them and others on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is also having a worse week than usual. Because U.S. senators present names to the president for appeals court potential nominees, Rubio and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-FL) are responsible for suggesting qualified professionals to serve on federal district courts in their state. They selected Judge William Thomas after subjecting him to a background check. President Obama’s team agreed, and Thomas was headed to be the first openly gay black man to serve as a federal judge. Rubio has now announced his opposition to the judicial nominee he selected for the position. Without the approval of both senators, Thomas has lost the nomination. Rubio must still want to be the 2016 GOP presidential candidate.

The GOP also had a bad day yesterday after  the Inspector’ General’s Office issued a report that there was no bias in the independent audit of the attack in Benghazi, contrary to the claims from Republican legislators. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has spent much of his political capital for the last year to prove that the State Department was trying to protect then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The report was overseen by  Acting Inspector General Harold Geisel, assigned to his role by Condoleezza Rice in 2008, and calls for GOP attacks on the Benghazi audit to stop.

ramboldToday is also the day that admitted rapist and former high school teacher Stacey “Sandy” Rambold, 54, walked out of the Montana State Prison after his 31-day sentence for raping 14-year-old Cherice Moralez. That was in 2007, three years after the school district that employed him had told him not to touch or be alone with female students.

BaughAfter the legal process of convicting him, District Judge G. Todd Baugh, said, “He’d suffered enough.” At the same sentencing, he said the victim, Cherice Moralez, was “older than her chronological age.” In response to public outcry, Baugh added, “Obviously a 14-year-old can’t consent.” But he continued that this wasn’t “some violent, forcible, horrible rape.” It wasn’t, said the judge, “this forcible beat-up rape.” He also stated that the 14-year-old was “as much in control of the situation” as the 49-year-old teacher.

In an almost incoherent defense of his actions, Baugh told the Billings Gazette:

“I think what people are seeing is a sentence for rape of 30 days. Obviously on the face of it, if you look at it in that way, it’s crazy. No wonder people are upset. I’d be upset, too, if that happened.”

Judge Baugh made it happen.

Just before her 17th birthday, Moralez, tormented by classmates, killed herself with a gun. After her suicide, the prosecution made a “deferred prosecution agreement” with Rambold. All charges, including the one to which Rambold admitted, would be dismissed if he completed a sex-offender treatment program and met other requirements including no contact with children. When the rapist failed to meet the conditions of the agreement, prosecutors asked the judge for a 20-year sentence. Baugh ruled that Rambold’s violations “were more technical and not the kind you would send someone to prison for.”

Hanlon said the pain of her daughter’s death hasn’t faded. Rambold made unauthorized visits with relatives’ children and failed to disclose he was in a sexual relationship with a Washington woman.

State prosecutors are appealing the sentence, claiming that Montana’s state law requires a minimum sentence of two years for Rambold. With no new offenses, however, he will stay out of prison pending the appeal which could take 12 to 18 months. Unless the original sentence if overruled, Rambold must register as a sex offender and stay on probation until 2028.

A formal complaint to remove Baugh from the bench for alleged bias is pending before the state Judicial Standards Commission.

If Baugh’s reaction were unique, it would be horrifying. But even worse, this is a common event. Defense lawyers used the same defense for a juvenile detention guard in Louisiana when he raped a 14-year-old girl in his care. The case won’t be heard again until March 24, 2014, because of a crowded court docket. In 2000, a South Caroline Circuit judge cut a 27-year-old youth minister’s sentence in half to six years because the  14-year-old girl’s body “was [at] an unusual stage of maturity.”

hw. bush witnessLast weekend, former President George H.W. Bush was the official witness at the wedding between Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, long-time friends of the Bushes. It was reported that the Bushes gave the newly-weds Target bake-ware as a gift.

 

bush four

September 25, 2013

Cruz Pretends to Filibuster, Alienates His Own Party

Yesterday, Sen.Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) announcement that he would filibuster Obamacare took media attention across the country. It was as if nothing else was happening. But he doesn’t understand what a filibuster actually is. His colleague in the Texas state senate, Wendy Davis, understands the filibuster as she stood for over 11 hours, not touching any furniture, not eating or drinking, not using the restroom, and speaking alone on one specific subject. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) allowed Cruz to give a really long speech in which he read a children’s book and stopped speaking while other senators took up his time. He didn’t block or stop anything, the way that Davis did; he just wasted time.

cruz daughtersDuring his 21-hour speech, Cruz compared fellow Republicans to Nazi appeasers, said that most people in Washington wear “cheap suits with bad haircuts,” and took time out to read a book to his adoring daughters as tweeted by Jason Johnson. The daughters are very fortunate in having health care; Cruz represents a state in which 33% of adults and 17% of children have no health insurance.

