Nel's New Day

June 30, 2014

Supreme Court Declares Christian State

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:35 PM

Corporations continued their march toward corporate personhood today with the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby. “Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in his defense of the five justices who decided that both Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties could refuse women any insurance with free contraception.

Alito also wrote, “HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.” Owners of Hobby Lobby believe that such birth control as Plan B and intrauterine devices result in abortions—a flat-out lie. For the first time in the history of the United States, the Supreme Court permits companies to declare a religious belief in order to break the law, and the belief isn’t even based on scientific fact.

The ruling was supposedly written only for “closely held corporations,” non-personal service corporations with more than 50 percent of its stock owned by five or fewer people. Up to 90 percent all businesses and 52 percent of the workforce may fit into this category. Although 85 percent of large employers provided contraception coverage before the Affordable Care Act mandated it, so did Hobby Lobby—before it changed its mind.

The healthcare mandate covers only businesses with more than 50 employees (Hobby Lobby has 16,000), but smaller businesses may decide to sue because they don’t want to provide services or goods for anyone they don’t like. Past lawsuits have included a restaurateur who refused to integrate his business because of his firmly held religious beliefs and a private school that denied married health insurance because the bible states husbands should provide for wives.

In a dissenting opinion filed by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer, Ginsberg warned about this possibility:

“In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Ginsberg added that the government has a “compelling interest” in providing no-cost birth control to women:

“Those interests are concrete, specific, and demonstrated by a wealth of empirical evidence. To recapitulate, the mandated contraception coverage enables women to avoid the health problems unintended pregnancies may visit on them and their children.”

Hobby Lobby’s narrow objection to contraception for employees, although claiming to be religious, is also connected to the almighty dollar. In addition to investing in drug companies that make the medication that literally causes abortion, Hobby Lobby (aka the Green family) purchases goods manufactured in China, a country in which the government pays for its annual 25 million or more abortions.

A common comment from naysayers to free contraception is that women can easily afford it. Beyond prescription costs of $30-$40 per month, medical costs include a pelvic exam and STD tests at $35 to $200. For the justices who impose this on women, that cost sounds minimal; for women needing their minimum wage salaries of under $1,500 per month for food and shelter, this is a major expenditure. As an example of how ignorant men are about oral contraceptives, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation that women can simply “walk into a 7-Eleven or any shop on any street in America” and access birth control.

The Affordable Care Act permits the government to cover costs of contraceptives if religious groups deny this benefit. The situation requires that the companies complete a form, one which a Catholic group has already refused to do because it would still provide contraceptives for women. The Supreme Court suggested that the government could just pay for contraceptives if it wants that mandate. This might require Congressional approval—which will almost certainly not happen.

Over the years, the Supreme Court has had its ups and downs in popularity, but disapproval is rapidly sinking. Rasmussen finds only 26 percent of the people think that SCOTUS is doing an excellent or good job.

Only two decades ago, SCOTUS had an all-time high in approval rate of 80 percent. Since then, the court appointed George W. Bush as president by stopping the Florida votes that later showed Al Gore had won the state—and the vote for president. Less than ten years later, SCOTUS gave unlimited campaign spending to corporations in Citizens United and then added to corporations’ rights this past year. Last summer, SCOTUS removed voting rights from many minorities and low-income people.

The Supreme Court has used freedom of speech to make several rulings in favor of corporations. Last week, the court gave anti-choice protesters the rights to harass women after Eleanor McCullen convinced the court that all the violent anti-choice people will follow her gentle lead if the 35-foot buffer zone is removed around women’s clinics.

Other major faux freedom of speech decisions from SCOTUS:

  • Justice Anthony Kennedy claimed in Citizens United (2010) that donations to PACs and super PACs that are nominally “independent” from candidates “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
  • Roberts followed up this spring in McCutcheon by claiming that only quid pro quo corruption—aka bribery—threatens the integrity of the political system enough to justify congressional intervention.
  • Kennedy stated in Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. (2011) that giving prescription data to drug companies is “a necessary cost of freedom.”  These companies want the information to better target doctors for marketing.

Christians might want to worry that today’s Hobby Lobby ruling, which does not specifically cite “Christian religion,” opens the door to Sharia law. For example, an Islamic-led private company could require all employers, no matter what their religious faith is, to observe the Ramadan fast at work. An atheist-owned company might be able fire employees for attending a place of faith. Or a company might be exempt from paying taxes contributing to capital punishment and the military because of a belief in the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

By granting civil rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion to corporations, the Supreme Court also opened the door to removing corporate protections from corporations. Gone is the separation between a corporation and its owners: a corporation is now the shareholders’ alter ego. If corporations have the rights of the owners, then the owners can be sued for their corporations’ misdeeds.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Hobby Lobby by explaining courts have “long recognized the distinction between the owners of a corporation and the corporation itself.” Deciding that “a for-profit corporation can engage in religious exercise” would “eviscerate the fundamental principle that a corporation is a legally distinct entity from its owners.” SCOTUS has done that.

Newton’s third law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Although a little more than one-third of respondents to a survey believe that employers should be able to limit healthcare coverage, 53 percent disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling. GOP politicians have blithely touted “freedom of religion” for corporations, but this is the party that lost votes in the last election because it alienated women.

Another backlash to the Court’s ruling is its move toward single-payer health insurance as SCOTUS suggests that the government pay for women’s contraceptives. If the government has to pay for contraceptives, it may provide more healthcare services on a single-payer basis.

Conservatives fight so bitterly against abortions that they have closed down all but four women’s clinics in the huge state of Texas and eliminated most of those in nearby states. Yet they don’t want women to have contraception. The only answer to this conundrum may be that Republicans need to totally control women’s bodies.

As for the Supreme Court, a definition of constitutional free speech in their rulings is any position with which they agree.

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June 29, 2014

Corporations Demand Religious Rights of ‘Persons’

Tomorrow, the last day of June, will surely bring a Supreme Court ruling  in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, deciding whether a for-profit corporation that is calling itself religious (as in a person) must follow federal law in permitting its insurance to provide contraception. The Court is also hearing Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, that’s fighting the same law as Hobby Lobby.  that hold the same position as Hobby Lobby.

Only some religious groups are considered exempt from this law. Hobby Lobby wants to change this.

The case addresses the question about whether one person’s “religious freedom” allows them exemption from the law and allows them to impose their religious beliefs on employees. If SCOTS favors Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities, the ramifications go far beyond allowing all employers to determine the health care for employees who pay for their insurance as part of a benefits package. All for-profit businesses could use the excuse of religion to ignore all government laws in their treatment of employees, i.e no psychiatry from Scientologist-owned businesses and no surgical coverage from Jehovah Witnesses.

Owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, are praying for freedom to make the United States a theocracy, obliterating any line between church and state. Success for the Greens would make the United States controlled by religious policy. The Greens plan to create museums, broadcasts, and public school curriculum presenting the Bible as fact and return to biblical principles in all public matters.

Conservatives like the Greens define the First Amendment mandate of religious freedom as imposing their code on those who don’t follow their faith. They have created a narrative in which they are persecuted for their faith, causing them to feel justified in repressing others under the excuse that they are only protecting themselves.

To fundamentalist Christians, religious freedom is forcing students to pray to their god in school and listen to bible stories in biology class. Teaching creationism in public schools uses taxpayer money to push one religious form of instruction on a captive audience, but conservatives reframe the argument to maintain that teaching evolution theory, a scientific fact, is religious oppression.

Funding the Hobby Lobby case is the Becket Fund, founded to protect the personal expression of religion without coercing others. the group started by protecting prisoners who wanted to have religious symbols and workers who  wanted to keep their religious hairstyles. Now the Becket Fund takes the position that religious freedom is denying employees the private use of their compensation packages.

