Nel's New Day

October 31, 2013

It’s Halloween–Be Afraid

Halloween came early this year with television showing scary movies for at least three weeks, and the Internet showing a fascination for bizarre costumes. The Catholic Church is reminiscing about exorcisms, and evangelicals oppose Halloween because it represents demons.

The basis of Halloween in 21st-century culture is fear, and evangelical Christians don’t need the television movies to be afraid. Leaders use far-fetched stories to foment this fear among the followers as a method of control. In that way, people vote against their own best interests. That’s why we hear about the conspiracy theory of fluoridated drinking water and brainwashing in public schools.

YouTube is a popular place for all sorts of horror tales such as Sharia law taking over the country. That’s why conservative legislators keep trying to pass laws preventing Islamic law in the United States while they pass oppressive Christian laws. Browsing the Internet, however, reveals new—to me—conspiracy theories, for example the “FEMA camps.

Supposedly the Federal Emergency Management Agency is building “concentration camps.” One visual purporting to be a camp in Wyoming is actually a North Korean detention center with changed headers, photo dates, and annotations. Another so-called camp Camp Grayling, a large National Guard training center in Michigan. The Beech Grove Amtrak facility for repairing railcars filmed 15 years ago is another footage that the wingnuts have used to prove these “camps.”

I had also missed the lizard people who are running the world. It appears that 12 million people believe that certain powerful people, such as George W. Bush and the British royals, are actually part of an alien race of shape-shifting lizard-people. That comes straight from onetime BBC reporter David Icke. Princess Diana confirmed this to one of her close friends, but, of course, she is no longer alive to tell us about it.

Most of the extremist conspiracy theories pass through Glenn Beck’s program, who created his version of Agenda 21, the purported plot to collectivize private property through the benign policy of “encouraging sustainability.” Beck expanded articles in his magazine, The Blaze, from early 2012 into a dystopian science fiction novel that exposes “the global scheme that has the potential to wipe out freedoms of all U.S. citizens.” Stanley Kurtz, another extremist, published an article in the National Review claiming that President Obama “intends to abolish” the suburbs and basing his argument on demographic shifts analyzed by Joel Kotkin.

Maybe the most far-fetched story—and that’s hard to do!—is the fear of the Illuminati. The super-secret society surfaced in Bavaria during the 18th century as an off-shoot of the Free Masons. Then, as now, people believe that the Illuminati are working for world domination through its penetration of governments, finance, science, business, and the entertainment industry. John 1 in the Bible discusses the coming of the Antichrist, who many people think is President Obama. Those fearful of the Illuminati have websites with mysterious symbols such as pyramids on paper money, Washington monuments, and other public places with the belief that knowing about these symbols remove their powers.

Far-right extremist objections to organizations such as the United Nations, European Union, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, G-20 Economic Group, the World Court, NATO, Council on Foreign Relations, World Council of Churches and various multinational corporations may have come from fear of the Illuminati. Ironically, there are far-right religious sects that believe in “dominionism” in their attempt to take over the religions of the world.

Illuminati conspiracy theories combine the best and worst of all others as they feature everything from demons to aliens. Clones, lost prophecies, invisible RFID chips, secret societies—all these appear in Illuminati stories. Your best video might be here, but Mak Jagger has put together more for your fearful delight.

Why do people believe in these conspiracies? Psychologists who explored the question defined a conspiracy theory as “a proposed plot by powerful people or organizations working together in secret to accomplish some (usually sinister) goal” that is “notoriously resistant to falsification … with new layers of conspiracy being added to rationalize each new piece of disconfirming evidence.”

Once you believe that “one massive, sinister conspiracy could be successfully executed in near-perfect secrecy, [it] suggests that many such plots are possible.” People who believe in one conspiracy find these to be “the default explanation for any given event—a unitary, closed-off worldview in which beliefs come together in a mutually supportive network known as a monological belief system.” Like potato chips, people can eat just one.

The same people who believe in many conspiracy theories also think authorities are fundamentally deceptive. Their distrust is so strong that they prefer alternative theories. The only requirement for believers is that officials disagree with them. As Alex Jones proclaimed in Conspiracy Rising: “No one is safe, do you understand that? Pure evil is running wild everywhere at the highest levels.”

Polling shows an amazing number of voters believe in these conspiracy theories:

  • 28 percent believe secretive power elite with a globalist agenda are conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or a New World Order.
  • 13 percent think that President Obama is the Antichrist.
  • 37 percent think global warming is a hoax.
  • 28 percent of voters think Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11.

And these people pick the lawmakers who run our country! Now I’m afraid.

October 30, 2013

Marriage Equality: Pro & Con

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:12 PM
Tags: , ,

After the New Jersey Supreme Court declared marriage equality the law of the state, Hawaii is using a special session called by the governor to tread the waters of legalized marriage equality. The rift between conservatives and progressives is building.

The Hawaii Senate has passed SB1 legalizing marriage equality by a 20-4 vote and sent it to the House. The House Republicans, however, want to remove the one GOP member in the legislature who supports the law from the 13-member Judiciary Committee before a final reading that would send the bill to the House. GOP Rep. Cynthia Thielen said, “I support marriage equality. I may be the sole Republican in our minority caucus that does … but I can guarantee I’m not the sole Republican in our community who does.”

At least, 1,800 people signed up to testify about the bill when it was in the Senate panel, causing Senator Clayton Hee to limit statements to one minute. Attorney General David Louie spoke in favor of the bill but acknowledged that a same-sex couple from Hawaii who married in California would get the federal benefits created by last summer’s Supreme Court ruling as if Hawaii legalized marriage equality. Republican Sam Slom, one of the nay votes on the Senate panel, said that people could go to California frequently enough that they could just marry there. Back to same-sex marriage for the elite.

Gary Secor, who represents the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii, worried about “the potentially negative sociological impact such relationships may eventually have on society.” The others who opposed marriage equality used religious reasons, at one time reciting “The Lord’s Prayer.” Testimony also argued that the bill was pushed by those outside the state and would harm Native Hawaiians. The testifier who compared marriage equality supporters to Nazi Germany, stating that a vocal minority was trying to exert their view over a silent majority, failed to mention that the opponents to the bill were very vocal. Or that gays and lesbians were many times persecuted and killed in Nazi death camps.

The Mormons, who claimed after they played a big part in passing California’s Proposition 8 banning marriage equality, have returned, sending anti-LGBT marriage letters to their Hawaiian local ward congregations to be read to the faithful in the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Those objecting to marriage equality can get some help directly from LGBT people. A New York Times article interviewed some couples who are also opposed to same-sex couples. Together for 18 years, Brian Blatz, 47, and Dan Davis, 58, see no point in marrying because “it isn’t going to change anything in terms of how we feel about each other.”

Other opposition comes from those who believe that as an outdated institution, marriage forces same-sex couples into the mainstream or that it creates financial burdens and legal entanglements. Sean Fader, 34, views marriage as “this oppressive Christian model.” Feminists perceive marriage as historically oppressive. Stephanie Schroeder and Lisa Haas say that marriage privileges couples and stigmatizes single people. John D’Emilio thinks same-sex marriage is elitist; his partner of 32 years, Jim Oleson, has been married and has no interest in doing it again. Still others fear they may have to pay higher taxes if they are married.

Before federal legalized marriage equality, gays and lesbians protested civil unions as “feel-good marriages,” Larry Kramer’s description. After the Supreme Court decision, he married David Webster in July.

A valid objection to the fight for marriage equality is that it was done at the expense of other issues such as AIDS prevention and non-discrimination in employment and housing. Emilio said, “After people with good health insurance could have treatment for H.I.V., the community sort of abandoned AIDS as a priority.”

