Nel's New Day

November 30, 2014

Wacky Christian Beliefs

As Christians seem to gain more control over the United States, their beliefs appear to grow closer to the edge of insanity. Here are a few examples:

Fundamentalist Christians are always fond of interpreting a constitution written by men who believed in separation of church and state. This month, American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer wrote that the First Amendment applies only to Christians, giving states the right to persecute other religions. His ire was specifically directed toward the Orange County School District where the Satanic Temple decided to hand out its own religious materials because conservative Christians were distributing Bibles and other Christian materials. The school decided to keep all religious groups from passing out their information. According to Fischer, “the purpose of the First Amendment… was only to protect the free exercise of the Christian faith.”

Christians are convinced that all support of homeless and hungry people should be through religious groups. This is the way that one of them operates. The City Union Mission shelter in Kansas City (MO) refuses to allow same-sex families to stay together and requires transgender people to dress according to their sex at birth rather than their gender identification.

For at least one Houston church, it’s all about the money. Pastor Walter F. Houston refused to provide a funeral for 93-year-old Olivia Blair, whose wish has always been to be buried by A member of the Fourth Missionary Baptist Church for 50 years, Blair failed to tithe during the last two years because she had been in a nursing home or hospital for the past two years. She was in a coma for the past few months.

Moses is white, according to Fox’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ridley Scott’s version of the flight from Egypt. Almost every other main cast member is also very white. Stars include Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton, Arron Paul, John Turturro,  Ben Kingsley, and Sigourney Weaver. The blacks in the film are slaves or servants. Director Scott defended his choice of characters by saying that he couldn’t get funding for the film if he said “that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.” CEO of 21st Century Fox, Rupert Murdoch, didn’t even bother to assume that the casting might have been wrong. He tweeted, “Moses film attacked on Twitter for all white cast. Since when are Egyptians not white? All I know are.”

Pat Robertson has repeated his claim that Ouija boards are dangerous. The televangelist said:

“The spirit is causing that little needle — it goes around to letters and spells out words and so you feel like [it’s] some dead person, but actually it is communicating with demonic spirits. It is a dangerous thing and I strongly urge people not to get involved in it.”

In the past he had referred to chants as “prayers in Sanskrit to various Hindu Gods who are in turn demons, and you are saying something you don’t understand when in essence you are praying to a devil to come to you.”

An Oklahoma man has a solution for anyone involved in witchcraft. Isaiah Marin said that his “strong Christian beliefs” made him stop anyone from practicing “magic”; that’s why he stabbed and almost decapitated 21-year-old Jacob Andrew Crockett with a large black sword. Marin’s brother, Samuel, described Isaiah as a “religious zealot” and “heavy drug user.”

Killing is also on the mind of Donnie Swaggart, evangelical pastor and son of disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. On a program called Frances & Friends, he claimed that LGBT activists are like ISIS because they both want to chop off the heads of Christians. After Right Wing Watch posted the video on YouTube, Swaggart forced them to remove it, but the video is still available here. Two years ago, Rick Santorum accused President Obama of changing the United States into France during the French Revolution, warning that Christians would be sent one by one to the guillotine.

Bryan Fischer, a leader of the American Family Association, does suggest that ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples in the Americas was appropriate because god was punishing them for their sins. He compared it to the “rules of warfare in Deuteronomy when God commanded t he Israelites to kill, enslave, and rape “the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.” According to Fischer, God wanted the Native Americans to be killed “to exercise his sovereign control over this land” because of “the immorality of those nations that were exercising sovereign control at the time.”

Cindy Jacobs has the answer for indigenous people: they should renounce “any animus [sic] … and repent for the generational iniquity” before they can deal with the “Leviathan spirit” that brings division and strife. Evidently all Native Americans need to do to be happy is to reject the past. Jacobs also believes that listening to God will make your shoes last a long time as proof that God provides “supernatural provisions.”

Christian belief is the reason that David Van Vleet of Tacoma (WA) gave for requesting full names and addresses of all the strippers in his area. When he filed for the information under the state’s Public Records Act,” he said, “I would pray for those dancers by name. I’m a Christian. . . . We have a right to pray for people.” Although a federal judge blocked the request, he might still get the information because current law is not clear on this matter.

Halloween is also a Christian holiday, according to former Growing Pains star, Kirk Cameron. He maintains that early Christians dressed up in devil, goblin, and witch costumes to show that Jesus had vanquished these evils. “The costumes poke fun at the fact that the devil and other evils were publicly humiliated by Christ at his resurrection.” Real anthropologists, however, believe the holiday’s pagan origins are connected to harvest festivals.

Robertson also has a distorted view of history. On the 700 Club, he connected  LGBT activists, “radicals and … extremists,” with terrorists and the Spanish Inquisition. “No Christian in his right mind would ever try to enforce somebody against their belief or else suffer jail. They did that during the Inquisition, it was horrible, it was a black mark on our history, but it isn’t being done now.” He also said, “If the gays want to go out and do their gay sex, that’s one thing, but if they want to force you to accept and solemnify it by marriage, that’s another matter….” So Robertson thinks that gay sex is okay?

People are entitled to their beliefs, no matter how wacky. The problem with fundamental Christians, however, is that they can destroy the lives of their children with their narrow, inflexible approach to thinking and they try to destroy the lives of everyone else in the country. The far-right Christians will control Congress for the next two years; let’s see how successful they are.

November 24, 2014

No Indictment for Michael Brown’s Killer

Geraldo Rivera, pretend journalist on the Fox network, usually feeds the racist watchers by denigrating minorities. His position on the killing of Trayvon Martin is that it was his fault for being “dressed like a thug,” wearing a hoodie. About the arrests of Democrats such as Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon and California State Senator Leeland Yee, Rivera said:

“Usually, the politicians who are robbing on the Democratic side tend to be ethnic politicians, as in these cases…We are the antidote to that particular problem.”

When he failed to feed the racist watchers, however, they turned on him. His support for President Obama’s executive actions on immigration led to racist, violent messages on Rivera’s Facebook page.

Rivera said on the air:

 “Bravo Mr. President for having the courage or political will or for doing the hard cold political calculation finally to do the right thing for five million undocumented, but otherwise law-abiding immigrants.”

His angry viewers responded:

“Really why call yourself an American if you don’t recognize the constitution, go take Obama and live free in which ever country you would like. Other than ours!! Jeez!!” – A.g. Garrison

“go green and kill your self.”—Jerry Allen

“Don’t let the door hit you. You will be judged by the Almighty for being on the side of the lawless one. Thank God when Jesus comes if you and your cahoots have not repented you all will be kicked off planet earth for good, not just America.”—Marsha Gordon

Unhappy by the postings, Rivera wrote:

“Just checking some of your responses to my recent posts on the president’s immigration action. Most are spirited, but within the normal boundaries of decent discourse. Some, however, are hateful, ignorant and racist, even mentioning my family. That is something I cannot abide. I’m turning your posts over to Fox News and Facebook authorities because you little pieces of shit hiding in the shadows of your mother’s basement deserve no less.”

