Nel's New Day

April 30, 2014

Death Penalty Kills Innocent, ”Cruel & Unusual’

Law in the United States is controlled by nine people, six men and three women. It is the final recourse for injustices, and its decision determines legal edicts. That group of people is called the U.S. Supreme Court. They are not bound by any Code of Conduct or other rules.

The last court of appeals for innocent people in prison—even on death row—is the Supreme Court, now ruled by highly conservative justices. Last year, they heard a case about the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) that prevented prisoners from filing more than one “habeas corpus petition,” that sues the warden for release. After one year following the one direct appeal was lost, prisoners couldn’t even file this petition. The ruling in McQuiggin v. Perkins, however, allowed the petition at any time if new evidence could show innocence. The bar in filing the petition is high: the petitioner must show that “it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in the light of the new evidence.”

The good news is that a prisoner can appeal conviction based on new, solid evidence. The bad news is that four of the justices disagreed. Justice Antonin Scalia thinks that a man locked up for a murder that he did not commit should not be able to challenge his conviction. Three other justices think that most people in prison after unconstitutional convictions should have no recourse to federal courts. Scalia’s position is that federal courts should not overturn state convictions as long as there were minimal safeguards such as counsel and access to state appellate courts.

In 2009, Scalia wrote, “This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” Troy Davis was executed two years after Scalia’s statement although seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him at trial had recanted.

Michelle Byrom, who was on Mississippi’s death row for killing her husband, gained a new trial in April after a ruling by the state’s supreme court. Her son had admitted to killing in Byrom’s husband in several documents, including jailhouse letters and an interview with a psychologist, but then recanted on the stand. She was in the hospital with double pneumonia when her husband was killed. The court also required a different judge for the woman’s new trial. Her case, however, is highly unusual.

A study released this week shows that at least 4.1 percent of all 8,000+ defendants sentenced to death in the U.S. during the past four decades are innocent. According to lead author Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan law school, this is a conservative estimate. Scalia misrepresented the percentage at .027 percent in 2007 when he was trying to justify killing people. Between 1973 and 2004, 7,482 people received death sentences; 1,320 were executed, and 117 were exonerated. About 2,675 people were taken off death row, but most of them were sentenced to life without parole.

In 1972, the Supreme Court ruling in Furman v. Georgia voided 40 death penalty statutes and suspended the death penalty. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, eight states joined the ten states that had already eliminated the death penalty, six of them in the past six years. Connecticut and Maryland stopped executing people since the map below was published. Click here to see the number of executions since 1976.

death penalty in america

In 35 states, approximately 3,095 inmates are waiting to be executed. Although Connecticut, Maryland, and New Mexico have abolished the death penalty, the law is not retroactive. Prisoners on death row in those states will still be executed. Since 1976, 1,374 have been executed—if you count the botched killing in Oklahoma last night.

Because execution drugs are so hard to obtain, some states are increasingly reluctant to divulge the sources. After the U.S. confiscated the drug sodium thiopental because of questions about where it was obtained, Tennessee hides any information about execution drugs. Only six executions were carried out in Tennessee in over one-half century, but the state has now scheduled 11 of them. The last person executed in the state, Steve Henley, died in 2009 saying that he was innocent.

Oklahoma is now center stage in the death penalty business. Last night, Clayton Lockett struggled violently on the gurney for 13 minutes after the execution began. Doctors stopped the drug injection and tried to resuscitate him, only to have Lockett die of a massive coronary 30 minutes later. An execution scheduled two hours after that of Lockett’s was postponed for two weeks. That’s not the entire story, however.

The state’s supreme court had ordered a stay of execution because the composition and source of the execution drugs were kept secret. Despite this decision, Gov. Mary Fallin said that she would continue with the execution, and the supreme court backed off. The lethal drugs were untested; the United States has been unable to purchase execution drugs from its past source, Europe, for several years.

Oklahoma should have learned its lesson last January when Michael Wilson complained “I feel my whole body burning” as he was being executed in that state. The same month, Dennis McGuire made snorting and gasping sounds for ten minutes and then lived for another 14 minutes before he died in Ohio from an untested two-drug method, resulting in a delay of the next execution until November and a plan to use more drugs.

This failure to execute people without “cruel and unusual punishment” is more common that many people realize. Between 1890 and 2010, three percent of all executions were botched, and lethal injections had the highest error rate—about seven percent. In addition, electric chairs have caught on fire, and hangings have led to decapitations. Gov. Jeb Bush suspended the death penalty in Florida after Angel Diaz had to be given two injections and the killing took more than 30 minutes. The suspension was lifted 18 months later under a new governor.

According to Jimmy Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, “the United States is the only country in NATO or North America that still executes its citizens, and Belarus and Suriname are the only exceptions in the Europe and South America…. One hundred forty-three countries have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice…; 90 percent of all executions are carried out in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.”

Evidence shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder and other violent crimes because of the prevalence of these in the United States. The homicide rate in this country is almost three times greater than in Canada or any Western European country. In the U.S., Southern states have the highest murder rate while they perform over 80 percent of the executions, 35 percent of them in just Texas.

Executions increase homicide rates before, during, and immediately following these tragedies as people become desensitized to killing. The line of thinking is that if the government can kill enemies for vengeance, so should everyone else. Many law enforcement officials have also become desensitized. Susan Green, editor of The Colorado Independent, said the shortage of drugs for execution in Texas led the assistant Oklahoma attorney general to joke with a Texas colleague that he might be able to help Texas get the drugs in exchange for 50-yard-line tickets for a top college football game between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas. Emails revealed not only this exchange but also the fact that leftover lethal drugs were injected into the bodies of dead prisoners in what officials called “disposal purposes.”

Both prisoners to be executed last night are black, an example of the extreme bias against minorities, the poor, and those with diminished mental capacity. Scalia has said that it’s okay to execute mentally disabled people because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t rule against executing people with mental illness and diminishment except in severe cases. Homicide victims are six times more likely to be black than white, but 77 percent of death penalty cases involve white victims. Of death row inmates, 56 percent are black or Hispanic; 20 percent of the blacks were convicted by all-white juries.

The percentage of people in the United States who support the death penalty has gone from 80 percent in 1994 to 60 percent in 2013. Most older and white people support it, while young people are less enthusiastic, and ethnic minorities are solidly opposed. These are the people who hold the future in their voting records. The death of Clayton Lockett may also make a difference.

April 29, 2014

Obamacare Terrifies GOP Leaders

What happens when GOP leaders accidentally tell the truth? There’s a lot of backpedalling!

What Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said last week:

“We need to look at reforming the exchanges.”

