Nel's New Day

January 31, 2014

State Department Dumps Pipeline on U.S.

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:55 PM
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Friday afternoon is known for “the dump,” when news is released to the media that the government would prefer that no one knows. Today’s Friday dump is the release of the State Department’s report indicating that the Keystone XL oil pipeline won’t significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions, giving the disastrous project a stamp of approval. Their theory is that oil sands extraction will continue even without the pipeline so sending crude oil across the entire United States in shoddy, leaky pipes doesn’t make any difference.

The report stated that the transport of 830,000 barrels of oil daily would annually add an extra 1.3 million to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Headlines about the report, however, have ignored this disaster.

Today’s State Department statement concerns the 1,179-mile northern leg that would carry heavy crude from Canada into Montana and run to the small town of Steele City (NE). TransCanada started shipping oil through the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline.

The decision is still not made, and people who think that future generations deserve a planet to live on, will loudly proclaim the worsening climate change caused by the pipeline project. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) is one Congressional member who spoke out against the project, but the 20-term representative won’t be running again for the House again this year.

Eight government agencies now have 90 days to weigh in on the project; the public has only 30 days for comment. President Obama makes the final decision because it crosses a border from another country. He said that he would do this only if it would not “significantly exacerbate carbon emissions,” and he’s waited five years to make his decision.

The State Department also has a problem with the report that its Office of Inspector General is compiling regarding conflicts of interest with a contractor who helped develop the benign environmental impact statement. Some legislators asked the State Department to hold off on issuing its report until after the Inspector General had finished, but that didn’t happen.

During his presidency, Obama has displayed a quiet support for fossil fuels and their transport in the nation. During his second election year, the president issued an executive order that called for an expedited review of the southern half of the pipeline from Cushing (OK) to Port Arthur (TX).  Less than two years later, the segment opened, despite the multiple holes allowing leaks in the pipe. Last year President Obama appointed a former petroleum engineer for Mobil Oil Company as the Secretary of Interior.

Conservatives in the country demanding the pipeline for additional oil in the United States fail to understand that the tar sands sent across the nation and refined on the Gulf Coast will then be exported with most of it leaving the U.S. As a result, people in the U.S. will pay more for their gas, as much as $3 to $4 billion a year. Because the pipeline bypasses the Midwest, people there will be paying as much as $.40 a gallon more.

When the pipeline crosses land near them, however, some people grasped the seriousness of the situation and opposed it, with little effect. Michael Bishop (Douglas, TX) lives 120 feet from pipeline construction. Last year, he filed a lawsuit last year, claiming that the president’s fast-tracking broke environmental laws because Nationwide Permit 12 does not permit “activities that result in more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse effects on the aquatic environment.”

One little-considered impact from the pipeline is how it affects the people whose environments change from a stable community to the towns that pop up because of pipeline construction. The project will greatly impact Native American women in states with large Indian populations such as South Dakota. These women are two and a half more times likely to be sexually assaulted—many times from white men—than women of any other race. Groups trying to mitigate this violence are concerned that pipeline construction will endanger these women even more.

Native women are already considered easy targets for rapists, and men who know that they are not a permanent part of the community are even less likely to believe that they can be held accountable for their crimes. Spikes of violence in pop-up cities has already been documented in regions affected by resource booms. Large groups of men, for example in areas connected with the oil and gas industry, increase the incidence of sexual assault. Marginalized communities are frequently affect disproportionately by the crimes of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

South Dakota is currently a sex tourism destination and magnet for sex trafficking and sexual abuse. Native women are involved in approximately 40 percent of the cases because a “Wild West” culture combined with the gas and oil boom creates a defiant atmosphere of lawlessness. The pipeline will make this problem far worse.

Everyone will suffer, however, if the pipeline spills into the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies 83 percent of Nebraska’s irrigation water. In addition, the Interior Department submitted a report to the State Department explaining how the pipeline would have “permanent impacts on wildlife” and seriously affect National Park Service lands and Historic Trails.

About two months ago, Milford (TX) was evacuated after a massive explosion of a 10-inch Chevron natural gas pipeline near a drilling rig. The fire, with an unknown cause, raged for over a day. A month later, a TransCanada natural gas pipeline exploded in Manitoba, shutting off gas for 4,000 residents in sub-zero Canadian temperatures. Sometimes explosions are the only way that gas leaks are discovered. Leak-detection software, special alarms and 24/7 control room monitoring leaks just 19.5 percent of the time, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

TransCanada forecast that its first crude oil pipeline, Keystone 1, would leak no more than an average of 1.4 times over a decade. Instead, it had 14 U.S. spills in a single year, and federal regulators had to temporarily shut it down. Since 1986, according to a ProPublica investigation, U.S. pipeline accidents have killed more than 500 people, injured over 4,000, and cost nearly $50 billion in property damages.

That’s what the State Department says is appropriate for the United States.

January 30, 2014

The State of the Planet

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:24 PM
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For the past few weeks, governors have given speeches about the state of their states—even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who is probably in worse shape than his state. This week, President Obama gave the State of the Union speech. But what about the State of the Planet?

In the United States, almost one-fourth of the people deny global warming. That’s an increase of 7 percent in less than a year in a nation of over 300 million people.  Although 63 percent understand that climate change is real, only 53 percent of the population is “somewhat” or “very” worried about the consequences. And fewer than half of the 63 percent who believe in global warming believe that it is caused mostly by human activities, fewer than one-third of the population.

People who deny climate change and humans’ participation in the disaster won’t be changing their minds. They argue that the weather is colder the past few weeks, that plants need carbon dioxide, that warmth is good for people. They support politicians who govern by anecdote and personal experience rather than information.

This week, people will claim that the unusual extreme cold in Georgia that has brought Atlanta to a standstill is proof that climate change is at least in a pause or on hiatus. Although global greenhouse gas emissions are rising to an all-time record in 2012 and the carbon concentration has increased, the planet’s surface temperatures have remained almost the same for the past 15 years.

The ocean is the answer. Ocean depths’ soaking up excess heat energy from the accumulation of greenhouse gases protects the land from change. Middle depths of the ocean have warmed 15 times faster during the past 60 years than at any other time during the past 10,000 years. It’s buying time for change but can’t go on forever. Both the global warming and the oceans’ heating up occurred at the same time. Oceans carry 93 percent of stored energy from climate change, and the atmosphere is responsible for just 1 percent. Melting ice and land masses take care of the rest.

Scientists can trace the temperature of the middle-depth ocean waters back 10,000 years by taking sediment core samples from Indonesian seas where the Pacific and Indian Oceans merge. The levels of magnesium to calcium in the shells of the Hyalinea balthica give science the answer to the water’s temperature. The climate was relative stable and the Pacific generally cooled until about 1600 when human civilization and ocean temperature warming occurred simultaneously.

An increase of one-third degree Fahrenheit over 60 years may not seem like much, but the scale of the oceans indicates how much energy is necessary to heat it up that much. The oceans cannot contain the additional heat from human abuses to the planet on a permanent basis. Sea surface temperatures were also unusually high in Australia last year, resulting in extreme heat and drought in some places and flooding in others.

Expanding water heats up and then moves on shore. Some of the largest cities of the country on the ocean shores are in great danger of inundation, a fact made very obvious a year ago when Superstorm Sandy destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. According to a study published late last year in Scientific Reports, climate change will push sea levels two feet higher by 2083 and eight feet higher by the year 2200, causing large sections of Miami, Boston, and up to 1,400 other cities under water.

People living inland suffer from more frequent and harsher tropical storms and hurricanes/cyclones. Warmer surface water dissipates more readily into vapor, making it easier for small ocean storms to escalate into larger, more powerful systems.

