Nel's New Day

December 31, 2013

Answers for Deniers of Climate Change

Climate change is here whether people admit it or not. In just the last year, 39 weather-related disasters cost $1 billion or more. In the Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever recorded on land, killing more than 6,000 people and affecting millions more. In Australia, record high temperatures forced mapmakers to create a new color on the weather map. California had massive wildfires throughout the state, historic flooding took out bridges and roadways in Colorado’s flood destroyed bridges and roads, and Midwest tornadoes swept through towns such as Moore (OK).

For the first time, CO2 concentrations passed 400 parts per million, but governments are doing little to curb emissions. Climate-denier think tanks and advocacy groups are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars, frequently from secret sources.

At the end of 2013, the eating holidays of November and December have passed, followed by dieting, but arguments continue. These talking points from the Environmental Defense Fund were suggested for the holiday dinners, but in the interest of peace, I suggest that they can be addressed now to start off the new year.

Alarmed Aunt Anna & Concerned Grandpa Christopher believe that science may be real but think that we cannot solve the climate crisis:

  • California—the 8th largest economy in the world—has implemented the world’s most ambitious climate action plan.
  • At the national level, the EPA is starting to regulate climate pollution using its existing authority under the Clean Air Act.
  • The renewable energy industry is growing exponentially—in fact, the clean energy economy is growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy, and we have enough potential wind and solar energy in the U.S. to power our economy 100 times over.

Trump Card: Yes, this is challenging. Yes, it will take time to rebuild support for national climate action. But what choice do we have? There is no time to waste, and we need to act now.

Cautious Cousin Charlie, Disengaged Grandma Denise, & Doubtful Brother David think that there is not a real consensus on the science of climate change. Without attacks, here are the points to engage them:

  • Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas, and that’s generally a very good thing. Without greenhouse gases, every night when the sun sets, temperatures would immediately plunge to frigid levels.
  • But we are now emitting 9 billion tons of carbon, or 30 billion tons of CO2, into the atmosphere every year, and CO2 levels have increased by about a third since the industrial revolution. If we don’t reduce emissions, we could more than double the level of CO2 in the atmosphere over this century.
  • Already, food growing patterns are changing, seasons are coming earlier, water resources are strained and the number of natural disasters in the U.S. has more than quadrupled in the last 50 years.

Trump Card: You don’t have to accept all the science. But if you had a health condition and 98 out of 100 doctors agreed on the diagnosis, would you base your treatment on the views of the other two?

Dismissive Aunt Debbie almost certainly won’t change her mind, and the more facts she hears, the less she’ll be inclined to agree. Yet she might be willing to help the economy and protect national security:

  • America needs to rebuild. Did you know the clean energy sector creates 3 times as many jobs as the fossil fuel sector? We can’t afford to pass up those jobs.
  • Other countries are taking advantage of the economic stimulation that comes with climate action. China is testing carbon cap-and-trade markets in an area encompassing 250 million people. The U.S. needs to stay competitive.
  • America’s billion-dollar-a-day dependence on oil from hostile nations directly funds our most dangerous enemies, putting guns and bullets into their hands and putting our soldiers in danger. It is time for America to stand strong on its own independent and in control of our energy future.

Trump Card:  Whether climate change is real or not, the benefits of a clean energy economy are undeniable. Not only will we rid ourselves of dangerous pollution that can make us sick and even cause deaths we can finally be energy independent. What’s the downside?

More thoughts to chew on— 

Costs: 

  • In just one year—2012—extreme weather events cost over $100 billion. The future will see higher and higher expenses, bringing even more burden to the U.S. taxpayer.
  • Federal and state disaster relief payouts last year alone are estimated to have cost every person in the US more than $300.
  • The nation had at least 200 annual weather-related natural catastrophes recently compared to about 50 in the early 1980s.
  • Federal crop insurance cost taxpayers a record $17 billion in 2012 alone.
  • Taxpayer-funded federal and state wildfire protection payouts tripled over the last 20 years.

 Lessons from the Colorado floods:

The tragedies of September’s flooding may be the new normal.

  • The 17 inches of rain caused the deaths of eight people and left people with millions of dollars in property damage, including public infrastructure.

flooding highway

  • The disaster came during Boulder’s driest month.
  • The warmer atmosphere held more water and unusual atmospheric circulation patterns came from climate change.
  • Heavy downpours may increase in intensity or frequency in this century.

Climate change and violence go hand in hand: 

  • There is a strong connection between rising temperatures and acts of violence, increasing war and murder
  • Human conflict increases 14% and violence rises 4% with even a modest shift in weather, according to an examination of almost 200 studies.
  • Neglecting the apparent psychological impact of unusual weather, the impact on the food supply and the decline of natural resources is likely to result in warfare on its own.

Negative affects of climate change on individuals:

  • Extreme weather may cause you to lose everything you have, including the people you love.
  • Your insurance costs will go up because the company has to pay out on disasters but still needs to make money.
  • Your food and utilities will cost much more because of extreme temperatures and problems of growing conditions.
  • You’ll have to pay more taxes to care for others that have extreme weather conditions.
  • You may suffer from serious health issues.
  • Your personal security is at risk. Admiral Samuel Locklear, a naval officer in charge of the Asia-Pacific region, said that global warming “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment.”

Denying these affects won’t allow you to escape them.

There’s still hope. A year ago, a 59-year-old woman, avid follower of Bill O’Reilly and opponent of belief in climate change, reversed her opinion after she watched Chasing Ice. The documentary film uses time-lapse to compress years into seconds, capturing the disappearance of ancient mountains of ice at a breathtaking pace. As with any change, it’s one heart at a time.

Tonight the calendar rolls over to 2014. Maybe we can remedy people’s failure to believe in climate change before 2015.

December 29, 2013

Deception in ‘Duck Dynasty,’ Catholic Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:18 PM
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Much as I’ve tried to avoid the entire Duck Dynasty kerfuffle, it seems to be impossible for anyone who reads the news. For those of you fortunate to miss the  disgusting episode, Phil Robertson, patriarch of the long-bearded on Fox network’s reality show about country boys, gave an interview to GQ. Not appearing to be a gentleman, he talked about both homosexuality (it’s sick) and racism (it never existed in his personal South during the second half of the twentieth century). Petitions circulated, and Robertson was suspended from the show. More petitions circulated, and he was put back on.

Sarah Palin went to his defense although she stated that she didn’t read any of the interview. Bobbie Jindal, GOP governor of the Duck state, protested the loss of Robertson’s constitutional rights to free speech and religious freedom. The biggest piece missing from the argument, whether you support Robertson’s employment or not, is that the First Amendment had no part of the discussion.

Robertson can say anything he wants, and A&E is a business that has the right to hire and fire anyone it wishes. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution entitles anyone to a reality show or a business to pay someone for their speech. No one has stopped Robertson from his free expression of his religious beliefs.

