Nel's New Day

June 30, 2015

Last Week at SCOTUS: More Forward Than Backward

Two landmark cases came down from the Supreme Court last week—keeping health care for low-income people and granting marriage equality. Other lesser noticed cases, however, have influences on people across the United States. In seven other decisions last week, SCOTUS took at least five steps forward with two steps back, a better result than most progressive people expect from the current court.

The two steps backward were pollution and the death penalty:

pollution from power plantsPower plants can continue releasing unlimited mercury, arsenic, and other pollutants, in a step toward invalidating the first U.S. regulations to limit toxic heavy metal pollution from coal and oil-fired plants. The 5-4 conservative ruling, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, accused the EPA of not  considering costs to the power industry before creating its regulation. The EPA actually estimated costs, but Scalia didn’t believe the agency’s calculations. Fortunately, the case was remanded to the D.C. Circuit for further consideration. If the lower court eliminates the regulations, pro-coal states have no arguments against EPA’s proposed regulations on carbon emissions, perhaps leaving the EPA free to regulate carbon dioxide. The EPA estimated that the new regulations would prevent 11,000 premature deaths each year as well as increasing the IQ for children who survived.

Executions are still permitted to use cruel and unusual punishment because the conservative court didn’t stop the use of a drug that fails to sufficiently sedate the subject. Glossip v. Gross goes farther, however, because it makes the death penalty impervious to many constitutional challenges. In oral arguments for the court, the opinion’s author, Justice Samuel Alito, sneered at death penalty opponents and accused the drug companies refusal to sell products to kill people, a “guerrilla war against the death penalty.”

A key declaration in the opinion is that the United States is required to have methods to execute inmates despite the fact that there is “some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution.” Another part of the opinion is that lawyers must help decide the method of execution for their clients: a lawyer challenging one method of execution must name another, alternative method to be used instead.

Alito’s opinion brought fiery dissents, two of them read from the bench. Supported by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer protested the argument that the death penalty is constitution, writing, “I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.” Scalia went back to the bench to call Breyer’s opinion “gobbledygook.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was far more scorching when she wrote:

“Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment—the chemical equivalent of being burned alive. But under the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove the availability of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, the State could execute them using whatever means it designated.”

By refusing to hear a case preventing mandatory documentation for citizenship in federal elections, the Supreme Court blocked this requirement. Kansas and Arizona wanted a change in registration requirements to include proof of citizenship for these elections, but the 10th Circuit Court ruled that states cannot require this documentation.

 

Another step forward came from the Supreme Court decision to leave women’s clinics in Texas open until the court has heard the appeal about the state law to prevent abortions outside hospitals and “mini-hospitals,” ambulatory surgical centers. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the progressive justices in the 5-4 vote. Texas restrictions had already closed about half the state’s 41 clinics within the past four years, and the newest law shut down all but nine, concentrated in four urban, higher-income areas of the state.

Progressive voters in Arizona may also be rejoicing after a 5-4 Supreme Court vote ruled that a voter-approved independent redistricting commission in Arizona is constitutional. Complaints of legislative partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts led to the law that a legislative-chosen independent commission of two Republicans and two Democrats with a chair who is not a member of either party make this decision. Although the ballot measure for a constitutional amendment to approve the commission went into effect 15 years ago, Arizona Republicans had no problem with the redistricting process until Democrats started winning more seats in 2012.

The U.S. Constitution states that the “times, places, and manner” of federal elections “shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” The minority argued that a ballot measure is not part of “the legislature” because it is determined by the people of the state although the court had earlier decided that “legislature” can refer to the process exercised by people through direct democracy. The losing lawyer, Paul Clement, failed to persuade the majority with his argument that those election laws didn’t take power away from the legislature but the creation of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission did.

In arguing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan asked if all the voter ID laws created by ballot measures would then also be unconstitutional. Kennedy argued that a constitutional amendment had given power to the people by allowing them to select U.S. senators.

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “What chumps!” in reference to the Congressional members who passed the 17th Amendment in 2012 that was then ratified by 41 states. The ruling was only for Arizona, but it may have far-reaching effects outside that state. Twelve other states also have commissions to assist in the redistrict process. The ruling also empowers voters in other states to reduce partisan control of the U.S. House. Studies show nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions leads to “districts both more competitive and more likely to survive legal challenge.” According to Ginsburg, 21 states have created initiative or direct lawmaking power, and 18 states can adopt amendments to the state constitution.

Arizona redistricting will return to the Supreme Court in the coming year when justices will hear another case accusing the independent commission of using race and partisanship for the congressional boundaries.

The Supreme Court struck a blow against the prison industrial complex in Johnson v. United States with the ruling that part of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) is unconstitutionally vague. Passed in 1984, the law requires judges to sentence people to 15 years life if they have three prior convictions for “serious drug offense” or “violent felonies.” The law, however, had no concrete definition for a “violent felony.” A clause in the ACCA sends felons to prison for any crime that “presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” It could be drunk driving, fleeing police, failing to report to a parole officer, or even attempted burglary. Johnson’s prison sentence was extended because of a prior conviction of possession of a sawed off shotgun. Writing the opinion for the 8-1 decision, Scalia wrote that the clause in the law lacking a definition violates due process. Alito likes the law, and the ACCA was very popular with lawmakers because many states are required to fill up beds in private prisons.

prisoners

This room in the California Institution for Men four years shows how overcrowded that prisons have become. Photo by Ann Johansson for The New York Times.

A huge victory for civil rights came from the 5-4 decision in Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities. Kennedy again joined the four progressive judges to rule that a lawsuit under fair housing law doesn’t need to prove that a developer or the government knowingly discriminated—only that the policy had a disparate impact which can frequently be shown with statistics.

The case came from Texas’ distribution of tax credits for low-income housing almost exclusively in racially segregated low-income areas, denying minorities few opportunities to move to integrated or wealthier areas. The opinion in this case also requires that decision-makers consider race to comply with the Fair Housing Act and design remedial orders to eliminate racial disparities through race-neutral means.

The typical 5-4 vote had one almost-silent justice writing the dissent. Clarence Thomas used an unfortunate example for his belief that “disparate-impact doctrine defies not only the statutory text, but reality itself.”

“Racial imbalances do not always disfavor minorities.… And in our own country, for roughly a quarter-century now, over 70 percent of National Basketball Association players have been black.”

Taxpayer funds for religious schools may be on the docket next year after Colorado’s supreme court ruled that conservative families in affluent neighborhoods can not use public funds to send their children to religious charter schools.  A big player in this area is the Koch Brothers, whose Americans for Prosperity PAC works to expand voucher programs and buy school board elections throughout the country. In just one Colorado county, AFP spent $350,000 to dismantle teachers’ unions and public schools. GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush is also a big player in the school privatization program. Conservatives desperately need students in private religious schools to indoctrinate them.

June 28, 2015

‘Christian’ Opposition to LGBT Rights, Healthcare with Love for Confederate Flag

The white, entitled male, Christian fundamentalists were traumatized last week with important events negating their view of how the United States should benefit only them and their beliefs. Their reactions show that they are close to insanity.

On legalized marriage equality:

American Family Radio’s Bryan Fischer covered the complaint waterfront by comparing the ruling to the attacks on the U.S. on 9/11 and Pearl Harbor with a nod to Sodom and Gomorrah, “From a moral standpoint, 6/26 is the new 9/11 because it was on this day that five justices of the United States Supreme Court became moral jihadists.” He continued by saying that June 26, 2015 is “a date which will live in infamy. On this day, the United States became Sodom and Gomorrah.”

GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee predicts that Christians will fight same-sex marriage just as Dr. Martin Luther King fought racial discrimination. He called on conservative Christians to participate in his “Biblical disobedience” campaign against the “false god of judicial supremacy” before he compared the ruling to the Dred Scott case upholding the Fugitive Slave Act returning slaves to their “owners.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) believes that God won’t protect the United States any more because the court “violates the law in order to destroy the foundational building block for society provided by Nature and Nature’s God—that was stated as divine law by Moses and Jesus.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who signed an executive order to discriminate against LGBT people in the name of “religious freedom,” said, “If we want to save some money, let’s just get rid of the court.” Jindal declared himself a GOP presidential candidate last week.

