Nel's New Day

October 14, 2015

Clear Winner in Democratic Debate

“I trust Bernie Sanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my labrador.”  That was GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s tweet about the best presidential debate in many years when five Democratic presidential candidates appeared in Las Vegas (NV). Watchers of GOP debates who like to watch the participants beat up on each other would have been disappointed with the Democratic debate last night. Spirited, funny, and full of exchanges, it was exciting viewing for those interested in the issues, but the five people on the stage didn’t take potshots at each other as GOP candidates are prone to do. In fact, the expected question to Hillary Clinton after emails brought an unexpected defense of her from Bernie Sanders. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails,” Sanders said to rousing applause and a handshake from Clinton.

clinton sanders

Lincoln Chafee criticized Clinton for the emails, and moderator Anderson Cooper asked her if she wanted to respond. Clinton scored when she simply said “no.”

Television is supposed to be entertainment full of winners and losers so pundits kept pushing “who won.” Depending on perspective, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were each declared victorious. Rather than turning on each other, the candidates turned questions into criticisms of Republicans.

Joan Walsh wrote:

“Now that was a debate.

“Courtesy of a Democratic Party that’s shifted left thanks to its base, for the first time in American history a national television audience was exposed to a serious discussion about capitalism vs. socialism, expanding Social Security, providing debt-free college, protecting reproductive rights, and jailing bankers…. “

Sanders did take Clinton to task when she said that she “represented Wall Street” as New York’s senator. He answered, “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”

Asked whether he is a capitalist, Sanders answered:

“Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t. I believe in a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.”

Asked the same question, Clinton gave a softer response, responding that the United States must sometimes “save capitalism from itself”:

“It’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities that were seeing in our economic system. But we would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.”

During a lively discussion about gun safety laws, Sanders lost some of his liberal bona fides. Asked if Sanders is tough enough on gun control, Clinton said, “No. Not at all” and followed that answer with statistics about the number of people who die every day from gun violence. Sanders tried to justify his 2005 vote to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits by his representation of a rural state and the need to compromise.

Martin O’Malley followed with the story about the Colorado family whose daughter was killed in the Aurora movie theater. When the parents sued the on-line retailer who sold the killer 4,000 rounds of ammunition, they not only lost the case but were forced to pay $220,000 for the companies that sold the ammunition, partly because of the 2005 law.

Clinton argued forcefully for equal pay, paid family leave, and reproductive rights. She brought up the infamous GOP treatment of Planned Parenthood, and three of the men agreed with her. (It’s always hard to figure out where conservative Jim Webb stands.)

The other three participants had hoped to set themselves apart, but there was no time when this happened. O’Malley kept referring to things that he had done in Maryland, but his answers lacked any passion. He also committed a gaffe during his answer to the question about whether it’s “all black lives matter” or “all lives matter.” (The question may have come up because O’Malley found himself apologizing for changing the phrase to “all lives matter” last summer.) His use of the term “illegal immigrants” last night seems to have been overlooked–thus far.

Chafee got into deep water with Cooper’s question about why he had voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall act in the 1990s. He made a weak answer about just having been appointed after his father had died didn’t wash with Cooper who asked him, “What does that say that you cast a vote about something you didn’t know about?” Cooper asked. Chafee said that Cooper was being “a little rough,” and Cooper moved on. The memory of this won’t disappear.

Jim Webb showed his conservative side when he explained why he supported fossil fuels. Then he turned a question about U.S. intervention in Libya about Syria before he switched to China, explaining that he had waited ten minutes to talk about the subject. That led to an argument about his not being able to talk enough during the debate. Except for one term as Virginia’s senator, Webb’s political career was for four years in Ronald Reagan’s administration, and he appears to be stuck in the Republican party of the 1980s. He may be best remembered for complaining about not having enough time in last night’s debate.