The selection of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham might have seemed a good choice for anyone who didn’t read the entire book–like a Fox network host. Cruz said that the complaints about eating green eggs and ham were exactly like Obamacare—people didn’t want it. The book, however, makes a point about being open to experiences because at the end the character gives in, eats the food—and likes it. The character even says, “Thank you!”

On Slate, Matthew Yglesias points out the similarity of the book to Obamacare: “The Democrats’ bet on the Affordable Care Act is that it’s like green eggs and ham—they’re convinced the public will like it when they try it.” Yglesias continues with the explanation that’s going through the media like a virus, that the GOP is desperate to repeal Obamacare before it takes effect because people will find that they love it.

There’s a story circulating about a man who looked at Kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange established by Obamacare, and said, “That’s better than Obamacare.”

Although Cruz might think that the Republican party is ready for an anti-establishment candidate like himself, it hasn’t happened for 50 years when Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) ran for president—and lost. “When the Wall Street Journal starts to belittle you… That’s what these people read every day,” said one senior GOP aide, explaining why Cruz won’t be getting the donors with deep pockets.

For a supposedly bright man, Cruz has a lot of negative baggage. He threatened to support the Second Amendment by bringing his own gun into a committee meeting and encouraging others to do the same thing. After Cruz and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) sent a memo to that effect, federal law enforcement officials made sure that the senators left their weapons at home.

Cruz wanted to impeach Obama for no good reason, and he questioned Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s patriotism. If the United Nations didn’t stop China’s policy of one child per couple, Cruz threatened to pull U.S. funding from the U.N. meant for peace-keeping missions and assistance to refugees. Cruz has never liked the U.N. because he thinks that the organization is trying to get rid of golf courses in the United States.

While Cruz advocates Christian churches be allowed to endorse political candidates, he declared that Islamic law in the United States is “an enormous problem.” Trying now to look as if he’s not part of the elite, Cruz refused to study with anyone at Harvard Law School who hadn’t been an undergraduate at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale.

The greatest irony is that Cruz’s speech was directed at a bill that the House had passed. In essence, he was delaying the vote on a bill that 217 GOP House members had approved. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said,”We’d be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill we’re in favor of.” After Cruz spoke for 21 hours, the Senate voted 100-0—including Cruz’s vote—to vote on the bill.

Last March Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called Cruz a wacko so Cruz is now declaring that McCain lost the 2008 presidential election because conservatives wouldn’t vote for him. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said that Cruz didn’t understand how much damage would be caused to the GOP if they shut the government down as they did in 1995-96. Other GOP legislators are unhappy with Cruz although not as openly.

As an ambitious politician, Cruz seems to be all about getting donations to his potential presidential campaign. Most of the money coming into Defund, Inc. is directed toward Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), and the Senate Conservatives Fund. The month of August, typically slow for fundraisers, saw $1.5 million go into SCF’s account along with the names of 1.5 million people who signed the defund petition on the Don’tFundObamaCare website.

The SCF, presumably a Republican PAC, has run ads attacking seven GOP senators, including Mitch McConnell, Jeff Flake, and Lindsey Graham, for not opposing Obamacare enough, even though they all voted against the bill and said they would vote to defund it. Last week, the SCF announced it would also run ads against House Republicans if they fail to embrace the right defund strategy. Haley Barbour, former Mississippi governor and RNC chairman, said:

“The House of Representatives has voted to repeal Obamacare in one form or another something like 40 times since it went into effect, yet some of these groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund or the Club for Growth attack the same Republicans who voted against OC, but they attack them over tactics. There is just no excuse.”

A lesser known reason that the GOP is bitterly fighting against the implementation of Obamacare is that it registers voters. When uninsured people, primarily low-income and minority applicants, sign up for health care exchanges, they will be asked if they want to register to vote. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), aka the Motor Voter law, directs DMVs and other public assistance state agencies to provide voter registration services. Both state-run exchanges and the federally-run exchanges in states where GOP governors refuse to set them up will be required to comply with the Motor Voter law.

Rush Limbaugh declared in June that Obamacare is “about building a permanent, undefeatable, always-funded Democrat majority.” Last spring Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) wrote to HHS, charging that the health care law “does not give your Department an interest in whether individual Americans choose to vote” and asking HHS to provide justification for including voter registration questions in health insurance applications.

