Nel's New Day

March 31, 2015

Stop the TPP

Fast Track in Congress means that the legislative branch gives the executive branch the power to make agreements without any debate or filibuster to provide transparency about any of the issues of the agreement. The highly conservative members of Congress, who want to sue President Obama for taking too much authority in perfectly legal executive orders, wants to let him adopt disastrous trade agreements, at this time the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fast Track gave the U.S. the job-killing wage-flattening North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) through offshoring U.S. jobs to low-wage countries. It also takes away the nation’s non-trade policies for safe food, a clean environment, affordable medicines, financial stability and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants the Senate Finance Committee to approve a Fast Track bill “very quickly after we come back” from the Easter recess on April 13. A key player is usually progressive Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who, for reasons unknown, strongly supports passing the Fast Track authority. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants the Fast Track passed before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint session of Congress in late April.

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) met with House Democrats to talk about the damage TPP would do to the people of this country after Wikileaks further revealed the expansion of corporate power to supercede U.S. laws that now protect the environment, consumers, and public health. WikiLeaks explained that TPP lets firms “sue” governments to get taxpayer compensation for loss of “expected future profits.” The New York Times reported that the TPP “giv[es] greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.”

According to Warren, the seemingly benign title Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws—and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. For example, a foreign company that makes a banned toxic chemical added to gasoline could pass by the U.S. courts and move on to an international panel. The ruling could not be challenged in U.S. courts even if the panel demands U.S. taxpayers to pay billions of dollars in damages. Panels would not be required to have independent judges; they can be corporate lawyers. In 2012, one panel ordered Ecuador to pay Occidental Petroleum $2.3 billion for expropriating oil drilling rights.

These courts were set up after World War II when investors worried about putting their money into small developing countries with undependable legal systems. The TPP, however, is with many well-developed countries such as Australia and Japan, whose courts would also be pre-empted. Companies can also purchase political-risk insurance.

History shows the increasing problem of ISDS cases: fewer than 100 claims were made worldwide between 1959 to 2002, but 2012 saw 58 cases in just that year. A French company sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power, and a Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations. With TPP, about 9,000 foreign-owned firms operating in the United States could bring cases against governments, and more than 18,000 companies based in the United States would gain new powers to go after the other 11 countries in the accord.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) wrote in an op-ed, “It’s a bad deal for American workers.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, “Members of Congress and their staff have an easier time accessing national security documents than proposed trade deals, but if I were negotiating this deal I suppose I wouldn’t want people to see it either.”

The TPP also allows corporations to fight limitations and exceptions to intellectual property rights such as copyrights and patents. Included are the provisions that allowed Eli Lilly to sue for $500 million because of Canada’s termination of patent extensions for medicines developed in the 1970s. Beyond that, it states that private companies can challenge “the cancellation or nullification of such [intellectual property] rights,” as well as “exceptions to such rights.”

Although a theory is that workers in all nations will benefit from bigger markets and more trade, a large portion of trade is done by multinational companies that have different interests from national corporations. Multinationals profit even if U.S. workers suffer, which is why these companies report their profits in or ship their jobs to countries with the lowest standards. The corporate movement of jobs overseas drives down wages in the U.S.; workers here will be forced to compete with workers in Vietnam who have no rights to organize in protest of wages that are under 60 cents an hour.

Corporate-defined trade rules have resulted in huge trade deficits, more than $8 trillion since 2000, and trade deficits cost jobs. Low trade tariffs allow current trade treaties to focus less on tariffs and more on “harmonizing regulations” for investors, “an excuse for corporations to institute a race to the bottom” according to Katrina vanden Heuvel. Trade agreements support corporate interests while trampling on the U.S. people. Drug companies are protected from introducing generic drugs, agribusiness is protected for its GMO food, and Wall Street is protected from regulations against secret derivatives.

Another provision among the 29 chapters of the TPP is that the U.S. government must treat bids from any TPP country in the same way as they treat U.S. companies. Tax dollars will no longer support U.S. communities, and taxpayers will be forced to send them money overseas, negating a 1934 law to give preference to U.S. corporations. With TPP, Chinese state-owned enterprise firms in Vietnam would have to be treated the same as a U.S. company and be awarded government contracts. Schools will no longer be allowed to “Buy Local” if a multinational company has a lower bid.

Republican members of Congress have fought everything that President Obama has supported—except the TPP Fast Track. That should raise a huge red flag for anyone who supports the rights of 90 percent of the U.S. people. For the past decade of TPP negotiations, the members of Congress, along with everyone else in the United States, have been refused access to TPP meetings and drafts of the agreement. The only information about TPP comes from leaks such as those revealed by Wikileaks. Yet 566 advisory group members, 480 of them representing industry groups or trade associations, are welcome to see and comment on the proposals. The few other participants are from 20 labor unions, three or four environmental groups, one consumer group, and two family farm groups.

U.S. workers are not the only people suffering from past trade agreements providing the prototype for TPP. Sister Simone Campbell, famous for her “nuns on the bus” movement to reverse income inequality, has written about the havoc wreaked by NAFTA, leading to a 60-percent increase in undocumented migrants from Mexico into the United States. This influx was followed by more undocumented migrants trying to cross the U.S. border from Central America after growing drug violence. In the United States, the 63 percent of workers without a college degree lost 12.2 percent of their wages since NATA took effect. According to the Government Accountability Office, labor provisions like the ones in TPP have failed to stop even the most severe labor abuses.

While appearing to be a great deal for huge corporations that are already taking money from the country in subsidies and unpaid taxes, the benefit for individuals, according to Peterson Institute for International Economics, would be one quarter—that’s $.25—a day. The pro-TPP study projects a 0.13-percent increase to the GDP by 2025, half of what Apple’s iPhone 5 did by itself.

If the TPP is so wonderful for the country, why is everything about it cloaked in secrecy? It’s so secret that people voting to approve it aren’t allowed access to information about it, yet they’re pushing for it sight unseen. The same people who think that the UN will destroy the United States are fighting to have international control by corporations.

My other question is why Wyden supports it. His constituents are so upset about his push to pass the TPP that they are floating the possibility of opposition to the extremely popular senator in the upcoming election. He owes Oregon and the people of the United States an explanation.

Moveon.org has a petition for people who oppose the TPP.

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March 30, 2015

Thank a Union

Filed under: Unions — trp2011 @ 8:57 PM
Tags:

People have not magically received the following benefits from gracious employers. People fought and lost jobs to get these advantages for employees. These are benefits that people in the United States are gradually losing because conservatives want to give everything to the wealthy and to the corporations.

Corporations use to work employees 80+ hours a week, offer no breaks, hire children, offer horrid, unsanitary work conditions, paid literally next to nothing, and even murder them with unsafe working conditions.

