Nel's New Day

October 31, 2015

October GOP Debate Introduces Halloween

Filed under: Presidential candidates — trp2011 @ 9:00 PM
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tube nosed batOn Halloween, I’m sitting warm and dry inside while the rain and wind sweeps across the central Oregon Coast. Tonight television will finish the weeks of badly-done films meant to scare people. Not nearly as good as these wonderful creepy creatures such as this tube-nosed bat. And certainly not as scary as the scary masked creatures behind the podium at the GOP debates last Wednesday. Not satisfied with spending four hours in two different debates manipulating those watching through lies and evasions, several candidates have decided to make their mark by changing the entire debate process as the put-upon candidates try to rig future performances by using radical extremists to give them a pass on all their wacky, destructive ideas.

Those who watched the debates probably noticed all the missing economic topics—the Trans-Pacific Partnership, effects of the Great Recession, China’s economic slowdown, the country’s physical infrastructure, etc. Asked about their position on the recently passed budget bill, candidates chose to have temper tantrums to avoid answering questions.

The lying started at the little kids’ table (the first debate) with Bobby Jindal claiming that the Democrats “forced Obamacare and socialism down our throats.” The Affordable Care Act comes from Mitt Romney’s plan proposed by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation—and uses private insurance companies. People in the United States are far happier with the socialist Medicare plan. Jindal also repeated the myth that the U.S. has the world’s highest corporate tax rate. In theory, it is only the third highest, and in practice, corporate taxes in the U.S. are among the lowest of developed countries.

Lindsey Graham said that Boeing was in South Carolina because of the state’s taxes. That might be partly true because the state gave hundreds of millions of dollars of gifts that most citizens and firms never receive. Also the falsely-named “right-to-work” laws in South Carolina give Boeing  the opportunity  to pay slave wages to its employees. Graham also maintained that Russians wouldn’t be in Ukraine if Ronald Reagan were president. They were in Ukraine all during Reagan’s two terms.

None of the candidates in the first debate worried about a possible merger between Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors that would control 73 percent of the U.S. market. Rick Santorum said he drinks a lot of Coors beer and there wouldn’t be a problem because he sees a lot of breweries in his travels. Graham said that he’s the “best bet” for good beer policy because “my dad owned a bar.” He uses that experience a great deal on any issue in his campaign.

Candidates touted several ways to improve life in the United States. Mike Huckabee would end disease, Ted Cruz would abolish the Federal Reserve and return the county to the gold standard, and Carly Fiorina would reduce the 70,000 pages of tax code to just three pages.

Because the debate’s focus was the economy, candidates talked a great deal about tax rates—in very general terms. Both Donald Trump and Ben Carson want all taxes to be at 15 percent, and Rand Paul offers a zero option for payroll taxes. John Kasich explained how the other candidates’ plan would leave the country “trillions and trillions of dollars in debt,” but his opponents couldn’t come out of their alternative reality to answer. They just got upset that their plans would be questioned. Here is the exchange between Becky Quick and Carson regarding questions which about Carson’s vague plan that candidates found “unfair.” Earlier Carson claimed that he would not ever raise the debt ceiling if he were elected president and showed he didn’t understand the difference between the process that agrees to pay debts and the budget, which incurs future obligation.

Candidates complained about “gotcha” questions, but their responses, either lies or evasions, were to substantive questions. For example, Becky Quick asked:

“Senator Rubio, you yourself have said that you’ve had issues. You have a lack of bookkeeping skills. You accidentally intermingled campaign money with your personal money. You faced foreclosure on a second home that you bought. And just last year you liquidated a sixty-eight-thousand-dollar retirement fund. That’s something that cost you thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties. In terms of all of that, it raises the question whether you have the maturity and wisdom to lead this seventeen-trillion-dollar economy. What do you say?”

Rubio dodged the question and said, “You just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents. I’m not gonna waste sixty seconds detailing them all.” Then he wasted his 60 seconds by repeating the story about his immigrant parents. Politifact, more kindly to conservatives, pointed out that Rubio had paid his wife and relatives thousands of dollars, double-billed expenses, lost thousands of dollars in fees and penalties by liquidating a retirement fund, “forgot” about a home equity loan, and charged personal items such as grocery bills and car repair to the Republican party. Rubio may have “won” the debate, but only because he appeared sincere and a little wounded while he lies about facing foreclosure on a second house he co-owned with another scandal-plagued politician.

ben carsonAnother question came from moderator Carl Quintanilla about Carson’s connection with “a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a 10-year relationship. They offered claims that they could cure autism, cancer, they paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas, and yet your involvement continued. Why?” Even conservative National Review described Carson’s denial of involvement as “bald-faced lies.” Videos show Carson talking about how Mannatech’s product helped him fight cancer, even after the cash settlement. His belief in the curative powers of larch-tree bark and aloe vera extract for his prostate cancer gives concern about the doctor’s knowledge of medicine. Carson declared Quintanilla’s question “very unfair.”

Quintanilla’s question about the budget was the one that set Cruz over the edge:

“Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear another Washington-created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem solver American voters want?”

As a master debater, Cruz ignored the question by claiming that the media was focused on style and not substance. He then complained about the “easy” questions addressed at the Democratic debate. By the way, the first question of the Democratic debate, for Hillary Clinton, was “Will you say anything to get elected?”

Fiorina switched her former lying about Planned Parenthood to the claim that “92 percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women.” The Washington Post factchecker reported that this statement came from falsehoods of the Mitt Romney campaign. Fiorina said that the Washington Post has no credibility and that the poverty rate among women is the highest ever recorded. Asked for supporting data, Fiorina blamed the media for asking questions. CNN reported figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

“In January 2009, there were 66.5 million American women working in non-farm jobs, compared to January 2013 when there were 66.9 million. That’s an increase of over 400,000 working females in Obama’s first term.”

fiorina cruzBoth Fiorina and Cruz used the figure of 3 million women falling into poverty during Barack Obama’s presidency.  According to the Census Bureau, 1.85 million women fell into poverty between 2009 and 2014 1.85 million women fell into poverty. During the same time period, 1.23 million men fell into poverty. The sharply reduced benefits from welfare contribute to part of that fall, which followed a decline starting under George W. Bush. Women lost 1.13 million jobs between January of 2008 and 2009. At this time, unemployment rates for men and women are almost identical—4.7 and 4.7 percent.

The debate was about the economy, and facts—not opinions—show that the economy consistently does better with Democratic presidents than with the GOP. Marketwatch proved that by examining the past seven decades of economic statistics, going back to World War II. Economic growth, adjusted for inflation, averaged 2.54 percent per year under GOP presidents, compared to the 4.35 percent per year under Democratic ones. Better job creation and stock market performance coincide more with Democratic presidents.

The better economy holds true for the current administration despite the growing inequality. In the past five years, the U.S. unemployment rate has been cut in half, and about twelve million new jobs have been created. GDP has grown at a steady, if unspectacular, rate for more than six years. House prices and stock prices rebounded strongly from the Great Recession.

The GOP candidates suffered from their own inadequacies during the debate and solved their problems by claiming that all mainstream media, primarily conservative at this time, was far too liberal to be “fair.” The worst part is that they appear to be controlling the journalistic process. In the last debate, they successfully promoted their lies. Future debates may be total propaganda from the far right. The losers of last week’s debate are 90 percent of the people in the United States if the GOP presidential candidates get their way.

Happy Halloween!

October 30, 2015

Budget Bill, GOP Debate Dismay Republicans

This past week was filled with news, especially the GOP debate and the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. A miracle also happened, but the media largely ignored this amazing event: Congress passed a bill that stops threats of government shutdown from the GOP refusing to both raise the debt ceiling and eliminate the sequester for the next 18 months. The GOP cannot use these threats before the general election a year from now. President Obama will finish his second term without the budget warfare, including an almost month-long government shutdown, that he’s endured for the past five years.

The budget agreement raises the government debt ceiling until March 2017 and sets the budget of the government through the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. A collection of spending cuts and revenue increases provides $80 billion more for military and domestic programs, avoiding the sequester for another two years. The appropriations committees are just left to write legislation to reflect the spending by December 11.

