Nel's New Day

January 31, 2015

Kissinger-Defender McCain Calls Code PINK ‘Low-life Scum’

“I have never seen anything as disgraceful and outrageous and despicable as the last demonstration that just took place…” That was part of Sen. John McCain’s apology to Henry Kissinger, 90, after Code PINK protesters interrupted a Senate hearing with their demands that Kissinger be arrested for war crimes. While serving as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State between 1969 and 1977, Kissinger “designed and implemented policies which led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, the overthrow of democratically-elected governments, and the invasion and occupation of sovereign countries,” according to a group of historians. In defense of Kissinger, the 78-year-old senator who is currently considering running for another six-year term in 2016, labeled the protesters as “low-life scum.”

Early in his term as National Security Officer, Kissinger authorized the secret bombing of Laos and Cambodia in 1969 and 1970 killed 40,000 people. He said, “[Nixon] wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything about it. It’s an order, to be done. Anything that flies or anything that moves.”  Although Kissinger claimed that he was stopping North Vietnamese troops, he merely gave the brutal Khmer Rouge an opportunity to take over Cambodia, allowing the U.S. a justification for more bombings. Kissinger illegally bombed a sovereign nation, destabilized its government, and allowed a violent, autocratic regime to seize powers.

Kissinger’s killings didn’t end with Cambodia. As Secretary of State for Richard Nixon in 1973, he facilitated a coup against legally elected Salvador Allende that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power and ended civilian rule. Among the 5,000 people rounded up in Chile’s National Stadium was singer/songwriter Victor Jara. Guards smashed his hands, tore off his nails, and then ordered him to play his guitar before dumping his dead body, riddled with gunshot wounds and signs of torture, into the street. After hearing about the torture and slaughter of thousands of Chileans, Kissinger said to Pinochet, “You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.”

During his 17-year reign in Chile, government policies dramatically increased economic inequality—just as attempted in the United States—by restricting labor unions and privatizing social security. When Pinochet died in 2006, Chile had approximately 300 pending criminal charges against him not only for human rights violations but also tax evasion and embezzlement.

Hours after Kissinger and President Jerry Ford visited Indonesia in 1975, the country invaded East Timor with weapons provided by the United States. The result was a 25-year occupation in which 100,000 to 180,000 soldiers and civilians were killed or starved to death. Horrifying details of the invasion are here. Almost all the military equipment for the invasion came from the United States. U.S.-supplied destroyer escorts shelled East Timor, and U.S. aircraft dropped Indonesian paratroops and strafed East Timor’s largest city. Although the U.S. claimed that they suspended military service to Indonesia from 1975 to 1979, taxpayers provided $250 million of military assistance to Indonesia during those years.

Kissinger’s war crimes include his backing Pakistan’s overthrow of Bangladesh’s democratically elected government which caused half a million deaths. He also gave the green light to Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus when a right-wing junta wing replaced President Archbishop Makarios in 1974.

In The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens, writing as a prosecutor before an international court of law, describes Kissinger’s ordering or sanctioning the destruction of civilian populations, his assassination of “unfriendly” politicians, and the kidnapping and disappearance of soldiers, journalists and clerics who got in his way.

Kissinger fled France after French Judge Roger Le Loire served Kissinger to appear in court. Indictments from Spain, Argentina, Uruguay—even a civil suit in Washington D.C.—followed Kissinger. Trying him may be difficult because he doesn’t directly commission these crimes; instead he facilitates them. The B-52s flew over Cambodia to bomb villages so high that the planes’ crews couldn’t see the targets.

In a pre-Internet world, Kissinger’s crimes were easier to hide. With access to information now, people were able to find out that George W. Bush lied about Saddam Hussein’s having weapons of mass destruction were able to discover that he was wrong although 42 percent of the people still believe Iraq had WMD. Less known, however, the United States’ long history of supporting Hussein and providing him with weapons and other resources before the political strategy of deposing him in 2003.

While McCain claims that “war is wretched beyond description,” he is the biggest war hawk in Congress whether about Iraq, Syria, or Iran. Yet he kept a 2014 bill for veterans’ retirement pay restoration from getting to the Senate floor. Five years earlier he allowed a bill to die that would have funded a transition for homeless veterans to having shelter. The same year he did the same thing for a bill to provide homes for veterans who are single mothers. Another bill he helped destroy was to pair up veterans with job opportunities based on their skills.

McCain has a net worth of over $10 million and owns eight properties, putting him in the top 0.01 percent of people in the United States. He voted 19 times against increasing the minimum wage but voted to extend George W. Bush’s tax cut package. Earlier he had called it “generous tax relief to the wealthiest individuals of our country at the expense of lower and middle-income taxpayers.” McCain’s $700-million bailout for big banks benefited him with almost $2 million in campaign and leadership PAC donations between 2005 and 2010.

Instead of being disgusted by Kissinger’s behavior, McCain fawned over him, apologizing profusely for anyone who objected to Kissinger’s reign of terror for decades. Kissinger has presided over a series of failed wars and was invited to the Senate to testify about “Global Challenges and the U.S. National Security Strategy.”

McCain follows the conservative approach of sliming individuals rather than their ideas. He calls the protesters “scum” but fails to point out how their ideas are wrong. Nowhere does he try to deny or justify Kissinger’s complicity in replacing elected officials with brutal dictators while killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people. The theory, which never succeeds, is that eliminating the people will take away the ideas, avoiding the merits of an argument by attacking an individual’s or group’s character. Michael Mann calls it “The Serengeti Strategy” in which a lion kills an individual zebra, usually one perceived as a soft target, rather than going for the herd. McCain can’t kill off the herd of people who believe that Kissinger should be tried for his war crimes because he can’t stop the debate. Therefore he yells “low-life scum” at a group composed largely of young women.

McCain’s purpose was to silence the protesters. The best way to oppose this intention is to keep talking and keep talking. “The best defense is a good offense.” Mann writes that a herd can be made stronger by supporting those who are perceived as weak and vulnerable.

January 29, 2015

What They Said Last Weekend: GOP Presidential Wannabes

The 2016 election circus started in Iowa last weekend at the Iowa Freedom Summit as conservative possible presidential candidates gave the crowd a feeding frenzy of far-right rhetoric. In some mysterious way, the state with under one percent of the nation’s population and composed of over 90 percent whites gets more press than any other place in the nation.

To satisfy the crowd, all candidates put hope on the future of the United States by returning to a past with small government and big business with the country’s military power forcing countries to do the bidding of the U.S. Solutions to problems are sealing the borders (at least the southern one), eliminating the Affordable Care Act, closing government agencies, cutting taxes and regulations small business, erasing unions, privatizing schools, and protecting Christian liberty and traditional marriage.

Scott Walker: Declared the winner and possible toy of the enormously wealthy Koch brothers, the Wisconsin governor bragged about allowing more concealed weapons, decreasing voters through stricter laws, and cutting state spending. His anti-union crusade excludes police and firefighters comes from a colonial management style. He also lied in his speech (what a surprise!) when he said that his changes prevent things happening such occurrences as when Wisconsin’s 2010 “outstanding teacher of the year” winner got laid off. In truth, Megan Sampson self-nominated herself for an award as a first-year teacher of English, and she is still teaching. After Walker used “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” as his union, the pro-union band Dropkick Murphys tweeted, “Please stop using our music in any way … we literally hate you.”

Ted Cruz: A preacher’s son like Walker, the senator claimed, “Our rights are from God, not government.” He added, “[The] Constitution binds the mischief of government.” Claiming that the federal government is filled with “senseless obstacles,” Cruz wants to reassign the 110,000 IRS employees to guard the Mexican border, expunge the “locusts” at the EPA, repeal “every word” of Obamacare, and replace the federal income tax with a flat regressive tax rate. His new mantra may be “Show me where you have stood up and fought.” He said, “If you’re a single mom waiting tables, you can do anything.” Saint Reagan got a nod when Cruz declared the key to a 2016 victory was “reassembling the Reagan coalition” of evangelicals, libertarians, blue-collar democrats, women, and youth. [Good luck on getting the women back with current proposed legislation!]

