Nel's New Day

November 19, 2013

Crazy News from Ideologues from the Cheneys to Alabama Judges

Even with the GOP home for one of its frequent long recesses, far-right insanity swirls through the news. Anyone following the media, for example, could hardly have missed the actions of the dysfunctional Cheney family. In brief: Liz Cheney moved to Wyoming to run against incumbent GOP Sen. Mike Enzi. She came out in opposition to marriage equality. Sister Mary is legally married to Heather Poe. Mary’s and Liz’s father Dick, who supported marriage equality in the 2004 election for vice-president, defended Liz and called for “compassion.” Mary and Heather posted on their Facebook page that Liz’s lack of support for their marriage is “offensive to say the least,” suggesting that Liz changed her position to campaign against Enzi.

The sisters’ mother, Lynne Cheney, interfered in the campaign in September when she told former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) at a charity event that he should endorse Liz Cheney. He told her he chose Enzi and accused Cheney’s candidacy as dividing state GOP members. Mother Cheney yelled “just shut up” at him three times but later denied saying it. Simpson called her denial “a damn baldfaced lie.”

Simpson also said, “It isn’t as if Mike Enzi were a left wing commie. … He has the backing of [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz and [Kentucky Sen. Rand] Paul.” It doesn’t go farther right than that—at least at the present time.

Dick Cheney entered the fray after Ezni told website The Daily Beast that he felt “blindsided” by the primary challenge from his old fishing-buddy’s daughter. His “buddy” answered by saying that he and Enzi had not been friends and were certainly not fishing buddies.

Cheney’s four-month campaign has had other problems. She had to pay a $220 fee for falsifying the length of time she had lived in Wyoming while applying for a fishing license. She said a decade; the state said 72 days. Cheney then attacked the Wyoming Star-Tribune for reporting the incident and its editor by name, declaring, “Newspapers are dying, and that’s not a bad thing.”

Another messy GOP situation comes from the University of Texas where the Young Conservatives of Texas planned a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game” on campus. Organizer Lorenzo V. Garcia was an intern for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and reportedly works for Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. The “game”:

“There will be several people walking around the UT campus with the label ‘illegal immigrant’ on their clothing. Any UT student who catches one of these ‘illegal immigrants’ and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card.”

This is the same group that hosted a “bake sale” in September that included “special pricing” for customers based on their race and ethnicity. Photos showed the brownie prices:  whites, $2; Asians, $1.50; Latinos, $1; blacks, $.75 and Native Americans $.25. There was even a $.25 discount for all women. Again, Garcia was a leader in the activity. He explained that it was a protest against affirmative action.

bake sale

Another protest fell flat. Last month, Larry Klayman, founder of Freedom Watch and Judicial Watch, asked millions of Americans to march on Washington, D.C. today with the intent to remove President Obama from office. Right-wing site BizPac reported that 40 groups showed up. The total number of people was approximately 100. At least, the weather was good.

Klayman6

With Thanksgiving nearing, a Walmart in Ohio set up a donation box in the employees’ workroom asking for donations to give “associates” a Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, Walmart made a profit of $15.7 billion, but its employees may not have enough food for Thanksgiving. The huge company has had shrinking profits for the past three quarters, however. Could it be because its employees can’t even afford to shop there because of their low wages?

Walmart

McDonalds has a solution for hunger on its “McResource” website for its workers: break food “into pieces” will keep them full. Other tips include “sing away stress” because it “can lower your blood pressure.” Those who are still stressed should take two vacations a year. Earlier McDonalds told workers to apply for food stamps. Federal minimum wage rate for their workers is $7.25 an hour; McDonalds makes billons annually.

Both Walmart and fast-food workers have been protesting their low pay, with thousands of people coming out in support. A bill, to be introduced in the House this week, would charge for protesting, at least against oil and gas companies. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) has proposed a bill that would mandate a $5,000 fee for protesting oil and gas drilling on public lands. Other provisions of the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act:

  • Automatically approve onshore drilling permits if the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) failed to act on them in 60 days;
  • Direct the DOI to begin commercial leasing for the development of oil shale, prohibited for over 80 years. Oil shale—unlike shale oil—has to be heated to almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to produce crude oil before it is refined. Each barrel of oil requires three to five barrels of water, and the Natural Resources Defense Council calls it “the dirtiest fuel on the planet.”
  • Require the government to offer 10 leases on federal lands in 2014 for oil shale research and demonstration projects.
  • Mandate the government to hold at least 5 commercial lease sales of federal lands for oil shale development, each no less than 25,000 acres, before 2016.

According to the NRDC, oil shale production would emit four times more carbon pollution than producing conventional gasoline.

George Zimmerman, well-known for killing Trayvon Martin almost two years and then being acquitted, is on bail after allegedly attacking his girlfriend twice within the past week. Yesterday, she said he pointed a shotgun at her face, pushed her out of the house, and then barricaded the door. The Florida judicial system likes Zimmerman a lot: his bail is $9,000. 

In Montana a judge gave a rapist only 30 days in prison. Austin Smith Clem of Limestone County (AL) did better than that: the convicted man gets no prison time at all. He only needs to complete a two-year community corrections program designed for nonviolent offenders and serve an additional three years of probation. At least the county district attorney has filed a motion asking for prison time.

Alabama law also allows judges override juries and impose the death penalty instead of life in prison. This week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to this law. Alabama judges have imposed the death penalty 95 times, and 43 of the defendants are still on death row in Alabama. 

One judge, who sentenced to death a defendant with an IQ of 65, said “the sociological literature suggests Gypsies intentionally test low on standard IQ tests.” Another said, “If I had not imposed the death sentence, I would have sentenced three black people to death and no white people.”

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer disagreed with the Court’s decision. One study found that overrides significantly increased in election years. Of the 31 states that allow capital punishment, only three permit a judge to override a jury’s sentencing decision—Alabama, Delaware and Florida.

Thus we see the actions of elected legislators and judges who fail to protect the people of the United States out of personal ideology.

November 17, 2013

Current Status of Religion–Dinosaurs, Bonds, Surveys, & Beer

A friend sent me this information about the Salvation Army:

“Some of their charity work is given freely, but their primary focus, providing for the homeless, requires recipients to submit to religious indoctrination. Their rehab “program” requires attendance at church services, 12-Step meetings which are led by preachers, and participants are required to pay. SA gets federal grants and donor contributions to operate these programs and then get homeless people to sign up. It’s the only way they can stay in the shelter more than three nights. A few homeless people actually have the money to pony up the $50/week fee. The ones who can’t are required to “volunteer” twenty-five hours labor, i.e., they’re paying these people $2/hour and preventing them from looking for real jobs. in addition, they are ALL required to apply for food stamps and give their SNAP cards to SA. I’ve known guys who were stuck in the SA rehab program for ten years or more. The few of them who get real jobs with SA are paid minimum wages and not allowed to work full-time, so they still have to pay to stay in the program. It’s not a charity; it’s a racket.”

The Salvation Army website does indicate that participants in rehab are required to work for them; the rest of the information above may also be valid.

Around the evangelical circuit:

*On a Veterans’ Day broadcast, televangelist Kenneth Copeland and GOP pseudo-historian David Barton used Scripture to argue that military veterans returning from war can’t get PTSD because they’re doing Godly work. According to Barton, members of the “faith hall of fame” in the Bible “were warriors who took so many people out in battle,” but did so in a just war in the name of God, proving that “when you do it God’s way, not only are you guiltless for having done that, you’re esteemed.”

*Some evangelicals are convinced that dinosaurs and dragons lived at the same time as humans but have to stretch the truth when it comes to the scripture evidence. These are some of their justifications:

  • The great sea monster (whale?) or the giant armored creatures (alligator or crocodile?) would be dragons.
  • God didn’t put every species in the Bible.
  • There is not room in the Bible to discuss dinosaurs or any other extinct species of life.
  • All of the basic “kinds” of living creatures were brought into existence in the same initial creation week. Moses wrote: “In six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is” (Exodus 20:11). This would include both dinosaurs (“terrible lizards”) and man.