The House passed the deal by a 266-167 vote; 79 Republicans joined 187 Democrats. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had hoped for this bill to pass before he left his position—and the House—but most people didn’t believe it was possible. Not everyone in the House wanted the bill: 167 Republicans voted against the bill. The so-called Hastert Rule, requiring that no bill would be put on the floor without the promise of enough Republican votes for passage, was totally ignored. The rule is named after the former Speaker who just pled guilty about lying to the government after they discovered he had been paying off a former student sexually abused by Hastert while he was a high school coach.

The budget accord raises spending caps on domestic and defense spending over the next two years and makes changes to the Social Security disability program while raising the debt limit until March 2017. There’s also a drawdown from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and savings reaped from a Justice Department fund for crime victims that involves assets seized from criminals.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the budget a “major victory” and removes “the stranglehold of sequestration … from our nation’s growth.” The other indicator that the bill is a positive move forward is that conservatives absolutely hate the agreement. Boehner almost lost the deal over the proposed cap for insurance in the federal crop insurance system but backed down in an agreement that the situation would be addressed later this year.

Social Security played a part in the bill that continued a two-percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors and other health care providers. Earlier this year, the Republicans tried to eliminate part of the Social Security disability program, but the current bill covers the shortfall in the disability trust fund with Social Security funds. At least one-third of Medicare recipients avoided a 52-percent premium hike.

The bill finally passed the Senate by 64-35 at 3:00 in the morning after long wrangling when 18 Republicans joined all Senate Democrats to support its final passage. The vote could have been earlier, but Rand Paul (KY), who came back from his presidential campaign trail for the vote, spoke against it for an hour. GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz (TX) and Marco Rubio (FL) also voted against the bill; Lindsey Graham (SC) voted in favor of it.

The bill’s great advantage is that the congressional appropriations committees can stop arguing about short-term continuing resolutions to avert government shutdowns. Cruz can no longer threaten the nation with his favorite activity—stopping all government activity. Hedge funds and private equity firms are losers because the bill calls for heightened IRS scrutiny for them. The government receives $11 billion to audit large partnerships.

The bill also requires generic drug makers to pay an additional rebate under Medicaid if drug costs outpace inflation—a given. Non-generic drugs already have to pay that rebate. The GOP should be happy that it finally killed one small part of the Affordable Care Act that no one knew about—the mandate for large employers to automatically enroll new employees in health plans. That part hadn’t been enforced yet so people won’t notice.

Equally crushing for conservatives is that over half the Republicans joined Democrats to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which conservatives called corporate cronyism. The backers used a little-used discharge petition which circumvents leadership opposition to bring the bill up for a floor vote. It is yet to be seen whether the Senate will pass a bill that got almost three-fourths of the House vote.

While the congressional Republicans were fighting about the budget, the GOP presidential candidates were honoring the liberal union position of striking to get better working conditions. They banded together to protest what they perceived as unfair media treatment at last Wednesday’s debate and erase the contract with NBC for the debate in Houston on February 16, 2016. RNC Chair Reince Priebus called the questions “petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates.” He added that the debate “was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.”

Conservatives are calling for “conservative media professionals” (an oxymoron) to moderate GOP debates because “liberal moderators” are in charge. This may be the first time that the Fox network has been called “liberal.” Their suggestion is to have Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin as moderators because they “influence more Republican primary voters.” Diana Banister, Executive Director of Citizens for the Republic, described past debate questions as being “of zero relevance, yet designed to bring chaos and disorder to the Republican’s chance to win the race for the White House.” Others went farther to ask that Democrats have a debate moderated by “conservative opinion leaders.”

Thus far the group of protesting presidential candidates has at least ten of the remaining 16 wannabes although they are excluding RNC Chair Priebus.  Each one is voicing complaints and ways to make the debates more successful for them individually.

Jeb Bush and Rand Paul want equal speaking time, and Bobby Jindal, still at the kids’ table, wants to change the criteria for determining who qualifies for the prime-time debate. Polling better in Iowa than nationally, he wants early state polling instead of just national surveys. Others at the early debate at the bottom of polling want a random drawing instead of poll numbers to determine the main debate. Ben Carson is upset about what he called “gotcha” questions about his affiliation with the fraudulent supplement company Mannatech. He skipped over the fact that he lied about his relationship with the firm. Chris Christie accused a moderator of being rude, “even in New Jersey”; he’s the governor who bellowed “sit down and shut up” and calls people in the audience “idiot.”

Donald Trump had already convinced the networks that two hours was better than three hours, reducing fire from other candidates. The candidates also demanded opening and closing statements, something that the network said would take too much time for ten candidates but agreed to. Before the debate, candidates complained about the quality of their green rooms. The post-mortem of the GOP-failed 2012 campaign concluded that 20 debates were too many because they allowed candidates to show the weaknesses of their opponents.

Petty? Mean-spirited? Too long? Zero relevance? “Gotcha” questions? Designed to embarrass? All these terms describe the past month’s grueling 11-hour Benghazi hearing at the House of Representatives that Democratic presidential candidate faced with grace and patience. The GOP candidates could take a lesson from watching her.

October 25, 2015

Offensive Religion Positions

The Duggars (19 Kids and Counting) just seem to stay in the news. Now a lawsuit has accused The Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), the homeschooling program used by the Duggar family, of covering up sexual assault against underage girls. Founder, former director, and Josh Duggar counselor, Bill Gothard, left IBLP on “indefinite administrative leave” because of sexually harassing and abusing employees. He wasn’t named in the suit but is accused of abusive actions against the plaintiffs. IBLP’s homeschooling teachings were depicted on the Duggar reality program.

The series notorious for using plots “ripped from the headlines,” Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, will use the Duggars’ story in its November 4 episode. In this segment, “Patrimonial Burde,” a 13-year-old daughter of a famous television family of ten children discovers that she is pregnant. The plotline also has a few allusions to Sarah Palin’s unwed daughter Bristol, now pregnant with her second child as she follows her abstinence-only program.

GOP leaders continue to focus on the Christian bible to promote their conservative beliefs. For example, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee used the Good Book as his authority in requiring nonviolent criminals to “pay back” their crimes in a form of enslavement. Answering radio host Jan Mickelson about paying restitution in embezzlement, Huckabee wants forced repayment to be “twofold, fourfold,” through labor if necessary.

The Constitution actually allows this involuntary slave labor through the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery except in prison. Corporations owning private prisons generate a great deal of profit because the wages go to them and not to the prisoners. For example, up to 40 percent of the forest firefighters in California are prisoners; the state opposes an early prison-release program to minimum custody inmates because they would lose the cheap labor for fighting fires. Huckabee’s philosophy of imprisonment of people who can’t “pay back” is illegal, however, because of several Supreme Court cases that prevent imprisonment for the inability to pay court fines, fees, and restitution. Yet many conservatives want a return to the days of Charles Dickens.

Thanks to the Maine governor, Paul LePage, a creationist is the state’s new “acting educational commissioner,” meaning that the appointment cannot be challenged by the state for six months. Bill Beardsley ran against LePage on a single issue platform, that only creationism should be taught in schools. Like most creationists, the new official also believes that worrying about climate change is foolish because it “[hasn’t] been proved in science.” LePage tries to control government by threatening to veto every bill on his desk unless he is permitted to pass anything he wants without complaint. Even his own party is concerned about his mental health.

Another Maine scandal is LePage’s threat to cut off state funding to a charter school unless it fired state House Speaker Mark Eves (D) for a top position. The school reluctantly let Eves go. LePage hasn’t denied the blackmail and even compared what he did in a domestic violence dispute. “It’s just like one time when I stepped in … when a man was beating his wife,” the governor said. “Should have I stepped in? Legally, No. But I did. And I’m not embarrassed about doing it.”

Eves filed a federal civil lawsuit, and the state Government Oversight Committee is investigating the situation with subpoenas for two members of LePage’s administration who refused to cooperate. The governor is unsuccessfully trying to force the committee’s Republican chair to recuse himself. The chair of the charter school’s board of directors agreed that the governor had cut off funding after the school hired Eves, but LePage said that he had the discretion to withhold funding under his control of the budget.

