Nel's New Day

March 30, 2014

Hobby Lobby: Business or Religion?

I was born in a country that wouldn’t allow me to buy oral contraceptives or get a legal abortion. I could be denied a job because I am a woman. Homosexuality was illegal. Women could be denied health insurance by their employers because religion decrees that husbands should provide for their wives. That country is the United States.

Many people don’t know what life was like in the United States less than 50 years ago. They may find out if the religious right sends us back to the 19th century. That’s the crux of the case that the U.S. Supreme Court heard on March 25. SCOTUS’ earlier decisions on marriage equality and voting rights joined Citizens United in a trio of culture-changing court cases, one moving society forward and the other two in reverse. In the current cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, SCOTUS has the power to determine the trajectory of the United States.

The Affordable Care Act requires businesses with over 50 employees to provide insurance that includes FDA-approved methods of birth control; 58 for-profit companies have challenged the law. On its surface the two SCOTUS cases, nicknamed Hobby Lobby, are about whether a corporation can refuse to cover employees’ contraception because of the owners’ religious beliefs. The Green family believes that contraception is abortion because they think that life begins when a woman ovulates.

As usual, Fox network promulgates the lies surrounding ACA. Its “judicial anlysist” Andrew Napolitano told “Fox News” host Megyn Kelly that “contraceptive services means contraception, euthanasia and abortion.” According to Napolitano, any ovulating woman is “pregnant.” Hobby Lobby is actually about preventing pregnancy which saves money for insurance companies.

The case isn’t about whether the Green family is accurate in its beliefs; it’s about whether any belief , no matter how inaccurate, can be used in the argument for “religious freedom.”  If Hobby Lobby wins, corporations could use personal religious beliefs to deny any healthcare—vaccinations, blood transfusions, HIV drugs, pregnancy care, mental health care, etc. LGBT people can forget about consistency in obtaining goods and services or finding employment. Justice Elena Kagan also brought up the question of religious employers objecting to gender equality, or the minimum wage, or family medical leave, or child labor laws. The Christian bible also supports human sacrifice. A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby could mean that states would no longer need to pass laws permitting discrimination: SCOTUS would have already declared this the law of the land.

Paul Clement, lawyer for Hobby Lobby, agreed that a decision in favor of Hobby Lobby could result in for-profit corporations denying anyone anything based on personal religious beliefs. He shrugged off any problems because he didn’t believe large for-profit corporations would do anything like this. If they did, according to Clement, each of the issues could be handled separately. Chief Justice John Roberts agreed with him.

The lower court argument in Conestoga was based on punctuation—specifically a comma with a dot above it called a semi-colon. According to lawyers, “the authors of the First Amendment only separated the Free Exercise Clause and the Free Speech Clause by a semi-colon, thus showing the continuation of intent between the two.” Because SCOTUS gave free speech to for-profit corporations in Citizens United, the court should give free exercise of religion to for-profit corporations in Conestoga, lawyers argued.

These are some ways that religious groups already deny individuals:

  • Timberlake studentTimberlake Christian School (VA) threatened to not enroll 8-year-old Sunnie Kahle because she doesn’t look feminine enough and directed Sunnie to look like a “female” as God ordained. She followed the dress code that allows pans and has no appropriate hair length. “Heart-broken” that Sunnie’s grandparents “made her the subject of a public discussion,” the school immediately withdrew Sunnie.
  • Chase Paymentech of JPMorgan Chase, which handled about 29 billion transactions in 2012, refused to handle credit card payments for a condom company created by a mother-and-daughter team. The Lovability condom company defines its mission as “to empower women to take responsibility for their sexual health.” One in four women in the U.S. suffer from an STD that they most likely received from a man. My question is whether Chase handles transactions for condom companies run by men and for retail stores that sell condoms.
  • The Catholic Duquesne University of Pittsburgh argues that adjunct teachers cannot form a union because unions are against Catholic values. One of their adjunct teachers, 83-year-old Margaret Mary, a 25-year-long adjunct French teacher at the school, saw her under-$25,000 wage reduced to under $10,000 last year because of her cancer before the university fired her. With no benefits and unable to even afford to pay her electric bill, Mary was found dead on her front lawn after a massive heart attack. Over half the college courses in the United States have adjunct teachers who are paid only by the classes that they teach.
  • Most states sanction parents’ killing children through the adults’ belief in faith healing with no medical interference. Hundreds of children have died because parents refuse to call in a doctor for serious illnesses.


“One of the well known truisms in ethics is that good moral judgments depend in part on good facts,” according to Dr. Ron Hamel, senior director of ethics for the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA). He wrote this as the ACA was being born almost four years ago. The law’s  mandate allows women free access to all FDA-approved forms of contraception that include oral medication, long-term reversible contraceptives such as IUDs, and sterilization.

Only one drug, RU-486 (mifepristone) has been approved to induce abortion, and it is not on the FDA’s list of approved contraception. No FDA-approved contraception can destroy an embryo.

A basis for Hobby Lobby is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, passed in response to a 1990 SCOTUS ruling that allowed Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to two Native American men fired for using peyote as part of a religious ceremony. Antonin Scalia argued in the majority opinion, “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” He said that “[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy.”

The SCOTUS decision held that a person’s religious beliefs are not sufficient grounds to break laws that are considered “neutral” or generally applicable. Concerned about people in minority religion groups, Congress passed RFRA to safeguard against large entities from oppressing individual rights.

“How does a corporation exercise religion?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked. Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent in Citizens United stated,”[C]orporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”

knitting-needles1-375x250Hobby Lobby already sells items used for abortions. Women who become pregnant because they lack access to birth control have used knitting needles for abortions and will continue to do this because abortions—and possibly contraceptions–are becoming less and less accessible throughout the nation. An affirmative ruling for Hobby Lobby in this case will cause decades of anguish to untold number of people in the United States as well as a fortune for the lawyers.

There is one bright light affecting the Hobby Lobby decision. SCOTUS knows that the current separation between corporations and owners is already fragile because of their ruling in Citizens United. Declaring in favor of Hobby Lobby would shred that is known as the “corporate veil.” The terms “Lifting the corporate veil” or “piercing the corporate veil” means that corporate rights, duties, and liabilities would be the same as for the shareholders.

The purpose of a corporation is to separate debts and benefits so that the owner cannot be sued. Ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby’s request not to follow a federal law would destroy the corporate veil. The corporation would no longer be treated as a distinct entity from its owners or shareholders. No Fortune 500 company has supported Hobby Lobby. Allowing a corporation to take on the owners’ beliefs and actions would cause corporate indemnity to disappear.

Two powerful opposing forces of religion and business are at work in this case. Will SCOTUS allow the religious beliefs of five family members to dominate those of 13,000 other people? Does SCOTUS want to maintain the financial separation between corporations and their owners? In this case, I’m guessing business trumps religion.

March 29, 2014

Rape in the Military

Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) fought for almost a year to move major crimes outside the military chain of command for judicial review but failed to get the necessary 60 votes in early March. That 60 votes, of course, is the new majority of 100 Senate members because almost everything is filibustered except for nominees. After the failure of the Military Justice Improvement Act, Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) bill, which maintains status quo with extra protections for victims, unanimously passed. Male senators fought to keep military commanders in control with the claim that they’ll lose their power if an independent court rules on sexual assaults. As Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said on the senate floor, “I trust these commanders. I trust them.” Gillibrand countered by saying:

“It’s not whether anyone in this chamber trusts the chain of command, the people who do not trust the chain of command are the victims. … The reason why the female victim does not come forward is because she does not trust the chain of command.”