Global currents are responsible for regulating the planet’s temperature. The collapse of polar ice shelves and the warmer water disrupts these currents largely responsible for regulating the world’s temperature. The two polar vortexes of the past month clearly show the dramatic weather conditions occurring because of this disruption.

The die-off of the tiny krill will shrink the world’s food supply. At the base of the food chain, the krill are responsible for all the food that comes from the ocean. 

Science experts are cautious in their predictions, but 97 percent of the climate scientists agree that humans are responsible for climate change and that waiting to take care of the problem will cost more and more money as time goes on. Atmospheric carbon dioxide has already reached a high of 400 ppm; delaying mitigation for the next 15 years will mean that the atmospheric concentration levels won’t be under 530 ppm by 2100. That sounds a long way off, but babies born today would be only 84 years old in that year.

The ensuing 3.6-degree Fahrenheit increase by the end of this century will cause “a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in late summer,” according to a recent report. The U.S. Department of Energy reported that 37% of the carbon emissions in 2012 came from coal-fired electricity. Ten countries were responsible for 70 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes.

Some conservative politicians believe in climate change, but they deny it openly because they come from an oil or coal state and want to get re-elected. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) admitted that he believed in climate change but doing anything about it would cost too much. The same thing happened with the revelation that smoking causes cancer.

People like Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) accuse the government of setting standards for polluting power plants in a purely partisan manner. Instead of discussing climate change, the chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee used one of 2013’s last seven days to talk about extraterrestrials in the hearing “Astrobiology: Search for Biosignatures in Our Solar System and Beyond.”

During the coming year, climate change and energy will be a major issue in the 2014 midterms, for example as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tries to protect his seat in what the GOP calls President Obama’s “war on coal.” The conservative American Energy Alliance will be pitted against wealthy green activists such as billionaire Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager who believes in environmental causes.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), chair of the Energy Committee, will be hit hard from crude oil export and offshore oil developers.  (Her city of New Orleans will be one of the first to sink into the water.) Other battlegrounds are Alaska as Democrat Sen. Mark Begich works to be re-elected in energy-involved open-seat states such as South Dakota and Montana.

What might be the most ludicrous argument against belief in climate change came from Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Chair of the Energy and Power subcommittee, who said that “3.75 percent of all worldwide emissions come from human activity.” He fails to understand that the natural carbon dioxide emissions from animals, plants, and oceans are counterbalanced by natural absorption. The same thing doesn’t happen to the 30 gigatons of CO2 from burning the planet’s forests and extracting hydrocarbons that has destroyed the equilibrium of the planet and emitting “super pollutants.”

People who think that the United States is separate from the rest of the world should read the study showing that air pollution from China, caused by manufacturing of goods that China sells to the U.S., is polluting the air in the United States.

And that’s the State of the Planet.

 

January 29, 2014

GOP Hurts Economy in Restricting Women, Wages

My email contained the following from my Oregon senator Jeff Merkley. He’s one of the reasons that I’m proud to live in Oregon:

“Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tires for almost 20 years. Just before her retirement, an anonymous coworker left her a tip that she was being paid less than all her male coworkers in the same position. Even though Lilly proved in court that she had been paid less because of her gender, the Supreme Court ruled that her employer didn’t have to make her whole because she hadn’t brought her case when the pay discrimination began – decades before she ever knew about it.

“Fortunately, Lilly didn’t give up. She fought to change the law, and she won.

“This week is the fifth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act being signed into law. I was proud that I got to vote for Lilly’s bill as one of my first acts as a U.S. Senator. This law is proof that even one person fighting for fairness and equality can make a huge difference. But it’s also a reminder of how far we have to go to make sure that women have equal opportunity and equal pay in the workplace.

“Women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. That is just plain wrong. It’s unfair, unequal, and it cuts into millions of families’ bottom lines. Too often, our legal system still doesn’t work for women who try to find justice in the courts. Thanks to Lilly, they no longer face unfair statutes of limitations that require them to seek justice before they might even know they face pay discrimination. But there is more work to be done. That is why I am fighting to give women stronger tools to fight wage discrimination by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“In 2014, it is long past time for pay discrimination to be a thing of the past. Please know that I will keep fighting for workplace fairness for all Americans.”

Last night in his fifth State of the Union speech, President Obama addressed the same issue.

“Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running hardship—and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), as usual fact-challenged, stated during an interview on NPR today that the difference in pay between men and women is a myth. First he said that young women were making an equal salary to men, and then he followed with his belief that women make the same in the same types of jobs. Both beliefs are wrong. A 2012 study considering factors affecting earnings such as education, parenthood, and hours worked, shows that college-educated women still earn 7 percent less than their male peers just one year out of school even when they have the same major and occupation. That difference increases over time because benefits and raises based on wages are better for men. Paul’s only reason for his beliefs is that the women in his family are doing fine.

Conservatives refuse to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, although it has 207 co-sponsors in the House and 50 in the Senate. According to a recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, however, the U.S. economy would produce an additional $447.6 billion in income if women received equal pay—a definite boon to both men and women.

According to the new report from Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, closing the gap in earnings between men and women would cut the poverty rate in half for working women. Paying women who work full time, year round the same as men would boost their incomes by $6,250 a year on average. The change would raise 3 million working women above the poverty line and boost GDP by $450 billion.

A clear difference between male and female salaries is demonstrated by the Oakland Raiders. Both football players (male) and cheerleaders (female) attend practices and 300 games and events each year. The men make between $405,000 and $5.8 million; the women each make $1,250 for the season, less than $5.00 per hour. The $5.00 per hours goes down if they bring the wrong pompoms, wear the wrong workout gear to practice, or forget their yoga mats. There is also no reimbursement for travel expenses or photo shoots. The cheerleaders have just filed a lawsuit against the team for wage theft and unfair labor practices.

Increasing the minimum wage could start to decrease the wage gap between wages for men and for women. Women disproportionately work in low-wage sectors, live on minimum-wage salaries and, thanks to working a lifetime at unequal pay, are significantly more likely than men to outlive their savings. Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers. A woman working full time, year round at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour earns just $15,080. Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in roughly 40 percent of U.S. households nowadays.

Last night the president called for a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour and stated that he was signing an executive order mandating this minimum wage for all companies that receive federal contracts. This requirement does not cover existing contracts, but the mandate will affect about 560,000 employees in new contracts. Although $10.10 an hour is not a living wage almost everywhere in the United States, it’s a start.

Numbers in the story of the minimum wage:

73:  the percentage of Americans who support it.

53:  the percentage of Republicans who support it.

273:  the ratio of the average CEO salary to that of the average worker. In 1965, CEOs made only 20 times the salary of the average worker.

$10.46:  what the minimum wage would have been in 2012 if it had simply kept up with inflation since 1968.

$18.72:  what the minimum wage would have been in 2012 if it had kept pace with gains in worker productivity since 1968.

$28.34:  what the minimum wage would have been in 2012 if it had grown at the same rate as the wages of the top 1 percent since 1968.

$15,080:  the annual earnings of a full-time minimum-wage worker at today’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage, which is $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.

17,000,000:  the number of women, who make up approximately two-thirds of low-wage workers whose wages would rise.

28,000,000:  the number of workers whose wages would rise.

$32,600,000,000: the increase in economic activity during the period it is being phased in.

$51,000,000,000:  the increased wages that workers would earn while it is being phased in.

While conservatives ignore the needs of women and the poor, they spend their time trying to control women’s lives. Tuesday the House passed The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 7) that prevents insurance plans sold in the new health care exchanges from covering abortion and eliminates tax benefits for small businesses that purchase insurance plans covering abortion. At this time, more than 80 percent of private health insurance plans include abortion coverage.

