Nel's New Day

August 31, 2014

Don’t Stand for Forced Religion

What good decisions has the U.S. Supreme Court recently made? Right now I can’t think of any. Justices stopped federal bans on marriage equality but allowed states to provide the most confusing situation imaginable. They permitted the Affordable Care Act but gave states the rights to keep the poor from getting health insurance. They increased the power of ammosexuals to run wild with their definition of the Second Amendment, promoting the killing of children and other innocent people. Their decisions about elections have permitted almost unlimited donations from the wealthy to legislative campaigns and taken away the rights of some people to vote. The Hobby Lobby decision against providing contraception move women’s reproductive rights back toward the middle of the 20th century.

With all these momentous rulings, a lesser noticed ruling further erased the separation of church and state, although the conservative justices refused to see its ramificationsGreece v. Galloway concerned prayer before the local council meetings in a Rochester (NY) suburb. The lawsuit started because almost all the invited “chaplains of the month” giving the invocation before the official business were Christian, clergy who called on Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit to tell city councilors how to make their conclusions. Some local citizens who thought that the First Amendment prevents local government from incorporating Christian prayers into government meetings sued.

Five Supreme Court justices disagreed, reversing a unanimous appellate court, because that prayer is only “ceremonial,” not religious, and therefore permissible. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy claimed that prayer (even explicitly Christian prayer) is not really religious, that its merely a tradition with no real religious purpose.

Fewer than four months after the decision, the invocation policy for this “ceremonial” practice excludes non-religious people and eliminates faiths not well-established in Greece. The new policy restricts opening remarks to listed “assemblies with an established presence in the Town of Greece that regularly meet for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective.” No non-believers who lack “established” meetings to discuss religious perspectives and minority faiths without enough local members for that “established presence” need apply.

The mayor of Winter Garden (FL) has gone even farther. John Rees called on police to escort 51-year-old Joseph Richardson out of the city commission’s meeting because he refused to stand during the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, which uses the term “under God.” Rees justified his action by saying, “It’s just not fair to our troops and people overseas.”

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) told Rees that he violated two Supreme Court rulings that government officials lack the right to force attendees to stand whenever the pledge is recited. The letter also stated that refusing to rise and repeat the Pledge is more patriotic and respectful of the godless, secular constitution that created this nation, than rising and declaring our nation to be ‘one nation under god.’”

In the meeting’s prayer the night that Richardson was removed, Commissioner Bobby Olszewski thanked God “for allowing us to be in a country where we’re free to believe and think and pray.”

Rees needs to read the response to Greece from James C. Nelson, Justice (retired), Montana Supreme Court:

“I am a non-believer. I became one late in my adult life because I was disgusted with the hypocrisy of religion in general and with the Catholic Church in particular. My decision was grounded in more hours of study and contemplation than I care to estimate. I do not believe in, much less pray to, any god.

“And my point with that opening is that the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protect my fundamental right to be a non-believer; they insure, among other things, that my various federal, state, county and local governments cannot require me – directly or indirectly – to participate in any religious exercise. Read together these religion clauses form the wall of separation between church and state that the framers intended. They keep – or at least they are supposed to keep – religion out of government and government out of religion.

“For many years I have stood during opening prayers in public meetings of federal, state and local government. I did so out of a sense of respect for the beliefs of others and for decorum – notwithstanding my personal dis-belief in the prayer and the god prayed-to. But, while respect can be freely given, it cannot be compelled.  And, thus, The Town of Greece leaves me but one option.

“I will stand no longer for prayer! I will not, as the Supreme Court suggests, leave the room during the invocation. Rather, I will sit during the prayer in the meeting room in which I am constitutionally entitled to assemble. I will not be bullied nor will I be shamed into standing. After all, it is not I who is violating the constitutional separation of church and state. I cannot and will not be compelled to participate in any fashion in government sponsored prayer.

“To be clear, my problem is not with those who profess and practice belief in one form of religious doctrine or another.  That fundamental right is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Rather, my issue is with public officials who insist on foisting their personal religious beliefs – through prayers in particular – on persons, like me and on others who do not believe, at public meetings. Stated another way, I take issue with government officers who insist on mixing their official duties with religious prayers, pontifications, Bible readings, and calls upon their God, before, during or at the end official public meetings.

“There are many ‘ocracys’ that the framers of our Constitution tried to prevent. Chief among them was theocracy. For, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, those who torment us with their religious beliefs will do so without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. And now, sadly, they will also do so officially, with the divine sanction of the Supreme Court of the United States.

“We the People may be stuck with the Court’s newest law; but, as for me. . . . I will stand no longer for prayer.”

Also in Florida, the five county commissioners in Brevard County voted unanimously to exclude a local atheist from delivering a prayer or invocation before the board’s public meetings. Remarks from nonreligious people are also limited to the “public comments” section of their meetings. They also used the excuse of the “ceremonial portion” of the county’s meeting which “invokes guidance for the County Commission from the highest spiritual authority.” A group of county commissioners in Florida is testing a recent Supreme Court decision by banning atheists from delivering an invocation before local public meetings.

The Supreme Court ruled that sectarian prayers before public meetings must be open to everyone. Kennedy made clear that the town must maintain a policy of non-discrimination and that it had “represented that it would welcome a prayer by any minister or layman who wished to give one.” That representation is gone.

In her dissent for the minority, Justice Elena Kagan warned that the decision in Greece v. Galloway could lead to discrimination against minority faiths. In her dissent for the minority, she accused the conservative justices of “blindness” to the “essential meaning of the religious worship in Greece’s town hall, along with its capacity to exclude and divide.” The Town of Greece has proved her right.

Reinforcing the myth that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, Militas (CA) is justifying the installation of “In God We Trust” in several public buildings, including the city hall’s Council Chambers.Mayor Jose Esteves said, “Our nation is built on that…. It’s part of American history.”

In Nebraska, Marvin Sundquist, 43, is suing the state because it threatens to remove his massage therapist license if he doesn’t attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He was denied the option to see an alcohol counselor who offers a non-religious program. Seven years ago, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a parole officer could be sued for damages for ordering a parolee to go through AA.  Sundquist is also seeking an injunction to prevent the state or its employees “from requiring similar religious activities against their religious objections.”

It is time that more people no longer stand for forced religion.

August 29, 2014

Campaign Fever: Kentucky U.S. Senators

mcconnellJust 67 days before the general election, the U.S. Senate Minority Leader is blaming the tight race between him and Democratic contender, Alison Grimes, comes from all the donations she’s received. The race may go over $100 million, but Mitch McConnell has three times as much as Grimes. McConnell has a much greater problems now–a Mitt Romney experience of being taped while promising wealthy donors and corporate leaders all he will do for them (and against the country) if they just give him enough money.

McConnell’s promise to shut down the president’s legislative agenda—and maybe the country—was no secret. He had openly said this in an interview. He failed to mention that he had secretly made the same promises–and many more–two months earlier at a gathering called “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society” for conservative millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers.

These are some of McConnell’s statements following his session entitled “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights”:

“In the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible). All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it…”

“And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible)—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.” [McConnell voted 17 times against the minimum wage for 16.5 million people and 12 times against extending unemployment benefits for 1.7 million people.]

“Not everybody needs to go to Yale.”

Students should look into for-profit colleges.

“All Citizens United did was to level the playing field for corporate speech…. We now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times.”

The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold [campaign finance] into law in the early part of his first Administration.” [Worse for McConnell than the deaths on 9/11 and the disastrous 2008 housing meltdown.]

“The best Supreme Court in anybody’s memory …. I’m really proud of this Supreme Court and the way they’ve been dealing with the issue of First Amendment political speech…. It’s only five to four, and I pray for the health of the five.”