36 Reasons Why You Should Thank a Union

Weekends

All Breaks at Work, including your Lunch Breaks

Paid Vacation

FMLA

Sick Leave

Social Security

Minimum Wage

Civil Rights Act/Title VII (Prohibits Employer Discrimination)

8-Hour Work Day

Overtime Pay

Child Labor Laws

Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)

40 Hour Work Week

Worker’s Compensation (Worker’s Comp)

Unemployment Insurance

Pensions

Workplace Safety Standards and Regulations

Employer Health Care Insurance

Collective Bargaining Rights for Employees

Wrongful Termination Laws

Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967

Whistleblower Protection Laws

Employee Polygraph Protect Act (Prohibits Employer from using a lie detector test on an employee)

Veteran’s Employment and Training Services (VETS)

Compensation increases and Evaluations (Raises)

Sexual Harassment Laws

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Holiday Pay

Employer Dental, Life, and Vision Insurance

Privacy Rights

Pregnancy and Parental Leave

Military Leave

The Right to Strike

Public Education for Children

Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 (Requires employers pay men and women equally for the same amount of work)

Laws Ending Sweatshops in the United States

Conservatives who believe that union supporters are thugs need to give up all these benefits. Or they can support unions before the middle class sinks farther into the mire.

March 29, 2015

Conservatives Fight for Power through Claims of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence is even farther from a run for president after the media attention he received last week. After he signed into law the RFRA discrimination bill using religious belief as an excuse, Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle announced that his company has abandoned its expansion in Indianapolis that would hire an additional 1,000 employees. Oesterle isn’t some wide-eyed liberal: he directed GOP Mitch Daniels’ 2004 campaign for governor. Seattle has also joined San Francisco in not allowing work-related, city-funded travel to Indiana.

Is Pence truly confused about “the hostility that’s been directed at our state” or just trying to cover his bigoted actions? “I’ve been taken aback by the mischaracterizations from outside the state of Indiana about what is in this bill,” Pence said, indicating that he’s not prepared to be the president of the United States.

Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Pence avoided six questions about whether a merchant in Indiana could legally refuse to serve LGBT customers. One answer was that “this is not about discrimination, this is about empowering people to confront government overreach.” he said. Two questions needed only yes-or-no responses about whether state law permits legal discrimination against LGBT customers.

Chuck Todd, conservative host of Meet the Press, gave Pence a pass by concentrating on Hillary Clinton’s emails and waiting until the last five minutes to address the new Indiana law. Even more progressive Sam Stein of the Huffington Post seemed surprised—like Pence—that corporations thought the state should be boycotted.

While Pence waffled, an Indiana business owner, who prefered to be anonymous, bragged on the radio that he has already discriminated against gay and lesbian couples. He didn’t even claim a religious belief. Fortunately for Pence, the Fox network has his back. FOX News contributor Mike Gallagher compared LGBT people wanting service at restaurants to “Nazis” asking for hate-filled “Swastika signs” made for a “skinhead rally.” Pence and Fox will most likely defend the pending bill in Georgia that can legally permit domestic violence.

The Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is one of at least 35 bills moving through at least 19 state legislatures after Indiana passed its discriminatory RFRA. As with Indiana’s law, the bill would permit a wide variety of discrimination including bullying in schools.

The Georgia GOP legislators know that their bill is wrong because of the way that it was moved through the process. Sponsor state Senator Josh McKoon pushed it through the judiciary committee while opposing members were in the bathroom. Then he refused an amendment from a fellow Republican that would have specified that the “religious freedom” could not be used to discriminate against others. He didn’t even permit an amendment keeping religious belief from stopping child abuse. Speakers in favor of the bill were allowed far more time than those opposed to it, sometimes twice as much as allotted.

The RFRA passed the Senate on March 5 and moved to the State House with a 2-1 GOP majority. After an anti-discrimination amendment passed in its judiciary committee, conservatives tabled the bill, claiming that an anti-discrimination amendment defeats the purpose of the bill. According to conservatives, a religious freedom measure with an anti-discrimination provision is not a real religious freedom measure.

Blogger Eric Erickson slammed the man who proposed the amendment as “the man who wants to deny protection to Christian businesses.” Clearly, the religious freedom bill is freedom for only some religious people. Erickson may not be aware that Georgia’s RFRA permits Sharia law because it defines “exercise of religion” as any “practice or observance of religion, whether or not compelled by or central to a system of religious belief.”

Tomorrow, conservatives plan an amendment, stating that the RFRA cannot be used to discriminate against anyone protected against state law. Georgia has no statewide civil rights law, no protected classes.

Legal commentators have surmised that the law would give a pass to spousal and child abusers if the husband or father has a religious pretext. The Christian Domestic Discipline Network offers a raft of rationales for “wife spanking,” and Proverbs 13:24 states, “He who spares his rod hates his son. But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Although Georgia has laws protecting child welfare, a court might determine that these laws are not the “least restrictive means” of protecting it. The new law can be a defense for assault and battery. Religious views may not completely stop an investigation into child-endangerment and child-abuse charges, but they can slow down its progress. Even conservative district attorneys have said that the bill would delay investigations and prosecutions of child abuse.

Even Mike Bowers, successful supporter of state anti-sodomy laws in the Supreme Court case Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) opposes the proposed Georgia law. In an open letter, Bowers wrote that the law is “unequivocally an excuse to discriminate….[P]ermitting citizens to opt-out of laws because of a so-called burden on the exercise of religion in effect ‘would permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.’”

Pence is probably envious of the silence from Georgia’s business world, compared to eminent boycotts of Indiana. Only recently have some major corporations began to speak out although they rather weakly state that they “don’t support discrimination.” That includes responses from Home Depot and Atlanta Hawks. AmericasMart Atlanta, one of the world’s largest permanent wholesale trade centers, said that it doesn’t take public positions on pending legislation but they do welcome everyone.

Coca-Cola, Delta, Turner Broadcasting, the Atlanta Braves, and the Atlanta Falcons have not responded to questions about their positions although both Delta and Coca-Cola opposed an identical bill last year. Lawmakers may be blackmailing the companies. Another pending bill would eliminate Georgia’s tax subsidy on jet fuel in retribution for Delta CEO Richard Anderson’s recent history of weighing in on public affairs, including opposition to last year’s version of RFRA. Although he supported the fuel subsidy in the past, Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R), sponsor of the bill to eliminate the subsidy, said, “Will I more than happily take advantage of those who are tired of him chiming in to pass a piece of legislation? Absolutely.”

Businesses afraid of losing business conventions and tourism, however, are more openly opposing the RFRA. The executive board of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau issued a resolution “in opposition to the implementation of any legislation which could be used to potentially discriminate,” noting that the bill would “tarnish Atlanta’s reputation as one of the world’s most welcoming cities.” The resolution followed a letter to lawmakers last week stating, “This bill is unnecessary, divisive, and a distraction from the issues needed to advance Georgia.”

Local conferences possibly moving away from the state include the comic and fantasy convention Dragon Con, the American Society for Higher Education, American Academy of Religion, American Historical Association, German Studies Association, History of Science Society, Philosophy of Science Association, Society for Biblical Literature, and Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts. The NCAA, which was “especially concerned” about the new Indiana law, is scheduling its 2019 convention in Atlanta.

Although 31 states, 18 of them since the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, have passed forms of RFRA, the most recent bills and Indiana’s law are far more radical. The federal law says that the government may not pass a law that “substantially burdens a person’s exercise of religion,” but some businesses are claiming that they don’t have to meet the substantial burden test.

The state House in Kansas passed a bill allowing anyone to refuse to recognize same-sex couples or provide them with services on religious grounds without showing that it would substantially burden their ability to exercise their faith. In late February, the state Senate refused to take up the bill.