Chris Christie: The combative, bullying New Jersey governor morphed into a deferential, solicitous man for the Iowa event, touting himself as pro-life, conservative, and successful because of his great minority backing. His brashness, according to Christie, comes from an Irish father and Italian mother who taught him to be open and forthright.  The audience swallowed his speech–hook, line, and sinker.

Carly Fiorina: The loser to California’s Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010 immediately bragged about her religion by telling about the plaque her Sunday School-teaching mother gave her: “What you are is God’s gift to you and what you make of yourself is your gift to God.” As the CEO “of the largest technology company in the world,” she claims to know that the promise of the United States is not from weak managers such as President Obama and Hilary Clinton but instead from the real leaders (presumably her) who “create possibilities.”

Ben Carson: The retired brain surgeon pushed the need for conservative family values, using his single mother as an example. The only black GOP candidate, he wants people to listen to their parents and “not social psychologists” as well as charter schools and prosecution of business owners who hire any undocumented person. According to Carson, government expenditures of $5,000 for Medicaid could buy “boutique” private insurance. All public lands would be open to oil and gas drilling, if Carson had his way.

Donald Trump: The pro-business approach from this New York-based real estate mogul contrasted to the other, more ideological candidates. Referring to two possible candidates who didn’t attend, he said Mitt Romney should go away because he “failed” and “choked” running for president in 2012, and “the last thing we need is another Bush.” (Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul did not attend; they attended the Kochs’ donor summit in southern California). Ironically, he said that the country needs to rebuild the “crumbling” roads, bridges, and airports, something the GOP leadership has refused to consider. To Trump, current mainstream weak, bungling GOP leaders don’t know how to close deals.

Rick Santorum: The former representative and losing presidential candidate who tied Mitt Romney in the 2012 GOP caucus has shifted from an evangelical scold to a proponent of privatized education and rebuilding the family. The GOP should focus on working people instead of  business owners and entrepreneurs.

Sarah Palin: “America needs a hero again, and screw the left and Hollywood who can’t understand what we see in someone like Chris Kyle [the protagonist of American Sniper] and all of our vets.” She said a lot of other things, including pointing three fingers at someone, but most of it was largely incoherent. You can listen to it here.

Mike Huckabee: The crowd had thinned considerably before the former Alabama governor and  presidential loser got up to speak. In contrasting ISIS and climate change, he said, “I believe most of us would think that a beheading is a far greater threat than a sunburn.” Accused of being insufficiently conservative on fiscal and education, he tried to recoup his losses by saying that education should be a “local function” and blamed income inequality on regulations and government overreach.

Rick Perry: Trying to look like a border warrior, the former Texas governor and failed presidential candidate looked for immigration hawks: “If Washington refuses to secure the border with Mexico, Texas will.” He also bragged about the big job creation in his state during his time in office, something going downhill with the gas prices.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal skipped Iowa to host a prayer rally backed by some of the most extreme Christian activists. The promotional materials for Jindal’s event were exactly the same as those for a rally held Texas Gov. Rick Perry held in 2011 to launch his presidential candidacy, but fewer than 10 percent of Perry’s 35,000 audience attended this event. Messages were the usual anti-choice and anti-LGBT positions, including ranting from Jim Garlow who believes that same-sex marriage is demonic. The group also wants to delete IRS restrictions that try to keep tax-exempt churches out of electoral politics. Jindal, who claims he is “not for discrimination against anybody,” wants a constitutional amendment to allow discrimination against same-sex couples. Describing himself as an “evangelical Catholic,” his language matches that of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In the aftermath of Jindal’s rally, organizer Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association was fired from his position as AFA’s director of issue analysis a few days before almost 100 RNC members take an AFA-funded trip to Israel. Fischer has said that the Jewish religion is counterfeit and Jews don’t have First Amendment rights. Fischer has kept his AFA talk show as a platform for his hate speech.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) appeared in a panel with Cruz at the Koch brothers’ donor forum on the same weekend as the Iowa event. All of them suggested that they would reject a deal to cut $10 in spending for every $1 in new taxes. Four years ago, the House decided that the ideal cuts-to-revenue ratio would be a 5-to-1 ratio in GOP favor of “85% spending cuts and 15% revenue increases.” The responses from these three senators show a marked move to the right in just four years by refusing a 10-to-1 cut.

The senate terms for both Paul and Rubio are up in 2016, forcing them to make plans about running for both offices. At this time, Kentucky state law does not permit this for Paul.

The best humor, however, is Mitt Romney’s born-again shift in opposing income inequality. This quiz shows his attempts to usurp Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) position on this issue.

Doing well in Iowa and pandering to the far Christian right doesn’t predict success in a national campaign. Past winners in Iowa have been Rick Santorum, Pat Robertson, and Pat Buchanan. These appearances, however, do push the major candidates to the right and show what we can expect to hear during the next 21 months.

January 28, 2015

Fix the Supreme Court’s Constitution

Conservative justices serving on the Supreme Court try to make people believe that every ruling that they make follows the U.S. Constitution literally—just as fundamentalist Christian leaders swear that every word out of their mouths came from their bible. Both conservative elements are wrong, however, and retired Justice John Paul Stevens has written a book suggesting how the constitution can be brought back into its original text. Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution presents these recommendations with an explanation of the problem and the history to the issues.

Following is a summary of these amendments, thanks to a posting on Daily Kos.

The “Anti-Commandeering” Rule: A 1997 5-4 ruling bans Congress from ordering state officials to carry out federal duties because two county sheriffs didn’t want to carry out Brady Act-mandated background checks for firearm sales. Now people prone to violence, such as the Virginia Tech mass shooter in 2007, can easily get guns. The ruling also affects other federal laws such as emergency responses to national catastrophes and acts of terror.

Suggested amendment adding the four words in boldface to the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges and other public officials in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

Political Gerrymandering: The practice of gerrymandering, loading districts with people registered in one political party, makes politicians more radical and elections less competitive, according to Stevens. A 1986 Supreme Court ruling eliminated most challenges to state legislatures controlling elections of U.S. House members: “[A] finding of unconstitutionality must [show] continued frustration of the will of a majority of the voters or effective denial to a minority of the voters of a fair chance to influence the political process.” Stevens believes that public power should not be allowed to enhance “the political strength of the majority party.”

Suggested amendment: “Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historic boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political power of the party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.”

Campaign Finance: Congress passed a law 108 years ago that banned all corporate contributions to political candidates; this federal law was followed by many states passing total bans of corporate activity to influence public policy. The laws were slowly reversed, culminating in the 2010 Supreme Court disaster that gave corporations the unlimited right to finance campaign speech. Feeling that they had not gone far enough, the same five justices struck down any limit on total donations a person could make to candidates four years later, giving rich persons the right to spend millions in a single election. Three “sulky Supremes”—Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas—annually boycott President Obama’s State of the Union speech because he disagrees with their ruling. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the two Koch brothers plan to spend almost $1 billion in the 2016 election—more than the GOP—to control the results. Stevens purports that the problem can be solved by an amendment stating that corporations are not persons and money is not speech.

Suggested amendment: “Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.”

Sovereign Immunity: Citizens of one state are banned from suing another state in federal court, according to the 11th Amendment. This legal doctrine of “sovereign immunity” originated in 1400 when the king didn’t want to be sued without his consent. It shields the “sovereign,” any of the individual states, from court action by putting it above the law. Stevens disagrees and gives the argument against this amendment from Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was so laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist began a spate of rulings that extended sovereign immunity and weakened state compliance with national law. For example, Illinois avoided paying damages for non-compliance with a federal law for aiding aged, blind and disabled persons in 1974, and 15 years later the Rehnquist Court used this unwritten state sovereignty rule to keep Congress from authorizing the suing of a state of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. In this case, Maine successfully refused to pay probation workers overtime. According to Stevens, state-owned institutions such as hospitals or police forces should not have a defense to federal claims that private institutions lack.

Suggested amendment: “Neither the Tenth Amendment, the Eleventh Amendment, nor any other provision of this Constitution, shall be construed to provide any state, state agency, or state officer with an immunity from liability for violating any act of Congress, or any provision of this Constitution.”

