Nel's New Day

May 31, 2015

The ‘Christian’ Approach to Religious Freedom

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 8:43 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Last Friday night, 250 armed people congregated outside of the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, to “protest” the existence of Muslims and hold another cartoon contest depicting the Prophet Muhammed (عليه السلام).” Jon Ritzheimer, the organizer of the event, said it was meant to be a peaceful protest, but his Facebook post asked people to come armed. These persecuted Christians, as conservatives call themselves, wore shirts that said “F**K Islam and shouted insults. Others yelled about the United States being a “Christian nation.” The Muslims refused to engage, and the event dwindled down after four hours. The question is whether the protesters would have been called “terrorists” if Muslims had behaved this way outside a Christian church. How can young people in the U.S. respect anyone if they have people like this for role models?

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Conservative Christians who want freedom from caring for the poor are reinterpreting Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Historically, the verse champions the needs of the poor, but Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze, claims that the “least of these” refers to those poor beleaguered Christians who struggle to share their faith. Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College (Louisville, KY), explanation shows how the phrase applies to Indiana’s Memories Pizza:

“This text is not about poor people generally. It’s about Christians getting the door slammed in their face while sharing the gospel with a neighbor. It’s about the baker/florist/photographer who is being mistreated for bearing faithful witness to Christ. It’s about disciples of Jesus having their heads cut off by Islamic radicals.”

Conservative “least of these” Christians pushing for extremist, discriminatory,“religious freedom” laws and—in Louisiana—an executive order will be unhappy to discover that they have energized the Wiccans, atheists, and Satanists.

Michael Newdow, who lost his 2005 battle to remove “under god” from the Pledge of Allegiance, is arguing that his religious freedom is violated by carrying money with the statement “In God We Trust.” He compares it to forcing a Christian to carry something that says, “Jesus is a lie.” People who mock Newdow should look at their ridiculous argument that baking a wedding cake for a gay couple means that the baker is participating in the wedding. Newdow wrote, “There is obviously no compelling government interest in having ‘In god we trust’ on our money.”

Currently the question of whether atheism is a “religion” is being determined case by case across the country, but two recent cases have come out on the side of yes. Warren (MI) was fined $100,000 for excluding an atheist from the city’s nativity display, and Madison (WI) voted “to add non-religion as a protected class” under its equal opportunity ordinances, the ones targeted by “religious freedom” laws. President Obama included “atheists” in his Religious Freedom Day address in 2014.

The Satanists have declared that the Supreme Court ruling in Hobby Lobby allows pregnant women to sue Missouri for its 72-hour waiting period for abortions. The case comes from a Satanist who lives hours away from the nearest clinic and works for hourly wages, making two trips over three days apart “imposes an unwanted and substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs.” The Satanic Temple has already stopped a Florida school from its Religious Freedom Day in January after its proposal to participate in the event.

Wiccans claim that the religious freedom laws would allow them to use marijuana and currently banned psychotropic drugs. Those following the Wiccan religion could also refuse blood, DNA, urine, and Breathalyzer tests. Dancing naked in the street for celebration would also have to be allowed. Religious freedom would also allow schoolchildren to wear pentangle symbols.

Kenneth Smith from Harpers Ferry (WV) has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of his daughter claiming that evolution is a religion. According to Smith, teaching about evolution violates the separation of church and state. The daughter plans to be a veterinarian, and Smith also claims that the school is jeopardizing her ability to get into a good college to get her degree because her grades are contingent on learning about evolution “that doesn’t exist and has no math to back it.” Smith has also written a book, The True Origin of Man, to represent “the truth of man’s origins confirmed by D.N.A. mathematical and scientific facts.” You can get it on amazon.com.

Blocking a legal marriage in Alabama shows how the conservatives’ desire for “religious freedom” is a sham. Last February, the Rev. Anne Susan DiPrizio, a Unitarian minister, was at the Autauga County Probate Office when a State Probate Judge Al Booth refused to marry a lesbian couple with a legal marriage license. Booth had halted compliance with the federal court’s marriage equality order the day before. DiPrizio offered to marry the women, and Booth ordered her out of the building. He called six sheriff’s deputies, who arrested her and charged her with disorderly conduct. Last week she pled guilty and received a 30-day suspended sentence, 6 months of probation, and a $250 fine.

The last week goes down in the chronicles of conservative Christianity as the defense of the Duggars. Last Sunday I wrote about how 27-year-old Josh, the oldest of 19 Kids and Counting, sexually molested five females, four of them his sisters when he was 14 years old. Many in the Christian community rose in defense of Josh:

Jessa Duggar’s father-in-law:  The Duggar parents should be “commended” for the way they handled the situation. (Josh’s father concealed the crime for over a year before going to the police and lying to them about what had happened.)

Carrie Hurd, wife of Heritage Covenant Church Pastor Patrick Hurd: Josh was just “playing doctor” and it was no big deal.

“Creationist Activist” Eric Hovind, son of creationist theme park creator Kent Hovind in prison for conspiracy and mail fraud:  “If evolution is true, then there is no absolute right and wrong. If evolution is true Josh should not have admitted his faults over a decade ago because what one evolved bag of molecules does to another bag of molecules just doesn’t really matter.”

Mike Huckabee, GOP presidential candidate: “Good people make mistakes” and “being a minor means that one’s judgment is not mature.”

Blaze Blogger Matt Walsh, Blaze blogger: “[Progressives] are moral opportunists. They are the actual hypocrites.”

A few Duggar revelations during the past week:

Fox News spent less than two minutes covering the Duggar story between May 21 and May 25, with some of that time devoted to criticizing other networks for pointing out Josh’s connections with prominent politicians. Fox network Megyn Kelly will interview Josh’s parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, on Wednesday, and air the piece on Friday, June 5.

At least 20 advertisers have pulled commercials from the program including General Mills, Payless, Crayola, Pizza Hut, Choice Hotels, ConAgra Foods, Behr Paint, ACE Hardware, H&R Block, CVS, Party City, Keurig, Walgreens, Sherwin Williams, Jimmy Dean, Pure Leaf, Allstate Insurance, Ricola, HauteLook, and King’s Hawaiian. Continuing advertisers include Minute Maid, Arm & Hammer, Listerine, Oscar Mayer, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Firehouse Subs, and Lowes.

Jim Bob and Josh Duggar told Arkansas state trooper Joseph Hutchens that the abuse happened only once, through the girl’s clothing. Hutchens used that as the reason he only gave Josh a “stern talk.”

Josh sued the Arkansas Department of Human Services in 2007, nine months after a planned Oprah appearance led to an investigation into his crimes, to appeal the DHS decision from its investigation.

One of Josh’s victims was five years old or younger at the time of the molestation.

While campaigning for U.S. Senate, Josh’s father, Jim Bob, said, “Rape and incest represent heinous crimes and as such should be treated as capital crimes.” Knowing what he did about his son, he still said that Josh should be executed.

While TLC hasn’t said that it’s dropping 19 Kids and Counting, the Duggars’ adult and married daughters, Jessa and Jill, are talking about a spinoff series with their husbands Ben Seewald and Derick Dillard.

May 29, 2015

Pataki, Santorum Widen GOP Candidate Field

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The GOP presidential candidate field increased by one-third this week with former candidate Rick Santorum and former New York governor George Pataki entering the fray. Rebranding himself without his iconic sweater vest, Santorum, a Catholic, is setting himself up as the evangelical alternative to Mike Huckabee, and the largely unknown Pataki will counter with his moderate—for Republicans—positions.