He shouldn’t hold his breath to see what Fox does. As for Facebook authorities, he’ll find out that there are none.

Rivera has discovered on a personal level the backlash from viewers who believe they are entitled to the hatred that Fox has promoted during the past few decades. This backlash is a minor blip when compared to the release of the grand jury findings of Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson (MO) on August 9, 2014.

Tonight, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch held a press conference to announce what most people had already assumed, that there would be no indictment of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson who killed the teenager last August. With a self-righteous smirk, he blamed the media, the Internet, and “the 24-hour news cycle” for the protests in the town after Brown lay dead in the street for over four hours before justifying the lack of indictment. Some of his statements were highly specific; others were oddly vague, for example when he referred to Wilson firing “several shots.”

Part of his speech focused on the hard work of the grand jury as they “gave up their lives” while deliberating. Sounding like a defense attorney, he indicated that Wilson knew Michael Brown had stolen cigars from a convenience store before the shooting, but Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson stated that Wilson was not aware that Brown was involved in any alleged robbery. The only charge against Brown every publicized was that he was in the middle of the street—apparently against the law in Ferguson. The question that this discrepancy raises is how many others exist.

Even the timing of the press conference was peculiar. McCulloch waited all day until 9:00 in the evening to announce the grand jury’s findings.

There was no question of the grand jury’s outcome from McCulloch’s first statement, and the press conference was a travesty—as CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin described it, “an extended whine” and “entirely inappropriate and embarrassing.”

There will be much said about McCulloch, the lack of an indictment, and the deaths that are sure to result from the protests occurring all over the country. For tonight, however, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary New York, best addresses today’s tragedy on November 24, 2014—51 years and two days after the killing of President John F. Kennedy:

“It was with sadness and growing anger that many in our community at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York took in today’s news out of Missouri. While we cannot claim to know all that led to the decision, we are deeply concerned about all it implies about our nation and the violence that lives with us.

“The state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against young men of color in this country is abominable. It is cruel and sadistic, and undergirding it is the scourge of white racism with the myriad privileges and fears attached to whiteness.

“The brutality of racism and the harms it inflicts on black and brown bodies directly contradicts every tenant of our Christian faith — indeed, the tenets of all the world’s major religions. Until it is addressed directly and with sustained commitment by all of us, we will repeatedly fail to be the country we dream of being.

“We must not turn back from facing this harsh truth.

“As John F. Kennedy cautioned years ago, ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ We are committed to peaceful change, and we confess that our democracy is so profoundly broken that nothing short of a people’s movement for deep, systemic change can fix it.

“We are hopeful that out of our anger will continue to spring forth activism rooted in a faith bigger than any one community. We remain firm in our belief in a God that gives life and seeks goodness in all things. Using the fierce, biblical model of love and non-violence claimed by our forbearers, we stand evermore committed to working together for real change.

“That change must start today, growing out of our profound sadness, disappointment, and anger at what has occurred — not only in Ferguson but in far too many of our communities — and flowering in the righteous will to overcome the challenges we face to build the nation we believe in.”

We can only hope that memories of this disaster will lead to positive change instead of fading away like the other horrific events of the past. Tomorrow, however, Rivera can go back to blaming another black teenager for being killed.

November 23, 2014

Some Christians Move Forward

While some religious fundamentalists try to move the world back to an earlier millennium, others are working to create diversity for all, whether inside a religion or beside it:

Twenty years ago, women could be deacons in the Church of England, ten years later they could be priests, and now they can become bishops. Canon 33 now states, “A man or a woman may be consecrated to the office of bishop.” At this time, about 15 percent of the priests are female. The Catholic Church has had about 50,000 women deacons, but that practice stopped about the year 1000.

The Vatican has recently unveiled newly restored frescoes in an ancient catacomb that show the Catholic Church had female priestesses. Both Snostic and Montanist sects of Christianity depicted the godhead as androgynous, both male and female. Women served the Eucharist and would speak as prophets.

catholic women priest fresco

Bishop Allyson Abrams, 43, left her husband and the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit because she married another woman, Diana Williams. She said, “I was open to love in whatever way the Lord would bless me.” According to Abrams, same-sex marriage is in accord with Christian teachings: “The Bible teaches that ANYONE who believes in Jesus Christ will be accepted into God’s realm. You can be a child of God and living in loving committed relationships with persons of the same sex.”

Jessica Fitzwater refused to put her hand on the bible during her swearing in on the Frederick County Council (MD). The Jewish strong supporter of separation of church and state plans to take her oath on a non-religious document such as the county’s charter or the U.S. Constitution.

Seven years after officiating at the wedding of his gay son, the Rev. Frank Schaefer has been reinstated as a clergyman in the United Methodist Church.The denomination’s top court upheld last June’s decision to return his ministerial credentials after a trial court removed them. His reinstatement includes back-pay and benefits but doesn’t sanction same-sex marriage within his church. Only a vote at the General Conference could take that step. In response to Schaefer’s punishment, some pastors married same-sex couples while progressive bishops refused to participate in trials against Methodist ministers who perform these marriages.

Seven years ago, Barry Hazle was forced to spend 100 days in prison because he refused to enter a religion-based rehab program operated by the Fresno-based WestCare California. Because Hazle complained about the requirement that he acknowledge the existence of a higher power, the California Department of Corrections put him back in jail. After seven years of court cases, culminating in the 9th Circuit Court, California has changed its policy that parolees must participate into religious treatment programs and is required to pay $1 million to Hazle. Westcare owes Hazle $925,000, according to the court’s ruling.

Last week Judge Nina Pillard used the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby to limit employers’ abilities to deny birth control coverage to their employees. In Priests for Life v. Department of Health and Human Services, Pillard used the Hobby Lobby’s permission for the government to accommodate religious objectors through alternative methods and still provide women with free contraceptives. She also pointed out that the burden on Priests for Life could not be more insignificant. The law used by the Supreme Court applies only when laws “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” Pillard explained:

“All Plaintiffs must do to opt out is express what they believe and seek what they want via a letter or two-page form. That bit of paperwork is more straightforward and minimal than many that are staples of nonprofit organizations’ compliance with law in the modern administrative state.”