The Death Penalty: Arguments for the death penalty such as deterrence of crime are invalid, and DNA technology shows that many convicted murders, some already put to death, are innocent of the crime. Supreme Court rulings, including upholding a judge’s jury instruction to choose death when the evidence for and against it is balanced, made the death penalty more likely.

Suggested amendment adding the five words in boldface to the 8th Amendment: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments such as the death penalty inflicted.”

Gun Control: No amendment has been more debated in the past few years than the 2nd Amendment. For over two hundred years, federal judges ruled two limitations of this amendment: it applies only for military purposes; and while it limits the power of the federal government, it does not limit the power of state or local governments to regulate ownership or use of firearms. Twice, however, the Roberts Court ruled against governments trying to control gun violence. One was creating a new constitutional right for a resident in Washington, D.C. to keep a handgun in the home, and the other extended this newly-created constitutional right to states.

Suggested amendment returning the 2nd Amendment to its original meaning and the power of regulating firearms to state and local governments with the five words in boldface: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia, shall not be infringed.” 

In an interview with NPR, Stevens said:

“I think in time that what I have to say about each of these six issues will be accepted as being consistent with what the framers really intended in the first place. I think in time, reason will prevail.”

We can only hope. 

Referenced Supreme Court Cases:

  • Printz v. United States: 1997. 5-4 ruling. Bans Congress from ordering state officials to carry out federal duties. Holding: Scalia, Rehnquist, O’Connor, Kennedy, Thomas; Dissenting: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Bryer.
  • Davis v. Bandemer: 1986. 7-2 ruling. Adopts a lofty and cloudy standard for unconstitutional gerrymandering. Holding: White, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Burger, O’Connor, Rehnquist; Dissenting: Powell, Stevens.
  • Citizens United v. FEC: 2010. 5-4 ruling. Gives corporations the unlimited right to finance campaign speech. Holding: Kennedy, Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas; Dissenting: Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor.
  • McCutcheon v. FEC: 2014. 5-4 ruling. Gives individuals the right to spend millions in a single election. Holding: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas; Dissenting: Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan.
  • Edelman v. Jordan: 1974. 5-4 ruling. Lets Illinois avoid paying damages for past non-compliance with a federal law for aiding aged, blind and disabled persons. Holding: Rehnquist, Burger, Stewart, White, Powell; Dissenting: Douglas, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun.
  • Alden v. Maine: 1999. 5-4 ruling. Cites an unwritten state sovereignty rule imagined to be in the “plan of the [Constitutional] Convention” and forbids Congress to authorize suing a state for violations of Fair Labor Standards Act. Holding: Kennedy, Rehnquist, O’Connor, Scalia, Thomas; Dissenting: Souter, Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer.
  • Baze v. Rees: 2008. 7-2 ruling. Holds that Kentucky’s three-drug death penalty system is not “cruel and unusual.” Holding: Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Breyer, Thomas, Scalia, Stevens; Dissenting: Ginsburg, Souter.
  • Kansas v. Marsh: 2006. 5-4 ruling. Allows a judge’s jury instruction to choose the death penalty when aggravating and mitigating evidence were equal in weight. Holding: Thomas, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito; Dissenting: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.
  • United States v. Miller: 1939. 8-0 ruling. Holds that Congress can ban possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon has no reasonable relation to “a well regulated Militia.” Holding: McReynolds wrote unanimous opinion; Not Involved: William O. Douglas.
  • District of Columbia v. Heller: 2008. 5-4 ruling. Overturns a Washington, D.C., law and creates a new Constitutional right for a civilian in D.C. to keep an enabled handgun at home for self-defense. Holding: Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito; Dissenting: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.
  • McDonald v. Chicago: 2010. 5-4 ruling. Overturns a Chicago handgun ban and extends the Court’s newly-created Constitutional right for a civilian to keep a handgun to the states. Holding: Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas; Dissenting: Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Stevens.

January 26, 2015

Universal Background Checks Necessary for Gun Safety

The local Ceasefire Oregon chapter organized a gun buy-back earlier this month. Despite naysayers from the gun non-legislation people, it was deemed a success with 138 weapons unwanted and possibly dangerous weapons turned into the police chief in my small coastal town. Fox network saw the video about the event and asked to do a story with the focus on people who said that they would gather outside the event and buy guns.

Publicity about the event brought the trollers who objected to background checks for private gun sales. The Central Coast Ceasefire Oregon Steering Committee responded to one of these complaints with stated concerns in italics:

Bob, thank you for your thoughtful response to the NOW BLOG.

Comment 1: How about starting to find common ground by not using insulting terms like “the gun lobby” to describe people who don’t support the agenda of even more restrictive laws? We aren’t a monolithic block, we aren’t a paid group of people, and we aren’t one organized group. Yet gun control advocates continue to paint us all with one wide brush.

Ceasefire Oregon uses the term “gun lobby” when we are addressing the organizations that actually lobby legislators about firearms-related issues. There is indeed a vast, well-financed, well-organized, and focused gun lobby. Nationally, the NRA, the NRA-ILA, and the Gun Owners of America lead it. In Oregon, the best known gun lobby is the Oregon Firearms Federation (OFF).

We try to use the term “gun owners” when referring to those who own firearms or enjoy firearms, but are not lobbyists. We don’t always use the term “gun owners” because we know that the vast majority of gun owners actually agree with the goals of Ceasefire Oregon.

Gun violence prevention advocates, such as the members of Ceasefire Oregon, are not a monolithic block, a paid group of people, or one organized group, either. Our unifying issue is “gun violence prevention” not gun control. We prefer the terms “gun safety” or “gun violence prevention” to describe our work.

Bob, have you an alternative to the name “gun lobby”?

Comment 2: How do you address the fact that most firearms used by criminals already evade existing [background check] laws regarding sales and very little prosecution is taking place regarding those laws? The administration’s own National Institute of Justice reports shows [sic] that most firearms are purchased on the “secondary” market; people eligible for legal purchases are illegally selling firearms to criminals.

Tragically, some gun sellers will sell guns without performing a background check first. Criminals use the private sale loophole to bypass a background check. A background check law will hold a gun seller criminally liable if the seller does not perform a background check and the purchaser was actually prohibited from buying a gun. Few people are willing to put their liberty at risk just to sell a gun to a criminal.

The state of Oregon recognized that prosecutions of those who violate Oregon’s limited background check law were inadequate.

“Effective Tuesday, June 17, 2014, at 8:00am, the Oregon State Police (OSP) will be revising the procedures related to violations of state law involving persons attempting to purchase or transfer a firearm that are denied, due to a state or federal disqualifier. This revision will include enforcement action involving persons attempting an unlawful firearms transfer through a licensed firearm dealer, during a voluntary private party check, or at a gun show.”

In addition, national law enforcement agencies and the families of those lost to gun violence are taking on the “Bad Apple Gun Dealers.” (Ninety percent of crime guns can be traced back to just 5% of gun dealers.) Here is further background information.

Please correct us if we are wrong, but by your “secondary market” reference, are you referring to straw purchases whereby one person buys weapons with the intent to sell the weapons to a prohibited person? If so, straw purchases are already illegal. This information is clearly laid out in ATF Form 4473 that is filled out when selling and purchasing a firearm.

The United States could greatly reduce straw purchases and gun trafficking by limiting gun purchases to one gun per month. California, Maryland, New Jersey and the District of Columbia already limit gun purchases to one gun in a 30-day period.

Of greatest significance to us is the fact that universal backgrounds checks have proven to deter felons, mentally ill, those caught in the passion of anger, and those caught in the despair of suicide.

Comment 3: So how will requiring background checks for “all sales” address [straw purchases]? Do you really expect criminals to stop paying friends and family to buy firearms for them? Why should I and others like me who already own firearms have to go through yet another check? Or why should I have to go through a check when I buy a firearm from someone I know from work or the range?

We have no expectations of criminals. We do, however, think that family and friends will not want to face criminal charges for supplying weapons to criminals. In addition, we think very few family and friends want to arm criminals.

We believe the truth is that criminals buy guns and a responsible gun owner does not want a criminal to have a gun. Performing a background check as a seller also protects the seller from providing a criminal with a gun.