Santorum wants to move forward after unforgettable  statements on the Internet. He told an audience that President J.F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religious liberty made him want to “throw up” and accused President Obama of trying to get college education for more youth to turn them into liberals. His inarticulate ramblings against marriage equality became a Google sensation:

 “In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality—”

Associated Press reporter Lara Jakes Jordan interrupted Santorum:

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think I was going to talk about ‘man on dog’ with a United States senator, it’s sort of freaking me out.”

After that, Santorum stuck to showing the difference in marriages by waving napkins and paper towels. Columnist Dan Savage, however, ran a contest for a Santorum definition, the winner being “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex.” Santorum continued by criticizing the Supreme Court’s right that its ruling in Lawrence v. Texas would lead to bigamy and incest. In other references he accused gays of being pedophiles and engaging in bestiality. Santorum’s incest statement is unfortunate because he is a good friend of the Duggar family, and Savage is working on a definition for “duggary.”  

Contraception is “not OK,” according to Santorum. “It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” At the same time, he hates single mothers because he thinks people who “look to the government for help” give Democrats an advantage in getting votes. He believes that building two-parent families will “eliminate that desire for government.”

According to Santorum, the separation of church and state, although not in the U.S. Constitution, is “in the constitution of the former Soviet Union,” another GOP myth. Scholars have translated Article 124 of the Soviet Union’s 1947 version constitution: “In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the USSR is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.”

Santorum’s impassioned bombasts also led him to claim that blacks are those who get benefits from the country’s safety net. In Sioux City (IA) he told his audience, composed primarily of whites, that he didn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” He later denied using the term “black,” saying he meant “blah people.” Later, he began a sentence with “We know the candidate Barack Obama, what he was like – the anti-war government nig …”

Other Santorum statements:

The United States shouldn’t put women in combat because “emotions that are involved,” rendering them not fit for the battlefield. His dire predictions about letting lesbians and gays serve in the military have not come to fruition.

“The NBA” and “rock concerts” are corrupting U.S. culture, possibly because of the “blah people.”

Obamacare is like apartheid as well as a plot to kill the opposition’s voters and the “final death knell” of America. The apartheid statement was made after the death of Nelson Mandela to illustrate Santorum’s believe that people having health care in the U.S. is a “great injustice.” Santorum explained that health care is a system to “take care of the people who can vote and people who can’t vote, get rid of them as quickly as possible by not giving them care so they can’t vote against you.”

Health insurance companies should discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Santorum’s reason is the expense to the insurance company.

People who don’t have IDs are trying to rig the election. Although over ten percent of people living legally in the U.S. don’t have a government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license or a passport, Santorum said, “The only reason you don’t have a voter ID is you want to continue to perpetrate fraud.”

Consensual LGBT sex should be illegal. “We can’t have a constitutional right to consensual sexual activity, no matter what it is,” Santorum said.

The U.S. is on the path to behead religious (aka Christian) people because of their faith, because of President Obama’s “overt hostility to faith in America.” Santorum’s faith, however, supported Penn State’s former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky because the “conclusions … [regarding child molestation] aren’t matched by the evidence that they presented.”

Some may declaim that these comments are in the past. Last night, however, Santorum said on the Kelly File that President Obama wasn’t killing enough people because he was afraid of “blowback” from killing civilians. Santorum’s position is that if the U.S. isn’t killing enough civilians because “it’s a public relations campaign.” If he became president, Santorum said, he would order air strikes on Iran if the country didn’t open up all their suspected nuclear program facilities.

To Santorum, “all the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis, they’re not Palestinians. There is no ‘Palestinian.’ This is Israeli land.” In his announcement speech, Rick said he wants to “drive a stake” through Common Core, junk the IRS, and institute a flat tax so that the poor pays the same percentage as Bill Gates.

Yesterday, Santorum said he worries about “anti-government rhetoric” and argued there is a place for government. “Government’s us,” he said. It’s a radical—and probably not permanent—shift from his claims that President Obama is a tyrant who “intentionally turned his back on evil and let it prosper around the world.” He has also said that the president is faking a war with ISIS to permit Christian persecution and “has a deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions.”  According to Santorum, business owners who refuse service to gay customers have been sent to “reeducation camps” and pastors will soon be jailed or martyred.

Every candidate needs a billionaire, and Santorum’s major donor is the same as during his last presidential run: Foster Friess, who claims that he won’t be using a super PAC which reports donors. “The money I give will be hard to track,” said Friess. The donor is memorable for suggesting that women use an aspirin for birth control by putting one between their knees.

George Pataki, who announced his candidacy the day after Santorum, is about as far from the rest of the current crowd as a Republican candidate can get. In supporting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S., Pataki said that the country cannot “send 11 million people back in railroad cars and buses and trains.” When signing a law to legalize marriage equality in New York, he said that the GOP’s focus on issues such as marriage equality and abortion are a “distraction” that hurt the party’s chance of retaking the White House. After the recent disastrous Amtrak derailment, Pataki called for major investments in the rail system and pushes for high-speed trains in the Northeast Corridor. He is also in favor of environmental preservation efforts, abortion rights and gun control laws.

In its endorsement for Pataki’s third gubernatorial term in 2002, the so-called liberal New York Times praised Pataki’s “generally progressive stance on social issues.” This time, the NYT wrote that Pataki wants to deploy ground troops to take out ISIL and opposes government regulations to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and promote green energy. If elected, Pataki said he would cut the federal work force by 15 percent through repealing the Affordable Care Act, ending Common Core, and curbing the “overreach” of the Environmental Protection Agency. He also wants to start the federal tax code from scratch.

That that’s it for this week’s GOP presidential candidate announcements. Pataki most likely won’t win, but he’ll create an interesting dialog. Next week, watch for Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) and former Texas governor Rick Perry to join the eight GOP presidential candidates.

May 25, 2015

Memorial Day: Focus on Peace, Not War

Filed under: War — trp2011 @ 9:42 PM
Tags: , , ,

The Memorial Day weekend is almost over as people take down the flags and television broadcasts old war movies. War mongers are happy after Congress budgeted at least $400 billion to ensure that there will be more dead veterans to commemorate. No longer a republic or a cultural democracy, the United States is a militarized economy with 55 percent of its discretionary spending allocated to the military spending and another 6 percent for veterans benefits. That sum doesn’t include the Department of Energy money spent on its nuclear arsenal, the Department of Homeland Security budget, or the costs of recent wars, calculated at $3 trillion for Iraq and $1 trillion for Afghanistan.

Conservatives rule the United States by invoking the vision of Muslim monsters hiding in every corner, and GOP presidential candidates concentrate on re-fighting the war that accelerated the downfall of the United States during the entire 21st century. [Photo by Jennie Haskamp]

memorial day

Although most people think that the sole purpose of Memorial Day is to remember the fallen in war, the National Moment of Remembrance Act, passed in 2000, declares that people are to pray for peace at 3:00 on that day, an addition to the commemoration largely unknown in the United States. In another commemoration,  Bill Quigley has written a description of the United States’ pursuit of permanent war instead of permanent peace.

Conservatives want to think of the United States as “exceptional,” and this country is truly #1 in wars, military presence, military spending, and weapons sales throughout the world–exceptional in avoiding peace.

Permanent War: Since 1980 the U.S. has engaged in aggressive military action in 14 countries in the Islamic world alone:  Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria.  In this hemisphere, U.S. military forces invaded Grenada (1983) and Panama (1989) as well as landed 20,000 military forces in Haiti (1994).

