Nel's New Day

July 31, 2014

Appoint Judges Who Support Democracy

Michael Boggs is one of the many presidential nominees languishing in the wings of the Senate political machine, and, for once, that’s a good thing. Although many of President Obama’s nominations are middle of the ground, Boggs is a far-right Georgia state judge who got this nomination through a political deal.

Last year, Georgia’s GOP senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, presented the president with an “all or nothing package” of judge nomination approvals. In return for the president’s appointing Judge Julie Carnes to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and giving Boggs (and two other Republican-picked attorneys) a place on the Northern District Court of Georgia, Sens. Chambliss and Isakson would end a more than two-year hold on Jill Pryor’s confirmation to the 11th Circuit Court. Of these seven judicial nominees, four were GOP preferences, and only two of the seven are black despite the large black population of the state.

Six of the nominees have moved forward. Julie Carnes, originally a George H.W. Bush appointee, was unanimously confirmed in mid-July, and Jill Pryor’s vote is scheduled for tomorrow, the last day before the Senate leaves on a month-long recess. Boggs nomination, however, is still in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Four Democrats on that committee plan to vote against Boggs, and other Democrats have raised serious concerns about supporting him for the lifetime post on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Boggs’s record as a state legislator show that the skeptics have good reason. His votes include these positions:

  • Keep the Confederate insignia added in 1956 specifically to indicate lawmakers’ objections to federal desegregation policies
  • Ban same-sex marriage as “premised on good Christian values.”
  • Require doctors to post personal information online with the number of abortions they have performed
  • Strengthen parental consent laws for abortion
  • Create state-sponsored “Choose Life” license plates
  • Tighten other restrictions on access to abortions

When Boggs was asked about his vote mandating doctors to post this information online, he told the committee that he’d never heard of health clinics being attacked or doctors being killed by radical anti-abortion protesters. Committee member Al Franken (R-MN) pressed him on his answer, but Boggs held firm in his ignorance. Franken finally answered, “Thirty-seven years old. A state legislator. Were not aware of anything. Okay.” Later Boggs changed his position. He said he was aware of the health providers’ murdered by protesters but he didn’t link these situations with his vote.

In June, more than two dozen human rights organizations sent a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee urging them to oppose Boggs’ confirmation because he is a “serious threat” to civil rights.

“Judge Boggs’ views make him a serious threat to the future of our domestic civil rights–particularly those relating to employment discrimination, voting rights, access to public accommodations, school desegregation, women’s health, and marriage equality,” reads the letter, sent by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national civil rights organizations.

Boggs would “undermine the future of civil and human rights jurisprudence” in Georgia, the letter continues, because during his run for a state court judgeship, Boggs told voters that the way he voted as a state legislator reflected “where I stand,” implying that his judicial rulings would be consistent with his past legislative votes.

Earlier, a Vermont group used a petition to urge the committee’s chair, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), to vote against Boggs’ confirmation. Faithful America, which describes itself as “the largest and fastest growing online community of Christians putting faith into action for social justice,” wrote:

“Christians don’t want a right-wing judge who misuses our faith. He built a political career by bragging about his ‘Christian values’–which apparently include fear-mongering about ‘homosexual Boy Scout leaders’ and posting the names of abortion providers online so they can be threatened and harassed. Boggs has shamelessly exploited Christianity to advance a far-right agenda, once going so far as to circulate a campaign flyer telling voters that because ‘my parents taught me quality conservative Christian values … I support the right to bear arms … I oppose same-sex marriage.'”

The Washington Post has strongly supported the Boggs’ confirmation because it thinks he distanced himself from his votes as a state legislator. The editorial goes farther to state that only his judicial performance, not his legislative history, should be an issue in the proceedings. His judicial performance, however, may also be in question.

Boggs has been linked to two political contributions that call into question his judicial ethics. While he was a sitting judge in 2012, the Committee to Elect Mike Boggs contributed $1,500 to the group Georgia Conservatives in Action (GCA). Earlier, in 2004, when he was running for a judgeship, Boggs served on the Bush-Cheney campaign’s Democrats for Bush National Steering Committee in the state of Georgia. Because GCA endorses candidates for office, Boggs contribution may violate the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct that requires judges to not only “avoid all impropriety” but must also avoid even the “appearance of impropriety.” It specifically prevents judges from contributing to a political organization.

Democrats also make bad choices in advocating for judicial nominees. Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have recommended Ward Armstrong for the federal bench. Armstrong touts an “A” rating from the NRA, and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia gave him a 0 percent rating in five years. He voted to nullify Obamacare and opposed the Cap and Trade bill. Publicity forced him to apologize for a sexist joke about a colleague on the legislative floor. He voted to make it more expensive for abortion clinics to operate, to allow concealed guns in bars, to bar undocumented immigrants from enrolling in state schools, to ban same-sex marriage, and to deny mortgages to same-sex couples.

These activist judges are going to be on the bench for as long as they wish. It’s time to find judges who follow the Constitution rather than ruling according to their fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

July 30, 2014

Close Loopholes in Abusers’ Gun Ownership

The first-ever hearing on the connection between gun policy and domestic violence in the Senate Judiciary Committee occurred today as members of a witness panel discussed ways to close the loopholes in current federal law. Passing additional legislation in the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) to protect women from gun violence was also a topic.

elvin-danielOne of those testifying in favor of a comprehensive background check for all who purchase guns was Elvin Daniel, a member of the National Rifle Association. His sister was shot and killed by her estranged husband in 2012. At the hearing, he said he is “convinced” that her killer deliberately bought a gun from an unlicensed firearms dealer.

As shootings rampage across the country, Congress has remained at a standstill. After the December 2012 massacre inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. Some states have passed new reform measures that tighten gun restrictions, while others have enacted laws that weaken regulations.

Gabby Giffords, a former representative whose Congressional career was stopped by a shooting in 2011, has  launched a leadership network to educate state and federal lawmakers on the need for solutions that protect women from gun violence. The group plans a major advocacy push this year near the 20th anniversary of VAWA on Sept. 13.

There are those who won’t believe that guns are a serious problem for women. Elizabeth Hovde, conservative columnist for The Oregonian, wrote, “It’s rare that we are victims because we are women.” In glossing over any discrimination against women, including her representation of the Hobby Lobby case, she determined that women just like men, that bad things happen to all people. Hovde said that the California mass murdered Elliott Rodger was not targeting women, but his statement shows a different picture: “If I can’t have them, no one will.”

A recent study, “Women under the Gun,” shows how lax gun laws, both federal and state, allow women to be murdered at an alarming rate—6,410 from 2001 to 2012–more deaths than from the Iraq and Afghan wars combined. Women’s experiences of violence in this country are unique from those of men: Women knew their attackers in 65 percent of the cases, compared to the 35 percent of murders in which men knew their assailants. About 48 women are shot to death by intimate partners each month.