Some conservative legal scholars argue that exchanges don’t fall under the Motor Voter law’s definition of social service providers because they operate as a marketplace for private insurance. The exchanges, however, also provide government subsidies, and HHS made it clear that all health care exchanges would need to provide voter registration services. The 24 million mostly low-income and minority uninsured folks who are expected to purchase insurance through the exchanges are particularly likely to be unregistered to vote. Not having health insurance is one of the strongest indicators that someone will not vote, according to Lake Research, a political strategy research firm.

Only 65 percent of eligible voters in the US are registered to vote, and scores of new voting laws from GOP legislatures are putting barriers between many people and the voting booths.

At least 140 million people registered in the two decades wince the Motor Voter law took effect. If Obamacare is responsible for increased voter registration, it could change democracy in the United States. Following the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, senior voter turnout rates rose while turnout for other age groups dropped. Midterm turnout for seniors rose from 66 percent to 73 percent between 1958 and 1998 alone, and now seniors vote at an historically high rate. As Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota and author of Health Care Reform and American Politics, explained, “The passage of Social Security gave seniors resources and motivation and identity as beneficiaries that got them to the polls.”

The same scenario will likely play out among poor and minority voters who often feel disconnected from politics and government, Jacobs added. They will soon receive “tangible benefits” through the Affordable Care Act and will be motivated to hold onto those benefits by voting. “Obamacare will define a new constituency,” Jacobs concluded.

In the New York Times Frank Bruni called Cruz’s speech “grandstanding”:

“This week [Cruz] is blithely putting the lawmakers in his party between a rock and a hard place. If they fail to match the anti-Obamacare passion that he flexed anew in a Senate speech Monday, they’ll land on the far right’s watch list. But if they match it and the government shuts down, there’s a good chance that the Republican Party takes the blame and a hit it can ill afford.”

An informal U.S. News & World Report survey shows that over 81 percent of respondents believe that the GOP threats to shut down the government to defund Obamacare will hurt the party.

The Obamacare health exchanges open in six days. Be afraid, GOP—be very afraid.

For some educational entertainment, check out Jon Stewart’s take on Ted Cruz.

September 24, 2013

School in the 21st Century

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:56 PM
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Seventh-grader Miranda Washinawatok speaks two languages, Menominee and English. Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano (WI), a school over 60 percent American Indian, suspended her from playing a basketball game because she said “I love you” in the Menominee to another student. Her assistant coach told her she was being benched because two teachers said she had a bad attitude. Miranda’s mother, Tanaes Washinawotok, went to the school early next morning to find out what the problem was.

The principal explained that her “attitude problem” was saying “posoh,” meaning hello, and “ketapanen,” meaning I love you. Miranda’s grandmother is the director of the Language and Culture Commission of the Menominee Tribe and has a degree in linguistics from the University of Arizona’s College of Education-AILDI American Indian Language Development Institute. She has also been a tribal chair.

The school is operated by the Diocese of Green Bay. It has an option on its answering machine for Spanish but not Menominee.

Constitution Day, a day each week when schools that accept public funding must teach about the U.S. Constitution was a week ago. To commemorate that day, Robert Van Tuinen stood outside the student resource center at Modesto Junior College (CA) and handed out copies of the constitution. Ten minutes after he started doing this, campus police told him that he had to stop because he could hand out materials only in the designated “free speech zone.” It seems that free speech is allowed in only one spot at the school. Even there, he would have had to schedule his “free speech” in advance. According to a letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

“Modesto Junior College is hardly alone in its fear of free speech. In fact, one in six of America’s 400 largest and most prestigious colleges have ‘free speech zones’ limiting where speech can take place. This video brings to life the deeply depressing reality of the climate for free speech on campus.”

Tuinen hoped to start a chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty, a conservative libertarian organization, at his school.

A few weeks ago, a seven-year-old girl was banned from her Tulsa (OK) charter school for wearing her hair in dreadlocks. After a protest, she was readmitted. This week, Neices Houston was banned from her seventh-grade classes for two days at Seagraves Junior High School (TX) because her hair had been dyed blonde. Houston had won permission to do this after two years of straight A grades. The school said that they were trying to prepare their students for the business world and would suspend students who didn’t conform to their necessary fashion etiquette. Houston has transferred to the nearby Loop Independent School.

Gay Alex Worthley, a freshman at the University of Central Missouri, was assigned to a homophobic roommate who had requested that he not be put in a room with an openly gay person. Although Worthley  asked to be assigned a different roommate, the school refused because, it claimed, that would be discrimination.  After the two young men got in an argument over Alex’s music, the roommate said, according to Alex, “I do have a knife and I’ll use it if I have to.”  Worthley reported the violent incident to school authorities, and the two were given separate rooms. Then the school sent Worthley a disciplinary letter that stated, in part:

“There seems to be a strong possibility that some of your own actions and comments were part of the reason this situation escalated from jesting to threatening.”