The news that over 600,000 residents in Washington state probably led her to say that the Affordable Care Act will persist with reforms occurring within that structure.

What Rodgers said this week via her spokesman Nate Hodson:

“The headline is not an accurate or representative portrayal of what the congresswoman said in the interview, what her voting record reflects, or what she believes. She will continue fighting to repeal Obamacare at every opportunity moving forward and replace it with patient-centered reforms.”

What House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said last week:

“[To] repeal Obamacare … isn’t the answer. The answer is repeal and replace. The challenge is that Obamacare is the law of the land. It is there and it has driven all types of changes in our health care delivery system. You can’t recreate an insurance market overnight.”

About immigration, Boehner blamed rank-and-file House Republicans for the lack of immigration reform and ridiculed them for an unwillingness to work hard.

What Boehner said this week:

“There was no mocking. Listen, you all know me. You tease the ones you love. But some people misunderstood what I had to say. And I wanted to make sure that members understood that the biggest impediment we have in moving immigration reform forward is [the president].”

People who watch the video of Boehner’s mocking his own party members might disagree with his assessment. Spokesman Brendan Buck tried to cover for Boehner’s comments about the ACA: “For four years now, the House Republican position has been repeal-and-replace.”

That’s not necessarily true:

  • 2012: Boehner said, “It’s pretty clear that the president was re-elected. Obamacare is the law of the land.”
  • 2013: Boehner shut down the federal government using, in part, the opposition to the ACA.
  • 2014: Boehner said that the ACA is “the law of the land” and full repeal “isn’t the answer.”

Would the real John Boehner please stand up?

Scott Brown, briefly a GOP Massachusetts senator now running for the same office in New Hampshire, also demonstrates the GOP confusion related to the Affordable Care Act. Because opposition to Obamacare helped elect him to senate in 2010, much of his current campaign is based on his opposition to the ACA. He has declared Obamacare a disaster and want a plan that sounds almost exactly like the ACA:

“I’ve always felt that people should either get some type of health care options, or pay for it with a nice competitive fee. That’s all great. I believe it in my heart. In terms of preexisting conditions, catastrophic coverage, covering kids–whatever we want to do, we can do it.”

This is his position for New Hampshire healthcare:

“As a matter of fact, in New Hampshire, I would encourage everybody to do a New Hampshire plan that works for New Hampshire, that deals with individual freedoms, and doesn’t have mandates put on by bureaucrats in Washington … a plan that is good for New Hampshire … can include the Medicaid expansion folks who need that care and coverage.”

Throughout the country, GOP candidates are campaigning on an anti-ACA platform that replaces it with the existing ACA provisions:

  • Thom Tillis (NC GOP Senate candidate) says that of course he supports protecting people with preexisting conditions, just not with Obamacare.
  • Tom Cotton and Terri Lynn Land (AR and MI GOP Senate candidates) want to expand health care to those who need it but don’t take positions on state Medicaid expansions.

Voters need to ask GOP candidates these questions:

  • What do they intend to replace the ACA with?
  • How many consumers would lose coverage if Republicans have their way?
  • What’s wrong with Medicaid expansion?
  • Why would they oppose the ACA’s most popular provisions?
  • How does one endorse ACA goals while condemning the ACA policy?

One man, Dean Angstadt, represents everything that terrifies GOP candidates and legislators. A self-employed logger, he refused to have anything to do with the ACA because he thinks that the Democrats are “full of it.” Yet the worry about his faulty aortic valve led him to either use the ACA to buy a health plan for life-saving surgery or die. The pacemaker and defibrillator implants that helped his heart three years ago weren’t working any longer. He hoped to save money for surgery but couldn’t work to make the money.

Luckily he had a friend who persuaded him to sign up for health insurance through the ACA and pay his premium of $26.11. His plan started on March 1, and his surgery for life-saving valve replacement was on March 31. Angstadt said, “Not only did it save my life, it’s going to give me a better quality of life.”

He continued, “For me, this isn’t about politics. I’m trying to help other people who are like me, stubborn and bullheaded, who refused to even look. From my own experience, the ACA is everything it’s supposed to be and, in fact, better than it’s made out to be. A lot of people I talk to are so misinformed about the ACA.”

Conservatives like the Koch brothers pay for ads to keep Angstadt and others like him from signing up for health care. He learned that they were wrong, and he’s alive to tell others that opposition to “Obamacare” is wrong.

Not everyone will be as lucky as Angstadt. Despite the 13 million people who got healthcare because of the ACA, over half the states refuse to expand Medicaid with federal money. Other court challenges could do away with the ACA in another nine states. The body count of preventable deaths in states that refuse Medicaid expansion is from 7,115 to 17,104. Opt-out states will have 712,037 more people with depression, and 240,700 more people suffering catastrophic medical expenditures. Another 422,553 people won’t get medication for diabetes, and another 443,677 women won’t get pap smears to detect cancer.

gop_obamacare_body_count

In just Rick Perry’s Texas, up to 3,000 people will needlessly die, joined by 671 from Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, 1,176 in Nathan Deal’s Georgia, 2,221 in Rick Scott’s Florida, and 1,145 in Pat McGrory’s North Carolina. These deaths can be directly tracked to the state governors and legislators.

Medicaid refusers are states that already have the lowest Medicaid benefits to working adults. These are places where people with below-poverty incomes don’t qualify for Medicaid but can’t get tax credits for coverage on the insurance exchanges. Leaders in these states condemn thousands of people to death because they refuse money from the federal government.

left out people

States even lose money by refusing federal funding. For example, Georgia refused $33 billion in Medicaid funding during the next decade and has to make up the difference of Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments. Federal funding would have meant an annual $60 million and coverage of 27,000 uninsured patients for Grady Memorial Hospital instead of a $45-million loss. A fourth rural hospital announced it was closing its doors in February after a shortage of patients who can pay their medical expenses. Savannah’s Memorial Hospital is losing about $50 million in annual subsidies. And that’s just one state out of the 25 refusing ACA funding.

The shame of these states is their refusal to help the most vulnerable—at no cost to themselves. All because of politics. The states of shame are largely those who vote Republican. And those states are the unhealthiest in the country.

uninsured

April 28, 2014

Tea Party Follows Fallacies of Ayn Rand

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:26 PM
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Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is once again on the campaign trail, trying to convince people that he has great concern for the poor—although it’s their fault if they live in an inner city. Ryan gets his ideas from Ayn Rand’s books, and Matt Yglesias has superbly summarized the Ryan policy to help the poor: “Rich people should pay lower taxes, middle class and working class people should pay more taxes, and poor people should get less food, medicine, and college tuition.”