U.S. Global War Machine: The U.S. has 1.3 million people in the military and 1 million in the military reserves. The U.S. has more than 700 military bases housing over 255,000 U.S. military personnel in 63 countries across the world. The Department of Defense officially manages over 555,000 buildings on 4,400 properties inside the U.S. The U.S. owns than 1,500 strategic nuclear warheads, over 13,000 military aircraft,  dozens of submarines–many of which carry nuclear weapons–and 88 huge destroyer warships.

Global Harm: The U.S. has waged wars killing almost 7,000 U.S. military people since 9/11. Since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, over 216,000 combatants, mostly civilians, and an untold number of civilians in Afghanistan were killed. U.S. drone attacks have murdered hundreds of children and civilian adults in Pakistan and dozens more in Yemen.

World Leader in War Spending: U.S. military spending is the equivalent of the combined spending of the next eight largest countries: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, UK, India, and Germany. The U.S. have officially paid $1.6 trillion for direct combat and reconstruction costs for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and additional trillions of dollars have gone into growing the Pentagon budget and for present and future increased health and disability benefits for veterans. Since 9/11, the U.S. has increased military spending by 50 percent while it has increased other discretionary domestic spending by only 13 percent—less than one percent a year.

Corporate War Profiteers: The top war profiteer is Lockheed Martin with annual arms sales of $36 billion. Of the $57.8 million that the military industry spent in 2013, Lockheed Martin spent $15 million to lobby people who decide how much money is spent on weapons and which weapons will be purchased. Lockheed Martin’s CEO is paid over $15 million. Part time workers are James Ellis, a former Admiral and Commander in Chief of US Strategic Air Command who gets paid over $277,000, and James Loy, former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security who gets over $260,000. Each taxpaying household in the U.S. pays Lockheed $260 for its government contracts amounting. A 2014 investigation found that Lockheed uses taxpayer funds to lobby for more taxpayer funds.

Number two war profiteer is Boeing with annual arms sales of $31 billion. Boeing spends over $16 million a year lobbying. The remainder of the top ten war profiteer corporations include BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Raytheon, EADS, Finmeccanica, L-3 Communications, and United Technologies. You can track their corporate contributions to members of Congress, especially the politicians on the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate on Open Secrets.

U.S. war profiteers are also top in the world with their $26 billion weapon sales each year to foreign nations.

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said the U.S. government was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world and called for a revolution of values in questioning past and present war policies and the disparity of wealth in the U.S. When he left office, former U.S. President and General Dwight Eisenhower warned citizens of the growing military industrial complex. He called on people to force “the huge industrial and military machinery of defense” to respond to democracy and the peoples’ desires for peace. The steps for this revolution:

  1. Know that the U.S. is the biggest war maker in the world.
  2. Organize for a true revolution of values and confront corporations and politicians who push the U.S. into war and inflate the military budget through permanent fear mongering.
  3. Admit that the U.S. is wrong and must make amends for the violence the U.S. has waged on countries all over the world.
  4. Dramatically downsize the U.S. military by withdrawing U.S. military from all other countries, disarming nuclear weapons, and focusing on defending just the U.S.
  5. Work for peaceful, just solutions for conflict here in the U.S. and around the world.
  6. Pray for peace on Memorial Day and all other times.

The people of the U.S. are engaged in a war among themselves within this nation. Ten percent of the U.S. population take antidepressants, 45 million adults are functionally illiterate, and the top one percent has 50 percent of the country’s wealth as they buy politicians. The GOP is trying to take away health care and other benefits from the poor and deny LGBT people the right to have legal marriages. Members of law enforcement kill black people, seemingly with impunity, and legislators only loosen gun laws after disasters involving firearms.

While the media tell people to focus on the departed members of the military, the NFL makes over $10 million to “honor America’s heroes” before football games and at halftime shows, $5.4 million from the Department of Defense and another $5.3 million from the National Guard. The Pentagon refuses to deal with the sexual assault epidemic in the military where one-third of women in the service are raped. Most of them cannot report the crimes because of the retaliation of and revenge from commanders and fellow service members. Combat veterans inflict 21 percent of domestic violence, and not one senator will sponsor a bill to help military spouses to escape the perpetrators.

The United States needs to decide that permanent peace both within and without the nation is more important than funding war profiteers and bankrolling legislators who use fear to wage preemptive war in the U.S. and around the world.

May 24, 2015

Worry about Josh Duggar’s Crimes, Not Sins

The conservative world is still reeling since the revelation that Josh Duggar, eldest son in his family and the face of Family Research Council (FRC) at anti-LGBT rallies, molested at least five girls when he was a teenager. As executive director of FRC Action, the organization’s political arm, he raised funds, hobnobbed with half the GOP presidential contenders, and talked about how LGBT people are a threat to children. Because the statute of limitations has run out on the 27-year-old’s crimes, he will most likely not be prosecuted, but the publicity surrounding his actions is well-deserved, because of his “holier-than-thou” demeanor toward people who don’t follow his path of hatred and bigotry. Duggar has resigned from his position, but the whirlpool of his actions and the resulting reactions spreads every day.

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The patriarch of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, Jim Bob Duggar, waited over a year—and three months after he told the elders of his church—to file a police report after learning about Josh’s crimes. Jim Bob also refused to allow police to interview Josh during a felony investigation in 2006. The police report emerged only after In Touch magazine filed a Freedom of Information Act request and has since been expunged at the request of a judge appointed by then Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Police spokesman Scott Lewis said the expunging of the record was highly unusual because similar records are usually kept indefinitely.

Huckabee explained that the file was destroyed to protect the “innocent victims.” Six years ago, Huckabee wrote about director Roman Polanski’s raping a child almost 30 years ago in a Fox op-ed: “If something is right, it’s right. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Diversity is a good thing; duplicity is not.” Huckabee has a history of releasing criminals, including two murderers who went on to kill six more people.

The police report shows that Josh was investigated for sex offenses—including felonies—against five minors, four of them his sisters. He was accused of touching the girls’ breasts and genitals, often while they slept. Instead of alerting the police, the family later claimed they sent Josh to a four-month Christian program of hard physical work and counseling in 2003 but really sent him to live with a family friend in the home remodeling business. Jim Bob finally took Josh to personal acquaintance Arkansas State Trooper, Jim Hutchens, who only gave Josh a “very stern talk.” Hutchins took no other action and is now serving a 56-year prison sentence for child pornography.

After TLC became aware of Josh’s history of molestation, the channel waited to determine the future of their cash cow program. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was immediately canceled after TLC learned that “Mama June” was dating a convicted child molester although he had not been a member of the cast, but TLC aired a Duggar marathon after Josh, a part of the program, apologized for his behavior on his Facebook page. The program began losing its advertisers such as General Mills, and the TLC indicated that it was pulling the show. The show is still listed to air on June 1, and the network hasn’t decided on its long-term decision regarding the show’s fate.

Josh’s former employer, FRC, has traditionally demonized LGBT people through false allegations. The website still posts a 2002 document, “Homosexuality and Child Abuse,” which wrongly assumes male molesters of boys are gay to purport that homosexual men molest boys at disproportionate rates to “the rates at which heterosexual men molest girls.”

Duggar mentor Bill Gothard, 79, has also resigned from Basic Life Principles, the Christian homeschooling organization he founded, after accusations that he sexually harassed over 35 women and teenage girls. Three years ago, Gothard was asked to step down because he “has exhibited a 40-year pattern of moral failure” and “publicly repent.” Basic Life Principles’ curriculum preaches that victims are at fault for being sexually assaulted and the perpetrators are the real victims who are defrauded by the sexual assault victims. Girls are also taught from an early age that they provoke the rapes and have no right to pursue justice. That is what the Duggar children may have been taught.