Schools have gone beyond brainwashing students in religion to forcing politics on them. An example is Illinois where teachers are legally required to teach students that coal is a safe, affordable source of energy. The propaganda mandate,  the Illinois Coal Technology Development Assistance Act, inserts pro-coal content into all parts of the curriculum from math to art and essay contests. Teachers are kept from telling students that air pollution from coal-fired power kills thousands of people in the U.S. every year as countless more suffer illness and health problems.

This isn’t the first time coal companies have entered the curriculum: in 2011, American Coal Foundation-funded fourth-grade curriculum materials were promoted by Scholastic; a pro-fracking coloring book from Talisman Energy used a cartoon called “Terry the Fracosaurus” who taught kids that natural gas is “one of the cleanest, safest, and most useful of all energy sources.” Fortunately, the Illinois Commerce Department, which oversees the coal education program, recently released a 400-page evaluation that recommends a reevaluation of the curriculum because of its outdated, biased nature.

This is the country espousing freedom and creativity.

September 23, 2013

GOP House Saves $29 per Taxpayer to Starve Children

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:17 PM
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People should not eat if they don’t work. That’s the conservative mantra that I talked about yesterday. Welfare is bad for freedom: it takes away their independence. Where do we find welfare in the United States?

One place is in Congress, where GOP legislators give money to themselves, money that they have not earned. GOP Rep. Stephen Fincher represents Tennessee, one of the ten poorest states where the population gets $1.10 of federal funding for every $1 that they send into the government. He’s one of those who quoted Thessalonians out of context this week during a debate about food stamps: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” He also  got $3.5 million in farm subsidy welfare during the past four years.

Giant agricultural firms will receive $939 billion in welfare over the next decade if Republicans like Fincher get their way. Farm welfare recipients include 374 people on the wealthy Upper East Side of New York City and others who own farms such as Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Ted Turner. Wealthy heir Mark Rockefeller got $342,000 in welfare to NOT farm.

Republicans in Congress get $172,000 each year, but they refuse to work. They vote over and over to defund a law that helps people and decreases the deficit and refuse to do anything about the sequester that they agree is bad for the country. According to what these GOP legislators say, they shouldn’t receive a salary.

While GOP legislators don’t do any work, each family in the United States pays an annual average $6,000 welfare subsidy to corporations. These are the same companies that doubled their profits and cut their taxes in half during the past ten years while sending 2.9 million jobs out of the country. It’s true that the poor don’t pay that much in taxes, but any household making over $72,000 pays more than $6,000 of welfare to these corporations. Here’s how you pay welfare for these corporations:

The federal government spends $100 billion on corporate welfare, an average of $870 for each one of the country’s 115 million families. The Cato Institute notes that the money includes “cash payments to farmers and research funds to high-tech companies, as well as indirect subsidies, such as funding for overseas promotion of specific U.S. products and industries…It does not include tax preferences or trade restrictions.” Welfare in the form of fossil fuel subsidies, possibly greatly underestimated, can be from $10 billion to $41 billion. This sum doesn’t count the $502 billion in fossil fuel welfare subsidies, almost $4,400 per U.S. family, from “the effects of energy consumption on global warming [and] on public health through the adverse effects on local pollution.”

Business incentives at state, county, and city levels cost each family another $696 in welfare. The $80 billion in welfare business benefits are from “virtually every corner of the corporate world, encompassing oil and coal conglomerates, technology and entertainment companies, banks and big-box retail chains,” according to a New York Times investigation.

More welfare goes to banks, $722 per household. According to the Huffington Post, the “U.S. Government Essentially Gives The Banks 3 Cents Of Every Tax Dollar.” The taxpayer welfare subsidy to banks when they borrow, through bonds and customer deposits and other liabilities comes to $83 billion in welfare. The wealthiest five banks—JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., and Goldman Sachs—get three-quarters of the total welfare subsidy.

Another $350 per household goes to welfare because of retirement accounts. Over a lifetime, bank fees can “cost a median-income two-earner family nearly $155,000 and consume nearly one-third of their investment returns.” Fees are well over one percent a year. The Economic Policy Institute notes that the average middle-quintile retirement account is $34,981. A conservative one percent annual management fee translates to about $350 per family. Many families have no retirement account, but many others pay far more than 1 percent in annual fees.