Two states passed bills in May to stop people convicted of domestic violence from owning or buying firearms. Minnesota’s bill expands handgun restrictions for convicted abusers to rifles and shotguns. It also includes restrictions for temporary restraining orders. Louisiana has passed a similar bill. With earlier laws from Wisconsin and Washington, the success rate covers four states. In Minnesota the bill got the vote of a GOP representative who regularly carries a gun, and Washington’s bill passed unanimously. Information about all state laws to protect women from fatal gun violence is available here.

A 2010 study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, showed that such laws have reduced intimate partner homicides by 19 percent. The victims in all five incidents leading up to the law were all women who had obtained protective orders within the month in which they were killed. More than 30 people subject to active restraining orders were convicted of assaults involving guns in a three-year period.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) are trying to close loopholes through their proposed Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act. Federal law defines domestic as people who have lived together, had a child together, or been married. Only ten states cover “dating partners” who are responsible for over half the murders of women in domestic violence.  In an unusual defense of same-sex relationships, the NRA argued against such a law because it might work against “partners of the same sex.”

The proposed bill also prevents convicted misdemeanor stalkers from obtaining weapons, which the NRA also opposes. Its position is that stalking behaviors “do not necessarily include violent or even threatening behavior.” One in five convicted stalkers use weapons to threaten or harm their victims and nine out of 10 attempted murders of women involve at least one case of stalking before the incident. Another provision of the bill would expand the definition of “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to include the threat of violence.

states where stalkers can buy guns

Weak enforcement of laws sometimes comes from the failure of prosecutors to demand that those banned from owning firearms surrender their guns. States also don’t fully comply with reporting those banned from gun ownership. Laws are also weak in many states. About 40 percent of all gun sales are done privately because many states do not require universal background checks for these sales. In states that require background checks for all handgun sales, however, nearly 40 percent fewer women are killed by their intimate partners than in other states.

Although the NRA is completely opposed to saving women’s lives through closing the gun purchasing loopholes, the vast majority of women—81 percent—support extending the definition of “abusers” to include stalkers and dating partners. Overwhelming support for such a measure exists among 77 percent of both Republican and independent women.

Statistics show how often stalking leads to violent crimes and murder. One study of female murder victims in 10 cities found that three-fourths of women murdered and 85 percent of women who survived a murder attempt by a current or former intimate partner had been stalked in the previous year. There are nearly 12,000 convicted stalkers in the United States who can legally buy a gun.

sarah EngleSarah Engle is just one example of how women are targeted for killing and why the country needs restrictions on gun ownership. [ Left: Engle in an appearance with Gabby Giffords who was shot in Arizona in January 2011.]Almost six years ago, her ex-boyfriend broke into her mother’s house where he shot and killed the woman. After sexually and physically assaulting Sarah, he shot her in the face and left her for dead. Her experience highlights the way that women are the focus of killing because of gender.

Kentucky is one state where legislators are as clueless about guns and domestic violence as Elizabeth Hovde is. With the most lax gun restrictions for DV abusers in the nation and the greatest percentage of intimate-partner homicides by guns, the state has passed a law making it easier for battered women to obtain concealed-carry permits without changing laws for DV perpetrators. The victims don’t need any firearms training.

The presence of a firearm in a DV situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent for women, according to research from Mayors against Illegal Guns.  The Atlantic noted, “Not a single study to date has shown that the risk of any crime including burglary, robbery, home invasion, or spousal abuse against a female is decreased through gun ownership.”

Domestic abusers and stalkers should not have guns. People who engage in this behavior escalate conflict that frequently results in tragedy. The gaps in federal law need to be closed—now.

July 29, 2014

Dog Days, Dog Behavior

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:32 PM
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The Dog Days of Summer started on July 23. This time of heat has nothing to do with dogs except for the greater visibility of Sirius, the dog star. It’s a great leftover from Roman religious belief that thought the brightest star in our vision added more heat to the summer sun. Ancients even sacrificed a brown dog to appease the rage of Sirius. During the sixteenth century, people believed that dogs went made during the Dog Days. The myth, however, is a good time to discuss new studies with our “best friends.”

Your dog is probably very sympathetic to your needs, according to a recent study from Hungary. The following comes from a NPR blog on health.

Dogs always seem to know when you’re upset and need extra love, even though they hardly understand a word of what you say. How can that be? Our four-legged friends have a little patch of their brain devoted to deciphering emotions in human and dog voices, scientists reported in the journal Current Biology.

And the neural circuitry acts surprisingly like the voice-detection device found in people’s brains. The happier the barks or giggles, the more that brain region lights up. The sadder the growls or whines, the less it responds. “It’s the first step to understanding how dogs can be so attuned to their owner’s feelings,” says Attila Andics, a neurobiologist at the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, who led the study.

To find the brain region, Andics and his team first had to accomplish the seemingly impossible: Get 11 pooches to lie motionless inside an MRI brain scanning machine for nearly 10 minutes at a time, all while listening to nearly 200 people and dog noises. “They are happy volunteers in the scanner — you should just see it! They really are!” Andics tells Shots.

brain The voice detector in the dog brain (left) is in a location close to the detector region in the human brain

Other researchers have gotten a few dogs to sit still long enough in an MRI machine to analyze their brain activity. But the feat has never been accomplished with so many dogs and for such long periods of time.

“We really have no clue about what’s going on in the dog’s brain,” Andics says. “Now we can start to look at how our best friend looks at us and figure out what makes our alliance and communication with them so strong.”

Back in the late 1990s, Canadian scientists identified a part of the human brain devoted to recognizing people’s voices. The so-called voice area doesn’t process words or sentences. Rather, it figures out all the other information packed into sounds. For instance, who’s the person speaking? How is he feeling? Is she being snarky or serious? Silly or sardonic?

Andics and his team wanted to see if dogs had an analogous region in their brains. But how do you get an energetic border collie to sit still long enough to perform the experiment? “If they move more than a few millimeters, we have to start the scans again,” Andics says. He and his team started off with standard training methods: heaps of treats, praise and love.

But what really did the trick, Andics says, was brewing up a little bit of jealousy among the dogs. “We’d put an experienced dog up in the scanner, and he’d be up there sitting still,” Andics says. “Then we’d bring into the room a less experienced dog. And he’d get so jealous! He just wanted to be on the scanner bed like the other dog. It became the place of happiness.”

After about 20 training sessions apiece, Andics and his team had a pack of border collies and Labrador and golden retrievers all ready for their experiments. They put headphones on each dog and let them listen to three types of sounds: human voices, doggy voices and environmental noises, such as a phone ringing or a hammer hitting a nail. The team then looked to see which parts of the brain responded.