University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock wrote that the fight over extremist religious freedom is “ polarizing the country and endangering religious liberty more generally.” Extremists invited to Pence’s signing the Indiana law reflect how far to the religious right the law is:

  • Micah Clark, Head of the American Family Association of Indiana: Claims that “homosexuality has no societal benefit…and it’s individually destructive and dangerous.”
  • Curt Smith, President of Indiana Family Institute: Equates homosexuality with bestiality and adultery and said, “…I believe homosexuality is harmful to all, including society, and is against the teachings of the God of the Bible…” 
  • Eric Miller, Exec. Director of Advance America, Indiana’s leading anti-LGBT org.: Distributed fear flier falsely claiming that pastors could be jailed for preaching against homosexuality once same-sex marriage passes and  claims “[b]anning same-sex marriages and civil unions will prove to be the greatest moral battle of this generation.”

pence The RFRAs are not about protecting religious freedoms. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does that. It’s about power. The RFRAs are all about a select group of white Christian males, approximately one-fourth of the U.S. population, trying to renew their dominance over everyone else. These haters are destroying freedom of religion for everyone.

March 28, 2015

Fourth-Graders School New Hampshire Legislature

As a general rule, state and federal lawmakers are used to doing whatever they please without being held accountable for their behavior. But when New Hampshire state lawmakers turned a fourth-grade class project into a circus freak show, their actions came back to bite them in a big way. Two weeks ago, New Hampshire legislators treated a fourth-grade class like trash—or worse. This week the “lawmakers” found themselves to be officially eating crow.

It all started with an idealistic attempt to participate in the legislative process, a non-uncommon practice because students study New Hampshire state history and civics in fourth grade. A class from Hampton Falls decided to follow a law through the legislature, starting with creating a bill that would make the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor. They were able to get six Democrats and one Republican to co-sponsor the bill that was listed as “moderately partisan” on the state’s website. The 9- and 10-year-olds from the Lincoln H. Akerman school supported the bill through committee and then traveled 50 miles to sit in the gallery during the debate on the floor of the state House of Representatives.

motherlode-hawk-tmagArticle

The partisan element came in when legislators, fully aware that the class was present, were sarcastic and downright nasty.  Rep. Christy Bartlett dismissed the bill as trivial and a waste of time, and Rep. John Burt said, “Bottom line, if we keep bringing more of these bills, and bill, and bills forward… we’ll be picking a state hot dog next.”

It wasn’t as if the bill had gone straight from the classroom to the legislative floor: the Environment and Agriculture committee had given the bill a thumbs-up and passed it along to the entire legislative body. Yet legislators criticized the kids and not the committee. New Hampshire has passed lots of other official symbols—bird, tree, animal, dog, insect, butterfly, amphibian, mineral, gem, and two different fish, one freshwater and the other saltwater. Also fruit, flower, and wildflower—you can find out more here. There’s also precedent for a state raptor: Idaho has claimed the peregrine falcon for its official raptor.

GOP state lawmaker, Warren Groen went further in expressing his outrage:

“[The hawk] is known for its extremely strong and sharp talons, with which it grasps its prey. It uses its razor-sharp beak to rip its victim to shreds, tearing it apart limb by limb. I guess the shame about making this a state bird is that it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”

Student chaperones said that students were confused because they hadn’t yet been taught about abortion and Planned Parenthood.

House Speaker Shawn Jasper did explain that this comment violated the legislature’s rules that state, “No one is to speak impertinently (or rudely).” Groen won’t be censured for his statements, however, because this has to be done at the time of his comments.

Democratic representative Renny Cushing, an original sponsor of the children’s bill, apologized on the floor to students and parents for the behavior of the legislature. He received a standing ovation for his statement, but a minority of legislators shouted “no” to entering his comments into the permanent record.

The bill was defeated by 133 to 160. For the state with a population of 1,326,813, the House of Representatives has 400 members: 239 Republicans, 160 Democrats, and one Independent. Each member represents approximately 3,300 residents.

Groen refused to apologize and indicated that students should not participate in the legislative process. When asked if he thought his comments were appropriate for children, he said:

“I think it perfectly describes how a baby is aborted; it’s torn limb from limb. Every time we’re in session, the gallery is open and there are children in the gallery. So I don’t know, should we limit free speech? Or should we limit who goes in the gallery?”

Like the students who proposed the official raptor bill, Cushing was first introduced to the legislature in the fourth grade. In contrasting this situation, he said, “No one made fun of the legislation. No one mocked me. What I remember is I was treated with respect.”

Cushing’s most recent bill is one that formally encourages student participation in government. The state legislature passed the resolution last Wednesday and announced its intention to bring the raptor bill up for another vote before the end of the current session. Gov. Maggie Hassan will personally deliver the resolution honoring their involvement (if not their right to be treated with courtesy) to the students’ classroom later this month.

Part of the impetus for these actions may have been a segment on John Oliver’s HBO show, Last Week Tonight, when he named the red-tailed hawk the show’s “official raptor.” The satiric website, the Onion, also entered the raptor fray.

School Principal Mark Deblois has received hundreds of emails from around the world praising the students and encouraging them to stay involved. Deblois said:

“We’re always talking to kids about making sure they always take ownership for their actions. It seems that there was some resistance to admitting mistakes were made. And that’s sad. It seems to be something your average fourth-grader understands quite well.”

In a NYT column “Motherlode,” KJ Dell-Antonia listed a few lessons for children (and probably adults) from this experience:

  • Politicians waste a lot of time.
  • Then they waste more time arguing about the things they believe waste time.
  • It might be possible for politicians to waste less time, but if one of them proposes a bill, for example, ending the practice of naming everything from state birds to state hot dogs, another will make it about abortion.
  • The best way to get anything done in politics (or to get a visit from your governor) is to draw a lot of attention to an issue, and it doesn’t matter why or how that happens.

Deblois gave another lesson: “I don’t think they realized how ugly politics can be sometimes. They can’t figure out why adults who were supposed to be leaders behaved this way.”

Neither can I.

March 27, 2015

Indiana Legalizes Discrimination

For most of my life, Indiana was just the state between Illinois and Ohio, fairly innocuous when compared to the corrupt one on the left with four of the last seven governors going to prison and the occasional scandals in the one on the right. Indiana’s one president, Benjamin Harrison, barely made a splash, and most people don’t know that Vice-president Dan Quayle, is a native. Current governor, Mike Pence, is a possible GOP presidential candidate. He’ll just have to decide whether to make another gubernatorial run because he can’t run for both offices. Little noticed when he accepted a form of expanded Medicaid last January, his latest law has put him on the map like New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Texas’ Rick Perry.

Yesterday he signed state Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. Religious belief can now be used for legalized discrimination in Indiana starting on July 1:

“A governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability…. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding.”

“Person” is defined as an individual, organization, religious society, church, corporation, company, “unincorporated association or another entity,” but the law fails to define “substantial burden.” Individuals can find legal protection in the bill “regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” The exception enables discrimination because people cannot file complaints against businesses for discrimination.

Although other states have proposed the same law, even Jan Brewer was smart enough to not sign a similar bill when she was governor in Arizona. The signing was a private ceremony with only invited fundamentalist Christians and Jews, news of the event crossed the country like a wildfire.