An example of conservative “religious freedom” comes from a U.S. House candidate in Georgia. Jody Hice believes that Muslims have freedom of religion by denying that Islam is a religion. In his book, It’s Now or Never, Hice wrote: “Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”

Justice Antonin Scalia has already ruled against religion in Employment Division v. Smith. When two Native Americans were denied unemployment benefits for having ingested peyote in keeping with their religious practices, Scalia wrote, “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.” Now he claims that the constitution favors religion.

The Supreme Court has already given “personhood” to corporations in First Amendment rights of free speech through unlimited donations. Through “negative free speech rights,” corporations avoided requirements for warning labels on products. That’s why cigarette companies don’t have to put photos on warning labels, the dairy industry can conceal the use of bovine growth hormones in milk production, and cell phones don’t have to have radiation warnings.

The D.C. Court of Appeals struck down a Securities and Exchange Commission rule forcing manufacturers’ disclosures if their electronics contain minerals mined from the war-torn torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The American Meat Institute is arguing against a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule that requires labeling disclosing where cows are born, raised, and slaughtered. After Vermont passed a GMO labeling requirement, industry groups sued on a violation of commercial speech rights.

In the Greens’ blatant hypocrisy, Hobby Lobby provided contraception in their employer-sponsored health plans until 2012 when they decided to sue. The company’s retirement plan also includes stock holdings in companies that manufacture drugs and devices that they don’t want their employees to access through insurance plans.

Not all non-profit groups, including many Catholic schools and hospitals, receive these exemptions, and even those that receive exemptions are displeased with the method of avoiding the mandate. Last year, the Little Sisters of the Poor contended that signing a form avoiding providing employee contraceptive coverage makes the nuns responsible for such coverage. The Supreme Court ruled that they could just send in a letter stating their objections while waiting for the case to be heard by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Both the Eternal Word Television Network in Alabama and the Catholic groups in Wyoming want the same arrangement. In addition, the TV station wants the Supreme Court to hear its case before the 7th Circuit Court rules on its appeal.

There may be a schism in the justices’ attitudes toward freedom of religion cases. Recently the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of parents opposed to holding Elmbrook School District graduation ceremonies in a church, complete with overt displays of Christian faith and staffed tables about the church and its activities. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas strongly lobbied for the Court to hear the case and then wrote a seven-page dissent disagreeing with the seven who decided not to hear the case.

Earlier this year, SCOTUS, in 5-4 vote, agreed to allow Greece (NY) to pray before city council meetings because it was merely “ceremonial,” like saying “Bless you” after someone sneezes. Leading the dissent for Greece v. Galloway,Justice Kagan wrote:

“I respectfully dissent from the Court’s opinion because I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality—the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian.”

After the justices allowed religious prayers at a public meeting, the Huntsville (AL) City Council refused to allow a practicing Wiccan to give the opening invocation. Wilkes-Barre (PA) chooses only Christian prayers to open their city council meetings because all the members identify as Christians. Other municipalities are trying to establish policies that all prayers before council and commissioner meetings will be Christian.

The latest imposition of Christian religion on the entire population of the United States is the unanimous consent of a bill to put a Christian prayer on the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. There was no floor debate and no official vote, only the opportunity to register objections. When the House considered the bill in 2011, Robert Abbey, former director of the Bureau of Land Management, gave written testimony in opposition:

“It is not a judgment as to the merit of this new commemoration, simply that altering the Memorial in this way . . . will necessarily dilute this elegant memorial’s central message and its ability to clearly convey that message to move, educate, and inspire its many visitors.”

The U.S. National Park Service says the memorial commemorates “service, sacrifice, unity, and victory.” With the addition of a Christian prayer, they will have to drop the “unity.”

When one group of people demands the government replace the religious beliefs of others with its own, religious freedom is not protected but threatened. Jefferson’s wall separating church and state doesn’t just protect government from religion; it also protects religion from government. If religions can tell the state what to do, then the state can, in turn, tell religions what to do in their own houses of worship.

June 28, 2014

Election Have Consequences

Election years between presidential elections are usually pretty ho-hum. Primaries come and go with almost no one caring except for the people who lived in the states where they occur. No longer. The Tea Party obsession with destroying the U.S. government which hit a peak in 2010 makes primary-watching right up there with the World Series and the World Cup. Some pundits may have thought that Rep. Eric Cantor’s loss to an unknown Republican two weeks ago was the high point, but Tuesday’s struggle in Mississippi surpassed that in another GOP crisis.

In early June, incumbent GOP Sen. Thad Cochran failed to get over 50 percent in the Mississippi primary and was forced into a runoff with opponent Tea Partier Chris McDaniel. The night before the runoff, he described his election as “unstoppable,” and then lost by 6,693. Cochran won by 1.8 percent after he asked for help from black, probably Democratic, voters. Mississippi law doesn’t require recounts, but McDaniel has refused to concede, saying that he’s looking into voting “irregularities.”

In a campaign that could be called McCain v. Palin, an extremist radical conservative tried to paint a conservative as too far left. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) politely described McDaniel as inexperienced, and his running partner in 2008, Sarah Palin, was joined by former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) to defend McDaniel.

Before the primary, an attempt to sneak into a nursing home to take photos of Cochran’s wife, who suffers from dementia, led to arrests. One of those arrested, a McDaniel supporter and founder of the state Tea Party, killed himself this week. The campaign also attacked Cochran’s daughter, Kate, for criticizing McDaniel on her Facebook page with a creepy photo of her and the hash tag “#Who’s Ya Daddy?”

In the early morning hours after the primary, three McDaniel supporters, Tea Party members, mysteriously locked themselves into the basement of the Hattiesburg courthouse next to the ballots. According to a report, Constable Jon Lewis, a big McDaniel supporter, had helped them get in. They claimed they wanted to see how the ballot count was proceeding, but the building was empty after the task had been completed hours earlier.

The day before the runoff, a McDaniel supporter filed a lawsuit to stop crossover voting. Mississippi has no party registration, but state law prohibits voters from participating in the GOP runoff if they voted on a Democratic ballot in the primary. Another state law requires any voters in a party primary to support that primary’s nominee in the general election. Although a federal appeals court struck down that law as unenforceable in 2008, the South keeps unconstitutional law on the books in perpetuity. The lawsuit was dismissed.

Far-right GOP gubernatorial loser in Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli threatened to send poll watchers into precincts with largely black voters. The watchers didn’t materialize, but the Tea Party is crying “foul” about blacks voting in the runoff.  “Our whole system is corrupt,” said a woman who attended the McDaniel post-election party. “We deserve to be called the most corrupt state in the nation.”

Two days after the runoff, Palin called for Tea Party members to leave the GOP and form a third party. She commiserated about McDaniel’s loss with Sean Hannity on his Fox program:

 “Well, if Republicans are going to act like Democrats, then what’s the use in getting all gung ho about getting Republicans in there? So yeah, if Republicans aren’t going to stand strong on the planks in our platform, then it does no good to get all enthused about them anymore.”