It’s been over 50 years since I read Atlas Shrugged, but the book just won’t disappear, thanks to the irrational desires of white males to elevate Ayn Rand to sainthood. In a nutshell, Rand depicts corporate CEOs and one-percenters as the selfless heroes who will save society with all other people villains because they’re trying to drag down the rich instead of worshipping them in gratitude.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) required campaign staffers to read the book until he ran for president and felt he had to repudiate Rand’s atheism. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who drove the country into a recession, was part of Rand’s inner circle. His reason for opposition to regulation of financial markets came from her maxim that business greed protected the public, that old fairy tale that the wealthy are job-creators. After he left office, Greenspan admitted he got it all wrong before he tried to cover his tracks and give excuses for his damage to the country.

Adam Lee has provided ten lessons that Atlas Shrugged teaches:

All  good and trustworthy people are handsome, and all evil people are ugly. The heroes are distinctively Aryan with steely blue eyes and ash-blond hair.

A great businessman typically sneers at the idea of public safety. Heroic and decisive capitalists dive into dangerous situations and use only their gut for decisions. As heroine Dagny Taggart said, “When I see things, I see them.” Rand’s morality includes the success of bribing officials.

Democracy rewards bad guys, and violence rewards good guys. Members of Congress—the villains—voted for the Equalization of Opportunity Bill, forcing big companies to break up. The good guy, however, killed a state legislator before he could vote to pass a law stopping the good guy from finishing his railroad track and then threw a government official down three flights of stairs for offering him a loan.  Another Rand hero blows up his own oil fields because the government passed new regulations on rail shipping.

The government has never invented anything or done any good for anyone. Everyone who works for the government is a leech or bumbling incompetent. No mention of radar, space flight, nuclear power, GPS, computers, and the Internet brought about by government research.

Violent jealousy and degradation are signs of true love. Dagny’s first lover physically abuses and rapes her; her second one is a married man who leaves her bruised and bloody before he calls her a whore. Both men are Rand’s heroes; in her world, women are meant to be subservient to men. “The most feminine of all aspects [is] the look of being chained.” To Rand, a woman being the dominant partner in a relationship was “metaphysically inappropriate.”

All natural resources are limitless. To Rand, there is no end to land for homesteading, trees for cutting, coal for mining, and fossil fuels for drilling. Government bureaucrats invent environmental laws to punish and destroy successful businessmen. Fiction supercedes the laws of thermodynamics as Rand’s protagonists discover a motor that produces limitless energy for free because it runs on “atmospheric static electricity.”

Pollution and advertisements are beautiful; wilderness is ugly and useless. Rand describes New York City as cradled in “sacred fires” from the surrounding smokestacks and heavy industrial plants. In the pristine wilderness of Wisconsin, Rand’s hero says, “What I’d like to see is a billboard.”

Crime doesn’t exist, even in areas of extreme poverty. The only violence in Atlas Shrugged is government employees’ stealing the wealth of the rich at gunpoint to give to the poor. No burglary, no muggings, no bread riots, no street crime—although society circles down into poverty and economic depression. None of the wealthy worries about personal safety while the members of the elite mysteriously disappear.

The only thing that matters is success at making money.

“There’s nothing of any importance in life — except how well you do your work. Nothing. Only that. Whatever else you are, will come from that. It’s the only measure of human value. All the codes of ethics they’ll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people of their virtues. The code of competence is the only system of morality that’s on a gold standard.”

Smoking is good for you. Like Rand, most of the novels’ heroes smoke, for good reason, according to a cigarette vendor:

“I like cigarettes, Miss Taggart. I like to think of fire held in a man’s hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips … When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind—and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression.”

A heavy smoker, Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged before she developed lung cancer and had a lung removed with the help of government funding.  Worth today’s equivalent of $1.2 million when she died, she still took Social Security and Medicare because she needed the system for help.

In Business Insider, Max Nisen pointed out ways in which businessmen shouldn’t hold up Atlas Shrugged as a model:

Return to the gold standard: Ben Bernanke, former chair of the Federal Reserve, said that the wild fluctuations in inflation would return under the gold standard because it is unstable and bad for business.

The belief that successful people are inherently superior and frequently victims: Helping people achieve instead of looking down on them is true leadership.

Suggestion that people can and should be motivated only by money or trade: Many people are better motivated by doing something they consider worthwhile, including giving help to people. Any business owner who fails to understand this will lose talented employees.

A contemptuous view of customers: Rand promotes the idea that anyone who takes assistance is contemptible and should be avoided at all costs, not a good business model.

The perception of government as antagonist: Like the rest of the novel, government is a caricature. Good businessmen know that their success depends on infrastructure and property laws, especially intellectual property laws. That’s what they get from government.

A new generation will now be introduced to the third part of Atlas Shrugged as a new movie, including Rob Morrow, is scheduled to be released on September 12 of this year. The producer hopes “to draw a connection between the political implications in Atlas to the midterm elections and use the film as an opportunity to show their support for Atlas’ message of freedom and the rights of the individual.” Because the first two parts did badly at the box office, the movie had to be partially funded by donations from the general public.

A close attachment to Rand, however, may be awkward for conservatives. She was pro-abortion, supporting sexual freedom, and, worst of all for conservatives, an atheist. Her rejection of self-sacrifice included the idea of a god to whom a person should be subservient. The concept of Original Sin requires guilt, mandating atonement by attending to the “rotting sores” of others. To Rand, all altruism is evil. Rand described Jesus’ teachings as “the best kindergarten for Communism.”

The problem with Rand’s books, other than the fact that they are badly written, is that they are not balanced. Individual freedom and equality are prized by Western democracies but not at the cost of creating a huge gulf in equality. Large disparity in power eliminates individual freedom and equality because there is no longer ability for everyone to act freely.

Rand’s form of libertarianism and objectivism acts as a cult because it requires power differentials between leader and follower. No one is allowed to criticize. Libertarians claim “Reason,” using the term so that anyone who disagrees is “unreasonable.” Objectivism is simply a form of hedonism, not an objective approach. Both are absolute, allowing no possibility for thinking and change.

People love Rand’s polemics because they can behave selfishly without guilt. Following Rand, however, would only lead to the crumbling of the nation’s entire infrastructure and the destruction of the planet because the wealthy and the corporations only want the instant gratification of making more and more money. In truth, they are the leeches on the rest of us because they take everything from the people who actually work. Generally, the role of government, no matter how much some people hate it, is to keep the rich from taking everything from everyone else.

