Nel's New Day

July 31, 2015

Travesties in Friday News Dump

The last day of the traditional work day is known in the media as “Trash Day,” according to the classic TV series “West Wing” description of the Friday news dump. The tactic is to “dump” bad news or documents on that day so that media scrutiny would be minimized. Here are some of the Friday dump day travesties:

 

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was last Tuesday: July 28, 2015, is the day when black women caught up with the salary that white men made in 2015. In other words, black women had to work 575 days to match the pay that men made in 365 days. Black women make 64 percent of white men, but Native American women salaries are far worse—at 59 percent of white men’s salaries.

What Voting Problems?! A Wichita State University mathematician asked for Kansas voting machines to be audited because of suspicious patterns in electronic returns, but government officials don’t want anyone to know about its problems. When Beth Clarkson, chief statistician for WSU’s National Institution for Aviation Research, made calculations after last November’s election, she found a “statistically significant” pattern in which the percentage of GOP votes increase according to how big the precinct is, even where other demographics don’t agree. She said that this anomaly happens across the country. Forced to file a lawsuit against state Secretary of State Chris Kobach for documentation, she still hasn’t been able to get the information.

Walker Rides High on Hypocrisy. In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, presidential candidate and Wisconsin’s GOP governor, Scott Walker, wrote, “You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.” His reference was to how Hillary Clinton spent time in meetings with union bosses, who he calls “big-labor special interests,” as she will “shun everyday” people. Walker is headed to a luxury hotel in Southern California with other GOP presidential candidates—Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio—to attend the Koch brothers annual summer conference for Freedom Partners with 450 of the wealthiest donors on the far-right.

An Environmental Award for Rick Scott Is a Joke. The governor has  one of the worst environmental records in the history of Florida—and that’s saying something—and banned state employees from saying “climate change.” He decimated funding for important departments and projects while appointing developers and land use lawyers to their boards. They gave employees bonuses for speeding up permit approval and suspended Connie Bersok who refused to violate state law by approving development in the state’s wetlands. Chair of the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida giving Scott an award for his “conservation work” is Rodney Barreto—wealthy businessman, lobbyist, chair of the South Florida Super Bowl Committee, and Jeb Bush appointee.

McConnell Shows Game Plan for 2017: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to use reconciliation to bypass the 60 votes necessary to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The purpose of reconciliation is reducing the deficit, and repealing the ACA would increase the deficit. The far-right Heritage Action group suggests replacing an official score of a repeal with a GOP invented score.

GOP Women Posted Graphic Illustration of Lynching on Facebook. The official Facebook page of the Oklahoma Federation of Republican Women briefly showed an image of a lynched black man until complaints led to its withdrawal. The text read, “The KKK was formed by the Democrats to keep control over black Americans. The Democrats of today just traded ropes for welfare.” In 2013, over 40 percent of food stamp recipients were white. The number of food stamp beneficiaries who are black has declined every year from 2001 through 2010; in 2013, only one-fourth of the recipients were black. Even if more beneficiaries were black, there is no excuse for using either the illustration or the text.

Pro-Israel, Anti-Iran Agreement Organization Pays to Take Democrat Senators to Israel on a Propaganda Tour: Lobby group AIPAC led the United States into a war with Iraq, and now it wants the United States to start a war with Iran. That’s why they are sending 40 members of Congress, several of them Democrats, to Israel this coming month to listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explain why they should vote with him instead of the President of the United States. Legislators prefer to meet with Netanyahu rather than their own constituents. AIPAC is spending at least $50 million to persuade people to vote against the Iran agreement.

Super PAC Carly for America Is Coordinating with Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina: The Supreme Court ruling allowing almost unlimited money in donations to political candidates through super PACS also mandated no communication between the organizations and the individual campaign efforts of political candidates. Yet the super PAC for Fiorina, confusingly called “Carly for America,” has invited its supporters to join a conference call with the candidate Carly Fiorina while including the necessary legal notice that Carly for America “is an independent expenditure committee and not authorized or coordinated with any federal candidate or candidate’s committee.” The super PAC also performs candidate campaign functions such as managing rapid response to press questions, rolling out endorsements of the candidate, funding grassroots organizing, and organizing advance work for Fiorina’s appearances. Fiorina isn’t alone in crossing the line: presidential candidate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered his anti-Donald Trump speech at a July 22 event hosted by his super PAC, Opportunity and Freedom PAC.

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) Lecture Nuclear Physicist on Nuclear Weapons. Last week, Cruz and Johnson accused Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz of knowing less that they did about Iran’s possible nuclear weapons and the threat of an imaginary Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon to take out the nation’s electronic grid. First, the senators accused Moniz of not knowing what an EMP was because he had said he did not know the 2008 Congressional report recommendations. Cruz claimed to be “stunned” at what he considered Moniz’s ignorance about the subject. Then he refused to allow the nuclear physicist, longtime MIT professor, and holder of a PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford to answer a question before accusing him of “refusing to answer the question.” Far-right articles claim that the EMP could easily leave “9 out of 10 Americans dead,”but the Federation of American Scientists stated that this would require a “large device” detonated about 300 miles above Wichita at the altitude of the International Space Station.

Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, Appointed Matthew Brown to the State Department of Education: The new appointee is a fundamentalist Christian who hates the public school system and has sworn that his children will never attend public school. Bentley said, “Matthew brings a unique perspective to the position.” His perspective is to starve the public education system through vouchers and charter schools, which Bentley strongly supports through taking $30 million from public schools.

Medicare Turned 50 Yesterday: That’s the good news. The travesty is the GOP attempts to eliminate health care for the elderly and disabled. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is leading the charge to”figure out a way to phase out this program for [younger people] and move to a new system that allows them to have something.” Backlash led a Bush spokesman to say that Bush wanted only modest reforms. Conservatives say they want to shift the current “defined benefit” program providing specific protections and levels of financial security to a “defined contribution” that distributes money according to a pre-determined formula and require seniors to shop for coverage. What they really want is to end Medicare’s guaranteed health care.

Cruz Tells Code Pink That “Truth Matters” Before He Lies: After pointing out the importance of truth, Cruz said that both Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani “explicitly said they are developing nuclear weapons. There is no doubt about it.” Code Pink’s co-founder Medea Benjamin said, “That is absolutely false.” Benjamin speaks the truth, but Cruz told Benjamin not to interrupt him. Conservatives failed to report the statements but said that Cruz “crushed” Code Pink. [Insight into Cruz: one of his favorite superheroes is Rorschach, the mentally unstable killer in Alan Moore’s Watchman who lives by his own moral code and exacts severe—maybe psychotic—punishment for anyone who violates it.]

pigs flyTexas Displays Judicial ActivismAfter anti-LGBT activists couldn’t get the 17,000 signatures required to put Houston’s anti-discrimination measures to a vote, the Texas Supreme Court suspended the ordinance, ruling that it either be repealed or put before voters. The court couldn’t do this legally, but it made the ruling. Do conservatives find this judicial activism—which they profess to hate? Will they object? Do pigs fly?

Congress Passes Short-term Highway Funding Bill: The Senate has passed a funding bill to continue the Highway Trust Fund for six years but pays for only three, providing $45 billion spread out for the six years over the gasoline tax. They not only refused to increase the gas tax to levels of 20 years ago but also could not work anything out with the House, that passed only a three-month extension of the funding. The Senate made a bipartisan refusal with 18 Democrats and 15 Republicans voting against it. Great comment from Oregon’s senior senator, Ron Wyden:

“I said to a friend this morning with apologies to the elephants: When the elephants lock tusks, it’s never dull.”

States cannot possibly plan for major transportation projects and prolong maintenance on dangerously damaged roads and bridges with short-term fixes, and this is the 34th “fix” since 2009—an average of five each year. After the recess, the two congressional chambers will have to tackle the problem again. And the Iran deal. And the appropriations bill. And Planned Parenthood. And anything else that has nothing to do with jobs. And the infrastructure suffers because Congress hands out the money in dribbles and drabs.

 

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July 30, 2015

Portland Says ‘Shell No” to Arctic Drilling

 

Dangling shell noIn a David v. Goliath set-to in Portland (OR), protesters are one-upping the kayaktivists in Seattle, adding small boats and a “human curtain” from GreenPeace rappelling 100 to 200 feet down from the city’s tallest bridge, St. Johns Bridge, to block a ship from going out to sea. Earlier this year, protesters tried to block the departure of the Shell-leased drilling rig “Polar Pioneer” from Terminal 5 in the Port of Seattle. This week’s altercation escalated when the 380-foot icebreaker MSV Fennica tried to leave dry dock where it had a 39-inch gash in its hull repaired after the ship tried to take a shortcut early in its 1,000-mile journey from Dutch Harbor to the Aleutions.