*Ken Ham wants to build a full-scale wooden replica of Noah’s Ark at his creationist museum in Kentucky. All he needs is $73 million. How do the dinosaurs fit on the ark? Ham said, “When it came to the very few dinosaur kinds that grew to a very large size, God probably sent ‘teenagers,’ NOT ‘fully grown adults’ on the Ark.” The ark represents the end times which makes this a good time to build it, according to Ham, because of the current “great rebellion against God and His Word in the land.”

Because donations comprise only ten percent of his $73 million thus far and state funding from Kentucky dries up next year, Ham has decided to sell junk bonds to fund his project. The original plan was a “private placement equity offering” for contributors who would “participate as limited equity members in an LLC, with AiG as the controlling/operating member.” The group’s lawyers said, however, that the Affordable Care Act would force Ark Encounter “to provide abortifaciants (i.e., abortion-causing drugs) under its health coverage to its employees.” The lawyers are referring to Plan B contraception which does not cause abortions. The truth doesn’t get in the way of people who think that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time.

The new solution: “A private bond offering through a 501(c)(3) that will allow us to claim the exemption to supply abortifaciants.” Instead of an LLC, Ark Encounter will be an official religious nonprofit. The website, Answers in Genesis, makes the bonds sound like a sound investment. However, they “are not expected to have any substantial secondary market” and are “not an obligation of AiG.” Because they are unrated—and thus highly risky—they would be almost impossible to resell. And the bonds are secured only by the revenues and assets of the Ark Encounter project, not by Answers in Genesis itself. A failing project means that investors lose their entire investment, principal and all.

*David Barton, listed as one of Time’s most influential evangelicals in 2005, now agrees that climate change is man-made—or at least woman-made. The historian claims that climate change is caused by abortions: angry because of abortions, God is warming up the planet to make crazy weather. Voting pro-choice people into office has brought curses, including flooding, tornadoes, murder, and pedophilia. Barton claims that the country’s founders intended only Christians to be elected to office. He briefly considered running for Texas senator; winning would have made the state’s other senator, Ted Cruz, seem slightly more sane.

The Roman Catholic Church:

Incensed by Gov. Pat Quinn’s signing the bill that legalizes marriage equality in Illinois, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, head of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, plans to preside over a prayer service of “supplication and exorcism.” He said that marriage between gays and lesbians “comes from the devil and should be condemned as such.” The legislators are, according to Paprocki, “morally complicit as co-operators in facilitating this grave sin.”

Pope Francis, however, is more concerned with fracking. Last week, the pope met with Argentine filmmaker Fernando “Pino” Solanas (La Guerra del Fracking — The Fracking War) and environmental activist Juan Pablo Olsson at the Vatican to discuss fracking and water pollution. [Olsson is on the left, below.] The pope seems to have added the concept of people being stewards of the church to his opposition to poverty, inequality, and bigotry.

Pope frack

The pope’s recent financial reforms may be upsetting the Italian mafia. Anti-mob prosecutor, Nicola Gratteri, reported that the Ndrangheta, an active mafia in southern Italy, is not pleased with the new pope’s actions. “Those who up to now have fed off the power and wealth coming directly from the Church are nervous, upset,” Gratteri said. “If the mafia bosses can trip him up, they won’t hesitate.” Pope Francis is dangerous because he seems to be a true believer in the words of Christ.

First, the pope installed a special commission tasked with investigating the Vatican’s bank and another to probe Vatican finances in general. He also asked a U.S.consultancy, Promontory Financial Group, to conduct an external review of the Vatican bank’s money-laundering rules and, more recently, to look into the internal agency handling its many real estate holdings.

Another way that Pope Francis may be upsetting the apple cart of tradition is surveying Catholics about their opinions. He wants to know how his constituents—and not just the top hierarchy—think about a variety of subjects including marriage equality, divorce, and birth control. The Vatican sent out the survey a month ago to Catholic bishops around the world.

The survey asks what “pastoral attention” can be given to those who have chosen a same-sex union, and “in the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?” Catholics will be asked about is the church’s stance on “the value of the family” in the modern era. Another issue is whether divorce, remarriage and same-sex marriage are a “pastoral reality” in their local church. “How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?” the document asks. It also names mixed or interreligious marriages, single-parent families, polygamy, and “forms of feminism hostile to the church” as issues requiring the attention.

The poll must be conducted by the end of January. Findings will be included in a working paper for a meeting of the synod of bishops next October.

A survey by Quinnipiac University shows that two-thirds of adult Catholics in the United States agree with the pope’s statement that the Catholic Church is too focused on issues such as homosexuality, abortion and contraception. Six in ten Catholics surveyed approve of marriage equality, above the 56-percent national approval. They also support the idea of ordaining women priests by a 60-30 margin.

The pope’s approach hasn’t made fans of everyone. Sarah Palin is taken aback by his liberal attitudes, and Pat Buchanan says the pope is leading the church toward moral relativism because of his “stance of non-belligerence.”

 Protestant churches are also looking for ways to lure more membership, and a new one is providing the members with beer. Calvary Lutheran Church (Fort Worth, TX) has Church-in-a-Pub. The old First Christian Church (Portland, OR) has a monthly Beer & Hymns night, sponsored by the anti-alcohol denomination, the Christian Church Disciples of Christ. 

November 16, 2013

Progressives Decide to Move Forward

While House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) sits on all potential legislation such as immigration reform, non-discrimination, etc., the rest of the world is moving forward to make life better for people. Here are some recent actions:

The Sacramento Superior Court defended California’s clean energy economy by upholding California’s cap-and-trade program. Business interests opposed the law, but the court supported the state’s position that auctioning carbon permits holds polluters accountable for making an adverse impact on the climate. The first four “auctions” raised $395 million for the state, and the fifth one is due this coming week.

In two different cases, Mutual Pharmaceuticals v. Bartlett (2011) and Pliva v. Mensing  (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that makers of generic drugs could not warn people of the dangers associated with their drugs because they had to copy the brand-name drug label, per FDA mandates. The FDA policy and Supreme Court decisions eliminated any incentive for generic drug makers to investigate and report safety problems related to their products, about 84 percent of the medication market, by giving them total immunity.

Recently, differences between generics and brand-names, such as Wellbutrin and its generics, resulted in several generics being pulled from the market because the generics are not equivalent to the brand-name drugs. For example, stories about problems surrounding Wellbutrin generics were in the media for at least six years before the FDA ruled that the generic was not equivalent.

The good news: After extensive petitioning, the FDA proposes revising its 1992 ruling to requiring changes in generic drug labels listing dangers not provided in labels for brand-name drugs. If generic drug makers present a valid case for changes in the labeling, the FDA may permit this information on the labels. Generic drug manufacturers could also distribute “Dear Health Care Provider” letters. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that the change would create new liability standards for generic drug manufacturers under the same failure-to-warn standards that have resulted in huge fines for many branded drug manufacturers. The FDA is providing 60 days for public and industry input regarding the changes in the rules before they could go into effect.

Public Citizen, which worked to petition the FDA regarding labeling rules, has also issued a report about the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma and Texas just weeks before the 485-mile-long pipeline is supposed to have 700,000 barrels of diluted bitumen pumped through it daily. Members of Public Citizen who walked a 250-mile stretch documented and photographed engineering code violations and approximately 125 “anomalies” of dents, sags, peeling patches, and other problems.

 multipatch2_1292 (2)

Public Citizen has called for a U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) investigation into its findings. The organization has also requested that Congress and the White House delay any pipeline use until a government investigation is complete.