More interesting to me is the way that the Robertson clan has hornswoggled its faithful followers. Guided by Duck Dynasty creator Scott Gurney, former actor in an independent gay porn film, the boys and their father just grew long beards, put on flannel and camo, and uttered an occasional “yeehaw.” [Willie moves from having metro-sexual tipped hair into his current “reality.]

metro-sexual tipped hair

Willie after reality

Father Robertson, who gained a master’s degree at Louisiana Tech University and then taught for several years, is a multimillionaire after his invention of a duck call. With his true religious calling, according to the interview, he should have followed Jesus’s directions:  “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The Bible also requires short hair.

Another comment about women to extend the excessive publicity of Phil Robertson’s egregious—and probably carefully crafted—comments:

“[Women] got to where they’re hard to find. Mainly because these boys are waiting til they’re twenty years old before they marry them. Look, you wait til they get to be twenty years old and the the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they’re about fifteen or sixteen and they’ll pick your ducks.”

It appears that I’m not the only person disgusted by the reports of Father Duck’s antics. Ad News reported that A&E lost 1.51 million viewers during prime time in the week of December 16-22, down 13 percent from 1.73 million a year ago. Adults 25-54 dropped 22 percent, and watchers in ages 18-49 fell 18 percent.

John Hagee has a solution for people who disagree with him. The prominent evangelical pastor said, “[I]f atheists and humanists don’t like being wished a ‘Merry Christmas’ … well, they can just get out of the country.”

After serving 18 months of his 3-to-6 year sentence, Philadelphia’s Monsignor William Lynn, 62, may be released after an appeals court overturned his conviction. It’s not that he didn’t actually do what he was accused of. As secretary for clergy and aide to Cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and Justin Rigali, he documented hundreds of complaints of rapes, sadist religious rituals, and other forms of abuse filed against priests from the late 1950s through his 1992-2004 tenure. Then he locked the information in a secret archives room.

The Superior Court threw out the conviction with a ruling that the law didn’t apply in the late 1990s to people who hid information like this. Although 20 of the victims testified about their childhood treatment by Catholic priests, the crimes were too old to prosecute. Lynn may go scot free because laws don’t cover what he did.

The best sign of the week comes from the Anglican Parish of Gosford, Australia.

best sign of the week

Earlier signs at the parish: 

“How much stuff do we really need?”

“Jesus, Joseph, and Mary were asylum seekers.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has abandoned Ayn Rand for Pope Francis because he cares for the poor. But Ryan also explains why the pope is wrong:

“The guy [Ryan’s term for the pope] is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina. They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free-enterprise system.”

I look forward to the other 69 Catholics in Congress justifying their narrow-minded, selfish approach toward denying help to the poor while increasing the wealth of the rich.

December 28, 2013

Keystone Pipeline XL – Still Not Decided

As 2013 comes to an end, the question of finishing the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is still not settled. In 2012 the State Department reported found no conflicts of interest in its documents, but it was recently discovered that one of the contractors on the department’s environmental review is also a member of several energy industry groups pushing the project, causing a new investigation by the department’s inspector general.

The issue has separated the positions of potential presidential candidates–former Secretary of State Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Lobbyists for TransCanada include Clinton’s former friend and staffer Paul Elliot and David Goldwyn, Clinton’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs. Clinton selected a petroleum industry contractor to write the environmental impact statement. With no climatologist for the report, it failed to estimate the number of degrees that the pipeline would increase the Earth’s climate.

President Obama is trying to coerce the European Union into relaxing its anti-global-warming regulations so that it will import TransCanada oil. Warren joined 21 other Congressional Democrats to sign onto a December 20 letter criticizing the president’s position. A change in government policies would eliminate the cost-advantage of normal oil which costs far less to mine, process, and transfer to market than the dirty, land-locked tar sands oil. The result would be far less use of cleaner oil and far greater damage in climate change. It would also add a net benefit of over $90 billion to the Koch Brothers personal coffers because they own 53 percent of TransCanada.

Future danger isn’t the only issue. Port Arthur (TX), the end point of the pipeline, provides the toxic refining of the product. Cancer rates among people in Jefferson County are 15 percent higher than for the average Texan, and the mortality rate is 40 percent higher. Residents of Port Arthur are four times more likely than people 100 miles upwind to report heart and respiratory conditions, nervous system and skin disorders, headaches and muscle aches, and ENT (ear, nose, and throat) ailments.

Because the pipeline crosses an international border, the president has sole authority in deciding whether the project continues. While he waited to decide, however, he expedited many other projects, including smaller pipelines, through executive orders.

The president may be getting his pipeline information from his former Communications Director, Anita Dunn, who now does public relations for TransCanada through her firm SKDKnickerbocker. If she fails with the pipeline, however, she move on to trains because another of her clients is the Association of American Railroads (AAR). According to a New York Times article a year ago:       

“Dunn regularly attends closed-door political strategy briefings with top Obama aides; White House records show she has visited more than 100 times since leaving her communications job. She is now serving as a paid adviser to the Democratic National Committee.”

Dunn’s husband, Robert Bauer, worked as legal counsel for Secretary of State John Kerry in his 2004 presidential campaign. Kerry has the final decision on the Keystone Pipeline XL.

Clinton and Warren also differ on the issue of fracking. In an October speech at Hamilton College in upstate New York, Clinton praised fracking, a method of extracting natural gas through hydraulic fracturing.  Fracking not only potentially destroys land, air, and water but also produces extensive quantities of methane, “far more potent than a greenhouse gas” that it “would gut the climate benefits of switching from coal,” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

One oil producer thinks that the Keystone Pipeline is not necessary. Continental Resources prefers rail because of its flexibility. Trains may be flexible, but they’re not safe. Last month a train hauling 2.7 million gallons of crude oil, possibly from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale fields, derailed and exploded in rural Alabama. Oil spilled into the surrounding wetlands and burned for days, keeping emergency responders away from the train cars. Railroads are carrying 25 times more crude oil than five years ago.

Even British Columbia knows the dangers of a pipeline across their land. Last June they voted down a pipeline taking oil from the tar sands from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean. The government was not satisfied with the company’s oil spill response. Their action contributed to the fall of crude oil prices.

Meanwhile TransCanada has already started using the southern leg of its pipeline across Oklahoma and Texas despite hundreds of damages and flaws in the pipeline itself and letters of warning of violations from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Exactly what TransCanada is doing, however, is unknown because it refuses to release information to landowners, first responders, or government officials.

In October, a Koch Pipeline spilled 17,000 gallons of crude oil in Texas. It was discovered during an aerial inspection. Yet the vast majority of spills go unreported. The same month, Associated Press investigated spills and found over 300 unreported ones in North Dakota over two years. State regulators aren’t required to inform the public about any spills. Only the oil and gas companies are in charge of determining construction routes of new oil pipelines and the maintenance of existing ones.