Lo and behold, just as with humans, the dogs have a little patch of neurons that light up most strongly when they hear voices of their own species — other dogs barking, growling or whining. There also was a region that was sensitive to emotional tones in both human and dog voices. And that area was in the same location as the one found in people — right in the back of the brain near the ears. “When you looked at how dogs respond to emotional cues in sounds, it’s very similar to how humans respond,” Andics says. “It’s in the same brain region … and is stronger with positive vocalizations than negative ones.”

So how do our furry companions tell a happy giggle from a sad sigh? “Like people, dogs use simple acoustic parameters to extract out the feelings from a sound,” Andics says. “For instance, when you laugh, ‘Ha ha ha,’ it has short, quick pieces. But if you make the pieces longer, ‘Haaaa, haaaa, haaaa,’ it starts to sound like crying or whining. This is what people — and dogs — pay attention to.”

Science has found out more about dogs.

 They can be jealous. In a study, dogs got jealous over a stuffed dog but not with a book or plastic pumpkin. Their jealousy may come from an innate sense of fair play.

They need their teeth brushed, either with regular oral care of other dentrifices.

They don’t eat grass because they are sick. If dogs vomit after eating grass, it’s because they ate too fast. Eating grass is a common behavior.

They have far fewer taste buds than humans, about 1,700 for an average dog as compared to 9,000, but more than cats who have about 470 taste buds. The major difference is that dogs lack the salt cravings that humans do because, as carnivores, they get their sodium content from meat. Any fussiness comes from the dogs’ strong sense of smell.

My favorite dog breed: the standard poodle.

poodle

Dr. Greg Burns at Emory University is following up on the Hungarian research. If you live in the neighborhood and want to participate, look him up.

July 28, 2014

Time for GOP Shill Gregory to Leave ‘Meet the Press’

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:38 PM
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Back in the day of Tim Russert, Meet the Press had good journalists who verified its news. After Russert’s death six years ago, host David Gregory, who took over from interim moderator Tom Brokaw, has demonstrated a serious bias on the conservative side. Last Sunday was no different: he played an unconfirmed Israeli video allegedly showing Hamas shooting rockets from a UN school. This video was accompanied by a sympathetic interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who explained, among other positions, that the only way to “peace” is to militarily destroy Hamas.

In response to Gregory’s question about whether Hamas is using civilians and the UN in a propaganda war, UN Relief & Works Agency spokesperson Chris Gunness pointed out the ridiculousness because of his inability to even see the video:

“To bring me on a live program and expect me to comment live on air on pictures I haven’t actually seen, I think anyone looking at this program would agree that’s really unfair. I mean, if I can see it, I’ll happily comment on it.”

Although Gregory did say at the end of the program that the UN confirmed the video does not show what Gregory early purported, he still gave credence to the Israeli report, “So this is a back and forth that we are not able to settle at this point.”

Gregory’s conservative bias is nothing new. Over a year ago, I wrote a piece beginning with his pandering to conservatives from his start on the show when he promised Mark Sanford the ability to “frame the conversation” when he talked about abandoning South Carolina for an assignation with his mistress and lying about his whereabouts.  Esteemed journalist Frank Rich pointed out that Gregory may be “playing the part [of Joe McCarthy] to make some noise” when Gregory attacked Glenn Greenwald for supporting Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks.

On the Jay Leno show, Gregory said:

“I think it’s deeply disturbing when someone takes it upon him or herself to decide they’re uncomfortable with some program and they decide they want to undo a government program. I don’t think that’s what the founders of the country envisioned and it’s not a real way to do that.”

That position is in direct opposition to journalism’s requirement of  in-depth reporting.

On a program last October, Gregory called for more “leadership” from President Obama. Typical of conservatives, Gregory wanted to know when Obama was going to “demonstrate he can bring along converts to his side and actually get something meaningful accomplished.” Unfortunately for the host, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne was present to gently explain the confusion between presidential “leadership” and giving in to GOP demands:

“A lot of times, though, when people say the president should lead, what they want him to do is adopt Republican positions and then push for those. That’s not leadership, that’s capitulation. I think we should stop talking about a Grand Bargain and try to have normal government in the next two months.”

The Republicans have refused to have a “normal government.”

Gregory specializes in asking leading questions that permit his conservative guests to present their far-right positions. An example occurred during his interview with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the 2012 Benghazi deaths. Gregory allowed Paul to again smear Clinton with the false opinion that she denied additional security forces at the compound although she knew the need. Not satisfied with Paul’s attack on Clinton, he then encouraged more smears by asking if Benghazi disqualified Clinton for presidential candidacy.

Earlier this month on Meet the Press, Gregory supported House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) lawsuit against the president because Democrats would have been just as upset if a Republican president had delayed some of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation. Fortunately, former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm was present to bring the program back to reality. She reminded Gregory that George W. Bush had delayed parts of the Medicare Part D implementation with no negative reaction from Democrats. That was before she called Boehner’s lawsuit “the legal equivalent of birtherism.”

Granholm also filled in Gregory’s omission that the Republicans had voted overwhelmingly—time and again—to delay the exact provision that they are now using to sue the president. But that wasn’t all. In talking to former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who was discussing the problems within the Republican party needing a positive message for blue-collar workers, Gregory said, “the Obama economy,” blaming one person for the disaster that the GOP has supported. This was the same show when he asked if the border immigration crisis is “Obama’s Katrina moment.”

That Gregory is in trouble with the network has been obvious for some time. In March, the head of NBC News, Deborah Turness, met with him and executive producer, Rob Yarin, to discuss “format changes” for the show. Fourth-quarter 2013 ratings showed the lowest total viewers in the show’s history which started in 1991. A “format change,” however, won’t change the fact that the program caters to Republicans, with its base of old, white men. A diverse guest list that didn’t include John McCain and his cohorts almost every Sunday could make the difference. Hispanics and blacks are almost invisible on the show except for a few appearances on the panels; the women, segregated to the roundtable, are mostly members of the media.

Beyond adding accuracy and lack of bias to Meet the Press, these ideas could improve the show:

One way that Tim Russert used to grill politicians was to put some of their past quotes that contradicted their statements on the show and ask them to explain their positions. No host now uses this approach; it’s a “format change”! And it works well on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. 

Russert also appeared skeptical of all answers. Gregory needs to expose inconsistencies while being respectfully aggressive.

Gregory could also invite guests that aren’t visible elsewhere. Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell, who appear on MSNBC almost every day, frequently appear on Meet the Press.

The drums beating the rumor that Gregory will be gone after the fall elections are getting louder. Viewership is down 43 percent since he took over six years ago, and only the Winter Olympics saved the show from third place this year. Sadly, suggestions for a replacement are Chuck Todd, Joe Scarborough, and Mika Brezezinski—more conservatives. At least Brezezinski would mean that a woman would finally host one of the Sunday political talk shows, but she needs to lose the submissive behavior that she demonstrates on the Scarborough show.