On Breitbart, John Nolte wrote about the need to take down the “fascist, anti-Christian gay-pride flag” because it fosters hate and intolerance against Christians.

A growing movement in conservative states to eliminate same-sex marriage is to eliminate all marriages.

  • Utah Republicans are drafting a bill to “end government agencies’ involvement in issuing marriage licenses.” (Rep. Jake Anderegg, a supporter of the bill, admitted that it had problems because of the laws including probate, inheritance and other benefits tied to marriage. Mr. Anderegg, that was the reason that LGBT people went to court for marriage rights!)
  • Michigan is working on legislation requiring all marriages be “ordained” by clergy, who are not required to perform ceremonies against their “firmly held religious beliefs.”
  • Alabama probate judge Wes Allen of Pike County has declared that he will protest the marriage equality ruling by no longer issuing any marriage licenses, and Geneva County Probate Judge Fred Hamic said he plans to permanently close his office’s marriage license bureau. Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore also says he will resist the ruling.
  • Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said the decision is not effective in the state until the 5th Circuit Court lifts its stay, and State House Judiciary Chairman Andy Gipson suggested that Mississippi follow other states in no longer issuing marriage licenses.
  • Louisiana Attorney Gen. Buddy Caldwell said his office is not immediately enforcing the ruling because there wasn’t a specific mandate in the decision for Louisiana to issue marriage licenses.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated that the SCOTUS marriage equality ruling will “embolden” people to abuse Christians because “an increasingly-activist [sic] judiciary” takes away First Amendment rights, which Paxton thinks are there to abuse anyone who doesn’t follow Paxton’s religion.

Pastor Rick Scarborough has decided not to set himself on fire, despite his promise that he would do this if the U.S. enshrined marriage equality. He said that “we will burn” really means that “we will accept any sanction from the government for resisting today’s Supreme Court decision. We do not support any violence or physical harm.” In the same discussion about burning, Scarborough encouraged pastors to say “shoot me first” if bakeries, and florists are “persecuted” for refusing service to LGBT individuals. No follow-up for that statement, but he didn’t ask anyone to shoot him—just recommended that they shoot other pastors.

On keeping healthcare subsidies for low-income people:

Huckabee complained about the Supreme Court rulings being made by “five unelected lawyers … who decided they knew better than the legislators who actually get to make law.” (I don’t remember his complaining about the five unelected lawyers who took contraception for millions of women in the United States.) He also used the usual term “judicial tyranny” to describe court decisions that he hates.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told Elizabeth Prann on Fox network yesterday that Obamacare is “a malignant tumor that is metastasizing, and feeding on God-given American liberty.” He concluded by saying that people “were fine before they met Obamacare, and will get along fine without Obamacare.”

On the killings in the Charleston (SC) church and the pleas to remove the Confederate flag from government property:

South Carolina State Rep. William Chumley blamed his colleague, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, and eight other people in the church for being killed. Echoing the NRA claimed, Chumley said that there would be “less funerals” if the people hadn’t “sat in there [and] waited their turn to be shot.”

Pat Boone knows that Satan caused the Charleston murders and criticizes President Obama for connecting the killings with racism. According to Boone, the killer “was carefully prepared and led by the Devil himself to kill as many Christians as he could. The fact that they were black was an excuse more than a reason.”

Tennessee State Sen. John Stevens compared the suggestion of renaming the Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park to the actions of ISIS. Forrest was a terrorist member of the KKK.

Pundit Ann Coulter accused Nikki Haley of not understanding “America’s history” because she is “an immigrant” because the governor of South Carolina suggested that the Confederate flag be removed from state grounds. As a self-identified “student of American history,” Coulter should remember that the Confederacy attacked the United States of America and caused 620,000 deaths. She did remember that it was a “battle flag” but said that “anyone who knows the first thing about military history, knows that there is no greater army that ever took the field than the Confederate Army.”

Bill O’Reilly told Juan Willians on the Fox network that the Confederate Flag “represents bravery.”

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said he totally “disregarded” a report that white supremacists, anti-government extremists, and others have killed nearly twice as many people as radical Muslims since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Instead, he talked about organized attacks by Muslim extremists, including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Huckabee, who has something to say about everything, says that the cure for racism is Christianity—the same religion that still has members who want “separate but equal” for blacks and whites.

Usually, disasters bring out the prejudice against the LGBT community. That position is transitioning to hatred primarily for transgender people. On Red State, Erick Erickson blamed Caitlyn Jenner for the killings as did Erich Pratt of Gun Owners of America.

Alabama GOP Gov. Robert Bentley ordered the Confederate flag be removed from the state Capitol grounds so that it won’t be a “major distraction” for the budget talks. At the same time, South Carolina refused to remove the flag or even lower it when one of the slain people at the Charleston church, state senator and Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was taken to the capitol for public viewing by hundreds of people. Rep. James Clyburn, the elder statesman of South Carolina politics, requested that they take it down just for the viewing, but the legislators refused. State Sen. J. Thomas McElveen III spoke for millions of people in the United States when he said, “I am troubled that the flag a murderer waved as a banner of hatred flies as his body lies in repose.

bree newsomeEarly yesterday morning, Bree Newsome climbed the 30-foot flag pole on the South Carolina capitol grounds to tear down the Confederate flag. The protest was shortlived; a black state employee was ordered to return the flag. The action needed to be fast because of the “Confederate flag pride” rally scheduled that morning where white people waved dozens of Confederate flags. The black man who told them that the flag represents a time of black slavery and the war fought to keep them in bondage was told to “go back to where you came from.” He responded, “I am where I came from.”

Since the killings, nighttime fires have damaged or destroyed at least six predominantly black churches in four southern states in the past week. At least three of them were from arson. The first one was at a Tennessee Seventh Day Adventist Church last Monday, followed by a fire at God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon (GA) and another in North Carolina.

Last week saw remarkable advances for people in this country, but we have a long way to go to overcome the strong sense of entitlement by people like the shooter and the white fundamentalist Christians who think that they own the United States.

June 27, 2015

Subsidies for Healthcare–For Now

The day before the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, it kept the healthcare subsidies for low-income people in King v. Burwell. Thanks to a 6-3 decision, over 6 million people are able to keep their health insurance because the Supremes didn’t allow four words to restrict subsidies to only the states with their own healthcare exchanges. For the second time in three years, conservatives hate Chief Justice John Roberts for retaining the law that expanded health care to an additional 16.4 million people although Justice Anthony Kennedy also voted with the more progressive block of four justices. Roberts wrote, “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

Hospital operators and insurers largely supported the court’s decision to keep the subsidies that remain in the 34 states using the federal exchange as well as the other states that have either their own exchanges or a combination. The lawsuit was financed by a conservative group, Competitive Enterprise Institute, that found four unlikely plaintiffs who are eligible for subsidies but just don’t like the law. GOP members of the House have voted over 50 times to repeal the law and plan to continue the repeals in lieu of passing laws that would help people.

The court’s decision made the law more secure than if the conservatives had not brought the lawsuit because it holds that the subsidies are a permanent part of the ACA that can be changed only by Congress. Before the ruling, a president might have blocked the ACA by executive action; now changes must be made by a majority vote in the House and a 60-vote margin in the Senate.

Two years ago, Scalia used the term “legalistic argle-bargle” for the court’s rationale in keeping the ACA. In this dissent, he maintained that Roberts’ reasoning was an act of “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” A great irony is that dissenters Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito declared that the ACA intended subsidies for all eligible consumers regardless of state or federal exchanges three years ago in NIFB v. Sebelius. This year the three of them moved 180 degrees away from their earlier position in opposing the ACA.