Lack of trust is understandable because the top Army prosecutor for sexual assault cases was suspended after being accused of sexually assaulting a female lawyer who worked for it. The alleged act was at a legal conference about sexual assault. The current poster commander for sexual assault in the military is Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair. Shortly after Gillibrand’s bill failed, he was permitted to plead guilty to adultery, soliciting explicit pictures from female officers, disobeying a commander, possessing pornography in a combat zone and misusing his government credit card. His sentence included a reprimand with salary and restitution penalties of about $25,000 and a reduction in rank to lieutenant colonel. He will not serve any jail time, and he kept his pension and benefits. One reason that he got off almost scot-free was potential unfair advantage for command influence. The judge in the court-martial questioned whether the prosecution rejected an earlier plea-bargaining attempt because commanders felt politically pressured to prosecute Sinclair to the fullest extent. “Allowing the accused to characterize this relationship as a consensual affair would only strengthen the arguments of those individuals that believe the prosecution of sexual assault should be taken away from the Army,” the accuser’s counsel had written. Senior officers loved Sinclair, but those who served below him didn’t have much respect for the brigadier. After his departure from their command, soldiers put on a skit in which one of them asked the person portrayed as Sinclair if he wanted oral sex. Charges against him included a captain being forced to perform oral sex on Sinclair. She also claimed that he threatened her and her family if she revealed their three-year affair after she said she was looking forward to meeting his wife. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said, “This is another sordid example of how truly broken the military justice system is.” At a House Armed Services Committee hearing, she said to Secretary of the Army John McHugh, “This is a sexual predator. For a sexual predator to gain this rank and [be] given a slap on the wrist suggests that the system doesn’t work.” Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA) said the case demonstrated a “toxic military culture.” McHugh said he is still reviewing the case and has the option to demote the general and sharply reduce his retirement pay. Observers say that commanders keep prosecutors from bringing cases to court or force prosecutors to take unwinnable cases to court. The control is entirely with the commanders. Former President Jimmy Carter, who served in the Navy, supports the removal of authority from commanders in the cases of sexual assault. He said, “I was a submarine officer. I was qualified to command submarines. And it’s almost impossible for commanding officers to bring to justice a rapist, because it reflects adversely on his capability as a military commander if sexual abuse is taking place in his company or his battalion.” There are other reasons for moving the decisions out of the commanders’ control. They may not punish service members because they like them, and they may not want to be distracted from their mission. A colonel was asked why he failed to take action after a guardswoman reported that she had been raped by a guardsman in Iraq. He said, “I didn’t have time for that high school drama.” The guardsman got a letter of reprimand; the guardswoman received a medical discharge for PTSD. Another soldier court-martialed for sexually harassing a female soldier was convicted with no punishment. After the trial, he hugged the victim, saying “no hard feelings.” General Brigadier Bryan T. Roberts wasn’t as fortunate as Sinclair. The commander of the Fort Jackson (SC) training camp which trains approximately 60% of incoming female recruits was fired for adultery after he beat his mistress hard enough to send her to the hospital for three times. Air_Force_Sexual_Battery_Charge.JPEG-02e1aAir Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was luckier. The Air Force’s head of sexual assault prevention was drunk and charged with grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks in a parking lot. The 23-year-old American University graduate testified that he came up behind her while she was on the phone, gave her a “squeeze,” and “asked me if I liked it.” She punched him. The server testified that “he was just a drunken mess.” Using the excuse that he might have grazed the woman by accident, Krusinski got off. Rape victims are reluctant to report these crimes for good reason. Almost two years ago, attorneys questioned a 21-year-old female midshipman at the Naval Academy for over 20 hours after she accused three other students of sexual assault at an off-campus party. She had seen social media posts leading her to believe that she was raped while she was drunk. All three defendants admitted sexual contact with her on that night. Defense attorneys tried to silence her with the following questions and statements:

  • How do you perform oral sex?
  • Tell us about your sex life?
  • You had sex with him before, right?
  • You were flirting.
  • Did you “feel like a ho” the next morning? [Yes, this was one of the questions.]
  • You must be hiding something.
  • Drunk sex is not sexual assault.

The case proceeded, with only one of the three going through a court-martial last week. He was exonerated; the victim wasn’t. A sexual assault “prevention and response” brochure issued by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) advises victims to consider submitting to their attack. “It may be advisable to submit than to resist,” the guide said in a section labeled, “If you are attacked,” saying victims should make that decisions based on the circumstances behind their attack while being “especially careful” if their attacker has a weapon. There are no directions in the brochure telling service members not to commit sexual assault. Great Britain, Canada, Australia and Israel are among the many nations that have moved disposition of sexual assault crimes out of the military to be determined independently by trained prosecutors. In Germany, all offenses against military order, such as being disrespectful, are handled administratively, Crimes, even crimes by military members, are prosecuted by civilian officials. That would level the prosecution field, but the United States thinks that its military is too special and sexual assault victims are expendable.

March 28, 2014

Christie’s Solution: Blame the Women

The dangerous traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to New York happened almost seven months ago, but Gov. Chris Christie’s problems aren’t going away.

Earlier this week, Christie released a report from his personal lawyer exonerating him at a $1-million cost to the state’s taxpayers. The 344-page report was prepared for the man who Christie calls a “very dear friend,” the man who Christie award a lucrative corporate-monitoring contract in 2007. The $650-per-hour guy did leave a few holes. Investigators didn’t interview David Wildstein, the former director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who was targeted as the person behind the lane closures. They also didn’t talk with Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, the governor’s former campaign manager. Nor did they talk to David Samson, Port Authority chair and Christie ally who is also involved in the cover-up. All four of these people no longer work for Christie.

Also in the report:

  • Kelly sent the eight-word “time for traffic problems in Fort Lee” email the day after she checked on whether the Fort Lee mayor had endorsed Christie. He didn’t, and Kelly wrote that this was all she needed to know.
  • Wildstein said that Christie knew about the closure when it was happening although the governor gave different times when he was asked–maybe weeks afterward, maybe right after the lanes reopened, maybe during the closures. Although Wildstein told Christie about it at a 9/11 memorial on the third day of the closures, the report just states that Christie didn’t pay much attention to is. The lead lawyer, Randy Mastro, said, “There are traffic problems all the time with the bridges and tunnels, so that would not be a significant event, a memorable event.”
  • Stepian also knew that the closure was for retribution. Before it happened, he called it one of Wildstein’s “50 crazy ideas.” Stepian also received angry forwarded emails from the Fort Lee mayor during the closure, called the mayor an “idiot” in notes to Wildstein, and praised him for his savvy. While the report provides this information, it claims, “We found no evidence [that Stepian] knew of the ulterior motive here, besides the claimed purpose of conducting a traffic study.”

The report’s conclusion blames only two people: Wildstein and Kelly. The report insinuates that Kelly orchestrated the closures because she had been “personally involved” with Stepian and he had dumped her. Kelly is described as “emotional,” “erratic,” and a liar. The references to her as a recently divorced mom add to the “slut-shaming.” By reporting that “events in Kelly’s personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind,” the authors suggest that her female emotional distress led her to cause the traffic jam that affected tens of thousands of commuters.

Even Stepian thought the report went too far. His lawyer released a statement denouncing the report’s “gratuitous reference” to Stepian’s “brief” relationship with Kelly as “a regrettable distraction.”

The report also alleges that Kelly asked an aide to delete an incriminating email at the beginning of the investigation. Mastro’s report heaps blame on Kelly, noting that Kelly got Stepian’s old job “though she lacked Stepien’s expertise and background.” One of the criticisms of Christie was that he canceled meetings with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. The report accused Kelly of canceling the meetings although documentation clearly shows otherwise.

Another finding of the report is that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claims, that Christie refused Sandy recovery funds to her city because she didn’t support a Christie-supported development, is “demonstrably false” and “do not match objective reality.”

Proof that Zimmer didn’t feel strong-armed, according to the investigators, came from a video tape of a PBS political panel. She yawned. “A person does not normally yawn when being threatened, coerced, or spoken to improperly,” according to the report. And she smiled.  “Yawning during the middle of commissioner constable’s statements and then smiling during the end of his statements is hardly the demeanor one would expect of someone who is actually being threatened,” stated the report.  There was no mention of whether any of the men involved in the scandal either yawned or smiled.