Palin’s sour grapes comes from more than just Mississippi. Tea Party candidates lost in New York and Colorado, and Palin’s pick for the U.S. senator from Oklahoma, T.W. Shannon, lost by almost 23 percent. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had also backed Shannon as an “outsider.” It seems that John McCain has been replaced in Sarah Palin’s heart.

ted-cruz-sarah-palin-485x324 Already elected Koch-Republicans want to shut down government because of the EPA’s proposal to control carbon pollution from the country’s power plant. Congress has no authority to change the EPA’s proposal without without amending the Clean Air Act. The ultra-conservative Supreme Court also sided with EPA’s authority to impose specific standards for carbon emissions. This month’s SCOTUS decision upheld the plan to regulate power plant and factory emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Loonier yet, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has decided it’s in his best interest to sue President Obama because “the president is not faithfully executing the laws of our country.” The man who spent over $5 million to fight marriage equality now wants to waste more taxpayer money on a lost cause. After years of complaining about activist judges, the GOP is looking for an activist judge to rule against the president. The organization behind the suit would be the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) which is controlled by the GOP.

Boehner’s House of Representatives is actually the government branch that suffers from failure to perform. Jobs, immigration, tax reform, Export-Import bank, the Senate’s high-way-funding bill—these are a few of the areas in which the House takes no action. About Iraq, Boehner said, “It’s not my job to outline for the president what tools he should use or not use.” According to the U.S. Constitution, deciding about war is Boehner’s job. About the serious immigration problem, Boehner said, “I want to get our members to a place where they are comfortable, whatever that is.” He’s named a “working group” to eventually “suggest to the administration things that we think can be done.”

When asked what specific executive actions he intended to challenge in court, he said, “When I make that decision, I’ll let you know.” He’s left Washington for over a month. By September he may have some ideas.

Even Fox network Neil Cavuto blasted a Republican, specifically Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN), for the proposed lawsuit:

“There are far more important things that you guys have to be addressing than filing lawsuits passed by each other. BY THE WAY, ROME IS BURNING.”

Bachmann’s said that the GOP needs to defund the executive branch, and Cavuto proclaimed:

“Think about what you are saying. Defund the Executive, Congresswoman? If Democrats had said we are just going to defund President Bush, defund the Executive, you would have laughed them out. … I think Democrats would be in their right minds to laugh you out now. … Rome is burning and you are filing.”

After it was clear to President Obama that Boehner had abdicated his responsibilities, the president made 180 executive orders compared to George W. Bush’s 291 and Ronald Reagan’s 381. Boehner’s 112th Congress passed only 284 bills, the fewest since the 1940s, and his 113th Congress is on track to pass fewer. Currently, it has passed 121 bills with only 48 days—many of them not full days—until the session is over.

The conservatives are going off the rails in three different directions: shut down the government, keep the president from taking any actions, and form a third party. We’ll see how well these ideas work in hiding the GOP incompetence from the voters.

Far-right conservative Erick Erickson said it best on redstate.com: “I’m just not sure what the Republican Party really stands for any more other than telling Obama no and telling our own corporate interests yes. That’s not much of a platform.”

Yup. Erickson is right.

June 27, 2014

SCOTUS Rewrites Constitution

“The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session–U.S. Constitution, Art. II, sec 2, cl. 3

On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court justices handed down its decision that violent anti-choice protesters can block women from entering women’s clinics, they also ruled—again unanimously—in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the U.S. president’s constitutional rights to make recess appointments should be limited. The case came from President Obama’s recess appointments in 2012 to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after the GOP members of the senate stopped the board from functioning because they didn’t want to accept any of the president’s nominees.

The question of legal appointments arose after a NLRB ruling against Noel Canning because of its unfair labor practices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the NLRB that Noel Canning was wrong but agreed with Noel Canning that the NLRB lacked a quorum because three of the five Board members had been invalidly appointed. Both the court of appeals and the Supreme Court ruled that a three-day recess is not long enough for the president to make appointments.

The ruling may require the NLRB to reconsider as many as 800 cases that were made with appointees that the Supreme Court has now determined to be invalid.

When the president made the appointments to the NLRB, the filibuster of 60 votes for approval of nominees, now eliminated, was still in effect. In addition, the senate has approved two of the three appointments that the president made at that time; the other one no longer sits on the board. The question of the appointments’ appropriateness came when the GOP refused to recess while they were out of town. Despite a 30-day recess, a senator conducted a “pro forma session” every three days by strolling into the chamber, pounding the gavel, and then closing the session within a few minutes. The only purpose was to block presidential appointments: there was no business conducted: presidential messages could not be placed before the senate, the chamber was almost empty, and attendance was not required.

GOP senators never objected to the specific nominees. They just wanted to stop the NLRB from functioning, and it couldn’t function without members. After the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the appointments were illegal, President Obama re-nominated his appointees. The GOP senators filibustered again, and the Democratic senators changed senate rules to require only 50 votes to invoke cloture on executive and judicial nominations. Along with other delayed nominees, the NLRB appointees moved forward.

The SCOTUS decision is the first time in the 225 years of the constitution that the Court has considered recess appointments. Its ruling read, “The Recess Appointments Clause empowers the President to fill any existing vacancy during any recess—intra-session or intersession—of sufficient length.” It defines “intra-session” recess as “breaks in the midst of a formal session” and “intersession” as “breaks between formal sessions of the Senate.” The majority of justices determined that the president can make recess appointments if the senate takes a break between sessions or takes time off during a session, but the recess must be at least ten days.

So the president, according to the majority opinion, still holds the power to make recess appointments to vacancies when the Senate is either taking a break between sessions or taking time off during a session–if it’s at least ten days. The president is not prone to making recess appointments. He’s made only 29, far fewer than George W. Bush’s 171 and Ronald Reagan’s 243.

About 1,200 executive-branch positions require senate approval. The chamber could spend all its time on the constitution’s  “advise and consent” mandate. In the 21st century, the process is more a method for senators to vent their ire on a president of the opposing party. Even worse than voting down nominees, the GOP senators during President Obama’s terms have followed a passive-aggressive approach of refusing to vote. Their refusal for not taking a vote for the NLRB was not unique. They were so intent on killing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that they didn’t approve a director for 18 months. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives went without a director for seven years after the position was mandated to have senate approval. Only after the NRA lifted its objections was the president able to get a director for this agency.

By 5-4, a minority of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia failed to overturn the lower court ruling that the president could not make any recess appointments except at the end of each year. They also failed to deny all recess appointments except when the vacancies were created while the senate was in full recess between sessions.

The constitution empowers the senate to “determine the rules of its proceedings, but SCOTUS has removed that right. If the minority position ha succeeded, as Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out, “Justice Scalia would render illegitimate thousands of recess appointments reaching all the way back to the founding era. More than that: Calling the Clause an ‘anachronism,’ he would basically read it out of the Constitution.”

SCOTUS’ ruling in Noel Canning also mandated that recesses of fewer than 10 days between sessions are “presumptively” too short to count in the constitutional reappointment right. Yet the Court stated that it must defer heavily to the Senate’s authority to determine “how and when to conduct its business.” Thus the justices said that they won’t tell the senate what to do, but they decided a minimum of recess of ten days for appointments. They have removed the right of the senate to set rules and rewritten the constitution.

There’s a definite irony here: the four justices who want to totally rewrite the constitution by eliminating any recess appointments are the originalists—meaning that they believe rulings should be based on what the authors actually meant. In many cases, they must be channeling the writers’ thoughts because the document doesn’t deal with much of 21st century life.

At this time, the Democratic senate can bring up a vote for nominees because they are the same party as the president. If the GOP takes over the senate in this year’s election, the Senate will probably refuse to hold any votes for appointments. In the future, a House of Representatives can demand adjournment for the senate if it is the same party as the president. If the two chambers disagree, the president can then exercise constitutional authority to unilaterally adjourn Congress for a recess, as the Supreme Court ruled. Unless other justices decide to re-write the constitution in this issue too. The Vacancies Act allows the president to fill vacancies—except in multimember agencies which the NLRB and other important agencies are.