“I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you.”

Koch Industries executive Kevin Gentry assured those attending that their political contributions would remain secret. Gentry formerly served as an advisor to former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, now on trial on charges that he failed to disclose gifts from a well-heeled supporter.

The Affordable Care Act, that McConnell has worked to repeal, dropped the uninsured in Kentucky more than any other state—almost by half to a little over 12 percent. Unfortunately, polls in that state show that while they love their state version they have “Obamacare,” which is nothing more than their state version.

None of the news above is suprising, but the news is about to get worse for McConnell. Kent Sorenson, the former Iowa state senator who pled guilty to taking $73,000 for switching from presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s campaign to the one for Ron Paul almost three years ago, has a McConnell connection. Dimitri Kesari, the man who literally handed Sorenson a check in a restaurant men’s room, is a political consultant for McConnell.

McConnell’s campaign chairman is Jesse Benton, Ron Paul’s Deputy National Campaign Manager. Sorenson said that “Jesse knows” about the bribe; Benton says, “I don’t know anything about that.” If there’s a paper trail for Benton, and Kesari, the FBI may find it.  An FBI raid on Sorenson’s home likely turned up more information about Benton’s and Kesari’s involvement.

Then there’s the problem with the Rand family. Benton worked for Rand Paul’s 2010 Senate campaign and lived in his basement. He’s also married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter. McConnell brought in Benton to satisfy Paulites and Tea Partiers in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s other GOP senator, Rand Paul, isn’t running for election for two years, but he’s recently raised a few eyebrows. Disagreeing with George W. Bush while he was president was “unpatriotic” and scandalous for legislators while traveling abroad, but disagreeing with President Obama is the “job” of legislators now. That’s Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) take about his meeting with Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina when Paul condemned the U.S. president’s actions for the U.S./Mexico immigration crisis and undermined U.S. foreign policy. Paul’s condemnation of the president as the “abdication of responsibility for securing our border” comes after border security has improved to levels not earlier experience in U.S. history.

Rand Paul may not be tremendously popular in his home state. He’s made no secret of his hopes to run for president in 2016, but he wants to stay senator in case he loses to the dozens of other candidates. Kentucky, however, doesn’t let a person be a candidate for two separate political offices in the same election. Paul’s idea was to just change the law; after all, Lyndon B. Johnson did just that in Texas when he was John F. Kennedy’s running mate. Other VPs did the same thing, Lloyd Bentsen and Joe Lieberman for example. Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) got to do it. Joe Biden got permission from Delaware to run for his senate seat in 2008.

Paul interpreted state law as two statewide offices, not national offices. The state GOP-controlled Senate passed the bill for Paul by 25-13. The Kentucky House, however, is controlled by Democrats. Speaker Greg Stumbo said, “We kind of take the position over here that a man (who) can’t decide which office he wants to run for isn’t fit to hold either office.” Instead of voting against it, House members just waited until the legislative session was done.

Like his father, Rand Paul thinks that the federal government is a tyrannical entity and firmly believes in state’s rights. Kentucky’s law is that a candidate can’t run for two different offices at the same time. Maybe it will stay that way.

As an addendum to yesterday’s blog about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the week got even worse. After bragging up the surplus, the state will most likely have a big deficit. Walker wanted people to think that they had a tax cut so he changed the amount of withholding in pay checks. He figured nobody would find out until after the fall election when they owed big bucks for taxes in the spring. The state also ran short after Walker refused to accept federal Medicaid expansion money and he had to pay state money for health care and to hospitals. Then there are the federal funds that never came to the state because Walker turned down a high speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison. The Potawatomi tribe is also withholding $25 million because of a casino dispute. Maybe he thinks he’ll approve the casino only if the tribe members vote for him?

The state’s rainy-day fund has enough money right now to pay for lagging taxes, but the state can’t use it without passing a law. Low taxes for a state is like low starting salaries for workers: it can hurt future growth in income. Walker should provide a fuller picture of Wisconsin’s fiscal woes on October 15—and that’s still before the election. Estimates for the two-year shortfall are projected at $642 million.

And those are only a few of the Republicans in trouble!


August 28, 2014

Campaign Fever: Governors

August hit the doldrums for a few weeks, but political scandals have hit the media. With over 80 percent of the governors, states may be changing parties this coming year. The luckiest governor is Texas’s Rick Perry because he isn’t running for re-election. Perry has, however, been indicted for abuse of official capacity and for coercion of a public servant, both felonies. After DA Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving, he threatened to defund the state Public Integrity Unit if she didn’t resign. She stayed, and he took away $7.5 million from the investigating.

Borowitz-Rick-Perry-Strikes-Back-690Although Perry has ridiculed the charges, there are two legal issues. First, this looks a lot like extortion: the funding would stay if she quit. The second is the lack of outrage for other drunk DAs, maybe because they were both Republicans. The Kaufman County DA’s conviction for drunk driving was his second offense, and the Swisher County DA’s conviction was accompanied by a scandal involving the prosecutor and a bad sting operation. Lehmberg, however, was investigating one of Perry’s friends for corruption.

As satirist Andy Borowitz wrote, “Perry blasted the indictments and called for a return to an era of limited government that focuses on requiring gynecological procedures. ‘We are living in dark days indeed when the state of Texas is spending time and money probing its officials instead of its women,’ he said, to thunderous applause.”

Fortunately for Perry, his presidential hopes are a couple of years off. Yet his statements such as referencing Ukraine in complaints about “historic” breeches of the border “from countries with terrorist ties” will return to haunt him.

Wisconsin’s governor, however, is campaigning for another term, and he’s had a bad week. At least on the outside, Scott Walker seemed to think that the investigation into his allegedly fraudulent use of campaign resources was going away—until records went public last Friday. Apparently, he personally solicited millions of dollars in contributions for a conservative group during the 2011 and 2012 recalls. For example, Gogebic Taconite gave $700,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth and got legislative approval to streamline regulations for a massive iron ore mine in the northern part of the state. Wisconsin Club for Growth ran ads supporting the governor and helped disperse campaign funds to conservative allies. An aide gave Walker these talking points when he asked Sheldon Adelson for donations in Las Vegas:

“Stress that donations to [Wisconsin Club for Growth] are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits. Let [potential donors] know that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.”

A Walker campaign consultant referred to donations to the Wisconsin Club for Growth as “investments.” The same email to a campaign adviser stated that “as the Governor discussed … he wants all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging.” In short, Walker illegally rerouted donations to, then coordinated with, Club for Growth. Walker’s sordid background is available here.

Even worse for Walker, he’s losing ground to his opponent, Mary Burke. He’s slightly ahead with registered voters but behind two points with likely voters.

Wisconsin GOP’s Gov. Scott Walker got elected four years ago partly on his promise to create 250,000 jobs for the state. His philosophy to take from the poor and give to the rich has raised a great deal of ire, especially since the state has seen only 100,000 new jobs during his term. In bragging about the state being #1 in Midwest personal income growth, he skipped the growth for the wealthy and decrease for the rest of the population.

In claiming that Wisconsin has also seen the lowest unemployment since 2008, he used the October figures. State current unemployment is 5.8 percent compared to 4.7 percent in 2008. Wisconsin rates 25th in the nation in unemployment and 37th in job creation, nothing to brag about.

Another GOP governor in trouble is Michigan’s Rick Snyder who took over many municipalities by assigning dictators called “Emergency Managers.” Snyder’s pension “reform” raised taxes for the poor, elderly, and middle class by 36 percent and reduced corporate income taxes by 81 percent, while the legislature refuses to repair crumbling roads. Now Snyder is trying to identify with his constituents—like the residents in Detroit who have had their water turned off and the others suffering from recent floods.