One issue being addressed—again—is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to bring up the bill next week with the support of all 54 Democrats and at least four Republicans. GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Mark Kirk are co-sponsoring the legislation, and GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch and Lisa Murkowski voted for the bill in the Judiciary Committee. Sen. Rob Portman (OH) said he is “inclined to support” the bill, and other senators targeted by advocates include Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Dean Heller (NV), Jeff Flake (AZ), John McCain (AZ), and Pat Toomey (PA). Flake has said he won’t support the bill because it protects transgender workers.

Reps Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) are leading the campaign to pass ENDA through the Republican-controlled House. Even if the GOP members of the House were inclined to support ENDA, they won’t have any time this year because they will be gone most of the time. The House quit today until November 12 and may cancel some of the 18 days left in the session. Nice work if you can get it. The deadline for final budget recommendations from the joint House/Senate Committee is December 15, and the existing budget expires on January 15. Not many working days before then.

ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994 except the 109th when the GOP controlled Congress and the presidency. Similar legislation has been introduced without passage since 1974. The bill hasn’t had a vote on the House or Senate floor since November 2007, when it passed the House 235-184.

Not all gays and lesbians agree that marriage won’t give them and their families greater protection. In at least 20 states, lawsuits are addressing the constitutionality of state amendments or statutes banning marriage equality: Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Other states are taking further action:

 North Carolina: Buncombe County register of deeds Drew Reisinger has announced that he will accept marriage license applications from same-sex couples in spite of a 2012 state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Oklahoma: Darren Black Bear and Jason Pickel are the first same-sex couple to marry in the state despite its ban against same-sex marriage.  The Cheyenne Arapaho recognizes the couple as wed although the state does not.

Oregon: A campaign is well on its way to collect enough signatures for an initiative that would overturn the state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality.

Before SCOTUS handed down its landmark decision legalizing federal marriage equality, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick wrote this:

“Nine years ago … same-sex marriages started happening in Massachusetts, and the time since then has proved wonderfully unremarkable. The sky has not fallen. The earth has not opened to swallow us up. Thousands of good people, contributing members of our society, have made free decisions about whom to marry. Most have been joyful and lasting. Some have failed. Ho-hum.”

The 2003 court decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health included the following statement from then-Chief Justice Margaret Marshall:

“Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”

Not everyone may want marriage, but for those same-sex couples who do, the United States is gradually opening up. Marriage equality is inevitable; government would save lots of taxpayer money if they just changed the laws.

My opinion? Marriage equality is like health care: everyone should have the right to have it. And people who don’t get married because they say they’ll never need it may change their minds when they run into legal problems.

October 29, 2013

Re Issues

Imagine living in a country where the government pays for your major medical expenses without a lot of registration, picking an insurance company, and checking on possible subsidies. In this country you wouldn’t shop for insurance; you’d just register. If you live in the United States, you already have this—if you’re over 65. It’s called Medicare, and it’s popular. Most people don’t worry about socialism; they’re just grateful that they have basic insurance. It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s much better than no insurance at all.

There’s one reason that everyone in the United States doesn’t have the same insurance—insurance companies. With their lobbying power and the Tea Party selfish craziness of the Tea Party, we have settled for a “better-than-nothing” solution. Republicans would like to get rid of Medicare, too, but the majority of their constituents are either on or near the program.

During the federal government shutdown, we rarely heard the  word “glitch.” Since the media forgot how the far-right tried to destroy the country, they are in full attack mode against the Affordable Care Act.

As satirist Andy Borowitz wrote, “A nation that waited several decades for health insurance is becoming increasingly infuriated by a Web site that is wasting minutes of its time, reports from across the United States confirm.” Actually,  the country has been waiting for over 70 years to have a watered-down version of health care.

For the second time in a decade, the government launched a health care website Back in 2005, the launch online shopping for Medicare prescription drug programs was three weeks late. A review of the 1-800 Medicare phone number indicated that the agency “only responded to calls accurately and completely only about two-thirds of the time.” An annual booklet sent out to seniors called “Medicare & You” contained “inaccurate details about some of the prescription plan choices.” Stories about the poor launch of the 2005 reform were back on page 17 of the Washington Post; problems with HealthCare.Gov are typically front-page news.

When Medicare Part D (the prescription addition to Medicare) premiered, it was far less popular than Obamacare. Part D started out with a 21 percent favorability. Since then, it has a 90 percent popularity.

On the floor of the House, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) tried to remind Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) and other GOP members of the House of events eight years ago, five years before the Tea Party elected Griffin. The Democrats didn’t like George W. Bush’s Medicare drug program with its huge gap without insurance and the fact that drug prices could not be negotiated. Yet they convinced their constituents to enroll instead of whining through 40+ bills to get rid of Part D. Griffin tried to defend the GOP by claiming that they have co-sponsored proposals, but Pascrell pointed out that there no legitimate alternatives. Maybe that’s why Griffin has said he won’t be running in the next election.   

The media has joined the GOP in denigrating the Affordable Care Act:

CBS told the story of a woman who was forced off a $54 per month policy for one that cost ten times as much. The cancellation letter gave the Affordable Care Act as the reason. The woman’s “junk insurance” didn’t even cover hospitalization, and it gave her only $50 for a procedure. For example, if she needed a $2,000 MRI, the insurance paid only $50, leaving the balance for her to pay.

Most of the policies being canceled were sold after the ACA became law: insurance companies knew they were selling policies that failed to comply with Obamacare. Customers were not told that these policies would have to be replaced. Because of GOP pressure, grandfathered policies are allowed yearly limits on coverage while they are not required to offer a “essential health benefits” package.

NBC News reported that “50 to 75 percent of the 14 million consumers who buy their insurance individually can expect to receive a ‘cancellation’ letter or the equivalent over the next year because their existing policies don’t meet the standards mandated by the new health care law.” The White House had told Congress that in 2010 that policies after 2014 could not unfairly burden customers. The law keeps policies from canceling coverage when a person becomes ill, imposing lifetime limits on benefits, eliminating all benefits for a particular condition, and reducing the cap for covered services each year. People actually benefit because enrolling through an exchange may cost them less, especially if they get subsidies.

CNN  interviewed people trying to get onto the health care website. When a women responded that she really liked what she saw, the host immediately moved on to someone else. Like all the other media, CNN is clogging the website by playing with it. If everyone stayed off of it except people who actually need the information, it might work better.

Fox’s Sean Hannity found six people willing to misrepresent reasons for their dislike of Obamacare. A couple who complained about not growing their construction business by keeping employees under a certain number of hours has only four employees. Proving health insurance is required only for businesses with 50 or more employees. A woman who complained about her rates going up hadn’t bothered to check the exchange. If she had, she would have found a 60-percent reduction from pre-Obamacare market. Another couple with the same complaint said that they also had not gone to the exchange but instead went to an insurance agent because they oppose Obamacare. The exchange would save them 63 percent of their bill.

Hannity also hosted Dr. Marc Siegel who complained that too many people have access to health care. He said that not everyone can get into his office to see him because of health insurance. “There’s a shortage of doctors. So what do they do? They’re going to pay us less.”

On Mike Huckabee’s program people complained about rate increase. One of them who said that her rates went up was unemployed and eligible for Medicaid. She said, however, that she wouldn’t take it because someone else might need it more.

Meanwhile the GOP members are just flat-out lying:

  • Real cost of the website: $70 million, not Fox’s guess of $634.
  • Website not designed to deceive customers: The site lists the actual cost to people before listing cost without subsidies.
  • No interference from the White House: Contractors denied Rep. Darrell Issa’s accusation that the administration botched the website development by making the “political decision” to mask the costs of insurance premiums online.
  • No HIPPA Violation: No breach of privacy because the website doesn’t ask for health information.
  •  No delay in individual mandate: The only delay is the sign-up deadline, not when people receive the insurance.