Environmental activists in kayaks protest the Fennica, a vessel that Royal Dutch Shell PLC plans to use in its Arctic offshore drilling project, as it underwent repairs on Swan Island, Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Portland, Ore.  The damaged ship, a 380-foot icebreaker, which arrived at a Swan Island dry dock early Saturday morning, is a key part of Shell's exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska's northwest coast. It protects Shell's fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop gushing oil. (Sam Caravana/The Oregonian via AP) MAGS OUT; TV OUT; NO LOCAL INTERNET; THE MERCURY OUT; WILLAMETTE WEEK OUT; PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

Environmental activists in kayaks protest the Fennica, a vessel that Royal Dutch Shell PLC plans to use in its Arctic offshore drilling project, as it underwent repairs on Swan Island, Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Portland, Ore. The damaged ship, a 380-foot icebreaker, which arrived at a Swan Island dry dock early Saturday morning, is a key part of Shell’s exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska’s northwest coast. It protects Shell’s fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop gushing oil. (Sam Caravana/The Oregonian via AP) MAGS OUT; TV OUT; NO 

fennica mapThe channel was shallower than shown by the 80-year-old charts that were surveyed with sextants and hand-held lines. The NOAA ship Fairweather, in the area to map Arctic shipping routes, found rocky areas less than 30 feet deep, one only 22.5 feet deep. The Fennica draws 27.5 feet.

fennica AnnThe Fennica is vital to Shell’s drilling because it contains a 30-foot-tall capping stack equipment  designed to prevent a blowout like BP experienced in the Gulf’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. A spill would be disastrous in Arctic waters which are covered by ice flows much of the year.  The Chukchi Sea is home to an estimated 2,000 polar bears, as well as gray whales, bowhead whales and a major walrus population. Gray whales swim north also go for feeding grounds in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell received federal permits last week but must wait until the Fennica arrives at the drill site before the company can reapply for more permits to drill into hydrocarbon zones in the Chukchi Sea.

Bridge goodScheduled to leave last night, the Fennica set out about 6:00 (PST) this morning but was forced to turn around by the presence of the protesters who plan to remain there indefinitely in spite of the unusual 100+ degree temperatures for at least today and tomorrow.

Bridge with yellowFollowing is an article from Oregon’s junior senator, Jeff Merkley:

“At this moment, the damaged Fennica icebreaker is entering the water in my home of Portland, OR, in what could be a make-or-break moment for our environment and our future climate.

“Here’s the background: In 2008, President George W. Bush not only lifted the executive ban on Outer Continental Shelf drilling, but also leased parts of the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea to Shell for oil and gas exploration.

“When Shell first attempted exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2012, however, it was clear the company was out of its depth. In September, during open sea testing, Shell’s spill containment system was “crushed like a beer can.” Then the Noble Discoverer caught on fire later in November. To cap off the year, Shell’s other rig, the Kulluk, ran aground and was deeply damaged near Kodiak Island after facing severe winter weather. In a review, the U.S. Coast Guard deemed Shell’s wreck to be a result of “inadequate assessment and management of risks.”

“Yet now, with no indication things will be different this time around — and with clear and mounting evidence we can’t afford to burn Arctic oil if we are serious about climate change — Shell is making moves toward Arctic drilling once again. In fact, Shell’s rigs are already on their way to Arctic waters. The only thing that is stopping Shell is the delay of the Fennica, the damaged icebreaker, which they need to begin their drilling operations.

“Shell should seize this last chance to reverse course and drop their reckless plans for Arctic drilling before it is too late.

“Drilling in the Arctic is the height of irresponsibility. If the Chukchi leases are developed and Shell begins operations, a major oil spill is extremely likely. We all remember the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in billions of dollars in economic damage to coastal communities and devastating pollution from the 4.9 million barrels of oil that were dumped into the warm Gulf waters. The harsh climate and remote location of the Arctic would make cleanup of a comparable spill nearly impossible, and if a spill happens during the winter, months could pass before a well could be plugged.

“Additionally, we should not be investing in infrastructure that will lock in decades of production — and carbon pollution — from previously unexploited fossil fuel reserves. The science is clear that we have already discovered five times as much fossil fuel as we can afford to burn if we hope to avert catastrophic climate change. Human civilization already faces enormous challenges from climate change.

Save the Arctic“We must take steps to alleviate this danger, not make it worse — and for Shell that means demonstrating global leadership by deciding to not put the world at risk by tapping into untouched and treacherous oil reserves in the Arctic. The U.S. should also use its power and leadership as the new Chair of the Arctic Council to work with other nations to keep Arctic oil off limits.

“Simply put, the Arctic may have oil, but the risks of drilling in the Arctic are too great. Arctic oil should stay in the ground.

“Several weeks ago, five of my Senate colleagues and I introduced the Stop Arctic Drilling Act of 2015, legislation that would protect the Arctic — and our climate — by prohibiting any new or renewed leases for oil drilling in the Arctic.

“It can take years to pass legislation in Congress, however, and right now we only have a window of weeks — maybe just days — before Shell starts drilling.

“It’s time for Shell to do the right thing and announce that they will pull out of the Arctic.”

Two friends—married couple Ann Hubard (photographer) and Taylor West (writer)—went down to the Willamette River this morning to chronicle the events as protesters kept the icebreaker from leaving Portland to help Shell drill for oil. Hubard, who was interviewed for the Oregonian, sent photos, and Taylor sent her impressions of this morning’s gathering:

zigThirteen Dangling in Protest:  Dangling some 408 feet above the Willamette River, yellow and red streamers marked each roped body. A flotilla of colorful kayaks was strategically stationed below, and a lone powered paraglider zigzagged up and down, in and out, voicing support for the mission. News helicopters tracked and recorded the event from on high while hundreds of spectators craning necks to spot the target of the daring dissenters. Moving ever so slowly up the Willamette came the MSV Fennica, 9,000 tons of icebreaker stretching longer than a football field. At last the dare is on!

Bicycles under bridgeThe crowd is eerily quiet,  the flotilla of kayaks centers itself, and, in unison, the danglers hang at attention. Suddenly I’m aware of only the paraglider’s engine and the roar of helicopters circling above. We stand together in anxious anticipation, heads shifting back and forth in tennis-match-style from danglers to ship. Who will say uncle first? Suddenly, the crowd erupts in boisterous cheers and applause. Yes, the Fennica has stopped before it turned and straddled on the river side-saddle as it starts its retreat. The daring dangling dissenters have won this round.

last chanceComment from Hubard: The Shell ship is huge, and being there helps you really understand how impressive these protesters are, to hang there as long as they have. Their dedication and perseverance is amazing.  I feel honored to have been there.

Addendum: This afternoon, police closed the St. Johns Bridge and removed three or four of the protesters dangling from the bridge. Law enforcement also circled protesters in kayaks and canoes that had continued to enter the river and block the big ship’s access. At 5:55 (PST), the Fennica went under the St. Johns Bridge, going north toward the Columbia River. Updates are available here.

 

July 29, 2015

Feminism Needs a New Book for Youth

valentiBook discussions are an occasional focus of my local NOW chapter meetings, and one member suggested Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, a writer who created feministing.com. Although the book was written in 2007, she hoped that the 2014 update would make the book current. Unfortunately, the new edition fails to update many references. For example, she decries sexism in Elizabeth Dole’s presidential campaign to an audience who has no idea who Dole. The use of sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton would have far more appeal to a younger audience.

full againFull Frontal Feminism was first published when Valenti was 28. Her new introduction in the 2014 edition reflected the reason for changing the original sexist cover (left) and her thinking about her entitlement as a white person. The second edition has a much better cover (below). Yet she made few changes to include women of color and update references. The year after she wrote the book, the beginning of the Great Recession caused a tremendous turmoil in the United States that created financial chaos for men as well as women. The changes produced crises that caused a commonality in financial issues for all genders. Another issue not addressed in the update is the explosion of anti-choice laws throughout the states that started to spike in 2011 with 135 separate laws passed in 2011 and 2012.

full next coverReviews of both editions are mixed—some people loved the book while others found it a disappointment.  One review described Valenti’s narrative as the Ann Coulter of the woman’s movement. The author’s ambivalence comes from the obvious point of view from a privileged, upper middle-class white woman mixed with Valenti’s complaints about the attitude of the wealthier girls in her high school.