A universal background check is a minor inconvenience of being a good citizen and caring for the overall safety of the country. Requiring only one background check per lifetime (or for a limited period of time) ignores the fact that people change over time. Maybe you did not know that your friend from work or the range was a felon or had been adjudicated mentally ill at the time of sale or vice versa? Having consistent regulations is a safeguard. We all know there some gun owners who should not have possession of guns.

Two million prohibited people have been blocked from purchasing a gun since the Brady Law was enacted in 1993.

Bob, how would you propose to stop prohibited persons from buying guns?

Comment Four: Do you mean safe storage laws like Washington D.C. had? Do you mean if a firearm is stolen, the owner will be penalized and criminalized unless that owner can prove the firearm was stored in an ‘approved’ vault?

We are sure you agree that responsible gun owners have control over their weapons. Weapons should always be stored safely or kept under control on the gun owner’s person.

Smart gun technology can greatly reduce the risk of stolen guns being used in crimes as well as reduce the risk of suicide by gunshot.

With great rights come great responsibilities. If you choose to bring a gun into your home and community, you must be responsible for it.

Comment 5: The area of mental health is an area where we can make great strides, but we should proceed cautiously. So far most of the proposals call for anyone seeking help for just about any condition or situation to loose [sic] their right to keep and bear arms. That is unacceptable and will probably keep people from seeking help.

The United States needs to do a much better job of taking care of our mentally ill citizens and those who seek mental health help. Part of that help is to prevent those who would injure themselves or others from accessing firearms. However, we are unaware of any proposal of the breadth you describe.

Again, how would you propose to stop prohibited persons from buying guns?

A speaker from Ceasefire Oregon at tomorrow night’s local NOW meeting will most likely bring out more trolls, especially after recent articles about proposed state legislation for more complete background checks. Last year, neighboring Washington state became the 17th state to extend background checks past the federal standard for only licensed gun dealers. Oregon now has a chance for the same opportunity after last fall’s election increased the number of Democrats in the state government. Senate Judiciary Chairman Floyd Prozanski plans to introduce a bill that requires background checks for criminal history and mental history before private gun sales. Excluded would be sales among family members, inheritances and antique guns.

Private gun sales accounted for about 40 percent of all purchases 20 years ago; this percentage has probably increased since then because of sales on the Internet. Law enforcement officials have said that a record of ownership for sales would help them solve crimes. States with universal background checks have lower rates of police killed with handguns, fewer women shot by their intimate partners, and lower rates of suicides with firearms.

January 25, 2015

Don’t Force the Actions of a Few to Represent All

Aftershocks of the recent 17 killings in France starting at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris have reverberated throughout the world. People are still claiming that cartoonists should realize that they could be killed if they displeased someone, sending the similar message that women are raped because of what they wear and how they behave. Conservative Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said that Carbonnier might still be alive if he had not been “so narcissistic.”

The media has escalated the fury toward Muslims through its extensive messaging about the tragedy. Hours before the tragedy, a car bomb killed almost 50 people in the Yemni capital, Sanaa, as men lined up to enroll at the police academy. There may have been ties between the two disasters, but only one of them was highlighted. Yemen almost silently suffers through the Western media while millions of people in the U.S. blame all Muslims for the Paris event.

Howard Dean has taken a lot of heat for asking that these killers not be called “Muslim terrorists” because they are only thugs who don’t follow Mohammad’s philosophy as identified in the Koran. As with 9/11, conservatives abstract the actions of a very few to an entire group and use the killings for personal gain by fomenting greater fear in the United States. For example, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “It’s not an attack on our homeland, but it’s definitely an attack on our way of life. There’s a perfect storm brewing to have this country hit again.” He called on the president to “admit” that the attack was motivated by religion.

In The New Yorker, George Packer denied that the killings had a relationship with the ethnic tensions and poverty in parts of Paris. He wrote that the entire reason was the support of “Islamist ideology.” As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote, however:

“Poverty, political oppression, systemic corruption, lack of education, lack of critical thinking, and general hopelessness in these countries is the spark.”

Abdul-Jabbar pointed out that the reason for this violence is always money. These attacks never change the behavior considered undesirable by that attackers: people keep writing, publishers keep publishing, and ideology just becomes more defiant, as in the case of 9/11. According to Abdul-Jabbar:

“[Attacks are] about swaggering into a room, flexing a muscle, and hoping to elicit some admiring sighs …  more recruits and more donations to keep their organization alive. They have to keep proving they are more relevant than their competing terrorist groups. It’s just business.”

Bill Maher is now using his show to promote hatred toward Muslims. Once noted for being anti-religious, he has moved to attacks primarily on the Islam faith, ignoring Christian terrorists. During one show, Maher could not come up with any Christian violence since the 16th century. Last December, however, Larry McQuilliams fired more than 100 rounds in downtown Austin (TX) and tried to burn down the Mexican consulate because law enforcement killed him. He had a map pinpointing 34 other buildings, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and several weapons as well as a copy of Vigilantes of Christendom, a book connected with the Christian-focused white supremacist group Phineas Priesthood. McQuilliams had left a note in the book describing himself as a “priest in the fight against anti-God people.”

McQuilliams’ Christian terrorist attack follows many others in the name of Christianity. Ku Klux Klan crimes are against not only minorities but also Catholics and Jews because of the KKK’s Christian fundamentalism. Members of The Order, a militant Mormon group, murdered Jewish talk show host Alan Berg in 1984. Members of the Christian group Army of God have been responsible for bombings at clinics where women can get abortions and for the explosion at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta (GA). Scott Roeder, the Christian killer of Dr. George Tiller, said that his faith was the reason for shooting Tiller in the head in 2009 while the doctor was ushering at his church. Christian Wade Michael Page killed seven people at the Milwaukee Sikh Gurdwara in 2012 in an effort to stop non-white non-Christians from having an equal role in society.

Northern Ireland and Northern India have extensive histories of Christian-on-Christian violence while the Lord’s Resistance Army in Western Africa uses Christianity to recruit child soldiers and force them to terrorize local villages. In 2011, Norweigian Anders Behring Breivik used bombs and guns to kill 77 people, many of them teenagers, in his goal to preserve “Christian Europe.” Even he has not been recognized as a Christian terrorist: a piece in The Guardian claimed that “his ideology had nothing to do with Christianity but was based on an atavistic horror of Muslims.”

In the eight years during George W. Bush’s reign, the number of hate groups, many of them with Christian roots, increased 54 percent. While people in the U.S. fear Islam attacks within the country, the Hutaree, an extremist militia group in Michigan that touts Christian inspiration, has more weapons that all the Muslims charged with terrorism in the United States since the 2001 attacks. Yet no one has asked Christian leaders such as Billy Graham or Rick Warren to openly oppose violence committed in the name of Christ, and the media has largely ignored any possibility of Christian terrorism.

These “lone wolf” attacks by lonely alienated people of all religions use religious ideas for excuses rather than reasons for violence. Despite a claim from an al-Qaeda official, there is no evidence that a higher religious authority sent the Paris killers to commit their crimes. Said and Cherif Kouachi were raised in a secular household, and the latter man described himself as “an occasional Muslim.” The cartoons in Charlie Hebdo ridicule entire races or cultures.

Defending religion is an excuse for committing horrible deeds to express rage and show power and glory. The KKK rides around in white sheets and burn crosses to intimidate people. Anti-abortionists harass women on the sidewalks in front of women’s clinics whether the women are there for a surgical procedure or just an examination.

Abdul-Jabbar wrote:

“When the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross in a black family’s yard, prominent Christians aren’t required to explain how these aren’t really Christian acts. Most people already realize that the KKK doesn’t represent Christian teachings. That’s what I and other Muslims long for—the day when these terrorists praising Mohammed or Allah’s name as they debase their actual teachings are instantly recognized as thugs disguising themselves as Muslims. It’s like bank robbers wearing masks of presidents; we don’t really think Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush hit the Bank of America during their down time.”

Conservatives complained that Muslims are not condemning the actions of the Charlie Hebdo killers. Check here for statements from CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA Spokesperson Qasim; Muslim Council of Britain; French Muslim Council (CFCM); Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF); Arab League, an organization representing 22 Arab countries; Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association; Muslim Advisory Council to the NYPD; Birmingham (AL) Islamic Society; Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the Drancy mosque in Paris’s Seine-Saint-Denis suburb; Muslim Canadian Congress; United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry; and others.