Basic facts about the Affordable Care Act:

  • The federal government is operating marketplaces in 36 states, and 14 states and the District of Columbia are operating their own marketplaces.
  • Marketplace plans offer five levels of coverage—catastrophic, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum—ranging from less generous to more generous.
  • Individuals with family income from one to four times the federal poverty level (about $26,000 to $94,000 for a family of four)—and who are not eligible for other qualified coverage—are eligible for tax credits to help cover the cost of a plan, based on the silver plan.
  • The tax credit caps the amount an individual must pay for the second-lowest-cost silver plan at a certain percentage of family income, ranging from 2 percent of income at the poverty level to 9.5 percent of income at four times the poverty level.
  • Increased competition has lowered the cost of premiums in the individual market, meaning that the U.S. will pay $190 billion less than expected and lowering the ten-year deficit by $300 billion.
  • An additional 700,000 people will gain coverage over the earliest projection.
  • Of young people on their parents’ plan, 63 percent belong to the GOP as compared with 45 percent who register as Democrats.

Almost 80 years ago, Social Security got to a rocky start, beginning with employers reporting earnings with no name or SSN. Four years after the Act went into effect, syndicated columnist Drew Pearson tried to create panic by claiming that people would never receive their benefits. Now the entire situation is an obscure historical footnote.

Almost 700,000 eligible seniors refused to sign up for Medicare less than 50 years ago because they mistakenly thought that they were giving up Social Security. Some segregated Southern cities had no participating hospitals because Medicare required that they comply with the new Civil Rights Act. Originally doctors billed patients directly, causing long waits for the seniors’ reimbursements.

The enactment of government-financed income tax sent people over the edge because of the forms’ complexity. After one-hundred years, people still complain but most accept, especially when they think about the many government benefits from the country’s infrastructure. No politician has emerged victorious for the past century in getting rid of the progressive tax.

In less than a decade, the Affordable Care Act will be a success, and most people—even those elected to Congress—will not remember any problems in its inception. Or maybe there will be a better solution by then—universal health care.

October 28, 2013

Corporate Pinkwashing

As the weather turns cooler across the United States in preparation for winter, October turns pink from its designation as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In its 28th year, the event is prime time for corporations to claim that they are giving part of purchase prices for pink objects to prevent breast cancer. As NFL games feature pink-clad participants and landmark buildings have pink illumination, cosmetic companies invite customers to buy pink products.

Estée Lauder, for example, claims that it has provided more than $48 million for breast cancer research and education. The company, however, keeps secret that their products, including the pink stuff, includes toxic ingredients known to cause cancer and a host of other reproductive, endocrine, and neurological problems.

Of the 15 beauty brands “devoted to defeating breast cancer” in the “We’re Stronger Together” pamphlets, 12—including Aveda, Bobbi Brown, Bumble and Bumble, Clinique, Coach, Darphin, Estée Lauder, Lab Series Skincare for Men, Lamer, Origins, Prescriptives, and Smashbox—sell products containing known carcinogens and other toxic chemicals. Aveda, Bumble and Bumble, and Clinique use the carcinogens formaldehyde—linked to leukemia, lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal cancers—and 1,4-dioxane, which the U.S. National Toxicology Program links to cancers of the gallbladder, kidney, lungs, nasal cavity, skin, and breast. In fact, 22 percent of all cosmetic products may contain 1,4-dioxane, including those designed for children.

Products like Bobbi Brown Blush contain titanium dioxide, also linked to cancer. Darphin’s gels, balms, and moisturizers contain chemicals linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and neurotoxicity. Estée Lauder uses parabens, preservatives that mimic estrogen in the body and can, over time, disrupt hormone function, cause developmental and reproductive toxicity, and may lead to a substantially higher risk of breast cancer. Estée Lauder asks people to raise breast cancer awareness by spending $29.95 on its limited edition Pink Ribbon lip collection although it might contain BHT or Tocopheryl Acetate, both linked to cancer.

Most cosmetics ingredients easily penetrate the skin, products used on lips and hands can be ingested, and sprays and powders are often inhaled. Yet federal oversight of cosmetic manufactures is  non-existent. The FDA cannot require that companies test products for safety or review the majority of products and ingredients before they’re on sale. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review said in 2008 that it would take another two and a half centuries to effectively review all the products currently on the market. It should be noted that the oversight organization for chemicals in cosmetics is composed of cosmetic corporations.

Even Susan G. Komen for the Cure has sold products that can lead to cancer. Only public protest forced the organization to drop Its “Promise Me” perfume, that included chemicals benzyl salicylate, benzophenone-3 (aka oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreens), and coumarin, which were found, respectively, to cause endocrine disruption, to cause cell damage that could lead to cancer, or to be outright carcinogenic.

Estée Lauder, Avon, and Revlon are three of the largest companies marketing the pink ribbon in the United States. In 2005, while using pink ribbon campaigns to gain attention for their brands, Estée Lauder, Avon, and other cosmetic companies even fought California legislation requiring them to notify the state when their products use chemicals linked to cancer or birth defects.

Breast Cancer Action calls this hypocrisy “pinkwashing.” No one is sure how many of the 80,000 chemicals used in the United States are dangerous because only about 200 of them have been tested for human safety. Earlier this month, however, another study showed an even stronger link between BPA and breast cancer than  previously thought.

Founded over 20 years old, BCAction launched the “Think Before You Pink” project in 2002 with its campaign “Who’s Really Cleaning Up?” targeted at companies that used pink ribbon products to raise their profit margin. Since then, the project has shifted to environmental causes of breast cancer. This year’s campaign,“Toxic Time Is Up,” calls for legislation to ban toxins in products that cause cancer and other health-related issues.

The Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) not only failed to test the vast majority of chemicals existing before the law went into effect but also allowed chemical manufacturers to keep the ingredients in some chemicals secret. This secrecy applies to almost 20 percent of the 80,000 chemicals commonly used in everyday environment.  The law doesn’t even restrict the use of asbestos. According to TSCA, the government has to prove actual harm in order to control or replace a chemical, therefore assuming chemicals are safe until found that they aren’t.

Some legislators want an updated TSCA, but corporations want their own law called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. This bill not only weakens existing federal law but weakens state laws that are stronger than federal law.

Meanwhile, people buy pink ribbon products without knowing whether the ingredients are carcinogenic or if the company actually donates money to prevent breast cancer. For example, the NFL donated only about $3 million since 2009, a small amount of the $9.5 billion revenue—in only one year.

ehrenreichOver a decade ago, Barbara Ehrenreich, noted feminist author, gave a talk at Breast Cancer Action in San Francisco (CA) after she published a long article in Harper’s Magazine that was sharply critical of the “breast cancer movement” of pink ribbons. She addressed the issue that corporations and organizations usually talk about the “cure,” and say nothing about the cause of breast cancer.

“This omission makes sense: breast cancer would hardly be the darling of corporate charities if its complexion changed from pink to green. But by ignoring or underemphasizing the issue of environmental causes, the pink-ribbon crowd function as willing dupes of what could be called the Cancer Industrial Complex: by which I mean the multinational corporate enterprise which with the one hand doles out carcinogens and disease and, with the other, offers expensive, semi-toxic, pharmaceutical treatments. Breast Cancer Awareness month, for example, is sponsored by AstraZeneca (the manufacturer of Tamoxifen) which until 1999 was also the fourth largest producer of pesticides in the United States, including at least one known carcinogen….