Martin Bashir has called out Sarah Palin about her comparison between slavery and the national debt. Although right-wingers accuse Bashir of being a misogynist, I think he’s a hero for his history lesson, using the diary of plantation overseer Thomas Thistlewood to describe the brutality and inhumanity of slavery in Colonial America.  

In 1756, Thistlewood recorded that a slave named Darby “catched eating kanes had him well flogged and pickled, then made Hector, another slave, s-h-i-t in his mouth.” The overseer’s punishment became known as “Darby’s Dose.” The diary also described treatment for a man he called Punch. “Flogged punch well, and then washed and rubbed salt pickle, lime juice and bird pepper, made Negro Joe piss in his eyes and mouth.”

The liberal wing of the Senate is moving forward while GOP senators filibuster the three women nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit: Nina Pillard, Patricia Millett, and Caitlin Halligan. GOP senators accused the women accused of “militant feminism” because of their work for women’s rights. (Misogyny?)

Democratic senators have introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 that would prevent states from passing TRAP laws. Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers attempt to stop abortion access in 45 states by creating frivolous regulations such as specific dimensions for clinic restrooms and mandates that doctors performing abortions have privileges at nearby hospitals. These state laws, some of them overturned by courts, have closed 54 women’s clinics, 12 of them in Texas. That state’s reduction in funding closed another 50 family planning clinics.

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Barbara Boxer (CA), Tammy Baldwin (WI) introduced the bill in the upper chamber. Reps. Judy Chu (CA), Marcia Fudge (OH), and Lois Frankel (FL) brought the bill to the House. The last time that Congress passed proactive legislation protecting abortion access was the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994.

Another Senate bill extends the life of Social Security and improves its benefits. Democrats Sherrod Brown (OH),Tom Harkin (IA), Brian Schatz (HI), and Mark Begich (AK) are sponsoring the Strengthen Social Security Act of 2013:

Strengthen Benefits by Reforming the Social Security Benefit Formula:  By changing the way that SS benefits are calculated, the average increase per person would by about $70 per month with those in low- and middle-income levels targeted.

Ensure that Cost of Living Adjustments Adequately Reflect the Living Expenses of Retirees: A change in the calculation of Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) would also create an increase in SS benefits. At this time, the COLA is tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation, using items that do not correctly reflect purchases that seniors make, such as medical care. The bill bases future COLAs on the CPI for the Elderly (CPI-E), an experimental index that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been keeping since 1982.

Improve the Long Term Financial Condition of the Trust Fund: According to the most recent Social Security Trustees report, the Trust Fund can pay full benefits through 2033, another 20 years. The proposed change is phasing out the current taxable cap of $113,700 so that the wealthiest Americans contribute to the program the same share of their income as the middle class.

Republicans may not vote for these bills, but they’ll be forced to show that they vote against women and senior citizens.

 

November 15, 2013

The Internet Makes a Difference

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:53 PM
Tags: ,

Ten years ago the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could probably have been passed into international law, quietly and in secret. A decade into the 21st century, however, information, varying in accuracy, pours across the world through wireless access. Although the mainstream media has had nothing to say about the TPP, Wikileaks has provided the text of the proposed agreement, and people are gathering in protest.

A letter from 180 members of the House from Tea Partier Michele Bachmann (R-MN) to progressive John Lewis (D-GA) oppose President Obama’s request for Fast Track, an authority which would let the president negotiate and sign the TPP before Congressional debate. Fast Track would allow Congress only an up-and-down vote.

Negotiators for TTP will meet in Salt Lake City (UT) next week, and protesters plan to be present. Communities are passing resolutions opposing the changes in law from TTP that harms them. December 3 will see a global day of protest against toxic trade agreements, and two members of the Australian Parliament will submit a request on that day to make the text of TPP public.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an agreement being negotiated behind closed doors by representatives of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, and Australia. It proposes to control “international obligations and enforcement mechanisms for copyright, trademark and patent law.” Until the Wikileaks made the document public, only 700 representatives of corporations–TTP’s author–had access to the text. No  governments would have been to read it until given an up-or-down vote, and the public has been permitted little or no input in the final version.

Scary content of TPP:

Restricted Internet use: “Authors, performers, and producers of phonograms have the right to authorize or prohibit all reproductions of their works, performances, and phonograms, in any manner or form, permanent or temporary (including temporary storage in electronic form).” Currently, computers use temporary copies to buffer videos, store cache files to ensure websites load quickly, etc. Anyone viewing a temporary version on the computer would most likely be liable to TPP infringement.

Limited access to medicine: Access to affordable medications would drastically shrink, while pharmaceutical companies would greatly profit if consumers were not able to buy competing low-cost companies’ medications. These measures have never been seen before in U.S. trade agreements. The proposals would control countries’ laws on patents and medical test data, extending pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS drugs especially in the Asia-Pacific region. TPP would also create more difficulty for additional generic drugs in the pharmaceutical markets.

Extended patent protections to surgical methods: Patent protections to surgical methods, currently allowed to be excluded under World Trade Organization framework, would be lengthened. TPP makes patent protections’ exceptions to only “surgical methods you can perform with your bare hands,” according to Burcu Kilic, legal counsel to Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program.

Longer copyright term protections: Currently copyright term protections are defined by individual countries but capped at the life of the author plus 50 years. TPP could force longer copyright terms to life of the author plus 70 years for individuals “and either 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation for corporate-owned works (such as Mickey Mouse).” Economists and law scholars believe that “the optimal length of copyright is at most seven years.”

The requirement for Internet Service Providers (ISP) to police copyright violations: An analysis stated:

“The TPP wants service providers to undertake the financial and administrative burdens of becoming copyright cops, serving a copyright maximalist agenda while disregarding the consequences for Internet freedom and innovation.”

Three-strike rules would require ISPs to terminate users’ Internet access after three allegations of copyright infringement; require ISPs to filter online communications for possible instance of copyright infringement; oblige ISPs to block websites that may be engaged in copyright infringement; and potentially force ISPs to reveal identities of alleged online copyright infringers to the entities that hold the copyrights in question.

Under the TPP, corporations would be in control; the agreement would supersede government laws and regulations. It has been described as “NAFTA on steroids,” referring to the trade agreement that gave oil and pharmaceutical companies control over Canadian regulations on offshore oil drilling, fracking, pesticides, drug patents and other issues.

Environmental regulations would be shredded while prices would skyrocket if the TPP were to become the law of the land. Although corporations claim that TPP is a trade agreement, that’s only a minor part. The rest of it includes “new investor safeguards to ease job offshoring and assert control over natural resources, and severely limit the regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare and more,” according to Lori Wallach in The Nation. 

All countries would be forced to conform domestic laws and regulations to any TPP’s rules that are written by huge corporations. TPP even limits how governments spend tax dollars and prevents programs such as “Buy America” and other “Buy Local” movements. The TPP rules could be changed only if all countries agree, and it has no expiration date. Breaking any TPP rules could leave countries open to lawsuits before the organization’s tribunals. Under TPP corporations could sue governments.

NAFTA has already required governments to pay $350 million to corporations because of suits against toxic bans, land-use policies, forestry rules and more. Again, think of TPP as NAFTA on steroids. NAFTA and similar pacts has cost the United States more than 5 million jobs and led to the loss of more than 50,000 manufacturing plants. TPP would continue the bleeding of employment in this country.

TPP has proceeded in secret for the past five years. Public, press, and Congress have been prevented from knowing anything about its proceedings. Even Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chair of the Senate committee with official jurisdiction over TPP, has been denied access to even U.S. proposals to the negotiations. But 700 corporate representatives serving as official U.S. trade advisers have full access to TPP texts and a special role in negotiations.