The bill would also prevent the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised funds to subsidize abortion care for low-income women. It even bans abortions for women in state exchanges to pay for their insurance with their personal, private funds. Extremists such as Rep. Steve King (R-IA) think that they need the bill to keep taxpayer dollars from funding abortion when in fact the Hyde Amendment did that over 30 years ago.

H.R 7 will not see the light of day as long as Barack Obama is president. In Texas, however, a brain-dead woman was kept alive for over two months because a Texas law seems to allow the state to keep a pregnant woman on life support even if she had not wished for this to happen. Texas is not alone: 31 other states have laws restricting doctors’ actions regarding terminally ill women who are pregnant. The state took the woman off life support only after a court order to do so. Although the fetus had been oxygen deprived for the same length of time as the women, it took a court order to follow the wishes of the woman and her family.

In the official Republican response to the president’s State of the Union speech, Rep. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said, “Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s.” Rodgers voted in support of H.R. 7 which puts government in between a woman and her doctor.

Fox network women are getting fed up with their abusive colleague Erick Erickson in his attacks against Wendy Davis, famous for her 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to keep the Texas legislature from passing more extremely restrictive anti-choice laws. For the past six months, Erickson has used a number of perjoratives, including “Abortion Barbie,” against the Texas legislator. Greta van Susteren called him a “jerk” who is “really lousy at being a spokesperson for his views.” Megyn Kelley called Erickson out for his statement that women are “complementary” to men and children are hurt in families if women are the primary breadwinners.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) summed up a response to House Republicans: “My question to you is this: What century are you living in?” 

January 22, 2014

On Anniversary of ‘Roe v. Wade,’ Women Need Help

Today is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that continued to give reproductive rights to the women of the United States. The Court deemed abortion a fundamental right under the United States Constitution and ruled that during the first trimester of pregnancy, the decision to abort must be left to the mother and her physician. Since 1973, both the Supreme Court and individual states have chipped away at women’s reproductive rights as extremists attempt to criminalize the procedure for any reason. This year SCOTUS is hearing a case to decide whether anti-choice people can walk up to people going into a women’s clinic to verbally abuse and threaten them.

Anti-choice arguments in the Supreme Court include the U.S. Constitution not including abortion in any of its terminology. (I’ll repeat my earlier argument that the Constitution also doesn’t address marriage etc.) At the time that the Constitution was written, there were no laws against abortion. Nowhere in the country was abortion addressed in any law until Connecticut passed a law in 1821 protecting women from being poisoned by untrained abortionists after the fourth month of pregnancy.

Not until 1873 was information about abortion and birth control banned by the Comstock Act. Within less than 100 years, however, abortion was considered a felony in 49 states and Washington, D.C., but states started repealing these laws in 1970. By 1989, however, SCOTUS stopped reaffirming Roe v. Wade as its decisions started to allow states’ punitive laws.

Reproductive rights are not the only loss for women during the past few decades. As an extremist far-right Congress refuses to act on serious economic and environmental issues in the U.S., women suffer the majority of the fallout. Following is Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) list of economic and environmental issues facing the people, including women, in the United States:

  • The middle class continues to decline; median family income is $5,000 less than it was 15 years ago. More people, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in our nation’s history.
  • Child poverty, at 21.8 percent, is the highest of any major country.
  • Real unemployment is actually 13.2 percent instead of 7 percent, and youth unemployment is higher. Real unemployment would measure all those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work but are employed part-time.
  • Most of the new jobs that are being created are part-time work at low wages, but the minimum wage remains at the starvation level of $7.25 per hour.
  • Millions of college students are leaving school deeply in debt, while many others have given up on their dream of a higher education because of the cost.

As tens of millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. In fact, wealth and income inequality today is greater than at any time since just before the Great Depression. One family, the Walton family with its Wal-Mart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.

Global warming is real, it is already causing massive problems and, if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we leave to our kids and grandchildren will be less and less habitable. That’s the news from the science community.

Sanders’s agenda for the coming year includes five issues: the economy, health care, global warming, education and election reform.

Wealth and Income Inequality: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. We need to establish a progressive tax system which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which ends the outrageous loopholes that enable one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.

Jobs: We need to make significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure, in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, in early childhood education and in affordable housing. When we do that, we not only improve the quality of life in our country and combat global warming, we also create millions of decent paying new jobs.

*Wages: We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass the legislation which will soon be on the Senate floor which increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but we must raise that minimum wage even higher in the coming years. We also need to expand our efforts at worker-ownership. Employees will not be sending their jobs to China or Vietnam when they own the places in which they work.

Retirement Security: At this time only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income. We must expand Social Security and make sure that every American can retire with dignity.

Wall Street: During the financial crisis, huge Wall Street banks received more than $700 billion in financial aid from the Treasury Department and more than $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve because they were “too big to fail.” Yet today, the largest banks in this country are much bigger than they were before taxpayers bailed them out. It is time to break up these behemoths before they cause another global economic collapse.

Campaign Finance Reform: We are not living in a real democracy when large corporations and a handful of billionaire families can spend unlimited sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. We must expand our efforts to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move this country to public funding of elections.

Social Justice: While we have made progress in recent years in expanding the rights of minorities, women and gays, these advances are under constant attack from the right wing. If the United States is to become the non-discriminatory society we want it to be, we must fight to protect the rights of all Americans.

Civil Liberties: The National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the other intelligence agencies are out of control. We cannot talk about America as a “free country” when the government is collecting information on virtually every phone call we make, when they are intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this country from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine our constitutional rights.

War and Peace: With a large deficit and an enormous amount of unmet needs, it is absurd that the United States continues to spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The U.S. must be a leader in the world in nuclear disarmament and efforts toward peace, not in the sale of weapons of destruction.

Health Care: The Affordable Care Act doesn’t do enough to fix the system; we need a single-payer plan as Vermont does.

Climate Change: With Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sanders introduced the Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act.

Education: Last July, Sanders protested the passing of the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act that would potentially raise costs for students on the Senate floor. He plans to amend the Higher Education Act in 2014 to make college more affordable for students.

Election Reform: Overturning the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC through a constitutional amendment is an important priority. The only legal remedy to corporate person-hood is through a 28th amendment.

Another of Sanders’ positions is to make higher education more affordable. If “conservatives” wanted to “conserve,” they could greatly lower the cost of higher education or even make it free. These are some of the statistics:

  • Undergraduates paid public universities $62.5 billion in 2012; the U.S. government spends $69 billion on educational financial programs so that students could afford some of this $62.5 billion.
  • Student loans are currently $107.4 billion; the government will make $184 billion on student loans over the next decade. The loans are thus making college far less affordable.
  • For-profit universities, with diplomas of dubious market value, take 25 percent of all educational financial programs while they educate 10 percent of the students who are then responsible for about half of all loan defaults.

 In an Atlantic article, Jordan Weissmann suggests that the federal government send money to the states with the mandate that legislatures maintain tuition at a reasonable rate. In the past 35 years, states have cut per-student funding for their schools by 44 percent, requiring the schools to increase tuition. A public option for higher education would take the federal government out of the business of subsidizing for-profit universities. Higher education costs rise because state schools raise tuition, allowing for-profit universities to do the same thing. More and more countries around the world are providing free or inexpensive higher education; the richest country should be able to provide the same opportunities for young people.