Notable about the report is that there is no documentation of what the investigators claim to have examined. No text messages, emails, or other documents. As Rachel Maddow said, “They just published this one long narrative today, with unrelenting, glowing, gauzy characterizations of Governor Christie’s strength and leadership and character throughout this difficult time.”

MSNBC’s conservative show Morning Joe, unflaggingly supportive of Christie during the scandal, is shocked by the report. Mark Halperin called the attacks on Kelly “sexist and gratuitous,” and Joe Scarborough compared Mastro to “Baghdad Bob.” Christie may escape from this one, too, because both the men are blaming Mastro, and not Christie. The man hired to prepare the report may be the next Christie associate to get thrown under the bus.

Even Norm Ornstein, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, found the report wanting. “The idea that this is an independent report and that [Randy Mastro is] not basically a lawyer for the defense I found almost laughable,” he said.

For $1 million, taxpayers got the following advice: administration staff should be restricted from using personal email accounts to conduct official business, and Christie should hire an ethics officer. If so, that person might want to work with Christie and his lawyers on sensitivity training.

This weekend, Christie is still following his dreams of being president as he heads to Las Vegas to get campaign money out of Sheldon Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting. He’ll need more than money to overcome his overt sexist bullying.

The bridge closure was a non-story until a transportation reporter for Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal metro New York section started to follow it. Large chunks of the report show Christie followers frantically responding to questions and articles from Ted Mann. When Rachel Maddow picked up on the story, it went viral, and the media hasn’t let go. Without the Fifth Estate, Christie might have easily sailed to the top of the GOP presidential heap and even gone on to run the country.

Although Christie claims that he had done nothing to close the bridge lanes, the constitutional question, shown by Richard Nixon’s dilemma, is whether he knew anything about it when it was happening. The report doesn’t address that issue. Yet his press conference today showed the old Christie as he responded to reporters’ questions. “I don’t know whether you can’t take notes or you can’t listen,” he said to one of them and then before called his question “awful and beneath the job you hold.” He snapped at another one when he cut off her question, “You have to get the facts right if you’re going to ask me a question.”

Christie and Mastro may have gone too far with their misogyny.  Kelly is known as a determined, honest, hard-working person. Today her lawyer issued a statement:

“There appear to be two distinct versions of the George Washington Bridge lane closings. On the one hand, Mr. Wildstein, through his counsel, has taken one clear position. On the other hand, Mr. Mastro has staked a different view. Thus, Ms. Kelly’s evidence could be critical to verifying either of the two competing versions of events… The only credible investigation into the lane closings is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. If Ms. Kelly were provided with the appropriate procedural safeguards, she will be fully cooperative and provide truthful and complete answers to any questions asked of her by the appropriate law enforcement authorities.”

It’s like a badly written novel that we can’t stop readingl.

March 27, 2014

Who Are the Koch Brothers?

As the United States approaches the “oligarch” status of Russia and other quasi-dictatorships, people in the U.S. are learning our own billionaires who control the selection and decisions of the nation’s lawmakers. Fortunately, the Walton family that owns Walmart seems to stay out of politics as long as they don’t have to raise the wages. On the other hand, the Koch brothers (pronounced “Coke”) have gone full-bore into running the country. Only about half the likely voters know who they are, but half of these have an “unfavorable” view of Charles and David.

Charles, 78, lives near Koch HQ in Wichita (KS); David, 74, lives in New York. Together they run their inherited Koch Industries, the country’s second-largest private company with oil pipelines, refineries, building materials, paper towels, etc. Together they are worth over $80 billion, and David made $6 billion just last year. Buying these products will make the Koch brothers richer: Dixie cups, Brawny and Sparkle paper towels, Quilted Northern and Angel Soft toilet paper (all part of Georgia-Pacific); Lycra fiber, Stainmaster carpet.

The brothers learned their lessons early. Dad Fred was an early adviser to the founder of the anti- communist John Birch Society, which fought against the civil rights movement and the United Nations. Ten years ago, Charles and David funded the Tea Party with Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity (AF), extremist right-wing organizations able to provide “dark money” to campaigns around the country starting in 2010, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United. 

Koch’s AFP spent at least $120 million in the 2012 election cycle, and the brothers spend millions and millions in other campaigns. Exactly how much is not known because of Citizens United, but they pledged at least $60 million to defeat President Obama. Even the town of Iron (WI), population 6,000, doesn’t escape their notice. During a recent election, the brothers decided to get their personal county supervisors elected because they could influence a potential iron mine. Koch fliers told residents about “wealthy, environmental groups from outside of Wisconsin” and then listed the names that David and Charles, wealthy individuals from outside Wisconsin, call “anti-mining radicals.” Last year the brothers tried to buy a coal terminal in Whatcom (WA) by swinging a county election. They lost. Iron’s election is April 1.

Sen. Harry Reid said the Koch brothers were “actually trying to buy the country.” A Koch spokesman called Reid’s comments “disrespectful.” Tracking their expenditures has now become easier because of that follows how David and Charles use ALEC, the State Policy Network, and other supposedly think tanks that disseminates misinformation throughout the country and writes bills for every state. Everytime you hear a myth, think Koch. (Another website designed to “follow the money” is

An example of the lies that the brothers and ALEC disseminated was a rosy view of jobs in Wisconsin to support their governor. This is the reality about the disaster of Walker’s policies that David and Charles won’t share.

walker job loss

Not happy with owning the country, David wants to purchase public radio and television. He has donated $18.6 million to WGBH in Boston and is a member of its Board of Trustees. A circulating petition requests that he be dismissed from the board to “ensure that public broadcasting remains independent from the influence of radical climate change denial.” History shows the danger is real.

Last spring, David got upset about a documentary on PBS showing him in a bad light and made sure than another one, the documentary  “Citizen Koch” about money in politics focused on the Wisconsin uprising against Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP lawmakers, wouldn’t be shown.  Afraid of losing private funding, PBS pulled the program showing how the Supreme Court decision allowed wealthy conservatives to contribute to Walker’s election.

When David was also a trustee of New York’s PBS station WNET, he was offended by “Park Avenue,” a documentary that showed income inequality by comparing the lives of people in a luxury apartment building in Manhattan and those living in the Bronx at the other end of Park Avenue. WNET’s president called David before the documentary’s airing and then included David’s disclaimer that the film was “disappointing and divisive.” The station also pulled the film’s introduction narrated by Stanley Tucci with one that called the film “controversial” and “provocative.” The documentary “Park Avenue” was shown with these caveats.

WNET threatened Independent Television Service (ITVS), an arm of PBS that funds and distributes independent films, with dropping all its films if it funded “Citizen Koch.” The documentary did get a showing at Sundance a year ago, but ITVS bowed out of any funding. As the filmmakers said, “It’s the very thing our film is about—public servants bowing to pressures, direct or indirect, from high-dollar donors.”

Only 5 percent of funding for “public” radio and television come from taxes. When conservatives fill in the 95-percent gap, they control the “public” network’s content.  I became a constant public radio fan after moving to the Oregon coast over 20 years ago and have watched the coverage becoming more and more conservative as only that side is represented.

David has resigned from WNET’s board and tried to buy eight major daily newspapers across the country owned by the Tribune Companies. Enough people knew about David and Charles to sign petitions in opposition to selling them major news media.

One of David’s goals is to convince the people of the United States “that the abundant evidence linking industrial carbon pollution to changes in the earth’s climate is somehow fictional, made-up, unverified,” according to Huffington Post blogger D.R. Tucker. In the past 15 years, David and Charles have been convicted five times for their rejection of environmental regulations and fined over $400.  A Texas verdict of $296 million, the largest damages judgment against a corporation for wrongful death, came from negligence leading to an explosion from a butane pipeline rupture that killed two teenagers.

Fifteen years ago, a civil jury found that they had illegally taken oil from federal land, and the brothers have sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, identified as a sponsor of global terrorism. With their new financial interest in Canadian’s tar sands oil fields, they stand to make $100 billion if the Keystone XL pipeline crosses the board to send oil to Asia.