When challenged about the conflict with the Obama administration’s touted commitment to transparency, Trade Representative Kirk noted that after the release of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) text in 2001, that deal could not be completed. In other words, the official in charge of the TPP says the only way to complete the deal is to keep it secret from the people who would have to live with the results.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pointed out in a letter to the White House:

“I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the administration’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States. I believe in transparency and democracy and I think the US Trade Representative should too.”

There’s much more wrong with TPP than its lack of transparency.

November 14, 2013

Listen to Elizabeth Warren

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 10:18 PM
Tags: , , , ,

While the media and the GOP manage to keep focus in the United States firmly focused on the Affordable Health Care, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) spoke Tuesday about the danger of big banks. People in this country need to know that the oncoming disaster is not Obamacare. It’s our financial problems.

“Who would have thought five years ago, after we witnessed firsthand the dangers of an overly concentrated financial system, that the ‘too big to fail’ problem would only have gotten worse?” Warren said. Her indictment was not only of financial institutions that “have fought to delay and hamstring the implementation of financial reform,” after “exploiting consumers, larding their books with excessive risk, and making bad bets” but also of the regulators and lawmakers—many from her own party—who are refusing to hold the financial sector to account.

The four largest banks are now 30 percent larger than they were five years ago when the crisis began. More than half of the nation’s banking assets are held by just five banks. Yet regulators have failed to set the rules, and agencies responsible for implementing the reforms outlined in Dodd-Frank have missed more than 60 percent of their deadlines. Fewer than half of the regulations mandated under the law have been finalized, and more than quarter have not even been written. At the same time, regulators met with big banks 2,118 times since Dodd-Frank passed, fourteen times as many meetings as with advocates of financial reform.

“Since when does Congress set deadlines, watch regulators miss most of them, and then take that failure as a reason not to act?” Warren asked. “I thought that if the regulators failed, it was time for Congress to step in. That’s what oversight means.” Lawmakers are intent to dismantle financial reform legislation. In July, several Wall Street–friendly Democrats urged the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to delay rules for American banks engaged in derivatives trading overseas, a practice that has been unregulated. Last month, the House passed two bills, one written by Citigroup lobbyists, delaying provisions in Dodd-Frank by a bipartisan vote. Those two votes bring the total of recent bills passed by the House to undercut financial reform to ten.

In July, Warren and Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Angus King (I-ME) introduced a new version of the Glass-Steagall Act, which would force financial institutions to separate consumer banking activities like checking and savings deposits from risky practices such as credit swaps that brought the country down in 2008. The bill “would reduce failures of the big banks by making banking boring, protecting deposits, and providing stability to the system even in bad times,” Warren said. “Big banks would still be big—but not too big to fail or, for that matter, too big to manage, too big to regulate, too big for trial or too big for jail.”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has met all of its deadlines, but Dodd-Frank has not changed the balance of power between financial giants and regulators. Other problems, such as shadow banking, exceed the scope of the legislation. A report provides many ways to limit risk and constrain mega-banks, but no one will enact them.

“Congress must act to protect our economy and prevent future crises,” Warren said. “What we need is a system…that recognizes we don’t grow this country from the financial sector; we grow this country from the middle class.” Legislators talk about the importance of the middle class, but their campaigns can’t profit from these people. They need donations from Wall Street and big business in their efforts to run for election. That was made obvious during the recent government shutdown when corporations made the GOP re-open government.

As Zoe Carpenter wrote, “People who determine policy and the institutions perpetuating the imbalances in the economy are locked in mutually beneficial relationship.”

According to Warren, the financial crisis cost people in the United States more than $14 trillion dollars, $120,000 for every household. “Where are we in making sure behemoth institutions on Wall Street can’t bring down the economy again? And make wild gambles that suck up all the profits in the good times? And stick the taxpayer with the bill when it goes wrong?” Warren asked.

“Three years since Dodd-Frank was passed, the biggest banks are bigger than ever, the risks to the system have grown and the market distortions continue.” Current regulators do not give “much reason for confidence,” she said. “It is time to act: the last thing we should do is wait for another crisis.”

In her speech at the Roosevelt Institute/Americans for Financial Reform conference, Warren explained the importance of her proposed bill:

“Big banks would once again have understandable balance sheets, and with that would come greater market discipline. Now sure, the lobbyists for Wall Street say the sky will fall if they can’t use deposits in checking accounts to fund their high-risk activities. But they said that in the 1930s, too. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. The Glass-Steagall Act would restore the stability to the financial system that began to disappear in the 1980s and 1990s….

“We should not accept a financial system that allows the biggest banks to emerge from a crisis in record-setting shape while working Americans continue to struggle. And we should not accept a regulatory system that is so besieged by lobbyists for the big banks that it takes years to deliver rules and then the rules that are delivered are often watered-down and ineffective.

“What we need is a system that puts an end to the boom-and- bust cycle. A system that recognizes we don’t grow this country from the financial sector; we grow this country from the middle class.

“Powerful interests will fight to hang on to every benefit and subsidy they now enjoy. Even after exploiting consumers, larding their books with excessive risk, and making bad bets that brought down the economy and forced taxpayer bailouts, the big Wall Street banks are not chastened. They have fought to delay and hamstring the implementation of financial reform, and they will continue to fight every inch of the way.

“That’s the battlefield. That’s what were up against. But David beat Goliath with the establishment of CFPB and, just a few months ago, with the confirmation of Rich Cordray. David beat Goliath with the passage of Dodd-Frank. We did that together with Americans for Financial Reform, the Roosevelt Institute, and so many of you in this room. I am confident David can beat Goliath on Too Big to Fail. We just have to pick up the slingshot again.”

The original Glass–Steagall Act would have been 80 years old this year. After the severity of the Great Depression, the law was passed to limit the connection between commercial banks and securities firms. Weakened in the 1960s, the law was largely eviscerated in the 1980s when Alan Greenspan took over the Federal Reserve. The law’s death came in 1999 when two provisions removed the wall between banks and securities firms in the Gramm/Leach/Bliley Act. With no wall, Wall Street investment banking firms could legally gamble with depositors’ money, a factor that led to the 2008 recession.

As the House fails to go into session most of the time and the Senate plays with filibusters, financial institutions are again driving the country toward the cliff. Congress needs to make consequences for bank executive who lack integrity in their business dealings and then expect taxpayers to refinance them so that they can continue receiving their huge bonuses. Congress also needs to force huge banks to break up into smaller entities and prevent other mergers resulting in more big banks. And Congress needs to stop trying to destroy Dodd-Frank that guides the wind-down of failing financial institutions rather than giving them unlimited taxpayer bailouts.

It’s been 26 years since the stock market crash that fell 22.6 percent in one day. Another crash is eminent. Combining that with no responsibilities for banks and the huge difference between the wealthy and the rest of the people will bring disaster on the United States. It may all happen while the House continues to pass bills against Affordable Care Act and sets its trajectory toward shutting down the government and defaulting on the debt. We need to listen to Elizabeth Warren.

November 13, 2013

Purpose of Guns to Intimidate, Kill

“I firmly believe that all U.S. citizens have a right to keep and bear arms, but I do not believe that they have a right to use them irresponsibly.” That’s what Dick Metcalf wrote in the December issue of Guns & Ammo where he argued for mandatory training for gun owners.

Metcalf has a history with fighting any gun control. Last year he led the charge to pass a law in his home Pike County (IL) to carry concealed weapons with no permit, calling it “constitutional carry.” Thirty years ago he lobbied for loosening gun restrictions that came into effect after Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Yet he believes in Illinois’ new law to require training for all gun owners.

Anti-gun control protesters fought back against what they perceived as Metcalf’s unreasonable “diatribe.” On his blog “The Truth about Guns,” Robert Farago said that the Metcalf’s argument was a “bone-headed, uninformed, patently obvious misinterpretation of the Second Amendment.” Cancellations to Metcalf’s magazine piled onto more angry comments, and two gun manufacturers threatened to pull their advertizing.