*Sanders’ answer to question about increase in minimum wage causing fewer jobs: “In my state of Vermont, our minimum wage is $8.60 compared to the national minimum wage of $7.25. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in America. You have states where there is virtually no minimum wage at all, and their unemployment rate is much higher. The facts just don’t bear it out. The reality is that if we raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour about 30 million Americans would get a pay raise, and 88% of them are adults. These are not kids. These are working families struggling to keep their heads above water. They need a pay raise. We’ve gotta pass it.” He also pointed out that paying people minimum wage requires taxpayers to subsidize workers through the safety net while the companies reap the benefits.

The people in the United States have the opportunity to reverse the downward spiral of the country in its 2014 election. The direction of the nation is in the people’s hands when they vote.

January 21, 2014

Christie Going Nowhere on His Bridge

Almost ten years ago, Republicans in Congress got into trouble when Alaska’s s Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, tried to push through $320 million federal funding for a bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island, where the town’s airport is located. The bridge, almost as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge, would have saved people a 15-minute wait for a ferry to the mainland. Notoriety about the funding resulted in the appellation “Bridge to Nowhere,” which the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation described as “an embarrassment to the people of Alaska and the U.S. Congress.” The funding was removed for 2005 but kept reappearing in bills as late as 2011.

GW_BridgeLast fall, another “bridge to nowhere” reappeared. This time it was a bridge between New York and New Jersey which happens to be the busiest bridge in the world. With an annual load of 102 million vehicles, the George Washington Bridge connects to the Cross Bronx Expressway, ranked the worst roadway for congestion in 2012. Drivers waste more than six days in traffic every year.

Drivers spent a bit longer last year because the Port Authority closed two of the three access lanes from Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side, in September 9, 2011. Streets turned into parking lots for four days because no one would tell Mayor Mark Sokolich why this was being done. Not until a few weeks ago did the public learn that a top aide to Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) recommended the closing of the lanes through an email that read “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The revelation of the email continued the number of officials abandoning the sinking ship of Christie’s bridge. Although Christie swears that he had nothing to do with the closures, he also swore that none of the people in his administration had anything to do with the closures–until it was revealed that they did.

Ordinarily this disaster would be concern only the people of New Jersey, who recently re-elected Christie to a second four-year term. The governor, however, was—until recently—considered a top possibility for the 2016 GOP presidential candidate, the only one who isn’t attached at the hip to the crazy Tea Partiers. He is so eager to stay in favor that he threw several of his friends under the bus of politics, declaring himself shocked, stunned, humiliated, etc. He repeatedly claimed that he fired these people because they lied to him, not because they did anything wrong.

A top consideration of Christie is the danger of closing the busiest bridge in the world on the 12th anniversary of two airplanes hitting the Twin Towers in New York City. School children sat on buses for hours. Problems in emergency included the search for a lost four-year-old and the delayed arrival of an ambulance for a 91-year-old woman in cardiac arrest. She later died.

Did Christie deliberately have the lanes cut down out of retribution for people who offended him? No one knows—yet. An early assumption was that Fort Lee’s Mayor Sokolich, a Democrat, refused to endorse the governor for his re-election. A later possibility came from a billion-dollar development project next to the lane closures. Shutting down the lanes would quash the development, a keystone of Mayor Sokolich’s tenure.

Or the closure could be part of feud over state Supreme Court nominees. Since Christie refused to re-appoint a Democrat justice, the Democrats have been at war with the governor. It came to a head when he also refused to re-appoint a friend of his as justice because he would not “let her loose to the animals [state Senate Democrats].” The email requesting “traffic problems in Fort Lee” came the day after Christie’s angry speech, and the leader of the Senate Democrats at the time was a senator from Fort Lee.

Many people find it difficult to believe that a governor would retaliate against people in such a way. But a pattern of Christie’s behavior indicates a vengeful person:

  • After former Gov. Richard Codey publicly disagreed with Christie, the current governor removed his state trooper protection, never before done.
  • The same day that Codey disagreed with Christie, a Codey cousin was fired from his position at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a former Codey aide was removed from the New Jersey Office of Consumer Affairs.
  • After State Sen. Sean Kean (R) told a reporter that Christie had made a mistake in not declaring an emergency earlier during a 2010 blizzard, Kean was banned from the next news conference Christie held in Kean’s home district. A Christie aide told the newspaper that Kean “got what he deserved.”
  • After Rutgers Professor Alan Rosenthal backed a re-districting map more favorable to Democrats, his state funding was slashed.
  • After State Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R) voted against Christie’s public medical education system reorganization, the confirmation of a judicial candidate who Bateman recommended was stalled.
  • After Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop failed to endorse the governor, meetings with Christie and top commissioners were abruptly canceled.

In his press conference after the first torrent of emails were released, Christie claimed that he is definitely not a bully. Videos provide the background for these quotes from Christie:

1. [To a teacher:] “If what you want to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, well then I have no interest in answering your question.”

​2. [To a former Navy SEAL:] “Your rear end’s going to get thrown in jail, idiot.”

3. [To a reporter:] “You know Tom, you must be the thinnest-skinned guy in America…you should really see me when I’m pissed.”

​4. [To a constituent:] “Hey Gail, you know what, first off it’s none of your business.”

​5. [To a former White House doctor:] “This is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV…she should shut up.”

​6. [To an Occupy Wall Street protester:] “Something may be going down tonight, but it ain’t going to be jobs, sweetheart.”

7. [To a reporter:] “Are you stupid?…I’m sorry for the idiot over there.”

8. [To a person on the street:] “You’re a real big shot. You’re a real big shot. Just keep walking away. Keep walking.”

Christie’s bullying went as high up as the GOP presidential candidate in 2012. An excerpt from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Double Down: Game Change 2012 published last fall describes Christie’s ability as a “fundraising dynamo” with the caveat that he was a demanding person:

“Months earlier, Christie had banned Romney from raising money in New Jersey until Christie had given the O.K. to do so—a move Romney found galling, like something out of The Sopranos. Are you kidding me, Mitt thought. He’s going to do that?”

Mitt Romney had even vetted Christie for his vice-president. The only requirements were that the person be considered qualified to be Commander in Chief and that the person have no distractions in the background. The vetters used the nickname “Pufferfish” for Christie. Pufferfish didn’t make the cut.

Chris Hedges described Christie as “Wall Street’s anointed son for the presidency … backed by the most ruthless and corrupt figures in New Jersey politics, including the New Jersey multimillionaire and hard-line Democratic boss George Norcross III. Among his other supporters are many hedge fund managers and corporate executives and some of the nation’s most retrograde billionaires, including the Koch brothers.”

Hedges explained that the bridge closure “is a window into how federal agencies and the security and surveillance apparatus would be routinely employed in a Christie presidency to punish anyone who challenged this tiny cabal’s grip on power. Christie is the caricature of a Third World despot. He has a vicious temper, a propensity to bully and belittle those weaker than himself, an insatiable thirst for revenge against real or perceived enemies, and little respect for the law and, as recent events have made clear, for the truth. He is gripped by a bottomless hedonism that includes a demand for private jets, huge entourages, exclusive hotels and lavish meals.”

Part of Christie’s baggage comes from his wife, Mary Pat Christie, a bond trader currently managing director at Angelo Gordon, an investment firm in New York. Her resume includes JPMorgan Chase, Fleet Securities, and Cantor Fitzgerald.

The rest of Hedges’ comments are well-worth reading.

All these behaviors demonstrate a very bad choice for running the United States. Future blogs will focus on opinions—both right and left—about Christie, his possibly illegal activities, Christie’s current approach to the problems, and a glass-ball look into the future.

Today Chris Christie was inaugurated for his second term as governor. Mother Nature rewarded him with a snow storm that closed down parts of the Northeast.