Another reviewer called the book “Flyby Feminism” because of its superficial and shallow approach. Unfortunately, Valenti fails to give any analysis or explanations for her criticisms and frequently ending a statement with “puke” or a sarcastic comment such as “Need I go on?” In many cases, the answer would be “yes.” Some historical background to Valenti’s comments would have been useful. She simply writes that women gained the right to vote in 1920 although 14 states—almost 30 percent of the United States—had woman’s suffrage when the 19th Amendment was ratified. In fact, women could vote during the Revolutionary War but lost that right by 1807. Valenti’s comment about not knowing who the first feminists “really were,” [author’s italics] could have been replaced by brief references to early matriarchal societies and burning witches.

Like right-wing talk shows, the book uses the “straw man,” “bait-and-switch” method, for example, declaring that all anti-choice advocates hate abortion because they hate sex. Another problem with the book is the number of sweeping generalizations such as “when you’re a feminist, day to day life is better” and “there’s nothing feminists like better than pop culture.” Dogmatic expressions such as “I’m better in bed than you are” are reasons for the superiority of feminism.

The subtitle, A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters, describes the audience, but some of them may not respond well to the patronizing, authoritarian tone. Without support for what Valenti calls “truth,” the statements are delivered as directives. In essence, the narrative demands that readers be open-minded while exhibiting narrowness. In focusing on an inviting approach toward youth, Valenti compares today’s hip, pop-centric, sexually-driven fun-loving Third Wave to the stuffy, academic, boring women of the past without recognizing what these people achieved for greater gender equality. The book’s goal of telling young women that they are already feminists, although they don’t know it, is vital. Yet Valenti she tells her audience how to be “appropriate” feminists, focusing much of this description on having sex without guilt, before complaining about people telling others how to be feminists.

Some of the book’s advice is just bad. Valenti recommends having sex only with men who say that they are feminists, overlooking the fact that some men use this as a ploy to get sex from a woman. In her list of reasons why women stay with abusive men, she omitted the emotional attachment or dependence that the woman may have for the abuser. Other advice is demanding and negative: don’t change your name after you marry, don’t have sex with a Republican, don’t have plastic surgery. The primary “do” is to do be just like the author.

The book does provide 12 pages of solutions, but much of the advice is general, inane, and sexual—i.e., “have orgasms,” go to girls’ rock camps, volunteer, and call out people on sexist remarks. Fortunately, a bibliography at the end guided readers to other books that would benefit young people interested in feminism.

Valenti’s  early writing career was as a blogger, founding femisting.com, which is highly promoted in Full Frontal. Most blogs, especially in earlier days, relied on an informal approach to stating opinion without research. This tradition of a conversational tone may be responsible for the author’s writing style—simplistic, chatty, and peppered with mistakes such as indicating that the Supreme Court picked George W. Bush as president in 2004 instead of 2000.

All said, however, Valenti makes good points in the book, albeit without much backing:

  • Media sexism in stereotyped female appearance [which Valenti failed to point out has been prevalent throughout the centuries];
  • Teen feminist actions such as a high school student opposing abstinence-only sex education;
  • Women not at fault for rape;
  • Overwhelming poverty for women;
  • Men as feminists;
  • Importance of women voters;
  • Intersectionality of oppression from a variety of reasons such as poverty, race, gender, etc.

I was interested in the book’s discussion about the mandatory sterilization of women, still occurring in so much of the United States at the current time that California has just passed a law banning the practice. Those present also brought up issues not addressed within the book such as a focus of feminism on capitalist ideas rather than environment, the negative influence of Texas on education through the state’s control of textbooks with conservative and misleading content, and the fact that women pay more than men do for the same service or item (something that Valenti did not address in the book).

In searching the Internet, I discovered that most feminist books on lists for youth are fiction, and many nonfiction titles are classics such as Mary Wollenstonecraft’s “Vindication of the Rights of Women,” written in 1792. General books on feminism for young people are more focused to readers under the age of 15; recently published books for older teens and those in the early twenties don’t seem cover the wide range that “Full Frontal Feminism” does. A thoughtful and accessible book for young woman is badly needed.

The Internet may also promote the confusion of a definition for feminism: in its list of five feminist books, Google listed “She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman.” In my reading about the subject—both feminism and Full Frontal Feminism—the best definition I found is that “feminist” is not a person but a process.

Despite the flaws in the book that our group discussed, the discussion was extremely fruitful. I greatly appreciated the depth and concern that the group members expressed in our discussion.

July 28, 2015

Oregon, Model for State Legislatures

After the Oregon legislature finished five months of work earlier this year, the conservative Oregonian published an editorial titled “2015 Legislative Session Will be Remembered More for Failures.” The writer lamented what was not accomplished–the lack of raising the gas tax, inability to increase the minimum wage, and allowing “rural communities exceptions to land-use policies in certain circumstances.”

The sometimes more liberal Register-Guard followed with the same moaning a few weeks later, repeating the failure of a plan to pay for repair of the state’s infrastructure. Both papers are correct in the frustration of not advancing this one issue although the fault came from Republicans, upset because a low-carbon fuels program due to sunset this year was extended to reduce carbon content of fuels by ten percent in the next ten years.

The gas tax is important, but both editorials ignored the fact that the 2015 Oregon legislature passed, and Gov. Kate Brown signed, 689 progressive laws in five months while the U.S. Congress managed only 40 percent that number in all of 2014. This happened at the same time that many other states passed a majority of regressive laws. These states should use Oregon as a model for ways to benefit women and children.

Highlights:

Schools: Without raising taxes, the legislature increased the K-12 budget by 25 percent since 2011 and provided funding for all-day kindergarten for all Oregon children. State community colleges got a 20-percent increase, and universities did better at 30-percent increase. Knowing that the suspension and expulsion can lead to prison, new laws limit school suspension in grades 5 and lower and stops expulsion being used for truancy. Hunger keeps students from learning so all students eligible for reduced-price lunches will now receive their meals free, and students may count time for getting their free breakfasts as instructional time. Students can attend community colleges free if they meet certain criteria, and students brought into the state who pay in-state tuition are eligible for grants.

Youth: The Oregon Health Authority is required to establish and maintain a list of chemicals of concern for children’s health used in children’s products.

Gun Sense: While other states make their laws more lax, Oregon passed laws to keep the possession of guns from domestic violence offenders and people subject to domestic abuse restraining orders. Federal background checks are required for all private gun sales except between family members.

Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence/Stalking/Other Sex Crimes: A number of laws should make life safer for victims of these crimes. Release orders for defendants charged with sex crimes or domestic violence must prohibit attempted contact with victim and third-party contact with victim while defendant is in custody. Personal support workers and home care workers are added to the list of mandatory reporters of abuse of children, elderly persons and other vulnerable persons, and short term, emergency protection orders for victims are available on a 24 hour, 7-day a week basis.

Stalking victims no longer have to pay fees to get a protective restraining order. Rape charges can be made for 12 years after the alleged crime. The posting of naked photos of lovers or partners on the Internet without their permission with the intent to humiliate or ruin reputations is prohibited. Upskirting—intentionally photographing a person’s “intimate areas”–is prohibited in all cases as is setting up hidden cameras in places where privacy is presumed—a crime now a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Victims are now free to access support and advocacy without fear of disclosure. Conversations between sexual-assault survivors and specially trained advocates are private. Patients can redirect their explanation of benefit documents away from the policyholder to keep medical information private from others such as parents and abusive or estranged spouses. Oregon universities, colleges and community colleges must give sexual-assault victims written information on their rights, legal options, campus services, confidentiality policies, school disciplinary procedures and off-campus resources.

Low-Income Relief: Tax credits for low-income families have been expanded for another six years. Seniors and other Oregonians surviving on Social Security Housing and other income exempt from collections will not be subject to collection of unpaid state income taxes. In another law that helps low-income people, unclaimed damage awards from class-action lawsuits will be directed to the Oregon State Bar’s legal-aid fund. Community Services Department may use moneys in Housing Development and Guarantee Account for housing for persons with low or very low income, and a new law provides $40 million to build hundreds of affordable housing units for low-income people and $25 million to build housing focused on people with mental illness.

LGBTQ Issues: Oregon became the third state to ban mental health therapy to change sexual orientation or gender identity for anyone younger than 18 and the first state to provide help to veterans discharged because of their sexual orientation. A coordinator will help LGBT veterans change their discharge status and access benefits since the repeal of illegal status because of sexual orientation as well as providing outreach and assistance to spouses and dependents of these veterans. The Oregon no longer uses the word “husband and wife.” All these references have been changed to “spouses in a legal marriage” in the state code.