“We don’t need more ‘awareness’ of breast cancer—we’re VERY aware, thank you very much. We need treatments that work, and above all, we need to know the cause of this killer, so we can stop it before it attacks another generation.

“And we certainly don’t need a breast cancer culture that, by downplaying the possible environmental causes of cancer, serves as an accomplice in global poisoning—normalizing cancer, prettying it up, even presenting it, perversely, as a positive and enviable experience.”

Those who really want to prevent cancer need to push their legislators into passing  a strong law that prevents corporations from using dangerous chemicals in their products—especially in ones that are ingested or used on the body.

You can start by signing a petition from BRAction.


October 27, 2013

Republican Jesus™ v. Tea Party Jesus

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 2:10 PM
Tags: , , , ,

During the past few decades, conservative groups have adopted Republican Jesus™ as the motivating factor behind their politics.

  • Are you not white? Republican Jesus™ hates you.
  • Are you a woman? Republican Jesus™ hates you.
  • Are you gay? Republican Jesus REALLY hates you. And so on.

The problem with Republican Jesus™ is that he isn’t Republican enough. Thus extremists developed Tea Party Jesus. At birth, Tea Party Jesus swore that he cared nothing about social issues, just those economic ones called Taxed Enough Already and Obamacare. He ignored the fact that taxes were the lowest in 50 years.

And that the namesake for Tea Party Jesus was an 18th-century “tea party” that didn’t protest taxes. The protester opposed a tax cut for the international corporation East Indian Company that undermined local businesses. While he uses “Taxation Without Representation!” for a slogan, Tea Party Jesus has the best representation that billions in corporate money can buy as corporations destroy small businesses.

Republican Jesus™ really liked Tea Party Jesus because he voted against President Obama, the only thing that Republican Jesus™ really cared about at the time. Even when Tea Party Jesus obsessed about President Obama’s birth certificate and constantly made racist remarks about the president, Republican Jesus™ didn’t seem to worry. But it kept getting worse.

  • Tea Party Jesus believes that being taxed lower than he was in Reagan’s 1980s is the same as being overburdened with taxes.
  • Tea Party Jesus believes that the financial crisis of 2008, brought on by Wall Street running amok, is proof that we need less government regulation.
  • Tea Party Jesus is absolutely positive that the deficit has gone up since Obama took office.
  • Tea Party Jesus knows, just knows, that President Obama is a secret Muslim.
  • Tea Party Jesus believes that ACORN stole the 2008 election.
  • Tea Party Jesus also believes ACORN stole the 2012 election. They’re not entirely clear how that is possible since ACORN ceased to exist in 2010 but, darn it!, they believe!

Republican Jesus™ does have strong similarities to Tea Party Jesus. Both love guns more than they do people. Both love the rich like a dog loves its abusive master. Both love the free market even if they can’t define it. And both love the Constitution—at least the Second Amendment.

The two of them, however, part ways at hate. Republican Jesus™ uses hate because it sells well, but he’s willing to drop any hate rhetoric if it hurts him at the voting booth. Tea Party Jesus really does hate, so much that he thinks he can say his angry rhetoric openly. Republican Jesus™ knows that open racism is bad for his business, just as trashing women and bashing gays doesn’t get him votes. Tea Party Jesus, however, takes great pride in his hate.

  • Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he hates homosexuals. But don’t you call him a bigot!
  • Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he despises the poor.
  • Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how little he thinks of women’s rights.
  • Tea Party Jesus wants you to know he thinks rape isn’t really a crime.
  • Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he hates porch monkeys crackheads n*ggers black people. But don’t you call him a racist!
  • Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much wetbacks drug mules dirty illegals Latinos disgust him. Still not a racist!
  • Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he sneers at the lazy young who only want the same affordable college and job opportunities and pensions and Social Security benefits that HE got. Tea Party Jesus EARNED all that good stuff by being born at the right time to the right family! Get your own!
  • Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he hates Muslims.
  • Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he loathes contraception in all its forms. If whores have sex, they should pay for it with disease and pregnancy.
  • Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he hates the very idea of government and that’s why you should put him in charge of it.
  • Tea Party Jesus says these things in private, in public, on stage and in front of cameras. Over and over and over again. It’s like a form of Tourette’s except instead of cursing, he says what he’s really thinking. Loudly.

Republican Jesus™ wants Tea Party Jesus to be quiet, but his bubble protects him. Inside the bubble, voices tell Tea Party Jesus “You’re the smartest boy in the room, Tea Party Jesus!” “Everyone loves you, Tea Party Jesus!” “You’re going to win the election in a landslide, Tea Party Jesus!” If he fails, Tea Party Jesus cries and rants, “It’s not MY fault! It’s Republican Jesus’™ fault! Bad Republican Jesus™! You’re just not conservative enough!”

Republican Jesus™ keeps trying to clean up Tea Party Jesus’ messes, failing to remember that he raised Tea Party Jesus to be blind, hateful, and angry. Getting closer to reality, Republican Jesus™ is making plans to defeat Tea Party Jesus in the next election. The question is whether Tea Party Jesus has gotten so strong that they will take the primaries and lose the general election. We’ll know what happens in a little more than a year.

A few examples of Tea Party Jesus in action:

Televangelist Pat Robertson wants his money and doesn’t mind letting his listeners know. When an elderly woman concerned with her husband’s medical bills asked Robertson it was okay if she didn’t tithe, Robertson blamed her for the illness. He told her that if she had tithed that he would have stayed healthy.

In another response, Robertson blamed a woman for being bad at praying away her young son’s deafness. He claimed that he could cure deafness through prayer. If she hadn’t done so, she’s doing something wrong. Another of Robertson’s blame game is that tornado victims are responsible for the disaster because they should have prayed it away.

Bryan Fischer, spokesman for the American Family Association, is well known for hatred. Most recently, the AFA supported the anti-LGBT crusade in Russia that cheers people openly beating up others for their sexual orientation and gender identity. The Christian group also uses hate speech against Muslims, pro-choice supporters, and atheists.

Because of AFA’s attack on the LGBT community with lies and hate speech, The Southern Poverty Law Center classified AFA as a hate group in 2010. Now the AFA is threatening to sue the U.S. military because an army instructor said that AFA is a hate group. Fischer claims that the AFA loves everyone:  “We love homosexuals enough to tell them the truth about the moral, spiritual and physical dangers of homosexual conduct.”

The Pentagon rewarded Fischer’s bad behavior deciding that the instructor was wrong to classify AFA as a hate group. That’s why Tea Party Jesus wins. He wails “Unfair,” and others back off. AFA accused the military of generally attacking Christianity by labeling one Christian group as a hate group, yet AFA’s membership is 180,000 out of the 316 million people in the nation, 77 percent of whom identify as Christians.

Tea Party Jesus was present in a restaurant when a group of self-identified Christians left a message telling their waiter that they refused to leave a tip because he is gay. The message read:

“Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. Queers do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours. We hope you will see the tip your queer choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’s love, but none shall be spared for queers. May GOD have mercy on you.”

Last month, customers left the message “None, n***er” in the designated space for a tip after they were served by a young black woman. The month before, a South Carolina restaurant denied service to a group of blacks on the others of a white customer.

Under the guidance of Tea Party Jesus, TV host Glenn Beck told his audience that parents should beat their children to teach them that their rights “come from God.”

The question is, do we continue to support Tea Party Jesus–or even Republican Jesus™?

October 26, 2013

Surveillance Violates U.S. Constitution

Today is the 12 anniversary of the PATRIOT Act. This unbelievably broad surveillance law has been renewed twice since its 2001 inception with almost no protest from Congress. A little over two years ago, Congress passed a four-year extension of provisions set to expire on June 1, 2015. Since Edward Snowden leaked information, people—including those in a number of foreign countries—are discovering how the surveillance superstructure works and how it destroys civil liberties.