On June 15, when Iraq was the focus of all Sunday talk shows on CNN, Fox, CBS, NBC, and ABC this Sunday, no women or people of color were featured on the solo interviews. Two-thirds of the participants on the roundtable discussions were men. Of the 38 guests on the shows were five people of color, and no one show had more than two women or two non-white guests.

That same week, Melissa Harris Perry’s show had ten guests: four women and five people of color. It was the only show to feature an Iraq war veteran. Now there’s an idea: replace Gregory with a black woman.

July 27, 2014

Christians Still Know What Jesus Wants

Fundamentalist Christians are still following what they think Jesus wants them to do—in one case fasting to protest legalized marriage equality before the Supreme Court can hear any cases in October.  “Jesus has issued a trumpet call and declared a holy fast to gather his people together for a time of consecration, to purify our way of thinking and cleanse our way of living,” wrote the Family Foundation in Virginia.

The Supreme Court hasn’t agreed to hear any of these cases, and in this fast people don’t have to stop eating.  This new twist to a “fast” is a diet that I could comfortably follow. The request is to join them “for 40 Days of Prayer, Fasting and Repentance for Marriage from August 27 through October 5, 2014.” The follow-up, however, is that “giving up physical food isn’t necessary.”

Although the mainstream GOP has worked hard to return its Tea Party pets to the store, the primaries have let a few of these escape, mostly because they have the support of mega-churches. Here are a few of the “winners”:

Jody Hice, the GOP candidate to replace Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) who also had serious issues of his own: Southern Baptist Pastor Hice believes that there is a homosexual plot to sodomize children and that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Muslims. Hice, who compares abortion to Hitler’s holocaust is endorsed by Broun who claimed, “Evolution and embryology and the big Bang theory are all likes straight from the pit of Hell.”

Hice’s 2012 book, It’s Now or Never: A Call to Reclaim America, calls for the nation to  ban abortion, ban same-sex marriage, repeal hate-crime laws, and expose “radical Islam for the clear and present danger that it is.” In a 2004 article he stated that women should have to receive permission from their husbands before running for political office.

James Lankford (R-OK), the candidate to replace GOP Sen. Tom Coburn: A graduate of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lankford believes life begins at the moment of fertilization. His website states: “James Lankford is a strong conservative and servant leader who is committed to God, Family and the Constitution.” Evidently in that order.

Mark Walker, the GOP candidate who defeated the highly regarded son of one that state’s most powerful politicians by more than 6,000 votes in a GOP runoff:  The RNC said that Walker’s leadership role at Lawndale Baptist Church made him the winner. Even his Tea Party colleague and primary opponent called Walker a religious extremist.

Gary Palmer, the GOP candidate to replace Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL): “This entire campaign was built on prayer, sustained by prayer and tonight was delivered by prayer,” Palmer claimed.

The following Christians follow Jesus by interrupting people at their worship. Operation Save America, formerly Operation Rescue whose members are known for wounding and killing people who support pro-choice rights, held a protest at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans while they were having a time of silence to honor a church member who had died. The protesters’ rationale was to “present the truth of the Gospel in this synagogue of Satan” as part of their efforts “to defeat the culture of death.” Church members who could not preserve their silence changed to singing during the protest. Later, the Rev. Deanna Vandiver, speaker during Sunday’s service, said, “No one should invade the sanctuary of another’s faith to terrorize people as they worship.”

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has joined other governors that violate the constitutional separation of church and state with an official proclamation telling the state’s residents to pray and repent. In his April proclamation, he claimed to be modeling himself after George Washington. A revival at the Iowa statehouse on July 14 was one of several statehouse rallies. Christians named  “Prayer 7-14-14,” after 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Branstad is rewriting history: there is no evidence that Washington ever had an official prayer rally. In fact, the first president followed the beliefs of deism, although he referred to himself as an Anglican.

On its surface, the executive order signed by President Obama prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination against LGBT employees appears to follow Jesus’ directive. The usual suspects—fundamentalist Christians, Catholics, and Fox News—had meltdowns, accusing the president of being “hell-bent on forcing Christians to assimilate to the militant LGBT agenda.” The order lists no religious exceptions except those in George W. Bush’s 2002 executive order. The conservatives need to emerge from their meltdown to read the fine print.

Without the 2002 order overturned, religious companies can still discriminate. Contractors with religious affiliations can still favor workers of their own faith for religious roles. Twelve years ago, a senior administration official said that, according to the order, religion-based organizations “should be able to hire people that support their vision and mission” in a way consistent with previous court rulings on the issue. Bush’s order allows Catholic Charities to ask if applicants are Catholic.

A bit of humor to send you through the week:  Bert Farias, founder of Holy Fire Ministries, has the latest definitive answer to why people are gay:  fart demons. Engaging in “unclean demonic practices” of consensual sex with a person of the same gender causes possession by demons so “putrid-smelling” they can drive pigs to suicide. But gay people shouldn’t get upset with Farias’ explaining “the raw, naked truth about homosexuality.” He further explained to LGBT people, “[You] will see that I am actually trying to help you.” I’m waiting to see who tries to one-up that idea.

July 26, 2014

The American Dream Is Almost Dead

Back in the 1950s, people believed in the American Dream. Tax rates for the wealthy were at 90 percent, veterans had good benefits, and strong unions had created a healthy middle class. By the 1960s, even the Republicans voted for civil rights, and the country moved forward. Fifty years later, the American Dream is most likely dead. Two-thirds of the people in the United States think that the next generation will not be better off that their own.

An article in USA Today has directed attention toward the disappearance of the dream in the wealthiest nation in the world. According to an analysis of living expenses in the nation, the price tag for the American Dream is $130,357 a year for a family of four. Only 16 million U.S. households earned that much in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means that only one out of 8 people in the U.S.—12 percent—achieve this goal.

The American Dream has always included owning a home. For a home that costs $275,000 (the median price) with 10 percent down and a 4-percent, 30-year mortgage, the family pays $17,062 a year. Groceries would run $12,659, and one car would cost $11,039. Those with other essentials take $58,491. The extras did include restaurant expenses, but only $70 per week—for four people. Taxes—federal, state, local, sales, and property—would run about 30 percent of the $130,000. The article also factored in $22,500 savings each year, $5,000 of that for the children’s college expenses.

Obviously, people could not save, spend less on entertainment and restaurants, and live in a cheaper house. But that’s not the American Dream, and that’s not the way that people lived in the 1950s. Also people live cheaper in places like Oklahoma City and Cleveland than in San Francisco and New York. To make an annual salary of $130,000, a person would require a $65 hourly wage, considered ridiculous. Yet the prices have gone up far faster than workers’ salaries.

With the median household income is $51,000, people are far below a living wage. Almost 50 million people in the country are below the poverty level, an almost 50 percent increase since George W. Bush became president.