The billionaires who own Hobby Lobby have provided substantial financial support for Gothard’s organization for at least a decade. Gothard is also associated with Quiverfull, a movement championed by Jim and Michelle Duggar that advocates wifely submission and considers all forms of birth control as sinful. Hobby Lobby CEO David Green praised one ofGothard’s books: “Through the example and teachings of Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, we have benefited both as a family and in our business.”

In a religious homeschooling family in Wake Forest (NC) , four of the six brothers pled guilty to sexually abusing their sister for nine years. Anti-schooler parents, John and Nita Jackson, fled to Colorado with the victim to keep her from being interviewed. Eight indictments were handed down after they were returned to North Carolina. Oldest brothers Eric and Matthew received sentences of 12 to 15 years, and two other brothers, Nathaniel and Benjamin, will serve two years each for multiple counts of incest. One brother is expected to plead guilty, and another will go to trial. The girl told police that her mother had walked away after witnessing at least one of the crimes.

Like Josh, the Duggar parents are politically active. Jim Bob was a state representative from 1999 until 2003 and a U.S. Senate candidate. Michelle campaigned for overturning a measure that banned LGBT discrimination in Fayetteville (AR) on the basis that the law would endanger children. She said, “We   should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child.” She succeeded.

Fayetteville is the location of a Christian school that knowingly employed a man convicted of sexual offenses against an 8-year-old child. Paul Leroy Connor, convicted of “taking sexual liberties with” and committing a sexual offense against the child in 2001, served two years in prison and is barred under state law from being on school property. The school’s administrator, Joan Drayton not only refused to fire Connor but also told the reporting teacher to stop teaching students how to search for sex offenders. An investigation revealed grade tampering for the athletic program and wealthy families as well as “fraudulent conduct on the part of the school and its administrators.” One senior with a GPA of .97 received a diploma.

Freedom Christian Academy is one of the state’s top recipients of private school vouchers, almost $120,000 taxpayer funds in 2014. A recently passed state law diverted $10 million from the state’s public system to student vouchers at schools like Freedom Christian that operate with no accountability or oversight and are exempt from financial accountability, ethics oversight, and academic reporting standards which are required of public schools. Many of these schools have no certified teachers on staff, and at least 74 percent do not follow state curriculum mandates. They also collect taxpayer funds for schools who are taught at home rather than at school.

Mike Huckabee, the GOP presidential candidate who earlier slammed President Obama for letting their daughters listen to Beyoncé, praised Josh Duggar for his apology and said that his life as an adult “is testament to his family’s authenticity and humility.” Today, Huckabee told Chris Wallace on the Fox network that the president of the United States should not be required to follow a Supreme Court ruling that legalizes marriage equality. Wallace pointed out that the country has obeyed court rulings since the 1803 Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison (1803) which formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review under Article III of the Constitution.. Huckabee answered that the president must follow the “Supreme Being” and not the Supreme Court.

Huckabee may be surprised by the negative response he has received on his Facebook page regarding his protection of Josh Duggar. Instead of praising him, they have erupted with criticisms. Responses can be found here. These comments reflect how conservatives are disgusted by the hypocrisy of the Duggars and those who defend Josh’s criminal actions. His behavior was horrendous, but the actions of those who try to protect him are far worse. Josh Duggar committed a crime, not a sin, and adults who tried to cover up for him are also committing crimes.

May 23, 2015

U.S. Has ‘Whiteness’ Problem

Michael Brelo, Cleveland police officer, stood on his car and shot unarmed blacks 15 times after 100 officers riddled it with 137 bullets in 2012. Police chased the car because it backfired while passing the police headquarters. He said he thought he was in danger, and today a judge ruled he was not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault. Brelo’s lawyer had described the armed police officer as the underdog in a “David vs. Goliath” fight. A review panel showing the violations in the 22-mile chase and the subsequent shooting resulted in the firing of one supervisor, the demotion of two others, and suspensions of 72 officers from one to 30 days. No other police officer faced criminal charges in the deaths of the man and woman in the bullet-riddled car.

Last year, a Cleveland officer killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was holding a pellet gun. Rice was killed within two seconds of the arrival of the 26-year-old officer who had left another police force after his supervisors declared he had “a dangerous loss of composure” during firearms training and was unemotionally unprepared to cope with the job. Almost six months later, the investigation into that shooting isn’t yet finished. In another investigation, 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson, identified by her family as bipolar, lost consciousness and died in police custody after pushed face down on the pavement. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide.

Last year, a Department of Justice investigation into the Cleveland Police Department found a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force” that resulted in dangerous and reckless behavior by officers. Abuses included excessive use of force by the police involving not just firearms, but also less-than-lethal weapons like Tasers, chemical spray, and fists, sometimes used for retaliation. The police used excessive force against mentally ill people and employed tactics that escalated potentially nonviolent encounters into dangerous confrontations. In one case the police fired at a fleeing man wearing only boxer shorts, and another man suffered a broken bone in his face while restrained on the ground with spread arms and legs after officers kicked him.

Cleveland is part of a culture across the United States in which police kill blacks while grand juries fail to indict or judges and juries fail to bring in guilty verdicts. A white police officer escaped any punishment for killing black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson (MO) with another white police officer in New York escaping indictment for the choking death of another unarmed black man, 43-year-old Eric Garner.

What all these killed people had in common is that they were black. Although killings are down in the past half century, young black men are 21 times as likely to be killed by police as young white men. Conservatives claim that anyone breaking the law risks the police killing them. Recently, nine bikers died in a Texas restaurant, another 18 were wounded, and 170 arrested. Waco Police Sergeant Patrick Swanton said that it was “the most violent crime scene” that he’d been involved in during his “34 years of law enforcement.” The police had been alerted to possible violence weeks before the event, and afterwards the restaurant floor was littered with bullet casings, knives, and a club. Yet the police didn’t kill any of the participants–almost all white–of the bloodbath.

Law enforcement used no SWAT teams, armored vehicles, tanks, snipers, Tasers, pepper spray, tear gas. There weren’t hundreds of police pointing assault weapons at the suspects, and the National Guard wasn’t called out. Mug shots show no beatings or chokings in the arrests. When the white men with supremacist tattoos and patches opened fire on the police, no one gunned them down en mass or forced them down onto the ground or beat them. Mainstream media largely gave the murders and arrests a pass with no reference about it’s being called “one of the worst gunfights in Waco history.” Almost all the white men in the mayhem belonged to organized “serious and violent criminal enterprises” going back over four decades. The aftermath of the violence looked like a Sunday gathering as they sat around smoking and checking their cell phones. Nobody was hogtied or harassed.

WacoAfter the Baltimore protests, both Texas GOP senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, blamed the riots on absent fathers because of the breakdown of family structures in the black community and raising children out of wedlock. Cruz went farther to accuse President Obama for “inflaming” the riots, that the president “exacerbated racial misunderstandings, racial tensions.” Neither one said anything about the cause of the biker gang killings in their home state.

The Waco event shows that blacks face a different standard than privileged whites. That was obvious a year ago when armed white terrorists took over part of Nevada and forced law enforcement to back down. A year after the standoff at the Cliven Bundy ranch, there have been no arrests, no indictments, no prosecutions.

Nothing clarifies the difference between treatment of blacks and white more than the language. Almost all the white men in the mayhem belonged to organized “serious and violent criminal enterprises” going back over four decades, yet they are described as belonging to clubs. Black protesters are almost universally referred to as “thugs.”

Incensed by the comparison that New York Times columnist Charles Blow made between Waco and the protests in Baltimore after Freddie Gray was killed in a police van, CNN  “law enforcement analyst” and ex-NYPD detective Harry Houck blamed the black community for pundits’ description of only blacks rioters and not white criminals as rioters as thugs. Houck tried to explain why thug refers to “bad guy” because of rappers.