An entire religion cannot be blamed for the actions of a few. If that were true, the United States should turn against the Christian religion. Just as Fox owner, Rupert Murdoch, wants all blacks to take responsibility for the actions of a few, so does he want the two billion Muslims in the world to be blamed for the Charlie Hebdo murders. Yet he didn’t expect the Tea Party or whites to take responsibility for the actions of Jerad and Amanda Miller when they killed five people, including two police officers, in Las Vegas. Never has the right-wing media called on the white race to expel its “cancers.”

Several people in the Paris Kosher grocery store Hyper Cacher are still alive because of a Muslim. When Amedy Coulibaly opened fire in and killed four people, Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee, hid people in the walk-in freezer. Should we say that the bravery of Bathily represents all Muslims?

January 24, 2015

GOP Can’t Rule

Congress has become a joke. For example, a letter writer to a local newspaper stated that the new Congress can now begin its job—getting re-elected in 2016. Satirist Andy Borowitz wrote about how people with 33 weeks of paid leave a year and an annual salary of $174,000 want to stop others from having six weeks of paid leave and a higher annual salary than $15,000.

In control for less than three weeks, the GOP members of Congress have made a huge number of gaffes and failures. Even the ultra far-right Fox network is appalled at the House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Without consulting the president, Boehner asked Netanyahu to speak to Congress “on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life”and lobby for a U.S. war on Iran by extending sanctions.

On Fox Shephard Smith read a statement from Israel Martin Indyk, former ambassador to Israel:

“Netanyahu is using the Republican Congress for a photo-op for his election campaign, and the Republicans are using Bibi for their campaign against Obama. Unfortunately, the U.S. relationship will take the hit. It would be far wiser for us to stay out of their politics and for them to stay out of ours.”

Chris Wallace agreed “100 percent” and said, “I have to say I’m shocked.” He added that the “deliberate and pretty egregious snub” smacks of “dicey politics.”

Although no one will probably prosecute Boehner, there could be grounds for doing so. The Logan Act of 1799, still in effect, prevents any unauthorized American citizen from negotiating with foreign leaders. Only the executive branch can do that. Boehner could also be guilty of sedition, inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch, with his invitation to Netanyahu. If Republicans benefit from Netanyahu’s appearance, Boehner might also be violating Federal Elections Commission law by accepting something of value from the Israeli.

Boehner’s action comes after GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) pledged allegiance to Netanyahu during a trip to Israel by promising him increased U.S. sanctions on Iran. In Jerusalem, Graham said to Netanyahu, “The Congress will follow your lead.”

In their disdain for women and minorities, the Senate Republicans deleted the words “Civil Rights and Human Rights” from a key subcommittee, leaving it only the Subcommittee on the Constitution. The committee chair, John Cornyn (R-TX) made this change his first order of business. As the Washington Post wrote:

“The committee name-change comes as Republicans take control of the Senate during a pivotal moment in which much of the country remains locked in emotional conversations about race, policing, and civil rights following the high-profile police killings of several unarmed black men last year.”

It’s also a time when women fight for equal pay and reproductive rights and the Supreme Court has struck down an important part of the Voting Rights Act.

Congressional Republican members are also suffering from rifts among GOP philosophies and between the two chambers. This past week, the House pulled a bill to further destroy women’s reproductive rights by preventing abortions after 20 weeks because Boehner couldn’t muster enough Republican votes. The failed abortion bill was moved to the front of debate by a suspension of “regular order” because of its urgency. Nothing was said about abortion during the campaigns, but the GOP can now forget any job legislation.

GOP senators are also frustrated by the House focus on passing bills that cannot survive the Senate. The House legislation overturning President Obama’s executive actions giving legal status to immigrants illegally brought into the country as children or related to citizens and permanent residents is connected to funding for the Department of Homeland Security that currently expires on February 28. An unnamed GOP senator pointed out that senators tried to explain to House members the difference between the two chambers: “Look, we don’t have 60 votes. We can’t operate like the House does.” He added, “It’s going to be very difficult to achieve what the expectations are out there. Candidly, impossible.”

The 113th Congress was famous for the gridlock in Washington as the House sent bills to the Senate that could not be passed. Boehner has begun the same pattern in the 114th Congress. Tea Partier Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) told conservative lawmakers, “It’s uncanny to me that our leadership … is already sending the message that we’ve already lost this battle.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) promised to keep the amendment process open lasted only three weeks. He now justifies his recent unwillingness to let Democrats present amendments by saying, “The success of Congress is not determined on how many amendments people vote on.” The honeymoon is over.

A former committee chair, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), was well known for his indiscriminate use of aggressively issuing subpoenas. Committees are supposed to debate and vote on sending subpoenas, but Issa saved them the time—no debate and no vote. In the new Congress, at least seven House committee chairmen will have unilateral subpoena authority with no input from Democrats, allowing them to also go rogue with their abuse of power and harassment.

The despicable nature and hypocrisy of the GOP is already oozing out. across the nation. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) referred to Ana Zamora, who attended the State of the Union speech as Michelle Obama’s guest, as a “deportable.” Zamora is a student at Northwood University in Texas who was granted temporary deportation relief and work authorization through President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DREAMER) program in 2012 after being brought to the U.S. as a toddler.

Even Republicans were lukewarm about Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-IA) response to the president’s SOTU speech, but they did like how she described her poverty as a child. Ernst omitted the fact that her family has received almost $500,000 in federal subsidies and over $200,000 in government contracts. Ernst promised to do away with federal student loans—that she used to attend college. During her first 18 years of poverty, 14 of them had Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan’s “trickle down” economy that didn’t give her more than one pair of shoes.

Ernst whined about growing up poor in Iowa in a major speech to millions of people, but another senator, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), grew up even more poor in Oklahoma. The contrast between the two of them is Ernst’s sense of entitlement and Warren’s humility. Ernst wants to keep people in poverty while Warren wants to help people rise above their poverty through health care, higher minimum wage, paid sick leave, unions, and closing loopholes that let the wealthy avoid their fair share of taxes.

The real losers of the last election—other than most of the people in the United States—are the Republicans who want to be moderate. Those are the centrists who would have been conservatives 25 years ago because the GOP is the most ideologically extreme since after the Civil War. An example of these moderates is Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA). “I prefer that we avoid these very contentious social issues [such as abortion],” he said after he summarized the first three weeks’ awkwardness in the new Congress—fighting about the House speaker election, fighting over deporting children, and talking about “reportable rapes and incest for minors.” He finished, “I can’t wait until Week Four.”

Last November, Dent told his party that they could be “strong, rational and measured” without “a hysterical reaction.” Nobody paid any attention to him. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) baited a group In Defense of Christians during a keynote address so that they booed him, and Dent called his behavior “outrageous and incendiary.” After the GOP put the culture war above the economy, Dent said, “The stupidity is simply staggering.”

A group of GOP moderates called the Tuesday Group hopes to influence the party’s direction away from knee-jerk extremism. From past GOP behavior, there’s not much hope for Dent’s attempts in the 114th Congress.  Maybe they can start a new party.

January 23, 2015

A Question of Ethics – Congress, Supreme Court, Journalism

With great power comes the possibility for the abuse of this power. This past week a few people in powerful positions show the damage that can be done to the United States through this abuse. One of the biggest dangers comes from the U.S. House of Representatives.

After President Obama said that he would veto bills to increase sanctions against Iran while the U.S. is negotiating with that country, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) secretly invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the dangers of the administration’s negotiations with Iran without coordinating with the executive branch. Within three days, Boehner’s success turned to ashes. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference that Netanyahu was welcome in the U.S. anytime and then added:

“In Israel, one of the top intelligence–-one of the top intelligence personnel within the Israeli intelligence field–-I won’t name names, but this person was asked directly by a congressional delegation that visited there over the weekend what the effect of sanctions would be. And this person answered that it would be like throwing a grenade into the process. We’re asking people to be responsible here, and then let’s have a good, responsible debate about what the best way to proceed is.”