Another $1,268 welfare subsidy per household goes for overpriced medications. Monopolies provided to drug companies raise the costs of prescription drugs by almost $270 billion a year compared to the free market price. People in this country pay almost twice the average cost of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries who pay an average of $460 per person.

Special tax provisions for corporations cost taxpayers $100 billion, $870 for each household. That welfare comes from Graduated Corporate Income, Inventory Property Sales, Research and Experimentation Tax Credit, Accelerated Depreciation, and Deferred taxes. Another guess at this welfare is $181 billion, which would be $1,600 per family.

Welfare for corporate tax havens adds another $1,026 per family. Assuming that each household has 1.2 taxpayers of the 138 million in the U.S., the total welfare costs assigned to families is $1,231.

The GOP Congressional legislators refuse to touch any of the above welfare to save taxpayers money. Instead, they voted to cut $4 billion in food stamps, which costs each taxpayer less than $29. That’s less than 2 percent of what Congress could save if they decreased the $6,000 welfare that each family provides to corporations.

Ever since Ronald Reagan’s war on food stamp recipients, conservatives have made false claims about them. Demographics show that the overwhelming majority of those who receive food stamps are white and many of them are Republicans. Mitt Romney won 213 of the 254 counties where the number of food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011.

Kentucky’s Owsley County, which gave Romney 81 percent of its votes, had the largest proportion of Romney’s food stamp communities. More than half the county’s population, 52 percent, received food stamps in just 2011, and the county is 97.6 percent white. The median household income of $19,344 is far below the national one of $52,762; four in ten of the county’s residents live below the poverty line. The county’s U.S. representative, Hal Rogers, won with 84 percent of the vote and joined the GOP majority in cutting food stamps—for more than half his constituents in this one county.

Two-thirds of the 39 legislators who represent the country’s 100 hungriest counties voted to cut food stamps. The bill passed 217-210.

Conservatives always talk about food stamps taking away people’s freedom. As Paul Krugman wrote, conservatives believe “that freedom’s just another word for not enough to eat.”

Why has this safety-net program grown so rapidly in the last five years? The 2007-2009 recession was the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression that began in 1929. The recovery has been weak because controlling Republicans supported the austerity measures that stopped economic growth. Food stamps have actually saved hundreds of thousands of jobs for people who grew and produced and transported and sold the food obtained by the government program. Every $1 in food stamps results in $1.70 added to the economy.

As I pointed out last week, only the very small percentage at the top of the nation’s food chain sees any financial improvement. The income of the top 1 percent rose 31 percent from 2009 to 2012 while the real income of the bottom 40 percent actually fell 6 percent. The food stamps, which Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) calls “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency,” provides $4.45 a day, mostly for children, elderly and disabled, and adults with children.

In addition to cutting out corporate welfare, the U.S. could save money by eliminating a few other things:

  • The F35—Joint Strike Fighter: It costs $1.5 trillion, it hasn’t been affected by sequester cuts,–and it flies only in good weather.
  • War on Drugs: The $15 billion cost each year is about $500 per second.
  • Nuclear Arsenal: The U.S. plans to spend between $620 billion and $661 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade. This arsenal of 7,700 weapons will never be used because they could destroy the Earth hundreds of times over. Billions could be saved by reducing the nuclear submarine fleet and land-based intercontinental ballistic missile force from 420 to 300.
  • ‘Tax Breaks for the Rich: By capping the amount that the rich can save tax-free in IRAs at $3 million would save $9 billion over ten years. Taxing hedge fund managers like nurses would save as much as $100 billion.

In studying the impact of food stamps during the 1960s and 1970s, economists Hilary Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenback found that children with early assistance became healthier and more productive adults—and less likely to need the government safety net.

Hunger results in depression, listlessness, inability to concentrate, apathy, and social withdrawal. Serious mental changes in hungry people cause impaired decision-making skills. In children, hunger delays development in reading, language, memory, and problem-solving capabilities. Children who experience hunger early on are more likely to perform poorly academically, repeat a grade, and/or require special assistance while in school. Hungry children can have a lower IQ and less developed brain than well-nourished children have.

And 217 GOP members in the House are willing to do this to children for less than $30 per year per taxpayer.

September 22, 2013

Religion Confronts Politics

Good news for the separation of church and state. According to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, corporations can’t belong to a religion even if they are persons, the second time that a federal appeals court has supported President Obama in the mandate to provide contraceptive services. A third court, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, granted the Hobby Lobby crafts franchise an injunction from the rule until it hears the merits of the case. The decision of that case will show whether the courts are split on the issue.