“They started coming out with songs and calling themselves thugs, and I think that’s how this whole thing started, with the black community and the young men calling themselves thugs. Alright? And I think that’s how that all started.”

Much to Houck’s dismay, Blow disagreed with Houck’s etymology of “thug” and said that a bigger concern is that the black community is treated as the problem in a way that the white community never is. Sally Kohn agreed with Blow about a double standard, noting that no one identifies the race of white shooters or complains about a “whiteness” problem in violence.

Ferguson protesters were also labeled as “thugs” with news footage edited to demonize peaceful protesters. Yet a riot over a football game in Morgantown (WV) labeled the white people as “rowdy” and “unruly” in their “celebration.” White people rioting at a pumpkin festival “just got too drunk.”

police smileWhat would the police in the above picture do with a white victim? The United States has a “whiteness” problem.

May 22, 2015

California’s Oil Spill, Drought–A Predictor

As California suffers from the fifth year of the worst drought in 1200 years, Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency after a faulty oil pipeline spilled a minimum of 105,000 gallons of the crude on a pristine beach north of Santa Barbara. The black sludge was pouring through the pipeline at 84,000 gallons an hour before the 24-inch pipeline diverted the oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours.

The disaster, barely a week after the Obama Administration gave conditional approval for drilling the Arctic Ocean, caused closure of local fisheries and local beaches as well as killing wildlife before moving out into the ocean. There, the oil badly damages vulnerable creatures such as mussels, barnacles and other shellfish that cannot leave the area because they are connected to the seafloor and rocks. The oil seeking into the sediment, reefs, and beaches will smother organisms in a formerly pristine eco-system and can never be cleaned out.

The owner has been issued 176 safety and maintenance infractions for the Plains All American Pipeline in the past nine years, more than three times the national average. County officials require that all pipelines have an automatic shutdown valve, but a 1988 court ruling allowed the pipeline’s former owners to not use one because it could trigger false alarms. The company’s infractions of pump failure, equipment malfunction, pipeline corrosion, and operator error has spilled more than 864,300 gallons of hazardous liquid and caused over $32 million in property damage. Corrosion was determined the cause in roughly 90 of those accidents, and failures in materials, welds and other equipment were cited more than 80 times.

Offshore oil production is prohibited in California waters since 1969, but the state waters end at three nautical miles offshore. Beyond that boundary, oil drilling is extensive as shown by the green boxes on the map.

ExxonMobileLasFlores-638x477 With almost 18,000 miles of pipe networks in several states, the Plains reported $43 billion in revenue last year and $878 million in profit last year. Of the over 1,700 pipeline operators, only four companies reported more infractions than Plains Pipeline. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued Plains in 2010 over a series of 10 oil spills in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Accused of spilling 273,420 gallons of crude oil, some of it into rivers. the company firm agreed to $3.25 million in fines and $41 million to upgrade its pipelines. Last year, a Plains pipeline sprayed about 10,000 gallons of oil over businesses in Atwater Village, an L.A. neighborhood.

Because the pipeline lacked any automatic shutdown valve, the disaster wasn’t discovered until a woman walking on the beach reported the smell of oil. No one knew how long the pipeline had been leaking, and the pipeline wasn’t shut down for another three hours. Santa Barbara is the site of the third-worst U.S. oil spills in January 1969 that led to then-President Richard Nixon signing the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969. He established the Environmental Protection Agency the next year and oversaw the passage of the Clean Water Act passed in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act in 1973. It was the 1969 oil disaster that led to Earth Day.

citizens cleaningAlthough most photos of the cleanup show workers in protective gear, people living nearby started the process because of the delay in sending anyone to clean up the beach.  Photos of the damage are available here. Warning: they will literally sicken you.

Last year, Louisiana GOP Reps. Vance McAllister and John Fleming recommended repairing oil pipelines with plastic garbage sacks and duct tape. In a House Subcommittee hearing, McAllister, who had worked in the oil industry, described the repair as “innovative.” He praised the person for using “Glad, not those crappy off-brand garbage bags.”  McAllister was not long for the House of Representatives because he was caught having an affair with a staffer, the wife of his friend. Fleming is still in the House, most recently voting to prevent abortions for fetuses who will not have a planet in adulthood.

While oil destroys life near Santa Barbara, other part of the fossil fuel industry is taking and contaminating the little water left in the drought-ridden state of California. Although the water-intensive fracking process doesn’t use as much water as agriculture, which uses 80 percent of the state’s supply, the highly-toxic wastewater from fracking may be leaching into the state’s aquifers and destroying the little drinking water remaining.

Chevron is making money off this wastewater by selling the toxic fluid back to farmers, putting industrial solvents and other chemicals into the crops. California now has a law mandating water testing for fracking chemicals, but the corporations have oversight. Independent testing of recycled irrigation water has uncovered large quantities of acetone and methylene chloride, both toxic to humans. Spilling these chemicals into the water would shut down gas stations, but corporations have no penalties. Chemicals in the water also permanently damages the soil. Rain water would filter out the salts, but the drought may get worse.

With two emergency situations—the drought and now the oil spill—California is facing a third. The increased number of fires thus far this year will only grow by June, and August will see even more severe conflagrations. Rains before April were short and limited, and the rains stop in April. Dry plants such as chaparral and eucalyptus literally explode, and the state suppression of fires has made conditions worse from the buildup of tinder. Heavy population in the state forces California to fight fires rather than let them burn their natural course.

The one GOP presidential candidate in the current race, Carly Fiorina, blames the environmentalists for the drought for “failing to create any new canals or waterways in decades.” Conservatives refuse to recognize the consequences of climate change, the loss of underground aquifers, and the destructive results of the greedy oil industry corporations.

Anyone who thinks that the problems of water and oil are only California issues are wrong. Forty million people depend on the Colorado River for drinking water. Untold millions more will see the price of food increase as water for agriculture disappears in an area that provides two-thirds of the U.S. winter vegetable production. Climate change has meant less snowmelt in the Rockies, and a 14-year drought in the Southwest cut down on the Colorado River’s flow. Reservoirs are at less than half their capacities. Lake Mead is at its lowest level since it was created in the 1930s, down from near capacity in 2000. Lake Powell is in the same condition. Between 2004 and 2013, people tapped underground water equivalent to 1.5 full Lake Meads. In just nine years, an essentially nonrenewable resource was badly depleted.

In the early 21st century, at last 14 percent of the people in the United States are food insecure. With the current conservative philosophy promoting income inequality, that percentage will only increase. And with the conservative indifference regarding water use, this century will see the same number of people being water insecure, going to bed thirsty as well as hungry. California is simply the canary in the coal mine.

May 20, 2015

Conservative Asks Newspaper About Their ‘Liberal Agenda,’ Answer Is Amazing!

Filed under: Elections — trp2011 @ 3:43 PM
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The most amazing thing that I read today. [Following is an amazing column. And who knew that April 30 is “Honesty Day”! There hasn’t been any evidence in Congress.]

Columnist head shot- Taylor BattenFrom Taylor Batten, Editorial Page Editor, in The Charlotte Observer:

I wrote a light blogpost last month about Mayor Dan Clodfelter proclaiming April 30 “Honesty Day” in Charlotte. Honesty Day, it turned out, is observed on that date nationwide.

I noted a Wikipedia explanation of what it’s all about: “On this day, anyone participating may ask any question they choose and the opposing person should give a truthful and straightforward answer.”

I invited readers to say what they would ask, and of whom.

David Fry of Charlotte was among those who responded.