Last summer, Rachel Maddow reported oil spills in Alberta, Canada—the source of the tar sands oil for the pipeline through the United States. The province has had an average of two spills per day—for the last 37 years.

This fall the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (Denver, CO) determined that money was more important than the environment when it refused to grant the Sierra Club and Clean Energy Future Oklahoma a temporary injunction on the construction of the southern half of Transcanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. The financial damage to TransCanada from the injunction would be worse than damage to 485 miles as 700,000 barrels daily crossed 2,227 streams.

The southern half of the pipeline was one of those approved through a presidential executive order almost two years ago. The intent of the order may have been to permit projects with minimal impacts, but it’s now used to allow tar sands oil pipelines crossing several states. TransCanada called each half-acre segment a “single and complete project.” The Army Corps of Engineers agreed despite the fact that TransCanada calls it the “Gulf Coast Pipeline project.”

Instead of addressing the question of whether TransCanada was right in its description of “complete project,” two of the three judges on the panel ruled on the money that Koch Brothers might lose. The minority ruling, however, pointed out, “Transcanada chose to incur its economic harm by entering into contracts for services before the Gulf Coast Pipeline was approved, even in light of the controversial nature of the Pipeline.”

Billionaire Tom Steyer has a perspective on the pipeline that is unusual for the wealthy. “Foreign countries will get more access to more oil to make more products to sell back to us, undercutting our economy,” he said in a four-part, $1 million advertising campaign claiming that the pipeline will hurt the economy and communities. “Here’s the truth: Keystone oil will travel through America not to America.” As a bonus, Steyer started an independent political effort to elect candidates ready to address global warming.

January will probably bring more talk about the Keystone Pipeline because Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) hopes to extort approval from the White House in partial exchange for raising the debt ceiling. He claims that this could make the United States “an energy independent continent within a decade.” This is his support for an endeavor that will result in 35 permanent jobs and make the country a conduit for Canadian oil that’s shipped overseas. The pipeline will also make gasoline more expensive because oil can be more easily be shipped out of the country, forcing U.S. buyers to purchase oil at the global benchmark price instead of at a discount.

The GOP loves the pipeline almost as much as they hate people having health insurance. They’re willing to destroy the resources of our country to get their own way.

If President Obama decides that the State Department’s report is tainted by a conflict of interest, he can require another report—and that can take a long time. The decision has been on-going for at least five years; the president may never need to decide whether the project should be finished.  

December 27, 2013

Your Eating Affects Your Brain

From time to time, studies show the difference in brain development between conservative and progressive thinkers. Recently, however, a new reason for diversity in brain configuration has a novel approach—gut bacteria.

“I’m always by profession a skeptic,” says Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. “But I do believe that our gut microbes affect what goes on in our brains.” He hypothesizes that brain structure is molded by bacteria in digestive systems as people mature, influencing adult moods, behavior, and feelings. To check out his theories, Mayer is using MRI scans on thousands of volunteers and then comparing the brain structure to the bacteria types in their intestines.

Mayer also studied the effects of probiotics on the brain. He and his colleague Kirsten Tillisch gave healthy women yogurt containing a probiotic and then scanned their brains. Subtle signs indicated that the brain circuits involved in anxiety were less reactive, according to a paper published in the journal Gastroenterology.

In examining gut microbes in mice, other researchers have seen changes in both brain chemistry and behavior. One experiment involved replacing the gut bacteria of anxious mice with bacteria from fearless mice. “The mice became less anxious, more gregarious,” says Stephen Collins of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who led a team that conducted the research. Reversing the process, bold mice became timid. Also aggressive mice calmed down when scientists changed their microbes by changing diet, feeding them probiotics, or giving them antibiotics.

Researchers in Baltimore are testing a probiotic to see if it can help prevent relapses of mania among patients suffering from bipolar disorder. “The idea is that these probiotic treatments may alter what we call the microbiome and then may contribute to an improvement of psychiatric symptoms,” said Faith Dickerson, director of psychology at the Sheppard Pratt Health System.

“It makes perfect sense to me,” says Leah, a study participant who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and asked that her full name not be published. “Your brain is just another organ. It’s definitely affected by what goes on in the rest of your body.”

Mayer has also been studying the effects of probiotics on the brain in humans. Along with his colleague Kirsten Tillisch, Mayer gave healthy women yogurt containing a probiotic and then scanned their brains. He found subtle signs that the brain circuits involved in anxiety were less reactive, according to a paper published in the journal Gastroenterology.  The study was funded by Danone, a company that produces yogurt and other dairy products.

Collins and his colleagues also found changes in a part of the mice’s brains involved in emotion and mood, including increases in a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which plays a role in learning and memory.

One reason for the connection between abdomen and brain may be the vagus nerve which between the two parts of the body. After researchers in Ireland cut the vagus nerve in mice, the brain did not appear to respond to any bacterial changes in the gut. “The vagus nerve is the highway of communication between what’s going on in the gut and what’s going on in the brain,” says John Cryan of the University College Cork in Ireland, who has collaborated with Collins.

Altering gut microbes could also correct problems such as autism. Many autistic behaviors in mice disappeared or were strongly ameliorated with probiotics, said Paul Patterson at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (CA).

Gut microbes may also modulate the immune system or produce their own versions of neurotransmitters. “I’m actually seeing new neurochemicals that have not been described before being produced by certain bacteria,” says Mark Lyte of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Abilene, who studies how microbes affect the endocrine system. “These bacteria are, in effect, mind-altering microorganisms.”

Researchers have known that the brain sends signals to the gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms. This study shows what has been suspected but until now had been proved only in animal studies: that signals travel the opposite way as well.

Gut bacteria may also cause obesity, as shown by studies with mice. Researchers are considering the idea that changing bacteria in a person’s intestine could cause weight loss in overweight people, basing their hypothesis on studies of identical twin mice. Mice that ate food high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables kept the gut bacteria that caused weight gain.

Studies have shown that conservatives suffer far more from fear and anxiety. If they changed their intestinal bacteria, would they change their politics?

December 26, 2013

Stop Poverty

It’s been a half century since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty.” Fifty years later, the income inequality in the United States is much worse. Poverty in other countries is obvious: we see films of people with no food living in cardboard boxes. But in the United States, many people think that the only reason for poverty is laziness. There’s a resentment that people in poverty still have cell phones and television sets. There’s the feeling, especially among conservatives, that truly poor people would be those in the cardboard boxes without food or possessions.

As the recession kept wages down and the middle-class shrinking during the past half decade, the people of the nation are going downward, making less and less while the wealthy have a rapidly increasing upward trajectory. Poverty in our country is malnutrition that leads to poor health with the effects passed on from one generation to the next. Poverty is losing a job and then a home so that they had to declare bankruptcy and move in with friends or relatives.