The conservative viciousness toward the ruling, although not surprising, was still disgusting. Fox host Andrea Tantaros called the “judiciary, John Roberts included, is now just the water boy for the welfare state.” Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro drew his comparison from the erotic novel/movie Fifty Shades of Grey when he tweeted, “The Roberts Court took the ACA to its Red Room of Pain and then alternatively tortured it and made love to it until it complied.” On Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, Wayne Allyn Root wrote that Roberts’ decision shows that he is being blackmailed by the Obama administration.

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the Supreme Court decisions to give health care to low-income people and legalize marriage equality as “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.” To him, it’s much worse than the Civil War, two world wars, the attacks on the World Trade Center—I could go on and on.

Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) believes he has found a way to punish the Supreme Court justices for its decision: he has introduced the “SCOTUScare Act,” requiring “the Supreme Court and all of its employees to sign up for Obamacare.” As many other people—including conservative members of Congress—fail to understand, no one “signs up” for the ACA. The law simply protects people from some unreasonable provisions of insurance companies—lifetime caps, denial because of pre-existing conditions, and skyrocketing premiums not used for medical needs.

Former Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry is a classic example of the GOP approach toward health care for low-income people. Called out for having the largest number of uninsured people in his state—one out of five Texans without health insurance—he said, “We make access the real issue.” Texan uninsured are four times less likely to have regular health care and more likely to die of health-related problems. Insurance would improve their overall health by 7 to 8 percent.

“Texas has been criticized for having a large number of uninsured,” Perry said. “But that’s what Texans wanted.” By not expanding Medicaid, 1.5 million Texans, with a median income of $833, are denied health care. In that state, non-disabled parents must earn less than $,500 for a family of four to gain the existing Medicaid. Texas has lost about $10 billion a year for the expanded program with Texas paying only seven percent of the cost, but Perry said that even $1 in the name of “Obamacare” was a dollar too much.

Many GOP members in Congress know that the King ruling saved them from disaster because they had no plans if they had won. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) smiled at the ruling, and a GOP congressional member said “that fight could have killed us.” The candidates now  focus on electing a GOP president to get Congress closer to repealing Obamacare. They talk about putting the patient back in charge of their health care—all patients, that is, except women.

Candidates may wish to use caution, however, in using anti-healthcare for their platforms. In April, an Associated Press-GfK poll showed that 56 percent of the people wanted a ruling in favor of subsidies in contrast to the 39 percent opposition. Another 51 percent wanted Congress to subsidize premiums in all states. In CBS News/New York Times polling, 47 percent of people approve of ACA, the highest percentage thus far and more than the 44 percent who oppose the ACA.

A question is why so many people are opposed to the ACA when so few people are actually affected by it. The relentless pounding from conservatives against the law is a big reason, but even more, people blame the ACA for any problem in the health care system. Too few doctors? Rising costs of premiums and health care? Deductibles too high? It must be Obamacare. Premiums go up every year, but the cost has increased less since the law went into effect. Out-of-pocket costs are going up faster than wages, but that didn’t start with the law. Higher deductibles began before the law. Most people don’t remember the problems before the ACA’s protections went into effect, and the conservatives work every day to erase their memories.

uninsured

The SCOTUS ruling helped over 6 million people, but it didn’t do anything for the 4.3 million people prohibited from getting coverage in the 22 states that refuse to expand Medicaid. Ten of these states are former Confederate states, and most are former slaveholding states. About 61 percent of the people in the Medicaid gap live in Florida, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina. In the states with expanded Medicaid, early detection and treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes saves money from more advanced costs. Hospitals in states with expanded Medicaid save money by reduced uncompensated costs of treating the uninsured. Baton Rouge General Medical Center Mid Center (Louisiana) recently had to close its emergency room. It’s also notable that many GOP presidential candidates come from states that reject healthcare for low-income people.

Another 36 million people earn too much for Medicaid eligibility and can’t afford health insurance. The solution for this would have been the single-payer system that the Republicans proposed over two decades ago but refused under President Obama because they didn’t want to make him look successful.

Satirist Andy Borowitz wrote a column four years ago, entitled, “Republicans: Trillions Could Be Cut from Budget if We Eliminate Empathy – Humanity Also on Chopping Block.” The problem with satire is that it is sometimes true. Borowitz has brilliantly described the GOP position of 2015. He attributed this statement to then Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who lost his position to another legislator with even less humanity, but the problem remains:

“Once congressional Republicans eliminate such empathy-laden budget items as lunches for poor children, medicine for the indigent and oxygen for seniors, … we can move from cutting empathy to cutting humanity.”

“With humanity removed from the budget, he said, ‘That’s where the real savings come in.’

“By eliminating the food, medicine and oxygen necessary to sustain human life, ‘We will reduce the single biggest drain on the U.S. economy: people.’”

In a supreme touch of irony, Chief Justice John Roberts held up the marriage laws of Kalahari Bushmen, the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians, and the Aztecs as examples of “a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia.” The Bushmen are Botswana’s poorest citizens, the Chinese are hated by most conservatives, the Aztecs believed in human sacrifice, and the Carthaginians followed a polytheistic religion—possibly with infant sacrifices.

With these societies used as models for the conservatives, the GOP has truly lost its humanity.

June 26, 2015

I’m Really Married!

A couple of days ago, I ran into a friend while shopping for groceries—one of the perks of living in a small town—and the conversation moved to an imminent Supreme Court ruling about marriage equality. I commented that it feels odd to have to wait for a court ruling to find out if I’m legally married, something that heterosexual couples don’t have to consider. She replied that she thought the ruling was only for the four states in the current SCOTUS lawsuit. Remembering how Citizens United dealt only with one film and was expanded by a highly conservative court to allow hidden donations of unlimited amounts for elections, I pointed out that the Supreme Court can do anything it wants—and frequently does.

Luckily my doubts about a Supreme Court decision rescinding marriage rights in some of the 36 states because of “states rights” or “popular vote” or some other beliefs that create uneven rights across the nation did not come to fruition. In 11 years, the number of states where same-sex couples can legally marry has gone from one to 50. I encourage you to click on this link to revel in the changes within just a little over a decade.

As most of you have heard, today, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. This ruling is exactly two years after the Supreme Court struck down the badly named Defense of Marriage Act and twelve years after the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws. On the right side of history, sometimes conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote of the majority and author in all three of these cases. In today’s 34-page opinion, Kennedy wrote that “no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

Jose Diaz-Balart wrote:

“The Supreme Court ruled Friday that the U.S. Constitution requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages, making marriage equality officially the law of the land.

“Two questions stood before the high court: Does the 14th Amendment require states to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, and does that same amendment require a state to recognize legally valid same-sex marriages performed elsewhere?

“The court ruled that the answer to both questions is ‘yes,’ clearing the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry in all 50 states.”

This Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, was named after Jim Obergefell, who sued to have his name placed on the death certificate of his late spouse, John Arthur. Marriage equality in his state of Ohio and the other three states of the 6th Circuit Court—Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee—had been blocked by that court’s ruling against same-sex marriage. It was the only appellate court to rule against marriage equality in the past nine years.

Thanks to today’s ruling, LGBT military families have access to full federal veterans benefits denied to them because of the patchwork laws granting legalized marriage equality across the nation. Even after the partial demise of DOMA, the VA determined the validity of marriages for benefits  by the state of residence, not the state of celebration. Veterans could even be denied full rights to VA home loans. Off the bases where military members were stationed, many married same-sex couples lost their marital rights, and the military could re-locate them to non-equality states where a lesbian or gay could lose the ability to make healthcare decisions for a spouse or enroll a child in school.

Justice Antonin Scalia, roundly ridiculed for his ridiculous and pretentious language in this and other dissents, aptly described the problem of the current court when he wrote that the court is “strikingly unrepresentative” of the country as a whole.

“To allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.”

