Nel's New Day

January 30, 2016

GOP Presidential Debate Overwhelmed by Lies

Filed under: Presidential candidates — trp2011 @ 9:01 PM
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When I didn’t watch the most recent GOP presidential candidate debates, I thought I was safe. I didn’t even watch Chris Matthews’ take on the event, opting instead for a rerun of Vera on my local OPB station. But GOP debates are like Doritos: they’re irresistible if they are just there on the counter—just like all the articles about the debate.

People got excited about Donald Trump’s absence from the debate. To quote Robert Borosage:

“Without the bawdy showman, the entire cast seemed smaller, the divisive questions of the Fox moderators more petulant, and the debate endless.”

Borosage went on to talk about what else was missing from the debate—the economy. No questions about how to help working people, especially with the threat of a potential global slowdown in the Gilded Age inequality. Climate change was present only in “a gotcha question to Marco Rubio about cap-and-trade.” Instead it was all standard Fox stuff: inflation of ISIS and immigrants, rants about President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and the every-present question of “electability.”

Candidates’ predictable answers were building walls, fighting Planned Parenthood, supporting more guns, throwing more money at the military, and, naturally, repealing “Obamacare.” Rand Paul threw out some red meat about giving blank checks to the intelligence agencies that trample American rights and the questionable approach of fighting ISIS while trying to overthrow the group’s biggest enemy, Syrian president Bashar Assad. Nobody took his bait.

The take from the Boston Globe:

Trump won because he avoided the fray.

Ted Cruz failed when his attempt to his Trump boomeranged. Flip-flopper Marco Rubio attacked him by saying, “The truth is, Ted, throughout this campaign, you’ve been willing to say or do anything in order to get votes.” Cruz’s awkward explanations left him looking like a loser.

Rand Paul and Jeb Bush showed much better than the past without Trump’s insults, but their performance won’t help their single-digit ratings.

Ben Carson was notable for his soporific style and his customary absurd statements. Vladimir Putin “is a one-horse country: oil and energy.” His quoting of the preamble to the Constitution got part of it wrong.

Chris Christie typically brags about his decision-making and accountability, but his defense about Bridgegate is that he fired people for politically-motivated crimes because he didn’t know anything about what they were doing. Not accountable, Christie. He closed with complaining about not being able to find his wife for several hours after the World Trade towers went down on 9/11.

Rubio went farther with fear-mongering than Cruz, calling ISIS “the most dangerous jihadist group in the history of mankind” and saying it wants “to trigger an apocalyptic Armageddon showdown.” “Apocalyptic” is his new favorite word. Although ISIS has killed fewer people in the United States that those who die from falling televisions, he described its threat as “unprecedented.” He wants to violate the Constitution by sending terrorists arrested in the U.S. to Gitmo and commit war crimes by “relaxing” the rules of engagement in fighting ISIS. Four times, he said, “When I am president.”

Since the debate, the media is having a field day with Hillary Clinton’s emails, stressing her “lies.” Much of the media doesn’t stress the fact that Ashton Carter, Secretary of the Defense, relied on a personal email account to conduct a portion of his government business during his first months at the Pentagon. Or that the GOP lies so much that fact-checkers are becoming more indifferent. Among the lies on the debate state, these five stood out.

False: The Affordable Care Act has forced millions into joblessness and part-time work. True: Since the ACA’s employer mandate went into effect at the beginning of last year, the U.S. economy added over 2.4 million jobs.

False: “Last year there were 81,000 pages of government regulations.” True: The Federal Register has over 82,000 pages of regulations but a massive number of these pages don’t contain regulations or rules.

False: Neighbors of the San Bernardino attackers knew of their plans in advance. True: There are no credible reports to support this attempt from conservatives to justify their racial profiling and Islamophobia. After the attack, neighbors and friends said that the couple “didn’t attract attention or suspicion.”

False: Rubio never supported blanket amnesty. True: Rubio keeps saying this to save his skin, but his record shows that he backed a limited path to citizenship in 2013.

False: Trump never asked for Megyn Kelly to be removed. True: Trump did claim that he didn’t once ask that Kelly be removed, but he did ask for this many times.

When candidates weren’t outright lying, they were “stretching” the truth.

Clinton didn’t say she would put Barack Obama on the Supreme Court; she said that she’d take it “under advisement.”

President Obama said that the January 7 shooting of a Philadelphia police officer may have been connected with terrorism but that he would let the city police department make that decision.