Employment: A significant win in Oregon is paid sick leave for all state and private employers with ten or more employees. Each person will receive one hour per 30 hours of work up to 56 hours of annual paid sick leave. Employers cannot punish employees who ask or give information about wage information. In another important law called “Ban the Box,” employers are forbidden to ask about criminal history on a job application. Workplace rights for domestic workers have been extended to overtime pay, rest periods, and paid personal time off. Employees on family leave must receive the continuation of group health insurance coverage.

Health & Safety Issues: All people with ongoing medical prescriptions can get a 90-day supply, and insurers must pay for a 12-month supply of contraceptives to qualifying women. Hospitals who rely on certified nurse midwives will have to give them admitting privileges. Homes and schools have a 60-foot, no-spray buffer from herbicide spraying. In an attempt to fight the result of “bomb trains” carrying volatile fuel, the Oregon State Fire Marshal will be in charge of and receive funding for coordinating outreach, developing a spill response plan, and conducting exercises, training, and support in the area of train safety. (HB 3225)

Law Enforcement: The Department of Corrections will continue the Family Preservation Project for parent inmates at Coffee Creek for ongoing contact with children and extend the program at other prisons. This program has been highly successful in keeping parents from returning to prison after they are released. Some non-violent custodial parent offenders may have the alternative of intense supervised probation so that they can keep their children. Police cannot target suspects based on age, race, ethnicity, color, national origin, language, gender, sex, political affiliation, religion or other identifying factors–unless the officer is acting on precise information from a report.

Voting: Another first for the nation is the “Motor Voter” law that automatically registers Oregon (with an opt-out window) for voting with the data on driver’s license records.

gomberg 2Everyone in Oregon should be proud of living in a state where the legislature protects and serves the residents. At the end of the five-month session, my representative, David Gomberg, described the session as “one of the more challenging and productive in recent memory.” Challenging, I don’t know, but productive, certainly. In addition to the laws that were passed, the Oregon legislation rejected laws that would overturn Jackson County’s ban on GMOS and several laws that would make the gun laws more lax in the state, including a reciprocity agreement with other states that do not do careful background checks on gun sales.

Thank you, Oregon!

More information about laws in the 2015 Oregon Legislature here and here.

July 27, 2015

Todd Continues ‘Misrepresentations’ on Meet the Press

On Meet the Press this past Sunday, Chuck Todd tried to continue the same hatchet job as the last time that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) experienced the last time he was interviewed. Todd began by addressing the tragic Lafayette (LA) shooting and calling Sanders “pro-NRA.” During Sanders’ answer, Todd also used the same false meme about the United States having enough laws to stop the shooter if they were followed. In fact, the loopholes in the law allowed the shooter to legally buy a gun from a pawn shop in the small town of Phenix (AL) where he lived.

Todd followed up that set of questions by describing what he called an “attack” on Sanders at the Netroots Nation conference by Black Lives Matter activists in Phoenix (AZ) and tried to make Sanders seem indifferent to racial problems. Failing at that tactic, Todd asked Sanders whether he and Donald Trump had similar appeals as a conservative pundit had claimed.

Sanders explained that he voted to ban certain types of assault weapons, to close the gun show loophole, and have instant background checks. With Sanders’ D- rating from NRA, Todd lacked any background for his accusation, but he tends to do research for his interviews. About the situation in Phoenix, Sanders said that he was there to talk about immigration reform but that the people who disrupted the meeting had “a very important issue.” Todd failed to show a clip of the event because Sanders tutored Todd on the intersectionality of poverty and race that fuels racial tensions. Sanders finished by saying that he was not similar to Trump before Todd once again tried to sandbag Sanders with references to Hillary Clinton.

When Todd regained control by safely returning to a largely conservative panel, he called Sanders “defensive” and criticized Sanders for connecting economic and racial issues. The entire panel discussion following Sanders’ interview was about Hillary Clinton. Again Todd failed to correct falsehoods when panel member Sara Fagen said that liberals have moved farther to the left while the right has moved farther in the opposite direction. Todd weakly responded that “not everyone would agree with you” but failed to point out that the left has stayed in the same place while the right has moved far to the extreme.

change in politics

 

This graph shows how Democrats are exactly where they were in 1879 after becoming far more liberal whereas the right has made a dramatic shift to conservativism, especially since Ronald Reagan was elected.

Todd spent over15 minutes addressing Donald Trump—partly describing “funny” ways that current GOP candidates are trying to bring attention to themselves rather than to Trump. When Fagen tried to explain that Trump’s 20 percent choice in New Hampshire , no one pointed out that this number is really high in a field of 16 candidates.

In another interview, this one with GOP presidential candidate John Kasich, Todd appeared non-confrontational and congenial. The discussion was about issues, and Todd stared at Kasich sagely, appearing to agree with all the positions that Kasich espoused. After a simple question about Trump, Kasich said he didn’t want to talk about him, and Todd moved on. There were no questions about Clinton, and Todd seemed to allow Kasich to lead the interview.

Sara Fagen accused Planned Parenthood of selling tissue, a patent falsehood that Todd failed to correct. Neither he nor other panelists made any mention that the doctored videos promoting this lie came from the Center for Medical Progress, an organization with ties to anti-abortion terrorists and stalkers.

The woman allowed to present her two major lies on what was, in the past, a reputable news program was a “top Iowa staffer” in George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, moved on to be political director on Bush’s White House team, and then resigned 2007 while subpoenaed to testify about the U.S. Attorney scandal under then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Emails show that Fagen was part of the campaign to eliminate high-performing U.S. Attorneys who were replaced by lawyers loyal to her employer, Karl Rove. Eventually, she testified before a Senate panel but concealed many communications under broad executive privilege authorized by George W. Bush. Gonzales resigned in disgrace for this scandal and other indiscretions.

Todd even irritated his conservative base when he predicted that Trump would make Hillary Clinton president if he ran as a third party candidate. That was immediately after he said that he’s “not going to try to predict anything Trump might do.” In his highlighting of Trump, Todd also gave racist and homophobic Pat Buchanan a platform. In 2012, Buchanan lost his place on the NBC network because of his book, “Suicide of a Superpower,” supposedly documenting how diversity and immigration ruin the United States. Todd said nothing about Buchanan’s past except he was a presidential candidate in 1992 and former communications director for Reagan’s White House. Buchanan was allowed to present his xenophobic statements framing immigration as a “massive invasion” and “conquest of the West” by “third-world … border jumpers.”

Sanders sticks to the issues; Todd panders to the right, partly because he is afraid that he can’t get conservatives to come onto his show if he treats them in the same way that he does people on the left. Once again, Todd bashed the major Democratic presidential candidates running against Jim Webb. One of Webb’s campaign team is Kristian Denny Webb, Chuck Todd’s wife.

Unable to find any dirt on Sanders, conservatives have to resort to lying. On National Public Radio, which was more accurate and progressive before the Koch brothers started funding it, host Diane Rehm threw this statement into the midst of a 50-minute interview with Sanders.

Rehm: “Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.”

[She didn’t even ask it as a question. Later Rehm said that a listener made the comment on Facebook.]

Sanders: “Well, no, I do not have dual citizenship with Israel. I’m an American…. I’m an American citizen, period.” He was born in Brooklyn to Polish immigrants, and he’s Jewish. But Rehm didn’t quit.

Rehm: “I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list. Forgive me if that is —“

After Sanders again denied her statement, she expanded her unsubstantiated falsehood to the entire Congress when she asked, “Are there members of Congress who do have dual citizenship, or is that part of the fable?” Her term “list” is reminiscent of the 1950s when Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) had a false “list” of Communists that destroyed many people. Rehm’s baseless hearsay is unprofessional and reprehensible, especially on a radio station that my taxes support, but it may be an indicator of things to come in the next 16 months.

Many Republicans are in tune with Sanders’ policies. And that’s members of the GOP, not the entire population:

  • 80%: money has too much influence in our politics.
  • 54%: most of the time candidates directly help those who gave money to them.
  • 81%: campaign finance system needs fundamental changes (45%) or a complete rebuild (36%).
  • 64%: changes are unlikely to be made to reform the campaign finance system.
  • 71%: the amount that individuals can give to campaigns should be limited.
  • 73%: super PAC spending should be limited by law.
  • 76%: superPACs should be required to disclose their donors.