Despite CNN’s frequent comments about “saving a podium” for Vice-President Joe Biden for the debate if he should declare, there’s a strong chance that Biden won’t need that podium. Clinton was at the top of her form and looked presidential. A big threat to her, the select House Committee to investigate her part in the deaths at the Benghazi (Libya) diplomatic outpost, has largely imploded after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) admitted that its sole purpose is to destroy Clinton’s campaign.

While the debate showed some of the highest moments of Democratic exchanges this year, an ad from the Stop Hillary PAC ran in selected cities during the debate is perhaps the lowest for Republican actions. Called “I’d Live to Ask,” the ad shows photos of all four people who died in the 2012 raid on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The audio, supposedly the four people speaking from the grave, asks Clinton why she ignored calls for help and lied. The final visual is supposedly the grave of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, one of the four men killed.

attack ad clinton

The PAC spent over $100,000 to air the ad in swing states and early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire. The online ad was pulled because it misspelled “Libya” as “Libia.” Stop Hillary PAC’s counsel and treasurer Dan Backer said, “Stop Hillary PAC was created for one reason only–to ensure Hillary Clinton never becomes President of the United States.” Most family members were furious about the ad, including Stevens’ mother who said “I would sue [the PAC] if I could.” When Backer was asked if he should have talked to the families before using their dead relatives’ images, he said:

“I wouldn’t have the first clue how to contact them. How do you go about it? Google their names? How do you go about finding people like this?”

The huge difference between last night’s Democratic debate and the two previous GOP debates is that last night’s stage had grown-ups on the stage. Thus far Republican presidential candidates have looked like a batch of junior high schoolers squabbling about personalities. They fought about insults to Jeb Bush’s wife, polling numbers, appearance, business acumen, and more juvenile bullying. Foreign Policy described the GOP debate as “heavy on insults, light on details.” In contrast, Democrats last night kept to policy– race, gender, income inequality, and problems that people in the U.S. face as this comparison between debates shows.

debate issues

At the end of both GOP debates, many people agreed that the loser was the Republican party. Last night, people thought that the real winner were the progressives policies and ideas. The infantile arguing of the GOP debates left me feeling dismayed and disgusted. Last night’s debate left me with hope, encouraged by the way that candidates addressed vital topics. The next GOP debate is October 28. I’m waiting to see if the moderators learn from last night’s experience–and how it compares with the next Democratic debate on November 14.

October 13, 2015

House Members Search for a Speaker

When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his resignation, Republicans went into a tizzy, trying to figure out who would replace him. That tizzy moved into chaos last week when the House Freedom Caucus revolted against House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), inept heir apparent to the top job. McCarthy claims that he took himself out of the running because he wanted more than the obligatory 218 votes, but rumors allege that he has been having a long-term affair with a colleague, perhaps Rep.Renee Ellmers (R-NC). Before McCarthy took himself out of the running, the 40 Tea Party “Freedom” voters had promised to vote in a block for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL). The loss of 40 votes means that the “establishment” GOP would have only 207 votes unless Democrats decide to join them in selecting someone other than Webster.

The Freedom Caucus says that they want “democracy” in the House, but a “questionnaire” from the group shows what its expectations for the next speaker. Freedom’s Speaker must tie any increase in the debt ceiling to cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The debt limit arrives on November 5; without an increase, the U.S. could default on its obligations, sending both the country’s and the world’s economy into a tailspin. When the Tea Party contemplated not raising the debt ceiling in 2013, the Treasury Department reported that “default could result in recession comparable to or worse than 2008 financial crisis.”

Another requirement for a new speaker, according to the Freedom Caucus, is to not fund the government without an agreement to defund “Planned Parenthood, unconstitutional amnesty, the Iran deal, and Obamacare.” December 11 is the deadline to pass a budget to keep the government from shutting down. The Freedom Caucus also requires the next speaker to oppose any “omnibus” bill and instead fund the government by separate bills.