Last week I wrote about this situation and described how the magazine’s editor, Jim Bequette, resigned following the backlash of publishing criticism  Metcalf’s column and apologized for his mistake in publishing any dissension to the hardest core gun carriers. In contrast, Metcalf stood by his words:

“If a respected editor can be forced to resign and a controversial writer’s voice be shut down by a one-sided social-media and internet outcry, virtually overnight, simply because they dared to open a discussion or ask questions about a politically sensitive issue . . . then I fear for the future of our industry, and for our Cause. Do not 2nd Amendment adherents also believe in Freedom of Speech? Do Americans now fear open and honest discussion of different opinions about important Constitutional issues? Do voices from cyberspace now control how and why business decisions are made?

“In today’s political climate within the community of firearms owners, even to open a discussion about whether 2nd Amendment rights can be regulated at all, is to be immediately and aggressively branded as anti-gun and anti-American by outspoken hard-corps pro-gunners who believe the answer is an absolute ‘NO!’ ….

“I further clearly understand that owning or driving a vehicle is not a constitutional right, and that keeping and bearing arms is. But both involve issues of public safety, which is why both are of great and immediate interest to a great number of Americans for much the same reasons. Should we not speak of both in the same sentence?”

As the conflict about gun carrying grows hotter and hotter, maybe people like Dick Metcalf will understand the dangers coming from people who believe it is their right to intimidate anyone who has the temerity to disagree with them.

For example, last weekend in Dallas (TX) when four women, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, met in a restaurant. Outside about 40 members of the Open Carry group gathered, brandishing semi-automatic rifles and other weapons, posing for photographs, and waiting for the women to leave—in a sense, holding them hostage. A spokeswoman for the restaurant said that no one called the police for fear of “inciting a riot” although people inside the restaurant were afraid.

Later OCT emailed the women:

“People are ‘getting used’ to seeing and being around guns and police have come to accept it and don’t even question us anymore. What we are doing is working and society is coming to view the sight of ‘military style rifles’ in public as just another normal thing. Isn’t that a good thing?”

People parading around with weapons strapped on their bodies is not new: a group decided to do the same thing at the Oregon capitol building last year to prove that they could do this. Open-carry advocates have targeted MDA meetings before, for example an event in Indianapolis last spring and a Let’s Roll America event at the Texas capitol last month. They also met at the site of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and at the Alamo.

Although Texas prevents open carrying “in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm,” OCT claims that their “objective is to educate, not alarm.” If anyone is frightened, that’s not OCT’s problem because they don’t have that intent. Free speech can be difficult to define. For example, is driving at 100 miles per hour on the highway to protest speed limits considered free speech?

Even Charles C.W. Cooke’s comments on the highly conservative National Review indicates that OCT might have gone too far:

“As a matter of personal taste, I dislike the tactics that Open Carry Texas used, and I think they got close to ‘intimidation.’ Unlike the protest depicted above, targeting a small group while carrying rifles strikes me as a counter-productive and mean strategy and one likely to turn off people who are instinctively on Second Amendment advocates’ side. Regardless of the legality of the thing, it is almost certainly ill-advised to alarm people in the name of making them feel more comfortable around guns.”

Cooke, however, complained about the photograph that Think Progress provided with its article.

open-carry-texas-moms-demand-action-gun-555x403

The philosophy of the modern pro-gun movement is its belief that they should be able to shoot and kill anyone who opposed their position—including elected officials, police, and military members. After President Obama planned to go to Dallas, almost 50 years after John F. Kennedy’s assassination there, two Texas-based Facebook pages displayed fantasies of also killing the current president through such comments as “take him via Dealey Plaza [where Kennedy was killed]”  and “Can he had a parade just like jfk?” Derek Roesler showed off his .50-caliber sniper rifle and wrote, “Drive him past the old book depository.” Russell Boyd fantasized, “Maybe another president will be sworn in on Air Force One as in the past. Everyone say’s [sic] that history repeat’s it’s [sic] self.”

Obviously Texas conservatives aren’t alone in their eagerness to kill people in authority. In September  conservative California radio host repeated a so-called “joke” with the punch line  that Abraham Lincoln told Hillary Clinton that she should “go to the theater.” Last May radio host Pete Santilli said Clinton should be “shot in the vagina” for being “involved in the killings of American troops.”

Last February the Wisconsin NRA handed out copies of The Reality News, calling for the armed overturn of the government. Karl Koenigs asked for a dictatorship which he and his followers would control. Thus a lobbying group for passage of laws distributed material at a state meeting calling for civil war.

Larry Klayman has declared November 19, six days from today, the day that he and his followers will march in Washington, D.C. and overthrow the government because the president is a Muslim. They plan to send Obama to “72 Virgins,” a thinly veiled death threat. 

Flyers from those who want a dictatorship with the Tea Party in charge read: ”Elections are not the solution to our problem; elections are the problem!” And these people are the ones carrying the guns with intent to kill.

One month from tomorrow is the anniversary of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children and seven adults were shot and killed. Three pro-gun groups have decided to call December 14, “Guns Save Lives Day.” A press release last month from the Second Amendment Foundation, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and DefendGunRights.com, stated that the day is a reminder that “crazy people, criminals and gun control extremists prefer unarmed victims.”

Every day in the United States, people are killed through either acts of violence or stupidity—or both. Men murder women because of domestic violence, children shoot themselves or others because adults don’t lock up guns and ammunition, a father even shoots and kills his son because the son didn’t want to stay and watch a football game at a bar. These are the people whose lives weren’t saved through guns.

The only purpose of a gun is to kill. People carrying guns intend to use them for this purpose, frequently to kill anyone who gets in their way.

November 12, 2013

No Excuses for the Media

The entire news media are liberal, according to conservative complaints. Only the Fox network can be trusted, the far-right claims. A close look at politics on mainstream media, beginning with 60 Minutes, shows a different view. One of the recent stories on this venerable program was about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic million in Benghazi (Libya) over a year ago. The biggest flaw in the story is that 60 Minutes reporters did their fact checking after the story was shown, not before.

The centerpiece of the story was a man called Morgan Jones who told about his scaling a 12-foot wall at the compound and using the butt end of his rifle to knock down an extremist while desperately trying to rescue the people there. He also reported that after he failed in his task, he saw the body of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens at a hospital. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) got so excited about this black eye on the Obama administration that he told media he would block all the president’s nominees until Congress heard from the U.S. survivors of the attack. Those include Jeh Johnson for Secretary of Homeland Security and  Janet L. Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve.

The problem with the 60 Minutes report—and Graham’s delighted reaction—is that Dylan Davies, who pretended to be Morgan Jones on the program, told his employer three days after the attack that he spent most of that night at his beach-side villa. The Britain-based contractor hired to handle the compound’s perimeter security wrote in his report, “We could not get anywhere near . . . as roadblocks had been set up.” He added that he learned about Steven’s death after a Libyan colleague came to Davies’ villa and showed him a cellphone photograph. According to his 21.5-page report, he didn’t go to the compound until the following day when he photographed the devastation.

Both the State Department and GOP Congressional aides confirmed that Davies’ report was among tens of thousands of documents that lawmakers had available. Yet this week Davies’ book by Sergeant Morgan Jones, The Embassy House which has the same story as the 60 Minutes report, was supposed to be released. The co-author, Damien Lewis, doesn’t even believe Davies’ account because the man’s superiors told him by telephone during the attack to stay away from the compound. Simon & Schuster, the book’s publisher announced last Friday, “We are suspending the publication.” The company is asking stores to return any books that they have received.

As bad as the false report is 60 Minutes’ weak apology. After stating last Friday that the program would “correct the record on our broadcast on Sunday night,” Lara Logan gave a 90-second comment at the end of the show. This followed several days of CBS’s support of its story after Media Matters pointed out the holes in Davies’ story and Davies used other media outlets, including The Daily Beast, to defend himself against “smears.”