Her position might not pass muster with the conservative Supreme Court justices because Samuel Alito pretty much deleted the term “burden” out of the law. He stated that the Hobby Lobby plaintiffs’ “sincerely believe that providing the insurance coverage demanded by the HHS regulations lies on the forbidden side of the line, and it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.” The majority of justices also changed the language of alternatives just days after Hobby Lobby in Wheaton College v. Burwell. Justice Sotomayor said:

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

After the Supreme Court’s ruling that businesses don’t have to follow the law in providing contraception to women, others have decided that they can avoid all laws. Such is the case of a Christian pastor who used the Hobby Lobby ruling to avoid paying $1.1 million in back taxes that he and his wife owed for 20 years. Ronald and Dorothea Joling had stopped paying taxes because they considered the 16th Amendment, added to the U.S. Constitution in 2013, invalid. The Jolings’ attorney, Mark Weintraub, agreed with the rest of us that his clients are “totally wrong and unreasonable” but tried to persuade the court that what they did was acceptable because of their own Christian beliefs.

The Jolings had also declared that they are no longer U.S. citizens and that their Oregon property is no longer part of the United States. They also tried to hide their money, filed false tax returns, and attempted to harass the IRS with “nonsensical paperwork.” They skipped the part in the bible where Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

Mitchell Moore, owner of Campbell’s Bakery in Jackson (MS), has a campaign, “If You’re Buying, I’m Selling,” to fight the state’s “turn away the gays” bill” that passed earlier this year. He handed out stickers for other businesses to post, showing that they did not turn away any customers for their beliefs. After the American Family Association claimed businesses with the stickers were discriminating against the religious freedoms of Mississippians and potential customers, he posted the following questionnaire on his Facebook page. The more serious readers need to know that it’s a spoof.

surveyMany Christians, according to the media, are incensed because the government now forces them to pay for medications against their belief, such as contraception. To all the enraged Christians, there is good news. They can participate instead in health care sharing ministries which are exempt from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Believers pool their money for health care work like insurance with premiums, co-pays, claims, insurance cards, and deductibles. The three largest of them have 242,000 members.

They do have a few differences. Health care sharing ministries don’t pay for routine medical services such as annual physicals. In fact, the companies can decide what each one will cover. There is no guarantee for payment, and they aren’t required to cover people for pre-existing conditions. With no requirement for solvency, they can go bankrupt. Members cannot smoke, do drugs, and have sex except with a legally-married spouse. Permission to use alcohol is very limited. They also don’t pay for “immoral” substances such as contraception.

People who want to live by these rules with less medical coverage are welcome to participate in this type of insurance. They’re what insurance was before the Affordable Care Act—no guarantee that insurance payments will cover what a person needs and the ability to cancel the person with no reason. It’s all the disadvantages of small government.

To those people whining about Obamacare, just join a health care sharing ministry. You can have the same kind of insurance as before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. For those of you who want more, watch out for what the GOP members of the House are doing because this is the kind of insurance that they want to bring back—for all people, not just those who want to return to another century.

November 22, 2014

What Were They Thinking!? Barbie and Palin

Filed under: Feminism — trp2011 @ 9:20 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

What were they thinking?! To sell more dolls and make money from females, Mattel came out with a book showing the sexist toy completely dependent on males to be a computer engineer. In a blog about Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, Pamela Ribon pointed out that Barbie tells her sister, Skipper, that she’s “designing a game that shows kids how computers work .” That’s before she tells Skipper that she needs “Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game” because she’s “only creating the design ideas.”

Wearing her flash drive on a pink heart-shaped necklace, Barbie’s computer gets a computer virus that infects Skipper’s hmework. When she tells Steven and Brian about the problem, Steven says, “It will go faster if Brian and I help.” Barbie is only too grateful to let them do the work although Barbie’s teacher has already explained how Barbie can fix the problem. The book then culminates in Barbie’s taking credit for the work that the two boys did.

The book came out in 2010 but drew little attention until Pamela Ribon’s blog that includes pages from the book. The embarrassed Mattel published an apology before it pulled the book from amazon.com:

“We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls’ imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

The apology has jacked up the price of the book for those who have used copies. Prices range between $200 and $290.

After the fact, author Susan Marenco noted problems with the book. She said, “Maybe I should have made one of those programmers a female – I wish I did.” Mattel had requested that Barbie be a designer. Marenco added, “Maybe I should have pushed back, and I usually I do, but I didn’t this time.”

Casey Fiesler pushed back by remixing the book for a new version. The dialog includes this exchange between Barbie and Ken:

Ken: “If girls start making videogames, they’ll take out all the hot chicks, and they’ll all be about puppies and picking out hairstyles.”

Barbie: “Don’t be a moron, Ken. You spend more time on your hair than I do.”

In an article about the book, Fiesler wrote:

“In the end, we don’t need a book (or a doll!) to show a young girl that STEM is just as much for them as for boys. Tell her, or show her! Find out what she’s interested in and tell her how technology relates to it. Point out that computers aren’t just passive by getting her started in a kid-friendly programming environment like Scratch.”

Kathleen Tuite has created a site where people can create different versions of the book. One of the first of over 2,000 submissions switched roles in the book so that Barbie is the game programmer.

Before the Mattel pulled the book, amazon.com reviews in the United Kingdom averaged one star. Respondents in the U.S. were kinder—or perhaps more clueless—although it brought responses like these.

“The first computer coders were women, not men. A woman, Ada Lovelace, invented the idea for general programming language in 1843, for crying out loud, and had other visionary ideas about what would become computing.”—Caroline Farr

“Only Mattel and Barbie could send the message that a pretty young bimbo has to leave the real work of coding to the guys.”—Judy Stoodley

This is not the first time in Barbie’s 65-year history that people have pointed out Mattel’s gaffes in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). An a 1992 release, Teen Talk Barbie babbled “Math class is tough,” and “I love shopping.”

Barbie is modeled after Bild Lilli, a doll intended for adult men—sort of a sex toy. Sometimes given as bachelor gifts, the dolls’ wardrobe was composed of negligees, tiny top, and tight pants. Men put them on dashboards, and others bought them for the thrill of peeping under her ensembles.

Another terrible gaffe comes from the Smithsonian Magazine list of the 100 most significant Americans of all time, over four centuries of history. The usually revered people are on it: presidents such as Lincoln, FDR, and Washington; activists such as Frederick Douglass; entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford and Steve Jobs; and other icons such as John Muir, Frank Sinatra, Mark Twain, and Babe Ruth.

One name sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb–Sarah Palin. No, this is not a joke—unless the Smithsonian meant it as such. George W. Bush is there, and Barack Obama is not. Steven Skiena, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Computer Science at Stony Brook University, and Charles B. Ward, an engineer at Google, devised “an algorithmic method of ranking historical figures, just as Google ranks web pages,” and “their concept of significance has less to do with achievement than with an individual’s strength as an Internet meme — how vividly he or she remains in our collective memory.” Smithsonian took their list and edited it by assessing how well the individuals’ achievements are remembered and valued in the present day.