The Michigan-based manufacturing company Autocam must comply with the Obamacare mandate although its president, John Kennedy, protested because he is Roman Catholic.  “The Kennedys’ actions with respect to Autocam are not actions taken in an individual capacity, but as officers and directors of the corporation,” the 6th Circuit panel wrote. Houses of worship are exempt from the contraception mandate, and religious nonprofits have been extended an “accommodation” that would divorce corporate owners from managing or paying for their employees’ contraception coverage.

Judges on the 3rd Circuit ruled that a Pennsylvania-based company, Conestoga Wood Specialties, had to comply with the mandate. Over 40 secular, for-profit corporations, have alleged that providing contraception coverage in their employee health care plans at no cost violates their religious rights, and a total of 70 federal lawsuits have been filed by opponents to the birth control benefit.

A Tennessee’s religious ruling was overturned last Wednesday. During a paternity hearing between a mother and father over which last name a child should have, child support magistrate LuAnn Ballew ordered that the first name of the child, Messiah, should be changed. She claimed, “‘Messiah’ is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ.” Her ruling was overturned on the basis that it violates the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution (aka separation of church and state). According to records, 2,957 boys in the United States have been named Messiah since 1880 with 762 people given the name in 2012 alone.

Talk shows have been obsessed this week with Pope Francis’ statement that the Catholic Church should stop being obsessed with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. The lack of obsession was short-term: a day later the pope denounced abortions and encouraged Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them. So much for his ranting about the church’s obsession with “small-minded rules” that are driving away the faithful.

Speaking about women, the pope said, “The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. … We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.” U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, translated the pope’s words as, “He warned against the feminine machismo.” The question now is what the pope will do about the U.S. nuns, led by Sister Simone Campbell, who worry about the poor and hungry rather than abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. A Seattle bishop still has the pope’s mandate to control the nuns.

The U.S. bishops don’t need to change just because the pope made this statement, according to Terrence Tilley, a theologian at Fordham University. Interviews with bishops across the country indicate that there will be no change in their push against abortion, marriage equality, and contraception.

While the U.S. media hangs on every word translated from the pope’s statements, we should consider that the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church, has a status at the United Nations unlike any other religion. Because of the Vatican’s role as a Nonmember State Permanent Observer,  the pope’s representatives have special access to the leadership of the U.N. and vote along with the world’s countries at UN conferences. It is the only U.N. member that requires all its citizens to belong to one religion—although the United States conservatives would like to mandate only Christianity for all the country’s citizens.

In the U.S. House, 230 “Christians” including 60 Catholics, who voted to take food stamps from 3.8 million people last week, may be remembering Jesus’s mandate in the Bible that he wasn’t going to give bread to a hungry man because the man should get a job. (He really didn’t!)  Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) managed to dredge this quote out of 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” The reference is actually to Christians who stopped working in the false belief that Christ was returning soon; instead of working the fields, they gossiped and pried into the lives of others. Paul was warning those Christians to care for their crops.

  • Who goes hungry with the loss of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)? A child, elderly person, or disabled person is in 76% of SNAP households which  receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.
  • How about the “lazy freeloaders,” who don’t earn their calories according to conservatives? All unemployed able-bodied adults without dependents receive only three months of SNAP benefits during any three-year period unless they work in a qualifying job training program. For every additional dollar a SNAP participant earns, benefits decline by 24 to 36 cents.

Cramer is really following Joseph Stalin’s 1936 Constitution:  “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.” Rep. Michele Bachmann has also quoted Stalin to support her anti-SNAP position. In November 2011 she said, “Self reliance means, if anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”

The good Christians missed some of these verses from the Old Testament:

  • Proverbs 14:31 – “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”
  • Proverbs 22:16 – “He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty.”
  • Proverbs 29:7 – “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”

GOP representatives, especially from the South, might want to examine the percentage of SNAP users in their states before they vote against them. Note that four of the five states that have doubled food stamp usage in the past five years have Republican governors.

food-stamp-map again

The Congressional conservatives love to create laws as a method of propagandizing their falsehoods. In the midst of House plans to defund Obamacare and shut down the government, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) plans to introduce the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act next Thursday to “ensure that any religious institution, organization or church that believes that marriage should continue to remain between one man and one woman will not be discriminated against by the federal government.” With 60 co-sponsors, including two conservative Democrats, the bill insinuates that the federal government is discriminating against religious groups through the overturn of DOMA. It isn’t.

More fundamentalist “Christian” stories:

Self-identified television prophet Cindy Jacobs proclaimed that her faith caused a woman to re-grow a cheek bone in seconds and that she self-healed a grapefruit-sized tumor “near—or behind my female organs or whatever”caused by Satan.