“To: observer editors

“Question? Why do you support such a liberal agenda?

“Remember you’re supposed to answer honestly.”

Well, rules are rules, so I suppose you deserve an honest answer for Honesty Day. Here goes:

We believe that everyone is created equal.

We believe that children should not bear responsibility for the sins of their parents.

We believe that prevention is a heck of a lot cheaper than a cure.

We believe people should not be treated as lesser citizens, with fewer rights, because of whom they love.

We believe a thriving city, state and nation rests to a great degree in the quality of its public schools, and that every child deserves a dedicated, dynamic teacher, regardless of what ZIP code that child lives in.

We believe discrimination is wrong in every instance.

We believe in consistency, so if you are going to drug-test recipients of public assistance, drug-test them all, including the corporate chieftains who are the biggest beneficiaries.

We believe that police officers should act professionally, under incredibly difficult circumstances, regardless of a suspect’s race.

We believe taxes should be kept as low as possible while still providing a sound safety net for the neediest, a robust education for all, decent health care for the elderly and the destitute, and other basics.

We believe politicians of any party should keep their promises, avoid the appearance of personal gain from the public trust, and look out for the general welfare, not that of any one special interest.

We believe there are people of worth beyond our tight circle and there are neighborhoods beyond our own, with different histories, perspectives and needs.

We believe offenders have paid their price when their sentence is up and should be helped to assimilate back into society. And that that’s better for the community than neglecting them and watching them commit another crime.

We believe there are peace-loving Muslims.

We do not believe President Obama was born in Kenya.

We believe in the separation of church and state.

We believe Moore Place, built with public and private money, and its housing-first approach is a model for how to help the chronically homeless.

We believe Charlotte [NC] will need effective mass transit to handle its continually swelling population.

We believe if you’re a fan of a politician solely because he has a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after his name, then you’re not paying attention.

We believe we have only one planet, and we should protect it for our grandchildren.

If that earns us the label “liberal” in your eyes, Mr. Fry, so be it. We approach the issues of the day with an open mind and guided by those principles, not by blind devotion to any political party. And that’s the honest truth.

Occupy Democrats added this comment to Batten’s column:

“Being a liberal is more than just an affiliation to a political party. It is embracing a set of positive ideals that seeks to look beyond the horror and suffering of the world, beyond the limitations of humanity’s often baffling behavior, that wants to see the best that people can be, to encourage the fulfillment of true human potential and celebrates the incredible strides that human civilization has made over the past five thousand years. Recognizing that there are always new frontiers to be explored, new milestones to be achieved, unafraid to take the plunge into the unknown in the name of the greater good. A worldview focused on life in the present, not distracted by metaphysical appeals to an uncertain afterlife or an obstinate cling to archaic texts and ancient creeds….

“This coming election may be the most important in American history, and for the sake of those ideals listed above, it is critical that we make the right choices and elect the right candidate to lead us for the next four years. Crises abound, from rampant poverty and income inequality, to student debt and the fight for women’s rights, equality for gay Americans, and the literal shaking of the earth from Oklahoma fracking. We must deal with them all head on, lest they consume us and tear down everything we ever stood for.”

[Thanks, Mr. Batten. I wish all legislators would read your column–and post it above their desks.]

May 19, 2015

David v. Goliath; Or Shell No!

No U.S. laws will change because of the TPP. That’s President Obama’s claim through his push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Senate, however, has two companion trade bills. One will allow any president to negotiate trade agreements within the next six years with no amendments of filibusters in Congress. The second bill is a trade adjustment assistance (TAA) bill that provides federal funds for workers displaced by free trade agreements. This help includes from job training, placement services, relocation expenses, income support, and health insurance subsidies.

TAA gets part of its funding from $700 million in Medicare cuts. Although sequestration (except for “defense”) expires in 2024, the TAA bill expands it while the other $2.2 billion comes from customs user fees. Compared to billions, $700 million isn’t much, but it’s another chip in social services, a reduction while the pet “defense” budget increases. The bill continues Congress’s philosophy that treats Medicare as its own piggy bank. Also the $700 million shows how little help the tens of thousands of people losing jobs will receive. The falsehood that TPP changes no U.S. laws just adds to the misrepresentations of a “trade agreement.”

The U.S. fight to prevent TPP is reminiscent of the biblical story of David and Goliath. Congressional legislators and the president forge ahead in the face of telephone calls to them showing an opposition of 25 to 1. You can add your voice here.

President Obama has created another David & Goliath story in the Northwest. A week ago, the Obama administration opened the door to drilling in the Arctic when it granted approval to Shell for exploration in this area “subject to rigorous safety standards,” according to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Shell plans to drill up to six wells about 70 miles offshore of the northwest coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea this summer between July 1 and the end of September. The plan is open to comment for another week.

If Shell were to develop the area, the leases would result in eight offshore platforms, 400 to 457 production wells, 80 to 92 service wells, 380 to 420 miles of offshore pipelines, 600 to 640 miles of onshore pipelines, a shorebase, a processing facility, and a waste facility. The agency approving Shell’s plan reported that there was a “75% chance of one or more large spills” occurring in the area over the next 77 years. During development, about 800 oil spills of less than 1,000 barrels apiece are “considered likely to occur,” some even at the exploration-only stage. It can be expected that at least two large spills greater than 1,000 barrels of oil will occur. Such occurrences would devastate both ecosystems and the people who rely on these for their living. 

This remote area is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to drill for oil. Rescue and cleanup is almost nonexistent with the closest Coast Guard station for this purpose over 1,000 miles away. Three years ago, Shell left the Arctic after a number of disasters, including the Kulluk oil rig that had to be towed to safety in late 2012 and sold for junk after it ran aground because of the company’s “inadequate assessment and management of risks,” according to a report released by the U.S. Coast Guard. The catastrophe left 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid along a formerly pristine coastline. The next year, the Interior Department stated that Shell failed to meet safety mandates and ordered the corporation to stop drilling.

For years, Shell has been talking about the problems of climate change and how the increase in temperature—double former projections—will cause devastating rising of oceans. Shell remains a member of the far-right legislative-writing organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and then states that climate change regulations are the purview of policymakers. Then the company argues that the opposition of global warming cannot distract from the growing energy demand from the growing population and people living in poverty. As Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, said, “The issue is how to balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change.”

Obviously, Shell finds its moral obligation in “energy access for all.” Restricting global temperatures makes U.S. Arctic oil extraction economically unviable. The more the ice melts, the greater chance Shell has of finding oil in the area. Despite van Beurden’s call for an informed debate surrounding climate change, Shell continues to partner with ALEC. As executive chair of Google, Eric Schmidt, said last year when the company pulled out of ALEC, “They are just literally lying [about climate change.]”

Despite Shell’s claims to have a “thoroughly responsible plan,” the company refuses to test essential oil spill equipment in Arctic conditions. After the company tested the containment dome in 2012 when it “crushed like a beer can” in safety testing, it has been tested only in waters off Washington State. Shell has also retained Noble Drilling after it had to pay $12 million after pleading guilty to eight crimination offenses working for Shell in 2012. These included the falsification of records, unauthorized alterations to essential equipment, and “willfully failing to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of hazardous conditions aboard the drill ship Noble Discoverer.”

Shell has even failed to obtain necessary permits from the City of Seattle, where it leased mooring near a dense residential area at a container terminal not intended as a home port. The city has claimed that Shell violates the terminal’s use and demanded an additional use permit from Seattle. A lawsuit claims that the port failed to comply with public processes, zoning regulations, and environmental regimes and calls for a new environmental review. Mike O’Brien, a city council member, talked about concerns that the drilling fleet could “discharge oil and other toxic pollutants” in the Puget Sound and damaging a fragile ecosystem that the area has worked for decades to clean up.