As Stephen D. Foster, Jr. wrote:

“Palin, America’s village idiot known for quitting as Governor of Alaska and engaging in drunken brawls and incoherent speeches full of factual errors such as not knowing the actual address of the White House, is on the list, while the first African-American president in American history is not.”

Palin made the “First Women” category with Pocahontas, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Martha Washington, Hellen (sic) Keller, Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Edith Wharton, Bette Davis, Oprah Winfrey. The magazine didn’t even spell Helen Keller’s name correctly.

People have long known that Barbie should not be a role model for young girls, but until now the Smithsonian has been an honored institution. James Smithson left his entire estate worth over $500,000 in 1829 (almost $11 million today) to found an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” The Smithsonian should be embarrassed by its choice and issue an apology just as Mattel has. Including Sarah Palin on this list has destroyed any credibility of the Smithsonian. Girls in the United States need to aim higher than Barbie and Sarah Palin—much higher.

November 21, 2014

President Infuriates GOP with Immigration Executive Order

Last night, mainstream television stations refused to run President Obama’s speech, but the message still came across loud and clear: the president is moving forward on immigration reform because the GOP House won’t take action. In the first minute of the speech, he announced that about 4.4 million undocumented immigrants—parents, children, and others who have lived at least five years in the country—will not be forced out of their homes.

Undocumented parents of U.S. citizen and legal permanent children can legally stay in the country and work if they pass a background check. His 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy will be expanded by removing the top age limit of 31 and applying to all those who came to the U.S. before January 1, 2010. Relief from the deferred action will be three years, an increase from the two-year DACA program. Executive orders are temporary, made on a case-by-case basis, can be revoked, and do not put immigrants on a path toward citizenship. They are required to pay taxes but won’t be eligible for most government benefits including the Affordable Care Act subsidies.

Other benefits focus on those illegally crossing the border since the beginning of the year, convicted criminals, suspected terrorists, and possible threats to national security. The president’s new executive order will broaden opportunities for highly skilled workers and change how visas are distributed. Parents of DACA recipients and agricultural workers are not included in this relief, but they may be eligible for reprieve from other factors. Any person granted deferred action can get work authorization by demonstrating “an economic necessity for employment” and can obtain Social Security numbers.

As expected, the Party of No has doubled down on its threats to block the president and avoid helping the people of the United States:

Shut down the government: That GOP suggestion included talk on last Sunday shows. Although Sen. John Thune (R-SD) had earlier acknowledged that this move “doesn’t solve the problem,” he hasn’t rejected the option.

Defund the immigration plan: Rescission is a parliamentary procedure that lets legislators pass a budget bill and then return to cut out whatever they don’t want. Citizenship and Immigration Services is funded through fees, however, not congressional appropriations, meaning that Congress can’t take this route.

Block confirmation of all nominees, including the U.S. Attorney General and judges: This threat isn’t new; the GOP senators have been doing it during the past two congresses. They will continue, however, because they’re hoping for a Republican president in two years to pack the courts and other federal seats.

Refuse to pass any immigration legislation through Congress: It’s not as if the GOP House has been willing to do pass any legislation anyway.

Impeach the president: Reps. Steve King (R-IA), Joe Barton (R-TX), and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) have all suggested this action, useless because it requires a two-thirds vote in the senate. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) even wants to send the president to prison. He suggested the possibility that “the president’s conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States of America” which carries “a five-year in-jail penalty.”

Sue the President: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), a presidential wannabe, called the executive action a “cynical ploy” to distract Republicans from other agenda items. Because the Republicans haven’t moved anything forward for years, this doesn’t set up an unusual situation. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has finally found a lawyer who took the case after rejection from two others. The current filing uses the Affordable Care Act as its basis but just asks for a ruling without any request for relief, injunction, or change.

The House may fail in suing the president for his executive order on immigration.   The Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. United States (2012) ruled “broad discretion” for the executive branch in immigration matters because removal is a civil, not criminal, matter. The law reads that undocumented people “may” be removed, not “must”; thus the executive branch “must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all” on a case-by-case basis. Immigration law does require custody for those who have committed a serious crime or previously “engaged in a terrorist activity.”

One reason that Republicans want to block the immigration executive order is that the president’s actions will improve the economy. With about 5 million more people obtaining work permits, wages will be increased by an average of 8.5 percent and raise an additional $3 billion in payroll taxes for just the first year and $22.6 billion for the first five years. GDP will go up by 0.9 percent, about $210 billion, and the federal deficit will shrink by $25 billion through this growth. The senate bill would have had far greater economic benefits, but it was kept from a House vote.

Immigrants do not have a negative impact on earnings of native-born workers because the two groups usually have different skill sets and look for different kinds of jobs. As new immigrants move to the U.S., the number of jobs lost to offshoring actually decreases, keeping more jobs for native-born workers and greater demand for such services as transportation of these goods throughout the country. Getting immigrant labor for lower-skilled jobs moves native-born workers in those jobs up the job ladder, giving them higher-paid jobs. Immigrants also do not displace U.S. workers because many of them start their own businesses.

Republicans ignore the executive actions on immigration taken by 11 U.S. presidents, every president both Republican and Democrat since President Dwight Eisenhower. Reagan granted deportation relief to minor children of parents who benefited from a 1986 immigration reform, and George H.S. Bush gave the same relief to about 1.5 million “family members living with a legalizing immigrant [] who were in the U.S. before passage of the 1986 law.” As the president said in his speech:

“To those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.”

President Obama’s actions are not an amnesty. Reagan was the president who strongly supported amnesty. In a presidential debate in 1984, he said, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”

The farthest-right members of Congress rant about the president’s actions because they think the GOP now has a mandate to take over the country. They forgot that they completely ignored any “mandate” from the 2012 election when both the elected president and Senate were Democratic and the majority of votes for the House were Democratic although gerrymandering provided a majority of GOP representatives. GOP congressional members have proceeded during the past six years with its only goal–to stop any action from the president.

While the Republicans threaten the president, they also call on violent action from people across the country by trying to terrify them. For example, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has said, “You could see violence.” He seemed to give people the right for anarchy when he explained how people think:

“If the law doesn’t apply to the president and it’s not affirmatively acted upon us as a group, like you’re seeing in Ferguson, Missouri then why should it apply to me?'”