Joan Walsh explained the background for the House GOP chaos following Boehner’s decision not to lead the motley crew that state gerrymandering has sent to Washington. After wealthy billionaires led Tea Party members in their position of hating government, governing, and compromise, the GOP establishment decided that these people would be useful. To keep their leadership, Boehner and his sidekicks offered the possibility of repealing the Affordable Health Care Act, hold the debt ceiling hostage, defund Planned Parenthood, stop the Iran deal, and other radically extremist views. Along with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP leaders even recruited the extremists through their “Young Guns” program.

Every failure for Boehner sent him to Democrats for a bailout from disaster, leading the angry Freedom Caucus to feel a greater and greater sense of power. Unfortunately, Boehner didn’t look for bipartisanship often enough. If he had involved Demcrats business such as voting on the Senate’s immigration bill and other measures, he could have shown the extremists that they were not in charge of the House while doing the nation’s business.

Highly conservative, Webster presided over both chambers in Florida’s legislature when it overrode a veto restricting “partial birth” abortions, created “Choose Life” license plates, and required doctors to notify parents of minors seeking abortions. The legislature also passed bills mandating pre-marriage and pre-divorce counseling. Webster supported legalization of homeschooling to spare children in evangelical families from a “Godless” public education.

Webster’s alignment with the Religious Right puts him in alignment with groups and people who want to apply biblical law to law, including wives submitting to their husbands. His history with Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) shows his belief that God has made sure that he got elected. Gothard’s teachings with their emphasis on a culture of fear and extreme patriarchialism influenced the home education of the Duggars (19 Kids and Counting), and, like the oldest Duggar son, Gothard has been accused of multiple sexual harassment and abuse.

In the U.S. House, Webster has had little effect, introducing only 18 bills. Of these only two had co-sponsors, and none passed. He will most likely not be reelected to the house because of the likely dismantling of his Orlando district, but Webster is counting on God’s help. In the past, he said that he prayed for anyone considering a run in his district to “lose interest,” saying “that hedge of thorns has protected me all these years.”

Another person with “some support” from Freedom voters is Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who headed up the Planned Parenthood hearing debacle where Cecile Richards was grilled for five hours and interrupted 51 times—ten times each hour—with sexist remarks and character attacks. In his bid for Speaker, Chaffetz promised to default on the debt and shut down the government if the GOP didn’t get what they wanted.  He also demanded that the White House appoint a special prosecutor to open up “a criminal probe” investigating his claim that the Secret Service leaked his personal information to intimidate him. The issue was a leak to media outlets about Chaffetz’s rejected application for a Secret Service job in 2003 and the particulars surrounding the decision.

One desperate method of selecting a speaker came from Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) for a “bipartisan coalition,” again asking the Democrats for a bailout by expecting Democrats to vote for a Republican House Speaker. Before they go that far, however, the less extreme—but still conservative—Republicans are literally begging Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to take the position.

Thus far, Ryan has largely ignored the suggestion, obviously knowing that to do so would end his career for any other political position. In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait  wrote, “No other figure within the party combines Ryan’s philosophical radicalism and tactical pragmatism” and called him “the president of Republican America.” If Chait is right, “America” is in big trouble.

Ryan came into power with a strong opposition to abortion and Todd Akin-like comments about rape that kept the Missouri candidate out of Washington. He then advocated Social Security privatization and the Iraq War. His horrific budget blueprint brought criticism from Catholic leaders because of its harshness toward the poor, who he describes as “lazy.” Ryan was a big part of Mitt Romney’s failure with his campaign of huge tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy compared with austerity for the poor. The Ryan/Romney ticket couldn’t even win Ryan’s home district.

Ryan held his celebration, after he won his congressional race, at The Cottonpicker in Burlington (WI) highlighting his exploitation of racial divisions, union collapse, and economic anxiety. His Ayn Rand view of economics focuses on “makers and takers” that appeals to angry white people. Ryan talks about the “catch and release” of Mexican immigrants, derides “anchor babies,” and makes other insensitive and inflammatory remarks in his town hall meetings and campaign appearances.

And the Tea Party members call him too “left-wing” to represent them!