After Bill Nye the Science Guy told Bill Maher’s audience that the moon is not a “great light,” as the Bible claims, because it reflects the sun, Australian Pastor Ken Ham took umbrage. Known for his Kentucky Creation Museum that presents dinosaurs living at the same time as humans, Ham tried to explain that “Bill Nye still doesn’t understand the difference between historical science and observational science.” I’m guessing that Nye understands; he just doesn’t believe in unsubstantiated science.

The City Council of Porterville, California, removed Mayor Virginia Gurrola from office last week because she signed a declaration of LGBT Pride Month for last June. After people protested, the council declared June 2013 as “a month of community charity and goodwill to all in Porterville.” Gay rights activists protesting at the meeting were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace.

As far back as 1977 when Anita Bryant blamed the LGBT community for the California drought, LGBT people have been blamed for environmental disasters. They  must now take responsibility for the Colorado floods, according to Pastor Kevin Swanson. He was particularly incensed about the Denver Post cover photo of State House Majority Leader Mark Ferrandino kissing his partner, Greg Wertsch. Swanson’s criticism was of state legislators who “committed homosexual acts on the front page of the Denver Post,” which, along with marijuana and abortion rights, prompted the “worst year ever in terms of flood and fire damage in Colorado’s history.”

Today’s winner for the most offensive statement, however, comes from a speech at Patrick Henry College, a school with close ties to the Christian homeschooling movement. At the annual “Faith and Reason” lecture, with mandatory attendance for all students, government professor Stephen Baskerville delivered a treatise entitled  “Politicizing Potiphar’s Wife.” His premise was that laws against rape, domestic violence, and child abuse are an attempt to put fine, upstanding white men in prison. Baskerville purports that the government has become a “matriarchal leviathan” manipulated by “the temptress, the seductress who lures men into a “honeytrap” by offers of pleasure before springing a trap that today can mean decades in prison.”

Meanwhile church membership keeps dropping in younger people. One-third of adults under the age of 30 are unaffiliated. Reading the above shows why.

September 21, 2013

Danger of Common Core Standards

Teaching styles represent a history of repetitive trends on a circular basis. Anyone who stays in education will see an abandoned system of teaching return in a few decades. A decade ago, the federal government decided that all states should be required to follow No Child Left Behind, but that system has been left behind for “the next big thing” in education reform called Common Core State Standards. Thus far the system has been accepted by at least 44 states.

Although the word “state” is in the headline, the standards are actually national ones, developed by Gates-funded consultants for the National Governors Association (NGA). The purpose was to avoid federal restrictions on a national curriculum. States accepted the Common Core in order to get federal Race to the Top grants and waivers for No Child Left Behind mandates.

Claims for Common Core is that it:

  • Represents a tighter set of smarter standards focused on developing critical learning skills instead of mastering fragmented bits of knowledge.
  • Requires more progressive, student-centered teaching with strong elements of collaborative and reflective learning.
  • Equalizes the playing field by raising expectations for all children, especially those suffering the worst effects of the “drill and kill” test prep norms of the recent past.

The goals are well-meaning for those who want a standardized method of testing across the nation. Part of the fault with No Child Left Behind is that states could set up their own testing levels. Students in some states, particularly in the South, appeared to excel because the tests were easier than in those required in the Northeast and Northwest.

Yet the Common Core program has serious problems:

  • Academics and assessment experts—many with ties to the testing companies—have written the materials. K-12 educators were mostly used to tweak and endorse—and legitimize—the results.
  • Standards have not been implemented and tested in schools anywhere. No research or experience exists to justify the claims that all students will graduate from high school “college and career ready.”
  • New tests are considerably more difficult than current state assessments, leading to sharp drops in scores and proficiency rates. Because there is no relationship between the testing of the present and the past, schools cannot assess any progress.
  • The standards are tied to assessments still in development that must be given on computers many schools don’t have.
  • The tests are rife with mistakes, and the computer systems lack enough memory to allow test-taking without interruptions. Sometimes students had to take the same tests several times because of computer glitches. When Pearson Inc. scored tests to determine entry into gifted and talented programs, 13 percent of K-3 students, qualified for these programs, were wrongly rejected.
  • The corporations encourage new standards and new tests to make money. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, estimates implementing the new standards will cost the nation between $1 billion and $8 billion. Nearly all the profits will go to book publishers and test creators like Pearson and CTB/McGraw-Hill.
  • Bilingual students have to take tests in English before they have mastered the language which requires five to seven years. Students with special needs are also required to take these tests with few accommodations.
  • Students with Pearson’s textbooks have an advantage on the Pearson’s tests.
  • Students are required to take additional tests for corporation research without being paid for the testing.
  • Tests use product placement, including corporate brands Mug™ Root Beer, IBM™, Lego®, FIFA® and Mindstorms™.  Eighth-grader Isaiah Schrader wrote about how he “found the trademark references and their associated footnotes very distracting and troubling.” Schrader argued that even if they weren’t paid, Pearson should not advertise to children, who are especially susceptible to advertising.  Now that’s critical thinking!
  • Tests reflect questions that many educated adults cannot answer. Charlotte Danielson, a highly regarded mainstream authority on teacher evaluation and a strong supporter of the Common Core, said, “If I had to take a test that was entirely comprised of items like that, I’m not sure that I would pass it—and I’ve got a bunch of degrees.”