The “unrepresentative panel” didn’t bother Scalia when the court turned elections over to the wealthy in the cases of Citizens United and American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock. Nor was it a concern of Scalia when the court disenfranchised millions of voters two years ago in Shelby County v. Holder. Scalia had no problem with District of Columbia v. Heller that took states’ rights away from sensible gun laws. Of course, Scalia never criticized the court ruling in Bush v. Gore that put Bush in the presidency although both the popular vote and the electoral vote (proved when the Florida count was completed) were in favor of Al Gore.

The dissenters—Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts—each wrote his own dissenting opinion. For the first time since he joined the court over ten years ago, Roberts read his dissent from the bench. Thomas’ dissent may have been the most bizarre: he claimed that same-sex couples don’t lose their dignity without marriage just as slaves didn’t lose their dignity in slavery. Roberts said the majority decision was “an act of will, not legal judgment.” He also expressed concern about transforming a social institution forming “the basis of human society for … the Carthaginians and the Aztecs.” I’m still scratching my head about that logic. You can find more mind-boggling dissents here.

The ruling gives the losing side about three weeks to ask for reconsideration. What the 14 states fighting marriage equality at this time will probably compare to the fight against school integration in the 1960s. Rick Scarborough, a former Texas Baptist pastor, told right-wing Virginian E.W. Jackson that he will set himself on fire if the Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage. There’s been no record thus far that he has carried out his threat.

GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is on the front line of the fight with his statement that “the Supreme Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature’s God on marriage than it can the law of gravity.” In addition to imposing his personal beliefs on everyone in the United States, he describes himself as being persecuted and advocates for overturning the constitution. Huckabee wants free speech for the Confederate flag but not for accepting same-sex marriage. Other candidates indicated different levels of distress about the ruling.

Scalia is enraged at Kennedy because Scalia claims to know exactly what the authors of the constitution intended and fits his interpretation to his rulings. Kennedy wrote:

“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times,” he wrote on Friday. “The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”

Future LGBT rights may come from Kennedy’s use of the word “immutable”—twice—in his opinion. The Supreme Court has now declared that sexual orientation is not a choice because it is of an “immutable nature.”

Kennedy also wrote:

“The challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and they abridge central precepts of equality. The marriage laws at issue are in essence unequal: Same-sex couples are denied benefits afforded opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right. Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial works a grave and continuing harm, serving to disrespect and subordinate gays and lesbians.”

 

i dough i doughThe “sweetest” thing I read about the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality is Ben and Jerry’s decision to change one of its ice cream flavors to “I Dough, I Dough.” The company selected my favorite flavor, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, for the change. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary, but the sleeve for the pint of ice cream is available from the Human Rights campaign with proceeds going to HRC. According to its website, Ben & Jerry’s 1989 decision made it “the first major employer in Vermont to offer health insurance to domestic partners of employees, including same sex couples, and we haven’t spent one minute regretting it.” The company also celebrated Vermont’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2009 with “Chubby Hubby” replaced by “Hubby Hubby.”

Facebook will also “rainbowify” profile photos.

Kennedy also wrote that the petitioners’ “hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” My spouse is almost 82, and I turned 74 this year. We celebrated our 46th anniversary yesterday. Equal dignity to us means that neither geographical location nor new court rulings can determine the legality of our marriage of one year, eight months, two weeks, and six days. At least for now.

[Note: George Stephanopoulos has asked Family Research Council’s Ken Blackwell to be on Sunday’s ABC This Week. Blackwell has said that marriage equality leads to mass shootings, and the FRC has lied about LGBT people including the claim that gay men molest children. Other mainstream networks no longer feature FRC spokespeople. Tell ABC to do the same.]

June 23, 2015

‘Roe v. Wade’ May Survive

The Supreme Court may have already made a decision about the closure of women’s clinics across the state of Texas in a little-watched case, Los Angeles v. Patel, about hotels. That case concerns a city ordinance requiring hotel operators to keep records, such as names and addresses of guests, and make these records “available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection.” Refusal could give hotel operators up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. A 5-4 decision, including the four more liberal justices joined by Kenney, determined that the ordinance violates the Fourth Amendment’s safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures because it does not afford these hotel operators “an opportunity to obtain precompliance review before a neutral decisionmaker.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the plaintiffs may bring a “facial” challenge to the Los Angeles ordinance. These challenges seek to totally invalidate a law whereas “as-applied” challenges seek a decision about whether a law is applied only to a specific plaintiff or plaintiffs. The court’s precedents were not clear before Patel about the appropriateness of facial challenges, and one case indicated that “the challenger must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid.”

Sotomayor explained that in the court’s assessment of a facial challenge, it “considered only applications of the statute in which it actually authorizes or prohibits conduct.” In the major abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court struck down the part of Pennsylvania’s law requiring a woman to notify her husband before getting an abortion. Supporters of the law argued that facial relief was wrong because most women tell their husbands if they are getting an abortion. That means the law does not impose an undue burden on these women. The court disagreed because constitutional law should be considered by its impact on people who it affects. “The proper focus of the constitutional inquiry is the group for whom the law is a restriction, not the group for whom the law is irrelevant.”

This statement can also be used as a rebuttal to the decision about closing women’s clinics in Texas by three George W. Bush-appointed judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel ruled that facial challenges can almost never be brought against anti-abortion laws. Although 900,000 women of reproductive age would have to travel more than 150 miles for an abortion, the lower court reasoned that these 900,000 women are only 17 percent of the 5.4 million women of reproductive age in the state. To these three men, 17 percent isn’t enough to allow a facial challenge because it doesn’t provide a sufficient burden to most of the women in Texas.

Justice Sotomayor’s opinion in Patel repudiates this analysis by the 5th Circuit. If “[t]he proper focus of the constitutional inquiry is the group for whom the law is a restriction, not the group for whom the law is irrelevant,” as the Court held in Patel, then the Fifth Circuit erred by focusing on how certain aspects of Texas’s law would influence women that they do not impact.

Although the Patel case did not have a unanimous vote, the position on facial challenge apparently did. Even Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Patel agrees that a litigant’s “self-description” of his lawsuit as a “facial” challenge provides no “independent reason to reject it, unless we [are] to delegate to litigants our duty to say what the law is” (invoking Marbury v. Madison without citing it). In a separate dissent Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, notes that he sees “serious arguments” that the fact-specific Fourth Amendment is “inconsistent with facial challenges” and so he proceeds only by “assuming” that “such facial challenges ever make sense conceptually.”

Roe v. Wade is still at risk across the country, but Patel is a good beginning. Perhaps a majority of the Supreme Court won’t be as restrictive as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Patel’s decision may also be the foundation for overturning the decision from the 5th Circuit to highly restrict the reproductive rights of women in Texas and other states.

Last Friday, the 5th Circuit refused, by two to one, to delay its June 9 ruling closing many of the women’s clinics although it modified it by giving a clinic in McAllen more time to adapt to new restrictions. Ten of the remaining 19 clinics in Texas are still required to close on July with some of them never reopening. The case has been appealed to the Supreme Court through Scalia who handles emergency legal filings from the 5th Circuit.  He can act on his own or consult with the other justices. The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to review a Mississippi case to replace a state abortion law that would close the last clinic in the state.

In Texas, the issues are whether clinics performing abortions must have facilities equal to those in surgical centers and whether doctors performing abortions must have patient-admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. These limitations will reduce Texas abortion facilities by 75 percent in just two years, causing “a severe shortage of safe and legal abortion services.” Clinics and doctors argue that the two provisions are not medically necessary at women’s clinics. The state had 41 abortion clinics before the new law began taking effect. A temporary Supreme Court order putting limits on the state law allowed some clinics to reopen last October. Ten of the remaining 19 clinics were closed by the 5th Circuit decision.