In an effort to wield the Tea Party power, the Freedom chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), said that his caucus would “look favorably” on Ryan for speaker if he does what they want. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) said that the Freedom caucus won’t drop support for Webster for an undeclared candidate. The Tea Party demands a Speaker who will never compromise—on anything! They want a “leader” who will shut down the government until they get what they want.

Only 22 percent of people in the U.S. agreed with the Tea Party agenda, according to last month’s CBS News/New York Times poll. Chris Christie, GOP presidential candidate, claims that “nobody cares” who the House speaker is. “What they want is a Congress who is actually going to do something,” he said. To Christie, doing anything—even if it’s wrong—is better than doing nothing. Right now, the House is doing nothing because they’ve left Washington for a ten-day recess. Upon their return, they have two weeks to avert a government default on its debts.

Speaker Nathaniel Prentice Banks, 1855-1857, required 133 ballots to get accepted at a time when the House could not agree on slavery. If the current House follows this pattern, Boehner may decide to remain. If he doesn’t, or if he’s thrown out in a coup, Boehner can select a person to be Speaker pro tempore.  Right now at least 21 House members have said that they want to be Speaker, four of them from Texas. Will all but one back down with consensus for the last man standing? Or will it be a free-for-all? We won’t know for at least a week because the GOP House members want a vacation this week.

October 12, 2015

Time for Native American Day

Today is Columbus Day. The federal holiday has caused millions and millions of children to be taught myths as truth because President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the Knights of Columbus a gift of a federal holiday honoring a Catholic man. Evidence shows that Leif Eriksson led a band of Vikings to North American five centuries before 1492 and established a settlement before the indigenous peoples drove them off. It is also thought that Irish monks, the Chinese, Africans, and others “discovered” the continent before Columbus—a place already discovered by the people who had moved to the New World across the Bering Land Bridge 10,000 to 15,000 years earlier. Even when Columbus died, 16 years after he landed on the island, he thought he had found a path to Asia, his original purpose. But still, the United States celebrates Christopher Columbus.

The first Columbus Day celebration in the United States was in New York in 1792 to honor Oct. 12, 1492, the day that Columbus and his ships first made landfall on an island in the Caribbean Sea. It was to honor Italian-Americans because people believed Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, instead of Spain’s Catalonia region. One-hundred years later, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation asking people to celebrate the day with patriotic festivities to mark the 400th anniversary of the voyage. In 1971, the national holiday established in 1937 was moved to the second Monday in October as the U.S. decided three-day weekends are important.

About the Taino people who Columbus encountered, he wrote, “With 50 men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one might wish. [They were] fit to be ordered about, to sow, and do everything else that may be needed.” A former slave trader, Columbus captured “seven head of women, young ones and adults, and three small children” to take back to Spain.

Columbus’ journals of his voyages document graphic acts of rape and brutality. He and his men chopped off the hands of Taino slaves who failed to get a daily quota of gold, and female slaves were forced to leave their babies on the road sides. Spanish conquistadors bet who could chop a Taino body in half with just one blow. In 1499, Columbus was arrested, chained up, and brought back to Spain.

History has described Columbus as “self-centered, ruthless, avaricious, and racist,” and he left a legacy of death, pillage, and rape of the land filled with colonialism, enslavement, discrimination, and land grabs. Thanks to people who followed Columbus, one-third of Native Americans died of disease—chicken pox, measles, cholera, malaria, typhoid, bubonic plague, etc.

People who think that the indigenous people in the United States no longer suffer as they have in the past need to consider what the government is doing to them in the 21st century. Native Americans didn’t get the right to vote in 1924 because the Fourteenth Amendment excluded Indians. Yet states found ways to keep Indians from voting for most of the 20th century through methods such as literacy tests. Despite lawsuits, some states refuse to recognize tribal IDs for voting and will not set up satellite polling locations on reservations, forcing Indians to drive as far as 163 miles or even to fly to a polling place. No access to early voting makes the process even more difficult.