As in yesterday’s ruling that erased buffer zones around Massachusetts’ women’s clinics, the justices showed themselves ignorant of reality. GOP members have been so intent on politicizing the appointment process that they are willing to destroy the United States. Yet, the ruling stated, “Most appointments are not controversial and do not produce friction between the branches.” That’s what this case was about. The justices showed no awareness of the recent senate obstruction of the confirmation process, so much so that routine appointments have been mired in controversy.

Reforms to the filibuster process were necessary because almost half of all cloture motions even considered on nominations in the history of the country were made after Barack Obama became president. Last month 110 executive branch nominees were pending, compared to 32 at the same point in George W. Bush’s second term.

As one senator blatantly said, his reason for opposing appointments to the NLRB was to make the agency “inoperable.” Without the recess appointments for a quorum, the senate could have stopped the NLRB for 2,885 days since 1988—almost eight years. Forty-four senators signed a letter to the president admitting that they opposed Richard Cordray to head the CFPB because of their opposition to the agency.

This is another roadblock that conservatives put in the way of the president carrying out his duties. The only hope with this ruling is that it puts the blame squarely on the senate for the failure to fill federal positions. That chamber is now responsible for failures in the confirmation process.

June 26, 2014

Free Speech Includes Bullying Women*

Eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 arsons, 100 acid attacks, and countless other incidents of blockades, vandalism and threats. This isn’t a listing of tragic events in a Third World country; it’s what has happened at women’s clinics in the United States since 1977. Massachusetts alone had two women shot dead and another five women wounded. That’s the reason that the state passed a law in 2007 requiring a 35-foot buffer zone around clinics. That’s the law that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned in today’s ruling.

The law was intended to protect the safety of both patients and employees. Protesters claimed that they had the First Amendment right to “engage” women at the clinics. The poster witness for the anti-choice activists was a “sweet-little-old-grandmother” who said she just wanted to talk to the women, to give them “comfort.” It’s the same excuse that abusers use for their victims: they just want to “talk.” Eleanor McCullen, the lead petitioner, said about her anti-choice discussions with the women, “We’ll be gentle and loving.”

All nine justices, in McCullen v.Coakley, agreed to overturn a lower court ruling that relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling for an eight-foot buffer-zone law in Colorado. The three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “the law does not require that a patient run a public-sidewalk gauntlet before entering an abortion clinic. First Amendment rights do not guarantee to the plaintiffs (or anyone else, for that matter) an interested, attentive, and receptive audience, available at close-range.”

The justices ignored a report from the National Abortion Federation showing buffer zones reduced criminal activity at 51% of facilities after these were put into place. Three-fourths of the facilities reported that buffer zones “improved patient and staff access to the facilities.” In the same survey, 92% of facilities said they are concerned about their patients’ safety approaching the facility. In addressing freedom for protesters to voice opposition, Physicians for Reproductive Health board chair Nancy L. Stanwood requested the same freedom from harassment and violence in accessing health care services. Women have lost this freedom as activists are now free to verbally hound them up to the doorway of Massachusetts’s women’s clinics.

In the SCOTUS ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wants public access to all “public fora” for speech activities. Free speech on the sidewalks has a higher constitutional priority than public safety concerns for women entering clinics. “Government’s ability to restrict speech in such locations is very limited,” Roberts wrote. The ruling appeared to show concern that the number of women who were talked out of abortions had fallen because protesters had been kept away from them. Two witnesses had reported that they reached far fewer people than before the Massachusetts’ law took effect.

The Court ruled that abortion providers could create rules with the police on a case-by-case basis to ensure safe access.

The question that justices avoided in the case is a definition of intimidation. Should women going to a clinic for any health reasons—cancer screening, regular checkups, etc.—be subjected to people who lecture them on their killing a fetus. The Court said that the protesters are “sidewalk counselors” because they distribute leaflets and offer “an outstretched arm.” They seek to engage in “consensual conversations with women.”

Consensual usually means that all involved want the event to occur. How does the Court guarantee that the “counselors” are not actually blocking a woman from entering the clinic? Megan Amundson, director of the National Abortion Rights Action League’s Massachusetts chapter, said that violence occurs when “don’t want to talk or engage with the protesters.”

Mark Rienzi, attorney who persuaded the Court that his clients were very nice people and only wanted to talk, said that most of the trouble occurring at the Boston clinic was on Saturday mornings. Possibly an idea is to go on another day. Most of the women using the clinic, however, work during the week, making them vulnerable to the Saturday morning trouble.

Former state legislator Paul Demakis, who represented the district where John Salvi III walked into two different clinics and killed two receptionists, said, “What the protesters did was—in very aggressive, even offensive ways—to interfere with and to intimidate women going into health clinics to exercise their right to choose.” He worked to craft the 35-foot buffer-zone law that extended to 35 feet because Boston Police Captain Bill Evans said that a lesser radius was unenforceable. Demakis pointed out that 35 feet is “a little more than halfway between home plate and the pitcher’s mound.”

Before the buffer zone was enacted, protesters impersonated the police, screaming women’s faces, took telephone numbers, filmed inside patients’ cars. They touched the patients without consent and initiated physical altercations.

Today’s ruling against women shows where we fit in the hierarchy of law. Polling places and funerals have buffer zones of at least 150 feet and 300 feet, depending on state law. Earlier this year, SCOTUS ruled that an anti-war protester could be kept away from a public road near California military base and the political protesters could be kept farther away on sidewalks from George W. Bush than his supporters were. A unanimous SCOTUS ruling for Wood v. Moss decided that anti-Bush protesters were legally moved farther from the then-president’s dinner table than the friendly demonstrators. Justice Ruth Bader wrote, “People are not at liberty to speak whenever, however, and wherever they please.” Bush consistently required zones to protect himself from free speech protesters.

The justices also protect themselves. Last year, a federal district judge ruled that a 1949 law barring demonstrations on court property was unconstitutional, and SCOTUS immediately issued a regulation barring demonstrations on the public plaza in front of the Supreme Court building. Their buffer zone is 252’ by 98’ where people cannot picket. These spaces are all “public fora”  not covered by today’s ruling.

Supreme-Court1 buffer zoneThe only good news from today’s decision is that the Court could have wiped out all buffer zones. Justice Antonin Scalia wants to overturn the SCOTUS decision in Hill v. Colorado in which a majority of the Court allowed a 100-foot buffer around medical offices and an eight-foot buffer around patients. Part of that ruling stated that “protecting the well being of patients entering or exiting healthcare facilities is specifically targeted by this legislation because they are more likely to be emotionally and physically vulnerable.” Justice Anthony Kennedy, now the swing vote on the extremely conservative Court, was one of three dissenters in Hill. 

The bad news is that the entrance to women’s clinics will be filled by bullies calling women names such as whores and murderers. The same people will “accidentally” block women from entering and “accidentally” bump into clinic workers. Because of the nation’s lax gun laws, they may also “accidentally” shoot and kill clinic workers and patients. Little-old-lady Eleanor McCullen may have been the person to appear in court, but she won’t be the only person accosting women who need health care. Christian family values: physically intimidate women getting legal health care and workers who provide for their services.

In Wood, Justice Ginsburg explained that “in directing their displacement, the agents acted not to ensure the President’s safety, but to insulate the President from their message.” Women trying to get health care should be insulated from anti-choice protesters’ vicious, hateful messages.

Would the Supreme Court understand the dangers of today’s decision if eight of them had been murdered during the past 20 years? And how many murders, assaults, arsons, bombings, acid attacks, death threats, vandalism, and other acts of violence are necessary at women’s clinics before a more sane court addresses the question of buffer zones?