An alternative to Seattle for Shell’s moorage is Dutch Harbor (AK), but comes at a higher cost with rougher weather. Shell also wants to avoid Alaska’s fossil fuel tax. The Noble was trying to escape that fuel tax when it managed to ground the drilling rig on the coastline because of bad weather. The owners of both vessels that Shell wants to leave in Seattle when they aren’t operating in the Arctic have both been cited for safety dangers and pollution discharge. The Noble Discover’s pollution-control system, which broke in 2012, also failed last month in near Hawaii. The owner of the other, Transocean, paid $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster killing 11 workers and blowing five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The first permit that Shell received is conditional, based on the requirement that the company obtain another seven state and federal permits including incidental harassment authorizations from the National Marine Fisheries Service, letters of authorization from the Fish and Wildlife Service, and wastewater discharge approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency. Growing noise levels and vessel traffic from Shell’s endeavors threaten the whales in the Arctic: gray whales are there year-round, bowhead whales migrate through the area, and Beluga whales raise their young there. Other species in the area are Pacific walruses, polar bears, seals, and various seabird populations.

Activists participate in the sHell No Flotilla part of the Paddle In Seattle protest.  Nearly a thousand people from country gathered May 16, 2015 in Seattle's Elliot Bay for a family-friendly festival and on-land rally to protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans.  Photo by Greenpeace

Activists participate in the sHell No Flotilla part of the Paddle In Seattle protest. Nearly a thousand people from country gathered May 16, 2015 in Seattle’s Elliot Bay for a family-friendly festival and on-land rally to protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling plans. Photo by Greenpeace

Seattle residents aren’t accepting the drilling rigs. Hundreds of activists are blocking road traffic—including port workers—to the port. Another 500 “kayaktivists” surrounded the Polar Pioneer drilling rig that arrived last Thursday despite the dangers. Kayakers too close to the propwash, the propeller stream, can get sucked into the frigid water, and kayakers in the way of the ship’s momentum can drown. Their plan is to make sure that the semi-submersible drilling unit with a 170-foot-tall derrick doesn’t leave to destroy the Arctic. Shell’s other drilling rig is already avoiding the inhospitality by mooring farther north at Everett (WA).

ARCTIC_DRILLING_43917475As the kayakers’ sign read, “The people vs. Shell.” I’m rooting for the people. Maybe David will win again.

May 18, 2015

TPP Closer to Passing But No Better Deal

“The president has done an excellent job on [the Trans-Pacific Partnership].” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made this statement yesterday on This Week. That alone should tell people that the TPP is very wrong for the country. Those touting the wonders of the proposed trade agreement have refused to address its flaws.

Any legislator who reads the highly secret document in the windowless basement room of the Capitol is first stripped of any electronic devices, told they couldn’t take notes, and then strictly forbidden to tell anyone what they’ve read, on threat of prosecution. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) broke these rules and told members of Congress why they should oppose the proposal.

A major complaint is that the agreement is a “living document,” meaning that the president can change at will after Congress passes the TPP. Sessions is concerned, of course, about what President Obama would do after Congress okays the agreement, but others should be highly concerned about what a GOP president would do to the country through changing the TPP. The first trade representative in the Obama administration, Ambassador Ron Kirk, has said that “if the American people knew what was in this agreement it would never become law.”

President Obama attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for her opposition, dismissing her as a “politician.” When the Democrats turned on him for his treatment of her, he softened his approach, but Warren is still speaking about the TPP’s problems.

This morning Warren issued a report of failed trade enforcements, including ones by the current president. He has consistently insisted that the TPP contains robust labor protections and called Warren’s criticisms “dishonest,” “bunk” and “misinformation.” The U.S. consistently fails to enforce any labor protections in trade agreements, according to reports from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) as well as the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of State. Since Barack Obama became president, the DOL accepted only five claims for labor violations, and the first-ever labor enforcement case too six years to restart after it was originally filed.

Of the 14 U.S. trade agreements with 20 countries, 11 countries continue to perpetrate child labor, forced labor, or other human rights abuses related to labor. The president called a deal with Colombia a “win-win for workers” in 2011, but 105 union activists have been murdered there in the past four years and 1,337 death threats have been issued since the special “Labor Action Plan” was finalized four years ago.

President Obama has said that he has a commitment to bring “the first-ever labor dispute under a free trade agreement”–in Guatemala. Although the AFL-CIO has pushed for action on violations in Guatemala for over six years, the dispute is unresolved, and the country remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for union workers. Seventeen labor activists were murdered there in 2013 and 2014, three of them during a dispute over unpaid back wages.

The Obama Administration predicted that the South Korea Free Trade Agreement would create 70,000 jobs and deliver up to $11 billion in exports. While imports have climbed to over $12 billion, the United States exported $1 billion to Korea. The growing good trade deficit with Korea eliminated over 75,000 jobs in the last three years.

The president touts the TPP as involving 40 percent of global GDP. The United States already represents 22 percent, and existing trade agreements with six TPP partners make up 80 percent of the TPP. Japan, with its 1.2 percent tariff has most of the rest.

GDPThe TPP will also not create “an additional 650,000 jobs,” according to Peter Petri of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He said, “We don’t believe that trade agreements change the labor force in the long run.” Because the agreement increases copyright and patent protections, prices for drugs, movies and music will increase here and abroad.

Most of the arguments supporting the TPP cite improved trade, but the agreement backers ignore imports, and thus the rapidly increasing trade deficit. Another favorite argument is “containing China.” Either China can join the TPP because the agreement is a “living document,” or it can import goods into TPP countries with no tariffs without following any TPP regulations.

Robert Reich wrote, “[The TPP is] being sold as a way to boost the U.S. economy, expand exports, and contain China’s widening economic influence, [but] the biggest beneficiaries would be giant American-based global corporations, along with their executives and major shareholders.” He further explains how worker protections are unenforceable, as he discovered when he was Secretary of Labor and asked to implement NAFTA. It also won’t help U.S. exports because it does nothing to prevent other nations from manipulating their currencies to boost exports. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is trying to fix that problem with amendment, but the TPP is a “living document.”

Warren also talked about the danger of trade agreements to the Dodd-Frank Act designed to protect consumers. Major financial institutions have lobbied hard for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed trade deal between the United States and the European Union, and strongly support the TPP.

The TPP may keep the Federal Reserve from imposing separate liquidity requirements on foreign banks that force banks to have a certain level of assets they can sell off in case of a crisis. Agreements could also change the Dodd-Frank compliance rules on derivatives that currently protect people from another recession. U.S. banks could reincorporate outside the country to avoid regulations. The TTIP also has a provision to evaluate bank regulations on trade impact instead of financial stability, again avoiding reforms. President Obama might not allow this, but President Jeb Bush would definitely put benefits to banks above those to individuals.

Supporters of TPP consistently declare that U.S. law can’t be changed without congressional action, but trade agreements automatically make laws for anyone dealing with corporations outside the United States. Many companies are moving to other countries to avoid U.S. law. Dodd-Frank would require 60 votes in the Senate to be repealed; the trade agreement is a much easier route for a GOP president. In addition to Dodd-Frank, environmental and labor regulations can be at risk through the same fast-track process.

Opposition to the TPP comes from legislators such as Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Warren, and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as well as most Democrats in the House. These people are not isolationists; they support workers, the environment, net neutrality, and human rights.