David ran for vice president for the Libertarian party in 1980, pledging to abolish Social Security, the Federal Reserve System, welfare, minimum wage laws, and federal agencies–including the Department of Energy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. They’ve added health care for the poor to the list of things that they want to eliminate, using actors claiming to have their insurance cancelled in Koch anti-Obamacare television ads.

The brothers employ the Koch Method, a system of cheating, lying, and fraud that they have also taught their employees. For years after the conception of the Tea Party a decade ago, the brothers denied any connection to the movement and denied that their wealth funded front groups such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP). David said that he’d never been to a tea-party event, but film footage showed him at a gala, listening to the political strategy. Koch Industries denied funding and leadership links to the Tea Party at that time, but Jane Mayer verified the connections in The New Yorker.

David is much more visible than Charles, but the older brother said in a recent interview that he is trying to save the country. He’s worried about “this rampant cronyism where all these large companies are into smash and grab.” Worth over $40 billion, he claims he’s looking out for the little guy and worried about “welfare for the rich.” He added, “People should only profit to the extent they make other people’s lives better.” This is the man who makes enough money in one second to feed a person for an entire year.

Here’s a handy-dandy overview of David and Charles from David Halperin.


March 26, 2014

Oil Spends Money on Drilling, Not Cleanup

On the 25th anniversary of the  Exxon Valdez oil spill last Sunday, the Houston Ship Channel was closed after a barge spilled almost 170,000 gallons of tar-like crude after a collision with a ship. At this time of the year, tens of thousands of shorebirds are migrating, right into the oil that’s gone as far as 12 miles offshore. Dead and oiled birds are already showing up. History repeating itself.

Twenty-five years after the oil spill at Alaska’s Bligh Reef, the oil remains in the inner tidal zone.  The spill of 11 million gallons covered 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean. Those who lost their livelihood because of the dead fish recently settled for pennies on the dollar. Twenty years ago, they were awarded $2.5 billion; the Supreme Court decided that it should be $500 million for 32,000 people. Herring licenses worth $300,000 dropped to $15,000 after the disaster—about $625 for each year that they waited.

This coming month sees the fourth anniversary of the BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that killed 11 people and dumped 210 million gallons of oil into the fragile Gulf of Mexico—almost ten times the amount of thick crude oil that polluted Prince William Sound from the Exxon Valdez. Four years later, BP oil is still being tossed in the air from waves because of the BP’s use of dispersants on the Gulf surface and a mile deep. BP claimed that it wasn’t a problem, but Science magazine published a 2011 study showing that much of the material formed plumes toward the Louisiana coastline. Tar balls are also still washing up on the beaches.

BP has paid a little over one-third of its $9.2-billion estimate to businesses affected by fouled beaches. The company tried a stall in court, claiming that payments were going to people who had no losses. In early March, however, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit appeals court ruled against BP, declaring that the class action settlement for businesses suffering losses is legal—at least for the time being. The British company goes to court again on January 20, 2015 regarding federal Clean Water Act penalties.

While BP stalls, CEO Robert Dudley’s salary has tripled since 2012 when he agreed to a massive settlement. Dudley may have deserved his $13.2 million because BP made a $13.4-billion profit last year. And the United States government has let BP off the hook by reinstating the company’s right to federal contracts and drilling.

Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, wrote:

“Today’s announcement lets a corporate felon and repeat offender off the hook for its crimes against people and the environment. This is a company that was on criminal probation at the time of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and it has failed to prove that it is a responsible contractor deserving of lucrative taxpayer deals.”

BP pled guilty to 11 charges of manslaughter and lying to Congress about the disaster.  It “ruined coastal areas in five states,” according to Monique Harden of the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. “It is all about political deal-making.” The BP’s ban on U.S. contracts and new leases was done in 2012 because the company had not fully addressed the issues. After BP sued the EPA, the agency settled by allowing the contracts and releases. The deal was made just in time for the Interior Department lease sale of 40 million acres in the Gulf waters.

Not happy with polluting the Gulf of Mexico, BP has moved on to Lake Michigan. Less than a year after it “upgraded” its Whiting refinery in northwestern Indiana for heavy Canadian tar-sands oil, the refinery spewed oil into the lake. BP had already piled up petroleum coke in nearby Chicago. Lake Michigan is the source of drinking water for 7 million people. Both Illinois U.S. Senators—both Republican—took notice of the problem. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin released a joint statement:

“[T]hree weeks ago, BP announced a plan to nearly double its processing of heavy crude oil at its BP Whiting Refinery. Given today’s events and BP’s decision to increase production, we are extremely concerned about the possibility of a future spill that may not be so easily contained. We plan to hold BP accountable for this spill and will ask for a thorough report about the cause of this spill, the impact of the Whiting Refinery’s production increase on Lake Michigan, and what steps are being taken to prevent any future spill.”

Good luck with that!

North Dakota is cleaning up a 34,000-gallon oil spill 75 miles away from another accident in a wheat field last year. In Ohio, 20,000 gallons of crude recently leaked out of a pipeline onto a nature preserve. Denver-based Zavanna LLC has been fined after one of its wells spilled up to 1,400 gallons of oil near the confluence of Yellowstone and Missouri rivers during recent North Dakota flooding.

A bonus to the industry, the new head of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee is oil-friendly Mary Landrieu (D-LA). She took the job after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) moved to chair the Finance Committee with the departure of Max Baucus. GOP may complain about the environmental bent of the Democratic party, but they’re not talking about Landrieu. These are some of her votes:

  • In favor of an amendment sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to reverse the EPA’s decision to label CO2 a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
  • Against the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
  • For an amendment to the 2012 transportation bill that would have opened up vast areas of coastline to offshore drilling, potentially damaging coastal industries and interfering with military activity.

Landrieu was missing when 31 Democratic senators had an all-night talk-a-thon about climate change this month. Her allegiance to the oil and gas industry has paid off: they’ve paid her $564,350 for this year’s campaign.

If her opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), gets Landrieu’s job, the Dems will have lost one of the 53 Democratic senators. If the Senate gains a GOP majority, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will become Energy chair. Landrieu’s lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is 49 percent, but Cassidy is at 11 percent and Murkowski at 21 percent. Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has a 69 percent score.

Dune Lankard is an Alaskan native, an Eyak of the Eagle clan, who has lived his entire life in Cordova, one of the hardest-hit towns by the Valdez disaster. Talking about the future of his home, he described the use of dispersants, like those used in the BP disaster.

“They spewed two million gallons of Corexit, which is more damaging to the environment than the oil spill itself because it’s like dumping carburetor fluid in the water. And so dispersants, bioremediation, using hot water washes that kills all the enzymes and all the organisms in the tidal zone, they found that that wasn’t the best thing that we could’ve done. So the best thing we can do is prevent oil spills from happening in the first place.”

As Lankard knows, however, the oil industry has put all its money into new drilling techniques and no money into handling oil spills.

Alaska’s other problem is the 35-year-old Trans-Alaska Pipeline, built to last 30 years. Lankyard’s suggestion is to clean it out and run water to the United States because of the growing shortage in the Lower 48.  If the GOP takes over the Senate, Lisa Murkowski takes over the Energy Committee. She’s from Alaska, and she loves the oil industry.

alaska_featured A bit of humor for the day: In less than a week over 25,000 Alaskans have signed an official White House petition to secede to Russia. A little less than 150 years ago, the United States bought Alaska because Russia lost so much money in the Crimean War. What might the United States buy from Russia now if Putin’s actions tank his country’s economy? It’s a thought.

March 25, 2014

Guns: Public Health Issue

As Michael Cohen wrote in The Guardian, “The only thing that stops a good guy against guns is the gun lobby.” Such is the case of nominee for U.S. surgeon general, Dr Vivek Murthy. Once the right-wing element in the country, led by Fox, had polished off the possibility of highly qualified civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile to attain a position in the Department of Justice, they attacked Murthy. His sin was declaring that gun violence is a public health issue because of the high rate of deaths and injuries every year from guns in the United States.