He told WJR radio host Frank Beckmann about a leak at his vacation home:

“I’ve been through a lot of things like that, Frank. We just recently had holes in our roof from storm damage to our lake house. We have a vacation place and we had a limb come down on the roof and had water running through the whole place; those experiences are not pleasant ones and they had to take some trees down.”

At least three people died because of the flooding: one woman suffered seizures while stranded in her car, a 100-year-old woman drowned in her basement, and a man died while trying to push his van out of flood waters.

Democratic candidate Mark Schauer has taken a slight lead in the polls.

Republicans may survive election efforts in Florida because of the gerrymandering that the court currently upholds, but the governor’s position is state-wide and Rick Scott has a lot going against him. Questions have been raised about Scott’s campaign and the GOP paying over $227,000 for a jet owned by his wife’s business. Another problems were whether Florida campaign finance laws have been violated through undisclosed expenditures and the transfer of money from a communication organization to a political committee.

An analysis of polls on Nate Silver’s website shows that Scott and his opponent, Charlie Crist, are both so unpopular that it is not predicting the winner. Crist, once a Republican governor, was far more popular before Scott poured money into negative campaigning instead of explaining why people should vote for him. Crist has come back with his own ads, reminding people of the biggest Medicare fraud while Scott was CEO of the hospital company. The company ended up paying $1.7 billion. The ad also points out Scott’s tax giveaways while taking money from seniors.

The lieutenant governor who helped Scott win four years ago because of her outreach to minorities and was forced out in 2013 and now has a new book. It’s not a pretty picture of the GOP candidate for governor. In “When You Get There,” Jennifer Carroll states that Scott got six percent of the black vote because of her actions that the campaign opposed. Without those votes, she wrote, “Scott would have lost the election.”

The good news today in Pennsylvania is the Gov. Tom Corbett has become the ninth GOP governor to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This act will give 500,000 low-income individuals subsidies to purchase private insurance and reduces the number of available benefit plans to be reduced from 14 to two, a “high-risk” option and “low-risk” options. Much as I would like to commend Corbett for his humanitarian impulse, I’m more likely to think that he was reacting to the latest poll numbers: he’s down 25 points to his Democratic opponent, Tom Wolf.

Looking good is Gov. John Kasich (Ohio), one of six governors who Gov. Chris Christie (NJ), responsible for GOP governors’ campaign fundraising, placed high priorities on; the others are the four above and Paul LePage in Maine. Projections say that LePage will lose, but he may be lucky again in another three-way race against Democrat Michael Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.

Meanwhile things are so economically bad in Koch-country Kansas, that the once popular Sam Brownback is eight points down. Jimmy Carter’s grandson, Jason Carter, is up by four points over incumbent Nathan Deal in Georgia. A lot can happen in the next 68 days.

August 27, 2014

Lively Runs for Massachusetts Governor

Little did my partner and I realize what the drastic changes for our lives during the next two decades after we retired from teaching and moved from Arizona to the coast of Oregon. It was 1992, the year of the virulently anti-LGBT Proposition 9 that led to thousands of closeted people in the state coming out in response to the proposed ballot measure. (Note that this wasn’t the only Measure 9: it was followed eight years later by another anti-LGBT measure, ironically numbered Measure 9.)  was the Oregon Citizens Alliance, led by Lon Mabon and Scott Lively. We joined the other LGBT people who came out of the closet because of the outrageous Prop 8 and have had a very different life because of our freedom in Oregon.

Mabon has disappeared, but the 58-year-old Lively has made his mark around the world in the past 22 years. He disappeared from the Oregon scene with his move to California where he founded the Abiding Truth Ministries, designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Lively is highly qualified in hatred. He and his believers think that “the gays” are responsible for every problem in history and in the Bible from the Spanish Inquisition and Holocaust to the need for Noah’s ark. According to Lively, God’s anger about wedding songs for gay weddings caused the flood.

In the recent release of his book The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, co-written with Kevin Abrams, Lively wrote that gay people are responsible for Nazi atrocities and accuses gays in the United States currently carrying out the same agenda against Christians in this country.

His hatred went international in 2002 at a conference in Uganda about the connection between homosexuality and pornography. That speech led to others and then to meetings with government officials. Seven years later, Lively was a key speaker in Uganda where he proclaimed that homosexuality caused the Rwandan genocide, Nazism, and AIDS, a justifiable punishment by God. After his impassioned speeches, the Ugandan legislature introduced its infamous “Kill the Gays” bill, downgraded to “Jail the Gays” bill that removed the death penalty. The bill passed but was recently overturned on a technical basis.

On behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the Center for Constitution Rights has filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively and Abiding Truth Ministries. The complaint states that he specifically sought out Uganda to further his agenda, knowing that Uganda was fertile ground to “meaningfully provoke and bring about the persecution of the LGBT community.”  It connects his actions to the escalation of anti-gay propaganda and persecution in Uganda. The suit is the first known sexual identity and gender discrimination suit under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows foreign victims to sue corporations, governments and individuals for human rights violations.

A year ago, a federal judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit. U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Ponsor ruled that the plaintiffs were on solid ground under international and federal law and that First Amendment arguments were “premature.” Ponsor wrote, “[Lively] has allegedly supported and actively participated in worldwide initiatives, with a substantial focus on Uganda, aimed at repressing free expression by LGBTI groups, destroying the organizations that support them, intimidating LGBTI individuals, and even criminalizing the very status of being lesbian or gay.”

Lively’s European came from his organization, Watchmen on the Wall, that he co-founded with a Russian radio host and Latvian pastor. In his 50-city European tour in 2007, Lively declared LGBT rights “as the most dangerous political movement in the world.” Lively is partially responsible for Russia’s anti-LGBT law, causing an increase in anti-LGBT violence and discrimination that Lively blames on the LGBT people themselves. During a radio interview with Bryan Fischer, Lively has taken credit for the Russian law: “I believe I did have something to do with that. I included [these suggestions] in my letter to the Russian people that I published in the very last city of the tour, which was St. Petersburg, and of course, St. Petersburg turns out to be the first city that adopted this law.”

While appearing on religious-right activist Linda Harvey’s “Mission America” radio show, Lively explained that the only LGBT violence in Russia is “gay-on-gay crime.” He said that “the guys that are beating up gays in Russia … are butch homosexuals who are beating up effeminate homosexuals, the same thing that happened in Germany.” In both these situations, Lively has no credible evidence to back up his claims.

Lively also wanted the Russians to adopt the rainbow “as a Russian symbol, a Christian symbol” and said that he met with Russian Orthodox Church’s leadership to present this idea. His idea was that the Russian Olympics could be held under the banner of the rainbow stating “the rainbow belongs to God.” He said:

“It looks like they are going to do that. Get all the pro-family organizations to come along to declare 2014 ‘The Year of God’s Rainbow’ and all of us adopt it—I’m wearing a pin right now that says ‘Reclaim The Rainbow: Ezekiel 1:28’—I think all of us should just start taking the rainbow, putting it on our webpages, wearing it and just take it away from them, it doesn’t belong to them.”

I haven’t noticed that happening.

Six years ago, Lively moved himself and the Ministries to Springfield (MA) where he’s working on his latest goal—running for governor. After talking about running for Massachusetts governor for a few years, Lively has now submitted the necessary 10,000 valid signatures to be an independent candidate for the position. As gubernatorial candidate, Lively has tried to disclaim his involvement with the Ugandan law, but records show that he told reporters that he was “one of the people that helped to start the pro-family movement there. … This was all new to them.” He also said that his campaign against homosexuality was like a “nuclear bomb” against the so-called gay agenda.