Update: After I posted this, I received a correction about Don Young being Alaska’s representative. The person also sent the following reaction:

“Don’t get me started on Ketchikan’s Bridge to nowhere.  You haven’t arrived at Ketchikan Airport at midnight after overhearing Juneau because of weather.  The airport closes, you wait for the ferry, you pay $150.00 for a hotel… you arrive at 1 a.m., you have to be back at the airport at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight hopefully back to Juneau.  That means you have to get the ferry at some other ungodly hour.

“There was and is a good reason for the bridge which we aren’t going to discuss.  I’m on the side of Senator Stevens on this one. ”

 

January 20, 2014

Honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beliefs

Today the United States honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., born on January 15, 1929, and assassinated on April 4, 1968. The history books accent King as a civil rights leader, but he also championed issues of poverty and income inequality while being a strong critic of U.S. foreign policy and the Vietnam War. Forgetting that the leading Republicans in the United States opposed honoring him with a paid “holiday” for over 30 years, a county GOP organization co-opted his name for a fund-raising project.

greek orthodox churchThe GOP party of Multnomah County (OR), a small red enclave in strongly blue surroundings, got the attention it wanted when it announced its raffle for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to honor—get this?—“two great Republicans,” Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Originally, the group planned to announce the raffle winner at a Lincoln Day dinner on Feb. 15 at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in northeast Portland. Church leaders pulled their offer to rent space to the GOP for the party after protests such as this one by United Church of Christ minister Chuck Currie: 

“You don’t honor a minister who preached non-violence by auctioning off the same kind of weapon used in the mass killings of children [at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CN.]”

The GOP organization is still making its money. All 500 tickets were sold for $10 each, very possibly because of all the publicity. Yet they are suffering ridicule. Lincoln’s form of Republicanism was anti-slavery and anti-secession while promoting economic growth through high tariffs and high wages and providing generous pensions to Union veterans. The opposing party at that time, Democrats, followed the same policies as today’s GOP. King wasn’t even a Republican: he refused to endorse either party.

Anne Marie Gurney, the county party’s vice-chair, said that county party leaders didn’t even think about the fact that both Lincoln and King were killed by guns; they just remembered that both of them are celebrated at this time of the year.

A few Republicans weren’t quite as clueless as party leaders. Bruce McCain, a Portland attorney and conservative blogger, said.  “Why would you tie that to an assassinated president and an assassinated civil rights leader?” He added that the party may make a few thousand dollars but will turn off urban voters already sour on the GOP that comprises only 15 percent of the county’s registered voters.

Yesterday, Manhattan’s Middle Collegiate Church honored King by transforming a gun into a mattock. The Bible verse in Isaiah 2:4 states: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Colorado Springs resident Mike Martin, 31, began converting guns into useful objects after the shootings at Newtown (CN). He lives about an hour away from Aurora where a man shot and killed 12 people in 2012.

Every day people with guns kill an average of 32 people. Martin said, “It’s like a Newtown is happening every day, it’s just scattered across the country.” A schoolchild is fatally shot every three days, making each month the equivalent of the Newtown massacre.

david sarasohnLong-time columnist David Sarasohn cut to the center of the issue. When referring to the disappointment about the church canceling a venue for the GOP dinner, he wrote: “The Multnomah GOP no doubt has lots of other big events to come. It’s a little terrifying to imagine how they plan to mark Easter. Or even Passover.” Or the 176th celebration of John Wilkes Booth on May 10. In commenting on Gurney’s assertion that no one thought about both Lincoln and King being assassinated with guns, Sarasohn wrote, “This is a little bit like talking about Vietnam and forgetting it had a war.”

Sarasohn hit the bull’s eye when he pointed out that “the basic goal of a political party is not to conduct successful raffles, but to win elections….  In Multnomah, Republicans are approaching third-party status, awkward when there isn’t a second party. With their repeated rifle raffle approach, Multnomah Republicans are counting on the success of a strategy because it’s loud and gets attention. That actually works some days; just not Election Day. Maybe not Martin Luther King Day, either.”

Gun legislation protesters also try to persuade people that King was in favor of no gun legislation. He did apply for a permit to carry a concealed handgun in 1956 after his house was bombed. Police found him “unsuitable” because he was black and denied him the right. Bayard Rustin Rev. Glenn Smiley both tried to convince King that the guns lying around his house were inappropriate, and King soon agreed with them. Three years later he traveled to India to study Gandhi’s form of non-violence. 

In September 1962, when a 200-pound white man, the 24-year-old American Nazi Party member Roy James, attacked King during a speech, King dropped his hands and spoke calmly to his attacker, making no effort to protect himself.

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy almost six years before his own death, King said:

“Our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Alabama.

“So in a sense we are all participants in that horrible act that tarnished the image of our nation. By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle, by our constant attempt to cure the cancer of racial injustice with the Vaseline of gradualism, by our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”

As King said in his speech, the Second Amendment is like all the other amendments: it does not give unrestricted rights to people.

Today honors the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that gave far more control of the government to the wealthy and the big corporations through allowing them unfettered donations to campaigns. Both these anniversaries concern racial and economic inequality because justice for minorities depends on economic opportunities. Conversely, racial anxiety produces hostility toward broad distribution of wealth as shown by the tax breaks, deregulation, and reduced social spending that benefits only the wealthy.

MLKvaluesRemembering Martin Luther King, Jr. also means remembering his words:

“What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee? … What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school when he doesn’t earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?”

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above trhe narrow confines of his individualist concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.”

It’s time for all the people who vote only for people and laws that will further themselves consider that without caring for others, all humanity will dissolve.

January 19, 2014

Fight for Separation of Church, State Continues

Bryan Fischer (American Family Association) is always good for news although I wonder if he believes what he says. this year’s “novel” idea is to limit voting to property owners, just as the Founding Fathers planned. Renters, according to Fischer, aren’t vested in the community. To quote Fisher, “they’ve got no skin in the game.” (Skin is a very popular topic with conservatives these days.)

This week Fischer also declaimed that trans people are “anti-science” because gender identity is decided by a “creator God who doesn’t make … mistakes.” He was agreeing with Keith Albow, Fox network’s resident “doctor,” who is also “not convinced by any science I can find that people with definitively male DNA and definitively male anatomy can actually be locked in a cruel joke of nature because they are actually female.”

 Fellowship Baptist Church Pastor Mike Lewis may have found a use for Fischer’s unvested people. The Vacaville (CA) went to jail for getting three homeless people under his church’s care to firebomb his ex-girlfriend’s parents’ house with a Molotov cocktail. Sarah Nottingham has also accused Lewis of vandalizing her car and setting fire to her shrubbery. Lewis is claiming his innocence, but the police aren’t buying it. Maybe it was the illegal firearms, methamphetamine, and evidence implicating Lewis in the crime. The day after the police released Lewis, he was back in church, preaching the gospel.

Another preacher has popped up at the University of Connecticut. Recently hired Ernest T. Jones, a position coach for the football team, plans to put Jesus Christ “in the center of our huddle.” He continued:  

“If you want to be successful and you want to win, get championships, then you better understand that this didn’t happen because of you. This happened because of our Lord and Savior. That’s going to be something said by [Head Coach] Bob Diaco. That’s something that’s going to be said by Ernest Jones. That’s who we are.”

If Diaco doesn’t give Jones the bad news, the school administration will. Because the school is publicly funded, it has to abide by the First Amendment—separation of church and state. President Susan Herbst issued a statement that school employees are forbidden from endorsing religion and that all students should feel welcome at the school.