Abortions are a minor part of women’s clinics, and Gov. Greg Abbott is creating more health risks for low-income women. He just signed a budget proposal ousting Planned Parenthood from Texas’ Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, which provides cancer screenings for uninsured, low-income women. Any clinics affiliated with abortion providers will no longer receive funding for cancer screening services.

drone_2813285b

As more and more states close women’s clinics, the United States is rapidly becoming a Third World country for women’s reproductive rights. Drones might help solve the problem. In Poland, Women on Waves, the Dutch group advising women in countries where abortion is illegal on how to safely terminate their own pregnancies, is dropping medication-abortion packets for women’s groups to distribute to those who want abortions. In Europe, only Poland, Ireland, and Malta fail to have legalized abortions.

Telemedicine abortion is an easy way to safely end abortions early in a pregnancy as shown in Iowa, but 16 states have outlawed the practice. In states that have not yet outlawed the method, Utah has a mandatory face-to-face meeting with a doctor, followed by a 72-hour wait, but lacks any prohibition on doing a medication abortion without a doctor present.

Six states have just one legal abortion clinic each. Louisiana is following Texas in a fight to close down most of the women’s clinics. Four states have three-day waiting periods. Texas and Louisiana are in the courts fighting to close most of their clinics down. In the United States, women can technically legally end their own pregnancy legally as long as they do it well before viability. If this sounds medically dangerous, think about how much worse illegal abortions can be because safe and clean women’s clinics are gradually closed throughout the United States.

June 22, 2015

Racist Media Shields Racist Killers

 

Conservative faith was front and center last week as every announced and some potential GOP presidential candidates—except Donald Trump—spoke at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Summit last week. Especially notable was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who managed to completely ignore the killing of nine black people by a white 21-year-old in the Charleston (SC) church on the previous day. To boost his B+ rating with the NRA, however, he reassured his audience that “if I am president of the United States, we will appoint justices and we will have an attorney general who will protect our second amendment rights.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) did allude to the tragedy by saying that “it appears to be racially driven,” but by Friday he told an audience that Texas defines gun control as “hitting what you aim at.” The next day he said, “There’s a famous saying, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. There is a reason why the Second Amendment is right after the First.”

Another horrifying response to the white man killing nine black people because of his racist beliefs was a segment on Meet the Press that interviewed three black murderers who expressed regrets in killing someone. Host Chuck Todd described the program “color-blind” and concluded that “passing a law isn’t going to change the culture.” Fortunately, columnist Eugene Robinson was on a panel and told Todd that the video didn’t fit the discussion:

“Right now, we’re talking about a horrific crime committed by a white man, we’re talking about the search for two escaped murderers who are white men.”

The men in the video said they had no intention of killing anyone whereas the killer in Charleston carefully planned his murders of black people. Todd defensively concluded his post by saying, “Meet the Press should make all viewers uncomfortable at some point or we are not doing our job.” His continuation of the stereotype of associating blacks, and not whites, with murderers shows that he fails to understand the white culture of guns in the United States.

In a white wash of the Charleston killer, NBC ran a story of how his relatives saw him as a “sweet kid” who became “painfully shy.” Media consistently projects this image of white kids while presenting black children as thugs. To the media, a white killer is known as a “lone wolf” who lose his path while blacks are born bad or have such bad families that its natural that they would be criminals. Bill Reilly calls the problem “black people’s rejection of education.” While Freddie Gray, alleged to have an illegal switchblade, died during a rough ride to the police station, the white killer of nine people in a Charleston (SC) church was politely returned to Charleston on a private plane after cops gave him a Burger King hamburger. Vanessa Baden Kelly wrote, “I am black and I’ve come to believe we are more violent than others by watching the news [although] 83% of white murder victims are killed by white people.”

After the killer openly announced his racism, conservatives had to drop their idea that the tragedy was a “war on Christianity” and move to another spin. The Fox network blames the killings on the nation’s “cultural diversity.” Frequent Fox guest Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson said on Newsmax that President Obama is at fault because he said that racism still exists in the United States.

After the killer’s words destroyed Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) argument that the killer was prejudiced against Christianity, Graham said, “I just think he was one of these whacked out kids. I don’t think it’s anything broader than that.” About the Boston bomber of 2013, Graham had said:

“[Dzhokhar Tsarnaev], in my view, should be designated as a potential enemy combatant and we should be allowed to question him for intelligence gathering purposes to find out about future attacks and terrorist organizations that may exist that he has knowledge of, and that evidence cannot be used against him in trial. That evidence is used to protect us as a nation.”

Both killers are U.S. citizens, but the Boston bomber is a Muslim. What a difference a religion and 3,000 miles make.

The Charleston killer reported that he was influenced by a website from the Council of Conservative Citizens that lists Black on White murders. The name states “citizens,” but Southern politicians, primarily Republican, have been involved with the group with some still in office. The CCC is a renewal of the White Citizens Councils, formed a half century ago to fight school desegregation. Now it spreads false information while funding GOP candidates such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI).

Racist billboard

The killer didn’t come out of nowhere. His worldview of racism, white supremacy, and fear of blacks is popular as shown by this billboard. The words come from white supremacist Robert Whitaker’s Mantra that has inspired racial killings, including 77 people in Norway in 2011 and heavily promoted by Timothy Gallagher Murdock on White Rabbit Radio. The Charleston killer’s manifesto is greatly in alignment with the Fox network and other conservatives:

“Blacks were the real racists [in school].”

“It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right.” (Like many other white people tutored by the Fox network and other conservative media, the stalker and killer of Trayvon Martin is a hero.)

“Black people view everything through a racial lense.” (He quotes Fox and other conservatives who accuse blacks of playing the “race card.” He continues, “The … reason is the Jewish agitation of the black race.”)

“We are told to accept what is happening to us because of ancestors wrong doing, but it is all based on historical lies…”

“Segregation was not a bad thing. It was a defensive measure.” (The killer sees segregation as a way “to protect us from them…. Not only did it protect us from having to interact with them, and from being physically harmed by them, but it protected us from being brought down to their level.”

“I have read hundreds of slaves narratives from my state. And almost all of them were positive.” (The killer believes that slaves thought they were better off in slavery. Rancher Cliven Bundy, who refuses to pay the government for feeding his cattle, was supported by Fox and a number of lawmakers—at least until he stated that black people have less freedom after they are no longer slaves.)

Two subjects that conservatives cannot address in the United States are racism and guns. Following the killings in the Charleston church, President Obama called on the country to take action against mass murders. On the Fox network, Tucker Carlson indicated that the president is a hypocrite because he’s protected by armed people after he said that guns aren’t killing people and that people need guns to save lives. Fox News contributor Jehmu Greene pointed out that his comments were offensive and asked if he was comparing armed Secret Service people to the person who walks into a church and kills nine people. She asked, “Is that literally where we are as a country, to compare that [the president] shouldn’t have protection?” Carlson stuck to his opinion that he shouldn’t be exempt from disarming—a position that President Obama has never taken.

Greene replied:

“The president did not say guns are inherently bad. The president is saying we’ve had this conversation too many times and there is something we can do about it. There was something we could do about it after Newtown, there was something we could have done about it after Columbine.”

Charleston (SC) Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. (D) said yesterday on CNN’s State of the Union:

“It is insane: the number of guns, and the ease of guns in America. It just doesn’t fit with the other achievements of this country. It’s a small- really small group, well-funded–that keeps this issue from being appropriately addressed.”

If people cannot control themselves with guns, then they must be controlled to protect other people. Those who oppose any kind of gun control need to learn that they are destroying the United States.

It is a sad commentary on media in the United States when the best commentary came from the Comedy Channel. Everyone should read the words of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show the day after the killings when he stopped his comedy to talk about the tragedy of the Charleston killings.

June 21, 2015

Pope’s Climate Encyclical Enrages Conservatives

Just when it seemed that Pope Francis couldn’t do more to offend U.S. conservatives—including Catholics—after he argued for income equality, he tackled the environment. The opening lines of his new encyclical, “Laudato Si (Praised Be),” come from a 13th-century poem, “Canticle of the Creatures,” written by his namesake. “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs,” the saint from Assisi wrote. The current pope chose his namesake because of his concern for the poor, his love of peace, and his care for creation.