 The media about Logan’s Benghazi report error, a story that sent the GOP in Congress into another witchhunt, was equally shabby. Washington Post headlined its defense of her as “brutal criticism,” and the author of the piece, Paul Fahri, described her as “glamorous” with “striking looks” and “femininity.” Obviously enamored by her appearance as she trick-or-treated with her children on Halloween, he wrote that she “dressed in a hot-pink bodysuit costume, set off with high heels.” No discussion of the 60 Minutes debacle until the next page.

Fahri—and most other media—failed to point out that Logan’s original report was not only wrong but also seriously lacking information. Although Logan claimed that the report was over a year in the making, it didn’t discuss the country’s historic and violent transition in Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack. U.S. forces had helped to overthrow the Qaddafi regime with resulting disorder because of the revolution. She represented Libya as only a place with a diplomatic mission and brave men with only cowards in Washington.

The U.S. media is in a tragic situation when the best reporting comes from comedy shows The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. For the best in humor and accuracy, check here and here.

Somewhat chastised by the inability of 60 Minutes to provide accurate reporting on the subject near and dear to his heart, Graham is still clinging to his rationale for blocking the president’s nominees. When questioned on Sunday, he said, rather weakly, that he had “released” two nominees for ambassadors but would continue to block the others.

In his response to 60 Minutes’ error/sort-of apology, Jon Stewart also tackled the reference of Christie’s photo on Time‘s cover to “the elephant in the room.” Accompanying the media’s awkward description of Christie is the inability of hosts on media political “talk shows” to elicit any meaningful information from their subjects.

David Wiegel uses the four interviews of Christie last Sunday to show the fluff that pretends to be political interviews. Tim Russert, past host of Meet the Press, was worth watching. When then Sen. Barack Obama appeared on his show seven years ago, Russert didn’t ask him if he thought a black man could become president. Instead he referenced Obama’s book and began by asking him if legislators had an obligation to solve issues although they would benefit from staying “out of the way.” The interview continued with Russert quoting from Obama’s book and asking other policy questions.

The latest host of Meet the Press, David Gregory, is just the reverse of Russert. He started Christie’s interview with whether he planned to run for president and continued with others about what impact Christie might have on the GOP and how the party could be saved. About Medicaid, Gregory asked if conservatives would attack Christie for expanding it.

On This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked Christie about relieving sanctions on Iran. Christie said other people would know more, and Stephanopoulos immediately moved to another subject. In a discussion about immigration, Christie pontificates on the “broken” federal system with no interruption from the host and no follow-up question of how Kentucky was able to set up a largely trouble-free exchange.

On Face the Nation, Christie claimed he’s just the governor of New Jersey, and host Norah O’Donnell gave him a pass by asking him what lessons he has for the GOP and what goals he has for next year. When Christie brags about the people in his state not being “involved in this train wreck” of the Affordable Care Act, O’Donnell doesn’t point out that they are locked into the healthcare.gov system. Nor does she ask him why all his endorsed state GOP senate candidates lost.

As David Wiegel wrote:

“In not one of the interviews did Christie get a potentially irritating, but fact-based, question about whether his lack of coattails said anything about the limits of his appeal or strategy. He got no questions, really, that he’s never had to answer before—not on the Voting Rights Act, not on the gay rights bill moving through Congress, not on the minimum wage ballot measure that passed in New Jersey on the same day he was elected, nada, nothing.”

Graham’s desperation most likely comes from his up-coming re-election campaign. Instead of easily sliding back into office, he is opposed by—thus far—four Republicans in the primary on .The most recent one has some validity, having almost won lieutenant governor in 2012. With the contender a Democrat who has three Nevada felony convictions, the primary winner will probably go to the U.S. Senate.

For their failures, however, the media have no excuse!

November 11, 2013

Help Veterans, Cut Defense

Most people know today is Veterans Day because the post office doesn’t deliver mail, and the television is inundated with war movies. There are also a few ceremonies and newspaper articles about old men who survived World War II. Most people have forgotten that the day was originally called Armistice Day with the intent to celebrate peace—not war. It commemorated the ceasefire of World War I at 11:00 am on 11/11/18.

Since the draft ended over four decades ago, people in the United States have become more and more detached from the people who fight the frivolous wars declared largely on the need for oil. Without the draft, most decision-makers have no military experience, and the diplomatic process is losing to declaration of war on a whim. The military is also becoming more and more divided by social classes: those who can afford to attend college and can get jobs largely avoid enlisting. When the U.S. had a draft, almost all young men face the possibility of military involvement, possibly during a conflict.

With people’s detachment from veterans has come the country’s ignoring the needs of veterans:

 Housing: 13 percent of the homeless population in this country is composed of veterans, and more than half of them have a disability. Despite some veteran housing programs, more than 60,000 veterans become homeless each year, and another 120,000 are in danger of losing their housing. Veterans aren’t even exempt from home foreclosures. 

Jobs: The unemployment rate for veterans since 9/11 is 10 percent, almost 50 percent higher than the 7.2 percent rate for everyone else. Much of this unemployment is long-term: 34 percent have been unemployed for a year, and 17 percent have not had a job for more than 2 years.

Reliable Health Care: Nearly 250,000 veterans wait for longer than a year to even have claims processed, and the situation got much worse after the Department of Veterans Affairs had to shut down for over two weeks because of the GOP blackmail in October. Soldiers with mental health issues are also ignored, and PTSD is on the rise.

Suicide Prevention: The suicide rate for veterans is increasing at twice the rate as the rate for the general population, and almost 20 percent of suicides nationwide is among veterans although they comprise only 10 percent of the population.

Drug Counseling: Veterans are at greater risk after stresses in the military and subsequent return to civilian life. According to one study, 39 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had “probably alcohol abuse.” One in eight troops are referred to counseling for alcohol problems when they leave the military. At the same time, the military ignores excessive drug and alcohol use during active duty.

Incarceration: Almost ten percent of prison inmates are veterans. That’s one million of the ten million people incarcerated in the United States.

Food Stamps: 900,000 veterans rely on food stamps to feed their families. These are the people who will be taken off if the House of Representatives gets its way to move this money over to wealthy farmers. Last week, benefits were cut by an average of almost 8 percent to $133 per person per month. These are the people who Repubilcans describe as “lazy moochers” who need to learn independence.

Social Security: The government plan to establish a “chained CIP” would decrease the disability benefits for almost 4 million veterans as well as pension payments to another 500,000 low-income veterans and surviving families . Currently the Consumer Price Index measures changes in retail prices; chained CPI would use changes in consumer behavior by using the quantity of goods purchased as well as the retail prices. Some people think that those who spend less, for example going without meat, should receive less benefits because they don’t spend as much as when they had more money. The chained CPI method would decrease a raise of 1.7 percent in disability and pension payments by over 17 percent.

In 1944, Congress passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, nicknamed the G.I. Bill. It gave benefits to the 16 million World War II veterans including low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start businesses, tuition and living expenses for education, and one year of unemployment compensation. Every veteran on active duty during the war years for at least 90 days and not dishonorably discharged got these benefits. By 1956, about 2.2 million veterans benefited from the G.I. Bill to go to college, and another 6.6 million participated in training programs. Even more Vietnam veterans used education benefits.

As time went on, the G.I. Bill got watered down. For example, Korean War veterans didn’t get unemployment compensation. After 1985, members of the military had to contribute $100 monthly for their first year in order to have education benefits. If they didn’t use any benefits, they still didn’t get the money back. Now, veterans can get health care—although they may sometimes have to wait a few years for it—and burial benefits. Gone, however, are the days when they got other help.