One of the attacks was that he hadn’t done much in his career. Yet, former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher emphasized Murthy’s “impressive track record of accomplishments as an innovative and well-respected thought leader in healthcare.” Satcher served for both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

NRAsurgeon720 cartoon

The NRA, a front for the gun industry, has long dabbled in public health issues. It tried to keep pediatricians from counseling parents about dangers of guns in the home just as medical professionals talk about the dangers of swimming pools and riding bicycles without helmets. A 2011 Florida gag law, crafted by the NRA for the gun industry, stopped doctors from “making written inquiry or asking questions concerning the ownership of a firearm or ammunition by the patient or by a family member of the patient.” A district court decision that the law violated free speech put the law into the appeals process.

“Guns are a health care issue,” Murthy tweeted in 2012. He also stated, “Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA.” The lobby group, backed by the gun industry, took great offense at this statement. But Murthy is right. Between eight and ten Democratic senators are afraid of voting for him, even if some of them are not running for re-election this year. That leaves the nomination without a simple majority in the Senate.

The NRA, front for the gun industry, refuses to admit that the thousands of deaths and injuries from guns are, in reality, a public health issue. In 2010, the number of gun deaths was equal to those from car accidents, and the number of gun deaths is staying steady. In comparison, car accidents not kill people at ten percent the rate of 50 years ago when measuring the number of miles that people drive.

The American Public Health Association calls gun violence in the United States “a major public health problem and a leading cause of premature death.” The American Medical Association adopted a resolution in 2011 officially opposing any law that prevents doctors from openly talking about gun safety and the risk of firearms in the household with patients. A 2013 essay in the New England Journal of Medicine  recommends that a public health and safety campaign, like the one that greatly reduced deaths from car accidents, should be applied to gun deaths and injuries.

C. Everett Koop, President Ronald Reagan’s Surgeon General, called gun violence a “public health emergency.” Over 20 years ago, he wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “The right to own or operate a motor vehicle carries with it certain responsibilities … We propose that the right to own or operate a firearm carries with it the same prior conditions.”

The risk of homicide in neighborhoods located near a gun retailer is almost 13 times higher than in those far from one. The lapse of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004 caused a surge in the homicide rate of more than 16.4 percent across the border in Mexico. Homicide rates in Mexican municipalities near California, where a state-level assault weapons ban was still in effect after 2004, rose less than in municipalities near other U.S. border states. The lapse of Missouri’s background check law to an annual rise of 60 murders.

The NRA has launched a full-bore attack against what it called Murthy’s Radical gun control measures”:

“Murthy has some crazy, crazy ideas about guns. For example, he wants to bring back the federal assault weapons ban. He supports universal background checks; mandatory-waiting periods of 48 hours for gun purchases, mandatory safety training for gun owners and limits on ammunition purchases. He even wants to do away with laws that would prevent doctors from discussing gun safety with their patients; he wants to see laws that prohibit physicians from documenting gun ownership be repealed; and he wants to restore CDC and NIH funding to conduct firearms research.”

As Michael Cohen wrote:

“Only in America’s up-is-down, sky-is-green, right-is-wrong discussion about guns would views like those of Vivek Murthy be considered radical. Indeed, the good doctor’s views are remarkably similar to those held by a majority of Americans.”

The result of the NRA lobbying on behalf of the gun industry is that more and more states are eradicating gun laws. The NRA has no concern about the increasing carnage from guns in the United States; it just serves as a shill for the gun industry.

Catey Hill, who writes articles for the Wall Street Journal and other business sites about “ten things” that industries don’t want the public to know, lists ten things about the gun industry in “What you don’t know about the firearms business can cost you.” Each of these have supplemental information that you can access here:

  • “Owning our product may be hazardous to your health.”
  • “Fear is good for profits”
  • “Guns get special treatment under the law”
  • “We need your kids to play with guns”
  • “Gun control may work. We still think it’s a bad idea”
  • “Politically, we’re practically unbeatable”
  • “Under the “Gun Ban Obama’, we’re doing just fine”
  • “Sometimes we aren’t ‘pro gun’ enough”
  • “We sell to people we probably shouldn’t”
  • “Ammo is our secret (business) weapon”

The rejuvenated gun industry has brought big bucks to the NRA. The 300 manufacturers representing $6 billion in revenue donated over $76 million to the NRA in just 2009. Small and medium-sized gun sellers also give liberally to the NRA. The 54,000 licensed dealers and the industry as a whole may employ as many as 100,000 people. Claiming President Obama as a threat, the NRA boosted expenditures from 2006 to 2010 by 37 percent. By 2012, the NRA’s revenues swelled to $256 million with three individuals giving $3 million or more and another 15 donors writing checks of between $100,000 and $1 million. As a non-profit, the NRA doesn’t have to name its donors.

The National Shooting Sports Federation generously credits the gun industry with benefiting the U.S. economy by $18 billion. Yet the NRA and the gun industry cost the people of the United States $47 billion every year because of deaths and injuries. In Mexico, 50 percent of the 120,000 murders are from guns, and 68 percent of the guns in Mexico came from sales in the United States.

In 2012, Washington state saw the highest tally of gun injuries since 1995 and 30 percent higher than the average during that period. At the same time, firearms conducted three times the number of background checks for gun sales as a decade earlier. A measure requiring firearm dealers to offer trigger locks when selling guns, as 11 states already require, went down in flames. So did a measure to make it a crime of reckless endangerment for adults to allow an unsupervised child to gain access to a gun that results in shooting. That crime exists in 28 states.

In Georgia, a House bill would allow convicted felons who kills someone with an illegally possessed gun to claim justification under the state’s Stand Your Ground law. If the measure passes, Georgia convicted felons can’t vote, but they can legally kill someone. A second measure would allow concealed guns on college campuses, despite the opposition of 78 percent of polled Georgians.

Florida has become notorious for the effects of its Stand Your Ground law, especially after a Tampa Bay Times’ review of 200 cases found an “uneven application” and “shocking outcomes.”  State Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) has a solution for this problem: don’t let anyone find out about what happens with Stand Your Ground in Florida. He has filed an amendment to stop access to court records in self-defense cases. People found innocent in one of these cases could “apply for a certificate of eligibility to expunge the associated criminal history record.” This amendment is attached to the bill that gives Stand Your Ground immunity to anyone who fires warning shots during a confrontation.

The Sunshine State has an answer for the public health problem of gun deaths and injuries: just shut off the lights. Watch the rest of the country follow suit.

March 24, 2014

Laws Force Taxpayers to Fund Religious Studies

creationismgraphicforsocial02_sidebar A short time ago, I wrote about how taxpayers are funding public benefits for workers because of the low wages that companies like Walmart provide to their employees. Another cost to taxpayers in at least 14 states is for religious instruction. (A state-by-state breakdown of schools is available here.)  Private school tuition through voucher programs are costing taxpayers almost $1 billion to provide misinformation in science, mathematics, history, and other areas of instruction—all in the name of religion.

Court cases across the nation and at the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld the constitutional separation of church and state in schools. Public schools cannot teach creationism or intelligent design. But private schools can—and do—provide these misinformation to their students while schools receive public subsidies. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld voucher programs, even when they subsidize religious education, as long as parents who accept vouchers can choose where to spend them.

In a review of hundreds of pages of school curriculum, course outlines, textbooks, and websites, Politico discovered a “disdain of the secular world, distrust of momentous discoveries and hostility toward mainstream scientists. They often distort basic facts about the scientific method–teaching, for instance, that theories such as evolution are by definition highly speculative because they haven’t been elevated to the status of “scientific law.”  Private schools have the advantage of ignoring all standards and set their own curriculum with almost no oversight.