Conservatives still promote the belief that people can achieve the American Dream if they just work hard enough. Studies show that they are wrong. A Johns Hopkins University study, documented in The Longest Shadow, followed almost 800 Baltimore schoolchildren for 25 years starting in the early 1980s. The poor stayed poor, and only four percent of urban disadvantaged youth graduated from a four-year college.

Karl Alexander, research professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, said that upward mobility is much more limited in the U.S. than in other industrialized countries. In the United States, where people live is as much an indicator of success as how much they work. For example, people are better off in California than in South Carolina. Kids born into the bottom 20 percent of households, for example, have a 12.9 percent chance of reaching the top 20 percent if they live in San Jose (CA) but only a 4.4 percent chance if they live in Charlotte (NC).

SocialMobility

Factors influencing the differences in upward mobility:

  • Race: The larger the black population, the lower the upward mobility. That holds true for all races living in areas that are predominantly black.
  • Segregation: The greater the isolation, the less chance people have to get to good jobs and good schools. The more sprawl, the less willingness on the part of higher-income people to invest in solutions such as public transit.
  • Social Capital: Living near the middle class also brings better institutions with a better safety net and services. For example, Utah’s vast Mormon culture creates better upward mobility.
  • Inequality: The bigger the gap between the poor and rich (as compared to the super rich) the less of a chance that upward mobility can occur.  It’s easier to jump up from the bottom if the top isn’t as far away.
  • Family Structure: Top on the reasons for upward mobility is families. Children have the best chance in stable, two-parent homes.  Notice the word “stable.” That contradicts the conservative theory that women should marry just anyone in order to improve their personal finances.

 

For the past half century, far-right conservatives have worked to destroy unions so that the top 1 percent can get richer. Membership has gone from 25 percent in the private workforce of the 1940s to the current 6.7 percent—and the rate is still moving down.

In two months, United Airlines, the continent’s third largest airline, will outsource 630 of its gate agent jobs at 12 airports to private companies. The union workers who are making up to $50,000, the median wage, will be replaced by non-union workers who will make between $9 and $12.50 per hour. These people will become part of the working poor, needing government aid such as food stamps and Medicaid to survive. The airline makes the money, and the taxpayers fill in the gaps.

 

The fast-food industry already takes in $243 billion every year from taxpayers because the companies refuse to pay living wages. Wal-Mart costs taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store so that it can make $35,000 profit every minute.

 

Even without unions, there are ways to stop companies from ripping off taxpayers, increase the economy, and move people upward toward the American Dream.

 

Raise the minimum wage: Of the 13 states (Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) that raised their minimum wage in January, only one, New Jersey, saw a decrease in employment during the first half of this year. The other 12 saw speedier job growth in the first half of 2014 compared to 2013 than states that didn’t raise their wages.

 

Take away corporate tax benefits and breaks from all corporations that have even one full-time employee qualifying for food stamps or Medicaid: Instead of punishing people who get paid a poverty wage, shame the companies that keep their workers in poverty.

 

As for unions, repealing the Taft-Hartley Act would allow workers to unionize and keep taxpayers from having to pay part of workers’ wages through food stamps and Medicaid.

 

 

A new type of union, micro-unions, is growing in popularity, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is recognizing their formations. The first one was created in 2011 at the rehabilitation center Specialty Healthcare where nursing assistants wanted to organize. This week, the NLRB recognized a small group of Macy’s employees, much to the dismay of industry groups. They claim that chaos will result if companies are forced to bargain with multiple unions at the same work site, but the reason is that employees are finding a way to unionize. Their objection is to what they call “gerrymandering,” a practice satisfactory to conservatives in private education and political voting units.

 

We’ll hear more about micro-unions. In April and June, bills have been introduced in Congress to block micro-unions. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) plans to introduce an amendment to the appropriations bill to stop them on the premise that they hurt the American worker. Graham represents the state with extremely low economic mobility. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has already upheld NLRB’s earlier ruling for micro-unions. It’s the next fight against re-creating the middle class in the United States.

July 25, 2014

New GOP Rep Displays Colossal Ignorance

Filed under: Foreign policy — trp2011 @ 8:48 PM
Tags: , , ,

It’s Friday. That means there’s no new Daily Show. For those of you who go through withdrawal without Jon Stewart, you can watch Rep. Kurt Clawson (R-FL) as he addresses two Indians—actually Indian-Americans during a House sub-committee on Asia and the Pacific. Yesterday was Clawson’s first day on the committee after winning a special election last month. He replaced Trey Radel who pleaded guilty to trying to buy cocaine from an undercover police officer last year. Pressure from Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) led Radel to resign.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) introduced Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, senior officials of the U.S. government, to the committee. They serve as assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs and assistant secretary and director general of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service, respectively. Clawson was only too happy to welcome the two government representatives to the United States.

“I’m familiar with your country. I love your country. And I understand the complications of so many languages and so many cultures and so many histories all rolled up in one. Anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I’m willing and enthusiastic about doing so…Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S. I’d like our capital to be welcome there. I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?”

After a long embarrassing pause, Biswal (below right) responded,

“I think your question is to the Indian government. We certainly share your sentiment, and we certainly will advocate that on behalf of the U.S.”

biswal

There was no indication that Clawson even understood his mistake. He grinned and said, “Of course. OK. Let’s see some progress.”

curt-clawsonedited-485x389

Clawson will be running for election this fall. The video may be shown many times before that. As Rachel Maddow said, “Your tax dollars at work.”

According to Chabot, Clawson’s “speaks four languages and all kinds of other great stuff.” According to Clawson’s statements, he also likes Bollywood movies.

Congressional members—at least some of them—are trying to strengthen ties between the U.S. and India after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected this past spring. Some lawmakers are circulating letters to have Modi speak to a joint session of Congress.

The U.S. disdain for foreign policy is echoed by the Senate’s refusal to confirm ambassadors. About 25 percent of the world’s countries are waiting for almost 50 ambassadors to be confirmed by the Senate.  The chamber leaves for a month-long vacation at the end of next week, making it unlikely that any of this action will happen until at least fall.  There have been complaints that nominated ambassadors lack diplomatic credentials, but three-fourths of the ambassadors-in-waiting are career diplomats who should easily pass through the confirmation process.

A month ago, Secretary of State John Kerry asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to confirm these ambassadors “en bloc” like military promotions as in the past. Now Republicans routinely refuse to give unanimous consent required to proceed on quick confirmation votes. Without that consent, confirming one single ambassador can take up to eight hours. The average waiting period for confirmation has been 262 days, and 75 percent of those not confirmed have waited for over a year.