Known for campaigning by demonizing the Arabs, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now blaming the Palestinians for the Holocaust. In a public speech, Netanyahu said that Hitler’s elimination of the Jews in Europe was the idea of Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who told Hitler to burn the Jews rather than deport them. History shows this to be a lie because Hitler put forth the “Final Solution” two years before the mufti met with Hitler. The Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, has come forward to protest Netanyahu’s claims, remarking that “history clearly shows that Hitler initiated” the Holocaust.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Netanyahu was wrong, that the German people were “very clear in our minds” about where the responsibility for the Holocaust falls. Despite reports from historians, Netanyahu continues with his propaganda to block a two-state agreement in a portrayal of the Palestinians as committee to the extermination of Jews.

Today’s Meet the Press addressed Jeb Bush’s statement that he doesn’t want to participate in the election if the gridlock can’t be solved:

 “If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, then I don’t want anything, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people literally are in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation. I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”

Rumors of Bush’s failing campaign has caused reporters to asked about whether it is falling apart. Bush’s only response was one that smacks of entitlement. “Blah blah blah, Blah,” he said. “That’s my answer.”

http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/meet-press-october-25-2015-n451121  A panel member of today’s Meet the Press, biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin addressed Bush’s behavior:

“Compare that with how McCain handled himself in a similar situation in ’07. He was cutting staff as Mr. Bush has, his poll numbers had gone down, he was in a bad place. And he said, ‘It’s how you face a challenge politically and physically that determines your character and your courage.’ And he said I’m going to be going on a bus, I’m going to be lean and mean, and he said I’m going to go out among the people. And eventually, Mac was back.

“I mean you have to take these moments of adversity, and you have to show strength and courage and forward optimism. You can’t blame the process. You’re it– you’re in it.”

Later she quoted Adlai Stevenson, “The challenge is not how to win an election, but how you win without proving yourself unworthy to win?”

If there’s one commonality among all the GOP presidential candidates, it’s that they have shown themselves “worthy to win.”  Carson is another example. Preening after the Iowa polls show himself on top, he said that he didn’t need experience to be the president, that all it takes is common sense. His solution is to surround himself with advisors—something that George W. Bush did during his failed presidency. Carson’s other excuse is that the U.S. Constitution is easy to read because it’s written at an eighth-grade level. According to the well-respected Flesch-Kincaid readability test, the Constitution is scored at a 17.8 grade level.

Almost any mention of religion by politics causes “religion rage.” Ben Carson wants Donald Trump to apologize for his statement that Trump doesn’t know anything about Seventh-day Adventists, Carson’s religious following. Trump didn’t denigrate the religion, but the Internet flows with demands for apologies from Trump. It may have seemed offensive, but Carson has been far more offensive, comparing women who have abortions to Nazis, saying that homosexuality is chosen because straight people become gay in prison, accusing Planned Parenthood of deliberately killing black babies, etc. Trump’s statement about Carson’s religion is very mild compared to Carson’s attacks on people who don’t following his religion.

October 24, 2015

Dem Pool Shrinks by Half; Bush in Trouble

The presidential candidate pool of 2016 is more shallow now after the loss of a few men running from both parties. The one causing the most excitement was a man who never declared his candidacy but kept people dangling from hints that he might. I always felt that Vice-president Joe Biden wasn’t going to be a candidate. By the time he got initiated, he would be 74 years old—definitely a one-term president and a lame duck from the get-go. Pushed by supporters and waiting for Hillary Clinton to be a disaster on the Democratic side, he kept making presidential statements, such as lambasting Clinton for declaring the GOP as her enemy.

Biden came away from the Democratic debate preaching bipartisanship with the party of Donald Trump and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), late of the 11-hour hearing debacle from the Benghazi select committee. President Obama went into his first term advocating a bipartisan approach with GOP members who were not as extremist as now (hard to believe!) and lost three years. GOP congressional members promised to vote for bills if the president watered them down. He did, and they didn’t. That’s why the country is stuck with the mish-mash of the Affordable Health Care Act giving money to private insurance companies instead of a successful single-payer plan. After three years in office, President Obama finally understood that the GOP is not to be trusted. Clinton understands the vicious motivation of the GOP before the final months of her campaign, and the conservative party made their position very clear by threatening to impeach Clinton on the first day of her presidency.

With many faithful followers, Biden looked like a good possibility to take over the Dem race. His poll numbers were also up, but looking like a success is easier if a person isn’t actually competing. He has a good background in some areas such as authorizing the Violence against Women Act, but Biden comes with baggage. there’s also some baggage to Joe Biden. His banking ties a representative of Delaware, the state with loose laws surrounding corporations, may have put him too close to credit-card companies before the past few years. In 1988, he dropped out of the presidential candidacy after accusations of plagiarism in a speech.

The hearings for Clarence Thomas, possibly the worst Supreme Court justice ever, may also come back to haunt Biden. He chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee when Anita Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment and failed to call on three other witnesses who would have given the same testimony as Hill. Although Biden has evidence regret about the hearing, he has not apologized for subjecting Hill, a black woman, to public humiliation. Those hearings are over 24 years in the past, but a new movie coming out will definitely revive memories of those dark days.

Before the Thomas hearings, Biden voted against legal abortion in 1982 by supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade. During the next two decades, he received mixed marks from NARAL Pro-Choice America with a 36 percent rating in 2003, 0 being total disagreement. Biden did defend women’s rights to abortions during his 2008 presidential run but always claimed that he is opposed to abortion and always supported the Hyde Amendment, claiming that people opposed to abortion shouldn’t have to pay for them. Biden accepts his Catholic faith’s position that “life begins at conception.” He also voted in favor of the Iraq War, believing that people opposed to war should still have to pay for it.

The most recent candidate to drop out of the Democratic race is Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee. This step was a given after his failure to defend a vote at the first Democratic debate, but it became pretty definite when someone overheard him talking about it in the frozen foods section of a Dave’s Marketplace on Thursday night. Chafee made his official withdrawal during a speech to the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum in Washington the next morning.

Jim Webb’s change in status from Democratic candidate to a possible third runner in the final election reduces the Democratic field by one half to three people. Less known than any other candidate unless perhaps GOP Jim Gilmore, who hasn’t qualified for any debates, Webb’s record shows a short attention span—Secretary of the Navy for Ronald Reagan for only one year and senator for only one term, both by his choice. Those watching the Democratic debate may remember him for whining about not having enough time to talk and bragging about killing a North Vietnamese soldier. He also complained about his party leaving him—probably because he’s a Southern Democrat, another term for Republican. He defends the Confederate flag and the Confederacy, opposes gun-safety legislation, and rejects the Black Lives Matter movement. A descendant of Confederate officers, he has voiced sympathy for state sovereignty leading to the Civil War and suggested that the states were justified in trying to secede.

Webb is the only Democratic candidate to appear on the Fox network where he criticized Democratic policies in an interview with Bret Baier. Webb said that the Dems is their failure to champion the working people, using people with no health care for an example. In fact, it is the GOP that tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act fifty-plus times. Twelve years ago, he wrote an op-ed that supported Swiftboating Republicans who attacked John Kerry for opposing the Vietnam War by saying that Kerry didn’t deserve his Purple Star. Webb has said that women are biologically unsuited to fight in wars and poison male cadets with their presence.

The question now is who will be the next candidate to drop out on the GOP side. At this time donors are showing disillusionment with everyone except the top runners, and Jeb Bush is not in that top three. An average of 194 recent polls puts Bush at 7.3 percent, not far above Carly Fiorina at 4.7 percent. A recent poll puts Donald Trump ahead of Bush by 59 percent to 41 percent. Only two U.S. representatives—no senators or governors—have endorsed Bush within the past two months.

Worst of all, he raised only $13.5 million during the past three months, instead of the hoped-for $25 million, and spent $11.5 million of it. He has less cash on hand than Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson, forcing Bush to reduce expenditures. Bush cut staff salaries by 40 percent, reduced staff members in Miami by one-half, and uses cheaper hotels. Money problems drove Scott Walker out of the race; Bush’s SuperPAC raised $103 million in the first six months, but the lack of money coming into the campaign does not bode well.