April 27, 2014

Is Religion Becoming More Reasonable?

The question surrounding some of this week’s religion news is whether the idea of separation of church and state is getting through to a few people. For example, a proposal in Louisiana have the Christian Bible as the state book has been dropped. State Rep. Thomas Carmody said that the bill had become a distraction. (I wonder if he actually meant “embarrassment.”)

State Rep. Wesley Bishop had earlier warned Carmody about potential difficulties: “You cannot separate Christianity from the Bible. If you adopt the Bible as the official state book, you also adopt Christianity as the state religion…. We are going to open ourselves up to a lawsuit.”

People in the U.S. military who don’t want to be classified as atheist but maintain reason over faith can now be classified as “humanist.”  In the military, 3.6 percent of members consider themselves humanists.

kamalaMarvel Comics has gone beyond acceptance of gender and sexual orientation diversity by introducing a Muslim teenager from New Jersey as the newest superhero. Kamala Khan’s shapeshifting superpowers are written to explore ideas not only of identity and coming of age but also of faith. Although not the first comic book to feature a Muslim superhero, the new Ms. Marvel is the first to headline her own comic book.

For the first time, a pope has taken responsibility for the ‘‘evil’’ of priests who raped and molested children. Pope Francis asked forgiveness from the victims and promised that the church would be even bolder in protecting youth. Last month he named four women and an abuse survivor to a sex abuse advisory panel to address the sanctioning of bishops who cover for pedophiles. Pope John Paul II denounced children-abusing priests, and Pope Benedict XVI said he was regretful when he met with victims. Neither one took personal responsibility for these crimes or asked for forgiveness.

After the Boy Scouts of America revoked the troop charter of Seattle-area Rainier Beach United Methodist Church because the scoutmaster is gay, Pastor Monica Corsaro published a statement in Time, explaining why they are supporting Geoff McGrath. Earlier this week, the Boy Scouts of America revoked the troop charter of a Seattle-area United Methodist Church because the church would not boot the scoutmaster Geoff McGrath, a married, gay Eagle Scout. Monica Corsaro, the pastor of the church, explains why:

“Putting him in the leadership of this troop would reflect and live out the values of our congregation, and that we would not have a troop at Rainier Beach UMC unless it was fully inclusive, because that is who we are.”

Corsaro’s entire column is well-worth reading.

homeless statueIn a wealthy Davidson (NC) community, a statue of a homeless Jesus lies on a park bench outside St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, an installation that has resulted in great controversy. From the woman who called the police because she thought it was actually a homeless person to the Rev. David Buck who said that “it gives authenticity to the church,” the responses show how people perceive their relationship to the god that they worship. Just the NPR article got over 1,000 responses, some of them very angry. One end result is that more churches plan to install replicas of this statue. Buck is a brave man.

Although a Supreme Court ruling in Alabama is horrible, the blatantly unconstitutional statements from Chief Justice Roy Moore may overturn the ruling. The issue of Hicks v. Alabama is whether women who use drugs during pregnancy can be charged with child endangerment. Hicks argued that the word “child” in the chemical-endangerment statute did not apply to an unborn child, but eight of the nine justices disagreed with that position.

Moore not only used biblical references in his arguments but also continued the myth that United States law is based on religion: “I write separately to emphasize that the inalienable right to life is a gift of God that civil government must secure for all persons—born and unborn…. When it was signed by our Founding Fathers in 1776, the Declaration returned to first principles of God, His law, and human rights and government.” He also claimed that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration with Sir William Blackstone’s legal treatise in mind,“that God’s law was superior to all other laws.”

Like other fundamentalist Christians, Moore is trying to rewrite history: Jefferson’s reference in the Declaration of Independence is to a deistic “Creator.” Moore’s belief that the right to life is divine and should be enforced by government is made moot by the First Amendment. His references to the Nazi officials tried for crimes against humanity in Nuremberg, Germany, after World War II compared them to others, like the pregnant woman, who should be found guilty of crimes although they have not broken any laws. To Moore, divine law should receive preference over secular law.

Roy Moore is well known for his disdain toward the First Amendment. After he refused to remove a two-ton Ten Commandments from the state judicial building in the 1990s, he was sued. Despite losing, he kept the monument and defended himself by saying, “Actually, the organic law of our country establishes God as the basis for our justice system.” An ethics panel unanimously found that he had “willfully and publicly” disobeyed the law and removed him as Chief Justice, but he was re-elected in 2012.

American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer has determined that “there are consequences” for those making “foolish declarations.” He referred to the boycott of the Christian rock band Jars of Clay after lead singer, Dan Haseltine, supported for marriage equality. Maybe Fischer will understand the consequences for Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty for his anti-LGBT, anti-black comments instead of seeing this as the “persecution” of the Religious Right.

Logic, however, is not the strong suit of fundamental Christians. Thirteen states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books despite the Lawrence v. Texas ruling legalizing sodomy throughout the United States. To clean out meaningless laws from the state books, a Louisiana legislator introduced a bill to remove the anti-sodomy law. The House voted to keep the law 67-27 with 11 members abstaining.

sodomy necropheliaLouisiana’s legislative illogic comes in with their legalization of necrophilia. It is one of four states that does not explicitly ban the practice of having sex with dead bodies. [map] Three other states—Nebraska, New Mexico, and Vermont—also have not banned necrophilia, but these states have no anti-sodomy laws.

Some states think that necrophilia is banned under prevention of “crimes against nature” or classify it as a sexual assault against a person who can’t give consent. That premise didn’t work in Wisconsin. Three young men arrested for trying to exhume a corpse for sex were charged with attempted sexual assault for intent to have sex with an unwilling party. An appeals court threw out their conviction with the position that state law doesn’t recognize a corpse as a person, removing consent as an issue. The Supreme Court did reinstate the conviction on shaky grounds with a 5-2 vote.

Being Christian can be dangerous. Marco Gusmini, 21, was crushed and died when a giant crucifix in the Italian Alpine village of Cevo fell on him. Dedicated to Pope John Paul II in 1998, the 98-foot-high cross crashed down during a ceremony three days before today’s historic canonization for the late pope and his predecessor, Pope John XXIII.

crucifix

Sainthood for John XXIII was fast-tracked as Francis did away with the traditional requirement of two vetted and verified miracles in exchange for a nun reporting in 1966 that he allegedly cured her of gastrointestinal hemorrhaging after she appealed to “the Good Pope.” Francis has already elevated saints with not one confirmed miracle. Some Catholics see saints as good PR, especially when the Vatican wants to build its membership in Africa and Asia. Polish Monsignor Slawomir Oder said that the proclamation of saints “helps strengthen the faith of the people.”