Lively has not restricted himself to bashing his description of “the gay agenda.” He said that he “would prosecute abortionists for aggravated first-degree murder if it were in my power to do so.” He believes that the educational Common Core is “Commie Core,” that notions like the DREAM Act are “Marxist,” and that public employee unions are “unconstitutional.”

In his announcement as a candidate, Lively did include condemnation of homosexuality, but he’s also concentrating on changing Massachusetts into a religious state. “They need a leader who will remind the people that Massachusetts was founded upon Jesus Christ and the Bible and that our future security and prosperity depend on restoring our trust in Him. ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord!’ Psalm 33:12.:

The candidate knows full well that he has no chance of winning: “My main goal in running for Governor is to advocate Biblical values in the political arena,” he wrote on his website. He does think that “real conservatives” will take back the GOP.

Meanwhile, Democrats are cheering him on. Radical-right votes are sure to go to Lively and away from the mainstream Republican, especially if front-runner, pro-choice Charlie Baker wins the GOP candidacy at the 9/11/14 primary. In 2010, Brian Camenker of MassResistance said:

“Lively is everything that Charlie Baker is not. He is principled, pro-family, pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-2nd-amendment, pro-religion, pro-parents’ rights, and utterly fearless.”

Run, Scott, run!

August 24, 2014

Finding Happiness

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 8:14 PM
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As I struggle through news about racism in Ferguson (MO), the destruction in Gaza, and the hawks’ determination to declare war again in Iraq, I contemplated an op-ed from former Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA) in which he accuses the government of promoting “faux happiness” through “socialistic programs.” According to Radanovich, happiness comes only from strong institutions in “worshiping God, loving our neighbor as ourselves, building a family and working.”   He believes that people cannot find happiness in “fatherless” families because of parental neglect.

Radanovich might want to note Pope Francis’ ten tips to happiness presented in an interview with the Argentine magazine:

Live and let live. According to the Roman saying, “Campa e lascia campà,” the first step to peace and happiness is move forward and let others do the same.

Give of yourself to others. The pope said that he learned this lesson at ten years of age from Concepcion Maria Minuto, the Sicilian woman who cared for his mother: “People need to be open and generous towards others….If you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”

“Proceed calmly” in life. Referring to an Argentine novel by Ricardo Güiraldes, Pope Francis said, “In Don Segundo Sombra there is a very beautiful thing, a man who looks back on his life. He says that in youth he was a rocky stream that carried everything ahead; as an adult, he was a running river, and that in old age, he felt movement, but it was ‘remansado’ [dammed; i.e., slowed, quiet]. I would use this image of the poet and novelist Ricardo Güiraldes, the last adjective ‘remansado,’ the ability to move with kindness and humility, calmness of life.”

Enjoy leisure. Parents need to take time to play with their children; people need to “take pleasure in reading, creating art and having fun.”

Take Sundays off. The pope recommends this because people work too hard and miss the change to enjoy life.

Create jobs for young people. The 75 million unemployed people under the age of 25 need to learn skilled work and develop the dignity of caring for themselves.

Protect and respect nature. According to the pope, “I think it’s a question that we do not face: humanity, in the indiscriminate use and tyranny over nature, is it committing suicide?”

Don’t be so negative. This can be done through generosity, treating “others the way we want to be treated.”

Don’t proselytize; respect the beliefs of others. “The worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes. ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you.’ No. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing.” That’s the message from Pope Francis.

Work for peace. “[Peace] is never quiet, peace is always proactive,” said the pope. He added that people should help immigrants and look after them.

A story that has wandered the internet for several years shows the importance of nature, self-awareness, and relationships to others. The most common version is an assignment in junior high for students to determine the seven wonders of the world. The story continues that one girl selected the following wonders of the world:

  • To see
  • To hear
  • To touch
  • To taste
  • To feel
  • To laugh
  • To love

Receiving an email from a special friend about this story and full of beautiful photographs, I decided to use this opportunity of publish some of my favorite pictures from Sue Hardesty and Ann Hubard. I have pity for Radanovich who sees happiness only in “institutions” and not in his surroundings of people and nature.

Message for the day:  be happy and peaceful when you can and celebrate your own beliefs.



bay boat


bird orange chest





August 23, 2014

Ferguson (MO): Two Weeks of Strife

brown bodyTwo weeks ago today, Michael Brown’s body was allowed to remain on a Ferguson (MO) street after a police officer killed him. During the ensuing demonstrations, militarized officers intimidated, tear gassed, assaulted, and arrested protesters including threats to kill journalists and refusals to give them names when asked.

More news ensuing from Brown’s killing:

This catalog of military gear and weapons used in Ferguson is horrifying.

This interactive map shows the way that free federal supplies have militarized the United States, allowing many places to resemble war zones. One of the heaviest armed areas is Maricopa County (AZ) because of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s aggressive perspective on serving his community. Not listed on this site are such acquisitions as the snow parkas sent to New Orleans.

The ACLU released this report in June, less than two months before police officer Warren killed Brown. It reflects the increase in militarization that will continue because of the weapons’ industry contributions and lobbying to legislators.

It doesn’t matter if Michael Brown stole a box of cigars. But he didn’t steal them. The complete video of Brown in the store shows him paying for the cigars. And neither the owner nor employees called the police to report any theft. The call came from a customer in the store

Although a grand jury has been convened to determine a prosecution of Darren Wilson, the man who killed Brown, Missouri law will most likely exonerate him because prosecution must disprove a defendant’s claim of self-defense. “Any reasonable doubt on the issue requires a finding for the defendant.” Missouri law also permits deadly force “to effect the arrest.” The grand jury has nine whites and three blacks, two of them women.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch said that there is no incident report on Brown’s killing. Two weeks after the death, people are petitioning McCulloch’s recusal from the case on grounds of bias.

jamilah nasheedWhen State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed tried to deliver 70,000 signatures to St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch on a petition calling for a special prosecutor, police threatened to arrest her. After two minutes, the police backed down, and she was allowed to enter a public building.

St. Louis County police raided a Ferguson church last Wednesday—for the third time. Greater St. Mark Church used part of the property for first aid treatment of people injured in police attacks during demonstration; people were also able to get food and water there. The latest raid had 20 police, but unlike earlier raids, they didn’t carry assault weapons or remove supplies.

“I’m into diversity. I kill everybody, I don’t care.” That’s what Oathkeeper and St. Louis police officer Dan Page told fellow Oathkeepers (the same group that caused the standoff at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada). An investigation following Page’s pushing CNN’s Dan Lemon resulted in Page’s temporary suspension from the force. The video of his speech to the Oathkeepers is here.

A St. Louis-area police officer working in Ferguson falsely accused a group of protestors of shooting at police, said Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson holds a racial “double standard,” and asserted that he would like to punch attorney general Eric Holder. Later he had to admit that he wasn’t telling the truth about the shooting because reporters had a video tape. He also accused Johnson’s approach as “Hug a Thug.” Other police officers have referred to demonstrators as “animals.”

After eyewitness Piaget Crenshaw came forward with a video of Brown’s killing, the police confiscated her phone and refused to release the video. She said she witnessed Officer Darren Wilson running after Brown and shooting him several times for no apparent reason after Brown stopped running and turned to face Wilson. She also described the struggle at the police car when it appeared that Wilson tried to pull Brown into the car and Brown broke away.

Ferguson gets the second-largest part of its budget from fines and court fees. An annual average of 1.5 cases and three warrants in this town of 21,000 nets the government $2,635,400. Although the town is two-thirds black, whites who are stopped in cars are half as likely to be searched or arrested. The discovery of contraband is far more likely with whites than blacks.