While Bush goes down, Marco Rubio goes up, perhaps because he has more to talk about than a brother who caused the United States great disaster while president. Rubio has similar positions to Bush, but he’s younger and more charismatic, especially since the “joy” that Bush touted in his campaign has disappeared. Bush can brag about more experience, but the GOP, who put Trump and Carson at the top of the list, seems to consider experience a liability instead of an advantage. Walker claimed to drop out of the race for “the good” of the party; the question is whether Bush will do the same.

The next few days may indicate a direction for Bush, the candidate, as Bushes descend on Houston en masse—Papa Bush, little brother George, and sons, Jeb Jr. and George P. The events include a Monday breakfast, a Tuesday evening reception, and a program later for younger donors at beer distribution company Silver Eagle.

The next GOP debate is October 28, 2015—just four days from now.

October 22, 2015

GOP Grills Clinton for 11 Hours, Loses

Hillary Clinton testified before the Benghazi select committee for eleven hours today. I missed the first eight hours, but just watching the last three hours was exhausting. I cannot imagine what it was like for the Democratic presidential candidate, who calmly answered all questions except when the questioning attacked her staff and Admiral Mike Mullins. There were no revelations, no new information over the past eight committees, but the committee was an embarrassment for the Republicans who insisted on continuing despite admission that it was designed to destroy Clinton’s presidential hopes. Jonathan Allen encapsulated the 11 hours well:

“Republicans will kick themselves for dragging Hillary Clinton before the House Benghazi committee Thursday.

“It was a defining moment for Clinton’s presidential aspirations. She handled the GOP’s questions with aplomb and without the patina of partisanship that has characterized the committee since its conception. That would have been bad enough for the Republicans’ hopes of seizing the White House in 2017. But she did much more than that. She answered questions that Republicans have been hanging out there in hopes of sowing doubts among voters.

“Does she believe in American exceptionalism? Yes.

“Can she be non-partisan, serious, and policy-minded? Yes.

“Is her mental acuity superior to pretty much anyone you know? Yes.

“Is she human? Yes.

“Does she have the energy to be president? Yes.

“Conservative commentators were disgusted with the failure of the committee’s GOP lawmakers to land a single punch on Clinton. The worst thing she acknowledged was that Ambassador Chris Stevens didn’t go outside the chain of command to email her directly about what was happening in Libya. Strategically, the big error for the GOP is having entangled the email investigation with the Benghazi probe. Because the latter is tainted with partisanship, so, too, is the former.

“All in all, it was an embarrassment for Republicans and one that, improbably, made Clinton look more presidential.

“Clinton’s opening statement—delivered on the heels of bickering between Chair Trey Gowdy and top Democrat Elijah Cummings over whether the committee is partisan in nature—was essentially a eulogy for the Americans who died in Benghazi in 2012.

“In it, she referred to Ambassador Stevens’s mother saying he had “sand in his shoes” to describe his dedication to on-the-ground diplomacy in dangerous places.

” ‘Before I left office,’ Clinton said, ‘I launched reforms to better protect our people in the field.’

“For the rest of the hearing, she hewed close to the line that she would cooperate in trying to uncover anything that would help keep Americans abroad secure in the future. She also told emotional stories about the night of the Benghazi attacks, recounting how the ambassador and two others tried to crawl out of a smoke-filled building at the Benghazi facility. Two of them didn’t make it out. She described the tense hours when State Department officials couldn’t locate Stevens, and how Libyans poured into the streets in a show of support for him after he was killed. Clinton said she found it “deeply distressing” that she was being blamed for Stevens’s death.

“Throughout the hearing, she kept her composure, even when Gowdy became agitated, when Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) fired questions at her in a condescending tone, and when Rep Peter Roskam (R-IL) yelled at her for compiling a list of her accomplishments in Libya.

“Roskam accused her of trying to ‘turn progress in Libya into a political win for Hillary Rodham Clinton’ and then shifting her attention away from the country.

“Clinton calmly called it a “political statement” that had nothing to do with the matter at hand.

“The biggest problem for the GOP is that there’s nothing more to learn about what happened in Benghazi. Four Americans were killed by terrorists. Clinton didn’t know the attack was coming. And she was the administration official most engaged in the immediate response.

“The Republican tack could be broken down into a couple of main points: Roskam argued that Clinton was the chief force behind US Libya policy, while Gowdy and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) tried to prove that she was taking more advice from Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal than from Stevens.

“It’s true that Clinton was the main architect of US Libya policy. She put together the international coalition that took out Muammar Qaddafi, and she convinced the president it was the right thing to do. But she also noted that it was the president’s call. Republicans proved what she’s written in her book and what many journalists reported at the time.

“If the Republican presidential nominee can plausibly claim that he or she was against the Libya war—and some cannot—Roskam’s line of questioning could be useful in the general election. But it wasn’t revealing.

“Blumenthal is a red herring — a political hanger-on who emailed Clinton a lot with borrowed intelligence. He’s never been to Libya and didn’t have any firsthand information about the security there. The references to his emails only seemed to underscore how little the hearing had to do with the actual situation on the ground in Libya or the administration’s security posture in Benghazi.

“Pompeo grilled Clinton on whether Stevens had her email address, her home address, or her phone number. Her home address can be found on Google. It would not have been hard to reach her in an emergency, and, in fact, she was alerted very quickly when the Benghazi compound was attacked.

“After Roskam accused Clinton of using Libya as a tool for her political advancement, Clinton batted him aside.

” ‘For the witness to be right is a failure of the committee,’ Lawrence O’Donnell, a former staff director for the Senate Finance Committee, said on MSNBC.

“One veteran Republican strategist told me she stopped watching the hearing because ‘the questioning is so bad.’

“Clinton’s team couldn’t have dreamed for a better exposition of her strengths and the weakness of her Republican provocateurs.”

USA Today, owned by conservative Rupert Murdoch of Fox fame, admitted that Clinton came out of the hearing “largely unscathed.”

Unable to find anything else wrong with Clinton’s testimony, conservative press noted that she “stumbled” because of a serious coughing fit. The two-minute episode was after she had been speaking for ten hours, and she overcame the problem and continued for over another hour.

CNN tried to manufacture “fireworks” between Clinton and the committee, but the real fireworks came among the members. Clinton’s testimony was almost entirely level and calm.

When committee chair, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), was asked if the 11 hours revealed anything new, he hemmed and hawed before he indicated that there was probably nothing new. As bad as things have been for him in the past, Gowdy is in for more attacks after his bad performance today. Having sworn that the only purpose of the committee is to find the truth and denying that the committee is a “prosecution,” he compared the investigation to a criminal trial. He further said, “I can’t end a trial simply because the defense won’t cooperate.”

Claiming that the committee had nothing to do with Clinton’s emails, Gowdy asked about nothing else. Even worse was when Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) asked that the full transcript of Sidney Blumenthal be released, a reasonable request because that was Gowdy’s focus. Until now, Gowdy has leaked only selected parts of this transcript. An attempt to put Cummings down for wanting the transcript failed, and he may be forced to release the non-damning results of committee hearings.

A history of the $20 million that U.S. taxpayers have paid for investigations into Benghazi is available here, including the five House committees, two Senate committees, and a nonpartisan, independent Accountability Review Board—all finding that there was no gross negligence. This website constantly updates the costs of the current Benghazi select committee.

Hillary Clinton will be interviewed on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show tomorrow, October 23.

October 21, 2015

Problems Pile onto House Benghazi Committee

House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. reacts to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, about former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton using her personal email account for official business. A spokesman for Clinton says there was nothing illegal or improper about her use of a personal email account during her time as Secretary of State, rather than a government-issued email address. The practice could hamper efforts to archive official government documents required by law. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Eighteen months ago Trey Gowdy was almost totally unknown, but South Carolina’s U.S. representative has become infamous—and he doesn’t like it. The reason is his position as chair of the “Get Rid of Hillary Clinton” committee, also known as the House select committee on Benghazi. A former prosecutor should have a thick skin, but Gowdy almost cried about what he calls the attacks on his character and motives. He said that these are “1,000-times worse than anything you can do to anybody physically—at least it is for me.” These words came from the man who leads the right-wing in attacks on “character” and “motives” of Hillary Clinton.