*Thanks to Steven Rosenfeld and Alter-Net for the headline.

 

June 25, 2014

City Blocks Little Free Library

I love books. Not the electronic ones. The ones that have covers and paper pages and real ink. Sometimes I’m in the middle of reading five or six books, and there’s always a high stack of them next to my bed. Occasionally, they spill over on the floor as one of the cats walks around them.

That might be why I was so caught up in a recent article from the Eugene (OR) Register Guard about a Little Free Library. I looked at the pictures and said to my partner, “Can you make a waterproof thing to hold books outside.” She never accuses me of being crazy; she just patiently listens.

free library redAll over the country, cute home-build cabinets with doors and shelves filled with books are appearing in front of houses, on street corners, and in other accessible locations. Each one is a Little Free Library for a free exchange of books. People are encouraged to “take a book, return a book.” The thousands of them across the United States have company in other countries, even one in western Russia.

One man in Wisconsin started the movement in 2009 when he honored his mother, a school teacher, with a model of a one-room schoolhouse. He filled it with books and invited people to take them. What he discovered is that he ended up with more books because people brought others to add to the collection. The word spread, and 400 of them were scattered across the country within two years.

By 2012, the Little Free Library free library eyesdecided to get nonprofit tax status and surpassed its goal of registering 2,510 of the little libraries—one more than Scottish magnate Andrew Carnegie endowed between 1883 and 1929. As a nonprofit, Little Free Library can receive tax-deductible donations and grants for buying books and materials for the little libraries. By now, there are over 15,000 of the tiny libraries registered.

The wee library featured in the Register-Guard article built his from donations: a builder tearing down a house gave the windows, and neighbors gave him wood and shingles. The city of Eugene and the Eugene Water & Electric Board allowed him to put the small structure on their property. He said, “EWEB even donated the gravel, which volunteers from the neighborhood came out and spread, and when we had the big (February snow) storm when a lot of tree limbs came down, their crews cleaned it all up.”

Neighbors now get together for potlucks when they provide painting or other maintenance for the structure. Over 1,000 books have been exchanged, and it’s a “kid magnet,” according to the man who constructed the library. A neighbor said, “Two weeks ago, I saw a mom and two little kids coming along the street. The little girl was just jumping up and down with excitement to get there and look at the books.”

free 1 childThis year, Cheerios will help the Little Free Library organization raise money to build at least 50 of the units in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. Cheerios teamed with Indiegogo, a crowd-sourcing site that helps people and organizations raise money online.

People with little free libraries find that they promote reading and build communities. People pick up books that they might otherwise not have discovered. And they aren’t new. In earlier times, lighthouse keepers kept bookcases of books to trade with other keepers, and traveling libraries were found in general stores and post offices where libraries didn’t exist.

free library child 2Some homemade libraries are plain, some are ornate. Some have benches or chairs nearby, and you can find them in parks, neighborhoods, bicycle paths, college campuses. Except in one town in Kansas.

On Mother’s Day, nine-year-old Spencer Collins enlisted the help of his father and grandfather to build one of these libraries. He decided he wanted to put up a little library his neighbors in the Kansas City suburb of Leawood to share his love of reading with others. “It’s kind of like I’m in a whole other world and I like that. I like adventure stories because I’m in the adventure and it’s fun.” The fun ended when he and his family got back from a vacation to find a letter from the city. According to the city, Spencer’s library was a violation to the city code and had to be removed by the June 19. Otherwise, the Collins would receive a citation.

spencer-collins-little-free-library-638x403 Leawood called the little library an “accessory structure,” and the city bans buildings that aren’t attached to someone’s home. They said they had receive two complaints. Spencer took down the library to avoid a citation, but he plans to fight City Hall. “I would tell them why it’s good for the community and why they should drop the law. I just want to talk to them about how good it is.” He also thought about attaching it to the house, to “tie a rope around it and attach the rope to the house.” And he has a Facebook page for his Little Free Library.

Libraries in the United States go back to 1638 when John Harvard donated 280 books to a new college, and they named the school after him. Yet until 1833, people had to pay to use libraries. After Peterborough (NH) opened a free library that year, there were no others for another 21 years when the Boston Public Library opened. Its statement of purpose proclaimed the importance of education on the future of democracy and the right of citizens to free access to community-owned resources.

Andrew Carnegie was known as a “robber baron,” but he still believed that everyone should have access to libraries. Conservatives called him a Communist for wanting to use taxes for libraries, and progressives claimed the taxes were a drain on working people. His donations of $50 million to build 2,500 library buildings probably led to the public library system.

free library child 3In the nineteenth century, libraries had age restrictions to keep children from borrowing books and lacked open shelving for books. With the arrival of large numbers of immigrants, libraries became community centers. During the Great Depression, they were a warm place to go. Images of Nazis burning books during World War II and other totalitarian governments throughout the century made libraries more important to people in the U.S.

A form of burning books is restricting availability as the South did to blacks during the 1940s. I’m glad I live in Oregon where grassroots efforts can be successful. I’m also glad that Leawood tried to cite Spencer and his family for his “illegal” structure. Because the news has gone viral, millions more people know now about Little Free Libraries.

[The following isn’t a picture of a Little Free Library, but I love the concept!]

book fountain

June 24, 2014

Fix Our Country First

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:07 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Thirteen years ago, Bush/Cheney went to Iraq to rescue it from an oppressive dictator that the United States had installed decades earlier. Saddam Hussein may have killed 250,000 Iraqis during his 25-year reign, and the country suffered from U.S. sanctions that may have killed at least 500,000 infants.

When Bush/Cheney invaded Iraq, with no cause, it had several successful export-oriented industries such as leather goods and agricultural products that employed hundreds of thousands in fairly well-paid jobs. It had a resilient electrical, water, and highway infrastructure although sanctions were taking their toll on the infrastructure.

Iraq’s primary and higher educational system was the best in the area, and its government provided the best free health care in the Middle East. In a nation of 27 million people, it had the largest percentage of middle-class employed at three million people. Women enjoyed greater equality than any other Middle East country. And it had 2.5 million barrels of oil flowing each day that supported the country’s economic superstructure.

The invasion put oil revenues into “debt payment and reduced production by 40 percent. All government-run and oil-subsidized industrial plants were dismantling, bankrupting private industries. Commercial agriculture lost oil-financed subsidies and were destroyed by air attacks. Austerity measures removed the country’s educational and medical systems. Middle-class professionals who had belonged to the leading party were jobless or forced into exile. Their departure devastated the electrical, water, and highway infrastructure.

Eight years of war left 60-percent unemployment, sporadic electrical service, poisoned water systems, dysfunctional medical services, episodic education, and a lack of viable public or private transportation. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki auctioned oil contracts off to international oil firms. Oil production increased, but the revenue went into the U.S.-selected government ranked as the seventh most corrupt on the planet. Maliki refused any funds for reconstruction in Sunni areas and used the money for military supplies, for example paying the U.S. $4 billion in 2011 for 18 F-16 jets. Only 25 percent of people in Iraq had clean sanitation, but Lockheed’s F-16 plant in Fort Worth benefited.

Any Iraqi government staffing positions went to Shia citizens in Shia areas as Sunnis lost any jobs that they might have regained. It’s not surprising that Sunnis fought to regain oil fields, refineries, and pipelines. With increasing guerilla attacks, Maliki escalated its repression of Sunni communities and any forms of protest. Once the Sunnis regain areas, they work to begin the construction process.