The Apple Corporation is a classic example of the predatory companies that have designed the TPP. Apple’s overseas untaxed cash, now about $157 billion, is expected to be $200 billion within two years. Cheap construction of their products overseas makes enormous profits for the company. A 16 GB iPhone 6 costs about $200 to manufacture, but without an expensive phone contact with a wireless carrier such as Verizon or AT&T, the product sells for at least $650.

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has praised Apple for its job creation of over one million jobs in the United States. Apple, however, has 66,000 employees in the U.S., half of them retail store workers. The company pays their full-time retail “specialists” less than $30,000 a year while earning $600,000 profit for each one: employees generate $20 in profits for each $1 they are paid.

Laborers at Chinese factories such as Foxconn suffer from low wages, forced overtime, safety hazards, abuse, and increased production quotas. They worked 15 hours a day for ten weeks without a day off before the iPhone 6 launch in late 2014. These problems and others, such as locked fire exits, are reminiscent of the U.S. a century ago.

According to leaked documents, the TPP drops the tariff, bringing far more profits to Apple, Nike, and other huge corporations while destroying the middle class in the U.S. That’s why McConnell approves of the president’s “excellent job” and pushes for the TPP to pass the Senate this week. TPP will destroy the U.S. ability to set regulations, allow corporations to control U.S. law through international tribunals, further eradicate the middle class, outsource more jobs, and block manufacturing in the United States. And McConnell says that no one in Congress is going home until it passes.

May 17, 2015

Religious Persecution from the Christian Side

Christian leaders in the United States are still reeling from the latest survey from Pew Research Center regarding religious affiliation in the United States. Completed every seven years, the poll discovered that the number of people not affiliated with any religion is up over 40 percent during the last seven years from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent. At the same time, evangelical Protestants have shrunk about one percent, and Catholics have gone down about three percent. Mainline Protestants have decreased over three percent. Almost six percent of people in the United States identify with a non-Christian faith, an increase of 1.2 percent.

religious landscapeThe greatest increases of nonaffiliated people were those born in the 1980s—about one-third of the population—and those born in the 1990s—rising to 36 percent. A surprising change was also found by the Christian polling company Barna Group. In the last 22 years, the percentage of women atheists and agnostics rose from 16 percent to 43 percent. One assumption for this change is that these skeptics regard Christian churches as “places that have ugly views, such as wars, preventing gay marriage and a woman’s freedom to control her body, sexual and physical violence perpetrated on people by religious authority figures, mixing religious beliefs with political policy and action.” Good guess!

When two gay men recently met with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), they may have honestly thought that they could have a reasonable dialog with the presidential candidate. Cruz said about his visit, “I know it’s been a long time since we’ve seen it, but this is what it means to truly be a ‘big tent Republican’ instead of a panderer.” The “tent” was short-lived. Last week Cruz said that the Democratic Party has “gotten so extreme and so radical in its devotion to mandatory gay marriage that they’ve decided there’s no room for the religious liberty protected under the First Amendment.” Time for LGBT people to leave the GOP tent.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (T-TN) complained about this non-existent victimization at the recent “Freedom Summit” in South Carolina. When asked about Christian persecution, she said, “You know, there have been several lately. There’ve. Um. I can’t give you a specific [pause] right off the cuff.” She shrugged, said “I’m sorry,” smiled, turned away, and then looked back at the camera to finish, “Yeah. Thanks.” Tennessee, Blackburn’s home state, has a law prohibiting atheists from holding any public office.

After his disastrous performance in trying to answer questions about the Iraq War last week, Jeb Bush came up with the example of a florist discriminating against a gay couple as “the best example” of Christians facing persecution in the United States. He said that the country needs to be more “tolerant” of her viewpoint that the LGBT community doesn’t deserve equal access to business services. This statement follows an earlier expression of his support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker delivered a typical misinformed perspective on Christian persecution this past week. Her reference to how Roger Ailes’ Fox network protects Christians shows the source. She wrote:

“Why can’t the Little Sisters of the Poor suck it up and sign off on the Affordable Care Act’s demand that their insurance policy include contraception funding? Ditto Hobby Lobby, the family-owned craft business that prevailed in its Supreme Court fight to not fund insurance covering contraception that destroys embryos.”

No one ever demanded that the Little Sisters include contraception in its insurance, just that the group sign an application for a waiver. It refused. The for-profit Hobby Lobby was comfortable with birth control as long as Hobby Lobby made enough money from their stock in drug companies that sold these to women. The Satanist religion is now trying to protect women from the government’s interference in their health care. If Parker believes in lack of persecution for religion, she will also be supporting that, especially because she wrote that “the state should always go to extra lengths to protect religious liberty whenever possible.”

Parker claims that Hillary Clinton would “crush the individual’s [interests] in necessary to advance women’s rights” because she advocates women’s unfettered access to “reproductive health care and safe childbirth.” Parker added, “By contrast, Jeb Bush, who will become the GOP nominee if Republicans are smart, [said] it’s a depressing fact that when some people think of Christianity and of Judeo-Christian values, they think of something static, narrow and outdated….” (Depressing yes. Also true.)

The 40,000 students in the Clovis (CA) United School District will not be oppressed by religion after Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald Black ruled that the religion-based abstinence-only sex education isn’t really sex-ed. Because of this religiously mandated curriculum, the United States faces high rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.

Black concluded that programs dedicated to pushing abstinence rather than “medically and socially appropriate sexual education” are depriving students of “an important public right. The ruling is long overdue. California law prohibited schools  from medically inaccurate or biased information in sex-ed courses since 2003. An example of teaching in the Clovis district is that a non-virgin woman is like a dirty shoe. While failing to provide information about birth control and condoms, abstinence-only programs also compare people who have had sex to chewed up gum, used tape, dirty chocolate, and glasses of spit. “This is the first time that abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula have been found to be medically inaccurate,” Phyllida Burlingame, director of Reproductive Justice Policy for the American Civil Liberties Union, said of the decision.

The ruling against using abstinence-only curriculum as sex ed may be heading for the Supreme Court along with Wal-Mart’s argument that the religious beliefs of their shareholders cannot guide the products that it sells. The Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby decided that corporations can avoid following laws because of its “religious beliefs,” overriding an argument from 44 lawyers that “allowing a corporation … to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation.”

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month against the Trinity Church, concluding that shareholders can’t impart their religious beliefs onto a corporation. Wal-Mart, one of 2012 CNN’s top nine “religious companies” in the U.S., refused to let its shareholders vote on whether the company should sell products that “might endanger public safety, hurt Wal-Mart’s reputation, or offend ‘family and community values’ which they believe are ‘integral to Wal-Mart’s brand.’” Wal-Mart and the federal court decided that the shareholders have no religious rights like Hobby Lobby does. The church had sued Wal-Mart because it sells products such as weapons used in mass shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Maybe SCOTUS, Jeb Bush, and Kathleen Parker would agree with the shareholders because of their religious beliefs. Or maybe not.

Fundamentalist Christians may be shifting their belief that religion should control the U.S. government. Just five months ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) wanted leaders from the faith community to “rise up and engage America in the public square with Biblical values.” He calls for “pastors to lead the way and reset the course of American governance.” The GOP wants religious leaders to guide public debate.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini - RTR4URKU

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini – RTR4URKU

That was before Pope Francis decided to sign a treaty recognizing a Palestinian country. At that point, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) said, “It’s interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation, and that’s what the Church is supposed to do.” The conservatives have been upset about the pope’s progressive positions on climate change, Iran nuclear talks, Cuban diplomacy, economic inequality, and pay equity for women, but advocating a Palestinian state drove them over the edge.

Conservatives support religion in government as long as it’s their own religion. Any other time, religious leaders should stay quiet.

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