Greg Haufmann has found solutions from activists around the country:

Sister Simone Campbell, leader of “nuns on the bus” and anathema to Catholic Church directors who want her to concentrate on fighting abortion and marriage equality instead of helping the poor:  “Support an increase in the minimum wage to more than $11 per hour.” Of people below the poverty line, 57 percent of individuals and family members either worked or lived with a working family member in 2011. Walmart could pay its workers $12 an hour by raising its prices just 1 percent. That would cost each shopper an average of $12.50 for an entire year. year.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers: “Help end sexual harassment, wage theft, and forced labor in the fields—join the Fair Food Program today.” In the past, countless workers in Florida’s fields growing and harvesting oranges and tomatoes suffered daily humiliation and abuse ranging from wage theft to sexual harassment and even forced labor. A new program has set the highest human rights standards in fields today, working to stop its slavery in the 21st century. Publix Super Markets, a large supermarket chain across six Southern states, refuses to support the program.  Almost 100,000 people have asked CEO William Crenshaw to join the program to end slavery in Florida.

Ralph da Costa Nunez, president and CEO, Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness: “Make a Personal Commitment to Helping Homeless Families.” Over one-third–over 500,000—of people living in the U.S. in shelters are parents and their children. Family homelessness has increased by more than 13 percent in the past five years.

Dr. Deborah Frank, founder and principal investigator, Children’s Healthwatch: “Fund the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at the maximum authorized level.” Insufficient heating and cooling is responsible for poor health, increased hospitalizations, and developmental delays in young children. Although current funding at $4.7 billion in 2014 won’t meet all the needs of people in poverty, it can help.

Sarita Gupta, executive director, Jobs with Justice/American Rights at Work and Co-Director, Caring Across Generations: “Support of a living wage and basic labor protections for home care workers.” Homecare workers compose one of the largest occupations in the nation, but many of them make below minimum wage. The “companionship exemption” excluded most homecare workers from basic labor protections for almost all other workers in the U.S. Two years after President Obama promised federal minimum wage and overtime protections for most homecare workers—and a year after the public comment period closed—there is still no new rule.

Judith Lichtman, senior adviser, National Partnership for Women & Families: “Urge Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1286/S.631) and a national paid leave program.” More than 40 million workers in this country—and more than 80 percent of the lowest-wage workers—cannot earn a single paid sick day to use when they get the flu or other common illnesses. Millions more cannot earn paid sick days to use when a child is sick. For the average worker, taking off 3.5 unpaid days is equivalent to a month’s worth of groceries for the family. Because they do not have sick leave, they may be communicating contagious germs to everyone who comes in contact with the same items as the sick person—creating a chain of illness.

Tiffany Loftin, president, United States Student Association (USSA): “Increase regulation of private student loans and hold Sallie Mae accountable for its role in the student debt crisis.” Student debt was the only type of household debt that grew during the last five years. Each student owes an average of $27,000 by graduation. Sallie Mae, the largest private student lender, has high interest rates. The company fails to give borrowers their repayment options, promoting defaults on loans, and lends money at between 3.5 percent and 5 percent higher than it borrows.

Elizabeth Lower-Basch, policy coordinator, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP): “Support Pathways Back to Work.” Subsidized and transitional jobs are the best way to give unemployed workers the opportunity to earn wages, build skills, and connect to the labor market, while also giving businesses an incentive to hire new employees when they might not be able to do so otherwise.

Marci Phillips, director of public policy and advocacy, National Council on Aging: “Invest in the Older Americans Act.” This proposed bill includes a number of programs that keep seniors healthy and independent in their own homes instead of in expensive institutions. Services include healthy meals, in-home care, transportation, benefits access, caregiver support, chronic disease self-management, job training and placement and elder abuse prevention, but funding has not kept up with the need, especially after the sequester.

Rebecca Vallas, staff attorney/policy advocate, Community Legal Services: “Tell Congress no cuts to Social Security and SSI through the Chained CPI.” The two-year budget didn’t touch these programs, but fight is not over. The debt ceiling crisis comes in January, very likely complete with extortion. Although Social Security now matches inflation, the method of determining cost of living is highly inaccurate for seniors. Those on low-income won’t be buying new houses and cars, measures that keep inflation down. Their money goes for food, utilities, and drugs—items that are more rapidly increasing in cost than the other items that lower inflation. In just one example, my water bill has gone up an average of 5 percent every year for the past 20 years, and the city plans on an increase of 50 percent in the next five years.

Jim Weill, President, Food Research and Action Center: “Tell Congress: Increase, Don’t Cut SNAP (Food Stamp) Benefits.” House GOP members who tried to pass a farm bill without any food stamps ignored the fact that most people in the country understand the importance of this program: 73 percent of voters believe the program is important to the country; 70 percent say cutting it is the wrong way to reduce government spending; and 77 percent say the government should be spending more (43 percent) or the same (34 percent) on SNAP. This support crosses parties, demographic groups, and rural, urban and suburban lines.

Debbie Weinstein, executive director, Coalition on Human Needs: “Tell Congress to stop harmful cuts to anti-poverty programs now.” Sequestration cut education, food programs, jobs, housing, and clothing programs. They keep people poor, cost jobs and stall economic growth for everyone.

Johnson’s attempts to alleviate poverty worked for almost two decades until Ronald Reagan became president. During this two terms, the country quickly began to lose the painful gains of the century: increased productivity benefited only the wealthy, poverty concentrated in inner cities with chronic joblessness and racial segregation, and trade union membership plummeted along with pensions. The U.S. led the industrialized world in child poverty and incarceration. The value of the minimum wage eroded. Conservatives blamed the resulting problems on Johnson’s Great Society and began its three-decade war on social spending.

The above solutions may sound complicated, but a letter to today’s Oregonian from Rex Burkholder simplified several solutions. He makes a lot of sense to me.

“Here are a few ideas I’d like to see Oregon’s business community get behind in their effort to end poverty:

  1. Decriminalize drugs. Addicts are ill and need help, not incarceration.
  2. Shut down lottery and video poker, poor returns on investment.
  3. Treat the mentally ill instead of putting them on the streets.
  4. Raise the minimum wage to its 1970s equivalent, about $15 an hour in today’s dollars.
  5. Spend our public infrastructure funds through a Civilian Conservation Corps-type program instead of using out-of-state contractors.
  6. Put shop class back into every high school. We still need carpenters, plumbers and other tradespeople.

“How to fund it? Legalize and tax marijuana. Less damage than tobacco or alcohol and lots of demand.”

December 25, 2013

Commit Acts of Kindness

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:36 PM
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Yesterday, I ran some last-minute errands before a guest arrived to spend the Christmas holidays with us. Later I pondered the acts of kindness that I experienced.