“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” Francis wrote. “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environment change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable that it is, can only precipitate disaster.”

He closed with progressive ideas that conservatives hate: a commitment to renewable energy, a binding agreement on carbon emissions, and an economy that throws away less and recycles more.

These are five important arguments in the pope’s document:

Climate change is real and “disturbing,” and people are the primary cause of it, primarily from “the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.”

Technology will not save the environment because “it’s based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.”

There is no excuse for denying reality or playing politics, especially from business-people and elected officials who use personal gain in “masking the problems or concealing their symptoms” and “pretending nothing will happen.”

The Bible was written by an environmentalist, and “Christians in their turn realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.”

Survival comes only from changing everything.

Pope Francis Climate

The 184-page encyclical infuriated 170 members of the House—56 percent of the entire membership—who oppose the belief from 97 percent of scientists that climate change is happening and that humans are causing it. In the Senate, 72 percent are climate deniers, including the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. After a draft of the text was leaked, members of the conservative Heartland Institute traveled to Rome for a “pre-rebuttal,” and GOP presidential candidates attacked the pope for being political instead of religious. Jeb Bush, the Catholic who said that religion would guide his presidency, stated. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.” Another Catholic, Rick Santorum, who declared he was more qualified to discuss climate change than the pope, said,  “We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.”

Defacto GOP leader Rush Limbaugh complained that Francis “doesn’t even disguise” his Marxist beliefs about global warming. Fox nework Greg Gutfeld supported Limbaugh after Juan Williams tried to explain to Gutfeld that being better stewards of the planet isn’t political. Williams said:

“I think the problem for you is that you put it in a box of pure politics, left and right. What about if the Pope is simply saying… we should do all we can to support God’s green earth. Is that so radical?”

Gutfeld responded, “Um, he has a Marxist background.” That was after Gutfeld called Pope Francis “the most dangerous person on the planet.” He added, “[Francis] wants to be a modern Pope. All he needs is dreadlocks and a dog with a bandana and he could be on Occupy Wall Street.” Gutfeld is even angry about the pope believing “that the Earth is overpopulated.” He continued, “Remember he said Catholics have to stop breeding like rabbits? Do you remember where that came from? That’s a Malthusian belief. And Malthusians believe that the Earth is overpopulated and it would be nice if there were a few billion people less. How does that happen? Global warming.” Malthusian belief is that population will be controlled by famine and disease; it seems the Gutfeld opposes the pope in order to have the controlling influence of climate change on population control.

Scientists disagree with the conservative politicians about the pope’s encyclical. Deborah Huntzinger, an assistant professor of climate sciences at Northern Arizona University, criticized only one part of the encyclical because it was simplistic, that how greenhouse gases warm the planet is more complicated. She did say that “the pope captures the science quite well.” Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, noted that the only problem is that “Pope Francis is overly conservative [with respect to] the science in the encyclical” and understated some of the problems. “All of the increase in the carbon dioxide is due to fossil fuel burning and other human activities,” Mann said. Anthony Broccoli, a professor of environmental sciences at Rutgers University, said:

“Pope Francis doesn’t have to be a scientist to arrive at these conclusions. All he would have to do is consult the extensive reports on climate change that have been written by the world’s climate scientists in a process organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These reports have been written to inform policymakers and stakeholders about the state of the science and they are a reliable source of information.”

Columnist E.J. Dionne addressed the fallacy of conservative arguments that Francis is ignoring the past and presenting “radical new doctrines.” The encyclical frequently cites Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, neither one known for being liberal, “on the limits of markets and the urgency of environmental stewardship.” As the pope writes, “opinion makers, communications media and centers of power are far removed from the poor.” Hardly a radical statement or new to the Catholic religion. The focus of his paper is “that the world’s poor face the largest threat from climate change and that the world’s rich have a special obligation to deal with it.” In focusing on the “shared responsibility for others and the world,” he brings together the connection between the personal and the political.

If the Koch brothers succeed in buying conservative Catholics with huge donations to Catholic universities, conservative Catholics may turn farther away from the pope’s positions. In 2013 the Kochs give $1 million to launch the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America (CUA), dedicated to “principled entrepreneurship” where the school’s dean, Andrew Abela, opposes public-sector unions and argues that questioning global warming or climate change is a sin.” The donation brought a letter of protest from 50 Catholic educators regarding the ultra-conservative, anti-government, anti-workers-rights, climate-change-questioning, free-market-hyping tendencies of the Koch brothers. It read in part:

“The Koch brothers are billionaire industrialists who fund organizations that advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship.”

CUA leaders released a press release calling the educators’ letter “presumptuous.”

Last December, the Charles Koch Foundation gave Creighton University (Omaha, NE) funds for the new Institute for Economic Inquiry. The next month, the Foundation pledged another $3 million to CUA. The Koch brothers’ donations to a secular university have allowed them to veto most of the professors that the school wanted to hire with the donation. The Catholic Church opposes the Koch brothers’ positions on shrinking the social safety net, cutting taxes, weakening environmental regulations, ending the minimum wage, and busting unions. Conservatives argue that Pope Francis is not talking about capitalism as it is practiced in the U.S., or that he simply doesn’t understand economics. David Koch supports marriage equality and abortion rights; critics of the CUA gifts have pointed out the irony of the school’s accepting massive support from him when Catholic charities are not allowed to take money from any person or group that supports abortion rights or gay rights.

There was a time when the Pope was infallible and the President of the United States deserved respect. Now conservative Catholics have set themselves above the pope’s teaching, following only the restrictive teachings against abortion, contraception, and marriage equality. They have tried to make themselves gods.

The pope says, “We are not God” and should not act as if we are “usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot.”

 

June 20, 2015

Congress Struggles with Defense, TPP Bill

Conflicting headlines this past week show the confusion with the defense bill in the Senate. On Thursday, senators passed the $612 billion defense policy bill that would ban torture and authorize weapons for Ukraine. The 71-to-25 vote also tightened restrictions on resettling detainees in other countries, blocking President Obama from closing the Gitmo detention facility by requiring congressional approval. The bill included a $38 billion slush fund for war, the same fund that allowed George W. Bush to spend billions outside the budget for his wars and sidestepped the sequester law restricting expenditures. GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY), the only Republicans to vote against the bill, joined Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and 22 Democrats to oppose the bill. President Obama said he would veto the bill because it violates the sequester law.

Immediately after this vote, the Senate rejected a measure to pay for the defense bill because it didn’t lift spending limits in other areas of the budget. The bill to fund the defense budget failed to overcome a filibuster, 45 to 50, with only the only positive Democratic vote from Indiana’s Sen. Joe Donnelly.

While the Senate was struggling with defense bill, the House passed the TPP fast-track for the second time, still trying to give the president the authority to close trade deals. Last week, the vote was 219-211, but the companion measure, the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to help workers displaced by trade failed. This week the vote was the bare minimum of 218 to 208 with the promise the Republicans will support the TAA at some other time.

William Pitt described how the “trade adjustment” works. A worker for a software company gets a living wage and health benefits by doing customer assistance on the phone. The TPP can air-mail the job to the Pacific Rim because those workers get paid much less–$0.56 an hour in Vietnam, for example. All the other jobs have been sent across the ocean, too, leaving the jobless destitute. The “assistance” is the part that didn’t get passed although Republicans said they would get back to it—sometime. It’s a guarantee that TPP will kill jobs, and without the minimal “assistance” for “trade adjustment, ex-workers will have nothing instead of very little.

The GOP-dominated Senate requires two 60-vote majorities to pass the TPA (ability to fast-track the TPP without the bother of amendments or debate) and TAA separately before trying to connect them for return to the House. Representatives will have to vote on it and then provide reconciliation and another passing vote. The president has sworn that he won’t sign the fast-track without the money piece, but he may be desperate enough to get the TPP passed that he may change his mind.