As it now stands, the government has the authority to spy on people inside the United States without any knowledge of wrongdoing.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no indication that the “thing” pertains to suspected terrorists or terrorist activities. This provision is in direct opposition to the U.S. Constitution’s protection against search and seizure requiring the government to show probable cause before infringing on a person’s privacy.

Section 206 of the Patriot Act, aka “roving John Doe wiretap” provision, gives government permission to obtain intelligence surveillance orders that fail to identify either the person or the facility to be tapped. Again, this provision violates protection against search and seizure that requires the government to be specific about what it wants to search or seize.

Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, or the so-called “Lone Wolf” provision, permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. persons who are not affiliated with a foreign organization. Granted only in secret courts, this authorization violates the limits of government surveillance within the nation’s borders.

Another part of the Patriot Act is the use of national security letters (NSLs) that permit the government to obtain the communication, financial, and credit records of anyone deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation even if that person is not suspected of unlawful behavior. Tens of thousands of these letters issued every year are used to collect information on people two and three times removed from a terrorism suspect. Nondisclosure requirements in NSLs also prevent a court from determining whether the gag is necessary to protect national security.

Thousands of protesters gathered outside the U.S. Capitol today and in other U.S. cities to protest the NSA Internet data gathering program. Organized by Stop Watching Us, the group wants changes in the government spying on innocent people. The organization has also released a video featuring Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Phil Donahue, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., David Segal of Demand Progress, and others.

At least one author of the original 2001 Patriot Act has decided enough is enough—especially after the report that NSA may be surveilling people in 35 countries, including the cell phone of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) plans to introduce legislation next week to curb the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers. He hopes to have 60 House co-sponsors for the bill, called the USA Freedom Act. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) plans to introduce companion legislation at the same time. Sensenbrenner claims that Congress never authorized such massive data collection on people who have no record of wrongdoing.

The proposed legislation would tighten record gathering only on U.S. phone calls, however, making Merkel still at risk. In addition, it would create a special advocate’s office to argue stronger privacy protections before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court established by Congress, and appeal its decisions. According to current law, the court hears only arguments in favor of surveillance. If the bill passes, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board would have subpoena power to investigate privacy and national security issues. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook would be able to reveal more statistics about the information they must turn over to the government.

Leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are expected to oppose the bill. In the past they have claimed that all the collection is vital to stopping terrorist attacks. “I will do everything I can to prevent this [phone data] program from being canceled,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said.

The argument that NSA surveillance has stopped more than 50 terrorist attacks is bogus. The original wording was that NSA’s intelligence had “contributed to the understanding of terrorism activities.” No thwarting. NSA refuses to release records to prove any of their claims. Officials have released information about only one of these cases: a San Diego man sent $8,500 to Somalia to support the militant group Al Shabab. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has long argued that the federal government is abusing its surveillance and claimed that NSA could have gotten a court order to get phone records for the convicted San Diego man.

Members of Congress received the complete list from NASA about the over 50 cases, but it remains classified. After reading the list, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) still questions the agency’s figures. He said, “That’s plainly wrong …. These weren’t all plots and they weren’t all thwarted.” Yet GOP Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (GA), Brad Wenstrup (OH), Joe Heck (NV), Mike Rogers (MI), and James Lankford (OK) continue to support NSA’s false reporting. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) followed their lead.

NSA claimed that their surveillance helped thwart a plot to attack a Danish newspaper, but an examination of the event concluded that a tip from British intelligence led authorities to the perpetrator. NSA claimed that its surveillance led to a supposed plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange in 2010, but no one was charged in relationship to that attack.

My partner thinks that the surveillance will make us safer, but, as she pointed out, she was taught to hide under her desk in grade school if there was danger of an atomic bomb. She grew up being taught to be afraid, the same tactic that conservatives use in contemporary times.

I told her about a senior National Security Council staffer who tweeted anti-admininstration messages for over two years before he could be found. Jofi Joseph, 40, a key member of the White House team negotiating on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, unleashed a barrage of over 2,000 caustic tweets about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top NSC officials, especially Ben Rhodes, who he accused of dodging questions about Benghazi. The fired man’s wife, Carolyn Leddy, is on the Republican side of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It took two years to find the source of the tweets.

NSA spends billions of dollars to discover very little and sometimes destroy people’s lives as it did to Brandon Mayfield, a Portland (OR) lawyer. Members of the agency secretly broke into his house, tapped his phone, and accused him of being part of bombing in the 2004 Madrid train bombing on the basis of a faxed fingerprint and his children’s Spanish lessons on his computer. That plus the fact that he had become a Muslim. They finally admitted that he had nothing to do with the act of terror.

This article sounds like science fiction, but it has fact for support. Within the next few years, household appliances can be used to spy on everyone. Advertisers propose putting cameras into television to get reactions to TV ads or what shows make people fall asleep. Last year Computer Security firm ReVuln proved that it could hack Samsung’s newest televisions to access users’ settings, install malware on the TVs and any connected devices, and harvest all personal data stored on the machine as well as switching on the camera embedded in the TV and watch viewers watching the set. Google and Verizon are two companies developing cable boxes with built-in video cameras and motion sensors.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus believes that such appliances as dishwashers, clothes dryers, toasters, clock radios, and remote controls will soon gather intelligence. Even now these appliances connect to the Internet. Criminals will also find this information useful as well as technology that allows spies to monitor lights and heating/AC thermostats. Home security systems wirelessly connected to phones and tablets can easily be hacked, allowing burglars to keep tabs on homes.

Last year, the U.S. military disclosed an app, PlaceRaider, that uses a smartphone’s camera, geo-location data, and accelerometer to create a 3D map of the phone’s surroundings. Tablets and computers have all the same tools as smartphones and more. They hold all a person’s secrets, making these available to anyone who knows the technology.

A year ago White Hat hacker Barnaby Jack proved he could kill a diabetic person from 300 feet away by ordering an insulin pump to deliver fatal doses of insulin; this summer he said he could hack pacemakers and implanted defibrillators.

NSA doesn’t want people to have safeguards because they can also be blocked by these. The nation needs to stop wasting taxpayer money and follow the constitution, and Congress needs to stop making unconstitutional laws after they have terrified people in the United States.

October 24, 2013

Voter ID Laws Block Women’s Votes

GOP legislators and governors have found many ways to disenfranchise voters who might possibly vote against them: gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter list purging, etc. The Supreme Court decision that struck down Section 4 of the almost 50-year-old Voters Rights Act created even more havoc for voters. The tipping point against these actions may have come this fall in Texas.

Last night Rachel Maddow laid out the Texas problem on her show. It starts with a Texas law that mandated that all married women must use her maiden name as the middle name, a change resulting in a mismatch between the name on voter registration and driver’s license for women. The information went viral after Sandra Watts, judge in the 117th District Court, was challenged when she tried to vote. Watts has voted in every election for the past 49 years, the name on her driver’s license has stayed the same for 52 years, and the address on her voter registration card or driver’s license has not changed for more than two decades. Yet her middle name on the driver’s license is her maiden name, and the middle name on the voter registration is the one determined at her birth.

Voting officials told her she had to sign a voter affidavit, affirming that she was who she said she was. Anyone who does not sign the affidavit must use a provisional ballot.

The district attorney said that there had not been one case of voter fraud in her county (Oasis County) since he had been there. During the past 13 years, tens of millions of votes have been cast in Texas, but there is only one documented instance of a person pretending to be someone else at the polls.