The current administration seems determined to support the existing Iraq government, comprised of Shiites and excluding Sunnis. Earlier this week, I wrote that the U.S. should look to our nation’s problems with domestic terrorists instead of going back into the Middle East to “fix” Iraq. Here are nine more reasons, thanks to an article by Carl Gibson:

We have the worst health care system in the developed world. Only in the U.S. do people profit from human illness and injury. For example, the average hip replacement here costs $40,364; in Spain, it costs $7,731.

We deliberately saddle college students with a lifetime of debt servitude. Student debt has now exceeded $1.2 trillion, more than our credit card debt. Each college graduate owes an average of $30,000. The debt curtails the ability of these graduates to purchase homes or even cars. Low wages require students to use loans for basic survival as well as tuition payments.

Other countries have free tuition for higher education or, at the very least, far less expensive charges. For example, when Quebec proposed a tuition increase from $2,200 to $3,800 over a six-year period, hundreds of thousands of students took to the streets in protest.

We have an oligarchy because the rich can buy their own politicians. With a population of 310 million people, our country allows 535 people, most of them millionaires, white, and male, to make all the federal decisions. These people are purchased by even wealthier people who have far more access to legislators than actual constituents.

We punish poor people for enduring the circumstances we forced them into. After billionaires pressured homeowners into risky subprime loans, many of the people lost their homes. In just Detroit, 60,000 homeowners were forced to vacate their homes, resulting in massive urban blight. The same billionaires who sold the loans then bought the homes for pennies on the dollar and developed them into housing for the wealthy.

Detroiters who kept their homes now have to pay increasingly higher rates for water that they couldn’t afford. Detroit has already shut off water for 150,000 households and continues the practice at 1,500 to 3,000 houses per week. The U.S. system rewards the rich and penalizes the poor.

We allow a rape epidemic on our college campuses to go unchecked. At least 20 percent of women on U.S. college campuses will experience sexual assault. These are only the reported ones. In many schools, the rapist will be permitted to continue at school—sometimes even with a living assignment in the same dormitory as the victim. Traumatized victims end up dropping out of school while conservative columnists like George Will bemoan the way the victims ruin the rapists’ lives by reporting them.

We send people off to die, and don’t take care of the ones who come back alive. The recent Veterans Affairs health debacle is just the tip of the iceberg. Whenever Congress tries to address veterans’ issues, the GOP members filibuster the bills.

In 2010, Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-WA) bill to provide aid for homeless veterans with children was filibustered by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). A bill that would have spent $1 billion to hire veterans for jobs in the public sector was filibustered by 40 senate Republicans in 2012. And just this past February, Senate Republicans once again blocked a bill aimed at providing health care and education to veterans. Neocons push to send troops into Iraq while they deny returning veterans help.

We make it profitable to systematically incarcerate poor people and minorities. Private enterprise and county governments make money off imprisoning people. They succeed with heavy patrols of low-income neighborhoods and arresting young blacks for small amounts of marijuana.

Portugal’s addiction rate has dropped by one-half in the past decade since it because treating drug addiction as a public health issue. The drug war costs U.S. taxpayers $20 billion a year as drugs become more and more available. The country has more black men in prison than the number of slaves in the Confederate South. Prisoners paid pennies for a day’s work vastly increases the profits of private enterprise. These are jobs that once created a middle class in the nation

We cut our own public services while letting billion-dollar corporations dodge taxes. Architects and engineers have given our infrastructure a “D+” because roads and bridges have fallen into disrepair. Students fall far behind those in other countries because of our refusal to invest in public education. Republicans refuse to extend unemployment compensation for the hardest-hit victims of the economy and cut the food stamp program by billions of dollars.

At the same time, major corporations pay no taxes and receive subsidies because the GOP ignores the loss of over $100 billion in tax revenue annually.

Our police forces have become unaccountable paramilitary organizations. After wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down, local police forces took the surplus military equipment. Municipal police departments can get tanks, drones, firepower, armor, water cannons, flash bank grenades, LRAD sound devices, and other equipment not necessary for enforcing civilian law.

Frequently, the military equipment is used to remove non-violent protesters from public spaces. The U.S. condemns countries such as Russia and Egypt for using military equipment to suppress peaceful citizen protests while detaining U.S. citizens indefinitely in military jail for flimsy accusations.

Let’s address problems in our own country before we try to “fix” any others.

June 23, 2014

Koch Brothers, Third Political Party

People who complain about the two-party political system in the United States may be happy to hear that there is a rapidly-growing third party providing great competition for the Democrats and Republicans. The Koch organization is Americans for Prosperity, but I’d rather call it the David & Charles Koch party. Maybe it can be the DCK.

DCK is a political party because it operates in multiple states, staffs for elections, and does local endorsements for political campaigns. With 240 full-time employees in 32 states, DCK has doubled the 2012 staff, and this year’s planned spending for television ads and on-the-ground organizing is the equivalent of 5,270 U.S. households. That amount will exceed other groups on both the left and the right. At this time the GOP plans to have only 250 people in the field in November.

DCK dabbles in everything from the presidential election to this year’s proposed levy for the Columbus (OH) Zoo and Aquarium. The party’s opposition was to a 1.25-mill property-tax levy that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $23. The zoo brings in about two million people annually with a $238 million boost to the local economy every year. After DCK published its lies, mailed flyers to the voters, made phone calls, and knocked on thousands of doors, the levy failed. All because of the work by two brothers, one who lives in Kansas and the other in New York City.

Some the DCK involvements are easier to explain than why the party wanted to defeat the zoo levy. For example, its decision to control the Iron County Board in Wisconsin. Flyers sent to 1,000 of the 5,000 voters for the election identified seven candidates as “anti-mining radicals” before the April 1, 2014 election. The question was whether to allow Gobegic Taconite to mine on private forest land after the county board could weaken protections for wetlands and public waters. DCK has business interests throughout Wisconsin, including a Georgia-Pacific plant in Green Bay.

DCK also pours money into school board campaigns, for example the Kenosha Unified School Board race. The issue in this one was the board’s approval of teacher contracts. The state DCK chapter won’t quit after that election. David Fladeboe said that this is an important area of the state. Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause, a Wisconsin campaign spending watchdog group, said about the DCK involvement, “It’s the nationalization of state and local politics in Wisconsin.”

DCK got rid of two Kenosha board members and flipped the position on the school board regarding negotiation with teachers. It lost in Iron County, however, because of smears and outright lies. One of the DCK-targeted candidates actually supported the controversial open-pit mine. Another winner had supported the mine but was concerned about the possibility that it could poison drinking water.

This spring, DCK sent leaflets to West Virginia residents in at least eight counties, claiming that they wouldn’t be eligible to vote in the May election if they didn’t update their voter registration. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said that voters only had to update registration if they moved, changed their names, or wanted to change party affiliations. DCK branch leader claimed they were trying to help voters. She said, “There may have been a few mistakes.” Tennant said that only election officials could legally contact voters about registration information. Any other contact would not be “legitimate.”

David and Charles Koch have tried to stay under the radar, but the media is making them far more visible. Even the Sunday comic of Doonesbury publicized them. As the character Kim talked about the adverse impact of Citizens United that allowed unlimited corporation donations to political campaign, she said:

“You know, the Roberts court really did screw us over with Citizens United. Last election cycle, a pair of nasty billionaires spent three times what the top 10 unions spent combined.”

Even Politifact, which tends to take a very conservative approach toward progressive claims, had to admit that Doonesbury was probably correct in considering the effect of the Koch’s fundraising. Politifact called it part of the “Koch network.” Washington Post’s lead investigator of DCK funds said:

“We haven’t found a network of organizations like this anywhere else. The Koch brothers have mobilized this money and the amount is incomparable, even relative to other conservative funding organizations.”