Every year I take a few picture books to add to the library at the local Presbyterian church. Since I arrived in this community over two decades ago, the pastor has strongly supported the LGBT rights issues, even when the more traditional members of his church threatened him with firing. I talked with him briefly this year, and he said that he regularly read the books to seniors in assisted living.

Moving on to pick up a few last-minute groceries, I watched my local checker at the small grocery store as she strode back to the bakery department declaiming, “You don’t want hard bread.” A man sitting in a wheelchair waited to check out while she got him a better loaf.

Then I thought of all the things that my partner does for me, such as going out to start the car in freezing weather so that it will be comfortable when it get there. She laughs at me for making a big thing about this, saying it’s not a really big deal. To me, however, it’s an important act of kindness.

 Dr. Mary Pham in Irvine (CA) is one of these people who make the world a better place. A straight woman, Pham is a Vietnamese American chiropractic doctor who came to the United States following the fall of Saigon. Despite hateful protests from some neighbors, she has exhibited a sense of pride for the LGBT community through holiday lights on her house topped by a pride flag with the Italian word for “peace.”

pride-house

According to Pham, her best friends are gay, but they can’t put up flags or lights on their rental apartments. The kindness has trickled down: her straight son goes to gay bars with Pham’s friends. As Pham was interviewed for a newspaper article, a neighbor walked by and said, “I love the decoration on your house.”

On this holiday, thanks to all the kind acts from people who might not think that they are a “really big deal.”

December 24, 2013

Bloated Defense Budget Continues

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 1:36 PM

The real winner in the budget fight is the Pentagon. The Senate gave them $607 billion in a 84-15 vote on the National Defense Authorization Act following the 350-69 approval in the House. (That’s about $2,000 per man, woman, and child in the United States.) Republicans complained about their inability to add amendments, but their filibusters delayed the bill for almost a month. The bill gives the Pentagon $32 billion (4.4 percent) over the budget cap passed the same week, leaving its base budget higher than in 2005 and 2006.

The Pentagon has tremendously contributed to the U.S. deficit. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars cost $1.5 trillion, twice that of the Vietnam War after adjustment for inflation. Almost every cent was borrowed, contributing almost 20 percent to the national debt in the past decade. That amount doesn’t even count the regular Pentagon budget that also grew almost 45 percent between 2001 and 2010. Sequestration cuts for 2013 were $37 billion, and the DoD could keep its readiness with another $63 billion cut. Yet Congress blocked the Pentagon’s cost-cutting proposals such as base closures, increases to the health program, and retirement of its Global Hawk Block 30 drones and the A-10 “Warthog” fleet.

The military is unbelievably huge:

  • It employs 3 million people, 800,000 more than Wal-Mart.
  • Its budget is 47 percent bigger than that of Wal-Mart.
  • It serves 9.6 million people, in combination with the VA, making it the biggest healthcare provider in the U.S.
  • It has 70 percent of the federal government’s $1.8 trillion in property, land, and equipment.
  • It is 93 times larger than Los Angeles; the Army alone uses more than twice as much building space as all the New York offices.
  • It holds more than 80 percent of the federal government’s inventories, including $6.8 billion of excess, obsolete, or unserviceable stuff.
  • It operates more than 170 golf courses in the world.
  • It gets one of every five tax dollars.
  • It takes over half of all discretionary spending.
  • It spends more than the next 13 countries combined—including Russia and China—and accounts for almost 40 percent of global military spending.

defense spending 13 nations

The Pentagon’s books are so bad that they can’t be officially inspected, despite a 1997 mandate for all federal agencies to have annual audits. The Government Accountability Office noted that the Pentagon has “serious financial management problems” that make its financial statements “inauditable.” The Pentagon has one-fifth of the GAO’s list of federal programs with a high risk of waste, fraud, or inefficiency. Possibly, the Pentagon “cooks its books” with unorthodox accounting methods making its budgetary needs seem more urgent. They claim that they’ll be ready for an audit by 2017.

In the 17 years since its last audit, the Department of Defense has been unable to account for $8.5 trillion dollars. That’s $27,419.35 per person in the United States. In 2011, the Pentagon spent $20 billion for air-conditioning units in tents. Last year, their budget was $700 billion.

 In 2003, Pentagon officials started to send billions of dollars in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills to Iraq. One giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion; an initial planeload of cash was followed by 20 other flights by May 2004–$12.2 billion in all. The Pentagon lost half that money; they assume that the $6 billion was simply stolen. It never showed up again.

An even bigger boondoggle is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, originally expected to cost $233 billion. The cost is now projected at $400 billion, and the timeframe has gone from ten years to 18. Planes came off the assembly line without finishing development and testing, meaning $8 billion needed for retrofits. The Pentagon inspector general identified 719 problems last year with the program including:

  • Pilots cannot fly these test planes at night, within 25 miles of lightning, faster than the speed of sound, or with real or simulated weapons.
  • Pilots say cockpit visibility is worse than in existing fighters.
  • Special high-tech helmets have “frequent problems” and are “badly performing.”
  • Takeoffs may be postponed when the temperature is below 60°F.

The F-35 program will cost another $1 trillion and has 1,400 suppliers in 46 states. Lockheed Martin has spent $159 million on lobbying since 2000 and gave money to 425 members of Congress last year.

  • Recommendations for defense cuts from the libertarian Cato Institute and the liberal Center for American Progress to the conservative American Enterprise Institute:
  • Eliminate all ICMBs and nuclear bombers while keeping nuclear-armed subs: $20 billion/year
  • Retire two of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carrier groups: $50 billion through 2020
  • Cut the size of the Army and Marines to pre-9/11 levels: At least $80 billion over 10 years
  • Slow down or cancel the pricey F-35 fighter jet program: At least $4 billion/year
  • Downsize military headquarters that grew after 9/11: $8 billion/year
  • Cancel the troubled V-22 Osprey tiltrotor and use helicopters instead: At least $1.2 billion
  • Scale back purchases of littoral combat ships: $2 billion in 2013
  • Cap spending on military contractors below 2012 levels:    $2.9 billion/year
  • Retire the Cold War-era B-1 bomber: $3.7 billion over 5 years

The defense budget did include a slight reform in the way that the military deals with sexual assault cases:

  • Criminalize retaliation against sexual assault victims who report sexual assaults.
  • Stop military commanders from overturning jury convictions.
  • Make court-martial preliminary hearings more like those in civilian courts.
  • Expand special victims counsel for sexual assault is expanded.
  • Require a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case.
  • Mandate that anyone convicted of sexual assault face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal.
  • Provide victims with legal counsel.
  • Eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases.
  • Limit intrusive questioning of victims.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) reforms, taking decision-making authority for sexual assault cases from the military’s chain of command, were not considered. She has put her reforms before the Senate in a stand-alone bill.