According to the general population:

  • 66%: the distribution of money and wealth should be more even.
  • 67%: the wealth gap between rich and poor is getting larger in the U.S.
  • 57%: government should do more to reduce the wealth gap.
  • 68%: taxes should be raised on those who earn more than $1 million per year.
  • 50%: limits should be put on earnings for corporations’ top executives.
  • 74%: corporations have too much influence on U.S. life and politics.
  • 71%: the U.S. minimum wage should be increased to $10.10 per hour.
  • 80%: people should have paid family leave and 85% paid sick leave.

 

approval

The GOP is rapidly losing approval, especially among Republicans. In a new Pew Research Center poll, only 32 percent had a favorable opinion of the GOP, down from 41 percent only six months ago. Republican approval dropped 18 percent since January from 86 percent to 68 percent, and approval among independents dropped from 37 percent to 29 percent.  Democrats have held steady during the same time, even rising two points. The honeymoon from last year’s election is over.

At the same time, Bernie Sanders is gathering crowds of thousands, even in conservative bastions such as Phoenix (AZ) and Dallas (TX). Sanders’ recent appearance in New Orleans drew five times as many people in the audience as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s announcement of his presidential campaign, and Sanders’ largest audience of 11,000 is larger than any GOP presidential candidate–eleven times as many as those who turned out for Chris Christie.

That’s something else that Chuck Todd failed to mention.

July 26, 2015

Hateful Religious Beliefs–and a Bit of Hope

Our country’s leaders used their religious perspectives to make the comments last week:

John Hagee: “Planned Parenthood … brings to mind the evil of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and Dr. Mengele.”

Mike Huckabee (in an African-American church about racial problems):  “We don’t have a skin problem in this country, we have a sin problem in this country.”

Mike Huckabee (on the Iranian deal): “This president’s foreign policy …  will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven,”

Sam Rohrer (Pennsylvania State Representative 1992-2009): “Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church [are] the protectors of moral truth. The west and the United States have become the leaders of moral depravity.”

Pat Robertson (once presidential candidate): “Love affairs between men and animals are going to be absolutely permitted…. And it will be called a right.”

Pat Robertson (about criminalization of homosexuality): “Boy those Africans have got it right. One wishes that the president of the United States would listen to some of his fellow Africans, cousins, to what they have to say because they speak truth and they speak wisdom.”

David Brody, Chief Political Correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network (about why Donald Trump operates like Christians): “Donald Trump operates in a world of absolutes: A world of right and wrong; a world of winners and losers…. And what does Trump get for speaking out so boldly without holding back? Public ridicule.”

Randy Brogdon, Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman: “The federal courts don’t have the authority to make us kill babies. Are the Supreme Court justices going to come down to Oklahoma and make us stop?”

How did GOP senators spend their Sunday today? They voted against health care. And they lost. They needed 60 votes and couldn’t even get a simple majority: the vote was 49-43 with eight senators not voting. All Republicans voted against health care except for five who did not vote at all: Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and Pat Tommey (R-PA). Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided to have a vote last week to shut up his party opposing the Export-Import Bank. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) thinks he can circumvent the 60-vote threshold by refilling the health care amendment as one connected to the highway funding bill. When the Senate chair rejects this premise, Lee would object, allowing a 51-vote majority to overturn the decision.

Before Lee’s ploy failed, presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) unsuccessfully tried to attach an amendment keeping sanctions on Iran until it recognizes Israel’s right to exist to the same highway bill. Even ultra-conservative Lamar Alexander (R-TN) worried about Cruz’s tactics, and the other Texas GOP senator, John Cornyn, called the strategy a “terrible mistake,” urging Republicans to vote against it. As he pointed out, voting on Cruz’s amendment would mean that “any senator who wants to get a vote on an amendment will be entitled to do so and that can’t be the rule.” John McCain said that if they were going to change the rules, which takes 67 votes, then they should have a debate.

Last week, Cruz had a temper tantrum on the floor of the Senate after 67 senators voted in favor of advancing the attachment of the Export-Import Bank to the necessary highway bill. When he called McConnell a liar, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) read aloud rules prohibiting attacks among chamber members on the Senate floor. John Thune (R-SD) said that Cruz’s idea would “make it impossible to get anything done in the Senate.” Evidently he doesn’t understand that this has been the Senate MO for quite a while.

Cruz and another presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) have started using a term for their Islamphobia. In targeting Muslims, they both referred to “not Presbyterian” in a coded language that another religion, not extremist terrorists, is a problem. Nothing has been said about the far-right Christians who are trying to match ISIS in terrorism.

This weekend, Cruz will speak at a conference by the Center for Security Policy alone with other candidates Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Carly Fiorina, and Bobby Jindal. The director of this group, Frank Gaffney, has indicated that Obama is a Muslim and that the Muslim Brotherhood has supposedly taken over the U.S. government. Gaffney has support from Huckabee who said this year:

“Everything he [Obama] does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel. The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community.”

Former Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark suggested internment camps for radicalized Muslims. The camps would not be for people who committed crimes—just those who don’t hold Christian values. George W. Bush’s religious advisor, Franklin Graham, agreed with the camps for Muslims as well as an official ban to stop Muslims from immigrating.Muslims make up roughly one percent of the U.S. population, and Muslim Americans don’t ask for special favors. The building hatred, however, could return the United States to the dark days of Japanese internment camps 70 years ago.

In March, U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg ordered Philadelphia’s transportation system to accept anti-Islamic hate ads on its buses. They feature a 1941 photo of Hitler meeting with an Arab leader and read: “Islamic Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quaran.” The small print states, “Two-thirds of all U.S. aid goes to Islamic countries” and “End all aid to Islamic countries.” Israel, a Middle Eastern country, receives one-third of the foreign aid budget, and Islamic countries that receive aid, such as Egypt, are key contributors to Israel’s security. Egypt is a major aid in controlling the Palestinian people.

Pamela Geller’s group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), is behind the ads. Great Britain considers the organization a hate group and barred Geller from going into the country in 2013. In 2011, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refused to grant trademark status to Stop Islamization of America on the grounds that the name could be disparaging to American Muslims. The USPTO’s decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit a year ago. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) prohibits ads that disparage people or groups “on the basis of race, religious belief, age, sex, alienage, national origin, sickness, or disability.”

Fortunately, the ads ran for only a month until AFDI’s contract ran out. During that time SEPTA made its advertising policy much more restrictive—no guns; tobacco products; politics; viewpoints about “economic, political, religious, historical or social issues”; content that is “disparaging, disreputable or disrespectful” to various individuals and groups—in short, anything that “that threatens the public image of SEPTA.”

Some Florida Islamophobes are trying to ban two children’s books from the public school because they “promote” another religion than Christianity. Both books written and illustrated by Jeannette Winter are based on true stories: “Nasreen’s Secret School” is about a young girl in Afghanistan whose grandmother sends her to a secret school for girls, and  “The Librarian of Basra” is about Alia Muhammad Baker who saved part of Basra’s library collections before the building was burned after British forces entered the city. Two years ago, New York parents also tried to ban the books about book banning.

Texans in Farmerville, who firmly believe in freedom, don’t want a Muslim cemetery in their county. One of their threats is to dump pigs’ blood or put pigs’ heads on posts on the property so that Muslims won’t buy it. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-33599843  The Muslims bought the property anyway. Three cheers for Mayor Joe Helmberger who said the cemetery would be approved as long as the town’s development standards are met and that the US was founded on religious freedom.

Islamophobes might use these Muslims as examples. During the aftermath of the white man who killed nine black people in a Charleston (SC) church, several black churches were burned, some because of arson. Muslims have raised over $100,000 to help rebuild these churches.

A ray of hope in separation of church and state: pharmacies cannot refuse to dispense Plan B or other emergency contraceptives, according to a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court. For the second time, this ruling overturned a 2012 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton who thought that the Washington state law violated religious freedom.  Leighton is a George W. Bush appointee, as is one of the three unanimous votes against Leighton.

Last May, Sharmira Johnson was awarded $75,000 after the Christian non-profit organization United Bible Fellowship Ministries after they fired her because she was pregnant. Women who are pregnant or recently gave birth have to be treated the same as others “in their ability or inability to work,” and employers must offer these women the same light duty or other workplace accommodations that they would offer any other employees.  An estimated 250,000 women are denied these requests each year, and an untold number of women don’t ask because of adverse consequences.

July 25, 2015

Marriage Equality Not for All

Every month in editing a newsletter for our local PFLAG group, I write articles about national and global news. This past month has been filled with the aftermath—and sometimes backlash—to the Supreme Court decision that LGBT people should have equal rights in marriage. The media frenzy began when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-gender couples should have the right to marry in all 50 states. Here are some of the issues that emerged from that decision.