As head coach at his alma mater, Alcorn State University (MS), Jones was fired in 2008 for “malfeasance and contumacious conduct” after just one season. It seems that “contumacious” is a fancy word for stubbornly refusing to obey authority, in this case opening a bank account in which he deposited fund-raising money without any authority. And buying Russell Athletic shoes for the team that had an exclusive deal with Nike and then failed to clean up the $11,000 mess the way he was told. Even with Jesus, Alcorn finished his season 2-8.

Fortunately, the courts are still not 100 percent behind the conservatives. U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton decided that the Oklahoma license plate with the famous artwork of a young Apache warrior shooting an arrow skyward is just fine for the state. Bethany pastor Keith Cressman had protested that the image was an affront to his Christian beliefs and his First Amendment rights against compelled speech were violated by being forced to display the (probably heathen) artwork on his vehicle. Heaton said he didn’t see anything religious about the artwork.

 Individuals are also fighting back at the religious bigotry of the far right. A member of the United Methodist Church in Alexandria (IN) for six years, Adam Fraley was also its choir director. He and his male partner were accepted by most of the church members. New minister David Mantor forced Fraley out of the church and then asked David Steele, intermediary between minister and church membership, to resign after Steele asked Mantor to reconsider. Steele refused, and the district superintendent forcefully removed him from is position. As a result, 80 percent of the congregation left the church.

The United Methodist Church still hasn’t learned its lesson that LGBT people deserve rights. After firing  Frank Schaefer for marrying his son in a same-sex wedding, the Methodists have formally charged another pastor, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, for officiating at his son’s same-sex unions.  Ogletree, 80, is a theologian, a former Yale Divinity School dean and a retired elder in the church’s New York district, or Annual Conference. His trial will be on March 10, 2014 at First United Methodist Church in Stamford (CN).

Ten sex/love/relationship/marriage/dating suggestions from the same religious people who bring us the egregiously gridlocked Congress:

1. Girls: shut up. Justin Lookadoo, faith-based dating coach, motivational speaker, former juvenile probation officer, and author of Dateable: Are You? Are They?, The Dateable Rules and The Dirt on Sex, says, “Dateable girls know how to shut up.”

2. Boys: be wild, but godly, and cover up your ladies. Lookadoo says “men of God are wild, not domesticated. Dateable guys aren’t tamed.” But he’s against porn so guys “keep women covered up.”

3. Share an eating disorder. The Christian Broadcast Network has 101 ideas for “creative dates,” including “Eat creatively one whole day for $1.18.”

4. Engage in strange, antisocial and alienating behavior. More of CBN’s coupling ideas are “kidnap a friend for breakfast … visit the library and ask the librarian a bizarre question … develop a new laugh together … survey the neighborhood with a self-made, bizarre questionnaire.”

5. Pretend to be senior citizens. Also CBN: “Date like you’re from the generation older or younger than you actually are. Eat ice cream cones and rollerblade in the park for a date fit for teenagers. If you prefer senior-style fun, eat applesauce, play bingo and watch a black-and-white movie.”

6. Transcribe the Bible together. Focus on the Family suggests: “Find a flat piece of scrap wood and use a permanent marker to write out your favorite Bible verses. Take it to a nearby beach, river or lake and toss it in the water. This may be of great encouragement to whoever finds it later on.”

7. Wives: keep the devil out by submitting. Karen Blake, the author of Do You Hear the Battle Cry? An Essential Handbook for the Wives of Christian Men, says, “Satan is out to kill your marriage and destroy your ministry.” You can defeat Satan through submission: “Wives, be subject—be submissive and adapt yourselves—to your own husbands” (Eph. 5:22, Amplified).”

8. Put out so your husband behaves. In her Christian.com-published book No More Headaches: Enjoying Sex & Intimacy in Marriage, Julianna Slattery tells the story of Sheila and Mark and concludes: “You’re the only woman in the world whom your husband can look at sexually without compromising his integrity!”

9. Dump your Muslim girlfriend. Pat Robertson advised one of his viewers who asked if he should marry his Muslim girlfriend of three years: “No way…. She wants to do her Muslim thing….Walk away.” What’s the Christian thing to do? Robertson explains, Christ is “not gentle Jesus, meek and mild, he really isn’t.”

10. Stay married to your husband who sexually abuses your kids.In her book, Created To Be His Help Meet: Discover How God Can Make Your Marriage Glorious, Debi Pearl literally tells women to stay with their abusive husbands:

“But if your husband has sexually molested the children, you should approach him with it. If he is truly repentant (not just exposed) and is willing to seek counseling, you may feel comfortable giving him an opportunity to prove himself…. Stick by him, but testify against him in court. Have him do about 10 to 20 years, and by the time he gets out, you will have raised the kids, and you can be waiting for him with open arms of forgiveness and restitution. Will this glorify God? Forever. You ask, ‘What if he doesn’t repent even then?’ Then you will be rewarded in heaven equal to the martyrs, and God will have something to rub in the Devil’s face. God hates divorce — always, forever, regardless, without exception.”

That’s life in the United States if the Tea Party fundamentalists take over.

 

January 18, 2014

Bloggers Gain First Amendment Rights

When I started this blog almost three years ago, I wondered what would happen if someone decided to sue me for what I wrote. I’m careful to give sources and not get too radical in my words, but the right wing’s goal is to close down any dissention—and some of the them are millionaires and billionaires. A recent decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals helped set some of my concerns to rest.

Yesterday, the federal appeals court ruled in Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox that bloggers and the public have the same First Amendment protections as journalists when sued for defamation. Plaintiffs have to prove negligence to win damages if the issue is of public concern.

The lawsuit began when an Oregon bankruptcy trustee got riled when a Montana blogger wrote that the court-appointed trustee criminally mishandled a bankruptcy case. The appeals court ruled that the trustee was not a public figure because they are compensated by assets of the Chapter 11 estate they administer and not the government. Cases invoke a higher standard for public officials, requiring proof that the writer acted with malice. Because of the public concern decision, the negligence standard applied.

Gregg Leslie of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press said the ruling affirms what many have long argued: Standards set by a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc., apply to everyone, not just journalists.

Bend attorney Kevin Padrick and his company, Obsidian Finance Group LLC, had sued blogger Crystal L. Cox, now living in Port Townsend (WA), after she accused them of fraud, corruption, money-laundering, and other illegal activities. In 2010 she wrote about one of the firm’s principals who was appointed as a bankruptcy trustee to a company that misappropriated client funds. She accused him of impropriety in advising the bankrupt firm.

A district court ruled that Obsidian did not need to prove malice or negligence on her part because she wasn’t a journalist. Judge Marco Hernandez of United States District Court (Portland, OR) did throw out most of Padrick’s claims of defamation, ruling that Ms. Cox’s posts were so over-the-top that no reasonable reader would conclude that she was making allegations of fact. The court’s jury awarded $2.5 million to Padrick and Obsidian.

According to the appeals court, Padrick and Obsidian were hired by Summit Accommodators to advise them before filing for bankruptcy, and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court later appointed Padrick trustee in the Chapter 11 case. The court added that Summit had defrauded investors in its real estate operations through a Ponzi scheme.

“The district court should have instructed the jury that it could not find Cox liable for defamation unless it found that she acted negligently,” Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz wrote. “We hold that liability for a defamatory blog post involving a matter of public concern cannot be imposed without proof of fault and actual damages.” The appeals court agreed with the District Court that other posts by Cox were constitutionally protected opinion.