The money may not all come out of the Kochs’ pockets, but they control how it is spent.

The huge difference between expenditures by DCK and the other two political parties is that the Koch funding comes from dark money. No one knows who is giving to the campaigns.

June 22, 2014

Religious War in Iraq, U.S.

Former Dick Cheney, the noisiest of the current chicken-hawks urging the U.S. to resume an Iraqi war, said in 2003:

  • People are wrong to think that we need several hundred thousand troops after military operations cease.
  • “[The United States] will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”
  • “Our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced.”
  • The Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shiites will come together in a democracy, Cheney told Tim Russert on Meet the Press, because “they have so far.”

“They understand the importance of preserving and building on an Iraqi national identity….  The prospects of being able to achieve this kind of success, if you will, from a political standpoint, are probably better than they would be for virtually any other country and under similar circumstances in that part of the world.”

No, none of this happened. Bush/Cheney pushed the well-trained Sunni military out of leadership and put the Shiites into control through the leadership of  Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, leaving the country torn apart.  Bush/Cheney destroyed the country’s infrastructure and replaced its government with another corrupt, brutal government.  Bush/Cheney put the Al-Qaeda in power because the Sunnis were not part of the government. Bush/Cheney went in with no plan and then signed an agreement to get out of Iraq before leaving office.

The $25 billion that the U.S. put into training and equipment for the Iraqi military paid for abuse of Iraqi civilians, primarily Sunnis, through unlawful raids and arrests, torture, and indiscriminate shelling.  The best summary of what happened in Iraq comes comedian Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

Despite his brutality, Saddam Hussein had kept an uneasy peace among the three separate identities in the country for almost 30 years. When Bush/Cheney removed him as leader, the rift became violent. Injured Sunnis were left for dead in a Shia hospital, and Sunni families who came to get the injured Sunnis were also in danger of being killed. Sen. John McCain said in April 2003 that the Shias and Sunnis had no history of discord. The U.S. totally failed to understand that this rift has existed for 1300 years, that Iraq was only labeled as a “country” in 1920 because Britain wanted its oil.

For a short time in 2008, Gen. David Petraeus demanded that the Sunnis be included in decisions, but this was soon dropped. A Sunni organization in Syria called ISIS made themselves popular with food and healthcare drives in the villages. ISIS built a fortune of over $2 billion after it took over some of the Iraqi banks this year, becoming the richest terrorist group in the world.

ISIS isn’t alone in its attacks on the Iraqi army. Although many Sunnis are disturbed by the ISIS violence, the group’s collaboration with local militias, including Ba’athist and Islamist sects, has made it easier for them to overtake a number of cities. Most of the media reports only on ISIS, but people in Iraq report that it is just one faction in a popular rebellion against Maliki’s corrupt government. For them, there is no other option.

Eleven years after the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq, most people have figured out that the U.S. isn’t going to plant “seeds of democracy” in a religiously war-torn nation. President Obama has announced that the U.S. would not intervene in Iraq until the Iraqi government makes concessions to the Sunnis. Yet he has already chosen sides with the Shiites by promising 300 “military advisers,” who will receive combat pay, to help the government fight against the Sunnis. The U.S. has already also increased its “intelligence and surveillance assistance” and continues to supply arms to the Shiite government, assisting the “genocide” against the Sunni population.

Religious and ultra conservative leaders in the U.S. are opposing any involvement in Iraq: Pat Robertson bashed the Bush/Cheney war on The 700 Club by agreeing that Hussein kept “those warring factions in check.” He added, “It’s unfixable. Those simmering animosities have been there for centuries.

Glenn Beck admitted he was wrong and the liberals were right for opposing the invasion:

“You were right. Liberals, you were right, we shouldn’t have…. Not one more life. Not one more life. Not one more dollar, not one more airplane, not one more bullet, not one more Marine, not one more arm or leg or eye. Not one more. This must end now.”

Fox network’s Shepard Smith criticized the people who were wrong in the first place and now want the U.S. to go back into Iraq. Megyn Kelly scolded Cheney for his op-ed criticizing President Obama for his Iraqi policy by telling Cheney how wrong he was:

“Now with almost a trillion dollars spent there with 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say you were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many?”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) talked to David Gregory on NBC’s Meet the Press today about the Bush/Cheney mistakes.

Much as I would like to think that these people have suddenly become sane, the intent may be to show up the war-mongering establishment GOP by siding with the over 80 percent of people in the United States who think that the U.S. needs to stay out of Iraq.

Historian Crane Brinton describes three phases of revolutionary change countries typically follow:

  • People revolt and the old order is overthrown.
  • Revolutionaries, the people who overthrew the old order, become oppressors themselves and use violence to stay in power.
  • People revolt against the revolutionaries to restore the peace and tranquility they used to have during the old regime.

When order is restored, the best parts of revolution are preserved. Iraq’s old order was overthrown in 2003. The country is still in the second, violent, phase. The Iraqis have to revolt against this violence to escape a cycle of radicalism and terror. The U. S. needs to stay out of the process.

To support the current Iraqi regime is to support Iran. When the Iraqi soldiers defected, Iran sent the Revolutionary Guard to help Maliki, increasing Iraq’s independence on Iran. Anything the U.S. sends to Iraq may easily go on to Iran.

Even some of the Shiites want the U.S. out of Iraq. In a sermon Friday, Nassir al-Saedi, loyalist to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, said that their group will attack the U.S., “the occupier,” if it comes back. Tens of thousands of al-Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi army, paraded through the Baghdad streets yesterday.

The U.S. needs to concentrate on the domestic terrorists in our country. The Ku Klux Klan is organizing a military-style combat training for its members to participate in a racial civil war. At this time, existing and new KKK members now overseas and leaving the military will be leading these trainings. One of the women in the KKK said, “The Klan is a Christian organization, so they get to read the bible and they enjoy going to rallies and they get to play with kids their own kind.”

The Klan is starting to develop its followers in the same way that ISIS did—by helping people. Part of their agenda is to volunteer for neighborhood watch programs. KKK members dropped flyers in Chesterfield County (VA) that stated, “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake.” The klan may appear to be small at this time, but it will be joined by angry violent groups with almost unlimited supplies of guns because of lax laws in the U.S.

Conservatives will do anything they can to keep the KKK in business. After U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced  that the DOJ is bringing back its committee on Domestic Terrorism, the extremist right wing came out in force. According to their beliefs, white supremacists using violence and terrorizing communities for their political agenda are exercising their free speech rights. They are “patriots.”

Extremists claim that Holder’s committee is a war on white men while bombing abortion clinics and killing doctors is just showing that you disagree with them. Cliven Bundy was merely exercising his rights not to pay his debts; the government was the terrorist, according to the radical right. In 2009, DHS issued a report that identified white supremacists as the greatest threat to national security, and the far right went ballistic.

Membership in the KKK has tripled since President Obama was elected the first time. Members claim that it’s a “non-violent, Christian organization.” The past six years has seen a constant diet of vicious, racist diatribes not seen since Herbert Hoover’s Southern Strategy to attract Southern racists to the GOP. Republican candidates use openly racial language in an attempt to win votes.

Parallels between Muslim fundamentalists and U.S. Christian right:

  • Motivated by extreme religious beliefs
  • Tend to have antiquated ideas about the role of women
  • See themselves as “soldiers of God”
  • Harbor strong homophobia
  •  Vigorously defend their way of life by using violence if necessary

About a half century ago, a Catholic president promised to follow the constitution and keep his religious beliefs separate from his political views. Since Ronald Reagan was elected president, far-right religious candidates have become more and more fanatical about incorporating the Bible into political decisions until the radical Christian fundamentalists have started to force everyone in the country to follow their beliefs.  Like the Shiites, these legislators are the religious fanatics who protect the domestic terrorists.