Some of these attacks emanate from his own party members who point out that the goal of his committee is to keep Clinton from being elected president and that Gowdy is doing very little outside that purpose. One gaffe from the Gowdy team came after their accusation that Clinton released the name of a classified CIA informant in her infamous emails “which could jeopardize … human lives.” To prove his point, Gowdy leaked a redacted email, but the CIA has explained that the information was not classified—and not redacted.

As if that lie weren’t bad enough, Gowdy’s panel leaked the name of a Libyan CIA source in its squabbling with Democrats about the sensitivity of information and Clinton’s private email account. Following criticism from the State Department, Gowdy announced his decision to release documents over the objections of the State Department, making emails between Clinton and Blumenthal without redactions public if the State department doesn’t cooperate with him. House Benghazi Committee spokesman Jamal Ware said in essence that the committee can tell the public anything that it wants. Gowdy is blaming the State Department for its release of sensitive information.

A major question is whether Gowdy and other GOP committee members are acting illegally in their distorting intelligence documents and lying to the public. Twelve years ago, high level GOP officials, perhaps led by Vice-president Dick Cheney, deliberately leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame in retribution for her husband’s opposition to the Iraq War. “Scooter” Libby took the heat for everyone, was convicted of lying, and then had his sentence commuted by George W. Bush when he was president.

Piling up problems for Gowdy and his committee on Benghazi is a 124-page report from Democrats on the committee based on the “54 transcribed interviews and depositions conducted by the Select Committee.” It “releases key excerpts from unclassified interviews conducted by the Select Committee and calls on Chairman Trey Gowdy to release the full transcripts of all interviews and depositions conducted to date, consistent with classification guidelines.” The summary reports:

“None of the witnesses substantiated repeated claims that Republican Members of Congress and presidential candidates have been making about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the past three years relating to the attacks in Benghazi.”

The Select Committee has not held a single public hearing since January and abandoned its plans for a public hearing with the Secretary of Defense after the New York Times broke the story about Clinton’s private emails. The only documents from the 70,000 pages that Gowdy publicly released are Clinton’s emails with Sidney Blumenthal, contradicting his claims that “serious investigations” do not “make selective releases of information without full and proper context.” Despite selective releases of Blumenthal’s deposition, Gowdy blocked release of the full transcript that would show GOP questions are not related to Benghazi.

Gowdy’s latest excuse for the eighth committee on Benghazi is that earlier committees didn’t have access to Ambassador Chris Stevens’ emails. On November 24, 2014, and December 9, 2014, the State Department produced to the Select Committee approximately 25,000 pages of documents that had already been “previously produced to Congress.” These documents included Stevens’ emails regarding security concerns.

 

Things may get worse for Gowdy with the revelation that the same person, Dan Backer, acts as treasurer for Themis, Gowdy’s leadership PAC, and STOP Hillary PAC, “created for one reason only—to ensure Hillary Clinton never becomes President of the United States.” Last month, STOP Hillary spent $10,000 on robocalls and other efforts on behalf of Gowdy. Donations from Dan Backer are not new: last April three pro-Gowdy organizations, all with Backer as treasurer, received donations from Backer. Of course, the man who benefits from groups stopping Clinton is investigating Clinton.

The Senate Democratic leadership has asked the Republican National Committee to pay for the almost $5 million thus far spent by taxpayers because the committee is “a political inquisition.”

Clinton has already accepted responsibility for the attack, and seven earlier committees have found no evidence of administration malpractice. Donald Trump also raised the question of why George W. Bush wasn’t responsible for the 3,000 deaths on 9/11. Jeb Bush has a new answer for that one: it’s Bill Clinton’s fault. The next question should be whether Ronald Reagan was at fault for the over 300 people killed in terrorists attacks on U.S. outposts in Beirut over 18 months of his presidency. The Democrat-controlled house created one commission about 241 dead U.S. servicemen, concluding that there had been “serious command and intelligence failures and said that the mission was not prepared to deal with the terrorist threat at the time due to a lack of training, staff, organization, and support.”

Headlines proudly announced that 44 percent of people weren’t satisfied with Clinton’s responses about Benghazi, compared to 27 percent who say they are. Yet the headlines skipped over the 36 percent of the people who think that the Benghazi select committee is biased, compared to 29 percent who disagree. When Bernie Sanders said in the Democratic debate that America was “sick and tired of hearing” about Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails,” he was right. The 59 percent who agreed increased to 61 percent among registered voters. Only 32 percent want more media coverage, and those are primarily Republican. Almost as many who are tired of the coverage, 52 percent, said that Gowdy was “more interested in going after Clinton” than “learning the facts” about the attack, and 54 percent believe Clinton had the personal email account in order to be convenient rather than hide her behavior.

Tomorrow, October 22, Hillary Clinton is scheduled to appear before the House Benghazi select committee, possibly for eight hours. Unlike other hearings, this one will be made public, and the GOP members will most likely be polite, unlike at the Planned Parenthood hearings, so that they won’t be seen as bullies and further alienate voters. Two important questions about the committee: after three years and seven other committees, what more can they discover? And if four deaths are important, why aren’t there hearings about the increasing numbers of people dying and wounded from gun violence?

October 20, 2015

U.S. Should Lower Prices for Prescription Drugs

When Martin Shkreli bought Turing Pharmaceuticals and jacked up the price of one AIDS and cancer pill from $13 to $5,000, it seemed to be a short-lived story. Not after he tried to donate to Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Sanders passed the donation along to a Washington DC community health center specializing in HIV/AIDS care and made Shkreli furious. He first said that he wanted to punch a wall and then claimed he had a fractured wrist. The X-ray he tweeted came from a medical website.

Shkreli should be used to criticism: board of directors of Retrophin, his first drug company that was founded in 2011, threw him out and sued him in August for $65 million. He allegedly “used his control over Retrophin to enrich himself” and to pay back investors in his hedge fund, who lost millions in a bad investment with him. While CEO at Retrophin, Shkreli increased prices on a decades-old kidney medication by about 20 times its original cost. Like drug increased by Shkreli at Turing, the medication has no alternative. A former Retrophin employee, Timothy Perotti, had already sued him for harassing Perotti’s family, including Shkreli’s message to Perotti’s wife: “I hope to see you and your four children homeless and will do whatever I can to assure this.”

Turing isn’t unique in its price gouging. Last summer, Rodelis Therapeutics increased the cost of 30 tablets of cycloserine, a tuberculosis drug, from $500 to $10,800. Unlike Turing, the company returned the rights to the medication to the Chao Center for Industrial Pharmacy & Contract Manufacturing after people learned of the profiteering. Earlier, Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc jacked up the prices of two heart drugs, Nitropress and Isuprel, by 525% and 212% on the same day that they acquired them. One woman’s out-of-pocket cost went from $510 in 2010 to over $12,000 in 2014. Unable to afford the cost, she is left with severe pain.

CEO J. Michael Pearson of Valeant, one pharmaceutical company investigated, proved what people already know, that capitalism trumps saving lives. He said, “My primary responsibility is to Valeant shareholders. We can do anything we want to do. We will continue to make acquisitions, we will continue to move forward.” The stock price has increased more than 1,000 percent since he took over and increased the price of 56 drugs by an average of 66 percent.

In the past, Sanders participated in an investigation into “anarchy pricing” of drugs as prices of the 10 leading generics were hiked from 400 percent to 8200 percent. Shkreli has benefited the nation by bringing to light how truly egregious the cost of drugs is. The drug price travesty also caught the attention of other presidential candidates beyond Sanders. Hillary Clinton called for an investigation into the pricing, and Donald Trump said that Shkreli should be “ashamed of himself.” Even Marco Rubio is jumping on the bandwagon, but he blames the drug companies’ “profiteering” on government regulations. The attorney general’s office of New York State is initiating an anti-trust investigation into Shreli’s actions.

Clinton has said that the FDA has little control over price gouging, but it can expedite reviews of generic alternatives to Shreli’s drugs. Last month she called for a $250 monthly cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs. Prices for drug industry stock took a deep dive, and Shkreli, known as “the most hated man in America,” was ridiculed on Saturday Night Live.