Taxpayers are forced to pay for curriculum that includes the religious belief that the planet is only 6,000 years old. Taxpayers fund education falsely teaching that people lived at the same time as dinosaurs. Textbooks popular in Christian schools describe evolution as “a wicked and vain philosophy,” while students practice vocabulary lessons that claim “many scientists today are creationists.” Eric Meikle, project director at the National Center for Science Education, said, “I don’t think the function of public education is to prepare students for the turn of the 19th century.”

Textbooks deride “modern math theorists” who fail to view mathematics as absolute laws ordained by God and shun “modern” breakthroughs such as set theory which was developed in the 19th century. In the classroom, math teachers set aside time tech week, even in geometry and algebra, to explore numbers in the Bible. According to these schools, mathematics laws are ordained by God.

Because of recent articles on the Internet, people are somewhat aware of the horrifying science and math curriculum in private schools. Social studies, however, suffer from the same abuses of information. Christian publishers A Beka Beook and Bob Jones University Publishing have their products in 43 percent of religious voucher schools that responded to a 2003 survey. Here is a tiny sample of what they teach. Details are available here about the religious schools view of 20th century history:

  • The Great Depression was a myth, made up rumors to spread socialism.
  • Karl Marx and Charles Darwin were responsible for Hitler and the Nazis; Germans accepted Hitler’s ideas because they accepted evolution.
  • The culture of post-World War II brought strong families and kept crime to the “back alleys.” Because of the evangelists’ crusades during the 1950s, Billy Graham was “one of the best known and respected persons in America and the world.”
  • Problems in the 1960s and 1970s came from the suspension of the death penalty and the legalization of abortion. “Prosperity and new-wound enjoyments” caused people to ‘forget’ God” with an increase in crime, the legalization of gambling, and “the teachings of Sigmund Freud.”
  • “Pornographic films and books were legalized under the guise of ‘freedom of speech.’”

Instruction in these schools on guns: “The founding fathers… understood that unarmed citizens would not be able to stand against a tyrannical government.” Gun control is a “gateway to tyranny.” Hitler, Stalin, and Mao disarmed their citizens. “Armed citizens could also play a major role in thwarting Globalism, the idea to bring the world together under ‘one global government.’ making the constitution null and void.”

Biography curriculum in private schools:

  • Clarence Thomas is the greatest example of black American achievement. (No mention of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice and champion of civil rights.)
  • Bill Clinton and Ross Perot joined forces during the 1990s to create another myth of economic crisis. “Bill Clinton had dodged military service and participated in anti-war demonstration in Great Britain.”
  • George W. Bush saved the country from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. (No mention of George W. Bush’s draft-dodging.)
  • Barack Obama should be known for his tolerance of “people who choose to live an alternative lifestyle, a ‘lifestyle’ the Bible calls sin.” The subject of homosexuality is in the chapter on “Cultural Decay.”

Critical thinking is these private schools is almost nonexistent. According to one school, “Our understanding is not complete until we filter it through God’s Word.” This is the “DISCERN” system used in thinking: Determine your choices; Inquire of God through prayer; Search the scriptures; Consider godly counsel; Eliminate worldly thinking; Recognize God’s leading; Never compromise the truth. In addition to the “Discern” method, funded by public taxes, many schools are clear about their goal to arm students against using multiculturalism in looking at the world.

About 250,000 students currently use vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. Although that’s a fraction of the country’s 55 million public school students, it has increased 30 percent since 2010. States are also planning increases: for example, Florida plans to go from $286 million this year to $700 million in 2018. The state will be joined by 26 states that are considering new voucher programs or the expansion of current ones.

A popular plan is stocking individual bank accounts with state funds that parents can spend on religious and secular tutors as well as schools. The Arizona Supreme Court has already decided that this approach is constitutional. The state plans to make more than 70 percent of the state’s students eligible for vouchers.

Arizona’s state education superintendent, John Huppenthal, has made recorded calls to thousands of parents touting the Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account. Eligible families can receive an average of $13,000 a year in public funds for their children’s education, including the purchase of materials on creationism. Huppenthal liked this public education but helped pass a state law to prevent Mexican-American studies in high schools by threatening to shut off their public funding. Only a federal court order reinstated the popular class.

Voucher supporters spend heavily to elect lawmakers who believe in this system. The American Federation for Children, a major pro-voucher group, has spent $18 million on campaigns since 2007, and the Koch group Americans for Prosperity has campaigned for private school subsidies in ten states.

New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan is personally lobbying for $150 million a year on private school subsidies. The state Senate has passed the initiative, and the Assembly has 100 co-sponsors. Information about other states is available here.

On the federal level, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has introduced a bill to consolidate dozens of federal education programs into one $24 billion funding stream for state vouchers. He disagrees that vouchers would put students into religious schools that devalue education. He cites the achievements of students in Catholic schools. Yet those students typically come from well-educated families and are far less likely to be poor, have disabilities, or still be learning English. A study controlling for these variables found that private schools have no advantage.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is pushing school choice. He said, “It is my personal goal that in 10 years, every child in America will have education opportunity through school choice no matter where they live.” Other GOP members of Congress are determined to restore Washington, D.C. vouchers in the budget.

School voucher programs are not only ineffective. These programs exacerbate the inequality within the nation’s schools and weaken the public school system as a whole. In addition, many parents receiving voucher payments already send their children to private religious schools. And taxpayers are forced to finance this abuse of the educational system.

Among the world’s most-developed countries, U.S. students are below average in math and close to average in science and reading. In 2009, 23 nations and other jurisdictions outperformed U.S. students; three years later, 29 locales do so. In science, 22 of those scored were above the U.S., up from 18 three in 2009. In 2012, U.S. students were down by 19, over double from the tenth position three years earlier. U.S. students are below Russia. The prevalence of the vouchers to religious schools will guarantee another drop when the next comparison is done next year.

March 23, 2014

Religion Tied to Contraception, Missing Aircraft, Teaching, Parades

Two big religious stories are in the news this week. One is the question of whether private businesses who declare themselves as “religious persons” have the right to deny employees equal health care to that from other businesses. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga maintain that they shouldn’t have to allow their insurance to cover free contraception because they are opposed to contraception. The case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The 2,000 sisters of the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN) oppose the denial of contraception. Their position is that any group denying contraception in insurance is equivalent to holding women hostage.

In support of the Affordable Care Act provision that mandates birth control coverage, NCAN wrote:

“NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives.”

Sister Donna Quinn, head of NCAN, said:

“This has gotten out of hand. It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women… It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”

The nuns aren’t just writing about the problem. They are circulating an online petition to the U.S. Supreme Court and holding a Faith Rally in front of the Supreme Court building on March 25. The petition states:  “The sin is not a person using birth control. The sin is denying women the right and the means to plan their families.” Fourteen religious denominations support free access to birth control as well as the women who are not affiliated with religions.

The second issue is the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.CNN and Fox are determined to connect the disaster with religious beliefs. CNN’s anchor Don Lemon has possible answers for the disappearance. One was a “supernatural” event in which God took it (maybe that it like the rapture! Another was the possibility of a “black hole.”

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s daughter, blogged that this disappearance is a “small snapshot” of what will happen with the Rapture when millions of Christians miraculously disappear. At least, CNN didn’t use this “information” as “news.”

Fox “News” Bill Hemmer used historic comparisons to discuss the long time it may take to find the aircraft. “It took us what 100 years to find the Titanic? It took us 2,000 years to find Noah’s Ark. Do we ever find Flight 370?” The first is true; the second highly questionable and totally inappropriate when announcing the news. Joe Coscarelli explained that Hemmer was referring to Evangelical Christian explorers, who claimed to have uncovered evidence of the boat’s existence—claims determined to be a hoax even by Fox News.

Bill Maher gave his own version of Noah’s Ark, calling God a “psychotic mass murderer” and the United States a “stupid country” for their belief that the biblical story is factual. Fundamental Christians took offense. Bryan Fischer argued that the story of Noah’s Ark is true and shows human free will choices that forced God to kill very living thing. Maher can say these things and live, said Fischer, because God is merciful, compassionate, and loving. God is patiently giving Maher a chance to repent and ask forgiveness, according to Fischer.