Meanwhile, there was evidently no indication of Marco Gusmini’s death during today’s ceremony. Maybe his village will remember him.

April 26, 2014

Loss of Net Neutrality = Loss of Free Speech

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:20 PM

Rights and freedom are taking a beating this week from all three legs of the government. President Obama is traveling around Asia trying to get them to support the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that will take away the last vestige of U.S. public control over corporations and move more jobs offshore. A theory for trade agreements is that economic interdependence will stop military conflicts by transferring power from governments to corporations. History shows that it never has.

The latest government move is to put corporations in control of the Internet through buying faster connecting times. Reclassifying broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service regulated in the public interest would benefit the vast majority of the people in the United State.

New rules in Europe outlaw attempts by telecom or cellphone carriers to charge content providers for better access to their networks, but the new FCC chair and former cable industry lobbyist, Tom Wheeler, wants to do just that.

By allowing Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Time Warner Cable and Verizon to charge extra fees to companies such as Netflix and Google for preferential treatment, the FCC guarantees that those who pay the most reach the end-users first. Instead of Net Neutrality, it starts Net Wars. The payola proposal stops big service providers from any desire to upgrade networks or respond to customers’ needs because they profit from unnecessary congestion.

Startups, nonprofits, independent content creators, and everyday Internet users are the losers while ISPs can favor their own content and control the information passed along the Internet. In addition, companies will raise prices because they have to pay for the privilege of sending their messages faster.

The term “network neutrality” or “net neutrality” means that every bit of data should be treated equally. Common carriage obligations for telephone lines meant that land lines could not discriminate or deny anyone service. When the FCC reclassified broadband in 2005, ISPs became an information provider instead of a telecommunications service which meant that they no longer had the common carriage obligations. At this time, ISPs can slow down service for companies unless they pay more. Netflix is an example. They recently improved download quality for movies by paying blackmail to Comcast.

Cable companies in the U.S. already charge far more than many other places in the world—about $60 for broadband as compared to a service that costs them $5 to provide. Yet they always want more money.

Wheeler denies that he plans new rules to allow “pay for priority” instead of Net Neutrality, yet inside sources confirmed that the new rule gives broadband providers “the ability to enter into individual negotiations with content providers … in a commercially reasonable matter.” If true, this position will remove the possibility of free speech from the Internet and make it unequal for U.S. society.

People opposed to Net Neutrality claim that the disappearance of free speech from the Internet is just a false conspiracy theory. Yet there have been “incidents” that show what could become common if Wheeler gets his way:

  • AT&T jammed of a rock star’s political protest during an August 2007 performance. The ISP shut off the sound as lead singer Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam sang, “George Bush, leave this world alone” and “George Bush find yourself another home.” The supposed reason was “excessive profanity,” but there was no profanity.
  • Comcast used deep packet inspection in 2007 to block file transfers from customers using BitTorrent, eDonkey, and Gnutella. AP verified that it was not related to network congestion.  throttling of online file-sharing through BitTorrent. Critics noted that Comcast hoped to sell online video itself. After the FCC took action against Comcast, it stopped but then challenged the FCC order in court and won, leading to the current crisis of enforcing network neutrality.
  • Verizon Wireless censored NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2007 by cutting off access to a text-messaging program used to send messages to NARAL supporters. Verizon claimed that it would not service programs from any group “that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.” It reversed its censorship only after widespread public outrage.
  • Telus blocked a striking workers’ web site in 2005; Internet subscribers could not access a website run by the union on strike against Telus.

After the federal court decision earlier this year eliminating FCC’s open Internet rules, Wheeler claimed that his rules “will restore the concepts of Net Neutrality consistent with the court’s ruling in January.” The court actually gave the FCC the right to pursue true Net Neutrality instead of creating greater discrimination. The court specifically stated that Internet users can send and receive information free from ISP interference if the FCC classifies ISPs as telecom carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.

Wheeler needs at least two more votes on the Commission before he can put the rules to the public for its comments, and final rules won’t be issued until late summer at the earliest. The FCC needs to be told that it can have “net neutrality” by designating broadband companies as “common carriers” under the law.  Brazil has just passed the first Internet Bill of Rights in the World. The people of the United States deserve no less.

Retired FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said:

“What we’re really seeing here is the transformation of the Internet where the 1 percent get the fast lanes, and the 99 percent get the slow lanes. If we let that happen, we have really undercut the potential of this transformative technology. This has to be stopped.”

Following are ways to take action: t

Sign a petition.

Write members of the FCC:

 

 

 

Call and contact commissioner’s offices: 1-888-225-5322.

Call your elected representatives: 202-224-3121.

Save your free speech!

 

April 25, 2014

Justices Need Mandated Code of Conduct

The job of judges is to determine whether laws are constitutional. The United States has an elaborate judicial system that terminates in the U.S. Supreme Court where nine president-appointed and Senate-approved justices are the final say for everything. They can stop fairness in voting, permit unlimited, hidden campaign donations, and reinstate racist policies just by having a majority—usually five justices—ruling in favor of or against a position and calling it constitutional.

A series of studies may show how the justices determine what they consider “constitutional.” A phenomenon called “motivated reasoning” indicates that brains are not capable of disinterested reasoning. Brains reject information not in accord with strongly held beliefs. For example, common conservative misconceptions such as the beliefs that President Obama is a Muslim or the healthcare act authorizes “death panels” are perpetuated, no matter how much factual information people are provided.

Liberals also suffer from “motivated reasoning.” The brains of strong partisans of either parties resist unflattering information about their party’s presidential candidate. Yale Law Professor Dan Kahan and three colleagues studied this by taking brain scans of these people while processing negative information about the preferred candidate. They discovered that the area of the brain connected with calm, reasoned activity demonstrated little activity while processing this information. When presented with uncomfortable information about a candidate, the portion of the brain connected with emotion distress became active until it found a way to rationalize the material. The centers related to positive feelings then turned on, much in the same way as when drug addicts get their “fix,” according to Westen. Committed partisans are addicted to retraining their commitments.

When approving Supreme Court justices, senators have tried to select ones that are not ideological wild cards. Although Justice David Souter, a George H.W. Bush nominee, was quite moderate, the GOP began the cry, “No more Souters!”

At the same time, a president works to have ideologically supportive nominees who will not undo his policies. Yet strongly partisan justices are the worst choices for the Supreme Court, that carries a lifetime appointment with no mandate to follow the Code of Conduct required for all other judges. Supreme Court justices answer to no one except their consciences.