This year’s election in Texas is quiet, with mostly local issues. Next year, however, Wendy Davis will be running for governor, a candidate who will bring out a large number of women whose votes may be eliminated because their driver’s license don’t exactly match their voter’s registrations.

Texas estimates that it has 1.4 million people unable to vote because they lack the necessary government-issued ID. Hispanics are 46 to 120 percent more likely than whites to lack an ID, and women will also be particularly impacted by the new Texas ID requirement that the ID be “substantially similar” to the name on the voter registration rolls. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that one-third of all women have citizenship documents that do not match their current legal name.

In June, the state started a campaign to get correct voter ID for all these 1.4 million people. Since that time, in five months, they have succeeded with 41 people. That’s only .003 percent of eligible voters. The other 99.997 percent don’t have an ID for the Nov. 5 election. Now the state doesn’t have to do anything because the Supreme Court freed the state of having to pre-clear changes in the state’s election law to make sure that the changes would not have a racially discriminatory effect.

North Carolina has taken advantage of the Supreme Court ruling to not only enact a restrictive voter ID law but also narrow the window for early voting, restrict voter registration drives, make it harder for students to vote, end same-day registration, and limit voting on Sunday, At this time the U.S. Justice Department is suing to stop these racially-motivated laws. In an act of irony, the GOP in North Carolina opened up a new office of African-American outreach on the same day that they began the defense of their laws to disenfranchise black voters.

The Democratic party has also announced a new national director of voter protection to work on discrimination against voters in the United States. Meanwhile, people at thousands of local election polls are being turned away or forced to use provisional ballots for voting. State officials admit that they may simply ignore these ballots.

Requiring that the names on a voter ID and in the voter registry be determined “substantially similar” gives separate election districts the control over whether to accept the identification or reject it. Texas requires one of seven forms of acceptable voter ID. People with legally changed names need a marriage certificate to obtain the election ID certificate. And it can’t be a copy: it has to be the original one. Women, particularly elderly ones, may not have any of these forms of identification: driver’s license, military ID, a concealed handgun license, U.S. citizen certificate, U.S. passport, DPS ID card and a Texas election ID certificate.

Transgender people may also have trouble voting because of the new law. About 27 percent of this group, approximately 6,000 potential voters, lack photo ID that reflects their gender expression.

In September a federal three-judge panel ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice can participate in a lawsuit challenging Texas’ gerrymandering district maps. Last summer, the DOJ sued to block the state from enforcing the state’s new voter ID law.

In 2007, conservative Judge Richard Posner, appointed by Ronald Reagan, wrote the first federal court ruling when he upheld voter ID laws in Indiana. Five years later, he wrote in his book, Reflections on Judging, that he made a mistake with this landmark decision:

“I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion (affirmed by the Supreme Court) upholding Indiana’s requirement that prospective voters prove their identity with a photo ID—a law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention.”

In an interview, he blamed the lawyers for not giving “strong indications that requiring additional voter identification would actually disfranchise people entitled to vote.” Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote an opinion for the Supreme Court affirming Posner’s decision, also blamed the lawyers. Later he said that the dissent to the majority ruling was right and cited the serious impact of voter ID “on poor, minority, disabled and elderly voters.”

Supporters of voter identification laws could not find any modern conspiratorial voter impersonation fraud. Stevens’ opinion literally had to use Boss Tweed’s fraud in the 1860s with one possible case of impersonation fraud in a 2004 Washington State election. Since 2007, voter ID laws are more restrictive, and the number of places to get IDs is shrinking. Texas is a prime example of this unreasonable law. People may have to travel 250 miles roundtrip at their own expense to get IDs if they don’t use driver’s licenses. Although a concealed weapons permit is acceptable, student ID is not.

In the past five years, GOP supporters of voter ID laws have blatantly admitted that their purpose is to help Republicans gain electoral advantage. Texas admitted that the goal of their gerrymandering was “to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats….even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.”

Let us hope that the lawyers will carefully explain to the judges the discriminatory basis for voter ID laws and that the judges will believe them.

October 23, 2013

Prison Keeps Beds Full with Immigrants

On the same day that the GOP shut down the federal government, I heard a horrifying statistic. Under law, taxpayers must pay to keep 34,000 people in jail, at a cost of about $120 each per day, even as the number of immigrants caught coming illegally into the U.S. has fallen by more than half since the beginning of the most current recession. That’s almost $4 million per day—every day. I knew that the Arizona governor had made a deal with a private prison company to fill the prisons in the state with undocumented immigrants, but I had no idea that it was also a federal mandate.

Since 2009, when then-Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) added this mandate to the Homeland Security Department’s annual spending bill, federal immigration officials have operated under a statutory quota on how many people to hold behind bars. The law requires only that 34,000 beds must be available for these immigrants regardless of the number or them or the crimes that they commit. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency translates this requirement, however, as keeping “a yearly average daily population of approximately 34,000 individuals,” former ICE Director John Morton told a congressional panel last March.

As the editors of Bloomberg wrote:

“Some detained noncitizens are violent criminals who need to be locked up. Others are mothers or fathers who have committed traffic violations. Their forced separation from families and jobs undermines both social cohesion and the economy — at taxpayer expense. Undocumented immigrants tracked in alternative (nondetention) programs appeared for administrative hearings more than 90 percent of the time, according to Julie Myers Wood, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration. They complied with final orders 84 percent of the time. Yet ICE detains more than 400,000 immigrants in more than 250 jails and other facilities at an annual cost of $2 billion.”

The editorial goes on to give reasons for this inordinate expenditure. Punishment for undocumented immigrants is very popular with conservatives, and private-prison lobbies keep these detention centers open. Also a 2013 National Immigration Forum report pointed out that local officials have also “treated the increase in bed mandates as a source of revenue for counties and a job creator for their region.”

The White House 2014 budget requested $120 million less for immigration detention beds that House GOP members want, which didn’t make the GOP happy. The GOP also voted down an amendment from Democrat Reps. Ted Deutch (FL) and Bill Foster (IL) to strike the detention mandate from the Homeland Security appropriation bill. Alternatives to detention such as ankle bracelets, curfews, and home visits cost taxpayers much less, but those wouldn’t give GOP governments as much money. Although 41 percent of detainees are Level 1, the lowest-risk group, Congress forces taxpayers to pay for keeping these people in prison.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the Homeland Security Committee chairman, told ICE officials in February that they were “in clear violation of statute” when the detainee population fell to 30,773 after the sequester caused them to release 2,200 to save money. During a hearing, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) complained to Morton about getting too few inmates to fill his district’s detention beds.

The GOP is big on privatization, and prisons are at the top of their list. Government jailers Corrections Corp. (CXW) and Geo, two publically-traded companies that actively lobby Congress, have doubled in value in the past three years. Corrections Corp. has spent more than $13 million on lobbyists since 2005, among them past appropriations-committee employees, and Geo has spent more than $2.8 million during that time.

These privately-run prisons suffer from staffing shortages, rapid employee turnover, and cost-cutting that results in dangerous conditions for inmates. At the same time these same prisons waste taxpayers’ money. For example, assaults in one Ohio prison almost tripled after Corrections Corp. took over. A riot at a Natchez (MS) immigrant facility, also run by the same private company, left a guard dead and 20 people injured last year.

Yet state governments keep supporting these private prison companies. California Gov. Jerry Brown committed $1.14 billion over three years for thousands of prison cells, and Geo got a $8.5 million annual contract to hold up to 400 immigrants in Alexandria (LA).

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Terry Hatter forced immigration judges to grant bond hearings for California inmates detained for more than six months. After 400 such hearings beginning in November, about two-thirds were released on bail. ICE employees had been told to increase arrests and deportations because the numbers were too low. The person responsible for these emails, former ICE administrator David Venturella, is now a high official with Geo, a leading private prison corporation.