Ten percent of veterans are in prison, ten percent are unemployed, 13 percent are homeless, and almost one million need food stamps. These veterans don’t have anything to celebrate today.

The GOP says that there’s not enough money to help them. If corporations that provide oil and useless defense equipment didn’t get welfare, there might be enough money to help veterans. And if the government controlled its defense funding, veterans could have the services that they need, and the deficit could be cut. For example, the following could be left out of the budget with no problem for the country’s defense.

Chronically-failing anti-missile rockets keep getting more funding. In exchange for millions of dollars in campaign funds, GOP politicians consistently give welfare funds to contractors such as Lockheed, Martin, Boeing, TRW, and Raytheon. Independent analysts like MIT Professor of Science, Technology and International Security Theodore Postol maintain that “ballistic missile defense” (BMD) can’t work, that interceptor missiles can never distinguish real incoming weapons from swarms of decoys, and should be cancelled. In March 2000, Postol wrote President Clinton, charging that the program’s officers were “most likely attempting to illegally use the security and classification system to hide waste, fraud and abuse” through faked test results. The GOP has paid $200 billion during the past three decades for the faked tests.

The GOP provides welfare to corporations for weapons programs that the Pentagon doesn’t want. Military leaders assert that the new Joint-Strike fighter jet bomber (or F-35) and additional upgrades to the M1 Abrams tank are unnecessary because the 6,000 completed M1 upgrades are enough.  Dumping the Abrams rehab program would save $3.5 billion. Pentagon chiefs have proposed savings of at least $487 billion over a decade including the following cancellations:

  • The Global Hawk drone, whose purpose is served by the U2: savings, $2.5 billion by 2017;
  • The C-27J Spartan transport aircraft: savings, $400 million by 2017;
  • 5,000 jobs in the Air National Guard: savings, $300 million a year;
  • Plans for an East Coast missile defense battery that Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called unnecessary: savings, $3.6 billion by 2017.

The U.S. approved $645.7 billion in defense funding for 2012, the most recent year with available complete data. That’s 41 percent of total global military spending.

US military spending global

The U.S. budgets six times more than China, eleven times more than Russia, 27 times more than Iran, and 33 times more than Israel.

Military spending five countries

Military spending in this country is double that of all Asian countries. The U.S. is in the top highest spending countries as a percentage of GDP.

Veterans deserve to be saved from homelessness, hunger, prison, mental and physical illness, and joblessness. Changing the United States’ priorities from declaring war to helping veterans could accomplish this task.

November 10, 2013

Evangelicals Need Jews to Bring Jesus Back to Earth

Skip Thanksgiving—the far-right wingnuts have commenced the war on “War on Christmas” beginning with Sarah Palin’s new book. According to Steve Benen, the three-fold attack of this tome is a tribute to the holiday, an explanation of Christianity’s superiority to atheism, and a guide to opposing all those “litigious secularists.” Anyone trying to understand why a business wanting customers from all beliefs should incorporate inclusive holiday-season language or why a non-Christian might not want to listen to governments showing a preference for Christianity over all other beliefs won’t find help in Palin’s directions. Instead, she thinks that these fringe beliefs endanger religious freedom in the country.

Palin probably ignored the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht yesterday. Literally “Crystal Night” and also called the Night of Broken Glass, the term names the attacks against Jews in Germany and parts of Austria by Hitler’s forces and non-Jewish civilians that killed 91 Jews and arrested and incarcerated another 30,000 in concentration camps. The name came from the broken glass covering the streets because attackers smashed windows in Jewish businesses, homes, hospitals, and schools. That horrific event changed the persecution from economic and social to beatings, incarceration, and murder.

Seventy-five years after the turn toward open violence that led to a world war, anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe again. Two-thirds of respondents to a poll believe that this prejudice is a problem, 76% thought that anti-Semitism had increased over the last five years, and 46% said they worried about being verbally assaulted or harassed in public because they were Jewish. One-third of the respondents were worried about being physically attacked, and 57% said they had heard or seen someone claim over the last year that the Holocaust was a myth or had been exaggerated.

Almost 6,000 Jewish people in eight EU member states–Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and the UK–took part in the survey. About 90 percent of the EU’s Jewish population lives in these eight countries. The survey found 29% of those surveyed had considered emigrating because of concerns about safety, with particularly high figures recorded in Hungary (48%), France (46%) and Belgium (40%). One in five respondents had personally experienced at least one anti-Semitic verbal insult and/or a physical attack in the year before the survey.

One British respondent said the Internet communicated a “phenomenal” amount of anti-Semitic material: “This is in some ways setting us backwards as now young people are circulating content like the [anti-Semitic hoax] Protocols of the Elders of Zion which had, prior to the Internet, pretty much died out.” The report also said that Jewish people faced discrimination in schools and the workplace.

This week the U.S. and the World Jewish Congress criticized the far-right Hungarian Jobbik party for unveiling a statue of the wartime leader Miklós Horthy, who allied Hungary with Nazi Germany.

Not all people in the United States are open to Judaism, including the immediate (appointed) past president George W. Bush. This coming week he is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser in Irving (TX) for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute. Its purpose is to train people in the world to convert Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The goal is to “restore” Israel and the Jews and bring about about the second coming of Christ. The Dallas-based MJBI claims that it acts like the Apostle Paul in helping to “educate Christians in their role to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy and thus save some of them (Romans 11:11-14).”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said he is disappointed that Bush cannot “accept the validity of the Jewish covenant.” Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple was more direct when he tweeted, “This is infuriating.” Bush follows last year’s star, Glenn Beck, who received a “Defender of Israel” award. The tickets this year range from $100 to $100,000. MJBI refused to say whether Bush would receive a speaking fee and, in fact, took his name off the website as keynote speaker.

MJBI board member Rabbi Marty Waldman of Baruch HaShem, a Messianic congregation in Dallas, explained that money is needed to hasten the return of Jesus. When there are “enough” Jewish people who call Jesus their savior, “some sort of a trigger will go off in heaven, and our father in heaven will say, ‘Okay, son, it’s time to get your bride,'” Waldman said.

These are some characteristics of people who “call Jesus their savior”:

Ignorance: While protesting the bill on legalized marriage equality in Illinois, a state representative failed to understand why people would advocate for civil rights in the debate. According to him, the United States was founded on “the scriptures,” not the constitution.

Fraud: LGBT-hater Dave Wilson used a creative way to get elected to the Houston Community College Board of Trustees by pretending to be black. Right-Wing Watch reported:

 “Wilson’s campaign fliers were filled with black faces that he admits to simply pulling off of websites, along with captions such as ‘Please vote for our friend and neighbor Dave Wilson.’ Another flier announces that he was ‘Endorsed by Ron Wilson,’ which is the name of an African-American former state representative. Only by reading the fine print will voters discover that the ‘Ron Wilson’ who actually endorsed Dave is his cousin. The cousin lives in Iowa.”

Wilson beat long-time incumbent Bruce Austin, who really is black, in the African-American district.

phillips_family-427x193Hypocrisy: Doug Phillips, married and father of eight children, has preached about his strong belief in “biblical patriarchy” over women and home-schooling. Women should not “work alongside men as their functional equals” outside the home, according to Phillips. Last week he stepped down from his position as president of Texas-based Vision Forum Ministries. Phillips wrote:

“I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not ‘know’ each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.”

Phillips’ ministry took in $3.3 million in 2011; the related for-profit group, Vision Forum Inc. was paid $193,176 in 2011 for “labor and services.” Phillips plans to retain ownership of the for-profit business. The photo of Phillips and his family is from Vision Forum Ministries.

Bigotry: American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer accused First Lady Michelle Obama of inviting “demons into the White House.” She hosted an event honoring the Hindu “festival of lights.” Fischer said:

“This is a counterfeit religion. It is an Eastern religion. It is, in essence, an occult religion.  It’s a counterfeit, a false alternative to Christianity.  It ultimately represents the doctrine of demons, that is what you have with Hinduism and now this is being celebrated in the White House.”