  • Iraq’s and Egypt’s ambassadors weren’t confirmed until mid-June.
  • Egypt last had an ambassador in August 2013.
  • The nominee to Kuwait waited for 200 days while the crisis in Iraq is escalating into regional warfare. Neighboring countries such as Kuwait and Jordan are overrun with hundreds of thousands of refuses.
  • One-fourth of all countries in Africa are waiting for ambassadors while U.S. counterterrorism efforts are pivoting toward that continent. Places such as Niger, Cameroon, and Mauritania are part of the region that is fighting against the terrorist organization Boko Haram. Niger just got a U.S. ambassador this week.
  • The nomination for ambassador to South Korea just got out of committee in mid-June although North Korea has recently launched three short-range projectiles toward Japan, following Kim Jong-un’s threatening responses to an American film with a plot to kill him.
  • The Senate waited to confirm the ambassador for Honduras until early July; a vacancy still exists in Guatemala. Refugees are flooding across the U.S. border from both countries.

 

Lt. General Kip Ward, USA (Ret.), past Commander at U.S. Africa Command, described the problem in this way:

map

“When we create a void, or a void is allowed to exist, someone is going to fill it. When it’s filled by something that’s not in our national interest, reversing it requires extraordinary amounts of resources. The more voids that exist, the more difficult that path becomes.”

As Kerry said, “We can’t lead if we are not present.”

We’ll give the Senate some credit. They managed to confirm six ambassadors this month.  Now we hope that India, the country that Clawson so loves, will get a U.S. ambassador.

July 23, 2014

ACA Still Attacked, But Helps People

Filed under: Health Care — trp2011 @ 9:51 PM
Tags: ,

The House has declared a hiatus in attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA) after voting against it at least 50 times since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it mostly constitutional, but lawsuits about ACA are still wandering around lower courts. Two separate courts of appeals issued conflicting rulings about ACA yesterday.

By a 2-1 vote, a panel from the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Halbig v. Burwell that the exchanges, marketplaces where people can receive tax credits if they are allowed financial assistance, are valid only if an individual state operates the exchanges. Because 36 states did not create these exchanges, the federal government set up one for the states’ residents which provided subsidies to almost 5 million people who could not otherwise afford insurance.  Because the law mention state exchanges, the two judges decided that tax credits for purchases a federal exchange did not meet the letter of the law.

The decision against ACA would not only remove subsidies from people who need financial assistance but also fail to cover all the people, a necessity for the ACA to function. Without this provision, employers would not be required to provide insurance. This is the first ruling against ACA since the cases started two years ago.

Within two hours of the D.C. court ruling, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals released an opposite decision. Because of the ambiguity in the law’s wording, the court decided that the rule in authorizing subsidies is “a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion,” according to the Chevron Doctrine from a 1984 Supreme Court ruling. Although the law refers to state exchanges, it also provides that if a state “elects” not to establish the “required Exchange,” the secretary of health and human services must “establish and operate such Exchange.” These sections both require states to establish exchanges and allow them not to do so. Congress gave the IRS the responsibility to resolve such contradictions.

This case had pretty much flown under the radar because a federal district court in January heard it and ridiculed conservatives for the ludicrous filing. The Obama Administration, however, had expected the negative ruling from the D.C. Circuit and was prepared to appeal the decision to the entire 11 judges in the court. The panel that overturned the lower court was composed of the two most far-right judges on the D.C. Circuit who displayed their hostility toward the law in the March 25, 2014 arguments.

Judge Raymond Randolph, appointed by Bush I, stated that the launch of the ACA was “an unmitigated disaster” and that its costs “have gone sky-high.” He cut off Judge Harry Edwards, the one dissenter, to quote an editorial from the conservative Investor’s Business Daily to support his argument that the ACA should be defunded. Health policy is not that publication’s strong suit: it had earlier argued that British physicist Stephen Hawking from the U.K. wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K. because that country’s National Health Service would declare the his life to be “worthless.”

Judge Thomas Griffith, a Bush II appointee, concurred with his colleague, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, that all labor, business, or Wall Street regulation is constitutionally suspect. He perceived the ACA as a “burdensome regulation” brought by the forces of “cowboy capitalism.”

With seven judges appointed by Democratic presidents, the entire D.C. Circuit is far more middle-of-the-road than the panel that made this decision against ACA. Although the court is typically reluctant to hear a panel decision, the loss of health insurance for millions of people might be important for the entire court to consider the ruling. The decision won’t go into effect as long as an appeal is pending.

If the case goes to the conservative Supreme Court, they may have difficulty striking ACA down on the basis of ambiguity because of the court’s long history in recognizing a law’s clear purpose over an error in proofreading or by one statement in isolation. Even the subtitle of the law reads “Affordable Coverage Choices for All Americans.”

If the entire D.C. Circuit hears the case and overturns the panel’s ruling in Halbeg, two district courts and two appellate courts will have all ruled in favor of the ACA, which means that the Supreme Court will not be required to take the case. The justices may decide to so anyway, but they wouldn’t have a reason.

A great irony in the GOP jubilation regarding the possibility that people will lose their subsidies is that it would raise taxes. Before the 2012 presidential election, 95% of all Republicans signed on to Grover Norquists’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” to oppose any tax rates for anyone.

In its 2012 ACA ruling, the Supreme Court called the subsidies “taxes.” The loss of subsidies equals an increase in taxes. Republican Kevin Drum wrote in Mother Jones, “Everyone who buys insurance through a federal exchange would lose the tax credits they’re currently entitled to, and losing tax credits is the same as a tax increase.” Denying Medicaid, states denied 5 million people something that didn’t exist, but the removal of tax subsidies means taking away cash from people already receiving it.

Unfortunately for the Republicans opposing the ACA, the news about the law, while largely failing to appear in the mainstream press, is good. Private insurers that originally avoided the exchanges now want a piece of the action. In all the states that have reported, the number of insurance companies in the exchanges will increase during the second year.

When insurers testified at a House hearing, they said that the law had not led to a government takeover; just the reverse, several insurers said their stock prices were going up. They also refused to say whether their insurance premiums would increase sharply.

The ACA is vastly decreasing the number of uninsured: for example, the uninsured in New Jersey is lower by 38 percent, in Minnesota by 40 percent, and in Kentucky by 50 percent. During the second quarter of 2014, the percentage of people without insurance fell to 13.4 percent—the lowest quarterly average since Gallup-Healthways began tracking health insurance in 2008.

The vast majority of people are paying their premiums, and almost 9 million more people have health insurance. Yet there hasn’t been a significant increase in new patients visiting doctors.

Over half the people think that the ACA has helped either their families or others in the country, according to a survey by CNN/ORC International survey. Thirty-eight percent think that the law is too liberal, but 17 percent oppose it because it’s not liberal enough. The remainder of the people support it.

Republicans are largely happy with their insurance: 74 percent of newly insured Republicans like the plans. Overall, 77 percent of people who had insurance prior to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act said they are pleased with the new coverage they obtained in the last year.