The House, with its fixation on shutting down the government, has ignored the plight of immigrants despite a bill passed by the Senate. One of that bill’s provisions would give ICE and judges greater discretion to release detainees of no risk to the community. A benefit of this bill would be an average of 14,000 new jobs in each congressional district over the next decade, with no district having fewer than 7,000. That’s approximately 6 million new jobs. This analysis came from the center-right American Action Network (AAN).

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate’s bill would reduce deficits by $197 billion over 10 years. Although building more miles on the fence between the U.S. and Mexico, doubling the number of border agents, and other border security measures would cost $262 billion, people given legal status and newly admitted temporary workers would increase revenue by $459 billion by paying taxes.

Much of the opposition to immigration reform comes from racism, as Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has frequently demonstrated. In August King spoke at a Tea Party-sponsored “Stop Amnesty” rally and claimed that the United States needs to keep people from coming north into the country because the population gets more violent as one moves further south in Latin America. He asserted that people from a “violent civilization” would create a more violent environment for individuals living in a “less-violent civilization.” Fortunately, the rally was not well attended.

king rally nobody there

A few undocumented immigrants are allowed to stay in the United States, thanks to a loophole that members of Congress can file a “private bill” that will keep people in the country. Congressional members who have voted against the DREAM Act and opposed any other immigration reform have used this loophole so that some of their constituents or friends can stay.

The mandate for imprisoning all undocumented immigrants, even those who have not committed any crimes, promotes the occurrence of domestic abuse and rapes because women cannot report these crimes against them. Thus in criminalizing immigration, the GOP causes far more crimes that won’t be prosecuted.

The GOP, claiming to be the party of “family values,” also breaks up families because parents are deported, but the children born in the United States are left in this country. When 11-year-old Josie Molina, a U.S. citizen, asked Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) for help in a town hall meeting, he told her that her undocumented father would and should be deported. The Tea Party audience loudly cheered.

Since the shutdown, President Obama has declared immigration reform as one of his three priorities for this year. He plans to make a statement tomorrow at 10:35 am, urging members of Congress to finish work to provide a citizenship pathway for millions of people in the U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) plans to take up immigration reform in a piecemeal approach typical of the GOP.

Congressional leaders such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) are using the shutdown as an excuse to not work on immigration reform. Both claimed that they wouldn’t be able to make a “good faith effort” to negotiate with the president because of his refusal to negotiate during the shutdown. Rubio also asserted that the president is “trying to destroy” the Republican Party. Conservatives are also worried that House leaders might meet with Senate negotiators.

GOP members of Congress dragging their feet on immigration reform will find themselves opposed by a coalition of evangelical Christians called the Evangelical Immigration Table. They plan a two-day event on October 28-29 to lobby lawmakers and hold a news conference. The GOP has already alienated women, minorities, poor, and LGBT people; they can’t afford to lose the evangelicals too.

October 22, 2013

SCOTUS May Put Democracy Up for Sale

More than $100 million—that’s how much the ten highest-paid CEOs in the U.S. each received last year. Two of them each got at least $1 billion. Together these ten men collectively took home over $4.7 billion. A poll shows that 2,259 U.S. CEOs saw an average income rise of 8.47 percent last year, although that was less than the two previous years.

Of the top 10 earners in 2012 all received the majority of their compensation for the year from share schemes. One executive, George Maffei, received $254.8 million as CEO of Liberty Media Corporation and another $136.4 million as CEO of sister company Liberty Interactive. He also profited more than $250 million on the exercise of 3.1 million options at Liberty Media Corporation in 2012. As head of Liberty Interactive, Maffei exercised an additional 12.3 million options for a profit of more than $132 million.

For the rest of us, the median household income was $51,017 in 2012, unchanged from the prior year. Wages fell about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999. Last year’s average pay package of a Standard & Poor 500 CEO was $13.7 million.

These ten CEOS are part of the 500 people who can buy democracy from the United States if SCOTUS strikes down almost all remaining limits on donations to political campaigns. Two weeks ago, at the height of the government shutdown, the U.S. Supreme Court heard McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. McCutcheon wants to eliminate aggregate limits on individual contributions, claiming that these violate free speech.

Burt Neuborne, law professor and founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said, “If these advocate limitations go down, 500 people will control American democracy. It would be ‘government for the 500 people,’ not for anybody else.” Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia appear ready to hand over the country to these 500 people, eradicating the past 225 years of democracy in the nation.

Current law, thanks to Citizens United, has uncontrolled expenditures in campaigns, but contributions are limited through the amount given to any particular candidate or committee and through the total that can be given to everyone. At this time, the limit in an election cycle is $5,200 an individual candidate, $32,400 to a national political party, $10,000 to the state party, and $5,000 to as many PACs as the donor wants. The aggregate comes to about $123,200, which McCutcheon says is too small.

Without the aggregate limit, one person could donate up to $3.6 million, an amount that Justice Antonin Scalia says isn’t much money. He might be right when if he’s talking about someone like George Maffei because that sum is only 0.0035 percent of his annual income. But for the rest of people, it’s an annual salary for almost 70 people combined. A big difference in power.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that aggregate limits promotes “democratic participation” that keeps the “super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.” Scalia used his snarky attitude to respond, “I assume that a law that only—only prohibits the speech of 2 percent of the country is okay.” Better to “control the speech” of 2 percent than 98 percent.

When Roberts was questioned as a nominee for SCOTUS justice, he said that he didn’t believe in overturning precedents. His history since being approved shows a different perspective. Ruling in favor of McCutcheon would be another rejection of an earlier Supreme Court decision. The ruling of Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 case, decided that limits on contributions “entail only a marginal restriction” on speech because contributions to political debate “involves speech by someone other than the contributor.”

An amicus brief from Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and David Price (D-NC) argues that allowing larger individual contributions would create the reality or appearance of corruption, and the government has a compelling interest in preventing this corruption. “Very large political contributions create both the risk that officeholders and potential officeholders will be tempted to forsake their public duties and the opportunity for corrupt bargains.”

Seven Supreme Court justices, including Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the Citizens United decision, voted to uphold the federal ban on soliciting large contributions in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission: “Very large contributions for national parties presented corruption concerns regardless of how those contributions were ultimately used.”

Van Hollen and Price concluded:

“Permitting the parties and their candidates to solicit and receive contributions of millions of dollars from individual donors would again foster the appearance that our officeholders and our government are for sale.”

A February 2013 YouGov poll found 44 percent of Americans think the 2012 election cycle’s aggregate limit of $46,200—raised to $48,600 this cycle—to federal candidates was already too high. Just 12 percent think there should be no limit. A 2012 Brennan Center for Justice survey found that 69 percent of respondents disapproved of the Citizens United decision, making it one of the most unpopular Supreme Court decisions in history. A poll also shows that 55 percent of people in the United States reject the concept that money is equivalent to speech. Citizens United, giving the wealthy the right to excessive campaign donations, was a catalyst in dropping public confidence in the Supreme Court to 28 percent.

Justice Stephen Breyer wants to dodge making a decision. His suggestion, not well taken, was to send the case back to the lower court to create an actual factual record.

Justice Elena Kagan came up with the best idea, rolling back the court’s Citizens United ruling: “I suppose that if this court is having second thoughts about its rulings that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law.”

In an op-ed piece, Dana Milbank addressed the irony of the Supreme Court staying open and hearing a case that will most likely continue the high level of dysfunction in Congress.