Of course, conservatives were traumatized by the possibility that LGBT people could get married. Judges refused to marry same-gender couples or said that they were too busy. A Texas judge required everyone who he married, LGBT or straight, to sign a document stating that he was opposed to the decision and that no one should even mention marriage equality in his presence. Some clerks decided to quit rather than issue marriage licenses. One of them refused until threatened with a lawsuit.

Jacob WilsonThe three members of Dent County (MO) commission unanimously voted to lower the flags “below halfstaff” at the county courthouse once a month for a year in order to “mourn” the legalization of marriage equality. Within a day they had to back down because of protests from the population of 15,000 for its violation to flag protocol and its bigotry. Out of this discrimination came a positive action from Jacob Wilson (right), a gay alumnus of Salem High School, who establishing a scholarship fund to support LGBT students and allies.

Other good things have happened since the decision. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch confirmed that married same-sex couples will have access to full federal benefits after the Supreme Court ruling to legalize marriage equality. Prior to the SCOTUS decision, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration were required to deny full benefits for married same-gender couples living in states that did not recognize marriage equality.

One segment of the U.S. population not covered by the Supreme Court ruling that legalizes marriage equality is Native Americans living on reservations. The decision does not extend to sovereign Indian Nations because the fate of that judgment lies in Congress. Unless Congress passes legislation to require same-gender marriage on Indian Nations—a highly unlikely act—tribes create and enforce their own laws governing marriage. Many tribes have changed their laws to legalize marriage equality or ruled that they will follow the rules of the state where reservations are located, but ten tribes, including the two largest ones of Cherokee Nation and the Navajo, have acts that prohibit same-gender marriage. The Navajo changed Navajo law accepting same-gender unions when they passed the Diné Marriage Act of 2005 in response to former President George W. Bush’s call for amendments to state constitutions banning same-sex unions.

Alray Nelson & Brennen YonnieAlray Nelson (left), an openly gay man living on the Navajo reservation in Arizona with his partner Brennan Yonnie, is working to change the 2005 act because same-gender couples are denied the rights of married heterosexual couples in issues such as housing, property rights, and custody of children. Many contemporary LGBTQ Navajo talk about historical accounts of same-gender unions and even the prominence of the nádleehí–third-gender people–in Navajo creation stories. Nelson said, “When I’m reading comments from Navajo leaders, it seems like the majority of them came from the boarding-school era, and so everything that they were taught from that time of assimilation is so full of misunderstanding, fear and hate for our own people. It seems like the U.S. government did a very good job at training our Navajo men and women–our brothers and sisters–to be their own oppressor.”

Bans on LGBT marriage is not the only problem on Nelson’s reservation. LGBT bullying and teen suicides are high, and the Navajo Nation has seen an unprecedented spike in new HIV diagnoses because the people lack information about the disease.

navajo_hastiin_klah2Navajo history includes Hastiin Klah (1867-1937), weaver and medicine man who embodied both male and female spirits as a nádleehí Navajo. Farther back are drawings, photographs, oral histories, and language that advocates say is evidence LGBT Navajo tribe members were once accepted. Anthropologist W. W. Hill noted Navajo nádleehí indivudals were associated with wealth and that the families they were born in to were considered fortunate. But that began to change. The change came when the U.S. ordered Native Americans to attend U.S. schools and accept European religion.

Marriage equality is just the beginning of LGBT rights in the United States: we need laws and rulings to give us equality in credit, housing, employment, lodging, jury service, federal financial assistance, education, etc. Legislators such as Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) are introducing bills to restrict federal funding to municipalities that don’t comply with the ruling. Other legislators, including Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, are behind a bill to stop LGBT discrimination through an update to the Civil Rights of 1964. Pocan is also one of the Democratic congressional members who introduced Restore Honor to Service Members Act that would help service members discharged from the military to correct the military record, reflecting their honorable service.

cartoon

 

Marriage equality opponents who struggle to stop same-gender marriage through amending the Constitution should realize that only one amendment to that document took away rights—the 18th Amendment starting prohibition—and it lasted only 13 years before being overturned by another constitutional amendment. The history of the U.S. Constitution has been to give rights, not take them away. The so-called First Amendment Defense Act on allowing discrimination through “religious freedom” has a restrictive nature rather than opening up rights to everyone and should not be allowed.

July 23, 2015

MSNBC Goes Farther Right with Chuck Todd

Chuck Todd, the opinionater instead of moderator on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” now has another five hours a week, starting in September, to destroy Democrats in a new show on MSNBC. People who consider the channel to be liberal need to take a good look at it, starting with “The Morning Joe Show.” It’s natural—although upsetting—that the conservative boss for programs would cut “The Cycle,” “Now with Alex Wagner,” and “The Ed Show” in favor of a less learned and more right-leaning host.

Ed Schultz, who lost the time slot given to Todd, often had higher ratings than Chris Hayes in “All In,” but Phil Griffin likes Hayes. Seeing the writing on the wall, Hayes has also been moving right in the past few months. In a vicious circle, MSNBC gradually dumps its progressive hosts, progressive watchers leave the channel, ratings go down, and Griffin blames the ratings on the programming’s “liberal bias” to get rid of more hosts that provided higher ratings. Rachel Maddow is most likely safe, but “Politics Nation” with Al Sharpton will probably be dropped for a more conservative Brian Willliams’ newscast. After missing from broadcasting for six months for his lies, Williams will find a home at the newest conservative channel on television.

Chuck Todd seems unable to ask probing questions, frequently giving his conservative guests a pass and acting as a mouthpiece for corporate media and conservatives. To Todd, this isn’t a problem because he thinks that asking questions is not his job.

Last fall, Todd campaigned for recently elected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) during a segment on “Morning Joe.” In commenting on a clip showing the refusal of Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell’s opponent, to answer questions about whether she voted for President Obama, Todd sneered:

“And Kentuckians expect her to cast a tough vote on anything? Is she ever gonna answer a tough question on anything? You wanna be a U.S. senator? If you can’t find a way to stand behind your party’s president … you can disagree with him but you can’t answer a basic question and you come across looking that ridiculous? I think she disqualified herself.”

The GOP effectively used “disqualified” in their attack ads on Grimes, giving credit to the person viewed as NBC News’ top political man. Jim Newell described Todd’s flip remark as “arrogant and short-sighted commentary,” but Todd blamed Grimes for his blunder and said, “She invited this on herself.”

Todd’s hatchet job on Grimes was very different from his profile of Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) when she was running for Congress. Ernst refused to answer any questions from local newspaper boards and wouldn’t even meet with them. While not addressing this, he supported her position on the “Personhood Amendment” that he said would protect “unborn human beings” and “grant all unborn human beings with equal protections.” The definition of “personhood” is “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being,” starting from an egg. Ernst’s and Todd’s amendment would prevent many forms of contraception.

Todd also thinks that correcting lies is not his job as a journalist. When he interviewed Ed Rendell two years ago, the former Pennsylvania governor pointed out that the media had been complicit in spreading lies about the Affordable Care Act. Todd responded:

“But more importantly, it would be stuff that Republicans have successfully messaged against it. They [the media] don’t repeat the other stuff because they haven’t even heard the Democratic message. What I always love is people say, ‘Well, it’s you folks’ fault in the media.’ No, it’s the President of the United States’ fault for not selling it.”

One example of Todd’s failure occurred last May when House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told host Chuck Todd that “Obamacare made it harder for employers to hire people.” He claimed that it was a “fact” that “any employer in America” will say that. He continued by saying that having Medicaid is nothing because doctors won’t see Medicaid patients. Last year, 75 percent of surveyed employers reported that the Affordable Care Act made no difference in their hiring. Not one major business organization filed a brief to stop the ACA in the King v. Burwell lawsuit heard by the Supreme Court. Todd’s question to Boehner:

“So you don’t see Obamacare as good for the country?”

Todd also gave Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) a pass in “misrepresenting” economics when he said that he claimed that raising taxes on the wealthy while lowering taxes on everyone else doesn’t work:

In May, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) had to explain why the country needs funding for the infrastructure because Todd didn’t seem to understand that lack of money put into it, for example Amtrack, could cost people their lives.

When he was asked why 62 percent of his guests are white men, Todd said that it was because “you want to put the best people on. You want to put the best, smartest people on.” To Todd, the “best, smartest people” are white men. For almost a year, former Secretary of State James Baker appeared an average of once a month to explain what President Obama was doing wrong in the Middle East. It appears that he’s classified as “smartest.”