As Sanders has said, high drug prices are killing people in the United States, and the prices keep getting worse. Last year, inflation was 0.8 percent, but drug costs increased 12.6 percent, providing drug companies with a $45 billion profit. People in the United States spent 40 percent more per person in prescriptions in 2013 than Canadians and five times more than people in Denmark. A new drug for Hepatitis C, necessary for many veterans who contracted the disease from tainted blood supplies and vaccination “jet injectors,” costs $1,000 a pill, compared to $10 in other countries. The Veterans Affairs program no longer provides this effective drug. Seven out of 10 people in the U.S. take prescription medication, yet one in five people doesn’t fill prescriptions because of cost. Drugs are predicted to increase ten percent per year for the next ten years for a 100-percent increase.

A constant excuse from drug companies is that the high prices are to develop new drugs that save lives, but there is no proof. Half of the scientifically innovative drugs approved in the U.S. from 1998 to 2007 came from research at universities and biotech firms, not big drug companies. Drug companies also spend 19 times more on marketing than for research and development. According to Robert Reich, exclusive patents contribute to the high costs of the medicines, and the right to exclusively manufacture the drugs last for 20 years, longer than most other countries. Prices of a medication tend to increase as the expiration of the patent nears. Even after the 20 years, companies slightly tweak the medication—perhaps a one-week duration instead of a one-day requirement—that extends the patent for another 20 years.

Another excuse for drug price gouging is the call for a free market. Yet if only one company produces a drug, it represents a monopoly and not the free market. Republicans object to government regulations, yet laws allow drug companies to control pricing and mislead doctors and the public about drug safety and effectiveness. Tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying result in longer and stronger patent protection, preventing agreement with other countries.

One company is suing Canada because the country doesn’t want to pay exorbitant U.S. prices. Alexion Pharmaceuticals owns only one drug, Solaris, that treats people with an extremely rare blood disease that kills untreated people. The annual cost of the drug is about $700,000 for a treatment every two weeks, and Alexion is suing to keep the price up there. The production of the drug, developed primarily through public funds in universities, is $60 per treatment. The markup? About $6,700 a treatment.

People moaning about the high cost of Medicare need to know that the GOP sold out the country in its 2003 law adding Part D, which provides insurance for drugs. Although Medicaid and the Veterans Affairs can legally negotiate with drug-makers for lower prescription drugs, Part D, Medicare insurance for prescription drugs, lacks the same money-saving advantage for taxpayers. Because Part D must come from private insurance, those corporations and drug companies make a fortune. These companies make even greater profits because the law moved people from Medicaid to Part D.

One way to decrease the cost of prescription drugs is through review boards. Drug companies charge people in the U.S. whatever they want because the FDA has no regulatory authority for comparative reviews of medications, but Canada’s review board determines how effective a drug is compared to other drugs for the same purpose. The U.S. Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center showed that reviews can control prices. When the hospital refused Zaltrap in 2012 because it cost twice as much as Avastin, a good alternative to the colon cancer drug, the manufacturer of Zaltrap, worried about other hospitals and doctors doing the same, halved the drug’s price. Because they could.

Federal law prevents people in the U.S. from legally purchasing drugs from outside the country, but a state representative in Minnesota is proposing a law to establish a program in which local pharmacies could cooperate in allowing state residents to purchase drugs from Canada. Drug companies have already started a fear campaign about danger of drugs from other countries. They also claim that “there is no evidence that importing drugs from Canada or other countries will save patients money.” Yet, a cancer drug costs one person $2,400 in the U.S. but only $660 in Canada.

Over 80% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients in medications sold in the U.S. are manufactured elsewhere, many of them in China and India. No one knows how often the companies are inspected. A recent report indicates that 40 percent of generic drugs are made in Canada.

Why should we pay lower prices for prescription drugs? Because we can!

October 18, 2015

World Didn’t End, Benghazi Arguments Continue

October 7, 2015 has come and gone, and people reading this are still here despite the predictions of the E-Bible Fellowship. Their website’s explanation for the mistake reads in part:

“The world today is populated by a generation of people that has outdone all past generations for wickedness. It tends to view a “passed date” for its end as some sort of victory and celebrates it as though it means it will now never end. And yet, the truth is that the world is in its death throes. A date of destruction given to the world (like October 7th, 2015) is like a man with a terminal disease that was given a short time to live his Dr. The man passes the 6 months (or year) he was told. Yet the prognosis hasn’t changed. He’s still terminally ill. It’s still certain he will die from his disease. It’s just a matter of when that remains in question.”

There have no posts since that one on October 8. Unfortunately, the congressional control of climate deniers gives a sense of validity to the planet’s “terminal disease.” Meanwhile the United States struggles to loosen a grip by fundamentalist Christians.

Muslims may inadvertently cause fundamentalist Christians to separate church and state. In Tennessee, conservative legislators want to prohibit “anything deemed ‘religious doctrine’ ” for public school students in ninth grade or younger after parents complained about the content of world history curriculum. Teachers were teaching about the Five Pillars of Islam in order to “provide historical context about the influence the religion had on regions of the world.” And about Islamic role in introducing algebra and influencing the Renaissance. The resolution of “no religious indoctrination” in schools will be very enlightening.

First, Rowan County (KY) Clerk Kim Davis refused to allow anyone in her office to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Then she spent five days in jail and said that her staff could issue the licenses although they wouldn’t be legally binding because she changed them. Now she’s totally caved: her lawyers admit that they are binding. Meanwhile federal judge David L. Bunning has ordered Kentucky’s Democratic governor Steve Beshear to decide if the altered marriage licenses are valid.

A bike lane is impinging on a Washington, DC church’s “religious liberty” because fewer parking spaces” “would place an unconstitutionally undue burden on people who want to pray.”

Televangelist Pat Robertson usually has an answer for everything—frequently “send me money”—but one viewer took him aback. “Why have you undergone surgeries if your faith would be enough?” prompted Robertson come up with some non-answers before he said, “I don’t know what else to say. If you have enough faith … maybe I don’t have enough, but I have enough for other people.”

Herb Titus, a dominionist Christian Reconstructionist attorney, has declared that the United States has changed its immigration policy and gone against the Bible. Immigrants can come only from countries that are based on Christian principles because the United States would otherwise “become a kind of multicultural society,” according to Titus. He said, “We had a carefully designed policy for many years to allow as immigrants into the United States only those people from countries that have a Christian-principled culture.” What he bases his beliefs on, no one seems to know. The U.S. has had quotas, but they were based on nationality. Barring all Asians from emigrating was not based on religion, but ethnic background.

A federal judge seems to be supporting Titus in acting unconstitutionally. Texas health officials are denying birth certificates to immigrant families with U.S.-born children, and U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman has denied an emergency injunction to recognize identification cards issued by Mexican consulates to citizens living and working in the U.S. Before 2013, these documents were acceptable to receive birth certificates. The immigrant rights lawyers represent 28 adults and their 32 children. Without birth certificates, the children could be considered criminals and deported. The newborns could not even receive baptisms without birth certificates. The 14th Amendment guarantees the right to citizenship for children born on U.S. soil, and the parents have documentation from the U.S. hospital where the children were born.

Evangelical pastor Rob Schenck has taken on Sarah Palin in a documentary, The Armor of Light, about gun violence and the question of whether a person can be both pro-life and anti-gun safety. One scene shows Palin telling a NRA audience not to waste ammunition on a warning shot. She criticized Vice-president Joe Biden for this advice and said, “Gals, you know that nowadays, ammo is expensive. Don’t waste a bullet on a warning shot.” In the film’s voice-over, Schenck wonders about the “ethical dimensions of having a constant, defensive posture.” He said, “When pastors, preachers, bible teachers, ignore these questions, it creates a vacuum. And other voices fill that vacuum.”

I admire Pastor Schenck for addressing this issue, but he’s going to have a difficult time persuading the people who think that they have the right to shoot anyone at any time because of their skewed sense of reality. An example of this is the Alabama KKK. In an interview with the BBC documentary, KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy, a KKK member explained that the Nazi Holocaust concentration camps were actually “summer camps” for Jewish people instead of death camps.