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a leader in the anti-immigrant movement, said during his Sunday radio program that it’s possible that a Hispanic majority in the U.S. could conduct an “ethnic cleansing.” In a game of “us versus them” played against imagined enemies, conservatives, like terrorists such as ISIL use this method to control people and keep them from being free.

As satirist Andy Borowitz wrote, the GOP immigration plan for the past 30 years is to “make America somewhere no one wants to live.” Immigrants have come to the United States to improve their standard of living. That hope is gradually disappearing through the GOP’s plans to decrease wages, eliminate health care, increase imprisonment, and expand the number of unwarranted deaths through unimpeded gun violence.

Older GOP legislators refuse to pay attention to historic and economic facts just as they reject science. Their only plan is the same one that they’ve used for the past six years to stop the president: do nothing.

November 19, 2014

Net Neutrality Decision Postponed–Again

Filed under: net neutrality — trp2011 @ 8:31 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

“Obama for the Internet.” Preserving net neutrality will “stifle freedom, entrepreneurship and creativity online.” That’s Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) take on the debate that’s coming to a head, like a giant boil ready to burst.

For the uninitiated, net neutrality requires the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to treat all content equal in speed and delivery. Charging extra for higher speeds or slowing down parts of the Internet content affects everyone who uses is.

The FCC can continue net neutrality by classifying the Internet as a common carrier utility. President Obama supports net neutrality, but FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, a former telecoms lobbyist, isn’t convinced. As the swing voter between two Democrats and two Republicans, he’s the Decider. Big telecommunication companies such as Comcast and Verizon are fighting net neutrality not only because they can’t make as much money but also because they would be more highly regulated.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who just won his seat by over 10 points, responded to Cruz on CNN’s State of the Union. The Internet has been “neutral” since its inception so there’s no change. As for quashing entrepreneurship, three guys in a pizzeria sold “YouTube” to Google for $1.65 billion because Google decided it was a better system than “Google Video.” Big businesses such as Ford, Visa, UPS, and Bank of America like net neutrality so much that they’ve lobbied the FCC to keep the rules by reclassifying broadband as an essential service. Their position is the same as most of the people in the United States:

“Every retailer with an online catalogue, every manufacturer with online product specifications, every insurance company with online claims processing, every bank offering online account management, every company with a website—every business in America interacting with its customers online is dependent upon an open Internet.”

After one big communication corporations failed to bribe the government to dump net neutrality, it tried extortion. AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson, said that the company won’t extend new high-speed Internet connections in 100 U.S. cities if the FCC imposes net neutrality regulations. The FCC wrote back, asking for “all documents” related to that decision. AT&T may have trouble finding those documents because there have been no details published about these plans. The company should have hedged its bets because the FCC hasn’t yet signed off on its request to buy DirecTV for $48 billion. FCC also wants to know if AT&T’s financial model “demonstrates that fiber deployment is now unprofitable” and whether laying fiber to more than two million homes after the DirecTV acquisition “would be unprofitable.”

The FCC decision has great implications for almost all United States residents. If Wheeler decides in favor of the big companies, they can decide not only the speed of content on the Internet, but also the content itself. With net neutrality, an ISP cannot block a legal website or service. The decision also affects mobile devices which increasingly receive information from the Internet. Regulations require that customers of one phone company aren’t penalized when receiving calls from other company’s customers. The same philosophy should apply to information from the Internet. As the president said:

“The Internet has been one of the greatest gifts our economy — and our society — has ever known. The FCC was chartered to promote competition, innovation, and investment in our networks. In service of that mission, there is no higher calling than protecting an open, accessible, and free Internet. I thank the Commissioners for having served this cause with distinction and integrity, and I respectfully ask them to adopt the policies I have outlined here, to preserve this technology’s promise for today, and future generations to come.”

The first thing that Wheeler did after the president announced his support for net neutrality was to say that the FCC needs more time. Today was the deadline for publishing revised rules for a December vote, but that didn’t happen. Wheeler postponed the decision until sometime in 2015 when the GOP can apply more pressure and big telecom companies have more time to lobby politicians.

In speaking about a different issue, House Speaker John Boehner stressed that the president should follow the mandate of the people. If Republicans truly believed that (ha!), they would support net neutrality.

A new survey from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication found strong support for neutrality regardless of gender, age, race and level of education. About 81 percent of people in the United States oppose “Internet fast lanes” that would charge more for websites and services to get content to customers more quickly. Republicans are even more likely to support net neutrality than Democrats although their elected legislators don’t support their preference.

A problem with accurate poll numbers is that people have been slow to understand what net neutrality. Just six months ago, 63 percent of the respondents said they’d never heard the term “net neutrality.” Even now, 54 percent still say they haven’t heard the term. Yet a few weeks ago, 77 percent agreed that all Internet information should be treated the same and that ISPs should not be able to restrict the speed on content.

Cruz’s twitter that “ ‘net neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet” made him a few enemies. These are some of the nearly 3,000 responses on Cruz’s Facebook page:

Ed Piper: As a Republican who works in the tech industry I can say that this statement shows you either have no idea what you are talking about or you are bought and paid for by the American Cable monopoly.

Keith French: Ted, I am as conservative as they come…. I want government out of just about everything… and I hate to say it, really hate to say it, but Obama is right on this one. I do not want my access and internet speed controlled by my ISP. It will be.

Joey Camp: As a Republican whom also works in IT like Ed… You have no clue what you are talking about or you are company bought and paid for.

A Jinnie McManus: Goddammit, stop making my party look like morons and look up net neutrality. It doesn’t mean what you and your speechwriters think it means.

Adam Huzzey: Go find whatever rock you crawled out from under Ted and stay under it! Proud republican here, but not so proud to be blind like the good senator. Look how “great” our free market Internet is!!! I pay $100 a month for 15mbs / 100gb p/m capped Internet. Yep, those “free” markets really make it better lmao.

Jimmy Lee: Wow. I am embarassed that I supported you Ted. Face palm. I think it’s time that I “unlike” your FB page.

Cruz only doubled down after Franken refuted his claims. In response to Franken’s comment that we have always had net neutrality, he brought out a rotary phone and said, “What happens when government starts regulating something as a public utility? It calcifies everything, it freezes it in place.” Holding up the rotary phone, he said, “This is regulated.” Then he lifted his iPhone and said, “This is not.” The FCC hasn’t mandated rental rotary phones for 30 years, but iPhones, used as phones, are still regulated.

Big business, including ISPs, cannot be trusted. Anecdotal evidence shows that some of them block users’ email service through crippling encryptions, thus serving as gatekeepers to the Internet. Postal services such as FedEx or USPS cannot legally modify the contents of communications if they don’t approve of language or references to competing businesses. Postal carriers cannot edit letters.