President Obama has also pointed out that the negotiations are the only answer to protecting Israel from Iranian nuclear weapon. Therefore the message is now that Republicans, not Democrats, are failing Israel. Lawmakers at the briefing with Israeli intelligence confirmed Kerry’s statement, and senior U.S. officials explained that the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, agreed that legislation for sanctions “would cause the talks to collapse.”

Steve Benen has an excellent piece in which he points out the danger of the GOP Speaker of the House acting on his own in his one-upmanship battle with the President of the United States. He uses the example of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) meeting with the Guatemalan officials during the children’s immigration crisis to tell them that the issue was President Obama’s problem, not theirs. Meeting with foreign leaders on foreign ground, Paul denounced the U.S. president and undermined U.S. foreign policy. Republicans declared such an action would be treasonous during the Bush/Cheney regime.

Another frightening piece about Israel’s connections with al-Quaeda comes from Robert Parry.

There is no precedent for the way in which Republicans are deliberately undermining the White House’s foreign policy. The Supreme Court has ruled that only the executive branch and not Congress makes foreign policy. If two branches of government set foreign policy, then the country has two different foreign policies.

Imagine if Congress forces the U.S. into a war with Iran to satisfy Israel’s problems. Iran is three times the number of people and the amount of land as Iraq. The resulting cost could be between $15 and $24 trillion to care for the almost 100,000 wounded veterans. Russia and China would most likely help insurgencies to weaken the United States. Like Vietnam, such a “conflict” would end in defeat for the U.S.

In another branch of government, the idea of impeaching Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been tossed around for several years. The almost mute man who was accused, probably rightly so, of sexually harassing Anita Hill before his confirmation, has a long list of actions that would get him thrown off any other court in the nation. This year, Thomas, who will (most likely) be voting against marriage equality in the United States, proudly shows his friendship with two avidly anti-LGBT activists/spokesmen in this photo recently taken in the Supreme Court chambers.

Twitter-image-of-Thomas-and-FriendsOn the left of the photo is Ryan T. Anderson, activist with the Heritage Foundation, anti-equality voice on CNN, and co-author of the book, What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense.  Also in the photograph is Robert P. George, the other co-author and a co-founder of NOM, the National Organization for Marriage which vigorously lobbies against same-sex marriage. George is also a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute which funded the anti-LGBT Regnerus parenting study and is on the boards of Utah’s Deseret news (owned by the Mormon Church), the Koch Brothers’ American Enterprise Institute, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. A major accomplishment for George is his “drafting the Manhattan Declaration, which advocates for anarchy in the face of governmental support for the rights of a woman to choose, and same-sex marriage,” according to David Badash of TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com.

Journalism is also suffering from lack of ethics. “Based on our studies about the field of journalism, we have determined that you’re not practicing journalism. You’re practicing rank propaganda.” That was the conclusion of a journalism class at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington (VT) after it conducted a “professional integrity audit” of a Fox network story about Vermont on Bill O’Reilly’s show. In its study based on the ethics codes of the Society of Professional Journalists and using only one short segment, the students “found examples of stereotyping, distortions, manipulation, questionable sourcing, and predetermining outcome,” according to News Corpse. Their video begins with Politifact’s revelation that Fox “News” is truthful only 18 percent of the time.

ABC is also being scrutinized. Its chief White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl, is moderating a panel of three conservative presidential wannabes, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), for the “American Recovery Policy Forum” at the Koch brothers’ weekend Freedom Partners meeting. Although ABC is paying for Karl’s travel and lodging, his action in an extremely partisan event brings up the question of crossing the line from neutral reporting to aiding a political organization. Karl’s presence validates the Koch brothers and their highly-financed anti-government political network, sometimes called a third political party in the U.S.

Marc Cooper, director of Annenberg Digital News and an associate professor of professional practice at the University of Southern California’s School for Communication and Journalism, said that Karl’s involvement amounts to “an in-kind contribution to a partisan group that is clearly aimed at positioning for the 2016 race.” Cooper noted, “The public has no input or access and no public service is being performed. Karl has no business being there.” Todd Gitlin, chair of the Ph.D program in communications at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, agreed, stating that it is inappropriate for a news reporter to “promote a sectarian political show,” particularly one that is sponsored by climate change-deniers like the Kochs.

Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, argued that Karl’s participation is “a huge difference between doing this kind of partisan event as opposed to, for example, moderating a gathering of the League of Women Voters.” She pointed out that the involvement of journalists in “closed” events undermines the fight for access and the public’s right to know.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.”

Karl has been scrutinized before because of his journalistic biases and questionable ethics. In 2011, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting noted that Karl was a prominent alum of a media training program aimed at promoting conservative media on college campuses along with such conservatives as Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, Maggie Gallagher, and Laura Ingraham. Karl’s support for right-wing positions includes praise for Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) controversial budget plans. Media described Karl’s report on Benghazi as “sloppy” and “inaccurate” when he mischaracterized White House emails about the attacks and relied on an anonymous source after claiming that ABC News had reviewed them. Karl apologized for his incorrect report.

Thus we have journalists who support the conservatives who want to start another war that can then be established as “constitutional” by the nation’s highest court, all actions from people who consider their own desires and beliefs above ethical considerations.

January 22, 2015

Stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement

President Obama’s State of the Union speech earlier this week rated higher than his previous ones with 81 percent of the 31.7 viewers having a very or somewhat positive opinion and only 18 percent reacting negatively. Watchers’ confidence that the president’s policies “will move the country in the right direction” increased 15 percentage points from a pre-speech survey to 72 percent. The high point of the speech for many people happened after Republicans interrupted it with applause when the president said, “I have no more campaigns to run.” He responded, “I know, because I won both of them.” Democrats applauded, and Republicans whined about how nasty the president was.

On their website, House Republicans omitted a couple of the president’s statements.  some of the president’s statements. One was his saying that GOP tried to avoid discussion of climate change by saying that they are “not scientists,” and the other, the president’s statement about torture:

“As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.”

In his response to the president, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) showed himself not yet ready for prime time when he interrupted his own speech about a minute into it by muttering, “Ah, lemme start again.” The video was pulled from YouTube but is available here.

The president’s one clinker in his speech was his support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the biggest trade deal in history with countries from Chile to Japan representing 792 million people and 40 percent of the world economy. It was worked out by lobbyists from the nation’s biggest corporations and banks with no participation from the U.S. public.People should know how bad this secret deal by the support from Republicans and rejection of Democrats.

The U.S. chose free trade, opening borders to products made overseas, after World War II to raise living standards and create different jobs. In the last few decades, the win-win situation of free trade skewed the payoff from trade agreements to those at the top. With low tariffs, negotiations are more concerned with protections for intellectual property while decreasing labor laws, financial regulations, and rules for health, safety, and the environment. Big Business still wants free trade while extending their trademarks, copyrights, and patents abroad and protecting their global franchise agreements, securities, and loans. With those rights, they want to stop interference with their profits by doing away with protection for consumers, workers, small investors, and the environment.

Leaks from the TPP proposal show it gives stronger patent protections for pharmaceutical industry to delay cheaper generic versions of drugs. Global corporations will gain an international tribunal of private attorneys, outside any nation’s legal system, who can order compensation for any “unjust expropriation” of foreign assets. The same tribunal can order compensation for any lost profits from a nation’s regulations. Right now, Philip Morris is using this provision against Uruguay in a bilateral trade treaty between that country and Switzerland; the corporation claims that their profits are unfairly diminished by Uruguay’s strong anti-smoking regulations. The year 2012 saw nearly sixty cases in which Big Business sued governments, most of them by U.S. companies trying to undo regulations in different countries.

With TPP’s “minimum standards” affecting financial regulations in a trade deal, a country could be ordered to pay an international bank if the government doesn’t bail out the failing institution. An example is the $200 million cost against the Czech Republic in 2006. TPP rules could also “curtail certain limitations on the size or the operations of financial firms,” according to a letter that three Senators sent U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman about their objections to his delegation’s provisions. The TPP could also stop any future financial transaction taxes.