Fischer called on the people of the nation to elect a Christian president. He missed the fact that George W. Bush also celebrated the Hindu holiday.

Intolerance: After the Rev. Frank Schaefer officiated his son’s same-sex marriage “because I love him so much and didn’t want to deny him that joy,” the pastor faces a church trial with accusations that he broke his pastoral vows by performing the ceremony.  Hundreds of other Methodist ministers have rejected anti-LGBT doctrine, and some of them also face discipline. Today 50 clergy members showed support for Schaefer by presiding over a same-sex ceremony in Philadelphia, one which will not have state support because of Pennsylvania’s ban on marriage equality.

Stupidity: Pat Robertson has been awarded the British Stonewall “Bigot of the Year” award reserved for “an individual who has gratuitously caused hurt and offense to gay people around the world,” according to the Daily Mail. In the U.S. right-wing extremists are rejecting Robertson because he has said that the world is older than 6,000 years. He was mocked because he denied the myth about the Earth’s age because the 6,000 years came, not from the Bible, but from a book by Ireland’s Archbishop James Ussher in the seventeenth century.

Next Sunday, I’ll fill you in on how everyone knows that humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs. If you can’t wait, you can Google it!

November 9, 2013

November Moves LGBT Rights Forward

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:08 PM
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The month of November is not even one-third gone, and the news of LGBT acceptance across the country has been amazing:

  • Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), candidate for the state’s governor, came out as gay after his opposition started a “whisper” smear campaign about his sexual orientation.
  • Across the country, 54 LGBT candidates won, including the candidates for mayors of Houston and Seattle.
  • Shortly after his Tuesday win for Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe pledged to ban discrimination against LGBT state employees.
  • A federal judge upheld New Jersey’s law banning gay conversion therapy for minors, and Washington, D.C. is working on a similar law.

Around the world, Ireland is making a move toward marriage equality, and the First Lady of Zambia called for an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The most publicized movement toward LGBT rights in the past week was the Senate passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) for the first time in 17 years. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) first introduced ENDA in the Senate two years earlier. Before he died in 2009, he asked Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)—one of my senators!—to continue the effort.

Thirty-two GOP senators opposed the bill that could end employment discrimination in the 60 percent of the states that can legally discriminate against LGBT workers. Ten other Republicans voted in favor of the proposed law, and three GOP senators failed to vote. ENDA adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the job-protected categories of age, disability, gender, race, and religion.

Some House Republicans such as Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) are smart enough to know that the GOP needs to show more tolerance. He would be willing to support the law, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has promised to keep the bill from a vote in that chamber.

“No one should face discrimination in the workforce,” Boehner claimed in April when he asserted that LGBT people are already protected in their jobs:

“There are ample laws already in place to deal with this. Having been the chairman of the Education & Workforce Committee, I’m quite familiar with employment law.”

The majority of voters support legislation that protects LGBT workers from discrimination. Polls also show that many people wrongly believe that laws protect LGBT people on the job. No federal law or regulation prevents employers from firing LGBT workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Firing or discriminating against LGBT people is legal in 29 states; firing or discriminating against transgender people is legal in 33 states. You can look at your state laws here. Below is a map showing support for a law that Boehner refuses to take to the House.

ENDAStates-555x526

Jonathan Pacheco and his boyfriend couldn’t even shop at Walmart in Chickasha (OK). An employee, identified as a janitor, told them, “It is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” before telling the two men that they weren’t allowed to be in the store.

Pundits have made very strange objections to ENDA:

ENDA is unprincipled and confers special rights. So wrote Ryan T. Anderson in a National Review op-ed that rambled through bigoted excuses ending with the problem of bathrooms, used a half century ago when discussing the Equal Rights Amendment.

ENDA is unnecessary and unpopular. So wrote Ralph Reed in USA Today when he talked about the bill “violating an employee’s right to privacy.” He concluded, “The number of discrimination actions in states that prohibit hiring decisions based on sexual preference is miniscule [sic], suggesting it doesn’t require federal policing.” Actually, between 15 and 43 percent of LGB people have experienced workplace discrimination or harassment, and between 8 and 17 percent have been hired or fired due to their sexual orientation. Up to 41 percent of LGB employees have experienced anti-gay harassment or abuse in the workplace. That number soars up to 90 percent for trans people.

ENDA will make gay people boring. So wrote Patrick Howley in the Daily Caller after he described his own possible homosexuality in a several hundred words. He then sneered at LGBT people and described ENDA as “another anti-business piece of legislation that allows self-identified cultural victims to sue their employers after they get fired.”

The newest right is approaching in Hawaii. Despite far-right protests, the Senate passed a marriage equality bill. An amended bill passed in the House will return to the Senate. If the Senate passes the amended bill, the governor has promised to sign it. Ironically, the possibility of Hawaii legalizing same-sex marriage 20 years ago goaded Congress into passing DOMA, which was the law of the land for 17 years until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of it last June. Hawaii’s governor Neil Abercrombie used the SCOTUS decision to make marriage equality in the state a priority to give same-sex couples federal rights.

The Senate opened up its hearing to over 1,000 public comments.Over 5,000 people signed up to address the bill in the House, many of them to delay the vote. IDs were required after people testified on behalf of others and used fake names to get more than one turn. Some people tried to use proxies in an attempt to make the testimony against the bill overwhelming, causing the House to make new rules. Only people with a valid registration number and ID can speak to a bill.

Hawaii police union president Tenari Maafala, an active duty officer, told legislators they would have to “kill” him before he would ever enforce same-sex marriage. He added that denying gay couples the right to marry is not discrimination if it’s against one’s beliefs.

Some Hawaiians tearfully claimed that legalized same-sex marriages would destroy their culture. Historians, however, said that the island did not have the modern marriage before European settlement and that the native people then accepted homosexuality.

The House considered 29 amendments showing such fears about marriage equality as these:

  • Tourists might stop coming from Asia.
  • Sex ed curricula might include same-sex couples or even say that heterosexual relationships are not healthy.
  • People might have to provide lodging to same-sex couples—a requirement already in law.
  • Churches might not be able to discriminate against the LGBT community.

Hawaii-Rep.-Jo-JordanIn a first, openly lesbian Rep. Jo Jordan (D) voted against the bill. No other openly LGBT lawmaker has voted against marriage equality, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. In her district, 75 percent of voters support marriage equality. Jordan said, however, that she had to represent the entire state. A statewide polling shows a 55-percent majority support for legalized same-sex marriage.

Almost 1,000 people spoke before the House passed the bill by 30-19.

A lawsuit has already been filed to slow the ability of same-sex couples to marry even if it becomes law. The people voted for a constitutional amendment asking if legislature could reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples. The state government and attorney general agree that the legislature can then legalize marriage equality. State Rep. Bob McDermott is going to the state circuit courts with the theory that people didn’t understand what their vote meant. His position is opposite from anti-marriage equality supporters in California who argued that the will of the people was absolute.

McDermott also worries that marriage equality will force Dick and Jane books to show Dick and Dick or Jane and Jane. Rep. Gene Ward (R) worried about “mama bears” threatened by a penis entering an anus. (What is with this GOP preoccupation with sex!?)  

Marriage equality in Hawaii has had a long 20-year journey since the state Supreme Court ruled that refusing a marriage license to Ninia Aehr and Genora Dancel was discriminatory and illegal. The Senate plans to finish the journey on Tuesday when it takes up the House’s amended bill. If the bill is passed and marriage equality is not blocked in the courts, same-sex marriages can begin December 2 of this year, and Hawaii becomes the 16th state in the union to recognize marriage equality.

Yesterday during the debate in the House, a rainbow appeared over the state capitol building.

rainbow hawaii

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