President Obama also put pressure on the military by ordering a comprehensive review of its sexual assault response and prevention programs. The report isn’t due for almost a year. Nancy Parrish, president of Protect our Defenders, said, “Our men and women in uniform and their families deserve real solutions not arbitrary delays.” Gillibrand found the president’s order welcome but insufficient.

The defense bill also loosens the restrictions on transferring Guantánamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. Two Sudanese detainees were transferred to their home country this past week, leaving 158 people at the prison. Of those, 79 have been cleared for transfer, and 71 will be evaluated to see if they can be eligible. The remaining eight men are either serving their sentence after being convicted or are facing military tribunals.

The GOP succeeded in mandating that detainees could not be moved to the U.S. through 2014, even for emergency medical treatment, and that no facilities could be built or modified to house anyone transferred from the prison. Republicans failed in spending more money to beef up the prison for future prisoners. 

December 23, 2013

Budget Deal – Bipartisan But Superficial

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:21 PM
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Last week, many in the United States—including those who buy stocks—gave a huge sigh of relief that the GOP extremists weren’t going to push the country over the cliff. At least not again in 2013. In a hugely bipartisan deal, the Senate passed the budget by a 64-36 vote after the House had moved it on with a 332-94 vote. Nine GOP senators and 169 GOP House members voted in favor of the bill. The GOP presidential wannabes Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) all stuck to their guns with “no” votes, but at least they didn’t scuttle the bill. The $85 billion bill over ten years fell far short, however, of the $4 trillion that deficit hawks wanted. A bonus for Medicare doctors is the .5 percent payment increase through the end of March.

The wealthy didn’t have to shell out a penny for the increased taxes. The bottom 80 percent paid for the cuts when federal employee retirement benefits were sliced by $6 billion and military retiree benefits by another $6 billion. Anyone flying will pay an additional $2.50 to $5.60 per ticket.

The good news is that the country did not shut down during the Congressional holiday recess. The bad news:

  • The two-year budget did nothing about the struggle to provide decent jobs in the United States. The middle class is sinking into the mire, poor wages result in rapidly rising inequality, and continual unemployment provides growing insecurity.
  • Nothing was done to fix the hatchet sequester cuts that equates a bloated defense budget and threadbare domestic programs such as education, infant nutrition, and clean energy.
  • The deal approved the faulty policy that workers have too much money and the wealthy don’t have enough. Federal workers pay for reducing the deficit while global corporations continue to export jobs and profits while evading taxes. Billionaires keep their inordinate tax breaks without investing in the nation. In the last two years, federal workers gave up over $113 billion for deficit reduction since 2011, including a three-year pay freeze, increased pension contributions for newly hired employees, the up to eight furlough days caused by sequestration this summer, and a 16-day shutdown in October.
  • Nothing was done to help the unemployed, the 1.3 million people forced deeper into poverty by being denied unemployment benefits. The issue of food stamps was also not addressed while extremists push to take more money from the safety net.
  • Republicans opposed repeal of sequester, tax increases, expanding investments, and focusing on domestic problems. They won all those. All that Democrats got was preventing deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The American Dream of a budget would pass these:

  • Repeal of sequester cuts.
  • Protection of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and programs for the most vulnerable.
  • Detailed investments for the future in education, infrastructure, clean energy, job training, service programs.
  • Tax reform to require wealthy and corporations to pay a fair share of taxes through removal of loopholes and protections for offshore tax havens.
  • Elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Increase of the minimum wage.
  • Prevention of the drug company rip-offs with government negotiation for bulk discounts in prices.
  • Unemployment extensions.
  • Alternative energy tax credits and subsidies with carbon tax and carbon reduction targets.
  • Increases in school lunch programs, child-care programs, elderly care programs, and the social security ceiling to $500,000 annual income.
  • Constitutional amendments prohibiting private campaign financing and denying corporate personhood.

Extending unemployment payments is a way to immediately help the country’s economy. Every dollar spent on unemployment insurance contributes $1.60 to GDP while dividends or capital gain tax cuts provides only $.40. The unemployed spend their benefits immediately where as tax cuts for the wealthy go into savings, sometimes in the Cayman Islands. It’s been estimated that the loss of these benefits will lose 310,000 jobs.

The government could solve the long-term unemployed problem:

  • Fund direct employment as people search for new jobs.
  • Increase transportation opportunities so that workers can get to work.
  • Expand work-sharing programs by allocating prorated benefits to help businesses not lay off people.

The threat of a government shutdown isn’t over. The debt ceiling looms in early 2014, and Republicans are again willing to take the country hostage. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said:

“We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.”

On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), facing stiff competition in his 2014 primary, agrees with Ryan and plans another game of chicken over raising the legal borrowing limit. President Obama has said that he won’t negotiate on the debt limit and that Congress has an obligation to pay the bills for spending it has already authorized.

Last fall, the GOP got the blame for the government shutdown, causing the impetus to pass the two-year budget agreement. The next fiscal fight is closer to elections with extremists nipping at the heels of conservative senators such as John Cornyn (TX), Mike Enzi (WY), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Pat Roberts (KS). Supposedly Republicans have already caved into Dems over the budget; they can’t afford to do it again. But they may not realize that.

The best way to save money at the federal level is to stop privatizing. Contractors from the $6 billion management-consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to Boeing, the defense contractor making $82 billion in global sales, these contractors cost twice as much as civil servants. Boeing and Northrop Grumman are some of those that cost almost three times as much. Last year, contractors were allowed to charge the government as much as $763,029 per worker.

The new budget deal caps contractor salary at $487,000, more than the president’s $400,000 salary. In addition to salary, for-profit contractors get perks such as golf outings and executive retreats in addition to overhead such as renting space or operating buildings that the contractors own. Of the $31.5 billion in invoices to the Army from private contractors, $16.6 billion were for overhead.

Nonprofits get between zero and 3 percent for overhead although overhead costs for nonprofit human services agencies average about 17 percent. They also operate under much more difficult rules than for-profits, who can organize a new business if they are caught in fraudulent financing. About 27,000 Pentagon contractors, 11 percent, get defense contracts after evading taxes.

Congress could save as much as $300 billion annually by replacing corporate contract workers with civil servants, streamlining bureaucratic management, and relying on low-cost nonprofit contractors. Paying unemployment for the 1.3 million people who lose their benefits this Friday costs about $25 billion. The government would have $275 billion left over if they helped the poor people instead of supporting the lifestyle of the wealthy.

December 22, 2013

Battles in Holidays, Capitalism, LGBT Rights

Sometimes, religious news goes far beyond hypocrisy into just plain crazy. Here’s my top tale for the week.

One of the four Texas’s GOP gubernatorial candidates to replace Rick Perry is Larry Secede Kilgore, who changed his middle name because he wants the state to be an independent country. He wants LGBT voters to help him get elected. If he wins, he promises to step down for a year and then run for office again. His platform at that time would be to kill all homosexuals, just as the Bible says. What a campaign slogan! “Vote for me so I can kill you.”