The ACLU sued Ferguson for barring journalists from reporting and sought a court order to tell police that this was illegal. A judge provided a court agreement “that the media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgment unless it obstructs the activity or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.” The police ignored the order. Information about treatment of the journalists is here.

Getty images staff photographer Scott Olsen, who took the following photo, was one of the members of the media who was arrested and later released.

scott olsen

Because voting participation is extremely low, 12 percent in the most recent election in the Ferguson area, community members set up a tent in town for a voter-registration drive. One volunteer said, “We’re trying to make young people understand that this is how to change things.” Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills has expressed outrage about this action and called it “completely inappropriate.”

The city of Ferguson has hired the PR firm Common Ground [below] to help them with their problems that resulted from racial differences.

Ferguson PR firm

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told the press that police shooter Darren Wilson had no disciplinary reports in his file. He’s probably correct because until 2010 use of force complaints were filed with the cases and not the officers’ files. The officer would complete non-fatal use-of-force reports and give it to the supervisor before it would be put with the case file. Jackson started to change the protocol, but there is no record of how long it took to implement the process. No one knows if he had any disciplinary reports.

In defending the U.S. justice system, Missouri’s Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said, “We have legal processes that are set in motion, that are designed after centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence tradition…. That’s one of the great advances of Anglo-American civilization, is that we do not have politicized trials. We let the justice system work it out.” Kinder was admitting that the justice system in this nation is based on white ideals and white standards.

Hedy Epstein, 90-year-old human rights activist and Holocaust survivor was arrested in front of Gov. Jay Nixon’s office in St. Louis with seven other protesters for failure to disperse.

Fox contributor Todd Starnes wrote on his Facebook page that President Obama is “orchestrating the Michael Brown tragedy.” Alex Jones called the demonstrations a “staged (by the military) race war.”

On Fox and Friends, contributor Bo Dietl explained away the police officer’s shooting Michael Brown by saying “bullets go that way.” He also condemned Captain Ron Johnson, who led the Highway Patrol in Ferguson, for apologizing for Brown’s death in a speech at an African-American church.

Both Egypt and Russia have called for international intervention in Ferguson following the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. For the first time ever, Amnesty International has sent a delegation of observers and organizers to provide support to community members and watch police response to protests because of the police violence in Ferguson. The police forced the observers out of the protest area at gun point.

The good parts:

Julianna Mendelsohn, a North Carolina teacher, has raised over $150,000 to feed children in Ferguson because the delay in school opening is causing them to go hungry. In a district of 11,000, over 68 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

With school not yet opening, teachers have volunteered their time to work with students in the public library, providing a safe place for children. About 120 children came for the “classes.” The library also gave residents a place to get bottled water and check their emails.

black guns 1And:

This image from Texas may soon be reflective of Missouri. The white police force in Ferguson police was heavily armed while demonstrators, primarily black, had almost no weapons. Photographs of whites–mostly male–proliferate on the net in stores, restaurants, shopping malls, parks, etc. and see black people open carrying. In a protest against police violence, the 30 members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club want a change. Their website reads:

black guns 2“The recent murders of unarmed black, brown, and whites across the United States of America has eradicated trust in the police states. Individuals across this nation have been stripped of due process, subjected to state-sponsored police terrorism, and continue to suffer the fate of being terminated extra-judicially.”

Black activist Huey P. Newton co-founded the militant Black Panther party with Bobby Seale in 1966, resulting in U.S. gun control laws. The Huey P. Newton Gun Club might encourage gun control.

August 21, 2014

GMO Labeling, Women’s Issue

Filed under: Environment,Women's issues — trp2011 @ 8:55 PM
Tags: ,

A blog on Nels New Day this summer discussing GMO food-labeling legislation apparently hit a sore spot. The blog described how members of the House subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture, including Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), “agreed that people who oppose GMOs or want them labeled are alarmists who thrive on fear and ignorance.” The committee’s position was that they should pass legislation to protect the population from being afraid. According to Schrader, “It’s obvious that while the science in the EU in incontrovertible about the health and safety benefits of genetically modified hybrid crops, that because of politics, people are afraid to lead, and inform consumers.”

The Central Oregon Coast chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) typically re-posts Nels New Day blogs on the COC NOW. Schrader’s chief of staff posted the following on the COC NOW Facebook page:  “I wonder if any of NOW’s donors are concerned that their resources are being used on such things as GMO labeling initiatives and not focusing on protecting women’s reproductive rights?”  Later he described GMOs as “perfectly safe” and cited an editorial from the Boston Globe “that is a little more objective than your original post.”

Posting blogs doesn’t use any resources except for a person’s time. In addition, NOW addresses far more issues than reproductive rights: a woman is more than a uterus. Women’s health is one of those issues, and food is important to health.

The question of GMOs being “perfectly safe” has not been proved. The studies in the United States are largely funded by companies such as Monsanto that sell GMOs, and research is done only on animals on a short-term basis. The Boston Globe editorial used  information from the Genetic Literacy Project, a slick website well-funded by Monsanto, among others companies and operated by a former journalist/author who understands net manipulation. With his skills, he has saturated the web with this project and its message. Unfortunately, the loss of funding for journalism has allowed big businesses and special interest groups to provide their version of “news” to the people of the United States because many journalists no longer have time to do their own research.

Over a year ago, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced H.R. 1699, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act. About the millions of dollars to block his bill, he wrote, “It’s very telling that corporate food manufacturers are pouring millions of dollars into defeating GMO labeling efforts, including my bill that would create a national labeling standard. This spending spree is a desperate attempt to derail solid legislation that is supported by an overwhelming number of Americans who just want to know what’s in the food they eat.”

Big business has poured millions into the effort to keep people from knowing what is in their food. In just the first quarter of this year, the food industry spent $9 million lobbying Congress to oppose laws requiring labeling for genetically modified products. That’s almost the same amount as for all of 2013. The biotech and food industries have spent over $80 million since 2012 to defeat GMO labeling.

Polls show that as many as 93 percent of the people in the United States want GMO labeling. Safeway’s shareholders have called on the company to label GMOs, and other companies, including Whole Foods, Chipotle and Ben & Jerry’s, have adopted policies to voluntarily disclose the presence of GMOs in products. General Mills has dropped GMOs from Cheerios.

Almost all GMOs are engineered to tolerate higher levels of herbicides. A major problem with GMOs is that they have built-in pesticides that develop superweeds and superbugs resistant to the existing GMO technology. That requires more and more pesticides which have increased by 400 million pounds in the last 15 years because of GMO agriculture. The glysophate (Roundup) herbicide commonly used in GMO agriculture is highly toxic to not only air, rain, and rivers but also bees and humans. Brazil farmers report that GMO insect-repellent corn has become less resistant to destructive caterpillars. Necessary additional coats of insecticides are damaging the country environmentally and economically.

Over six months ago Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) urged President Obama to require GMO labeling in a directive to the FDA. She argued that the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act (FD&C) prohibits the misbranding of food, including “misleading” labels. Any label that fails to reveal material facts about the product is misleading, according to the statute.

Showing the dangers of GMOs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will ban neonic pesticides and phase out GE feed for wildlife in the next 18 months. There is evidence that GMO foods are linked to a 400 percent increase in food allergies in children over the past 20 years since GMOs were first introduced into the commercial food market. GMO pesticide toxins are now showing up in the blood of both pregnant mothers who eat GMO corn products and their unborn babies.