Motivated reasoning studies show that these consciences will convince them that their personal partisan preferences provide the correct reason. Studies show that highly partisan justices may more easily reach partisan decisions after listening to strong counterarguments.

The test subjects in the studies usually have strong feelings about the subject. In routine cases, justices may manage a more impartial approach. It is, however, the politically charged decisions that more seriously affect a majority of people in the nation. The Affordable Care Act, abortion, voting rights, business interests, religion, minority rights, marriage equality—all these resonate greatly with a majority of the justices. In almost all cases dealing with these issues, the votes of at least two-thirds of the justices seem to be predetermined before they hear any arguments.

No one points out the peccadilloes of people better than humorists, and Andy Borowitz is one of the best. Here are some of his viewpoints on recent SCOTUS rulings:

About McCutcheon v. FEC that vastly increases the amount of money that the wealthy can donate to political campaigns:

“Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts summarized the rationale behind the Court’s decision: ‘In recent years, this Court has done its level best to remove any barriers preventing the wealthiest in our nation from owning our government outright. And while the few barriers that remained were flimsy at best, it was high time that they be shredded as well.’

“Citing the United States Constitution, Justice Roberts wrote, ‘Our founding fathers created the most magnificent democracy in human history. Now, thanks to this decision, the dream of owning that democracy is a reality.’

“Justice Antonin Scalia also weighed in, telling reporters at the Court, ‘After all the pro-gay decisions we’ve been making around here lately, it was nice to finally have a win for the good guys.’”

About Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus that SCOTUS heard last week regarding whether political campaign advertising can knowingly lie. The ruling has not yet been announced.

“The Court [argued] that ‘any attempt to restrict or punish lying by politicians is an unconstitutional infringement on a religion they have practiced for decades.’

“The Court’s decision won praise from politicians of both parties, with many saying that the Justices’ recognition of lying as a religion was ‘long overdue.’

“Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts argued, ‘For politicians, lying is a religious observance akin to attending a church or a synagogue, except that they do it seven days a week.’”

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thompson have been the most open outside the court to announce their opinions. Both Scalia and Thomas take money from right-wing groups before judging on cases in which their decisions directly benefit these groups. Any judge outside the Supreme Court would be required to recuse themselves in these cases.

Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, has been instrumental in founding and operating far-right groups with anonymous donations made possible by Citizens United, which Justice Thomas helped pass in 2010.

Scalia suggested that people “revolt” if they think their taxes are too high. He made this comment at the same time that Cliven Bundy called the radical self-appointed militia to help him in his revolt against paying his debts to the government.

While Scalia distorts the constitution, he rails against any judges who disagree with him, calling them “activist judges” and saying that judges like these started the Holocaust. He also talks about the importance of “natural law,” which translates as Biblical or Christian law with no respect for civil law.

Another current case in which Scalia has a conflict of interest is McCullen v. Coakley, deciding on whether women’s clinics in Massachusetts can be allowed buffer zones. Scalia’s wife, Maureen Scalia, is an anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy counselor” for the anti-abortion group Nurturing Network. The purpose of these crisis pregnancy clinics is to stop women from terminating their pregnancies.

Many Supreme Court justices can no longer put aside their viewpoints, usually far right, in making their decisions. The rulings have shown a strong pro-business bent to the detriment of citizens’ civil rights. It’s time to pass a law forcing them to follow the same Code of Conduct that all other judges in the United States must comply with instead of letting them run amok.

April 24, 2014

Ten Reasons to Vote Republican

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:56 PM
Tags: , , ,

From Ryan Denson who lives in Scottsdale (AZ), founder and operator of The Left Compass, a grassroots page on Facebook that promotes Democratic ideas and passions.

Tea Party lunatic Allen West, who lost his bid for reelection  in 2012, is also somewhat of a comedian. On his personal page, allenbwest.com, West posted a rather funny article called the “Top 10 Reasons to Vote Democrat in 2014.” The article lays out just what you would expect: liberals are taking your money, liberals want to take your guns, liberals elect activist judges to “rewrite the Constitution,” etc. etc. Very funny, coming from the guy who nearly has a 3:1 lie-to-truth ratio on Politifact. West, who does not shy away from controversy, told his readers that they would “get a kick” out of it. So to our readers, you’ll certainly get a kick, and a sucker punch with this.

10. I’ll vote Republican because even though I’m a woman, I love being told that I shouldn’t be paid equally because of the “free-market.” I also love being told that I’m not allowed conteception, or my legal right to an abortion (but a man can have Viagra and penis pumps no problem).

9. I’ll vote Republican because we must suffer the deaths of 31,000 men, women and children a year in order to preserve the option of assassinating our democratically elected politicians with our guns we bought at Walmart.

8. I’ll vote Republican because I work hard for my money, and nothing makes me happier than my tax dollars going to subsidize Big Oil and the major banks that crashed our economy in 2008. I also love that the Republicans are blaming the “lazy” minority for my economic woes.

7. I’ll vote Republican because I believe a President who gives Americans healthcare is a “terrorist dictator” but a tax-evading rancher in Nevada who uses women as human shields is a “patriot.”

6. I’ll vote Republican because we are the “pro-life” party, even though our deepest cuts go to feeding, housing, clothing, educating and medically treating low-income children, elderly and returning veterans.

5. I’ll vote Republican because rather than admitting our world’s climate is changing, I’ll sit around with my thumb up my butt and deny science so billionaires like the Koch Brothers can pollute the Earth and give more to my campaign.

4. I’ll vote Republican because even though our Founding Fathers have claimed we are not a “Christian Nation,” I still want my Christian faith to dictate who can and cannot get married, what children may learn in public schools, and what holidays may and may not be celebrated in public.

3. I’ll vote Republican because every judge who upholds the right to get married, to get an abortion, or be treated like a decent human being is an “activist judge,” but the judges who allow dirty money to pollute our elections are “freedom-loving.”

2. I’ll vote Republican because I support the gap between the richest and the middle class to widen because our policies only pander to the rich, and then complain that there is “class warfare” against us.

And finally, the number 1 reason I’ll be voting Republican:

1. I’ll vote Republican because I can’t get over the fact that President Obama was democratically elected twice, so I’ll make up a barrage of fake scandals like voter fraud, IRS, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, FEMA camps, to dumb down and inject fear into the GOP base so they don’t see how destructive our policies are.

These are the top 10 reasons why we MUST let the GOP take back the Senate and keep control of the House!