Even legislators with good intentions have folded on their principles. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) passed out of committee an amendment to the TPP to bar Tier 3 nations, offenders of human trafficking, from being a part of the trade deal. The White House called the amendment a “deal breaker” because it wants Malaysia, and Menendez watered down his amendment to state that Tier 3 countries would have to make “concrete efforts” to stop human trafficking, also commonly known as slavery. President Obama is willing to accept slavery in order to get his trade deal.

On the same day last week that Congress slowed down the TPP by voting against the TAA, the House voted to overturn rules requiring country-of-origin labeling for meat. Support for the law came from a response to 1999 World Trade Organization rules while opposition declared that labeling the meat was “unfair” to foreign countries and worried about sanctions or lawsuits from countries sending meat into the United States. Overturning a labeling law would keep people from being informed consumers, supporting U.S. farmers, or knowing that their meat had been inspected.

The House struck down a law because they were afraid of international tribunals that adjudicate trade disputes. This Investor-State Dispute Settlement process is primarly controlled by corporations and their lawyers.  Trade agreements erase the ability to regulate commerce and finance which raises prices and guts laws for the common good.

Columnist David Brooks’ column about the harm from the defeat of the TPP needs fact-checking:

Claim: Damage the U.S. economy as evidenced by the growth in the nation’s manufacturing exports from earlier trade treaties. Fact: Lori Wallach reports that on NAFTA’s 20th anniversary, the U.S. has a $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada with a related loss of 1 million net U.S. jobs and over $360 million paid to corporations because of the “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies. The United States Department of Agriculture has projected that GDP gains from the TPP is approximately zero.

Claim: Stifle future innovation. Fact: Proposed TPP copyright provisions silence businesses, researchers, and artists while expensive cost of enforcement would impede new Internet-based start-ups. Excessive copyright terms prevent artists and creators from accessing, remixing, and recreating new works out of existing ones.

Claim: Imperil world peace. Fact: With the conservative enthusiasm and history in attacking the Middle East, and now considering an attack on Russia because of Ukraine, this statement smacks of hypocrisy. Brooks claims that the TPP protects the U.S. from being controlled by China, yet there’s nothing preventing China from joining the TPP and taking over because corporations are in control of it.

money capitol tppLegislators are making millions of dollars—200 of them, to be exact—from their votes in favor of TPP. The highest paid representative was House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who brought in $5.3 million for his yes vote; Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was second at $2.4 million, the same as Paul Ryan (R-WI). Fourth spot was $1.6 million for Pat Tiberi (R-OH), the same as Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who changed to nay and got only $282,710 for that vote. Other House members getting over $1 million for yes votes are Joe Crowley (D-NY), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Richard Neal (D-MA).

 

For representatives who voted against the TPP, TPP lobbyists—security brokers, investment companies, and bankers—paid over $23 million to oppose them..

Information about the TPP:

With no currency provisions, the TPP will not help U.S. economy. Companies like Walmart and GE benefit from an over-valued dollar, since it allows them to buy and/or produce goods cheaply abroad.

Trade agreement will not increase the number of jobs in the U.S., but it increases barriers in copyright protection for drugs and Hollywood media and raises prices for drugs and media content.

The ballooning trade deficit from trade agreements weighs down economic growth and wages. For example, the agreement with South Korea increased U.S. exports by $1 billion while increasing imports by $12 billion. It cost the United States 75,000 jobs.

The TPP is weaker than the 2007 deals with Peru, Panama, and Columbia.

The TPP allows corporations to sue sovereign governments–such as the United States–for monetary damages in what companies perceive as “expected future profits.”

Only corporations can sue governments; workers don’t have that right.

In seeking to “harmonize” regulations, trade agreements set a regulatory ceiling that will, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, said, “punch holes in Dodd-Frank without directly repealing it,” by forcing regulators to roll back capital or leverage requirements. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Congress, “Normally in a trade agreement, the pressure is to lower standards [on regulations] and that’s something that we just think is not acceptable.” President Obama may try to hold the line, but a future GOP president will definitely use trade deals to further undermine regulations.

Weak “rule of origin” guidelines allow China to import goods into TPP member countries without any tariffs, while freed from following any TPP regulations.

The TPP is a secret deal that most members of Congress have not gone to the effort to read. Even if they have, they are forbidden from telling anyone what is in the agreement.

President Obama’s claim that everyone opposing the TPP is just a “politician” overlooks the fact that the president, too, is a politician. The TPP gives nothing to the United States and erases progress, going so far as to replace parts of the constitution.

June 19, 2015

Donald Trump, A Billionaire Candidate’s Viewpoint

Filed under: Presidential candidates — trp2011 @ 8:49 PM
Tags: ,

 

Is Donald Trump important enough to be considered for a serious presidential candidate? Probably not, but in a country that puts a neurosurgeon near the top of the polls, anything can happen. At this time,  Trump is 10th in the polls in an even dozen GOP presidential candidate field.

Trump

Trump’s announcement included the claim that undocumented immigrants from Mexico are “rapists” who “are bringing drugs” to the U.S. He would build a “great wall” on the southern U.S. border and dismantle President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive action that shields hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants from deportation. And he would make Mexico pay for the wall! He continued, “Some, I assume are good people. But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting.”

The RNC has not repudiated Trump’s statement equating undocumented people to rapists. The closest that they came to criticizing Trump is when Sean Spicer, the RNC’s Chief Strategist & Communications Director, said that Trump’s accusation “is not helpful to the cause” before he changed the subject.

The real estate magnate and reality television star announced his candidacy last Tuesday morning, promising to be “the greatest jobs president God ever created” and assuring the American people that his rivals “will never make America great again.”

No one—not President Obama, Democrats, Republicans, and foreign nations—was safe from Trump’s tirade.

“I’m using my own money…. I’m really rich…that’s the kind of thinking you need for this country. It sounds crass, it’s not crass.”

“Nobody would be tougher on ISIS than Donald Trump.” (Trump always speaks of himself in the third person, like Julius Caesar.)

“I beat China all the time. All the time.”

“I have so many websites, I have them all over the place.” (Referring to the problems with the federal health care reform website several years ago.)

“[President Obama] might be on one of my [golf] courses; I have some of the best courses in the world.” (Inviting the president to play one of his golf courses.)

“This is beyond anybody’s expectations. There’s been no crowd like this.” (In reference to the cheering people who were picked up off the street to attend his announcement.)

“Let’s save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts [because] now many of these candidates want to cut it.”

“Sadly, the American dream is dead, but if I get elected president, I will bring it back, bigger, and better than ever.”

Trump thinks that the U.S. should emulate totalitarian China. He berated Ford’s CEO, his friend, for building an auto factory in Mexico.

On Salon, Bob Cesca wrote, “With Trump officially joining the race, he vindicates the increasingly obvious analysis that the Republican Party, at the presidential level at least, is little more than a shell corporation for opportunists and careerists who aren’t interested in governing or even winning.”

Some of Trump’s past positions:

  • Global warming is a sham because ice exists.
  • Windmills are “disgusting” and “horrible.”
  • Vaccines can cause autism.
  • Gay people are like golf clubs: “[Same-sex marriage is] like in golf. . . A lot of people – I don’t want this to sound trivial – but a lot of people are switching to these really long putters, very unattractive….  You see these great players with these really long putters, because they can’t sink three-footers anymore. And I hate it. I am a traditionalist.”

Although Trump said, “I have a great relationship with the blacks,” but a colleague remembers his saying, “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” Trump said that it was “probably true.”

Trump owns the Miss USA Pageant and has made women cry after he weeded out women he found too unattractive. In 2000, he said, “The only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”

FiveThirtyEight reported that “Trump is the first candidate in modern presidential primary history to begin the campaign with a majority of his own party disliking him. A majority of 57 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to an average of the three most recent polls.” His favorability rating is at -32 percentage, the worst of the 106 presidential candidates since 1980.