Businesses and organizations that complained about the discrimination, but Pence told them that their concerns were only a “misunderstanding.” When signing the bill, he said, “This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination I would have vetoed it.” He blamed the media for the national outrage and said his primary concern was for religious believers who feel their liberty is endangered.

Major businesses, activists, and organizations speaking out against the bill included the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Indiana’s Republican mayor Greg Ballard. The chief executive of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Kevin Brinegar, assailed the law as “entirely unnecessary.”

CEO Marc Benioff of Salesforce, purchaser of Indianopolis-based Exact Tartet, was joined by other cloud computer companies in protest. Benioff tweeted, “Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the Indianapolis-based group would examine “how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.” The Final Four men’s basketball tournament is in Indianapolis next week. Arn Tellem, a prominent sports agent whose clients include the basketball players Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Jason Collins, wrote:

“The measure codifies hatred under the smoke screen of freedom and jeopardizes all that has been recently accomplished. It legalizes discrimination against L.G.B.T. individuals and will cause significant harm to many people.”

Tellem urged the Indiana Pacers and the entire NCAA “to not only condemn this blatantly unconstitutional legislation, but to take forceful action against it by re-evaluating their short- and long-term plans in the state.”

Indianopolis’ largest convention, Gen Con, has threatened to take its 56,000 attendees and $50 million in revenue elsewhere when its contract with the Indiana Convention Center expires in 2020.

Todd Adams, associate general minister and vice-president of the Indianapolis-based Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) said, “Our perspective is that hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry.” With 659,000 members in North America, the denomination has been headquartered in Indianapolis for almost 100 years. The group may look for another location for its 2017 convention that draws about 6,000 attendees.

CEO Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp, which publishes online reviews of businesses, wrote a blog opposing laws that legalize discrimination. “It is unconscionable to imagine that Yelp would create, maintain, or expand a significant business presence in any state that encouraged discrimination by businesses against our employees, or consumers at large.”

Eli Lilly, employer of over 11,700 people in the state, wrote, “Simply put, we believe discriminatory legislation is bad for Indiana and for business.” It added, “As we recruit, we are searching for top talent all over the world. We need people who will help find cures for such devastating diseases as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Many of those individuals won’t want to come to a state with laws that discriminate.”

George Takei, actor in Star Trek, promised a boycott. “If it goes into effect, Indiana will be marked as a state where certain people are not welcome,” he posted on Facebook. “We will not spend. And we will not attend events, including GenCon, the world’s largest gaming convention, held in Indianapolis each year. Many fans here are gamers, Governor Pence, and we will demand the convention move out of your state.”

Broadway actress Audra McDonald threatened to drop an upcoming Indiana performance but decided instead to donate proceeds to LGBT rights groups. She tweeted, “On the phone w/@united so long I forgot what year it was, then saw the law Indiana Gov.Pence just signed & remembered…It’s 1950.”

San Francisco is the first city to take action since the bill was signed into law. Mayor Ed Lee announced that the city will not use taxpayer money to fund any city employees’ trips to Indiana.

The law’s target is the LGBT community after the state was forced to legalize marriage equality across the nation. Eric Miller, executive director of the group Advance America, said the law protects Christian bakers, florists and photographers who don’t want “to participate in a homosexual marriage,” Christian businesses that refuse “to allow a man to use the women’s restroom,” and churches that refuse to allow their premises to be used for same-sex weddings.

Yet the discrimination can be against anyone. An employer can refuse to hire Jewish employees, a landlord can refuse to rent to Muslims, or a business can refuse to serve atheists. Pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or drugs dealing with HIV. Restaurants can refuse to serve African-Americans, and people can be exempted from compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Anyone violating a biblical passage is at risk for discrimination.

Indiana has problems more serious than a same-sex couple wanting to buy a wedding cake. With 79 newly confirmed HIV cases within the past three months in Scott County, Pence declared an epidemic and lifted the state law preventing needle exchange in the county. The number is up from an annual average of five cases, and all the new cases are linked to needle sharing among drug users. Pence said, “despite my reservations,” that he is permitting drug users to exchange used hypodermic needles for sterile ones and only in that county for 30 days. Doctors disagree with Pence that this will fix the problem. Poverty has led to an outbreak of hepatitis, a precursor to HIV epidemics, and the county has no addition treatment center. They expect the problem to grow worse across the state.

 

Complaints of over-pricing have forced Coventry Health Care to lower the cost of HIV and AIDS drugs of more than $1,000 per month to $5 to $100 per month for most treatments starting in June. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago had warned Coventry that its high prices might violate federal protections against discrimination. In February, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a rule for 2016 that prohibits plan designs that place “most or all drugs that treat a specific condition on the highest cost tiers” and that charge more for single-tablet regimens than for treatments that require patients to take multiple pills.

 

Mike Pence plans to call the businesses and organizations that think his new law is discrimination. He may have difficulty persuading them, but he could use the approach that a Democratic state representative in Oklahoma developed. Emily Virgin proposed that businesses who wish to discriminate “shall post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including websites.” The amendment adds that the notice “may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which couples the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or race.” People should know whether businesses plan to discriminate.

March 25, 2015

Cruz Delights Comedians

Filed under: Presidential campaign — trp2011 @ 10:36 PM
Tags: ,

The moment that all U.S. comedians have been waiting for: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced his presidential candidacy for the 2016 election. We knew this was his intent, but no one knew when. Now we have 593 days to watch him and the other 19 (at latest count) GOPers jostle for first place.

randCruz kicked off his campaign on Twitter at midnight, as Larry Wilmore said, the time for “booty calls.” He followed it up on Monday with a speech to a group of Liberty University students, some of them Rand Paul supporters, who had to pay $10 if they didn’t show up. The conservative Christian school was founded by Jerry Falwell, well-known for blaming the 9/11 tragedy on people in the United States. The same day Cruz unveiled his first 30-second video ad, jam-packed stock images of churches, baseball games, cornfields, etc.—probably to appeal to Iowans.

Cruz is famous only for convincing his GOP colleagues to force crises through obstructionist tactics and the demand that Democrats resolve the problems. His campaign website fails to point out that the only Cruz accomplishment since he joined the Senate two years ago was to shut down the government in October 2013. He hoped to find a sympathetic audience on the Fox network, but Megyn Kelly asked him:

“On your time in the Senate — this is what some of your critics point to — they say, yes you led the fight on certain issues, but what have you actually accomplished?”

Although he has seen only three of his 225 bills pass into law, he claimed that he had stopped “bad things from happening.” Kelly explained Cruz’ major problem, “But when you’re the president, you have to bring together coalitions to get things through. You can’t just be somebody who stops things. You have to be somebody who gets things through.”

His actions have caused Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), not always rational himself, to describe Cruz as a “wacko bird” after Cruz participated in a filibuster of incoming CIA Director John O. Brennan over drone policy.

ted-cruz-gallieo

Still behaving like the “wacko bird,” Cruz now claims to be a modern-day Galileo because people who think that the climate is warming are “flat-Earthers.” This follows an earlier claim that “the satellite data demonstrate that there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years.” His simplistic approach using skewed perceptions may be convincing to some people who don’t understand the complexity of scientific evidence and the effect of ocean cycles on average global temperatures. His use of “global cooling” in the 1970s uses the same failures. On last Sunday’s Meet the Press, California Gov. Jerry Brown commented on Cruz’ climate denial:

“[Cruz] betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of existing scientific data, it’s shocking, and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.”