Because the TPP lets Big Business eliminate all laws and regulations that threaten their profits, foreign subsidiaries of U.S.-based corporations can destroy regulations in the United States and take compensation from any laws that protect people from unsafe products or unhealthy foods, fraudulent securities or predatory lending, unsafe working conditions, and toxic emissions.

In his speech, the president claimed that the TPP will increase U.S. exports in its competition with China. The same agreement, however, lets U.S. corporations outsource even more jobs abroad. President Obama wants the TPP to be on “fast track” (aka Trade Promotion Authority) because he then gets the constitutional trade and legislative writing authority from the Congress. It prevents amendments and debates on any trade deal that the president negotiates.

At the end of the last century, NAFTA was supposed to be a boon to the United States. Instead it lost almost 700,000 jobs (60.8 percent in manufacturing), expanded inequality, degraded the environment, and destroyed Mexican agriculture. Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China lost over 2.7 million jobs in the U.S., and the Korea Free Trade Agreement destroyed another 70,000 jobs. The most recent South Korean trade pact has lost jobs and expanded U.S. trade deficits.

Proposed trade agreements such as TPP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) promise the same result. The TTIP agreement with Europe would drive the United States into the same horror of austerity as the EU. Like TTP, Big Business designed its further deregulation of economic, financial, health, labor, safety, privacy, and environmental protections to weaken labor and government. Yet the most optimistic projection of the trade agreement’s impact is a one-time increase of 0.1 percent of GDP.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has provided more ways that the TPP could hurt working families:

Outsourcing even more jobs overseas: More than 130,000 jobs would go to Vietnam and Japan alone. Also disappearing from the U.S. would be many of these service sector jobs in outsource call centers; computer programming; engineering; accounting; and medical diagnostic jobs. More manufacturing jobs would vanish because the TPP provides special benefits to firms that offshore jobs and reduces risks associated with operating in low-wage countries.

Benefiting and expanding Wall Street at everyone else’s expense and financial instability: TPP would stop governments from imposing “capital controls” to avoid financial crises. There can be no financial speculation tax to limit huge transfers of speculative capital in and out of countries responsible for the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s.

Threatening wages, benefits, and collective bargaining: Workers in the U.S. will be competing with those in Vietnam where the minimum wage is 56 cents per hour. 

Undermining environmental protection: Pending claims worth over $14 billion have been filed in other countries on the basis that regulations, mostly environmental, negatively impact future profits. International tribunals will bypass domestic courts to decide these cases.

Ending “Buy America” laws: TPP requires equal access to foreign corporations for competition in contracting with the government. Even companies with horrible human rights records must receive government contracts paid by U.S. taxpayers.

Rewarding authoritarian regimes: The TPP would give all countries, even those that violate basic international standards for human rights, duty-free access to the U.S. market. The Sony hackings could not be reported under TPP rules.

The TPP has no expiration date. It can be repealed only with the consensus of all the countries that agree to it. Other countries, such as China, can also join the TPP in the future.

Two weeks ago, Sanders asked Michael Froman, the chief trade representative for the U.S., to submit the full text of the proposed TPP.  At this time, Congress can assess the proposal only through a few leaked documents. If Froman turns down Sanders’ request, he has asked for the legal basis for a denial. Sanders also plans to introduce a bill requiring that the contents of any trade agreement being negotiated by the U.S. would be made public with the request of any member of Congress.

If the TPP were good for people of the U.S. , it wouldn’t be secret. ISIL is less of a threat to the people of the United States than the proposed trade agreements are. All we can hope for is that the Republicans hate President Obama so much that they won’t give him anything he wants even if the GOP might support it.

[More horrifying information about TPP is available here. And here.]

January 21, 2015

House Backs Off Anti-Abortion Vote on ‘Roe v. Wade’ Anniversary

Hell froze over—at least for a short time today. House Republicans were all primed to vote tomorrow on a bill that would stop abortions after the 20th week as their way of commemorating the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal throughout the United States. The vote was to be in conjunction with the annual March for Life with thousands of anti-choice activists in Washington, D.C. Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) re-introduced the bill from last year on the first day of the 114th Congress. The House passed it in 2013, but the bill went nowhere else. Franks needs Blackburn because of his statement that there was no need to exempt rape because “the incidence of pregnancy from rape is very low.”

Two GOP women in the House, however, objected to the restrictive rape and incest exemptions only if the victims had reported their attacks to law enforcement. Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) withdrew their support after GOP leaders refused to change the legislation at the party’s retreat last week, and the issue came to a head today. Ellmers used the excuse of not wanting the appearance of a “war on women”:

“The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that millennials—social issues just aren’t as important [to them].”

President Obama has already promised to veto the bill. According to the White House:

“[T]he provision that requires rape and incest survivors to report the crime to a law enforcement agency or child welfare authority in order to have access to an abortion after the 20-week mark demonstrates a complete disregard for the women who experience sexual assault and the barriers they may face in reporting. Research indicates that the majority of survivors have not reported their sexual assaults to law enforcement.”

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics show that only 35 percent of rape and incest victims report the crime to the police. Either they cannot emotionally come forward because of shame or they think that the justice system will not help them. Incest victims also fear retribution if they report the crime.

Up to two dozen Republicans, both men and women, started to raise concerns to the bill. When a compromise couldn’t be reached because some lawmakers wouldn’t give up the reporting requirement, the GOP leadership changed its plans to move forward a bill prohibiting federal funding for abortions. Current law restricts the use of federal funds toward abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is threatened, but the proposed bill would keep women from receiving federal tax credits toward their insurance, including plans through the healthcare law’s exchanges, and from getting coverage for abortion services.

The divisiveness among House Republicans follows yesterday’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech: Rep. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said nothing about immigration, but in a supposedly verbatim translation, Rep. Carlos Curbelo  (R-FL) gave his Hispanic audience some reassurances about reform.

In a reversal of the usual GOP procedures, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) met with at least half of the 22 Republican women in the House. Usually the male Republicans in the House, 224 this year, make all the decisions about women’s bodies. As the Washington Post reported:

“A meeting with top [House] leaders requested and attended almost exclusively by women is a rare sight. One-by-one they exited the meeting and remained tight-lipped.”

The bill ignored the fact that almost 99 percent of abortions already occur before the 21st week of pregnancy, and later terminations usually involve “rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman’s health.” For this reason, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly opposes laws like the House proposal.

The bill required determination of the “probable” post-fertilization age of the fetus by examining the woman or taking the word of another physician. Any abortion after 20 weeks must be conducted in a way intended to save the fetus’s life “unless that manner would pose a greater risk than other methods would pose for the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” No health conditions are listed as exclusions to the ban, violating Roe v. Wade.

Most physicians define age of viability at 24 weeks; fetuses delivered at 21 weeks or less have a 0 percent chance of surviving while most do not survive until 25-26 weeks. At that time, they require skilled care, months of hospitalization, and significant financial costs to families, hospitals, and insurers. In addition, premature infants often have life-long developmental deficits and other health challenges. Roe v. Wade set viability at 28 weeks, seven months, which is still recognized as a time which offers a 90 percent chance of survival for fetuses.

The bill provided no abortions for women who learn that their fetuses have severe defects causing death after birth or severely limiting lives after birth. Fetal abnormalities are typically not diagnosed until after the 20th week. For example, a woman carrying a fetus with no brain (anencephaly) would have to carry the fetus to full term and wait for it to die after birth. Some current laws are so strict that many doctors are reluctant to abort a dead fetus.

Showing the GOP ignorance of science, the bill, H.R. 26, is called “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (PUCPA) using the false assertion that fetuses feel pain at the 21st week. Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2010 identified the possibility of pain after 24 weeks because the cortex is necessary for pain perception. Fetuses lack the neurological development to register a response and to potentially recognize an experience as pain until at least 24 weeks and probably much later.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concurred, commenting that studies used by fetal-pain law supporters lacked persuasion “when weighed together with other available information,” according to a Sept. 16, 2013 article in the New York Times. Dr. Mark Rosen, a pioneer in fetal anesthesia, concludes from his research that fetal pain perception comes at the beginning of the 27th week, in the third trimester.