As Martin Donohoe and Ray Seidler pointed out, the European Union mandated GMO labeling in 1997. U.S. food companies kept selling their products in Europe, and they didn’t raise prices. In fact, Monsanto, the company paying to stop labeling in the U.S., praised the labels for providing people with important information. The company’s advertising stated, “Monsanto fully supports UK food manufacturers and retailers in their introduction of these labels. We believe you should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase.” Sixty-four countries, almost one-third of the world’s population, mandate labeling for GMOs.

China has started to reject a variety of GM corn, costing U.S. farmers at least $3 billion. In less than a year, China has turned away over 1.45 million metric tons, corn that had to find other buyers, probably at a discount which takes money from U.S. farmers. This spring, the Chinese Army banned all GMO grains and oil from its military supply stations “because of public concern over health risks and high-level discomfort with China becoming overly reliant on GMO strains developed by foreign companies.”  Russia also refuses GMO products, and the U.S. is having trouble trading with Europe.

The New Yorker is the latest in  the anti-labeling crowd, using the excuses that almost all food is genetically engineered and that modification through breeding is the same as using radiation or chemicals to mutate food. The author, Michael Specter, points out that “officials at the F.D.A. have no desire to put labels on products unless there is a clear scientific reason to do so, as there is with tobacco.” Yet big tobacco industries successfully fought labeling for over a half century after some scientists knew that smoking was dangerous. The businesses promoted and funded biased research, lobbied politicians to oppose public regulation, and influenced voters through expensive public relations campaigns.  Monsanto and other biotech companies are doing the same thing. As they know, whoever controls the seed, controls the world.

AcresPesticide-264x300Specter’s claims that GMO crops use less water and demand less from the environment are flat-out wrong.  “Drought-resistant” GMOs have less yield with less water. The environment is damaged through the excessive use of pesticides (as the following chart shows). Worst of all, farmers are hurt economically. GMOs make farmers dependent on purchasing patented or hybrid seeds, a fact that caused at least 300,000  suicides in India because of farmers went bankruptcy after shifting to GMO seeds. In the United States, GMO corn can cost $150 more per bag than conventional corn, crops cost more from higher pesticide needs costs, and the seeds cost more because they cannot be reused for another crop. GMO companies make money from spreading half-truths and misinformation about GMOs.

Revenue-GE-Seeds DeFazio’s bill is in keeping with the priorities for the Oregon Democratic Party. Under Legislative Action Items, #12 is “Require labeling of genetically engineered foods.” Schrader’s position opposes his party’s platform.

If GMOs are “perfectly safe,” why are companies opposed to labeling? The entire question of the proposed bill that Schrader supports is not whether to get rid of GMOs but whether states can pass laws mandating labeling. As Harley Pasternak wrote in U.S. News and World Report, “So who are many of our elected officials serving? Could it be that that Monsanto, other chemical companies and big food companies regularly fill the coffers of our elected officials to fund their reelection campaigns? Just wondering.”

The argument from the committee, including Kurt Schrader, is that the legislature should decide what information people have. It’s the same patriarchal attitude that men held over women for centuries, and that also makes this bill about stopping GMO labeling a woman’s issues.

August 20, 2014

Congress, Presidential Candidate Politics in August

Outside the tragedy surrounding Ferguson (MO) , congressional members on their summer vacation are keeping a very low profile except for campaigning. Yet the GOP leaders haven’t given up their threats to destroy the country if they don’t get their way.

Ten months ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, “A government shutdown is off the table. We’re not going to do it.” Now he’s threatens to shut down the government by attaching restrictive policy riders to spending bills if the GOP takes over the Senate this coming November. When asked if this could lead to another shutdown, McConnell said that the president would decide whether to veto spending bills to keep the government open. In other words, McConnell plans to blackmail the president and the country to get his own way on anti-choice, anti-immigrant, and anti-U.S. benefits bills. The result will be business as usual: last-minute bills to keep the government operating for a few weeks or a few months. He wants more high drama.

Although McConnell will most likely keep his position, he suffers from the same problem that caused former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) to lose his primary—ignoring his constituency. McConnell tried to convince women that he “voted for even stronger protections than Obama’s agenda will allow,” but he actually voted against the version of VAWA that passed the Senate and went on to become law. Instead, McConnell supported a scaled-back GOP version of the legislation that eliminated key protections for LGBT, Native American, and undocumented immigrant victims of domestic abuse. McConnell may have been a co-sponsor of the original bill 23 years ago, but he has repeatedly voted against it since then.

McConnell also voted against equal pay for women, including the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and supported the Hobby Lobby suit to stop freed contraception for women through their insurance. Another of his anti-woman actions was to actively block a spending bill that contained $41 million in grants for reducing the rape kit testing backlog.

This week, he’s telling farmers that he has helped them, but he has missed every Agriculture Committee hearing since 2009 while he had time for the media. At the end of 2011, McConnell missed the hearing, “Continued Oversight of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act” where the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission testified. The same day, however, he appeared on Sean Hannity’s conservative talk show. Later that year, he missed the hearing, “Eliminating Waste in the Farm Bill,” but appeared on Fox News. Last spring, McConnell skipped confirmation hearings for three of the president’s nominees for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, although he originally recommended Chris Giancarlo for commissioner, to make a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference where he awkwardly waved a rifle.

Another big McConnell mistake was to say that bringing jobs to Kentucky was “not my job.” Then he got  upset because the news media printed his quote.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) isn’t promising a shutdown, but he’s be running scared about more far-right radicals winning House seats. Boehner has to keep these conservatives happy to retain his speaker position.

The first fiscal bill after the 114th Congress takes over at the beginning of January 2015 is raising the federal limit, a crisis that has already threatened the country’s credit ratings and the financial markets. If the House keeps its 234 seats, only 17 Republicans can vote “no” to sink legislation without Democratic support. Boehner’s only choices will be to move farther right (ugh!) or gain votes from Democratic representatives. The latter shift will most likely bring more mutiny from conservatives. The middle in Congress is gone.

Boehner has kept his job by catering to the radical conservatives and passing legislation that has no chance in the Senate. Democratic votes helped pass a tax increase on the wealthy and provide $50.7 billion for Superstorm Sandy victims, but Boehner won back the conservatives by supporting the Tea Party’s attempts to withhold funding from the Affordable Care Act. That led to the disastrous 16-day government shutdown but won Boehner from some of his GOP members.

Because of resignations or losses in GOP primaries—primarily to farther-right candidates—thus far this year, 28 incumbents will not return to the 114th Congress. One of the replacements may be Glenn Grothman from Wisconsin who is slightly ahead in the primary to replace retiring Rep. Tom Petri. One of Gov. Scott Walker’s legislators who helped tear down all the progress the state has made in a century, his positions are far to the right of Petri.

Grothman Wisconsin introduced a bill to officially list single parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse while Petri supported raising fuel taxes, now 39 percent lower than 20 years ago, to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. As Grothman hopes to head for Congress, he said, “Immigration is … going to destroy the country” because it will change the country’s culture.

The number of moderates in the House, defined as those willing to cross party lines in voting, has decreased from about half the members in the 1970s to less than 20 percent last year. Gerrymandering to make GOP districts more “safe” has contributed to this change and accelerated with the Tea Party success.

Pundits and politicians are trying to figure out winners for the next presidential election, with the idea that governors might make better leaders than other politicians—especially members of Congress. The Hill has published a list of 65 possible presidential candidates in 2016, and 30 of them, almost half, are current or former governors. Scandals, however, show a different picture.