White men are still allowed to abuse Indian youth. Last year, 57 Lakota students between 8 and 13 were rewarded for academic achievements by attending a hockey match in Rapid City (SD). At the game, a group of men in an executive suite poured beer over their heads and shouted, “Go back to the Rez!” Only one perpetrator faced criminal charges, and he was acquitted when a judge declared that the beer was just sprayed in excitement over a goal. The children are afraid to leave the reservation now.

Until last April, South Dakota’s Department of Social Services routinely placed Native children in white foster homes while denying Indian parents and guardians any due process rights in the hearing process. Parents were not allowed to examine evidence or cross-examine witnesses in hearings that sometimes lasted less than one minute, on average less than five minutes. One judge, Jeff Davis, ruled against Indian parents every time. Judges also told parents that their jurisdictions could ignore the law. An average of 740 Indian children was taken from their homes each year, some of them sexually abused in their foster homes.

Years ago, Indian children were taken from reservations and sent to “schools” where they were forced away from their culture. Putting children into white foster homes serves and same purpose, and white entitlement in the United States supports this “assimilation.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), currently a GOP presidential candidate, said that if Native Americans were “assimilated,” that it would take only a decade for them to “probably be doing as well as the rest of us.” That’s his excuse for taking all the reservation lands and forget the way that white people refused to “assimilate” to the native culture of the country where they committed genocide.

Governments are still taking land away from Native Americans. For example, a section in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act transferred the San Carlos Apache tribe’s sacred area of Oak Flat in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest to mining company Resolution Copper. The land had been protected since 1955 when President Eisenhower declared it closed to mining because of its cultural and natural value, and President Nixon’s administration renewed the decree in 1971. Mining will destroy the area, but Arizona GOP Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake supported the land grab after they received contributions from Rio Tinto, mining company’s parent corporation. Flake was also a paid lobbyist for Rio Tinto Rössing Uranium in Namibia before being elected to Congress.

When Phil Stago of the White Mountain Apache Tribe protested the removal of his tribe’s land, Arizona’s 4th District Rep. Paul Gosar told him, “You’re still wards of the federal government.” Gosar was repeating the position that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall took in the 1830s. Although Congress controls Indian affairs, tribes are known as sovereign nations. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ website describes the federal government as trustee of Indian property, not the guardian of all American Indians and Alaska Natives.

McCain has a history of taking Indian land. In 1974, Senator John McCain wrote the 1974 Relocation Act which moved over 14,000 Navajo and 100 Hopi from their homelands to the site of a uranium mining accident in Chambers (AZ) where they developed lung cancer and their babies were born with birth defects. The excuse was to settle a land dispute between the two tribes, but the real purpose was to exploit mineral resources by creating two of the biggest coal strip mines in the nation. Ceasing operations in 2005, the mine left a 273-mile abandoned coal-slurry pipeline and 325 million tons of climate pollution in the atmosphere.

The state of Michigan wants to give 13,000 acres (about 20 square miles) of Native American treaty land to a Canadian company to develop a limestone mine. The state will get $4.53 million. It’s not a done deal yet, but Native Americans must fight for their land.

Like other minorities, Native Americans are victimized by the U.S. justice system with an incarceration rate 38 percent higher than the national average and four times the rate of white men. Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police than any other racial group and fall victim to violent crime at more than double all other citizens. While Native American women are incarcerated at six times the rate of white women, 88 percent of violent crime committed against Native American women is by non-Native perpetrators. Native American youths are 30 percent more likely than whites to be referred to juvenile court than have charges dropped.

A movement to honor Native Americans on October 12 has been growing in the past decades. Both Hawaii and the Bahamas call October 12, “Discovery Day,” and South Dakota began to use the term Native American Day in 1989. In 1992, Berkeley (CA) changed the name to Indigenous Peoples Day. Nine cities—including Albuquerque, Portland (OR), and Olympia (WA)—have followed suit. It’s not much, but it’s a start to recognize white entitlement, the belief that nothing has value or exists unless a white man is in charge. That’s a belief that may become more predominant in states such as South Dakota, which not longer requires Native American history to be taught in the public schools. Schools that do teach Indian history treat the subject as if Native Americans are gone—that they no longer exist. But that’s what many white people want.