Next to Texas is Oklahoma with its handsome tablet of the Ten Commandments in front of the capitol. The state promised that it would allow representations from other religions but reversed its positions after applications rolled in. The Satanic Temple started the requests, followed by a Hindu group (a monkey god), an animal welfare group (world peace), and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission voted to ban new monuments on statehouse grounds until it settles its separation of church and state court battle with the ACLU.

Cuddly-Flying-Spaghetti-Monster-via-Wikimedia-Commons

The Flying Spaghetti Monster has already joined the traditional holiday display at the Wisconsin State Capitol next to a “Festivus” pole and a “Winter Solstice Nativity” scene featuring Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Mark Twain. Freedom from Religion has posted this sign:

“Think this is ridiculous? We agree! Religious ideas should not be promoted within the halls of government. Protect the separation of church and state, it protects us all.”

Up in South Jersey, the religious battle is between a billboard reading “Keep the Saturn in Saturnalia” and a “Keep Christ in Christmas” banner hanging over the main street of Pitman. The traditional Christians decided that the best way to oppose the celebration of Rome’s precursor to Christmas, a Winter Solstice festival, was to burn it down.  An off-duty police officer saw two men in a pickup truck who succeeded only in “charring the sign’s steel support beams.” Another protester wants Christmas instead of “Obamass.” Later police sent a family on their way after they tried to cover the sign with a picture of Jesus.

saturnalia

Phoenix (AZ) has another warrior to preserve Christmas. A woman ringing bells for the Salvation Army in front of a Wal-Mart told a shopper “Happy Holidays.” A shopper asked her if she believed in God and then told her, “You’re supposed to say Merry Christmas.” Then the shopper punched the bellringer in the arm.

Sen. Marco Rubio is caught between a rock and a hard place after he pulled his nomination of William Thomas, a gay black judge, for the federal bench because of Tea Party protests. Members of Miami’s 93rd Street Baptist Church are now protesting the withdrawl of Thomas’ name for a U.S. district position.

Not satisfied with current translations of the bible, Andy Schlafly, the founder of conservapedia.com and son of Phyllis Schlafly, is ridding the sacred book of liberal verses. In soliciting the “best of the public” in proposing new wording for offending terminology, Schlafly has listed words that can be used in these revised verses such as capitalism, death penalty, anticompetitive, elitism, productivity, privatize, pro-life—even “a.m.” which supports the work ethic.  According to Schlafly, “accuracy” is a conservative term because “liberals are masters of deceit.”

Thus far, Schlafly has finished the New Testament and several of the Old Testament books. Some of their “revisions”:

Eliminations:  “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” (John 7:53-8:11) and “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Changes: “Blessed are the meek” switches to “Blessed are the God-fearing.” And “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:24) replaces “rich” with “fully fed and entertained” or “idle miser.” Schlafly translates “Peace be with you” (John 20, 26) into “Peace of mind be with you.” Environmentalism takes a hit as the word “world” changes to “mankind” in “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but to save it” (John 3, 17). Because hypocrite is often “misused politically against Christians,” the word is changed to “deceiver” when Jesus admonishes hypocrites to “Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

Humorous alternatives: One suggestion is the rewrite, “It is easier for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a poor camel driver.” Christians might accept this because of their recent love for capitalism. Gone is the idea of helping the poor, as Ayn Rand’s unfettered capitalism is now an important part of evangelical policy:

Jesus was a capitalist:  Ramesh Ponnuru explains away Pope Francis’s recent positions on the excesses of capitalism by saying that he doesn’t understand “markets could instead enable a creative form of community.” Jonathan Moseley at WorldNetDaily redefines “capitalism” as an imaginary tax-free governmental system.

Labor unions are anti-Christian: Ralph Reed argues for the submission of workers to employers, and David Barton uses a Bible story about a vineyard owner hiring employees to show that God hates collective bargaining.

Jesus wanted poor people to starve: The far right ignores the Bible stories about Jesus’s generosity with its focus on this verse from 2 Thessalonians:  “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” They also ignore the fact that many people on food stamps do have jobs.

Religion freedom means employers control workers’ private lives: Hobby Lobby is going to the Supreme Court to keep female employees from using their own insurance plans for contraception, and other corporations want to follow suit.

God doesn’t believe in environmentalism: those believe climate change is real don’t have enough trust in God.

Catholic news of the week:

o-THE-ADVOCATE-570 The naming of Pope Francis as Time magazine’s “person of the year” didn’t raise eyebrows, but his next accolade was more surprising. The Advocate, America’s oldest LGBT rights magazine, chose the pope as the ‘single most influential person of 2013 on the lives of LGBT people.’ Not everyone agrees with The Advocate. Michelangelo Signorile published an op-ed on the serious flaws of the Catholic Church in relation to the LGBT community.

 

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Archbishop of St. Louis, has lost his position. An avid opponent of abortion and marriage equality, he openly criticized the pope’s new direction of the church. He will stay as the head of the Vatican high court, the Apostolic Signatura.

detail=email  Administrative changes from Pope Francis also removed Burke from his position on the Congregation for Bishops, that oversees the selection of new bishops, along with Cardinal Justin Rigali. Both have been called “culture warriors” who blame the Church’s problems on others. Rigali “left Philadelphia a mess, a string of Grand Jury reports detailing malfeasance in dealing with clergy sex abuse that rivaled the pro-Dallas Charter days. Rigali left St. Louis a mess…,” according to Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter.  A new appointment to the Congregation is Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who said that married gay Catholics are “not a great problem.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt has temporarily stepped down from his post in Minneapolis and St. Paul after accusations that he inappropriately touched a minor boy in 2009. This followed a report describing his concealment of continued sexual abuses by priests. The list of 46 priests “credibly accused” of the abuse was finally made public earlier this month. 

Fifty 50 Catholic leaders sent a letter to the president of the Catholic University of America (CUA), criticizing him for accepting a $1 million donation from Charles Koch because his “trickle-down economics” ideology directly opposes that of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. The letter also pointed out the problems with Koch’s opposition to unionizing and expansion of health care as well as “an abysmal environmental record” of its company.

To Catholics, the pope is infallible. But to Catholic Sean Hannity, the pope is wrong. Hannity explicitly said that the pope is wrong when he calls unfettered capitalism “a new kind of tyranny.” His guests helped him by explaining that “Free market capitalism does help the poor.” People rise up by lowering taxes which creates competition. And American was founded on “free market capitalism.”

Good News of the Week:

Rev. Frank Schaefer, the Pennsylvania United Methodist pastor who was stripped of his position because he officiated at his gay son’s wedding in 2007, has been offered a job by a California Methodist bishop. He would have most of the rights and responsibilities of ordained ministers. Hundreds of Methodist ministers reject the church’s official policy against marriage equality, some of them facing discipline for presiding at same-sex ceremonies.