“The court has failed to undo the partisan redistricting that has left the House of Representatives hopelessly polarized. It has furthered Americans’ cynicism toward politics with nakedly political rulings such as Bush v. Gore. Above all, it has created a campaign finance system that is directly responsible for the rise of uncompromising leaders on both sides of the Capitol.”

Scalia, with his “$3.6 million isn’t much money” statement, stays in his bubble through ultra-conservative media sources such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and Bill Bennett’s talk radio. He objects to The New York Times as “often nasty.” Those sources don’t point out that most GOP congressional seats are safe because of the SCOTUS-sanctioned gerrymandering.

As Milbank wrote, “A few billionaires have purchased a Congress full of unbending extremists, and the Supreme Court made it all legal.”

The day of the arguments, President Obama said, “There aren’t a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way, where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed.” The last time he objected to a SCOTUS ruling on campaign finances, the conservative justices threatened to boycott the president’s State of the Union speech.

A Supreme Court ruling that eliminates federal aggregate donations would likely create havoc in the states currently capping overall contributions. Nine states–Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming–had aggregate limits in place for the last two election cycles, but Arizona eliminated the state’s limits. The vast majority, 81 percent, of the 2010 donors reaching state aggregate limits did so in Wisconsin. A donor is fighting in court to overturn the limits, and state legislators are working to double the aggregate limit.

During the argument, the justices appeared to line up on conservative and progressive camps with Roberts toward the middle but leaning toward his usual conservative bent. I doubt if he learned his lesson from Citizens United. 

October 21, 2013

Good News after the Shutdown

Recent news seems to be better than usual. We’re probably in a honeymoon period after the government re-opened and a few of the GOP members of Congress seem mildly chastened, but I’ll just enjoy what we have today.

Gov. Chris Christie has decided to stop fighting marriage equality in New Jersey. A judge ruled that same-sex couples could marry in that state this month—beginning yesterday, in fact—but Christie appealed the decision, asking for a stay of ceremonies until after the appeal. The judge turned him down, and the governor’s office submitted a formal withdrawal of the appeal to the state Supreme Court this morning. New Jersey is the 14th state to legalize marriage equality.

In my state of Oregon, the attorney general has ruled that the all government agencies in the state must recognize all legal out-of-state marriages, whether performed in other states or other countries. A campaign is still collecting signatures to put marriage equality on the ballot in 2014 by removing the ban from the state constitution. Over 100,000 signatures of the necessary 116,284 have already been gathered. Meanwhile two couples are suing the state to legalize marriage equality. Suits are popping up in several other states that discriminate against gay and lesbian marriage.

Opinion about the GOP has not faired well with the aftermath of the government shutdown. A new survey from Pew Research shows that unfavorable views of the Tea Party have doubled in the past three years from 25 percent in 2010, when the extremists took over the House of Representatives, to 49 percent last week. Only 30 percent of the people have a favorable view of the group that shut down the government for 16 days.

Tea Party

A majority of Americans also think that the GOP control of the House is bad for the country, and even more want House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) replaced. The 54 percent who oppose the GOP rule is up over 25 percent from the 43 percent in December 2012, the last fiscal standoff. Another 63 percent want Boehner replaced.

An NBC/WSJ shows that 24 percent of people approve of the GOP, a record low. Gallup, usually more positive than other surveys, found only 28 percent approval of the GOP. Congress has a 12 percent approval rating with 86 percent of the respondents disapproving, according to the CNN/ORC International poll. President Obama’s ratings haven’t changed since last June, and 44 percent are more confident that he can handle problems facing the U.S., compared to the 31 percent who think that the GOP can. Another 21 percent expressed no confidence in both that the president and the GOP.

For a month the Internet has been reporting the possibility of Democrats taking back the House. I have serious doubts because of the heavy gerrymandering done in the majority of the GOP-controlled states, but this idea keeps popping up. A new survey of 25 GOP-held districts shows dwindling favorability for Republican members of the House in the wake of the recent government shutdown, indicating excellent chances for a Democratic candidate.

In ten of these districts, the incumbent Republican is trailing a generic Democrat. Adding this survey to previous ones, generic candidates lead in 27 of 61 GOP-held districts. When voters were informed their Republican candidate supported the government shutdown, 11 more districts flipped, and one race became a tie. The Dems would have to add 18 seats to the existing 200 in order to achieve control of the House. Unfortunately, voters have very bad memories, but bad behavior in January and February with the possibility of another shutdown might renew a negative impression of the GOP legislators.

Negative press may be the reason that Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR), who came in with fellow Tea Partiers less than three years ago, has announced that he will not seek re-election. As usual, he used the family responsibilities. Griffin is a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and a nonpartisan report rates his district as “safe Republican.” Griffin was Karl Rove’s protege of Karl Rove and appointed as an interim U.S. attorney in Little Rock in 2006 after a scandal in which several U.S. attorneys were fired by the administration. He was never confirmed by the Senate and later resigned the position.

Another interesting race is for Kentucky senator. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is being attacked by the Tea Party on one side and Democratic candidate Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes on the other. She has run a tough campaign thus far with her infamous description of Congress: “The GOP has come to stand for gridlock, obstruction and partisanship. If doctors told Senator McConnell he had a kidney stone, he’d refuse to pass it.”

McConnell tried to pick up some points during the government shutdown by negotiating with Harry Reid and then announcing that this can never happen again. The final continuing appropriations resolution also provided his state with a $3 billion earmark. Yet Grimes’ one-point lead doubled during the shutdown to 45-43 as 60 percent of the people in the state opposed the government closures. The Affordable Care Act, which McConnell vehemently opposes, has been very successful in Kentucky.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is still looking good in the Tea Party despite his determination to eliminate the Affordable Care Act at all costs. Time, a publication popular with conservatives, announced that he “potentially violated ethics rules by failing to publicly disclose his financial relationship with a Caribbean-based holding company during the 2012 campaign.” When he was caught in 2013, he reported the financial relationship by amending his mandatory financial disclosure documents but is now being forced to submit a second amended disclosure after an inquiry by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

When good news comes out of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s usually because they have refused to hear a case. Last week justices said they wouldn’t review a decision that upheld the Maryland gun law requiring residents to demonstrate a “good and substantial reason” to get a permit to carry a handgun outside their own home or business. The state is one of six “may issue” states mandating this reason. Maryland law does not recognize a vague threat or general fear as an adequate reason for obtaining a permit. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law.

Maryland residents can carry a gun at their home or business or while hunting with no permit. The new Maryland law that went into effect at the beginning of October will most likely be the subject of court cases. One of the nation’s tightest gun laws, it bans 45 types of assault weapons, though people who owned the weapons before the new law was passed are allowed to keep them. People must also submit fingerprints to get a license to buy a handgun. That law is also being challenged in court.

Another court case that SCOTUS turned down comes from Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a candidate for governor, and his obsession with outlawing sodomy and oral sex. Ignoring the fact that SCOTUS struck down anti-sodomy laws ten years ago, Virginia kept the law on the books, and Cuccinelli wanted to use it to prosecute cases involving minors. Last July, Cuccinelli unveiled a website for the law and said that he planned to put it back on the books. He also blocked the Virginia legislature from changing the law to conform to the SCOTUS ruling.

The law, however, clearly includes all people, including adults, who engage in oral or anal sex, and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed it unconstitutional.

Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign isn’t very successful either, partly because of his close relationship to Ted Cruz. Last week’s poll shows the GOP candidate down seven points to Terry McAuliffe. A recent ad gives evidence of Cuccinelli’s role in shutting down the government. Virginia was the state most hurt by the federal shutdown. Another of Cuccinelli’s problems is the restrictive laws regarding women’s reproductive rights in the state that has frequently brought out protesters.

As Scarlet O’Hara said in Gone with the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day.” But for today, this news is good.

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