Cruz’ own party is unhappy about his running for the presidency. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told Wolf Blitzer on CNN that Cruz “over simplifies, he exaggerates and he basically led the Republican Party over the cliff in the fall of 2013. He has shown no qualifications, no legislation being passed, doesn’t provide leadership and he has no real experience. So, to me, he is just a guy with a big mouth and no results.” King was joined by other massive put-downs on the conservative Morning Joe Show.

detail=email  A major question about Cruz’s candidacy is whether he is technically eligible to be U.S. president. He was born in 1970 in Calgary (Canada), and his birth mother is a U.S. citizen. His father was not at that time. According to the law in 1970, he could be a U.S. citizen only if his mother had been “physically present” in the United States or “one of its outlying possessions” for ten years prior to his birth, including five years after she reached the age of fourteen. Although Cruz was born on December 22, 1970, his birth was not registered until nine days later on December 31, leaving an unexplained time gap. Documents missing at this time are the Consular Report of Birth Abroad, which would establish the parents’ intention to register the infant as an U.S. citizen while they were living in Canada, and his mother’s own birth certificate.

The problem could be taken care of in the same way that McCain was declared eligible to run for president. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone while his father was stationed at a military base there. On April 30, 2008, the Senate passed the following resolution: “Recognizing that John Sidney McCain, III, is a natural born citizen.” Part of the justification was that he was born “on an American military base.” McCain never released his birth certificate so no one knows if he was born on or off the base. McCain’s situation, however, is a non-issue because, as with other people questioned about their eligibility such as Barry Goldwater and George Romney, because he was not elected president. Cruz could try to get a resolution for himself from the Senate—or go to the Supreme Court if his status is legally questioned.

Monday, Cruz announced during his speech that he was going to repeal “Obamacare.” Tuesday, he said that he would be going to the federal exchange to sign up for health care. He lost his healthcare after his wife took an unpaid leave of absence. Basically, Cruz will take advantage of a federal law that has lowered the cost of insurance premiums for all while doing everything he can to keep everyone from having this advantage.

Ted Cruz suffers from the same computer problems as other GOP candidates: TedCruz.com is a website stating “SUPPORT PRESIDENT  OBAMA” and “IMMIGRATION REFORM NOW!” Tedcruzforamerica.com automatically redirects users to healthcare.gov, the federal health insurance exchange. Cruz’ own home page lacked Secure Sockets Layer protections to safeguard sensitive data, fooling users into volunteering this information on an imposter site. Even the protected pages listed nigerian-prince.com as an official alternative web address for Cruz’s campaign. During his coming-out speech at Liberty, students used cellphones to trash Cruz on the anonymous gossip app Yik Yak.

His “wacko statements” get so much attention that many people ignore Cruz’s determination to get the United States into war around the world. He has called for at least six invasions, air strikes, or covert coups d’etat including overthrowing President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, a supporter of the working class opposing a return of power to the elite. His response to ISIL in Iraq is to “bomb them back to the stone age” and to annihilate them within a couple of months. When Gen. Dempsey disagreed with him, Cruz said that Dempsey doesn’t know what he is talking about. Another way to fight ISIL, according to Cruz, is closing the border with Mexico to stop infiltration. Cruz wants war with Russia by arming Ukrainian fighters, and he proposes stopping all U.S. aid to the Palestine Authority of Mahmoud Abbas.

One of Cruz’s slogans is “Time for Truth.” Yet he usually lies. Out of 46 statements fact-checked by Politifact, Cruz had one true statement: “We have a federal government that thinks they have the authority to regulate our toilet seats.” He accused the Democrats of being a threat to the Catholic Church. He had no evidence for his claim that ISIS is “nailing Christians to trees.” When two Democrats joined the GOP to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the House, Cruz called this a “strong bipartisan majority.” A blatant Cruz lie was that “the jurisdictions with the strictest gun control laws, almost without exception … have the highest crime rates and the highest murder rates.” He promises to eliminate the IRS if he is elected and has claimed that they have 110,000 agents. The  IRS doesn’t even have that many employees, and it has only 14,000 agents.

Cruz spreads conspiracy theories, for example the conservative falsehood that George Soros led a global conspiracy to abolish the game of golf. The candidate also claimed that Communists infiltrated Harvard Law School and that Islamic law threatens the United States. According to Cruz, President Obama wanted immigration reform to fail so that he could campaign on it in 2016. Cruz accused George W.Bush of leading an assault on Texas’ “sovereignty” afer Bush supported a treaty obligation by objecting to the execution of a Mexican national denied help from his consul.

Can Cruz win? Right now he has a four-percent rating Republicans, two points below “no one” and tied with “someone else.” Yet he has strong support from the Tea Party that wants someone who never compromises and never accepts concessions while always insisting on confrontation and viewing all critics as enemies. Cruz glories in opposition from the Republican party and rallies support from the far right-wingers who think that the GOP compromises too much, and he won the Senate over better-financed candidates with Texas GOP establishment support.

For a comedian’s take on Ted Cruz, check out Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. 

March 24, 2015

White House Science Fair: Hope for Next Generation

Filed under: Education — trp2011 @ 1:37 PM
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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has announced his run in 2016 for president. He’s the man who tried to negate global warming because New Hampshire has snow and ice. On the same day the fifth White House Science Fair shows that young people are far smarter than Cruz. In his comments, President Obama talked about their accomplishments and their future in science:

“These young scientists and engineers teach us something beyond the specific topics that they’re exploring. They teach us how to question assumptions; to wonder why something is the way it is, and how we can make it better. And they remind us that there’s always something more to learn, and to try, and to discover, and to imagine — and that it’s never too early, or too late to create or discover something new.”

“Sophia Sánchez-Maes … from Las Cruces, New Mexico … is helping to bring the world closer to using algae as a clean, renewable, and even inexhaustible energy source….

”Harry [Tufts] was born with a condition called congenital scoliosis–a curvature of the spine. So, growing up, Harry endured more than a dozen operations. Rather than feel sorry for himself, he thought there’s got to be a better way of doing this. So he designed a new type of spinal implant [that] could reduce the number of surgeries that a child may need for more than a dozen to as few as five, which obviously would cut down medical costs, but more importantly, would save a lot of young people pain and time out from school and recovery time, and the potential complications of an operation.

“Nikhil Behari is … a freshman–right?- in high school, interested in how we can better protect ourselves against hackers and data thieves online…. Nikhil wondered, what if we each type in a distinct ways? So he collected all kinds of data about how a person types — their speed, how often they pause, how much pressure they use; built a special keyboard to test it. And he proved that his hypothesis was correct–that even if somebody knows your password, they don’t necessarily punch it in exactly the way you do. And he asked why — and made discoveries that now could help keep our online accounts more secure.

“I should give special mention to our Girl Scouts from Oklahoma.… They’re standing up, but you can’t really see them because they’re in kindergarten and first grade… They built their device out of Legos.  They realized that some people who might be paralyzed or arthritic might have trouble turning pages on a book so they invented this page turner.  It was awesome.  It was working so well, despite the fact, as they pointed out–this is a quote, they said, “This is just a prototype.” …I said, well, how’d you come up with the idea? They said, well, we had a brainstorming session. And then one of them asked, “Mr. President, have you had brainstorming sessions?” I said, yes, but I didn’t come up with something as cool as this–an automatic page turner.