[Give this to all your Republican friends!–Nel Ward]

 

April 23, 2014

U.S. Becomes Oligarchy

It’s official! Instead of a democracy, the United States is now an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, according to a study to appear this fall in the Perspectives on Politics:

“Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But [the country has] “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

Authors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page of “Testing Theories of American Politics” point out that the available data probably under-represents the super-rich control of the United States. This first-ever scientific study of whether the nation is a democracy tests the theoretical predications study in an examination of 1,779 policy issues. The study’s findings show that the United States now follows the pattern of Russia and other countries that claim to be “electoral” “democratic” countries.

The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” The following shows a few of these ignored preferences in which the GOP House members ignore the will of the public:

  • 62% oppose the subsidies that the federal government gives to oil, gas and coal companies.
  • 67% believe there is solid evidence of climate change. [In the House, 56 percent of Republicans deny basic science behind climate change.]
  • 65% favor setting stricter emission limits on power plants in order to address climate change.
  • 80% believe that unauthorized immigrants who have been in the country for years and are employed, speak English, and would pay back taxes should be allowed to become citizens.
  • 33% support delaying, defunding, or repealing the Affordable Care Act. [This was almost a year ago as the House was in the midst of its 50 attempts to do this.]
  • 27% want Congress to drop long-term unemployment benefits. [Thus far, the House has followed the 27 percent.)
  • 73% want the minimum wage raised to $10.10.
  • 79% want background checks for all guns that are purchased.
  • 75% believe all politicians are “corrupted” by campaign donations and lobbyists.
  • 70% believe politicians use their political power to help their friends and hurt their enemies.

Although President Obama just signed a pet bill from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) that all the Democrats opposed, Cantor later accused the president of refusing to work with him. The new law provides $126 million for pediatric disease research named after one of Cantor’s constituents who died of a brain tumor.  Cantor’s complaint may have been about the Democrat’s refusal to pass their weak immigration reform bill that was tied to repealing the Affordable Care Act.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/koch-brothers-wealth-surges-past-100-billion-they-try-buy-senate?akid=11725.266883.UC6dt4&rd=1&src=newsletter982832&t=4  The Koch brothers, whose net worth just passed $100 billion, is an excellent example of the corruption in the falsehoods in their ads against the Affordable Care Act.

  • A leukemia patient said her policy was cancelled and she would die without medication.
  • A woman said her policy went up $700 a month because of Obamacare.
  • Residents in Louisiana open letters from health care companies telling about the evils of Obamacare.

An ad for a Stainmaster carpet, one of the Kochs’ many products, would require the ad to “conspicuously disclose that the persons in such advertisements are not actual consumers,” according to Hill columnist Mark Mellman. There were no cancellations that caused these problems, no letters sent out, and no residents—just paid actors. At this time, only 15 states require that political campaign ads cannot be false. A  Supreme Court case heard yesterday may allow all political ads to lie as much as they want. The government is arguing that lying in campaign ads is an important part of free speech on April 22 in the case Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus.

The protection of armed self-identified military members that kept rancher Cliven Bundy from obeying federal law and cheat the government out of money is another example of oligarchy. Wealthy right-wing billionaires manipulated Tea Part members and right-wing media fought for Bundy’s rights not to pay his 20-year debts. A millionaire gets to declare that the United States doesn’t exist so that he can keep fattening his cattle on land that taxpayers own and then sell them at a profit that he keeps for himself.

The Koch brothers will reap any wins from Bundy because they have vast investments in mineral and cattle industries. They just send out Americans for Prosperity to make themselves more prosperous, driving the country farther in oligarchy-land.

The United States of Oligarchy gave $1.2 trillion to the top Fortune 100 companies between 2000 and 2012. That amount doesn’t include the billions of dollars that housing, auto, and banking enterprises made in 2008 and 2009 nor does it include subsidies for ethanol. Open the Books found that the government military contracts with private firms brought billions of dollars, for example Lockheed Martin ($392 billion), General Dynamics ($170 billion), and United Technologies ($73 billion). Another $21.8 billion in direct subsidies went to corporate recipients, and giant oil companies got another $8.5 billion.

The recent Supreme Court ruling of McCutcheon v. FEC, giving the wealthy almost unlimited opportunities to buy lawmakers, ignored the rapidly increasing inequality in wealth. Since the 1960s, the richest 0.1 percent of U.S. households, each averaging over $20 million, have more than doubled their share of U.S. wealth from 10 to 20 percent. That 0.1 percent equals about 316,000 people. They get rich because the only way to add wealth is saving and investing. Wealthy people can do this so their net worth compounds while the rest of the people have to spend their income to provide food and shelter.

trickle down

Despite the vast wealth that these people have, they’re incensed by criticism. The top one percent got 95 percent of the nation’s income growth from 2009 to 2012, their income grew by 31 percent while the 99 percent got 0.4 percent, and they’re upset because some of the media points this out. They still pay taxes at a lower rate than the middle-class, and they accuse people of being jealous, comparing the populist threats to Hitler’s statements in Germany.

When Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) suggested that the ten biggest Too Big to Fail Banks pay a tax as partial payment to taxpayers who bailed them out to give the wealthy more money, GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner quashed any possibility of this even getting a vote. Goldman Sachs cancelled meetings with the RNC about fundraisers, and the bank lobby demanded that GOP renounce this heresy. Fifty-four GOP House members sent a letter to Camp about their deep concerns that the proposal would reduce access to credit and slow growth. Camp retired.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, billionaire Tom Perkins compared the reaction of the “anti-rich radicals” toward the super-rich to Kristallnacht, Hitler’s pre-Holocaust attack on the Jews. He suggested that the number of votes from people should be equivalent to the amount of taxes that they pay. He refuses to belief that this situation already exists, thanks to the Supreme Court.

Even an economist from JP Morgan doesn’t believe the bunk of “trickle-down” economics that supports the myth that giving the wealthy all the money will create wealth for the poor and middle classes. Michael Feroli broke this balloon when he stated that consumer spending is lagging by $1 trillion historically anticipated.

 

Since the end of the recession, households spend only 1.7 cents of each extra dollar earned as compared to 3.8 cents between 1952 to 2009. There does seem to be a limit to what the wealthy can buy, and the rest of the people don’t have the money to spend. Harvard Business Review blogger Andrew O’Connell wrote that the top 5 percent of U.S. earners increased spending by 17 percent compared to a one-percent increase for everyone else.

Another study published in the Political Research Quarterly found that only the rich are represented in the U.S. senate. A review of the voting records of senators in five Congresses found them consistently aligned with their wealthiest constituents. Lower-class constituents didn’t influence the Senators’ voting behavior.

This is only part of the picture. More later.