One of Todd’s guests, comedian Lewis Black, commented that he didn’t know how hosts kept from “barking” at some guests on their show. Todd explained:

“We all sit there because we know the first time we bark is the last time we do the show. There’s something where all of the sudden nobody will come on your show.”

Todd’s lack of sensitivity was clearly demonstrated a few days after the white man killed nine black people in a Charleston (SC). A segment about gun violence showed convicted murderers—all of them black—talking about their regret. Todd may not have noticed this blunder if guest Eugene Robinson and his show’s audience had not pointed out that murder “is not just an African-American problem.” Yet Todd tried to cover himself by saying that the purpose of Meet the Press is to make people “uncomfortable.”

Chuck Todds’ book about President Obama last year, “The Stranger,” blamed the president for income inequality, instability in the Middle East, and partisan as if he had control over the intentional GOP gridlock in Washington. Other Todd criticisms of the president were his “passive leadership and lack of managerial experience.” The review from the Columbian Journalism Review reported:

“Todd has written a disappointing book, a slab of pedestrian punditry….  On a range of issues, from the stimulus to healthcare reform to Syria, Todd weighs in on how the process looked, while devoting barely a second’s thought to the policy’s merits.”

When presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) appeared on Meet the Press, Todd didn’t ask about Sanders’ call for “political revolution” and instead asked him about Hillary Clinton’s “trustworthiness.” Todd tried to lead Sanders into a comparison of Presidents Clinton and Obama as a lead-in to criticisms about the current presidential candidate. “Do you take her at her word?” Todd asked. Sanders expressed hope that “the media will allow us to have a serious debate in this campaign on the enormous issues facing the American people.” Todd showed that he had no intention of a debate about policy by talking about Sanders’ essay on women’s rape fantasy, written 43 years ago, which Sanders said was a badly written attempt to discuss gender roles in the 1970’s.

At least Todd recognized Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, something he failed to do about Sanders. Todd delighted the far-right, including Rush Limbaugh by this statement that has swept the Internet. “Not quite right” will undoubtedly appear in GOP ads:

“Everybody has watched this campaign and we all come to the same conclusion: there’s something just not quite right. You know, is it enthusiasm? I don’t know. Is it her? I don’t know. There’s just something that doesn’t seem to be big, bold, and boom.”

As Todd trashes at least three of the Democratic presidential candidates, he fails to mention that his wife works for another Dem candidate, Jim Webb. Strategist Kristian Denny Todd is on Webb’s campaign team.

The first principle of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is “Seek Truth and Report It.” Todd fails on both these points. A point under this principle requires good journalists to consider the source’s motives, yet Todd not only allows smear campaigns on his program against Democrats but also joins in.

Todd thought that Sen. Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) stunt to use a snowball as proof that climate change doesn’t exist was just plain fun. LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik accused Todd of “pander[ing] to American anti-intellectualism.” He added, “How low can the news departments of our major networks sink?” Farther down, obviously MSNBC has gone several steps lower by replacing a thoughtful show with Todd’s cuteness and softball approach toward Republican lies.

July 22, 2015

U.S. Justice for the Top 1 Percent

Mass media is gradually turning to the criminal (in)justice system within the past few months. One publicized tragedy is a teenager’s suicide after he was incarcerated at Rikers for three years with no trial following his arrest for allegedly stealing a backpack. When the case was finally dismissed, he was so traumatized by the years in solitary confinement and abuse that he couldn’t survive.

President Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, has recently been addressing the serious problem that the U.S. incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other industrialized country. The discussion about a system that imprisons almost twice as many people as two decades ago and that disproportionately jails people of color is long overdue.

prison_pop_increase

Adam Benforado is one person who has researched the differences between freedom and imprisonment—not only class and race but also juror life experience and the fatigue level of parole boards. In his new book, “Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice,” he describes the great emphasis of unreliable confessions on convictions. The Innocence Project, responsible for over 330 exonerations, found that “more than 1 out of 4 people wrongfully convicted but later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement.” Saul Kassin, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, stated, “Once the confession is taken, it trumps everything else…its effects cannot be reversed.”

Police who initially focus on behaviors showing that a suspect lies, use methods from false ideas about body language and leading lines of questioning. Detectives ask provocative questions and then look for “jittery limbs or averted gaze.” Benforado explained that “frequently someone who’s committed a horrible crime will look you straight in the eye and tell you that they’re innocent.” Techniques  to get admissions of guilt employ coercive “good-cop, bad-cop” routines. Vulnerable people such as those with low IQs, a history of mental health problems, or with less life experience such as teenagers often make false confessions in efforts to appease interrogators. Over 80 percent of people who confess but please not guilty are convicted because the confessions are almost impossible to erase.

Even recordings can result in viewer bias. According to Benforado, the point of view can make a huge difference:

“When people watched the footage shot from the perspective of the interrogator, they tended to say, well, this looks like a completely fine, voluntary confession. But when they watch the videotape from another perspective, through the eyes essentially of the suspect, suddenly they notice all of these coercive factors. And they tended to think, well no, actually that confession cannot come into court because it is so badly influenced by the actions of the interrogator.”

Benforado also pointed out how facts have little relationship with jury verdicts. Black men typically get longer prison terms and have a higher incidence of death sentences than white men. Jurors’ backgrounds and experiences, “cultural cognition,” weigh more heavily in guilt or innocence than legalities. For example, in trials of rape date, “women who were older, who were more conservative, who adhere to more traditional gender norms, were far more likely to let the man off in this particular case than women who were liberal and younger.”

Parole boards may be the most alarming part of injustice because of how the time of day plays a big part of whether prisoners are released or returned to prison. The worst time to get a parole is before the first break of the day.

The saddest conclusion of Benforado’s study is that the legal system is primarily created by and composed of white, wealthy, highly-educated older men. At this time, white people in the United States think that they are at risk. That’s the reason that a young man went to a Bible study at a church in Charleston (SC) and killed nine people.

One major tragedy  in the United States criminal justice system is that 2,500 people in the United States were sentenced to life without parole when they were teenagers. The country will pay $4 billion to keep them there for the rest of their lives. All UN-affiliated countries in the world have signed and ratified a treaty to ban life imprisonment for juvenile offenders except for the United States, Somalia, and South Sudan.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama by a 5-4 vote that these life sentences violate the 8th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. and the court banned mandatory life sentences for minors. The ruling, however, left the decision of whether the ruling is to be applied retroactively up to individual states. Eleven states have thus far ruled in favor of retroactivity, but five have ruled against retroactivity.

One of these 2,500 juvenile lifers is Efren Paredes, who went to prison in Michigan when he was 15 and has been there for 26 years. An honor roll student with no criminal record, he was arrested but claimed that he was at home with his family watching TV when a convenience store clerk was shot and killed in a robbery. The Supreme Court announced last March to hear Toca v. Louisiana in the upcoming session that would determine whether Miller would be retroactive nationwide.

Michigan is second only to Pennsylvania in the number of juvenile lifers. According to Michigan law, teenagers as young as 15 years old are automatically tried in adult courts for murder cases, and convicted teens go directly to adult prisons. If the court rules in favor of retroactive treatment, convicts tried as juveniles must have a re-trial with the hope that a jury grants the possibility of parole because they plead their cases before a parole board. Even if the Supreme Court rules for nationwide retroactive application of Miller in Toca v. Louisiana, Parades’ parole could be in danger because he has always maintained his innocence when parole boards demand for a showing of “remorse.”

Another tragedy is that female victims of abuse are sent to juvenile detention halls that fail to treat them for mental health issues. “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story,” produced by the Human Rights Project for Girls (Washington, DC), the Center on Poverty and Equality (Georgetown University Law Center), and the Ms. Foundation, reported that girls’ involvement in juvenile justice systems nationally is “growing disproportionately” and that girls of color are especially affected.

Many infractions, such as running away from home or school truancy, should not have led to incarceration, and the Human Rights Projects for Girls is fighting for legislature that would require prompt help for sex trafficking victims who are foster-care children and expose sex trafficking of minors. Most youth are confined in facilities lacking licensed professionals as mental-health counselors. Congress could fix loopholes in treatment of girls in crisis by tying funding to federal law requirements.