December 21, 2013

Why Does the GOP Need to Lie?

The primary obsession for GOP members of Congress has been the health care law as it was approved (mostly) by the U.S. Supreme Court, demonized by the Catholic Church, and then suffered a discouraging lift-off. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a friend who could not afford $1,500 per month for health insurance. Despite her fears about identity theft, fomented by the far right, she bravely contacted Cover Oregon. She now has a policy for $118 per month with a $5,500 deductible. The most she would have to pay per month would be $534, about one-third without the Affordable Care Act. It is the first time in two years that she has had health insurance.

Luckily, she lives in a blue state. At least 4,831,590 of low-income people in the United States cannot have health coverage through Medicaid because Republican governors and legislatures refuse to take federal money to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act. These states are giving up billions in tax dollars, yet pay more as they fund uncompensated care for the uninsured. Texas loses out on more than $9 billion, while Florida is giving up more than $5 billion.

States pay more when the uninsured are forced to use emergency rooms for their regular health care. Also taxpayers in states that don’t expand their Medicaid programs will still be paying federal taxes that cover costs in other states.

states lose money medicaid

In the United States, only the old, disabled, and poor—sometimes very poor—are guaranteed health care. Everyone else falls through the cracks.Those are a few of the reasons that Rep. Bernie (I-VT) Sanders introduced S. 1782, the American Health Security Act of 2013, that would create universal health care and incorporate all the health care programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program into one program. Private health insurance could continue to sell supplemental coverage. 

Last March, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) filed H.R.1200, against a single-payer healthcare system. Putting this into law would save people—and the government—a great deal of money. Administrative costs for private insurance is at least 20 percent; for Medicare, it’s 3 percent.

At this time, people living legally in the United States who make under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) can get advanced premium tax credits; those making less than 250 percent FPL can lower out-of-pocket costs through subsidies. Medicaid covers those making under 138 percent of FPL in states that accept the federal plan. The upper level for Medicaid is much lower in the states that have refused the ACA.

Medicaid_graphic-1511-638x654

A new study shows that 71 percent of people under age 65 in the individual market are qualified for one of these forms of assistance.

Consumer Reports, an independent organization that has been reviewing products since 1936, is now recommending the federal health care exchange. Expert Nancy Metcalf said about the website, “It’s terrific. I’ve tried it.”

GOP candidates no longer recommend repealing the ACA: instead they want to “fix” it. And the same candidates are no longer using the term “train wreck” to describe Obamacare.

rawlings-blakeConservative David Gregory, leader of Meet the Press, got his comeuppance after a series of programs in which he obsessed about the failed health care website. Facing Baltimore’s mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake were four standard moderate to conservative pundits: Andrea Mitchell, David Brooks, and Chuck Todd. In response to their negative chortling about the website’s failure, even after it was improving, and Gregory’s accusation that “this has been a lost year for Obama on the domestic front,” Rawlings-Blake said:

“I think that’s a bit of an overstatement, ‘The lost year?’ Focusing on trying to get more people affordable quality health care? In Baltimore, over 80,000 people are without health care. In the state of Maryland, over 800,000. At the end of the day, everyone knows, we can all agree, the rollout could have been, should have been, better. But underneath all of that is Democrats and the president trying to make sure the people have health care. You know, that is the side that we should be on, not, you, this sort of, ‘Is it right? Is it wrong? Should he be mad about it? Should he not be mad about it?’ This is about making sure people can live.”

When Mitchell tried to explain why Rawlings-Blake didn’t understand the issues, the mayor responded—despite Mitchell’s interruptions:

“Republicans are insistent, relentless pursuit of failure, standing on the sidelines, cheering for failure. You know, at the Conference of Mayors, I was just saying earlier, we have Democrats, we had Republicans, nobody’s rooting against each other. We’re trying to make sure that we all, we know that when cities succeed, the country succeeds. And in Congress, we have people that are standing on the sidelines, rooting for failure. We know that the rollout was botched. But Democrats are focused on trying to build and trying to fix it.”

This woman has a future in politics!

Rawlings-Blake knows about people in the United States not being able to afford health insurance. In a recent Gallup poll, they named cost as the most urgent health problem, more than access, obesity, and cancer. A much higher percentage of people say they put off medical treatment because of cost than a decade ago.

put off health care

health care 1

The media continually reports polls to prove that the ACA is unpopular. For example, a CNN/ORC poll last month showed that 58 percent oppose the law. The real question, however, is why. Only 41 percent think it’s too liberal; 14 percent object because it doesn’t go far enough. Thus 40 percent support the law plus the 14 percent who want the law to be more ambitious. Another way to describe the poll is that 54 percent of the people in the United States either support ACA or want more out of it.

To sabotage health care, the California Assembly’s GOP caucus has created a website with an address similar to that of the official health care exchange. The message of the Republican site, purportedly as a “resource” for those who want additional information, is comprised of such lies as the ACA increases the federal budget deficit and discourages private-sector hiring as well as hinting at the death-panel myth and claiming that the IRS will use the law to target conservatives.

On the Congressional level, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), currently chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has been leading a two-pronged fraudulent attack against health care. One of these is to leak fake news. Tragically, some mainstream media, specifically CBS and ABC, have spread his information as accurate. CBS went so far as to broadcast an interview with Issa, much in the realm as the false interview about the attacks on Benghazi.

Issa used a partial transcript when he announced supposed security flaws in healthcare.gov.  by giving up a partial transcript. There have been no security breaches and the parts of the system affected by any high-risk findings were quarantined and shut down. Issa further suggested that the White House pressured the company creating the website to release it with the security problems and then cover it to avoid embarrassment to the president. The transcript had no information to support Issa’s claim. Yet he went farther in his accusation that the website exposed the entire government to hacking.  With no evidence, he creates suspicion through innuendo.

Issa started leaking doctored information six weeks ago.  At that time, Rep. Ellijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member on the Committee, wrote Issa about his misinformation. Issa’s leaks have been so flagrant that the agency in charge of the health care website now refuses to release any security information to him.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is now calling for a high level security briefing on his operations. She is demanding that he go public about the information he has released and the source of these the sensitive documents about healthcare.gov so that the Department of Justice could make a determination about charging him.

Issa’s other attempt to damn health care is a series of “field hearings,” similar to those at Capitol Hill, across the country.  In Apache Junction (AZ), only GOP congressional members took part, and the only four witnesses allowed to testify were residents who claimed that the new federal health-care program had negatively impacted them. Audience members could not speak. After those with positive experiences protested, Issa told them that they could email him. The same thing happened in North Carolina and Georgia.

The question for Republicans: if the Affordable Care Act is so horrible, why do they need to make up lies about it or twist the facts? Why can’t they just tell the truth?

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