  • Rick Perry (TX) has been indicted for abuse of power and coercion because he threatened to veto funding for the state’s Public Integrity Unit if the person running it didn’t resign. She didn’t quit, and he cut the funding. At the time, the Unit was investigating a cancer research institute, one of Perry’s project, and one of its former high-ranking officials now faces a felony corruption charge. That might not have happened with a Perry-chosen replacement. Side note: His indictment means that he cannot buy or carry any guns.
  • Chris Christie (NJ) has not only caused “traffic problems in Fort Lee” but also suffers another bridge scandal involving securities law violations from the source of funding to repair the Pulaski Skyway. Christie also gave $260 million in tax breaks to Atlantic City’s Revel Casino Hotel that closed after two years.
  • Scott Walker (WI) is implicated in an allegedly illegal coordination scheme between his campaign and third-party conservative groups. People on both sides are waiting to see if a special prosecutor files charges against Walker.
  • Robert McDonnell (VA) was a strong contender for vice-president while still governor; now he’s on trial for gifts and cash that he received while in office. He hopes to get off by blaming his wife for everything.
  • Rick Scott (FL) faces accusations involving personal financial interests in a rail project and a natural gas pipeline.
  • Sam Brownback’s (KS) close associates are being investigated by the FBI regarding influence-peddling operations to the governor and top administration officials, especially in connection with Brownback’s privatization of the state’s $3 billion Medicaid program.
  • Pat McCrory (NC) was subpoenaed regarding his knowledge about a disastrous coal ash spill because of his close relationship to Duke Energy.
  • Andrew Cuomo (NY), the lone Democrat in the batch, allegedly hobbled an anti-corruption commission he created, steering the commission away from investigating his allies and a media-buying company that had worked on his campaign. He ultimately disbanded the commission altogether.

The theory supporting governors for better presidents came from the idea that leadership of states and nations are similar, but the problems around the country makes one question this theory. New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez, considered a prime candidate for the GOP because she’s a Latina, attracting both females and minorities. Yet her image has been tarnished within the past few months through her corruption and her foul language when she didn’t know she was being taped.

The prime governor candidates are carrying heavy baggage, and candidates such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will use the candidate debates to through a few more rocks into their luggage.

August 19, 2014

Why We Can’t Trust the NPR

Filed under: Media — trp2011 @ 7:33 PM
Tags: , , , ,

People who ridicule the Fox network and get their news from National Public Radio (NPR) might want to read Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman’s response to NPR’s spin on the government’s accusations that “former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden harmed national security and allowed terrorists to develop their own countermeasures.” A four-minute story on August 1 from national security reporter Dina Temple-Raston used information from “a tech firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.” Recorded Future supposedly worked with “cyber expert Mario Vuksan, the CEO of ReversingLabs,” to prove the government’s allegations against Snowden.

The first 80 percent of the story repeated the report’s key conclusion that “just months after the Snowden documents were released, al-Qaeda dramatically changed the way its operatives interacted online” and, post-Snowden, “al-Qaeda didn’t just tinker at the edges of its seven-year-old encryption software; it overhauled it.” Only 44 seconds at the end showed any skepticism with a quote from security expert Bruce Schneier, who questioned the causal relationship between the Snowden disclosures and the new terrorist encryption programs, as well as the efficacy of the new encryption.

Missing from NPR’s story is that Recorded Future is funded with millions of dollars by the CIA and U.S. intelligence community. In 2010, the firm filed forms to become a NSA vendor. Jason Hines, the company’s vice president, has refused to answer any questions about the current relationship between Recorded Future and the NSA. According to public reports, Recorded Future “earns most of its revenue from selling to Wall Street quants and intelligence agencies.” In July, 2010, Wired‘s Noah Shachtman stated that the company is backed by both “the investment arms of the CIA and Google.”

In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of both the CIA and other intelligence agencies including the NSA, has seats on Recorded Future’s board of directors. The company’s websites lists Recorded Future as one of the companies in its “portfolio.” The New York Times noted these connections in 2011: “Recorded Future is financed with $8 million from the likes of Google’s venture arm and In-Q-Tel, which makes investments to benefit the United States intelligence community, and its clients have included government agencies and banks.”

Temple-Raston had this information. In 2012, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast her profile of Recorded Future and its claimed ability to predict the future by gathering internet data. At the end of her report, she noted that the firm has “at least two very important financial backers: the CIA’s investment arm, called In-Q-Tel, and Google Ventures. They have reportedly poured millions into the company.”

As Temple-Raston knows, “cyber expert” Vuksan also has significant financial ties to the U.S. intelligence community. In 2012, In-Q-Tel touted a “strategic partnership” with ReversingLabs to develop new technology for the Department of Homeland Security. Vuskan hailed the partnership as vital to his company’s future prospects.

To use this story as independent analysis is the same type of fear mongering that keeps the hawks threatening to attack more countries for the financial benefit of their constituents. Hiding CIA connections with Recorded Future, former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker used the report to argue in The Washington Post that “the evidence is mounting that Edward Snowden and his journalist allies have helped al-Qaeda improve their security against NSA surveillance.” Long before Snowden’s release of information, however, terrorists have successfully developed encryptions and other methods to protect communications from electronic surveillance.

A 45-page, single-spaced manual called a “Jihadist Handbook,” last updated about September 2003 and translated into English in 2005 or 2006, appears to be an excerpt from a 268-page document called Abu Zubaydah’s Encyclopedia, self-described as the “cumulative result of efforts of the brothers who walked on the path of jihad.” It contains highly specific and sophisticated instructions for avoiding electronic surveillance. Included are directions on keeping landline and mobile telephone calls, emails, and online chats secure because SIM cards in cell phones can be used by the NSA as tracking devices.  Instructions explain how to remove both the battery and SIM card from cell phones. Also described are how code words should be used for all online communication. Many sections are identical to the 2010 manual from the British intelligence and security agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), to operatives explaining how to keep communications secure.

Recorded Future’s chronology gives September 2013 as the roll-out of “the first Islamic encryption software for mobiles,” but “jihadists” had been working in this area for at least a decade. Al-Qaeda’s release of software in 2007 and 2008 shows a continual approach toward message encryption. The software was popularized in the first issue (July 2010) of Inspire, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s quarterly online magazine, in a post entitled “How to Use Asrar al-Mujahedeen: Sending and Receiving Encrypted Messages.” Every issue since then has a “how-to” section on encrypting communications, recommending MS2 as the main encryption tool.

In February, 2001, USA Today reported that al-Qaeda and other groups have been using “uncrackable encryption” since the mid-1990s. Terrorists did not need Snowden’s material to know that the U.S. and its allies are working to monitor their communications.

Recorded Future did admit that Al-Qaeda has had at least one encryption product but described a “significant uptick” after the Snowden reporting with no data about this. One impetus may have been the federal government boasting in August 2013 to McClatchy and The Daily Beast that the State Department ordered the closing of 21 embassies because of what it learned from an intercepted “conference call” among Al Qaeda leaders. Daily Beast reported:

“Al-Qaeda leaders had assumed the conference calls, which give Zawahiri the ability to manage his organization from a remote location, were secure. But leaks about the original intercepts have likely exposed the operation that allowed the U.S. intelligence community to listen in on the al-Qaeda board meetings.”

As The New York Times reported one month later:

“Senior officials have made a startling finding: the impact of a leaked terrorist plot by Al Qaeda in August has caused more immediate damage to American counterterrorism efforts than the thousands of classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden. The drop in message traffic after the communication intercepts contrasts with what analysts describe as a far more muted impact on counterterrorism efforts from the disclosures by Mr. Snowden of the broad capabilities of N.S.A. surveillance programs.”

Schneier thinks these leaks will “help U.S. intelligence efforts” because fear will make “people abandon good algorithms and software for snake oil of their own devising [that is less successful].” Chris Soghoian, technologist for the ACLU whose lawyers represent Snowden, noted that security companies occasionally put out reports “on the use of bespoke encryption software by terrorists, and then media eats it up.”