Many people don’t even have choices about ISPs. I live in a small community that is controlled by Charter. Without net neutrality, the company could do anything it wants. That’s the opposite of freedom.

November 18, 2014

Senate Denies Keystone Pipeline

The senate Republicans lost the Keystone XL pipeline—for now. In an effort to get Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) re-elected, 14 Democrats voted for the bill to support the movement of tar sands crude oil from Canada across the United States to the Texas coast where it gets shipped overseas. The proposed route endangers a large percentage of fresh water in the United States, something that 41 senators understood. The 59 votes were short just one needed to clear a filibuster.

Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said, “Congress is not — nor should it be — in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project.” Debate lasted six hours. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said, “From my state’s point of view, it’s all harm.” Sixty votes would have overridden the authority of the State Department to determine the pipeline’s fate.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that his GOP members are “committed to getting Keystone approved,” and that party has next year’s majority. The question is whether Democrats will vote the same way if they’re not trying to save Landrieu’s seat. Even the 63 votes that McConnell hopes for don’t make the bill veto-proof.

Keystone pipeline information you might not find in the mainstream media:

Jobs: Russ Girling, CEO of TransCanda that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline, finally admitted the project would have only 50 jobs after it is built, but he tried to praise the nearly 9,000 jobs for the building. That’s actually fewer than 4,500 jobs per year. And TransCanada has finally admitted it. Keep these numbers in mind when the GOP and Blue Dog Dems promise “jobs, jobs, jobs.” There won’t be any jobs from making the steel pipe because those have already been purchased—from India.

Landrieu: Democrats who think that voting in favor of the pipeline need to consider that not one job—out of either the 3,900 in building the pipeline for a couple of years or the 50 jobs to maintain it after that—will be in Louisiana. Do they think that the state’s voters are so dumb that they’ll vote for Landrieu to get a few jobs in other states while their own gas prices go up?

Oil Spills: During the past four months, there have been 90 pipeline spills reported. Reports come from the corporations that own the pipeline, and not one reported found any affect on wildlife or waterways. It’s a miracle! Or more likely bad reporting from the companies in charge of admitting they screwed up.

War: The pipeline’s current trajectory crosses the Great Sioux Nation (Oceti Sakowin) Treaty lands, Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, and Congress failed to consult with this Native American nation. Tribal President Cyril Scott of the Rosebud Sioux (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) reservation declared last week’s House vote to authorize the pipeline an “act of war” on a “sovereign nation” because it breaks the treaty.

Starting in January, the GOP will earn its nickname of “Grand Oil Party.” New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, has a plan to eliminate any federal oversight of constructing border-crossing pipelines. McConnell plans to stop the EPA from any carbon restraints on the use of coal, ban federal oversight of fracking, allow drilling off the shores of Alaska and Virginia, and sell all the U.S. crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) out of the country.

Republicans have a vision that depleting the country of resources and using it for a fossil fuels conduit from Canada for sale overseas will build national power and prestige. Christie’s foreign policy was introduced in Mexico which plans to allow U.S. firms to develop its oil and gas fields for the first time since 1938.

In order to accomplish their agenda—and continue to fill their coffers from oil and gas companies—Republicans must continue their strong denial of any climate change. The oil and gas industry was the ninth largest supplier of campaign funds for the last election cycle, sending 87 percent of the $51 million to Republican candidates. Koch Industries provided $9.4 million of that donation. The coal industry sent another $10 million, 95 percent to the same party. Koch Industries provided $9.4 million of that donation. This money is only the tip of the iceberg of donations to conservatives. Secretive super PACs and supposedly non-profit are not bound by rules of direct donations. Two years ago, the Koch brothers send $407 million to these political groups, and they certainly sent as much, if not more, this year.

Leading recipients of this money were House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and McConnell as well as Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who just took a senate seat for the coming year from environmental Mark Udall. Coal money went to both Boehner and McConnell as well as helping elect Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley (R-WV).

Energy drives the economies in the 13 red states that export more than they import: Wyoming, West Virginia, Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Montana, Arkansas, Utah, and Kentucky. In the upcoming Congress, 19 of the 26 senators from these states are Republicans; one is an independent. Five of the states drove out Democrats in the senate this year. All the GOP senators will be trying to remove any federal regulations in the coming year because states have far more lax policies.

The GOP also wants massive fossil fuel extraction because members believe that it provides greater security. “Saudi America” should lower the cost of energy in the United States and give the nation more control in dealing with Iran and Russia. The current ban on exporting crude oil was adopted 40 years ago because of the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74. Exports of LNG is controlled by the lack of facilities and regulations that block rapid construction. Oil and gas are more expensive in Europe and Asia, and the industry wants to make money through exports. At the same time, integrating the North American oil systems would give U.S. companies much greater control of Mexican and Canadian production.

People who voted for GOP candidates because of promises of greater energy production at home didn’t understand that diverting output to foreign countries will cause prices in the U.S. to rise. Massive exports will also increase greenhouse gas emissions around the world. The result is a fossil-fuels-forever planet—at least briefly until everyone dies.

Almost all scientists, at least 97 percent of them, agree that the planet cannot be heated more than an average increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit during this century. The GOP carbon agenda raises that number by two to three times, making parts of the planet uninhabitable and causing deadly shortages in food and water. Although the warming seems to have slowed down during the past few years, the oceans are absorbing the heat almost as much as possible. The warming will soon resume, and the GOP plans to accelerate the process.

Some people who know how destructive the pipeline is would vote for it with the excuse that stopping the pipeline won’t stop the Koch brothers from producing the crude oil that is taking down the planet. These people could be compared to a person hired to kill someone else, that if they don’t do it, somebody else will. It’s a pitiful excuse to obliterate the only world we have.

November 17, 2014

A Pipeline in Your Front Lawn

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 10:13 PM
Tags: ,

The day before the U.S. Senate votes to support the Keystone XL pipeline through 1,700 miles of the United States, protesters put a 30-foot-long inflatable pipe on the front lawn of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). She has encouraged senate Democrats to vote for the pipeline so that she will hopefully get more votes in her December 6 election. Want a pipeline? This is what it would look like in your front lawn.

11172014_Landrieu-Protests_The-Daily-Caller

Landieu

November 16, 2014

Pope Francis Flips the Church’s Attitude

Who knew when a mild-manner cardinal from Argentina became the leader 1.2 billion and renamed himself Francis that he would throw his followers—and the conservatives in the United States—into such a turmoil?! His attacks on climate-change deniers, unfettered capitalism, and bigotry against LGBT people have become legendary. While committee Senate leaders such as James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) will take the country back to the 19th century in environment, public works, commerce, science, and transportation, the pope continues his speeches about how science, rational thought, and data are important parts of present and future human goals.