Other people who accept myths as facts are incensed about Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the television sequel to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, hosted and narrated by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. The creationist Answers in Genesis complained that Cosmos is not balanced because it doesn’t give airtime for creationism. Cosmos covers a wide range of scientific topics from Earth’s place in the universe to the origin of life. Tyson explained his concept of scientific balance: “You don’t talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say let’s give equal time to the flat-earthers.”

A Buddhist student and his parents have won a lawsuit against Negreet High School in Louisiana after the court found that the school violated the student’s religious liberty. According to the decision, sixth-grade science teacher Rita Roark violated the First Amendment when she demanded biblical answers from science questions and called the student “stupid” because he didn’t know religious answers to questions such as the age of the earth. She also maintained in class that evolution is a “stupid theory made up by stupid people who don’t want to believe in God.” When the student’s parents complained, Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebab told them to change their faith to fit “the Bible Belt” or go to another school where “there are more Asians.”

Louisiana District Judge Elizabeth Foote ordered the school to remove all of the Christian propaganda—pictures of Jesus, posters, Bible verses, official prayers, etc.  from the premises. School officials cannot initiate prayers, use class work to promote religion, sponsor a religious belief, or hold religious services at the school. Students are still permitted to pray in school and participate in religious clubs. Further:

“The District and School Board are permanently enjoined from permitting School Officials at any school within the School District to promote their personal religious beliefs to students in class or during or in conjunction with a School Event… School Officials shall not denigrate any particular faith, or lack thereof, or single out any student for disfavor or criticism because of his or her particular faith or religious belief, or lack thereof.”

The ruling demanded that the school pay $4,000 in damages to the student’s parents as well as $40,000 in court costs, a large sum for a school of a little over 500 in a district with about 4,300 students.

In another story from Louisiana, Randy Dill wants to see the Holy Bible made the “official state book,” and he persuaded Rep. Thomas Carmody to file a bill that would make this law. They both think they can succeed because the bible is Alabama’s state bible. Do I sense more lawsuits?

Murfreesboro (TN) has already spent $343,000 in a losing lawsuit to keep the Muslims from building a mosque. Now plaintiffs have gone back to court to stop the “construction and improvement of the cemetery.” The ad at the top of the article reads: “Nobody cares for you like a neighbor.”

Parade bigots who refuse to let LGBT people openly march could take a lesson from NYC Pride, the organization behind New York City’s gay pride parade. The Catholic League, led by bigot Bill Donohue applied for a float in this year’s parade with the banner, “Straight Is Great.” No problem, said the parade coordinators. “Straight is great—as long as there’s no hate.” As NYC Pride’s managing director, Chris Frederick, said:

“Straight allies are great. We have thousands of straight people participating in the Pride March, including Catholic groups, who support LGBT youth, families and married couples.”

Meanwhile Donohue has called on Catholics to boycott Guinness, Sam Adams, and Heineken because he thinks that the LGBT community bullied them to drop their sponsorship for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston. According to religious people, the First Amendment only works when it’s in their favor.

March 22, 2014

GOP Approach to Health Care

Did you hear that the House GOP members have a new health care reform plan. A couple of months ago Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said, “This year, we will rally around an alternative to ObamaCare and pass it on the floor of the House.” The House has already passed at least 51 bills about the Affordable Care Act, all of which have gone nowhere. In a more cautious approach a month later, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that his GOP leaders would have “conversations” about alternatives.

“A Stronger Health Care System: The GOP Plan for Freedom, Flexibility, & Peace of Mind” proposes expanding high-risk insurance pools, promoting health savings accounts, and inducing small businesses to combine coverage purchasing. To help the insurance companies make more money, the GOP wants the ability to buy insurance across state lines. The bill would include guaranteed policy renewability and changes in medical-malpractice regulations. Five years of secret meetings have led to this grand idea.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that the new plan would provide a side-by-side comparison of their idea with the existing one. Hopefully it will show which approach covers more uninsured, offers more consumer protections, improve the economy, and help lower costs without sacrificing the quality of care. As I said, it’s been five years ….

 The major problem of the GOP comparison may be that they don’t know any facts about the ACA. Boehner used his “simple math” to determine that fewer people have health care under ACA. As his proclamation stated, “I believe ….” Unfortunately, beliefs aren’t always the same as facts.

The people who he “believes” lost their insurance moved automatically into other policies with the same companies. The Washington Post, not known for a liberal bent, has figures showing that almost 9 million people were added to the insurance roles:


  • 3.4 million — sign-ups, assuming 80 percent paid, though February
  • 2.4 million — lowest estimate for new Medicaid enrollment through January
  • 2.2 million — young adults added to parents’ plans (2010 average to first two quarters of 2013)
  • 500,000 — off-exchange enrollments


In tracking state-by-state numbers, blogger Charles Gaba calculates the actual number of people adding insurance through mid-March at 14 million. More conservative approaches end up with at least 13 million.

Giving Boehner the benefit of the doubt that he’s not lying about the statistics, people can see that he doesn’t care about details of his information to the press. He’s pushing election-year rhetoric, and some media buy it without fact-checking. That includes his false “belief” that “tens of millions of Americans are going to lose their policies next year and the year after.”

Boehner knew he was in trouble when a journalist asked him about ACA, and he changed the subject to “jobs”—another area that the GOP is notoriously bad in addressing. He tries to attach “Obamacare” to the shortage of employment. The GOP can’t run against affordable medical care for families, so they just declare that the ACA is responsible for every problem in the country—stagnant wages, economy, etc. There’s no connection, but the GOP is working hard to make people believe this.

Meanwhile the GOP proposes one after another story about the high costs of ACA that are consistently debunked. For example, former New Hampshire GOP chair, Fergus Cullen, a free-lance writer and owner of a private company, wrote a piece for the New Hampshire Union Leader trying to show how his premiums would increase almost 20 percent in just one year of ACA. His visit to the healthcare exchange surprised him: it was easy to use, took little time, and, most amazing, saved him over $1,000 a month. And that’s without tax credits that he may be able to get for himself, his wife, and his three children.

Anyone saving this much money might be grateful and clarify the misinformation that he passed onto the public, but not Cullen. He proceeded to complain that the website knew too much about him. The ACA exchanges use the same technology that credit agencies use to provide instant credit approval—like Target that suffered information breeches for about 40 percent of the people in the United States.  If he’s shocked by the information now, wait until he signs up for Medicare and Social Security.

The fake stories about the excessive premium costs from Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity are disappearing and replaced by more vague statements. But that change, there was Wanda of Marion, Arkansas, featured front and center in $700,000 of ads. At least Wanda’s complaint about a cancellation from Blue Cross Blue Shield was more moderate than the Michigan ad falsely stating that ACA endangers the lives of cancer patients.

Not one person in Arkansas is having a private health care plan canceled. That’s because the state’s insurance providers follow federal guidelines allowing people with non-compliant plans to stay them until October 2017. Only the 100,000 people who signed up for federally-funded Medicaid, only to have the state reverse its decision to take the money, lost their health care. Only the state has cancelled anyone’s plans because they refused the ACA.

People who really care about saving money on health care would vote for universal health care, a plan promoted by the conservatives two decades ago. People in the U.S. spend an average of $8,233 a year. That’s more than two and a half times more than in most developed countries throughout the world, including France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Yet the U.S. has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than most high-income countries. People in this country are less healthy during their entire lives than people in 16 other wealthy nations. Each year it gets worse as the gap widens.

The ACA, which conservatives accuse of being “socialist,” still leaves private companies in control for those without Medicare, Veterans Care, or Medicaid, companies making more money through administrative costs and profit. A comparison of access to care, quality of care, and costs found all three are superior in Canada as compared to the United States. The U.S. pays an average of 31 percent for administrative costs; Canada pays 1.3 percent, not counting costs for private supplemental plans available to Canadians. Denmark’s administrative costs are 4.3 percent of total health care spending.