Cox originally acted as her own attorney, but UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh offered to represent her in an appeal after he learned of her case. Volokh said such cases usually end up settled without trial, and it was rare for one to reach the federal appeals court level. He said:

“It makes clear that bloggers have the same First Amendment rights as professional journalists. There had been similar precedents before concerning advocacy groups, other writers and book authors. This follows a fairly well established chain of precedents. I believe it is the first federal appeals court level ruling that applies to bloggers.”

Steven M. Wilker, lawyer for Padrick and Obsidian wrote, “We are evaluating our options with respect to the court’s decision.”

Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the story. Cox’s interest in the bankruptcy of Summit Accommodators, an intermediary company that holds cash to complete property exchanges, came from the daughter of one of the four senior executives charged with defraud clients of millions. Padrick went after the woman’s father, and Cox blamed the trustee of using inside information and illegal measures to get rich while he was trying to restore his clients’ investments. According to Padrick, Cox ruined him.

According to David Carr in The New York Times, “there is nothing in Mr. Padrick’s professional history or the public record that I found to suggest he is any of those things. He was appointed as a trustee by the court, he was subjected to an F.B.I. background check, and there have been no criminal investigations into his conduct. About 85 percent of the funds have been returned to the creditors, which seems to be a good result.”

crystal-cox-bloggerCarr reported that she frequently created a domain with the person’s name, allegations of corruption, or both. Over a year ago, she had at least 500 URLs at her disposal and likes to use them. Although she had sworn to not give up until Padrick was indicted, she did write his lawyer a letter waving a white flag:

“At this Point in my Life it is Time to Think of Me. So I want to Let you know and Obsidian Finance that I am now offering PR Services and Search Engine Management Services starting at $2,500 a month [to promote Law Firms [and] Finance Companies [and ]to protect online reputations and promote businesses.”

The letter was signed, “In Love and Light, Crystal Cox.”

Another blog had far more to tell about the saga of Crystal Cox.

This holding is the first of its kind for the 9th Circuit Court although other appeals courts have ruled that individuals have the same First Amendment rights as journalists. It is, however, the first case that specifically protects bloggers’ rights.

The bonus of the decision is the ruling that bloggers have the same First Amendment rights as the public and the media. The downside is that it came from a sleazy blogger.

January 17, 2014

Reproductive Rights Subject of SCOTUS, House

This past week, both the federal judicial and legislative systems addressed women’s reproductive rights. The one in Congress was a direct attack while the U.S. Supreme Court just questioned whether women’s reproductive rights should be protected. Last Wednesday, SCOTUS heard oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley about the 35-foot safety buffer zones and Massachusetts law requires about reproductive health clinics. The purpose of these zones is to help patients, doctors, and other healthcare workers enter facilities without harassment, intimidation, and violence.

Twenty years ago, the ruling in Madsen v. Women’s Health Center made a safety buffer zone constitution after SCOTUS heard the Florida case. As Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor  Smeal said, “We know that buffer zones aid law enforcement and reduce violence. Surveys show that buffer zones decrease criminal activity and increase safe access to clinics.” The Massachusetts zone was enacted in 2000 following years of intimidation and violence, including the 1994 murders of two clinic receptionists—Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38—by anti-choice extremist Joh Salvi at two separate Brookline (MA) clinics. Five other people were wounded in the attacks.

After anti-choice demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate people who wanted to enter the clinic, Massachusetts strengthened its law in 2007. The law has survived challenges in lower federal courts as judges found that the law is a content-neutral, narrowly tailored time-place-manner regulation that protects the public without infringing on the First Amendment rights of others. Many acts of violence, including murders, occur as people, including a volunteer clinic escort, enter the clinics. The buffer zone provides a line of defense.

The Massachusetts law doesn’t keep people from talking to the protesters, and the protesters are permitted to say anything they want. The objection from protesters is that they aren’t permitted to get into people’s faces—or perhaps to commit violence. The face of the protesters in the court is a sweet-looking grandmother, Eleanor McCullen, who says, “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.”

Planned Parenthood ‘s amicus brief has a different picture. According to Amanda Marcotte:

“Protesters ‘wore Boston Police Department hats and shirts and stationed themselves, carrying clipboards, at the garage entrance,’ demanding that patients give them personal information. Protesters would attack clinic escorts with umbrellas. While the prior law disallowed directly approaching patients, anti-choicers would follow them around screaming invectives, often through bullhorns. When cops were called, the protesters argued that they were just following, not ‘approaching.’ The police department itself suggested a stronger buffer zone around the front door.”

Michelle Kinsey Bruns, a Virginia-based activist who has volunteered in clinic defense in eight states, said, “Patients know it’s going to be a gauntlet, and they approach it like a combat zone.” Lori Gregory-Garrott, an escort at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, wrote about the daily battle just trying to get patients past a wall of hostile protesters even if the patients are only picking up their birth control prescriptions. Megan, a counselor at an independent Massachusetts clinic, talked about the accusations of murder and “going to hell” that she constantly hears.

The 35-foot zone about clinics where 90 percent of the work is primary care, contraception, cancer screening, and gynecological services is far less than those for funerals, political conventions, and polling places. Catholic University law professor Mark Rienzi, representing the anti-choice demonstrators in SCOTUS, claims, “Public sidewalks are places that people are supposed to be free to exchange information and exchange ideas.” Polling places require 150 feet, and, by federal law, funerals require 300 feet. A 252 X 98 foot plaza in front of the Supreme Court building is used as its buffer zone.

Justice Antonin Scalia was furious in 2000 after six of the nine judges ruled in favor of a buffer zone in Hill v. ColoradoHe furiously announced, “Our longstanding commitment to uninhibited, robust and wide-open debate is miraculously replaced by the power of the state to protect an unheard of right to be let alone on the public streets.” Except, of course, in the case of the plaza that protects him. This time, he objected to a lawyer’s characterization of the people as protesters,” asserting that the petitioners in this case “don’t want to protest . . . they want to talk to women about abortion.”  If this case were only about protesting, he continued, a thirty-five-foot buffer zone “might not be so bad.”

People at clinics without buffers have reported serious problems beyond being pushed out of the way and sprayed by some unknown liquid. In Alabama, volunteer and clinic escort Pamela Watters described both verbal and physical assaults including someone a protester from Virginia who pushed another volunteer, a great-grandmother, into a patient’s moving car.

When protesters blocked a clinic entrance in Chicago, the city passed an ordinance requiring that protesters stay eight feet away from patients if they are within 50 feet of the clinic entrance. Protesters are still harassing patients by wearing orange vests like the clinic escorts, giving baby booties in gift bags to patients, and videotaping patients.

At EMW Women’s Surgical Center of Louisville, one of the only two clinics in state, an average of 40 protesters line the sidewalks every day, a number that can swell to 100 if students from local bible colleges are bused in. They use megaphones, display signs with aborted fetuses pictures, and block open car doors so that patients can’t get out of their vehicles. The police don’t always show up if someone asks for their help. That’s what people call “freedom of speech” in reference to a lawful act of going into a women’s clinic. That’s what the highest justices in the land are discussing in the safety of their court.

The day before the Supreme Court heard the case about buffer zones, they declined to hear a case about the Arizona law preventing abortions after 18 weeks. The law stated 20 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period, but the people who voted in favor of the law are apparently science knowledge-challenged. Conception comes about two weeks after menstruation. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled the law unconstitutional and permanently blocked its enforcement. SCOTUS’s refusal to hear an appeal means that the law has been struck down.

Two other defenses of pro-choice came this year when the justices refused to hear Oklahoma’s defense of two anti-choice measures. One would have prohibited the use of one drug that is used to induce an abortion in the first weeks of a pregnancy, and a second would have required costly ultrasound tests for women seeking an abortion.