“These death camps, they gave the so-called people that were being killed cigarettes, there was coffee, there was a movie theater, a library, even a swimming pool in Auschwitz. And if you’re going to sit there and kill all these people then how come all these things would be in there?”

Stunned, the interviewer asked the KKK member what the Jews were doing in Auschwitz. “Swimming” was the answer. “And working. Because they didn’t want to do any work, and what Hitler was trying to do was he was trying to teach them to work, trying to rehabilitate them, if you will.” Asked where he heard this, the Klan member said, “It’s all history.”

And now all the television viewers in Great Britain will know how stupid “Amuricans” are.

Sunday is almost as well known for political interviews as for religion, and CNN’s Jake Tapper hit the ball out of the park in his interview with Jeb Bush. Raw Story described this follow-up to Donald Trump’s comment that George W. Bush was president during the 9/11 attacks. There was nothing false about Trump’s statement, but Bush has taken great umbrage at the insinuation that Bush was responsible for the disaster.

Tapper asked Bush how he could blame Hillary Clinton for the attacks in Benghazi while exonerating his brother George W. from any blame for the 9/11 disaster. Told that “my brother … kept us safe,” Tapper asked if Bush’s loyalty to his brother “might be in some ways a political or policy liability blinding you to mistakes he made.” Tapper continued by asking how Bush could “make the jump that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are responsible for what happened at Benghazi.” Bush was unable to find an answer, but Tapper asked why terrorists were not responsible for the four deaths at Benghazi if they were those solely responsible for the 3,000 deaths on 9/11. Bush said, “They are!”

Bush has a problem: either he admits that his brother was inept in protecting the country by ignoring intelligence about Osama bin Laden’s attacking the U.S., or he is forced to admit that Clinton and the Obama administration aren’t liable for the Benghazi attacks. (This exchange was omitted in reports from CNN and The Hill about Tapper’s interview with Bush.

Equally enlightening about the Benghazi select committee was the discussion on Meet the Press when Andrea Mitchell responded to Rep. Mike Pompeo’s (R-KS) statement about Clinton relying on former advisor Sidney Blumenthal’s intelligence. “That is factually not correct… I cover the State Department. That is just factually not correct,”Mitchell said. Pompeo tried to put down Mitchell—and failed—but he said nothing when Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) said that the committee doesn’t “know what this committee’s supposed to look for. Apart from damaging Hillary Clinton, it has no reason for existence.” The clip is worth watching.

October 17, 2015

Fracking May Destroy the Country

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 8:52 PM
Tags: , ,

Michael Steele’s war cry of “Drill, baby, drill” became the mantra during Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign after the former RNC chair delivered it at the 2008 GOP convention. The slogan changed to “Spill, baby, spill” after the gigantic BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people and dumped almost 5 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico. Trailing Donald Trump and Ben Carson at 13 percent as well as failing to bring in donations, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) may move to a slogan of “Frack, baby, frack!” In Ohio he called for reversing EPA regulations on fracking and greenhouse emissions, allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling, nullifying President Obama’s international climate change accord, and immediately allowing the Keystone XL Pipeline to be finished.

Rubio’s wish list would dismantle Obama’s carbon pollution rules, speed up approval of natural-gas export terminals,  and stop environmental groups from suing the government. Solar and wind energy would disappear. In returning to total dependence on fossil fuels, he called opponent Hillary Clinton “an outdated leader” whose policies are a misguided attempt at “changing the weather.”

Like changing his views on immigration, Rubio has “evolved,” or perhaps a better term is “regressed” in his positions on fossil fuels. Florida state legislature Speaker Marco Rubio listed clean energy as a priority in 2007. He predicted that greenhouse gas emissions were inevitable and called on Florida to become “an international model of energy efficiency and independence” and the “Silicon Valley” of clean energy. He modified this approach in his party’s rebuttal to the president’s 2013 State of the Union speech by retaining interest in solar and wind energy with a focus on extracting fossil fuels. Now he has entirely dropped clean energy.

More than 270,000 wells have been fracked in 25 states, and over 10 million people live within one mile of a fracking site that damages health, water, land, and air. The third edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking includes over 100 studies showing why areas such as the state of New York were right to ban fracking.

 

  • People living near fracking made 27 per cent more hospital visits for treatment for heart conditions than in other areas (Study of drilling in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2011)
  • Cardiology and neurological in-patient prevalence rates were significantly higher in areas closer to active wells.
  • Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer and urological problems also increased with proximity to wells.
  • Prenatal exposure to fracking chemicals may interrupt hormonal functioning including lower male fertility in adulthood with low sperm count and enlarged testicles.
  • Premature births are 40 percent higher among women in areas of intense drilling, and women’s pregnancies are 30 percent more likely to be “high-risk.” Premature births are linked to breathing problems, cerebral palsy, hearing and vision impairments, neurological disabilities, and infant deaths. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
  • People living near natural gas wells are more than twice as likely to report respiratory and skin conditions. (Yale University)
  • Higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals are in drinking water near fracking sites. (Texas researchers)

In an effort to stop studies in Oklahoma, billionaire oil tycoon Harold Hamm tried to persuade the University of Oklahoma to fire scientists studying the link between fracking and earthquake frequency and threatened to get the Oklahoma Geological Survey moved from the school. Hamm served as an adviser on energy policy on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Rubio may not understand the dangers of fracking to life if he follows only publications from the oil and gas industry. Although a new set of research shows that Texas methane emissions are 50 percent higher than estimated, Energy in Depth from the fossil fuel industry said that rising emissions are falling because of the paltry voluntary efforts. Texas claims that it needs to regulations to remedy the problem, but that state is failing while Colorado, Ohio, and Wyoming are taking steps toward leak detection and repair requirements for oil and gas operations.

Even the patent holder on a device that measures methane emissions thinks that it could be faulty by underrecording leakage rages. The sampler must be frequently recalibrated as methane levels rise above the capacity of the first sensor on the device.

Perhaps Rubio will agree with the EPA’s study concluding that found no “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” Data for the poorly designed study came from the oil and gas industry that blocked direct monitoring of fracking operations. No baseline water testing was allowed before the final tests. One study of southwestern Pennsylvania fracking wells last year found that the wells released methane at rates 100 to 1,000 times higher than estimates by the EPA. Methane concentration of residential water wells at Pennsylvania homes one mile from fracking wells was six times higher than in homes located farther away from wells.

Maryland has banned fracking for 30 months while it determines regulations for the practice, but Oklahoma has banned bans on fracking after Texas told cities and towns that they were forced to permit fracking. Campaign donations trump fracking problems in Oklahoma as in Norman where hundreds of thousands of people have potentially tainted drinking water after careless disposal of fracking wastewater. The new law also prevents any city policies to ensure the water is safe.

No one may be protected from unsafe drinking water because of the Halliburton Loophole in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Named after then-Vice-president Dick Cheney’s corporation, the provision exempts fracking from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act and allows the oil and gas industry to conceal the ways that they pollute on a grand scale. The same law also made the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) able to rubber-stamp federal, state, and local decisions about fossil fuels from accountability to Congress and the White House.

Despite Oklahoma’s bans on bans, the state Supreme Court has determined that people subjected to earthquakes caused by oil and gas operations can sue the company for damages. The industry wanted cases resolved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) instead of the courts. Oklahoma has a seriously growing problem with fracking earthquakes with an unprecedented average of ten a day. Before fracking started in 2009, the state annually averaged two quakes of greater than 3.0 magnitude.

Less than a month after the OCC ordered companies to shut down or decrease usage of five saltwater disposal wells near Cushing, an earthquake of 4.5 hit the area a week ago. The day before, an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude hit just 80 miles away. Thus far, regulators have issued rules for only 23 of the state’s 3,500 wells.

One-fifth of the U.S. commercial crude oil storage capacity is located near this earthquake site, and the 87 million-barrel capacity is almost full because low oil prices are causing the energy industry to hoard the crude. Steve Agee, an economist and Dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University, said that the supply of crude has outpaced worldwide demand, drastically bringing down oil prices that hover around $50 a barrel up from $37.75 in August. Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates, said that the national inventory of 457.9 million barrels is the highest in almost 80 years.