No Child Left Behind mandated testing every student every year in every grade from 3 to 8 in order to keep federal funding. In its ten years, the program created a sense of failure and attempts to “fix” schools that laid the entire blame on the teachers. At the end of this time, more than half the schools in the United States were on lists of “failing schools,” and the rest were close behind. No one considered that these test scores reflected the inequality existing in the nation’s schools. Separating out the scores showed the long-existing gaps in outcomes among student subgroups, but the system was set up to label schools as failures without providing any resources or support to improve them.

The tests from the last decade indicated that millions of students were not meeting existing standards, but the solution from Common Core sponsors is “more challenging” standards. If students couldn’t accomplish what was expected by earlier tests, then Common Core would merely create more difficult tests. The new reform fails to target the inequalities of race, class, and educational opportunity that past test scores show. Common Core unintentionally plans to copy the past decade of public school failure.

Hundreds of millions of dollars is being spent to create not only these tests but also heavy-handed, top-down policies to evaluate educators. Race to the Top, for example, ties test scores to teacher evaluations. Thus teacher choose to put classroom learning aside so that they can teach to the test, decreasing student creativity.  A 2011 teacher survey revealed that 66 percent of teachers said the testing focus on reading and math led to reduced time for art, science and social studies.

Many administrators solve the problem of lower test scores by cheating, documented in more than 37 states. An El Paso superintendent is currently serving jail time for cheating and forcing low-scoring students to drop out of school, and Atlanta (GA) had a scandal involving 35 educators from the superintendent on down.

Costs of tests will take funding away from education, and failing scores will exonerate officials who close public schools to open more privatized charter and voucher schools. Yet these schools won’t accept low-scoring students. Students with disabilities, bilingual students and students with various behavioral issues are routinely denied access to charter schools for fear of lowering the schools’ test scores, which charters rely on in an attempt to appear superior.

Corporations are profiting from standardizing teachers as well as students. Pearson’s new assessments, already adopted by seven states, requires a written examination and a 20-minute video of the person teaching at a cost of $300. Anonymous current or retired teachers or administrators will be paid $75 to evaluate these videos. From its profits, Pearson helps fund Jeb Bush-funded conservative educational policy advocacy organizations, Foundation for Excellence in Education and Chiefs for Change, that are writing state laws benefiting corporate funders.

Last spring students, parents, and teachers in New York schools complained about tests’ length, difficulty, and inappropriate content. Pearson Inc., which developed the tests, included its logos and promotional material in reading passages. Students met the tests with shock, anger, tears, and anxiety, and administrators asked how to handle tests students had vomited on. Teachers and principals complained about the disruptive nature of the testing process and many parents encouraged their children to opt out.

The history of No Child Left Behind represents education’s problem from the dismantling of public education in urban areas and the growth of inequality and concentrated poverty. Because of Common Core, teachers no longer have any control over teaching and learning in their own classrooms. Distant bureaucracies have taken the decisions from educators and schools. Corporations preparing standards have revised history, politics, and culture into a sanitized version that reinforces official myths.

Failure in the schools because of Common Core will drive students into charter schools because of the myth that they provide a better education. Pearson is a good example of that. The company selling its testing materials to 18 states as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico also owns Connections Academy, the company that runs for-profit, virtual charter schools. A five-year contract with New York for tests materials gets Pearson $32 million; Texas is worth $500 million. And Pearson current owns the GED program although competitors are creating cheaper alternative tests.

Even more damaging is the school-to-prison pipeline. A new study shows that students who fail high stakes testing exams are 12 percent more likely to be incarcerated.

The right-wing opposes Common Core standards because they promote critical thinking and communication. I oppose the standards because they stop the very skills that they purport to teach. A decade of testing students has not increased the nation’s standing among other countries or produced a more intelligent set of citizens. We need to stop testing and start teaching.

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