Best of all, insurance saves lives, according to a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine about the Massachusetts health care reform that started in 2007. While death rates from “amenable” causes and the overall death rate barely budged outside Massachusetts, both those went down significantly in Massachusetts. For every 830 people who got insurance in the state, about one person avoided a premature death. That would make between 17,000 and 24,000 more people staying alive in the nation.  It’s the opposite of the “death panels” that Republicans announced during that hot summer to rile up conservatives.

July 20, 2014

‘What Would Jesus Do?’ – Christians Claim to Know

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:46 PM
Tags: , , ,

Prionda C. Hill, 25, ran over motorcyclist Anthony Oliveri and blamed God. She was behind the wheel of a car in Fort Wayne (IN) “when God told her He would take it from here.” The “accident” broke all Oliveri’s ribs on the left side, damaged his spleen, bruised his kidney, and gave him road rash over most of his back and limbs. Fortunately—according to Oliveri—God saved his life, perhaps in apology for being a bad driver.

In Orange County, elementary teacher Thomas Hammer, 58, testified that God told him to attack a skateboarder—for the second time.

That’s just a bit of information sent from on high as people ask for Jesus’ advice, including what kind of assault rifle they should buy.

Jesus would build a fence to keep  unaccompanied minors from Central America out of the United States, according to Texas megachurch Pastor Robert Jeffress. He said that it’s “the most compassionate thing to do” because the lack of a fence is “enticing  children and mothers to make this dangerous journey.”

Jesus would oppose universal health care, according to over three-fourths of Republicans in a YouGov poll. The GOP scripture reads:

“You were hungry and thirsty, so I eliminated funding for Meals on Wheels and food banks. You were a stranger, so I vilified you and demanded you be deported. You were naked, so I called you an evil liberal who hates conservative family values. You were sick, so I repealed your only hope for health care. You were in prison, so I tortured you.”

Jesus would oppose stricter gun laws, according to the same survey, although Jesus didn’t face guns.

A woman called on Jesus—and then Pat Robertson–for advice after her son heard sounds sending shock waves through his body and then felt as if someone had hit him hard in the stomach. Jesus didn’t answer, but Pat Robertson diagnosed the problem as demonic possession.  He advised the mother to get “somebody with you that understands the spiritual dimension and spiritual warfare…. you don’t want some quack in there that’s casting out nonexistent demons!”  She should also think about her family: “Do you have anybody involved in the occult, somebody in witchcraft or tarot cards or psychic things?”

On his 700 Club, Robertson also claimed that watching the show can cure asthma and rebuking deafness will heal the disorder. When this didn’t work for the caller, Robertson blamed her for not doing the rebuking correctly.

Because Christians rule in the United States, the entire populace is largely forced to abide by their beliefs. The fundamentalists’ persecution complex has made them even stronger in their belief that they must force their beliefs on everyone:

Oppose protections and rights for children: The U.S. stands alone with Somalia in failing to ratify  the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Christian justification is that the Bible tells parents to hit their children. Parents own children and can be killed in accordance with the father’s religious beliefs and other priorities.

Denying youth accurate information about their bodies: Christians mandated that the federal government spend one billion dollars during the past decade on abstinence-only education programs–which failed–because fundamentalists think that virginity is next to godliness and teaching prohibition works. Over one-fourth of girls become pregnant before they are 20 years old, and half the girls who give birth in high school drop out of education. Only two percent of them graduate from college.

Demean and subjugate women: Christians refuse to believe in the dignity and equality of women, starting with the rejection of females in church leadership. Even female GOP legislators believe that women are not smart enough to understand the GOP platform.

Prevent intentional childbearing: Martin Luther wrote, “If a woman dies in [child]bearing, let her die; she is there to do it.” That’s the current belief of legislators who prevent women from family planning by closing women’s clinics and blocking contraception. Last month, Christians in the U.S. Congress voted to slash family planning aid by 25 percent, and the five Catholic men on the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the “religious freedom” of corporations is more important than the right of working women to care for their health and their families.

Undermine science: Valerie Tarico writes, “We know now that the Genesis creation story is myth, neurotransmitters rather than demons cause mental illness, mandrake roots and dove blood don’t improve female fertility or cure skin diseases, and the cognitive structures of the human mind predispose us to certain kinds of religious belief.” In fighting solutions to climate change, resource depletion, and growing health problems, Christians follow their centuries-old history: their personal ends justifies the means.

Promote holy war: In the current debate on Israel actions toward the Palestinians in Gaza, fundamentalist Christians cheering Israelis because “it is written in the scripture.” Tarico describes the conversation with Evangelical relatives about the Iraq war that led to her epiphany to reject Bible worshop:

“From the vantage of my relatives and my childhood church ‘family,’ George Bush needed no diplomatic or cultural expertise; he was Born Again. He didn’t need to seek input from his earthly father about the invasion, because he asked his Heavenly Father. Besides, Jesus is coming soon and war in the Middle East is predicted in the Bible. That makes it not only inevitable, but—in a manner of speaking—desirable.”

Abuse and kill LGBTQ people: Christian missionaries cause African and Latin American LGBTQ people to live with the threat of violent death. Oppression in Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia comes from U.S. Christians who moved their homophobic message to these countries after failing in the United States.

Destroy the earth for future generations: The Bible promotes the belief that humans are more important than any other being and that this world is only prelude to the streets of gold, leading Christians to the belief that humans should do anything, no matter how destructive, and there is no need to care for future generations on the earth.

Heritage Academy in Mesa (AZ) is a prime example of how Christians distort history to promote their agenda. Required reading in the charter school, supported financially by taxpayers, is Cleon Skousen’s The 5,000 Year Leap and The Making of America which teach the lies that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that blacks were better off under slavery than they are as a free people.

According to Fred Albert Shannon’s essay:

“If [black children] ran naked it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates.”

After Americans United for Separation of Church and State brought the teachings of the Heritage Academy to light, Glenn Beck gave a sales pitch for Skousen’s book: “Teach it to your children. Read it to them at night. Bring it to the dinner table. It will be the only chance they have to actually learn American history.”

On his Facebook page, GOP candidate Jim Brown for the Arizona 2nd Congressional District wrote in a post that slavery was good for blacks because slave owners took care of their livestock. Two years earlier, an Arkansas Republican called slavery a “blessing in disguise.” The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) defended slavery in 2013, and the same year a Nevada Republican said he would vote to bring slavery back if his constituents wanted him to do so.

Christians who want to believe in the myths of the Bible should have the right to do this. They should not, however, have the right to foist their arrogant control on everyone else. The Bible comes from “a time of incredible brutality—tribalism, warfare, destitution, disease, murder, misogyny, sexual slavery and superstition of biblical proportions.” We should not have to go back to those times because Christians lead our country.

Jesus would probably not want this to happen.