In a Quinnipiac poll, 60 percent of respondents supporting their ban, yet many of these people are unaware of information about fetal viability or consequences of banning abortions before viability. Another national poll shows that 60 percent of respondents support access to abortion at 20 weeks with 33 percent of the respondents opposing. Unlike the Quinnipiac poll, the latter poll asked about specific circumstances in which women should and should not be allowed to terminate a pregnancy after the 20th week.

While risking women’s health and lives, the H.R. 36 would put the government into doctors’ offices, clinics, and hospitals by criminalizing a safe medical procedure. A 20-week ban has been declared unconstitutional because it prevents abortion before fetal viability, the gestational time when women have the right to end a pregnancy as the Supreme Court has ruled.

Nina Martin has listed ways that the coming year can limit women’s rights, both from the federal government and states controlled by Republicans, which can cause more unwanted pregnancies:

More Abortion Restrictions: Adding to the existing limits, the GOP may try to pass laws requiring women to get permission from the fetus’s father for an abortion which was declared unconstitutional over 20 years ago.

Increasing Religious Exemptions for Contraception: Bills allowing non-compliance of laws surrounding same-sex marriage can also be used to erode reproductive rights.

Non-religious Groups’ Conscience Clauses: Right-to-life organizations argue that denying abortion opponents the same exemption given to religious groups violates their constitutional right to equal protection.

Contraception Battles: Groups, including the U.S. Catholic bishops, argue that birth control is exactly the same as abortion.

Personhood Laws: The legal rights of “pre-born humans” lost at the ballot box last fall, but the National Personhood Alliance is moving to laws in municipalities and counties that would require action from courts sympathetic to the personhood movement.

The climate change in Washington will bring a rapid warming to Hell, but even a short cooling trend makes politics more livable.

We will still need to fight H.R. 36. You can ask your representative to vote against H.R. 36 and keep Roe v. Wade the law of the land.

January 20, 2015

Conservatives Respond to State of the Union Speech

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:48 PM
Tags: , ,

The annual State of the Union speech can be a high point for the president who delivers it, but many times more attention is paid to the respondent. In 2009, for example, a rising GOP star for the 2012 presidential run, Louisiana Gov. Bobbie Jindal, walked down a staircase, gave the response, and fell flat in both content and delivery. Especially appalling was his theory that the federal government’s dealing with Hurricane Katrina under the GOP rule of George W. Bush was a modeled the way that the country could move forward. Criticism also came from conservatives, including columnist David Brooks and GOP political strategist David Johnson who described Jindal’s speech as “a flop.”

The next year, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, gave the response. He is now headed to prison after a high-profile trial.

In 2011, Tea Party Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), also looking toward the 2012 presidential campaign, gave an a response to the GOP response by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).  To be fair, part of the problem may not have actually been hers; she was looking at the wrong camera which gave her a shifty appearance. Always the queen of platitudes and misinformation, Bachmann totally ignored the recession that began in Fall 2008 and was devastating the country at that time.

rubioIn 2013, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’s response was notable  for his stopping to reach for a water bottle and take a swig from it on camera. Conservative moderator of Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, approved of last year’s response from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), but MSNBC’s Alex Wagner was more accurate when she said that Rodgers looked as if she were knitting while giving the speech.

Another woman, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA)  was chosen as responder to beef up GOP problems with women voters. Because she doesn’t speak Spanish, as Rubio did, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) will give the translation, and those understanding Spanish got a slightly different speech. Curbelo asked the president to work with Republicans to “create permanent solutions for our immigration system, to secure our borders, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy.”

A hardliner on anti-immigration, Ernst will speak at an immigration summit this weekend hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the man who claimed immigrants had thighs like melons because of their drug smuggling. Newly-elected Curbelo has said that he supported the comprehensive immigration bill that the Senate passed in 2013 and criticized GOP House members “who’ve blocked immigration reform.” Last week he was one of seven Republicans voting against amendments to stop President Obama from implementing executive actions and then voted against the main bill after the amendments were added.

Ernst is the 16th woman to give a response to SOTU with three-fourths of these being Democrats. Even Republican New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a responder in 1995, recognized why the GOP wants women to respond to the president’s speech:

“It’s hard for me to phrase this politely: Sometimes Republicans think that just putting a woman up front means somehow that women are going to feel good about the party. It is not about the messenger. It’s about the message. And until we figure that one out—while it’s nice that we have a woman as a spokesperson—if the message itself doesn’t get changed a bit, it’s not going to work.”

After four years of a formal Tea Party response to the formal GOP response to the president’s speech, Ernst is so far right that a Tea Party response this year isn’t really necessary. Yet, Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL), who voted for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as speaker of the House, will deliver the Tea Party’s official response through a live stream. He isn’t alone: both Paul and Rubio made responses.

Ernst is a channel for the Koch brothers. At a Dana Point (CA) secret Koch donor summit, the second one that she attended, she said it was “the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.” An early underdog, Ernst became the focus of conservative outside spending groups for the Iowa race with a $12-million lead in outside spending over her Democratic opponent in the final weeks of her race. After Ernst appeared at Dana Point, Charles Koch and his wife, son, and daughter-in-law maxed-out on donations to Ernst; much of the dark money either supporting Ernst or attacking her opponent came from Koch groups such as the 60 Plus Association, American Future Fund, Freedom Partners Action Fund, the National Federation of Independent Business, and Americans for Prosperity.

The extent of the Koch network in grassroots getting-out-the-vote organizing has made it equivalent to the GOP in shaping elections. It hires consulting and technological firms to recruit and train right-wing candidates and get votes for them; in 32 states, the Koch brothers have 240 paid staff, almost as many as the GOP.

While in the Iowa state Senate, Ernst had Koch ties as a member of the Koch-funded ALEC. During her campaign, she hired a longtime Koch operative as her spokesperson. Now in office, Ernst has appointed a vice-president from a Koch-backed group as her chief of staff.

With a forced Michele Bachmann smile, Ernst began her response by highlighting her experience as a soldier and mother before she moved on to talk about her childhood poverty. Instead of actually responding to the president’s speech, she spoke about how the GOP will “change the direction” of the country. The very short speech was filled with platitudes and totally devoid of any specifics except for her call for the Keystone pipeline that, according to Ernst and the GOP, has “minimal environmental impact.”

As Josh Voorhees wrote in Slate, “To grade Ernst’s response by its policy proposals, it landed somewhere between an F and an Incomplete.”

The generalities in Ernst’s speech avoided “delicate” topics:

  • Immigration (despite the amendments that the House has tried to pass);
  • Working families (a focus of President Obama’s speech including minimum wage, paid sick leave, tax credits, and free community college);
  • Foreign policy (no reference to Cuba and the president’s request that Congress act on ISIL);
  • Climate change (with the president’s mentions about rising oceans, hotter heat waves, and dangerous floods and droughts).

It was a very safe speech. Gone was the strident Ernst who bragged about castrating hogs as training for dealing with Washington. “Washington’s full of big spenders,” she had said in the ad, with hogs in the background. “Let’s make ’em squeal.” At her initiation to the Senate, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) presented her with a hog castrating tool mounted on a plaque that reads “Make ’em squeal, Joni.”

Before her campaign for Senate, Ernst spoke to a 2012 NRA meeting and talked about her devotion to gun rights and her Smith & Wesson 9 millimeter, declaring that “she would shoot first and ask questions later if the government violated her rights,” according to Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg. Ernst said:

“I believe in the right to defend myself and my family—whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

In 2012, she also said she would let law enforcement arrest anyone trying to implement the Affordable Care Act. In 2013, she backed a “personhood” amendment to the Iowa state constitution that would ban all abortions, remove some contraception, and turn miscarriages into a crime. In her time on the Iowa state Senate, she voted “no” on student loans, community colleges, worker training, increased earned income tax credit for the working poor, tax credits to farmers who donate food banks for the hungry, and expansion of Medicaid for families of four making $32,000 a year. During her campaign, she described a federal minimum wage as “ridiculous,” referred to President Barack Obama as a dictator who might deserve impeachment, and accused the United Nations of forcing farmers off their land.

Two questions:

  • Joni Ernst isn’t conservative enough for the Tea Party?
  • And why bother to call a speech a “response” if it doesn’t respond?
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