The biggest sin of prisons, however, is that privatization has made prisons a chief money raiser for the top one percent in the United States. With the rise of privately-owned prisons, incarceration has become big business in America. Holding a population of over 130,000, private prisons hold about 17 percent of federal and 7 percent of state inmates, bringing over $3.3 billion in revenue to just two corporations, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, just last year. Almost half the immigrant detention population is in private prisons. Corporations fiercely lobby against any reduction in their population, whether from reductions in mandatory minimum sentencing laws, immigration reform, or drug legalization and decriminalization. There’s not much danger of losing their prisoners, however, because privately-owned prison companies usually include an occupancy level of 90 percent or above in their contracts.

Private companies are in control of extending prisoners’ sentences through doling out infractions—twice as many as government-run prisons—adding about $3,000 of costs to taxpayers per prisoner. When released, prisoners from private prisons are more likely to go back into the system. CCA has provisions in its contract to keep the most costly inmates—those with health issues—from going into its prisons. They had 14 different exclusion criteria including HIV-positive, disabled, elderly, or those with “sensitive medical conditions and/or high risk diagnoses.”

Current laws that incarcerate millions have not resulted in any greater safety for the country’s population and are a giant waste of money. Yet politicians support these failed policies because lobbyists pay them. While Chairman of the Florida House of Representatives, now-Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) took $75,000 for his state campaigns, hired a former GEO trustee as economic advisor, and made sure that GEO got a $110 million contract for the state’s largest private prison facility. A federal inquiry found tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to Florida lawmakers and ended up indicting Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom. Moving on to being a U.S. senator, Rubio pushed Florida Gov. Rick Scott to turn 27 state prisons to GEO. For that, Rubio’s PAC got $114,000 in 2011.

The U.S. is horribly over-incarcerated. The 2.4 million men, women, and children in jails and prisons are more people per capita than any nation except for Seychelles. This 700-percent increase has come since 40 years ago when the U.S. was comparable to other nations. During that time, the War on Drugs cost $1 trillion and arrested 45 million people. Imprisoning people means that they cannot get treatment for the reason behind their drug use, and the prisons resort to solitary confinement. Portugal decriminalized all drug use and now treat addition as a medical issue with humane correctional methods. Drug-use rates have markedly declined.

The criminal justice in the United States is totally skewed toward the privileged who will fight to keep the status quo because it gives them money and position.

July 21, 2015

Kasich: ‘Moderate’ GOP Candidate with Bad Reproductive Rights Record

Today’s late entry into the GOP presidential campaign, John Kasich, has had such a low profile that he looks better than the collection of crazies stumping the country for the GOP presidential nominee. Conservatives should love him—investment banker, Fox network commentator, budget hawk, blue-collar background, past legislator, and governor of the must-win state of Ohio for the president. His short fuse, however, may bring more excitement to the fight, currently among the field of 15 men and one woman who desperately want to be winners. For example, he prompted a walkout after yelling at a wealthy donor at a Koch brothers-sponsored conference. He told a BP employee in a meeting that oil and gas companies deserve to “have a bad reputation.” He added, “Oil companies are liars and they are going to be screwed.”

His anger is so obvious that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accused the 63-year-old candidate of having “a hair-trigger temper.” Like candidate Scott Walker, Kasich cuts out anyone who disagrees with him. Conservative activist Matt Mayer said:

“When you criticize Kasich, you’re sort of dead to him. That’s the way it works.”

Kasich may have a better chance than when he first ran in 1999, but a downside to the incumbent-defeating state senator, congressman, and governor is that the people of Ohio voted out his signature law rolling back public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights, worse than Walker’s law in Wisconsin. “Ohio’s law … gives city councils and school boards a free hand to unilaterally impose their side’s final contract offer when management and union fail to reach a settlement,” New York Times’s Steven Greenhouse wrote. Kasich’s law also applied to police and firefighters, who were exempted from Walker’s law. Backlash cut Kasich’s approval-disapproval rating from 30 to 46, and the Ohio constitution allowed voters to put the law up for approval or disapproval. Despite his campaigning for the law, Kasich lost by 61 to 38 percent.

The 16th candidate  also opposed his own party to accept the Medicaid expansion with the argument that helping the poor is a Christian action. In the 21st century, this is an anti-GOP position. He even went farther when he claimed that limited government advocates had to do more to help the less fortunate. He presented this position at the Koch brothers event, but Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley were quick to disagree. Kasich even told the New York Times that the GOP is waging a “war on the poor.” He said that his “most important mission” was to convince conservatives that “when some of us are doing better, it is essential that we begin to figure out how to help people who are not doing better.” Preparing for his campaign, he told people to “read Matthew 25″ about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. His arguments make the GOP uncomfortable because religious arguments to help people makes cutting those programs far more difficult.

The Ohio legislature refused to expand Medicaid so Kasich bypassed them. He went to the state “Controlling Board,” created to handle adjustments to the state’s budgetary flow and asked them to let the federal Medicaid money come into the state. When two appointees indicated that they would vote against Kasich, he simply replaced them with a final count of 5-2 in favor. Lawsuits against his action failed with the state Supreme Court upholding Kasich’s actions. A former president was Kasich’s justification:

“Reagan was fiscally responsible, but he was also pragmatic and compassionate. When we consider what Reagan would do, let’s also remember what he did do—expand Medicaid.”

Kasich’s win raised his popularity poll to 55 percent approving of his job performance, compared to 30 percent disapproval. Lawsuits against his action failed when the state Supreme Court upheld Kasich’s actions, and he won his next election with a 31-point victory.

Kasich has followed the GOP position in his support of a mentor program receiving Ohio taxpayer funding from “Community Connectors” required that the schools partner with both a church and a non-profit business and signing a bill that stopped Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs for at least two years. Worst, however, may be Kasich’s elimination of women’s reproductive rights.

Ultrasounds are required at least 24 hours before women who can receive oral contraception or an IUD because Ohio law equates preventing pregnancy to abortion. All women having abortions must also have ultrasounds, even if doctors find these unnecessary.

Restrictions on women’s clinics have caused Ohio to lose seven of its 16 clinics since 2011 putting the state second in closures behind Texas. That was before the latest set of highly restrictive laws attached to the state’s budget bill, one which mandates that clinics have an emergency patient transfer agreement with a hospital no more than 30 miles away. One new Ohio law forbids public hospitals from accepting such transfer agreements although Ohio law forbids public hospitals from accepting such transfer agreements. Another one law closes a Dayton clinic waiting for two years for a state variance allowing it to operate without this agreement by requiring that the clinic get a variance within two months.

These new laws are piled on top of the ones from two years ago, defunding Planned Parenthood, moving state funding from real reproductive health facilities to faith-based, anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers, and requiring that doctors have partnerships with private hospitals—highly difficult because most private hospitals in Ohio are religious ones. Two years ago, a law stripped funding from rape crisis centers that give clients any information about abortion services and requires doctors to give women seeking abortion information about the presence of a “fetal heartbeat.” Kasich has made life harder for women in keeping from getting pregnant, having abortions, and keeping their children because the budget cuts for welfare services to single mothers went to the crisis pregnancy centers.

As conservatives in Ohio struggle to pass a 20-week abortion ban, they fail to consider that Ohio law defines fertilization as dating from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period, actually about two weeks before true contraception. That means that Ohio could have an 18-week abortion ban as conservatives have tried to impose on the state.

Kasich imposed a policy in which counselors at rape-crisis clinics are legally prohibited from referring victims to abortion providers, even though terminating an unwanted pregnancy is still legal. The governor has not explained why the gag rule is necessary.

On the national level, Kasich’s chances are slim to none. Ranked at 12th in national polls, he hasn’t topped three percent in any of them, keeping him out of the first debates, awkward because the first one on August 6 is in his home state. Only George Pataki rates below him in the latest PPP polling. His chances and position put him in the same arena with former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who continually pointed out the failures of the GOP base in his 2012 GOP run for president. Kashich’s team includes two key consultants for Huntsman. The Washington Examiner’s Philip Kline wrote that conservative voters should “punish [Kasich] for his expansion of President Obama’s healthcare law.” Other conservative pundits such as Avik Roy, who works for Rick Perry, and Jason Hart, Watchdog.org reporter, agree with Kline.

Republicans from defense hawks to protectors of corporate tax breaks were upset with Kasich, then U.S. representative when he helped broker an agreement with President Clinton and congressional Republicans to balance the U.S. budget in 1997. How long Kasich will last, no one knows. His campaign 16 years ago ended in July 2000 because Bush had much more money than he did. When Kasich dropped out 16 years ago, he said about Bush’s slogan, “This business of compassionate conservative, I wish I’d thought it up.” Now he’s co-opted the description.

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