Oklahoma isn’t alone in earthquake problems: Kansas joined Oklahoma to have 42 earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude in one week—17 percent of the earthquakes in the world—up from 1.5 of these quakes each year. The water, sand, and toxic chemicals shot into the bedrock at extremely high pressures destabilizes the bedrock, reactivates long-dormant fault lines, and causes man-made earthquakes. The Oklahoma/Kansas area of Woodford shale sits above the mid-continent rift, a billion-year old fault line buried more than a mile below the surface. As the number of earthquakes grows, the area of occurrence increases, going as far as Oklahoma City which has no main fracking wells. The earthquakes are also becoming more powerful with the potential to provide significant local damage—such as blowing up the 87 million barrels of oil at Cushing.

At the same time, air pollution travels hundreds of miles into states with little or no fracking. Ethane measurements increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2013 in Washington, D.C. Maybe Marco Rubio is not as safe as he thinks he is.

October 16, 2015

House Gets Worse–Who Knew It Was Possible?!

 

Congress is still on “recess” (aka vacation), the debt crisis has moved up to November 3 (two weeks after they return), and the rudderless House will concentrate on two “select” committees that have nothing to do with the economy or joblessness. The first, started 17 months ago; the new one continues the House’s attack on women’s reproductive rights.

Three years ago, four men were killed at a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi (Libya). Since that time, the GOP House members created eight committees, the most recent a “select” committee, to skewer Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State. Clinton was exonerated by the first seven, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) proposed the most recent one on May 2, 2014 that has cost taxpayers over $4.5 million already.

Many people already assumed that the purpose of the committee had nothing to do with justice before House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) admitted it on a Fox network show. (Maybe he thought only conservatives would notice.) The committee continues to unravel as another GOP representative, Richard Hanna (R-NY), said on the Keeler in the Morning radio show:

“I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton.”

Senior Republican officials had already said that Boehner was using Clinton’s emails on a private server as a way to keep Benghazi alive and create political problems for the presidential candidate.

Committee members face more problems since Bradley F. Podliska, major in the Air Force Reserve, was fired as a former investigator.  Podliska claims that he was fired because he was trying to do his job and plans to sue. The self-described lifelong conservative Republican supported GOP claims that the committee wanted to concentrate on Clinton herself, instead of Benghazi. Podliska also said that Benghazi Committee staffers used their time to surf the web and drink alcohol. They had formed a “gun-buying club” and spent work hours designing monogrammed weapons. This from a committee that is supposedly investigating killing.

Committee chair, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), said he had never met with Podliska, but the Wall Street Journal wrote that Gowdy “handpicked” the committee’s staff. Just last week, however, the committee re-posted a Wall Street Journal piece noting that Gowdy “handpicked” the committee’s staff.

Thus far, the committee has had only one of a dozen scheduled interviews and absolutely no hearings of the intended nine. All the hearings except for those with Clinton, including ones with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary Leon Panetta, were cancelled after the New York Times broke its story on March 2 about her emails. Interviews with CIA Director David Petraeus, General Martin Dempsey, General Carter Ham, and former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matt Olsen were also cancelled. The committee has had no public hearings with anyone from the Department of Defense, but by the end of October, the GOP will have interviewed or deposed eight current or former Clinton campaign staffers.

One person subpoenaed is Clinton associate Sidney Blumenthal although Gowdy admitted that he “never expected Witness Blumenthal to be able to answer questions about the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.” Over 160 questions directed to Blumenthal were about his relationship with Clinton with fewer than 20 questions about the Benghazi attacks. Over 50 questions concerned the Clinton Foundation, but only four addressed security in Benghazi.

During the past nine months, Gowdy’s 27 press releases have concentrated on Clinton with only five on any other topic, perhaps because the few interviews he attended were only about Clinton. Three were about the State Department’s compliance with document production, one was about the anniversary of 9/11, and the last was Gowdy’s interim progress report. Since the committee’s inception, Gowdy has publicly released only emails and did so without debate or vote by the Select Committee. Yet he blocked the release of Blumenthal’s deposition transcript.

Part of the GOP smear campaign comes from committee leaks of inaccurate information without full transcripts. Gowdy also hid information from Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills testimony that during the Benghazi attack, Secretary Clinton urged several agencies, including the Pentagon, to do everything they possibly could to save and protect the Americans at the Consulate.

Clinton’s hearing is currently scheduled for October 22, conveniently in the midst of the presidential campaign. Gowdy has said that he won’t release his findings until “just months before the 2016 presidential election.” Meanwhile, the GOP is using the committee and Gowdy’s name to raise donations for Stop Hillary PAC with its sole purpose of attacking Clinton. The conservative PAC America Rising described the attacks as a taxpayer-funded political activity.

Benghazi is so prevalent in the minds of the GOP, that Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) focused on it during the House Judiciary Committee Planned Parenthood hearing. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “the contraception services that Planned Parenthood delivers may be the single greatest effort to prevent unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions….”  Yet Gohmert connected the Benghazi deaths and PP while questioning former clinic manager Susan Thayer in this tirade:

“You had people meeting here in America, in Washington, while people were dying! While Ty Woods was gathering David Ubben and Glen Doherty and going to the rooftop to man guns to try to protect the people in those facilities…. Yes, Benghazi was about politics! And we need to get to the bottom of why those four people were killed, while nobody in Washington that knew what was going on lifted a finger!”

The House’s “select committee” to follow up on the doctored videos about Planned Parenthood follows four earlier House investigations. House GOP members surely understand that the unedited footage from these videos would destroy their smear campaign because they held them for at least two weeks, refusing to permit Democratic committee members to view them.

Committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is already under fire for his five-hour grilling of PP president, Cecile Richards, when she was interrupted in her answers at least 51 times. He even presented a false—and damning—graph from an anti-abortion organization, making the assumption that he was from PP until he was corrected. He also attacked Richards for making over $500,000 as CEO of a $1.3 billion organization, something that Congress has never done to male CEOs making up to 1,000 times as much.

Every investigation into PP, whether federal or state, found no illegal actions on the part of PP. Chaffetz admitted, “Was there any wrongdoing? I didn’t find any.” Unhappy with the failure to find something that doesn’t exist, the new “select” committee will widen its search into women and abortion, still legal in the United States.

The 14-member panel will investigate not only PP but also privately funded abortions and fetal tissue donations to medical researchers. This time, the GOP picked a woman, Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to head the committee. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) said, “Planned Parenthood is the new Benghazi,” echoing another position that McCarthy had already provided to the media.

In the past, “select committees” have been used only for highly unusual national events such as the assassination of a president and a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The PP select committee is under the auspices of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which will have members not related to Energy and Commerce and vet these people through outside anti-abortion organizations. At the same time, House Republicans explained that the new committee “won’t be political.”

GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has used the PP falsehoods as support for her campaign. At a conference the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, she talked about the difference between politics and business: “Politics is a fact-free zone. People just say things.” That’s why the GOP has these “select” committees.

One select committee regarding extraordinary events in the U.S. is necessary, one to examine increasing gun violence throughout the United States. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has called for this committee after ten people died in a college shooting at Roseburg (OR) earlier this month. It’s almost a guarantee that the current House will never okay this committee.

Why isn’t there a select committee to determine why the United States started wars in the Middle East that killed hundreds of thousands of people, including almost 5,000 military members from the U.S.? Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) said:

“I haven’t heard a word about Colin Powell. I haven’t heard a word about Condoleezza Rice. In our investigations we went to both of those former secretaries of state and, Colin Powell, we tried to do an investigation of his testimony before the U.N. on weapons of mass destruction.

“You know what, Colin Powell didn’t have a goddamn email available for us. There was zero. Zero. Hillary Clinton, what was it, 30,000 she turned in? It was the same thing with Condoleezza Rice; not a goddamn email that was useful to the committee. And no one wants to talk about that because it’s being run by a Republican chairman.”

The GOP promised to make changes when they were elected a year ago. They did. Congress changed from a highly dysfunctional legislature to being the laughing stock of the world.

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