April 22, 2014

Earth Day: The Wonders of Our Land

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 12:51 PM
Tags: ,
Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Thanks to photographers extraordinaire, Ann Hubard, and my partner (first and last photos below) for these works of art.  Happy Earth Day 2014! May we find ways to keep our planet healthy. It’s worth fighting for.

Our Favorite Beach on the Central Oregon Coast

Our Favorite Beach on the Central Oregon Coast

Cherry Blossoms in Portland

Cherry Blossoms in Portland

Iris

Iris

Crown Point at the Columbia Gorge

Crown Point at the Columbia Gorge

Hiking at Salmon Creek

Hiking at Salmon Creek

Fog in Forest Park

Fog in Forest Park

Fog over White River Canyon

Fog over White River Canyon

 

North Oregon Coast in Winter

North Oregon Coast in Winter

The Great Southwest

The Great Southwest

Frozen Falls in the Columbia Gorge

Frozen Falls in the Columbia Gorge

Pacific Coast in the Fall

Pacific Coast in the Fall

Reflections on Burnt Lake

Reflections on Burnt Lake

Mt. Hood in Summer

Mt. Hood in Summer

Waves at the Beach off Quail Street

Waves at the Beach off Quail Street

April 21, 2014

Oil Spills on Earth Day, Bad and Good

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:29 PM
Tags: , , ,

On Earth Day 2010, people were in shock over the explosion at the BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform just two days earlier that released over 200 million gallons of oil in the gulf. In an attempt to solve its problem, BP released almost 2 million gallons of toxic dispersants. Four years later, on the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, people are seeing the bad news and the good news that followed the disaster.

The bad news about the disaster is that BP thinks the oil spill recovery is finished despite the tarballs and the ring of oil along the Gulf Coast. Big storms leave huge mats of fresh oil on the beach sand. Between 28 and 43 percent of the carbon in tiny floating particles throughout the Gulf can be traced to methane released during the BP spill. After bacteria in the Gulf digested the methane, oil spill pollution is now a ubiquitous element of the Gulf’s ecological food chain.

Serious effects on people and wildlife may continue for decades. Fresh oil keeps appearing in Prince William Sound 25 years after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. More information about the aftermath of the BP disaster is available here.

BP is not the sole perpetrator of oil destruction in that area. Louisiana is one of the most heavily polluted states in the country with 20 percent of the oil leaks taking place within its boundaries. Although 64,000 oil and gas wells are still active in the state, the remainder of the 220,000 have been removed, capped, or abandoned. The pipelines that crisscross among wells, offshore platforms, and onshore refineries provide more opportunity for oil and gas leaks. Fractracker.org shows daily incidents on an interactive map showing 1,887 of these between January 1, 2010 and March 29, 2013.

The Clean Water Act requires polluters to file reports of a release of hazardous materials and other pollutants into a body of water. Although over 1,200 reports from 2004 to 2011 were related to the Taylor Energy site, SkyTruth found these to be the tip of the disaster. Further research showed that Gulf oil spills and other pollution events were far more routine than industries indicated.

No government office regularly monitors the Gulf and coastal areas for oil spills. It uses an honor system, relying on gas and oil industries to be self-reporting. The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources has an average of 12 inspectors assigned to check wells, meaning that each well might be inspected only every three years. Between October 2010 and September 2011, 2,903 oil releases were reported in the Gulf region, but 77 percent of these failed to include an estimate of how much oil was spilled. Oil spills from the other 23 percent totaled 250,000 gallons of crude. SkyTruth estimates that the total amount was between 1.5 million and 2.2 million gallons.

The good news part of the oil spill is that residents and activists along the Gulf have developed networks to deal with future problems. Originally those who now take part in organizations such as the Gulf Future Coalition and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health had been excluded from recovery procedures. Documents such as the Unified Action Plan for a Health Gulf and media projects such as Bridge the Gulf    have given voices to community members outside political filters.

Three victories:

The Gulf Coast will keep the money. Under the Oil Spill Liability Act, fines, which can be up to $20 billion in just this one case, go to the U.S. Treasury. Gulf Coast communities wrote the RESTORE Act to keep the BP fine money in the Gulf, and Congress passed it.

Gulf Coast residents get some health care although the state keeps them from full benefits of the Affordable Care Act.  Unexplained illness with problems of respiration, rashes, and nausea became prevalent after the oil spill, but BP refused to permit any health-related grievances because of the oil spill. In the settlement of a civil case with commercial fishers and oil workers, however, $105 million of the $7.8 billion went to building health centers in every Gulf state. Beyond giving health care, these centers provide epidemiological training for doctors to better monitor for spill-related illnesses.  The new health centers are also in some of the states that turned down federal funding to expand Medicaid.

Gulf residents are now spreading their stories, primarily through documentaries, to an audience that won’t hear about them in the mainstream media. Future historians will have a view of what restoration looked like, who benefited, and who was excluded.

The first independent group to challenge BP’s spill rate estimates was  SkyTruth, a small nonprofit that uses remote sensing and digital mapping to track pollution. In using satellite imagery, SkyTruth determined that oil was gushing from the Macondo at five to 24 times more than BP stated. Monitoring BP’s spill led SkyTruth to discover more leaks, starting with an ongoing one off the Mississippi River delta where a Taylor Energy oil platform had been damaged in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan.

Another positive movement since the BP disaster is the formation of the Gulf Restoration Network. Founded by Jonathan Henderson, the organization uses volunteers and other assistance the North Carolina-based nonprofit SouthWings  to fly over areas of environmental concern. In his attempt to fly over the BP spill, the company tries to deny them permission, but persistence paid off. Henderson took up to 30 flights and many boat trips at that time, tracking the oil as it spread to marshes and bays. His observations led to more accurate information as BP and government officials released lowball figures to the media.

Samantha Joye, a marine scientist and professor at the University of Georgia, is to leading a research expedition to examine the seafloor near the BP 2010 explosion to determine why the chemicals there are not being degraded. The 24 scientists left on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s research vessel Atlantis March 30 and plan to return Thursday. They will use the human-operated deep submergence vessel Alvin for their deep-sea dives instead of automated or remotely operated vehicles. The research is sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and the National Science Foundation. Antonia Juhasz, a leading voice on oil and energy and investigative journalist, joined the expedition and will write three articles about it.

Tomorrow Nels New Day will showcase the traditional Earth Day photographs by photographer extraordinaire Ann Hubard as well as two from my partner that show our amazing Oregon Coast beach. As you see them, think about ways that we can keep our country and our planet from the serious pollution that is taking over the world because of our careless treatment of the Earth.

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