October 11, 2015

State May Be Separating from Church

FILE - In this Tuesday, June 30, 2015 file photo, the Ten Commandments Monument is pictured at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Okla. The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s June 30 decision to order the monument removed from the state Capitol grounds has so angered conservatives in the Legislature that some Republicans are calling for justices to be impeached. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

In another failure for Oklahoma conservatives, after they didn’t execute Richard Glossip at the end of September, is the removal of a one-ton granite monument with the text of the bible’s Ten Commandments. Afraid that protesters would obstruct their actions, a “large Oklahoma Highway Patrol presence” guarded the workers late at night. The behemoth isn’t gone; it’s just moved a few blocks away where it doesn’t violate Section II-5 of the Oklahoma Constitution mandating that public property can’t be used to benefit or support any “sect, church, denomination, or system of religion,” either directly or indirectly. Gov. Mary Fallin has asked voters to amend the state constitution so that the monument can return to the capitol grounds. Oklahomans might want to note the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” when considering future state executions.

 

Teaching evolution in public schools does not violate the First Amendment, a federal district court has reaffirmed. Kenneth Smith of Harpers Ferry (WV) had filed suit, stating that his religious freedom rights were violated because his daughter learns about evolution in public school. She plans to be a veterinarian, and her father claims that evolution is teaching her “a faith base (evolutionary ideology) that just doesn’t exist.” Judge Gina M.Groh ruled that he couldn’t prove that state agencies had committed any wrongdoing. Last year, the creationist group Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) sued to stop the state of Kansas from implementing new science education standards that included the teaching of evolution. COPE argued that by teaching evolution, public schools had effectively endorsed atheism as a religious viewpoint. They lost too.

Forced to find money elsewhere after her older brother’s sexual crimes, Jill (Duggar) Dillard, of 19 Kids and Counting, decided to collect money with her husband,Derick Dillard, for a mission to El Salvador. Disillusioned fans after the experience seemed to be more a vacation than actual work were  right: the Dillards had applied for missionary status to the Southern Baptist Convention that decided the couple lacked enough education. Fortunately for them, they still have the money from the “Dillard Family Ministries,” a tax-exempt religious organization that keeps them from having to declare how much money they have or where it is.

This tax-exempt status of religious groups may someday run into legal trouble. Pope Francis has already taken potshots at churches that “worship the God of money” instead of helping the sick and the poor as Jesus commands. Televangelists and preachers who run their “churches” like businesses or political organizations may want to take notice. As in the U.S., Italian churches act as umbrellas for its property and businesses to avoid taxation. Religious groups operate churches as hotels and still don’t pay taxes. One famous example of tax dodging in the U.S. is John Hagee, who reorganized his TV station in 2001 as a church to shelter tax records for his income of over $1 million. Hagee’s personally-owned 8,000 acre ranch is covered through the Cornerstone Church.

In one segment on his HBO show, John Oliver satirized U.S. churches and preachers such as Pat Robertson who run ponzi-like schemes in begging money in return for God’s favor. After the first episode of “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption,” the IRS was skewered for conducting only three audits of churches in 2013-14 and non for the four years before that. Any designated “church,” including the Church of Scientology, is tax exempt. Oliver didn’t reveal how much money he received, but the thousands of responses indicated quite of bit of loot. (Oliver gave all the donations to Doctors without Borders.)

john oliver

Luckily for the Duggar family, they are getting financial assistance from GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee through partnership in the sales of a political DVD series. The company markets the series with an initial “free” item, available for only shipping and processing. Ordering it automatically enrolls the “purchaser” into future sales. The “Learn Our History” series supposedly teaches “historical facts without bias” and American pride as the videos  “…recognize and celebrate faith, religion and the role of God in America’s founding…,” and “…correct the ‘blame America first’ attitude prevalent in today’s teaching.” We can assume that many tax-funded charter schools will be showing the videos.