In response to this criticism, Recorded Future supplemented its report with a claim that the terrorists “are not using home-brew crypto algorithms” but rather “off the shelf” methods of cryptography. Both Schneier and Soghoian suggested that the developments claimed by Recorded Future make it easier, not harder, for the U.S. government to monitor the communications of extremists. According to these two experts, “using terrorist-specific encryption tools will only attract the attention of intelligence agencies.”

Basically, NPR used a report from a CIA-dependent company responsible for spreading pro-government propaganda, no matter how ridiculous. In the past, Recorded Future boasted that its monitoring media coverage of Occupy Wall Street detected Iran’s “growing influence” over that coverage. As Greenwald and Fishman wrote:

“None of these serious doubts, fallacies, or questions about this company and its ‘report’ were even alluded to by Temple-Raston in her NPR story, beyond a cursory and very limited Schneier quote tacked onto the end. It’s hardly surprising that these kinds of firms, linked to and dependent on the largesse of the U.S. intelligence community, produce pro-government tripe of this sort. That’s their function. It’s the job of media outlets to scrutinize these claims, not mindlessly repeat and then glorify them as NPR did here.”

The key revelation of the Snowden reporting is that the surveillance system built in secret by the NSA and its partners is directed at hundreds of millions of ordinary people and entire populations rather than “the terrorists.” People need to pay attention to the conservative bent of NPR since Koch brothers started “buying” it.

August 18, 2014

Why U.S. Doesn’t Have Enough Women Leaders

Last fall Janet Yellen’s appointment to chair the Federal Reserve caused great buzz throughout the nation, primarily because of her gender. She was the 28th woman chosen by the current president for an executive role, and the current Senate has a record number of females. Yet the 20 women senators comprise only 20 percent of the Senate, and few women are even on ballots throughout the United States.

American University mathematics professor Mary Gray, also a statistician and lawyer, said the problem is “a question of glass ceilings.” Women don’t have the money to run for the office. With few exceptions such as Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Susanna Martinez (New Mexico governor), men donate to other men. Michele Swers, professor of political science at Georgetown University and author of Women In The Club: Gender and Policy Making In The Senate, said people donate to likely winners with a bias toward incumbents. For example, appointed incumbent Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) just defeated Rep. Colleen Hanabusa for his office.

Swers pointed out other problems for women:

“There’s a lot of research on how voters react to women candidates. Most of it has to do with how voters react to different stereotypes about women. Political leadership qualities like being strong, direct and tough are considered male qualities. Women face a double bind in that you need to show yourself as tough and confident but still retain feminine qualities without appearing weak.”

Gray’s perspective also shows the male prejudice against women. He said that Warren was helped because she was “able to seize on a topic of interest.” He identified fiscal policy as this “interest” and contrasted her with Wendy Davis who concentrated on women’s reproductive rights, evidently not “a topic of interest.” He also said that Davis won the primary because of no competition:

“No Democrat man has come forth because they don’t think they’ll get elected. Davis is a classic example: You can get women to do things that men don’t want to do.”

Gray didn’t mention that Warren was not opposed by big money because both she and opponent, Scott Brown, refused Super PAC donations.

“A leadership role in the judiciary” is important for women candidates, according to Gray.

Last fall, the Center for American Progress ranked each state on its support of women in specific leadership seats and management gaps. Utah, Arkansas, and Kentucky came in at the bottom in comparing the number of women in these positions as compared to men. Maryland topped the list. In addition to high percentage of managerial jobs and elected congressional positions with women, the state has 110 sitting female judges, 39 percent of the 279 total. Nevada has the same percentage of female judges, and Oregon and Montana have even higher percentages, each with 43 percent.

Swers says that the Republican party is leaving the number of women behind in politics.

Derek Willis, of The New York Times, described a study showing that women who run for office are as likely as men to win political races, but they don’t run for office as often. University of Pittsburgh researchers Kristin Kanthak and Jonathan Woon designed an experiment in which members of a group volunteered to complete math problems. In some groups, the person was selected at random, and in others, the group elected its representative. Women were less willing to volunteer in the case of votes. The study’s conclusion was that women are less interested than men “in having their worthiness offered up for public debate.”

Although researchers provided evidence that women’s personal fears held them back from volunteering, Amanda Marcotte offers some caveats to this conclusion.

“After all, the reason that women are more afraid to offer themselves up for public judgment isn’t because women are inherently timid, as shown by their willingness to volunteer in the random selection groups. The likelier explanation is that women know, from experience, that the process of having a group evaluate your worthiness is a much more punishing experience for women, because you have to endure greater and more candid scrutiny than men do, a gender disparity that any foray into social media or parenting or Hollywood easily demonstrates.”

College seems to be the time that women no longer compete at the same rate as men for political office. According to Jennifer Lawless’ study, the percentage of both boys and girls who ran for high school student government was the same (23 percent), and girls were slightly ahead in winning. Lawless cited two reasons for high school politics having fewer gender differences than those in college:

  •  College-aged men were much more likely to say that a parent had encouraged them to run for office someday; about a third of men said their mom or dad had encouraged them while less than a quarter of women said the same.
  • Men are much likelier to put themselves in politically immersive environments such as becoming involved in the College Democrats or College Republicans, reading political news, or even discussing politics with friends.

Lawless’ study is ten years old, and young women now have far stronger female political role models—Nancy Pelosi, Michele Bachmann, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Elizabeth Warren have all risen to prominence since then. Yet there seems to be no difference in women running for office in that time, possibly because the campaigns for these women showed the serious gender bias in electioneering.

Sports seems to be one factor in running for office. Both men and women who played varsity-level sports were more likely to run for office. The number of girls and women in competitive sports has increased dramatically since Title IX went into effect over 40 years ago. Female high school athletes went from 7.4 percent in 1972 to 41.4 percent in the 2010-2011 school year.

Cultural stereotypes frequently keep women from political action. Women can find it difficult to show the confidence and assertiveness connected to strong leadership but still appear “likeable.” The “ideal worker” is seen as having no demands from home responsibilities, relegating women with caregiving needs to second-class status. A 40-hour-a-week job is now seen as part time. Women’s leadership in the corporate world has stalled: females held only 16.9 percent of board seats in 2012 with no increase for eight years. In political empowerment, the United States ranks 60 out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2013 global gender gap index.

The need for more women in leadership positions is not merely a call for equal numbers of men and women. Research during the past two decades shows that when women thrive, both organizations and nations thrive. Women’s leadership moves companies, governments, and societies in better directions.

Women tend to be far more effective leaders, according to a new survey from Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor in 13 countries. Women outperformed men in 10 of 14 leadership qualities. Other studies show that countries with ethnic diversity usually showing weaker economic growth reverse this trend with women leaders. The more diverse the country, the stronger the effect. Authors of one study think that women’s collaborative and non-authoritarian leadership style makes the difference. In addition, women seem more trustworthy. With the growing ethnic diversity in the United States, people need to take notice of one solution to our problems.

“The ‘Us versus Them’ leadership mentality is running its course, and collaborative leadership styles are more valued than they were before,” stated the Kellogg Institute study, urging both men and women to see the value in throwing off gender inhibitors and embracing the idea that moving forward depends on more women leaders.

Obviously, not all women candidates fit the description above. An example is Oregon’s GOP senatorial candidate, Monica Wehby, who fits the authoritarian model of her party. For example, Wehby opposes the Paycheck Fairness Act, using the conservative complaint that the federal bill is “flawed,” and claiming that it would cause businesses to not hire women.

The value of women in leadership positions is only when they are able to support gender equality and improve life for everyone.

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