July 19, 2014

Death Penalty Needs to Be Abolished

The execution of John Middleton in Missouri early Thursday morning at 12:01 am was the sixth execution in that state this year—one every month since November except for May when the U.S. Supreme Court halted Russell Bucklew’s execution. He suffers from a rare congenital condition causing weakened and malformed blood vessels. A hearing before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear Bucklew’s case on September 9.

A federal judge had granted Middleton a stay of execution on Tuesday, but a federal appeals court overturned it, and both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Missouri Supreme Court refused to halt the execution. Gov. Jay Nixon denied a request for clemency.

Middleton may have been innocent. When he was convicted of murdering three suspected police informants in 1995, the prosecutors used an insect larva from the body of one victim as a key piece of evidence. Later, it was discovered that the date for the larva was off by a day. On the actual day of the murder, according to this evidence, Middleton was in a Missouri jail on unrelated charges. The prosecution had only circumstantial evidence with no DNA or other physical links to the death. A witness submitted a new affidavit implicating two other drug dealers in all three killings.

Even getting a stay might not have saved Middleton’s life. Missouri tends to rush executing people. February’s executed prisoner was taken by prison guards while he was discussing his attorney’s appeal and injected with deadly drugs. The state pronounced him dead four minutes before the state Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for his execution.

That was the third straight execution in Missouri in which executed prisoners were injected with lethal drugs while their appeals were still pending. In January, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kermit Bye declared that he was “alarmed” that Missouri proceeded with its execution “before this court had even finished voting on Nicklasson’s request for a stay. In my near fourteen years on the bench, this is the first time I can recall this happening.”

In addition to ethical problems, executions now openly exhibit incompetence. Drugs are questionable because those used in the past for lethal injections are no longer readily available either in the U.S. or in Europe. States are now using sometimes unsuccessful drugs from non-regulated compounding companies. The people doing the injections, usually not doctors, are also incompetent. In 2009, Romell Broom was poked with needles for over two and a half hours while people searched for a suitable vein in order to insert the IV for the drug. Even the prison doctor failed. The Ohio governor finally stopped the execution after being alerted by the prisoner’s lawyer.

That situation presents the question of whether a state can legally execute a person after he survives an execution attempt. Almost 70 years ago, SCOTUS ruled in a 5-4 vote that a second execution was just fine after a drunk prison guard set up the electric chair incorrectly. The Supreme Court may have a second chance to make a decision.

Broom wasn’t the first problem. Three years earlier, Joseph Clark shouted during his 90-minute execution, “It don’t work! It don’t work.” A year later, Christopher Newton’s execution took so long that officials had to give him a bathroom break.

Because doctors are prevented from killing because of their Hippocratic oath, those who do are not top-notch. The dyslexic Dr. Alan Doerhoff performed 54 executions in Missouri about he had been sued for malpractice at least 20 times and was banned from two different hospitals.

Clearly aware of their failures, states with the death penalty are attempting to shroud executions in secrecy. The Guardian, the Associated Press and three Missouri newspapers now have a landmark lawsuit to remove that secrecy from death penalty protocols. The lawsuit argues that under the First Amendment of the US constitution the public has a right of access to know “the type, quality and source of drugs used by a state to execute an individual in the name of the people.”

Instead of stopping executions, one state legislator has an alternative. After states have used hangings, gas chambers, electric chairs, and lethal injections, Utah Republican state legislator Paul Ray wants the firing squad returned and plans to bring it up in legislature this coming January. Utah outlawed opting for death by bullet only a decade ago. One person used this method for his execution in 2010. Ray isn’t alone; Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin said earlier this year when he was proposing the method for his state. Meanwhile the shortage of drugs has driven Tennessee to legalize the electric chair.

Aside from the argument that executions cost more than life imprisonment, there are several reasons for stopping the death penalty as the United States did for several decades during the twentieth century:

  • Capital punishment doesn’t deter crime. In fact, states without the penalty have much lower murder rates. For example, the South has 80 percent of executions in the country while it holds the highest regional murder rate.
  • Innocent people are convicted and executed. In the last four decades since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty, 144 men and women have been released from Death Row, some of these only minutes before their scheduled executions. Four men may have recently been wrongfully executed for crimes they didn’t commit.
  • Race plays a role in who is executed. A 1990 report from the General Accounting Office concluded that the race of the victim influenced the likelihood of capital murder charges or the death penalty in 82 percent of studies that were reviewed. Those who murdered whites were far more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.
  • The death penalty is randomly applied. Politics, quality of legal counsel, and the location of the crime are more likely to be the determining facts for the death penalty than the facts surrounding the crime.
  • Bad legal counsel is a prime reason for executions. The vast majority of defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys. Many of them are highly inexperienced while others sleep through the trial or come to court drunk.
  • Civilized nations don’t execute people. Throughout the world, 140 nations—including most of those in Western Europe, North America, and South America—do not have capital punishment. The U.S. sides with Iraq, Iran, and China in executing people.
  • Capital punishment violates religious beliefs.
  • The death penalty doesn’t heal the pain that victims’ loved ones suffer. Money used for executions could be used for counseling, restitution, crime victim hotlines, and other services for survivors of victims.

The sensible alternative to the death penalty is life without parole. In California alone 3,300 people received this alternate sentence, and only seven of them have been released since this option became available in the state in 1977. All seven proved their innocence.

In a 5-4 vote last May, the Supreme Court determined Florida’s rigid cutoff number for mental disability to be unconstitutional.  This cutoff “creates an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 5-4 ruling. “Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number.” SCOTUS had prohibited states from executing the mentally impaired in Atkins v. Virginia (2002).

Justice Antonin Scalia was in the minority in both votes. He defends his pro-death penalty stance by claiming that the Bible forgives those who wrongly apply the death penalty to innocent persons on the grounds that the wrongly convicted will have an opportunity to set the record straight in the courthouse of the afterlife.

In a first, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled this week that California’s death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Carney said, that the “random few” who will be executed  “will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”  Carney said. His decision will most likely be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Following the uproar after Oklahoma badly botched an execution in May, causing the prisoner to die of a heart attack, the Department of Justice has initiated a national review of the death penalty. It has declared a moratorium for executions on a federal level pending an investigation. The agency will also “include a survey of state-level protocols and related policy issues,” according to DoJ spokesperson Ellen Canale.

Christopher Durocher, government affairs counsel for the Constitution Project, has submitted recommendations to the agency. The prominent think tank, whose members include former attorneys general, judges and prosecutors with differing views on the death penalty, proposes a DoJ office to review innocence claims of death row inmates, especially considering reports of racial disparity. The group also urges the development of “federal standards and procedures” for accrediting forensic laboratories after recent research has called into question the practices used in some of the 32 states that still use the death penalty. Durocher said that states not complying with benchmarks could be ineligible for some federal grants.

Although the approval rating of capital punishment is currently at 60 percent, that’s down from 80 percent 20 years ago when it peaked. We’re heading in the right direction.

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