While SCOTUS works on clinic buffer zones, the House Judiciary Committee hearing spent last week trying to figure out how to keep middle-class consumers from getting health care subsidies if their plans include abortion coverage in H.R. 7.

H.R. 7 men

The committee takes pride in H.R. 7 as a “pro-jobs” bill. Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said:

“[It is] very, very true that having a growing population and having new children brought into the world is not harmful to job creation. It very much promotes job creation for all the care and services and so on that need to be provided by a lot of people to raise children.”

This isn’t the only crazy conservative reason to block all abortions. Rick Santorum said during his presidential run that having children makes the Social Security fund solvent. Former GOP-supporter Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA) said in 2007 that he wants women to have babies to “fill our Army.”

The next time that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) claims that the House is enacting “jobs bills,” check to see exactly what these are. As for the buffer zones, Eileen Shim got it right: “If abortion clinic protesters weren’t such bullies, we wouldn’t need buffer zones.”

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January 16, 2014

U.S. Has Budget – Unemployed, Nothing

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:44 PM
Tags: , ,

I used to think that a three-month extension of any bill was ridiculously short, worthy of the “kick the can down the road” epithet. Earlier this week, the House passed a three-day continuing resolution to extend the budget so that the government doesn’t close—again–barely a “touch the can.”

Congress, however, somewhat redeemed itself by passing the real 1,582-page omnibus $1.1 trillion budget bill with a 359-67 vote in the House and a 72-26 vote in the Senate. Once President Obama signs the bill, the government can keep paying its bills until the end of September 2014—unless the GOP shuts down the government over raising the debt ceiling.

Some GOP Congressional members are preening at how they’re holding the line and controlling the Democrats by delaying new energy efficiency standards on light bulbs, limiting government travel and conferences, and prohibiting the IRS from targeting people based on their political beliefs. Someone failed to tell Republicans that the IRS cannot legally target people, and the GOP ignored the fact that progressive political organizations were also audited.

The eight-percent cut for the IRS during the past two years for the IRS may be an attempt to protect the wealthy from being audited. In reality, the cut reduces service to people who need it. Although questions for the IRS have dropped 86 percent within the past decade, the agency can answer only 61 percent of the calls looking for help. During the same time, the telephone wait time has gone from 2.6 minutes to 17.6 minutes. There’s much more work now, however; in ten years the number of returns has grown by 11 percent to 146 million.

The military gets more than half of the budget–$573 billion for defense spending and $525 billion for non-defense discretionary spending. At 48 percent of the world’s military spending, the U.S. military budget is equal to the next ten countries’ military budgets combined.

military_by_country_spending-by-country

defense spending ten countries

Some defense spending was allocated to curb sexual assault the military, Head Start education programs are restored, and $1.5 billion in aid goes to Egypt despite the global concern about the crackdown there on activists and journalists. The $600 million for disabled veterans mistakenly cut in the last spending bill was replaced. The U.S. Post Office will keep delivering mail on Saturday, unfortunately with no provision for dealing with the requirement that USPS fund the retirement account for at least 75 years, a major financial difficulty.

The plan developed by House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) parallels in many ways George W. Bush’s 2007 budget—without allowance for inflation. For example, the National Institutes of Health is allocated just $.7 billion more than six years ago, shrinking its budget by almost $3.3 billion. Other science funding was also cut.

The bill makes the United States cheapskates in the world’s eyes: the $315 million pledged in 2010 to the International Monetary Fund is still not funded. That’s only two F-35s, the planes that the defense department is building despite that fact that they don’t work.

Kentucky is happy because the bill doesn’t fund the Army Corps of Engineers to change the regulatory definition of “fill material,” a change that the coal-mining industry opposed. Of course, a Kentucky representative heads the committee that prepares the bill.

Wall Street can breathe easier after the GOP cut back the funding by 30 percent for regulators important to the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. Of course, the GOP hit the Affordable Care Act, refusing any additional appropriations for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and taking $1 billion out of another fund so that the president cannot use it for the health care act.

Hidden in the 1,582 pages are some peculiar pieces. The ban on funding for ACORN is not the first time that Congress defunded ACORN since it disbanded four years ago. The bill also prevents any spending to hold Guantánamo Bay prisoners in the United States. The move of the Vatican Embassy has been halted, a move started by George W. Bush to a place closer than the current one and a move that would save the country $1 million.

More strange bits are sure to pop up in the media because Congressional members didn’t read the entire bill before passing it. The GOP will no longer have the right to ridicule Democrats for passing the Affordable Care Act without reading it.

The “Monsanto Protection Act,” slipped secretly into an earlier spending bill by former Monsanto lawyer Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), didn’t make the break this time. An outcry from the public stopped a repeat of the law that would kept Monsanto safe from any judicial action despite its wrongdoings.

Although Congress passed a budget, they failed to extend emergency unemployment benefits to 1.4 million people. It’s been almost three weeks since these benefits expired, and the GOP Senate “deal” to exchange the benefits for continuing the sequestration across-the-board spending cuts for an additional year—into 2024—fell through.

Republicans, however, are running scared because of negative reactions to the abrupt cutoff of unemployment benefits. For example, people in El Paso County (CO), where the conservative religious group Focus on the Family is located along with the military facilities Air Force Academy, NORAD, and Fort Carson. The area’s aerospace and defense industry was hit hard by the sequestration, and the Colorado county has the largest number in people in the state who lost their benefits three days after Christmas.

 Lita Ness, 58, lost her job as a civilian contractor at Peterson Air Force Base in August 2012 and just got her last unemployment check. Taking a break from a computer training class at Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Ness said: 

“I’m registered as a Republican, but if they continue to use this not extending our (aid) I’m probably changing to Democrat. People in our district who vote ‘No’ on this, I’m not going to support them.”

Ness’ representative is Republican Doug Lamborn, who said about unemployment benefits, “It’s $6 billion, doesn’t do anything to create jobs.” The man obviously has no understanding of economic theory.  Taking away these benefits is estimated to destroy 310,000 private sector jobs.

An examination of data from 20 states by Democratic staff on the House Ways and Means Committee shows that benefits-opponents Reps. John Fleming (R-LA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) represent districts with disproportionately high percentages of people needing these emergency benefits. Economists report that the longer-term unemployed are more likely to be older, a demographic important to GOP elections. The GOP should be scared. Depicting people from the middle-class background as lazy moves more voters away from the Republican party.

The Republicans are in a difficult position. Throwing people out of their homes and forcing them to go without food makes them look heartless. But the extremist right-wing people are out for blood in this year’s primaries. Heritage Action, for example, said it will include the vote on continuing unemployment benefits on its “legislative scorecard.”

As for the quid pro quo of replacing the $6.4 billion from other areas, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation system is a contingency measure, not an ongoing spending program. This is the first time that the measure hasn’t received support from both parties. The current version was signed into law by George W. Bush in July 2008. At that time, the unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent, compared to the current rate of 7 percent, and the average duration of unemployment was 17.1 weeks, compared to today’s duration of over 35 weeks. At no time in history has Congress stopped special extended benefits with the unemployment as high as it is right now.

The GOP’s elimination of these benefits flies against precedent and economic logic. Almost the entire $6.4 billion reverts to the economy, generating additional spending, hiring, and tax revenues. The program is only temporary; with a growing economy and downward trend in unemployment rates, the benefits can be postponed until the GOP drives the country into another recession.

The benefits keep people looking for work, because that’s a provision of receiving them. Without these benefits, people may simply drop out of the work force and require far more public assistance.

The United States has a budget for the next eight months, but the GOP has now lost the support of two more of their potential constituents—the Tea Party and the unemployed.

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