Private companies are those with staff to determine whether medical care, sometimes a matter of life and death, should be provided. Medicare, a government controlled health insurance, doesn’t do this.

Leave it to Jon Stewart to show how bad health care is in the United States.  The Daily Show is billed as a comedy show, but its interviews inexplicably succeed in uncovering the truth. A classic example is Aasif Mandvi’s interview of Fox commentator Todd Wilemon that left the conservative speechless.

Wilemon begins with the standard conservative argument:

 “The U.S. healthcare system is the best in the world. But now with Obamacare our choices have been limited. You know, people are going to be seeing this cost more. I am getting less. I am not going to be happy.”

Wilemon described a worst-case scenario:

“We have longer lines. You may have to bring your own sheets. In Russia they reuse syringes. The scenario where we could slip into Third World status would be slow, probably.”

Mandvi travels with founder of Remote Area Medical (RAM) Stan Brock, to find one of these horrible Third World places where people receive free medical services because they cannot afford healthcare. Together they find a location with shockingly poor health care, still reeling from Civil War and suffering high rates of cancer and heart disease. One-fourth of the people live in poverty. He describes these conditions to Wilemon who said:

“This is how bad it could get. If we keep going down the path of more government control, less innovation. I don’t know if we can be that place unless a great catastrophe happens in this country.”

The speechless part came when Mandvi explained that he had gone with Brock to Knoxville (TN). About 90 percent of RAM work is in the United States because of the dire conditions in this country. The speechless part lasts for 13 seconds before Wilemon came up with his answer: “If you are poor, stop being poor.” Check out the entire clip here.

The U.S. ranks 37th in the world in health care. The conservatives want to put it lower.

March 21, 2014

GOP on National Parks: Follow the Monday

Tired of trashing just people, GOP members of the U.S. House has decided to throw away the country’s most wonderful resources—the national parks. These people are in a snit because the President of the United States has had the right to declare new parks and monuments for 108 years. Rep. Bob Bishop (R-UT) introduced a bill this month that would give Congress the sole power to create new public resources. HR 1459 is called “The Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of Monuments and Parks,” but it would better be called “No New Parks.” The GOP members of Congress that wants to be responsible for our public resources has opposed every piece of legislation that would protect the environment or conserve land in the nation.

Once again, the GOP opposes what the public wants. A few months ago, three-fourths of respondents to a survey indicated that the government is not doing enough to protect national parks or public lands. In another survey, almost 70 percent of the people said they would more likely vote for a candidate who protects the environment and cares for the land.

HR 1459 is on schedule for a vote next week. That fast work is amazing for the House because bills sent over from the Senate such as immigration reform or helping the unemployed are still unattended.

Such quick action from the GOP calls on a response called “follow the money.” Bishop’s home state of Utah is sitting on a possible three trillion barrels of oil, more oil than used thus far in human history. Utah is getting ready for all this extraction with a $80-million highway into the Book Cliffs after a request from an oil shale lobby. A year ago BLM and the president allocated 800,000 acres of public lands for oil shale and tar sands leasing.  Benefiting companies are Enefit American (Estonia), Total (France), and Red Leaf Resources (Canada).

Tar sands oil is a mixture of sand, clay, and water. Usually the rock is “stripped” from the land, crushed, and then separated from the oil with the use of heat, water, and chemicals. Transport to a refinery requires dilution with some kind of petroleum solvent. As with other methods of fossil-fuel removal, tar sands oil mining uses a great deal of energy and water and causes massive and dangerous waste.

Below is the already mined Black Cliffs in Alberta and the Book Cliffs area before any mining.

black cliff alberta

book cliffs #3U.S. Oil Sands already got approval because the state’s Water Quality Division’s director, Walt Baker, doesn’t think there is any groundwater in the area in the high country between Vernal and Moab (UT). That site is called PR Spring, the name of a nearby freshwater spring, and the company plans to use groundwater for its processing. The total of that mine’s production over seven years will provide six hours of the fuel supply in the United States.

Jeremy Miller, of the environmental group Living Rivers, described the process during its seven years:

“Heavy machinery would scour bitumen from the pit around the clock … The sand and mineral fines remaining after the oil has been removed will be combined, shoved back into the pit and covered with topsoil. But processing expands such wastes by as much as 30 percent. The overflow will be dumped into surrounding ravines—a method starkly reminiscent of Appalachia’s mountaintop coal mining. And the project will create miles of light pollution, illuminating one of the country’s last great ‘dark’ regions.”

The mining company plans to use an untested “citrus-based solvent.” Miller said:

“In order to utilize the solvent, the sands must first be sent through a series of on-site crushers. Hot water is added to the resulting slurry, generating a ‘froth’ of oil, solvent, and fine sand particles. This mixture is then passed through a series of separation towers, where the crude oil is isolated. It’s then trucked to refineries in Salt Lake City for processing. Unlike conventional light crude oil, the heavy crude generated from PR Spring—like Canada’s—requires extra, energy-intensive refining steps to remove impurities, such as sulfur and heavy metals, before it can be turned into anything useful.”

arch parkThis site, however, is small compared to the largest deposit further south in the Tar Sands Triangle between Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and the Dirty Devil River Watershed. These are near some of the most beautiful places in the United States, including the red-rock canyon country of Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and inside Capitol Reef National Park.

white Canyon

[White Canyon in Natural Bridges National Monument. White Canyon, just outside the monument’s boundaries, is a designated tar sands development area. Credit: Bobby Magill]

canyonlandsTar sands mining would, in the words of BLM, “completely displace all other uses of the land.” Its environmental impact statement would mean that the air nearby could be:

“… contaminated with carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants, while air close to the site could be contaminated with benzene, toluene and formaldehyde. More than 100,000 acres of wilderness-quality land could be industrialized, construction of reservoirs would alter natural streamflow patterns, hydrocarbons and herbicides could cause ‘chronic or acute toxicity’ in wildlife and habitat for 20 threatened or endangered species could be lost.”

That was the report from the federal agency that approved the tar sands mining.

These “before and after” photos shows the change in a northern Alberta forest on the Suncor Millennium tar sands site. [Photo by Peter Essick; complete article in March 2009, National Geographic.]

tar-sands-before-after Alberta

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has asked Secretary of State John Kerry for a “comprehensive human health impacts study” analyzing the respiratory ailments, cancer and other illnesses related to harvesting and refining the dense hydrocarbon bitumen in Alberta’s oil sands. In a press conference, she said:

“The health impacts of tar sands oil are being ignored. This press conference is about waking up Americans that more tar sands coming into this country is a danger to the health of our people, all along the way, from the extraction to the transport, to the refining.”

She noted that people living near the facilities suffer from “higher rates of the types of cancers linked to these toxic chemicals, including leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” The letter to Kerry stated, “Putting more Americans at risk for asthma, cancer and other serious health impacts is not in our national interest.”

Her concern was about the pollutants from tar sands mining in Canada and piping it across the United States so that companies can make billions by shipping the product to Asia. The GOP wants tar sand mining to destroy the country’s public lands.

Water from the area targeted for the mining goes into the Colorado River watershed. Aside from taking water from a source for 30 million people, the resulting pollution would greatly damage the fragile Colorado River watershed.

Boxer needs to expand her concerns about what could happen to the land of Utah as this photo from the Alberta mines shows. Photo by Garth Lenz.

Alberta sands at night

As president, Theodore Roosevelt conserved over 230 million acres of U.S. land. He created five national parks (doubling the previously existing number); signed the landmark Antiquities Act and used its special provisions to unilaterally create 18 national monuments, including the Grand Canyon; and set aside 51 federal bird sanctuaries, four national game refuges, and more than 100 million acres’ worth of national forests. Now the Republicans want to again reject Roosevelt’s policies and destroy the beautiful lands of Utah. The GOP has one goal: follow the money.


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