“Ruchi Pandya … found a way to use a single drop of blood to test a person’s heart function, much like a person with diabetes tests their blood sugar.

“Anvita Gupta … used artificial intelligence and biochemistry to identify potential treatments for cancer, tuberculosis, Ebola … that could potentially significantly speed up the process of finding drugs that might work against these diseases…. Anvita and Ruchi are first-generation Americans. Their parents came here, in part, so their kids could develop their talents and make a difference in the world.

“Four years ago, I set a national goal to provide 98 percent of Americans with high-speed wireless Internet so that any young scientist or entrepreneur could access the world’s information. Today, I can announce that we have achieved that goal, and we did it ahead of schedule….

“To make sure that we keep expanding broadband across the country, I’m creating a new team called the Broadband Opportunity Council, made up of leaders across government, who will work with business and communities to invest in next-generation Internet nationwide. Because this not just going to be a key for your ability to learn and create; it’s also a key for America’s ability to compete and lead in the world.

“No young person in America should miss out on the chance to excel in these fields just because they don’t have the resources. So, five years ago, we launched a campaign called “Educate to Innovate,” to help more of our students explore science, technology, engineering and math. Today, I’m pleased to announce $240 million in new contributions from businesses, from schools, from foundations across the country to help kids learn in these STEM fields….

“Corporations have pledged to help expand high-quality science and technology education to more than 1.5 million students. More than 120 universities have pledged to help train 20,000 new engineers to tackle the toughest challenges of this century. Foundations like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Gates Foundation, and the Simons Foundation, will support scientists early in their careers with mentoring and funding. And, all told, these new commitments bring our grand total up to $1 billion in commitments to our kids since we first got this initiative started five years ago….

“We don’t want to just increase the number of American students in STEM. We want to make sure everybody is involved. We want to increase the diversity of STEM programs, as well….

“Part of the problem is we don’t tell the stories enough of the incredible scientists and inventors along the way who are women, or people of color, and as a consequence, people don’t see themselves as potential scientists. Except the good news is these young women and African American and Latino and Asian American folks, young people who are here today–you guys certainly see yourselves as scientists. So you’re helping to inspire your classmates and kids who are coming up behind you to pursue these dreams as well.

“Because the United States has always been a place that loves science. We’ve always been obsessed with tinkering and discovering and inventing and pushing the very boundaries of what’s possible. That’s who we are. It’s in our DNA. Technological discovery helped us become the world’s greatest economic power. Scientific and medical breakthroughs helped us become the greatest source of hope around the world. And that’s not just our past, that’s also our future, because of amazing young people like this….

“It’s not enough for us to just lift up young people and say, great job, way to go. You also have to have labs to go to, and you’ve got to be able to support yourself while you’re doing this amazing research. And that involves us as a society making the kind of investments that are going to be necessary for us to continue to innovate for many, many years to come.”

potus_meets_science_fair_supergirlsThe page-turner project that President Obama announced came from six Girl Scouts, all six years old, who had talked with the school librarian about the idea. They sketched the device that turns pages for people with disabilities and then sorted motorized Lego components and gears that could turn pages with rubber Lego tires. A second device makes the pages lie flat after the pages are turned. This is the second year that a Girl Scout troop from Oklahoma made national news; last year’s second-grader Lego Queens created photo-ops by placing a tiara on the president.

Other young people who showcased their projects at the White House Science Fair:

Trisha Prabhu, 14, learned that a the human brain’s decision-making area is not fully developed until the age of 25 and developed a computer program called “Rethink.” It alerts users if an outgoing computer message contains abusive and hurtful language. Adolescents using the program are 93 percent less likely to use this language with “Rethink.”

Kelly Charles, 15, developed a solar-powered radiation system that circulates air and heats the inside of buildings without electricity or running water. She is a sophomore at Navajo Prepatory School in Farmington (NM).

Kenneth Shinozuka, 16, developed a sensor device to detect when someone with Alzheimer’s starts to wander off. The alert is sent to the caregiver’s smartphone via Bluetooth. Kenneth used his device while caring for his grandfather, and his invention detected every time that his grandfather got out of bed at night for six months.

Sahil Doshi, 14, showed how to harness the power of carbon dioxide and waste materials to generate electricity through his battery called PolluCell.

Bluyé DeMessie, 18, developed a method to change agricultural waste into a bio-charcoal that can remove pollutants from water.

Natalie Ng, 19, developed a way to predict metastasis in breast cancer which can devise appropriate treatments for recurrence risk in individual cancer patients.

Three girls–Stephanie Lopez, 17; Chloe Westphal, 17; Amanda Arellano, 18—developed an app concept to help teens manage anxiety and depression by sharing their feelings in a private journal. One of eight national winners in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, they will get training on coding and app development, helping them publish the app.

Joseph Santana, 12, and Sophia Nobles, 11 found a less expensive way of generating drinking water from ocean water by using the energy of underwater swells.  water. The desalination process incorporates a special “reverse osmosis” membrane made out of graphene to trap salt while allowing water molecules to flow through.

Eric Koehlmoos, 18, discovered a way to use cordgrass and switchgrass for ethanol, 200 times more successful than using corn and noncompetitive with the food supply.

This makes this the second year in a row that women scientists represented the majority of fair participants. Women have always been accomplished in science; now they’re getting credit for it. Cruz should take notice of the fair and the intelligence that it represents among future voters.

More photos and projects here.

March 23, 2015

Happy Birthday, ‘Obamacare’

Today is the Affordable Care Act’s fifth birthday. For five years, most of the GOP legislators have been making predictions about the law’s leading the entire country to wrack and ruin. The following dozen failed predictions show how all these people have been wrong:

happy birthday Failed Prediction #1 – Americans won’t enroll in the ACA: The demand was so great that the website sometimes crashed from the heavy usage. About 8 million people signed up for private insurance coverage in 2014, and the number rose to 11.4 million in 2015. While it was hard to sign up for health care on the exchanges last year, it was harder to be uninsured or underinsured.

Failed Prediction #2 – The ACA won’t meet its enrollment goals: In its first two years, enrollment totals exceeded preliminary projections.

Failed Prediction #3 – Insurers will want no part of the ACA system: Many insurers see the ACA as a major growth opportunity that lets them expand in the individual market.

Failed Prediction #4 – The ACA will cause the economy to suffer and kill jobs: In one press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) used the phrase “job-killing” an average of every two minutes while talking about the ACA. Yet the U.S. has had 59 consecutive months of job growth since October 2010, the longest stretch of time in history.  National data also shows no indication of employers hiring people under 30 hours a week to avoid the ACA insurance mandate. The average length of the work-week, which dropped during the recession, recently matched pre-2010 levels. Using interviews with major U.S. employers, Bloomberg found that the law “is putting such a small dent in the profits of U.S. companies that many refer to its impact as “not material” or “not significant.” It decided that “the biggest entitlement legislation in a generation is causing barely a ripple in corporate America.”

Failed Prediction #5 – People who enrolled wouldn’t pay their premiums: Again the GOP was wrong. Five months into last year, over 91% of the 8 million consumers who enrolled through an ACA exchange marketplace paid their premiums.