Last month, the pope said to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that the Catholic Church evolution and the Big Bang theory of the universe fit with biblical teachings. “God was [not] a magician, complete with an all-powerful magic wand.” At the same time, Congress will be controlled by people who link Darwinism with eternal damnation. Inhofe, who wrote The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, said:

“God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is, to me, outrageous.”

During the times of the Founding Fathers, people revered intellectual achievement. It was the Age of Enlightenment that used the scientific method of independent inquiry and the study of objective data to reach conclusions after repeated experiments that were carefully analyzed. Even presidents in the 20th century sought advice from people in the opposing parties. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Vannevar Bush, an opponent of the New Deal, to head up of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and Democrat Jerome Wiesner sat on the Science Advisory Committee to Dwight D. Eisenhower. The pope moves ahead; the Congress has gone into reverse.

Last week, the pope officially demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, the U.S. cardinal who attacked Francis on his progressive expressions. In 2004, Burke said that voting for a pro-choice candidate is a “serious sin” and said last year the Church “can never talk enough” about the “massacre of the unborn.” After Francis said about gay priests, “who am I to judge?” Burke told said that homosexual acts are “always and everywhere wrong, evil.”

Pope Benedict XVI elevated Burke to the head of the Apostolic Signatura—the Vatican’s highest court. Benedict resigned, and Francis sent Burke to a ceremonial role as the Patron of the Order of the Knights of Malta. The tipping point leading to the reassignment may have been Burke’s participation with conservative bishops who protested the pope’s discussion of “family issues” such as homosexuality. In his attack, Burke said that the pope did “a lot of harm” and compared his leadership to “a ship without a rudder.” Last month, Burke called homosexuality “profoundly disordered and harmful” and told people that they should keep their children away from LGBT people and cut ties with LGBT relatives. This is the pope’s second demotion of Burke: in 2013, Burke was removed from the Congregation for Bishops.

Francis had already irritated cardinals by elevating many bishops from countries outside the West to cardinal. Before removing Burke, the pope replaced Cardinal Francis George, the conservative who compared organizers of the Chicago Pride Parade to the Ku Klux Klan, with moderate Bishop Blasé Cupich, who condemns anti-LGBT bullying and asked priests and seminarians not to pray in front of Planned Parenthood clinics as a protest.

The pope also diverges from U.S. conservatives in the excesses of capitalism. Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have both called him a Marxist, and other pundits have called him a Communist and Socialist. At the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a three day conference attended by farmers, fishermen, miners, and Argentine “cartoneros,” who sift through garbage for recyclable goods, Francis said:

“Let’s say together with our heart: no family without a roof, no peasant farmer without land, no worker without rights, no person without dignified labour!”

He explained this statement:

“Land, housing and work are increasingly unavailable to the majority of the world’s population. If I talk about this, some will think that the Pope is communist. They don’t understand that love for the poor is at the center of the Gospel. Demanding this isn’t unusual, it’s the social doctrine of the church.”

Ken Ham, infamous for his religious museum that puts humans and dinosaurs in the same time period, said, “Pope Francis has compromised biblical authority in favor of man’s ideas in the area of origins.” Ham was offended by the pope’s statements that “God is not afraid of new things.” This declaration fails to defer to the bible, according to Ham, which was literally written by God. Ham protested:

“If God and His Word are open to change, then God’s Word is not an authority on anything—man becomes the authority because he gets to decide when and how God’s Word applies.”

Ham asked his followers to pray for the pope. “I encourage you to pray that church leaders like these will realize that they are placing man’s opinions above God’s Word and that they will repent and trust God’s Word, beginning in Genesis.” Unfortunately for Ham, his god failed to translate his words into other languages; therefore his bible is written by human beings.

Conservatives such as Catholic John Ransom are going so far as to say the pope claimed that “God is not a divine being.” It’s another problem of mistranslating because the pope did not speak in English. Ransom’s column about the pope is titled “Can the pope shut up too?” which lacks a sense of reverence for his Church’s leader.

Creationist Ray Comfort didn’t attack the pope but approached the him in a patronizing manner. Comfort said that any self-described Christian might “think that they are siding with science, [but] they don’t realize that the theory has no scientific basis—that it’s unproven, and that it has to be received on blind faith.” People who believe in evolution “don’t believe in Jesus.”

It is possible that The pope’s comments could lead to a schism in the Catholic Church. Australian Cardinal George Pell wrote that Pope Francis was the 266th pope “and history has seen 37 false or antipopes.” The insinuation is that Francis may be the 38th, possibly sent by the devil.

Conservative American journalist Ross Douthat wrote that “[Conservative Catholics] might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.” He also argued that the pope is “stacking the synod’s ranks with supporters of a sweeping change”—as if this were unusual.

U.S. bishops may have decided their approach to Pope Francis last week at the annual General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Part of the business was to pick four representatives to send to the October 2015 synod on marriage and the family. The first synod on the subject was last month when the Vatican riled up conservatives by seeming to recognize loving and committed same-sex partnerships. Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Donald Wuerl will also attend the synod because they are the highest-ranking Catholic clergy in the country.

The highly conservative website, Breitbart.com, describes the selection as a “conservative ‘dream team.’ “  Those chosen were Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and Archbishop Jose Gomez. Alternates are Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Archibishop-designate Blasé Cupich. Of the six, only Cupich is moderate; the rest are solidly right-wing.  For example, Chaput argued against giving communion to Catholic politicians who support pro-choice and condemned Notre Dame for giving President Obama an honorary degree. Gomez is his protégé.

Times are going to be rocky for the Catholic Church, and this will reflect on the Church’s influence in the United States.

November 15, 2014

Health Care on the Chopping Block?

Just a couple of days after Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) became leaders of the 114th Congress, they declared open season on health care for the poor and middle class. Their starting salvo was announced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which they began with eliminating benefits for workers employed fewer than 40 hours a week. In typical GOP-speak, they said that this change would provide employees with “more hours and better pay.” In 2013, 43.8 percent of all workers, 60.9 million people, were employed at 40 hours or more. The question is whether members of Congress would lose their insurance if health care guidelines change. The people wanting the increase in hours worked to get health care, congressional legislators, work about two days each week. They seem to be saying that they would work harder if they didn’t get health care unless they worked five days a week.

Conservatives have been jumping with joy ever since Jonathan Gruber, self-proclaimed architect of the Affordable Care Act, proclaimed that it was the “stupidity of the American voter” that allowed the bill to become a law. Far from being an “architect,” Gruber served as a consultant to produce cost estimates of provisions and giving technical advice based on his overseeing similar reforms in Massachusetts. According to Gruber, Democrats kept the Congressional Budget Office from scoring the mandate as a tax and hide the provision that young and healthy beneficiaries would subsidize premiums for the sick.