We need to turn back to a democracy instead of a theocracy like Iraq. Our government—including Congress—needs to start protecting “our homeland” from “our” domestic terrorists before the Christian fundamentalists take over U.S. cities by force.

June 21, 2014

ASK, A Start to Gun Sense

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:08 PM
Tags: , , , ,

In late May, a woman visited her 78-year-old neighbor in Payson (AZ) with her two small children. They wandered off into another room where the three-year-old shot and killed his 18-month-old brother.  This is just one of thousands of reasons for the national ASK campaign that kicks off today. It urges parents to ask if there is a gun where their children play. In the United States, where almost eight children are killed with guns every day, one-third of the children live in homes with guns. About 1.7 million children live in homes where firearms are kept loaded and unlocked.

Trying to ensure that the environment where children play has enraged many people, usually men, who say that it’s none of anyone else’s business if they have unlocked and loaded guns around children. This is just one piece of evidence demonstrating the extreme culture of violence throughout the United States.

Here’s more:

A man reported that an 8-year-old was firing an assault rifle in the street over the head of pedestrians. The mother explained that she had a 13-year-old babysitter and that the gun belonged to a convicted felon. No one was charged.

In Montana a man set a trap for burglars in his garage and killed a teenager after firing blindly into the building. Germany might be able to prosecute the man because the murdered teenager was a German foreign-exchange student.

Gun activists walk around Texas with loaded assault rifles, including a Target store where a loaded Glock was found among children’s toys.

Federal airport screeners have found 892 guns in carry-on bags, a 19-percent increase from last year. And 2013’s total was 1,813. About 80 percent of the guns are loaded. And all the gun owners claimed they “just forgot.”

A 15-year-old student took his older brother’s gun to school, killed another student and himself, and injured a teacher. Although the Troutdale (OR) police chief said that the gun was “secured,” it was left in the boy’s bedroom and several other guns unsecured in the home.

Two men at a surprise party in central Pennsylvania on Father’s Day were playing with a gun; the guest of honor shot another man when he tried to hand him the gun.

Justin Ayers, 33, and his wife were celebrating the birth of their three-day-old baby when a 62-year-old neighbor shot off his gun through the wall and into the back of Ayers’ head, killing him. The neighbor had a previous felony conviction.

Two of Cliven Bundy’s followers on the Nevada ranch went to Las Vegas and shot and killed two armed police officers. A third man who pulled a gun on one of them was shot and killed by the other killer.

Since the Sandy Hook massacre 19 months ago, there have been 74 shootings at school. Conservatives, backed up by CNN, even claim that some of these are not “real” school shootings because they involve drugs—sort of like their need for a “pure definition” of “real rape.” The justification is that “it’s not a school shooting when someone goes and shoots a specific person on campus. It’s a shooting that happens to take place at school.”

These stories are such the tiny tip of the iceberg. People kill other people when they hug them, when they traing them in proper usage of guns, when they try to scare them—the list goes on and on. DailyKos GunFail keeps track of disasters by week, if you have the stomach for reading them.

States with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun death rates in the nation, according to this week’s study from Violence Policy Center (VPC) using new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The inverse is true: states with the lowest overall gun death rates have lower rates of gun ownership and some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws in the nation.

States with the Five Highest Gun Death Rates 
(Rank State Household Gun Ownership Gun Death Rate Per 100,000)

1 Louisiana: 45.6 percent ownership, 18.91 deaths
2 Mississippi: 54.3 percent ownership, 17.80 deaths
3 Alaska: 60.6 percent ownership, 17.41 deaths
4 Wyoming: 62.8 percent ownership, 16.92 deaths
5 Montana: 61.4 percent ownership, 16.74 deaths

 States with the Five Lowest Gun Death Rates
(Rank State Household Gun Ownership Gun Death Rate Per 100,000)

50 Rhode Island: 13.3 percent ownership, 3.14 deaths
49 Hawaii: 9.7 percent ownership,  3.56 deaths
48 Massachusetts: 12.8 percent ownership, 3.84 deaths
47 New York: 18.1 percent ownership, 5.11 deaths
46 New Jersey: 11.3 percent ownership, 5.46 deaths

The number of deaths even in these states, however, is intolerably high and far greater than in most Western industrialized nations. The data come from 2011, the most recent year for which data is available. You can find your state ranking here.

  • Nationwide gun death rate: 10.38 per 100,000.
  • Number of people in U.S. killed by gunfire: 32,351 in 2011 increased from 31,672 in 2010.
  • Death rates in other countries: United Kingdom, 0.23 per 100,000; Australia, 0.86 per 100,000.

Gunners now claim that they are feeling threatened, that this is the reason that they carry assault rifles into family restaurants and the baby section of Target. Others are frustrated that gun nuts give such a bad impression of gunners. BearingArms.com editor Bob Owens wrote, “If someone has an idea of how to break through to them that they are not only hurting their alleged cause but gun owners as well, I’d love to hear your advice.”

Several comments to Owens agreed. Larry Nutter  wrote, “A person with a long gun is actually carrying a, ‘shoot me first sign’ but don’t realize it.” David Deering added, “Can any sensible person really think a bunch of guys who look like they just escaped from their parent’s basement carrying long guns is a good way to convince anyone to have a positive outlook toward gun owners?”

People in the United States are slowly—very slowly—beginning to protest the overt display of violence. Chains such as Starbucks, Chipotle, Chili’s, Sonic and Jack in the Box have stated that open-carry customers aren’t welcome in their business as have Costco, Toys R Us, Babies R Us, Food Lion, Whole Foods, and IKEA. One woman who made a video of the Open Carry men so shamed them that they erased the video of the event on their website. Fortunately, Mother Jones had saved it for posterity.

The backlash after Sandy Hook caused the introduction of over 1,500 bills with the lax ones initially gaining more ground. Georgia passed a law allowing guns almost everywhere in the state, and Indiana legalized shooting police officers.

Gun sense prevailed elsewhere: New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Colorado, California, and Rhode Island all require background checks for all gun sales. Four states also require gun owners to report lost and stolen weapons. Wisconsin added four other states that prevent domestic abusers from owning or possessing guns.

In a reversal of previous anti-gun sense decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the buyer of guns have to actually be the buyer of guns, not a person who will turn around and pass it off to another person. In 2009, former police officer Bruce James Abramski, Jr. of Collinsville (VA) lied on his federal form about buying a gun for himself because it was actually for his uncle. As usual in controversial cases, the Abramski v. United States vote was 5-4 with Justice Anthony Kennedy the swing vote between the two court factions.

The Supreme Court is avoiding the constitutionality of gun laws. Justices rejected a New Jersey case about discretionary permission for concealed carry, the Texas’ ban on concealed carry for people under 21, and a federal law for selling handguns to those under 21.

Meanwhile those NRA-identified “good guys” continue to be stupid with their guns. A Georgia man was trying to put away his .45 caliber pistol at a gas station in Macon shot off the end of his penis. The bullet exited through his buttocks, and his pants stopped it. When he dropped his pants, the spent round dropped on the floor. At least five other men in the United States have done the same thing since 2010.

ordinary gun

The biggest tragedy is that shootings happen every day resulting in the main-stream press ignoring them. We just move along, hoping that we’re not going to be one of those who gets shot by those “good guys.” As Jon Stewart reported on The Daily Show, Fox network suffered from shock and awe on the day after the school shooting in Troutdale (OR), but it was from Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) primary loss. As for the shooting, another day another shooting was their response.

 

 

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