Trump may also be unpopular with Republicans for some of his progressive beliefs:

  • Government health care for all
  • Legalization for all drugs
  • Taxes on the wealth of the 1%
  • No more foreign wars
  • Protection of U.S. workers by defeating the Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • A 20-percent tax on all imported goods
  • Women’s right to choose their reproductive rights
  • Prevention of assault weapons

Advantages for Trump’s official status as candidate: He must disclose his much-debated income (which he claims is $10 billion) to the Federal Elections Commission and may need to give up his role as the chief antagonist of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice. Also, if anything can make Jon Stewart delay his departure from The Daily Show, it’s Trump as candidate. Stewart has already gotten started on Trump, declaring that “America’s id is running for president.”

Trump will definitely add humor to the GOP race. Almost three years when Trump offered to give $5 million to a charity of President Obama if he would release his birth certificate, Jay Leno asked the president about Trump. President Obama joked:

“This all dates back to when we were growing up together in Kenya. We had constant run-ins on the soccer field. He wasn’t very good and resented it. … When we finally moved to America, I thought it would be over.”

Trump had ignored the fact that President Obama had two years earlier released his birth certificate showing that he was born in the state of Hawaii in 1961.

Trump has already picked his running mate. He told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he and Oprah Winfrey would be “unstoppable.” Most likely, however, Winfrey will decline.

Trump can still disappoint late-night comedians. As of yet, he has not filed formal paperwork with the FEC although he has another 120 days to do so. Technically, he could participate in the first three GOP presidential debates without having registered to run. That makes him eligible for the first three GOP debates. Trump does have campaign staffers and a candidate-like travel schedule, including one in New Hampshire the day after his announcement.

At one time, candidates ran because they wanted to make the country better and thought they could actually win. Then the number of candidates expanded because it was a stepping stone to other government positions such as vice-president of cabinet member. Most recently, however, candidacy was a way to get a television or radio show—or perhaps hit the speaking circuit—such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Trump’s most recent claim to fame is a reality TV show. GOP strategist Steve Schmidt said, “You have a category of people who exist in that fuzzy space where celebrity and politics meet in our culture. You’ve seen, increasingly, a number of those candidates running.” Donald Trump is at the head of that pack.

As Chris Hayes pointed out, Donald Trump is doing all of us a favor by eliminating the middleman and funding his own campaign. Here is Hayes’ take on that subject.

 

June 18, 2015

Victories Accompanied by Another Tragic Shooting

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1 in Turkmen v. Ashcroft that George W. Bush officials can be sued for roundups and illegal detentions. Plaintiffs of Arab and Middle Eastern descent were held for three to eight months in New York for being “suspected terrorists” and claim that they were abused and profiled by guards and other authority figures. That decision was presented the day after 78 senators voted against torture. Twenty-one senators favor torture, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was out of town, presumably campaigning.

In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Sons of Confederate Veterans cannot force Texas to allow the Confederate flag on car license plates. The astonishing part of the ruling is the fifth justice who voted with the four liberal judges—Clarence Thomas. He also dissented with a majority in Virginia v. Black (2003), writing that cross-burning violates the First Amendment right to free speech because it “has almost invariably meant lawlessness and understandably instills in its victims well-grounded fear of physical violence.” Not all Southern states have the same concern about the state’s endorsement of racism: South Carolina still flies the Confederate flag on state capitol grounds and allows Confederate vanity license plates.

One person with South Carolina Confederate plates is the white man in a hoodie who went to a Bible study class last night in an historic Charleston (SC) church where he killed nine people with a gun he bought from the money that his father gave him for his 21st birthday. The killing was on the same date that Denmark Vesey, a former slave, was targeted for what white Charlestonians believed was a revolt. Vesey was captured on June 22 and executed on July 2.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that the people, all Black, were murdered because they were Christians, and another presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, agreed with Graham. The Fox network and other conservative media are spreading the same word. To them, the location of killings in a church identifies the murder of a “war on Christians.” Fox & Friends also claimed that the deaths could have been prevented if the congregation had been armed, and they pulled in Virginia’s former lieutenant governor candidate to back them up. Known for calling the LGBT rights movement a “cancer” and President Obama as a “radical anti-American” and “anti-Christian,” E. W. Jackson urged “pastors and men in these churches to prepare to defend themselves,” and host Brian Kilmeade wondered if giving pastors a gun could help with “security.” Later in the show, Steve Doocy and Elisabeth Hasselbeck agreed.

Once again Fox spreads the insanity. An analysis of 62 mass public shootings over a 30-year period by Mother Jones found no cases in which an ordinary civilian with a gun stopped an attack although some instances showed that a gun caused the death or injury of that person.

Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told an audience of social conservatives:

“There’s a sickness in our country. There’s something terribly wrong. But it isn’t going to be fixed by your government. It’s people straying away, it’s people not understanding where salvation comes from. I think if we understand that, we’ll have better expectations of what to expect from government.”

Paul did not give any solutions about curing the “sickness.”

confederate flagThe day after this tragedy, flags at the South Carolina capitol are at half mast—except for the Confederate flag. Gov. Nikki Haley cried at the news conference about the killings but earlier said that she didn’t think that the Confederate flag presented an image problem. Today Haley’s press secretary said that only the General Assembly had the legal authority to do something about the flag. No one from that body has responded to any requests about it. South Carolina is one of five states without a state hate crime law and celebrated “Confederate Memorial Day” last month.

South Carolina has 19 known hate groups, including two Ku Klux Klans and four “white nationalist” organizations. Of course, they aren’t “terrorist groups” because they aren’t Muslims. Six neo-Confederate groups listed include two branches of the League of the South, which advocates for Southern secession and “the advancement of Anglo-Celtic culture.” The Council of Conservative Citizens is opposed to racial integration and affirmative action “and similar measures to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people.” One of its key figures, Kyle Rogers, said, “I don’t see a legacy of oppression. Blacks have always benefited from being in the United States.” Other hate groups include three neo-Nazi cells, a chapter of the racist skinhead movement Confederate Hammerskins, a branch of black separatist organization Nation of Islam, an “anti-gay” church and an anti-immigration protest group called Americans Have Had Enough.

Graham and other conservatives have been spreading the fear about foreign terrorists and claiming that the U.S. needs to go to war in order to be safe. At the same time, these people ignore heavily armed, violent domestic terrorists, many of them supported by the law. How many of these groups exist in the country is unknown because the Department of Homeland Security stopped an investigation into homeland terrorism six years ago.

Daryl Johnson, a top government counterterrorism analyst, spent six years working at Homeland Security, collecting extensive data on far-right extremist groups posing threats to people in the United States. After the first election of President Obama, these groups went farther right, and Johnson reported that radical Islam is just a small portion of the terrorism groups within the nation. He noted that five totally domestic groups considered using weapons of mass destruction during his investigation, and the same warnings were expressed by the two principal non-government groups that track domestic terrorism: the New York-based Anti-Defamation League and the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Last year the SPLC listed 13 major incidents and arrests last year, almost double the annual number in previous years. In 2010, the number of hate groups topped 1,000 in 2010, for the first time in at least two decades.

After Johnson was forced out of his position, President Obama has received an unprecedented number of death threats, hate groups have gained ground, and white supremacist attacks are regularly occurring. In places such as Nevada’s Bundy ranch, terrorists successfully faced down the federal government. Congress holds hearings about Muslim extremism but says nothing about domestic terrorism. Their silence allows the extremist movement to grow as the common statement after tragedies such as the one at the South Carolina church is that the event shouldn’t be politicized and people need to have time to mourn before taking action. The only action that occurs after mass shootings at this time is an increasing laxness of gun laws.

The killer’s license plate had three Confederate flags, and the patches on his jacket were flags of Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa with brutal segregation policies. He also shouted, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” That’s racism, not an attack on Christianity. And people with these beliefs aren’t going to change them just because Rand Paul thinks that it’s a good idea.

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