Failed Prediction #6: People would see exorbitant premiums: Those who qualify for tax credits through the insurance exchange pay an average of $82 per month for premiums—one-fourth of the expenditure without financial help. More people who changed from individual insurance to exchanges have lower premiums.

Failed Prediction #7 – Premiums will shoot up next year: State-by-state information shows that more insurers coming to the market are pressuring prices to go down. In 2015, premiums for the ACA’s mid-level plans rose by an average of 2 percent. In 48 major cities, prices for these benchmark plans actually fell by 0.2 percent, compared to the 10-percent increases before the ACA.

Failed Prediction #8 – The ACA helps only those with coverage: Republicans are wrong.

Failed Prediction #9 – The ACA will lead to a “net loss” on overall coverage: Boehner argued that fewer people had health insurance after the health law’s insurance expansion than prior to it, but the uninsured rate has dropped by one-fourth. In Minnesota it’s gone down by 40 percent, and in some cities the number will shrink by 60 percent in cities with expanded Medicaid. People who would not get subsidies still got the same insurance plans by going to an insurance broker. Boehner also ignored the expansion of 9.1 million enrollees on Medicaid.

Failed Prediction #10 – The ACA will lead to higher deficits and a weaker fiscal footing for the nation: The GOP, the party that actually raises the deficit, told the country that “Obamacare” would “bankrupt” the country. In April 2014, the Congressional Budget Office reduced its budget forecast by $100 billion, less than it expected to spend during the first projection in January 2010. The CBO reduced its 10-year estimate of ACA cost by 20 percent and its Medicaid costs attributable to the law by 8 percent, partly because people with health insurance no longer rely on the emergency room for health care.

Failed Prediction #11 – Americans will end up hating the coverage they receive through the ACA: A new Gallup poll shows that 71 percent find their coverage through exchanges to be good or excellent, and another 19 percent said the coverage was fair. Only 9 percent gave it a poor rating.

Failed Prediction #12 – “Obamacare” will mostly sign up people who already have insurance:  A Kaiser Family Foundation survey finds that 57 percent of enrollees previously lacked insurance.

More failed projections: there is no “death spiral,” or “death panels,” or “rate shock.” Not one prediction has lived up to scrutiny. And not one prominent Republican is willing to admit the failed predictions or even explanations for these mistakes and misjudgments. Instead, they’re still busy trying to repeal the law.

Facts will not change the minds of many in opposition, as Jonathan Chait pointed out:

“Suppose you strongly objected to the idea that your city should own a bunch of buildings where people can go borrow books for free. (Some people do!) If you couldn’t persuade a majority of fellow citizens of your conceptual objections to libraries, you might try arguing that the library scheme was doomed to collapse in cost overruns, or that nobody would ever use them, or that shelves of heavy books would be routinely toppling over and killing small children. But the fact is that running buildings where people can check out books, and running exchanges where people can purchase basic health insurance packages, are both things that governments can do.”

One GOP complaint is that “Obamacare” helps only the poor. It is true that the poorest people get free Medicaid, and those up to an income of $94,000 a year for a family of four can get tax credits. People who receive insurance from their employees are having their coverage paid by “other people’s money.”

Employer-sponsored insurance get tax deductions, giving the largest benefits to those who earn the most money as compared to the ACA which gives the most to those who earn the least. For example, newly-announced presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) premiums, up to $40,000 for the year for his family, were paid by his wife’s employer, Goldman Sachs. Cruz will be shopping for health insurance because his wife has taken an unpaid leave while he runs for president.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) may have summarized the GOP complaints with this comment on the floor of the Senate: “It’s time for the White House to stop celebrating [the ACA] and start thinking about the people.” Huh?

What’s ahead for the Affordable Care Act?  After voting dozens of time to repeal the ACA, the GOP is trying to pass a budget that would double the uninsured rate and eliminate $1 trillion in tax revenue that pays for the law. Republicans have no plan to help the millions of families losing affordable medical care if they succeed. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has only one suggestion: he urged state lawmakers to stop state insurance exchanges if the Supreme Court rules that this as a requirement for the ACA. That’s what he told state legislators last week during a conference call organized by the conservative think tank Foundation for Government Accountability.

If the Supreme Court were to rule for mandated state exchanges, subsidies in the mostly blue states would continue while millions of consumers in GOP-run states would go without. Michigan and Ohio are intending to set up the exchanges that Ryan warns against because no one should do what the White House wants, even if it puts constituents in jeopardy.

Missouri is a prime example of problems with GOP legislators. GOP legislators have threatened to filibuster any Medicaid expansion bill and Bob Onder, a new state senator, has proposed a bill to keep an insurance company from selling policies in the state if it accepts federal subsidies sold on the federal health exchange. The state refuses to accept billions of federal dollars to offer Medicaid coverage to approximately 300,000 uninsured residents. Onder said, “To expand Medicaid would only put further stress on a system that’s already strained,” Onder said. A single mother with two children must make less than $3,700 to get Medicaid, and rural hospitals are facing either huge cutbacks or closure because the state refuses Medicaid expansion.

aca cowThe GOP-led legislature, however, has passed a bill to insure cows in the state. It would subsidize up to 70 percent of farmers’ premium payments for dairy insurance. The House passed it by 110 to 49, and the Senate did better at 31-2. Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D-MO) called it the “Affordable Cow Act” because insurance subsidies for cows are fine but “not for people.”

Maybe some day, Republicans will figure out that “Obamacare” should be called “GOP Cares.”

Republican_Obamacare

March 21, 2015

‘We Didn’t Know They Were Gay’

When two LGBT groups marched in Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, people hoped that bigotry and discrimination were dissipating. LGBT groups have been permitted in the parade, first organized in 1901, only during 1992 and 1993 because of a state court mandate. Outrage caused the parade to be cancelled in 1994 to keep LGBT groups from marching until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the LGBT groups could be excluded for a parade on Boston’s public streets.

The Allied War Veterans Council controls the St. Patrick’s Day Parade; that group is the sole authority for participants—and non-participants—in the celebration. The ruling of Hurley vs Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston (1995) upheld the right of the Allied War Veterans Council to keep selected groups from marching.

After national headlines proclaimed that “Boston Parade Welcomes Two Gay Groups,” Brian R. Mahoney, commander of the Allied War Veterans, announced that they had been deceived and not really permitted LGBT groups to march. He published an op-ed in South Boston Today, a newspaper for which he is editor-in-chief, stating that the council “innocently believed” that the group Boston Pride was “an off-shoot of Boston Strong,” a slogan used after the Boston Marathon Bombing. Mahoney wrote:

“Any report that the Council voted on or even saw the application is either a misquote or complete fabrication.”

He also wrote:

“It was shocking and unauthorized … when they appeared at G (Street) and Broadway carrying 10-12 multicolored umbrellas that I would describe as rainbow even though I have been told they ‘technically’ were not rainbows…. I spoke again with this unit on the Kelly Bridge, inspected their banner, flags and two rainbow banners with a pot of gold and leprechauns and found no violation.”

Yet he claims that he had no idea that it was an LGBT group.

Chester Darling, the Andover attorney who won the landmark 9-0 Supreme Court decision that gave the council the right to exclude marchers who display gay rights banners, said he thought it was “unfortunate that this had to come up” because “now we’ve got another controversy going for next year.”