Scoring the mandate as a “tax” would not have changed the estimate of increasing revenue by $4 billion in 2016 and approximately $5 billion per year for the next eight years. There was also no lack of transparency about everyone, healthy or sick, paying into the insurance, and the media incessantly covered this fact. AP reporter Erica Werner clearly explained that premiums varied only on age, geographic area, and tobacco use. The president told AARP in 2009 before the law was passed:

“[Y]ou get the healthy and the young people alongside the not-so-healthy and the older people. But we’re all kind of spreading our risk, because each of us don’t know at any given time what might happen.”

Gruber also complained that the law does little or nothing to control health care costs. Yet four years after the act passed, projections for health care in 2019 is $500 billion less than projected at the time that it passed. As costs increase in many other areas, a study of 48 urban areas shows an average 0.2 decrease in the “silver” plans. Costs seem to be all over the place from an increase of 28 percent in Anchorage (AK) to a reduction of 24 percent in Jackson (MS). At the same time, the government paid $104 billion less in 2014 subsidies than originally predicted. The country has seven million more people than insured before ACA, the government pays less than predicted, and the rise in healthcare costs has dramatically slowed.

Gruber has apologized for his statements, saying that they were just “off the cuff” at academic conferences. It may not be enough to save the millions of dollars that he was scheduled to make. Eight states hired Gruber to help design their health exchanges after he banked nearly $400,000 in 2009 through contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services. He and a few colleagues had state contracts for $1.6 million over seven years from Michigan ($481,000), Minnesota ($329,000), Vermont ($400,000) and Wisconsin ($400,000). He also advised Colorado, Connecticut, Maine and West Virginia.

Because of ACA’s requirement that insurers must spend at least 80 percent of premium costs on medical care, 6.8 million families are getting average rebates of $80 totaling almost $2 billion. That’s one reason premiums are being lowered. Subsidies are the other reason. If the Supreme Court denies these subsidies in states without state exchanges, people can see their insurance premiums increase by about 75 percent.

As people line up to register for health care this week, the U.S. Supreme Court may join the conservatives in Congress to kill off the law—and many people at the same time. Paul Krugman called the lawsuit to be argued this year as death by typo. The Supreme Court is set to determine if the word “state” in one sentence of the 2200-page law means that poor people won’t receive subsidies in the states that don’t have their own government-run marketplace. Krugman wrote:

“Judges who support this cruel absurdity aren’t stupid; they know what they’re doing.  What they are, instead, is corrupt, willing to pervert the law to serve political masters.”

Over two decades ago, the conservatives supported single-payer health insurance, but that was before the Democrats accepted the idea. When Congress started working on the plan in the president’s early years, the Democrats attempted to mollify the GOP by incorporating their ideas into the law. After the GOP pushed the Democratic legislators in a corner, the law received only one GOP vote, a representative. Current problems show that single-payer health care would be the best for almost all the people in the United States.

Megan Rothbauer’s $50,000 bill is one example of why the U.S. needs a single-payer plan. Up-to-date on her insurance payments, the Wisconsin woman went into cardiac arrest and was unconscious when she was rushed to a hospital. The place where the ambulance took Rothbauer, 30, didn’t take her insurance although one three blocks away did. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to tell them where they should take her. Without the Affordable Care Act, she would have owed another $100,000. A single-payer plan would have kept her from the possibly of becoming destitute, but Rothbauer is now facing bankruptcy. Blue Cross Blue Shield stated that the fault is with the hospital. The hospital stated that they could have charged her more but didn’t. Medical experts indicate that this is a common situation.

Even knowing what hospital is in a network doesn’t always help. When probate attorney Jeffrey Craig Hopper was smashed in the face with a baseball while coaching Little League in Austin (TX), his wife made sure she took Hopper to a hospital that is part of their insurance network. The ER doctor sent the couple a bill for more than $700; he could do this because he was outside the approved network of physicians. Again, this is fairly common: in more than half of Humana’s Texas hospitals, none of the ER doctors is within Humana’s network.  The same situation goes for almost half the Texas hospitals with United Healthcare insurance and about a fifth of Blue Cross-accepting hospitals. Preparing for the next emergency, Jennifer Hopper couldn’t find even five doctors who would take their insurance at hospitals her plan uses in Austin.

For the fifth consecutive year, the United States, the richest nation in the world, ranked last in industrialized nation’s health care systems. The only industrialized nation without universal health care, the U.S. has the highest percentage of U.S. residents not seeking necessary medical care because they can’t afford it. Thirty-seven percent of Americans said they didn’t fill a prescription, visit a doctor, or get recommended medical care because they worried about the cost compared to only four percent of people in the United Kingdom.

The United States has the highest infant mortality and deaths possibly preventable with access to effective health care. It’s also at the bottom of “efficiency” because of the time and money spent dealing with insurance administration, lack of communication among health care providers, and duplicative medical testing. In “equity,” the 39 percent of adults with below-average incomes in the U.S. who could not visit doctors because of costs puts the U.S. also at the bottom, compared with the less than one in ten who have the problem in the UK, Sweden, Canada, and Norway. People in the U.S spent $8,508 per person on healthcare in 2011 compared to $3,406 per person in the UK, but the higher cost of health care in the U.S. doesn’t equate to better care.

The data that put the United States last was collected before ACA went into effect. Even if the Supreme Court destroys “Obamacare,” the nation many have a brief shining time of health care for residents in Democratically-controlled states. Even so, six million of the poorest residents lack health care if GOP states refuse to expand Medicaid. A negative Supreme Court decision could triple or quadruple that number.

In Oregon, Monica Wehby, the GOP candidate who just lost to Sen. Jeff Merkley, wants to be boss of the Oregon Health Authority. The day after the election, she called newly re-elected Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber to ask for the job. The agency runs the state’s Medicaid program for 300,000 low-income Oregonians and may also administer Cover Oregon, the health insurance exchange, which Wehby wants to destroy. Her campaign slogan was “Keep Your Doctor. Change Your Senator.” Before she ran for the senate, she starred in a 2009 nationwide commercial warning about the plan’s dangers. The job would also give her a serious hit in salary: in 2013, she made $861,479 as a pediatric neurosurgeon for Legacy Health Systems, and the previous OHA director made $173,000. She says that she just wants to “stay involved.”

One question in the Supreme Court argument about ACA is whether the business-friendly justices will go against the money-makers in the insurance and health industries. They’re making more money, and they like it.

As in the past couple of years, the Supreme Court is addressing voting rights, health care, and possibly marriage equality. Millions of people will be waiting until their pronouncements next June.

 

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