Pope Francis seems to suffer from ambivalence when regarding LGBT people. Progressives praised him when he seemed to support LGBT families before they were disturbed with a supposed meeting with Rowan County (KY) clerk, Kim Davis, who had refused to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. The Vatican explained that she was just part of a crowd, and the pope met for 20 minutes with a former student and his male partner while in the United States. Now The Vatican has fired Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa after he said he was proud to be a gay priest and in love with his boyfriend. Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombard, said that Charamsa could remain a priest but could not work at the Vatican.

Charamsa made his announcement just before the Vatican hosted bishops from around the world in a synod discussing families. The reports issued indicate confusion. One of the four groups spoke of a need to reach out to families while another claimed there is a need to point out the sins of current attitudes. Another question is whether the documents are to be distributed publicly or given to the pope as advice.

GOP presidential candidates take great pride in claiming their religious beliefs, but their anti-Christian positions may cause difficulties for them. In a townhall meeting, New Jersey Chris Christie was heard to provide too much information about his use of contraception with his wife. Concentrating on Christie’s sex life, the media failed to publicize the question that led to Christie’s humor. In his audience, a man had cited three biblical verses to argue that Christians should oppose foreign wars and support environmental conservation. Basically, the man was echoing the position of Pope Francis, who the GOP also opposes.

Purporting to be Christians, the GOP candidates oppose curbing global warming, raising the minimum wage, and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S. Jeb Bush said, “I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” and Rick Santorum accused the pope of not being a scientist although pontiff has a degree in chemistry. Marco Rubio said that protecting the economy might be more important than protecting the planet.

Both anti-marriage equality GOP candidates Rand Paul and Donald Trump are affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, which supports same-gender marriage, and Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz use Christianity to oppose marriage equality and help for undocumented immigrants, a pathway that conservative Christian groups endorsed in 2013. Huckabee tried to work his way out of trouble at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) in April by emphasizing the need for border security. That was the day after the head of the NHCLC had said that “Republicans must cross the Jordan of immigration reform to step into the promised land of the Hispanic faith electorate.”

It’s a difficult time for conservatives in a changing landscape.

October 10, 2015

World Day against the Death Penalty

Today, October 10, is World Day against the Death Penalty. This year’s focus is “The Death Penalty Does Not Stop Drug Crimes.” The top five killers of capital punishment, executing more people than the rest of the world combined, are the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and China. Almost two-thirds of countries worldwide, 140 in all, have abolished the death penalty, up from only 16 countries in 1977. Yet death sentences increased by over 500 last year from the year before: at least 2,466 people were sentenced to death in 2014. Actual executions dropped 22 percent to at least 607, not counting China which does not release its numbers of executions. Last year, 22 governments in 22 countries killed people, compared to 41 governments ten years ago.

Why the death penalty is wrong:

  • Innocent people are executed.
  • Capital punishment is extremely expensive.
  • The death penalty prolongs suffering for the victim’s family as offenders may spend 20 or 30 years on death row.
  • No proof exists that executions deter people from committing crimes.
  • Whether defendants receive the death penalty is largely dependent on the quality of legal representation with poor people receiving the worst legal support.
  • The race of both victims and defendants are primary factors in determining death sentences.
  • Politics and geographic location of crimes are also important factors in determining death sentences.
  • Death sentences deny the sanctity of life that religious groups support; capital punishment is immoral.

While the death penalty is decreasing worldwide, the number of executions for drug-related offenses increased in 2015. Of the 33 countries executing people for drug use or trafficking, 13 used this option in the past five years. For example, Indonesia used the firing squad to execute eight people for drug offenses in April 2015. There is no indication that the death penalty prevents drug consumption or drug trafficking.

Singapore had record numbers of drug seizures in 2012 despite the country being a leader in imposing the death penalty for this crime. Countries allowing the death penalty for drug-related offenses show evidence of coercion or torture to obtain confessions in China, Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etc. Concerns for trial standards for drug-related crimes have been raised in Cuba, Iraq, Myanmar, North Korea and Syria, amongst other countries.