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch called Mahoney’s opinion piece “unfortunate.” The South Bostonian said of Boston Pride and the OutVets who marched for the first time this year:

“I participated in the parade and we were happy to have them. I think they were warmly received, I think that they were gracious in their own way, and I think it was a completely positive event and I don’t want anything now to take away from that.”

After someone pointed out that other marchers not associated with the two groups also carried umbrellas, Mahoney said:

“Well, how’s this — umbrellas of any sort are not allowed.

Although the LGBT veterans’ group managed to march, the group Veterans for Peace was barred from participation in the Boston parade. About Veterans for Peace, Mahoney said, “They’re a bunch of American weasels. A bunch of American phonies.”

Although Mahoney claimed that he knew nothing about an LGBT group marching in the Boston parade, Huffington Post reported in February that a Roman Catholic grammar school pulled out of the parade in protest of the decision to allow an LGBT veterans’ group to march. The article reported that Boston parade organizers said they would admit the OutVets group because its members were veterans.

Over a month before the event, Huffington Post announced the participation of OutVets in the Boston parade:

“The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which has long resisted the inclusion of gay groups and won a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1995 upholding their right to ban them from the annual parade that draws hundreds of thousands of spectators, voted 5-4 on Monday night to allow the group OutVets to march in the parade scheduled for March 15….

“’Mayor Walsh has been advocating for an inclusive parade for quite some time,’ spokeswoman Kate Norton said in a statement Tuesday. ‘We’re thrilled to hear that the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council has decided to make the 2015 parade an inclusive event.’

“’OutVets is being allowed to participate because of their members’ military service, and sexual orientation was irrelevant in the vote,’ said Brian Mahoney, commander of the veterans council. ‘The parade is meant to honor veterans and Irish-American heritage, and OutVets met the criteria,’ he said.

“Lead organizer Philip Wuschke Jr. said the vote was illegal because there was no quorum. ‘I’m sending a letter to the commander saying he held an illegal meeting and an illegal vote,’ Wuschke said. “He did not follow the bylaws of the council.’

“Mahoney disputed that. ‘I feel safe in saying that last night’s vote was legal,’ he said.”

Mahoney has also been quoted as saying “who am I to judge?” when asked about the issue of sexual orientation.

Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, refused to attend last year because the Allied War Veterans refused to let the LGBT group MassEquality march. Other top Massachusetts politicians have for decades refused to participate in the parade because the exclusion of gay groups.

new york st patrickIn New York, Mayor Bill Blasio continued to boycott the St. Patrick’s Day parade because of its discrimination. Although one LGBT group, Out@NBCUniversal, was allowed to march, others were not. NBC is one of the biggest sponsors of the parade and “was prepared to drop its coverage unless a compromise that resulted in the inclusion of a gay group was brokered” with parade organizers, according to the Irish Voice. The LGBT group had no rainbows, just green sashes and a green banner. This year is the first time since the parade’s inception in 1762 that an LGBT group openly marched

Irish Queers, banned from the parade, protested the event at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street. Allen Roskoff, a prominent gay rights activist president of the city’s Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, criticized both parade organizers and OUT@NBCUniversal saying that members “take care of their own within the corporation” and their participation is “totally disrespectful” of other LGBT persons.

irish queers 2015: The year that two LGBT groups marched in the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade before being told it was a mistake, and one LGBT group marched in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade because their employee threatened to pull its coverage for the event. Not even a baby step—just a crawl.

March 20, 2015

Krugman Comments on GOP Budget; Cotton Supports Netanyahu

Paul Krugman’s column on the GOP perfidy:

By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.

But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.

You might be tempted to shrug this off, since these budgets will not, in fact, become law. Or you might say that this is what all politicians do. But it isn’t. The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics. And that’s telling us something important about what has happened to half of our political spectrum.

 

So, about those budgets: both claim drastic reductions in federal spending. Some of those spending reductions are specified: There would be savage cuts in food stamps, similarly savage cuts in Medicaid over and above reversing the recent expansion, and an end to Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies. Rough estimates suggest that either plan would roughly double the number of Americans without health insurance. But both also claim more than a trillion dollars in further cuts to mandatory spending, which would almost surely have to come out of Medicare or Social Security. What form would these further cuts take? We get no hint.

 

Meanwhile, both budgets call for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the taxes that pay for the insurance subsidies. That’s $1 trillion of revenue. Yet both claim to have no effect on tax receipts; somehow, the federal government is supposed to make up for the lost Obamacare revenue. How, exactly? We are, again, given no hint.

 

And there’s more: The budgets also claim large reductions in spending on other programs. How would these be achieved? You know the answer.

 

It’s very important to realize that this isn’t normal political behavior. The George W. Bush administration was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. And the Obama administration has been remarkably scrupulous in its fiscal pronouncements.

 

O.K., I can already hear the snickering, but it’s the simple truth. Remember all the ridicule heaped on the spending projections in the Affordable Care Act? Actual spending is coming in well below expectations, and the Congressional Budget Office has marked its forecast for the next decade down by 20 percent. Remember the jeering when President Obama declared that he would cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term? Well, a sluggish economy delayed things, but only by a year. The deficit in calendar 2013 was less than half its 2009 level, and it has continued to fall.

 

So, no, outrageous fiscal mendacity is neither historically normal nor bipartisan. It’s a modern Republican thing. And the question we should ask is why.

 

One answer you sometimes hear is that what Republicans really believe is that tax cuts for the rich would generate a huge boom and a surge in revenue, but they’re afraid that the public won’t find such claims credible. So magic asterisks are really stand-ins for their belief in the magic of supply-side economics, a belief that remains intact even though proponents in that doctrine have been wrong about everything for decades.

 

But I’m partial to a more cynical explanation. Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.

 

But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.

 

Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.

 

Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry.

 

[Another commentary on Tom Cotton’s perfidy: The senator responsible for leading 47 percent of the Senate to destroy President Obama’s negotiations with Iran to get keep the country from building nuclear weapons is now concerned about the U.S. State Department’s cautious approach toward Netanyahu’s opposition to a two-state solution with Palestine. After the spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that “we’re currently evaluating our approach,” Cotton came out swinging:

 

“While Prime Minister Netanyahu won a decisive victory, he still has just started assembling a governing majority coalition. These kinds of quotes from Israel’s most important ally could very well startle some of the smaller parties and their leaders with whom Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently in negotiations. This raises the question, of course, if the administration intends to undermine Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to assemble a coalition by suggesting a change to our longstanding policy of supporting Israel’s position with the United Nations.”

 

Cotton, the man who undermined his own president through his letter to Iran and his support of Netanyahu’s coming to lobby for war on Iran is worried about undermining? The senator long ago declared that his letter ‘s purpose was to target international diplomacy, undermine American foreign policy, and disrupt officials during their ongoing negotiations.

In return, Cotton worries that the term “evaluating our approach” will “startle” officials abroad who are “currently in negotiations.” On the Senate floor, Cotton added, “I fear mutual respect is of little concern to this administration. The president and all those senior officials around him should carefully consider the diplomatic and security consequences of their words.” We can only assume that Cotton is trying to match the high level of hypocrisy that Netanyahu has established this past week.]

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