In the U.S., the death penalty is legal in 31 states, and governors in four of these states, including Oregon, have imposed a moratorium. Only 20 states where approximately one-third of the people in the U.S. live had held an execution in the past eight years.

death penalty map

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the question of whether the use of inappropriate injections violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual suffering. The conservative majority ruled in Glossip v.Gross that executions would necessarily have some pain and therefore upheld the use of the injections. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority that the there was no identification of a “known and available alternative method of execution” that would carry a lesser risk of pain.

The case led to a wider discussion about the death penalty itself. Two of the four dissenting justices, Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote dissents asking the court to examine whether the death penalty is actually constitutional, stating that it likely “violates the Eighth Amendment.” All four of these justices summarized their views from the bench. Justice Sonia Sotomayor rejected the court’s conclusion that prisoners must identify an “available alternative means by which the state may kill them.”

Another issue surrounding Glossip is that the convicted man might even be innocent. Richard Glossip’s life continues after three scheduled dates for execution because of a series of errors in Oklahoma. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of executing him, the date was set for September 16, 2015. Pleas from around the country because of new evidence regarding his conviction resulted in a last-minute reprieve for two weeks.

Another last-minute reprieve on September 30, 2015 came when Mary Fallin and state Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced that they had gotten the wrong drug—potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. Although a doctor and pharmacist claimed that the two drugs are interchangeable, the executed prisoner Charles Warner, who suffered great pain last January, received potassium acetate instead of the potassium chloride as the state originally claimed. Glossip’s new execution was set for November 6, 2015 but has been put off indefinitely until the completion of an investigation.

This year the Supreme Court has scheduled four capital punishment cases. On Tuesday, October 13, SCOTUS will hear arguments about the jury’s role in assigning capital punishment in  Florida, the last state that does not require jurors to be unanimous in both explaining why a person is eligible and then recommending that sentence. The other forty-nine states and the federal government consider a unanimous verdict as the norm,  A 2002 SCOTUS ruling in Ring v. Arizona attempted to move death sentencing from a judge to a jury, but Florida’s law gives juries only an advisory role in death penalty sentencing.

The current SCOTUS case, Hurst v. Florida, could reinterpret issues about not allowing judges to make the factual findings about “aggravating factors” and not requiring a unanimous jury vote for death sentences. In the case under consideration, Timothy Lee Hurst received a death sentence after the jury supported it in a vote of seven to five. Florida doesn’t even require a majority advisory vote for the death penalty if a majority of jurors agree that at least one aggravating factor exists. Florida judges are also not required to follow juries’ recommendations in death sentences.

Last week, the Supreme Court addressed two Kansas cases in which the state Supreme Court overturned the death sentences of three men because of confusing jury instructions. The sentence was set aside for another man because he was tried together with his brother instead of separately. A ruling could affect the future for six of the other nine prisoners on death row in Kansas because the same issue can be applied to their sentencing.

Another capital punishment case sent to the Supreme Court was declared “moot” last Friday because of “miscommunication.” Despite a filing to the Supreme Court before the execution, neither Virginia’s governor nor the attorney general notified the state Department of Corrections before Alfredo Prieto was declared dead after an injection of drugs purchased from Texas.

Before this year’s SCOTUS term began, Breyer discussed his views on the death penalty with MSNBC journalist Ari Melber, in an interview following the publication of Breyer’s ninth book, The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities. Rachel Maddow’s discussion of the death penalty including parts of the interview is here, and the Breyer/Melber full interview is here.

death penalty

During the past two decades, the difference in opinion about the death penalty has shrunk in half. Those opposing the practice have increased from 16 percent to 33 percent while those in favor have dropped from 80 percent to 63 percent. Maybe some of these people read the statistics that murder rates in New York and New Jersey decreased after these states repealed capital punishment.

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