President Obama also didn’t kill the 2007 comprehensive immigration bill supported by George W. Bush when the president was a senator. The only influential part he played was to argue that workers should remain on the payroll during appeals to not being on a database of those legally authorized to work.

When John Kasich defended his Medicaid expansion with reducing prison recidivism in Ohio, he used numbers of inmates released well before he permitted the expansion. He also bragged about the 400,000 jobs gained in Ohio during his term, but that rate is well below the national average.

Cruz claimed an amendment he offered to the 2013 immigration bill “didn’t say a word about legalization,” but the effect of the amendment would have been to allow legalization of those in the country illegally.

“The smallest Navy in 100 year”? According to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, there are other ways to measure seapower than just the sheer number of ships. He said, “We also have fewer telegraph machines than we did in World War I and we seem to be doing fine without that…. Look at the capability. Look at the missions that we do.”

Fact-checkers may need to change to a different process. For a shorter list, they could determine which statements in each GOP are true.

With Trump absent from the Fox debate, moderator Megyn Kelly picked Ted Cruz as the scapegoat. To destroy his credibility, she showed four video clips of his speeches in which he was working toward legal status for undocumented immigrants, something that Cruz denies ever having supported. Believing themselves to have knocked off the top GOP competitor, the conservative network is going for the next one. The question is which presidential candidate that the network will promote for top dog.

My Doritos chip bag is now empty. I’ll have to get another one to survive the first primary of 2016. On Monday, February 1, 2016, 120,000 voters in Iowa will determine their preference for president within each party in a non-binding caucus. That’s 0.00082017073 percent of the registered voters in the United States supposedly giving direction to the rest of the country, but the preoccupation with this primary has created a lot of jobs.

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January 27, 2016

Koch Brothers’ Underhanded Methods to Control U.S.

Jane Mayer, writer for The New Yorker, has just published Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Her personal adventure with the Koch brothers began five years ago when she learned about private investigators digging into her background. She had just published an in-depth piece chronicling the rise of the “Kochtopus,” headlined “Covert Operations,” which brought the Koch brothers in the limelight that they avoided for decades. Her depiction of them as secretive bankrollers warring against President Obama and environmental safety measures enraged the Koch brothers.

Mayer was first accused of plagiarism when David Strong, reporter at the conservative Daily Caller, asked David Remnick, New Yorker editor, this allegation and sent several pieces that attempt to back up his allegation. New York Post reporter Keith Kelly, who received the same allegations, asked the Daily Caller’s editor Tucker Carlson, about the origins. He couldn’t support the information and dropped it, but Strong refused to talk to Kelly about the story. When the purported victims stated that there was no plagiarism, the accusation collapsed. It took Mayer three years to track the origin.

The Koch machine had hired at least six people, working in borrowed space of the lobbying firm operated by former GOP Rep. J.C. Watts, to investigate Mayer . She noted that a source told her, “If they couldn’t find it, they’d create it.” An unnamed source also told her that the Koch operatives “thought they had you. They thought they were going to be knighted by the Kochs.” The accusation of plagiarism appeared after operatives failed to turn up anything “truly incriminating,” such as a friend from college who later had problems. As Mayer said, “It was 60 years ago.”

The general counsel of Koch Industries also sent a letter to the American Society of Magazine Editors tried to keep the New Yorker from receiving a National Magazine Award for Mayer’s writing about the Koch brothers. That also failed.

Another firm hired to investigate her was Vigilant Resources International, whose founder and chairman, Howard Safir, had been New York City’s police commissioner under the former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Two other people involved in the operation against Mayer were Philip Ellender, who heads Koch’s government affairs arm, and Nancy Pfotenhauer, who has served as president of a nonprofit advocacy group funded by the Kochs. The only person to speak on the record was Ken Spain, spokesman for Koch Industries, who claims that Mayer’s writings about Koch are “grossly inaccurate.” Asked about if he was saying that Mayer’s investigation had not happened, Spain answered, “We stand by the statement.”

It’s understandable why the Koch brothers would want to smear Mayer’s book. She tells about how their father helped build a major oil refinery in Nazi Germany. Fred C. Koch became successful in business in the years immediately preceding World War II. The oil refinery, third largest in the Third Reich and vital to Hitler’s war machine, came from his partnership with U.S. Nazi sympathizer William Rhodes Davis. Fred Koch admired German discipline so much in the 1930s that he hired a fervent Nazi as a governess for his eldest boys.

In 1938, the same year that Hitler’s new laws seized assets and confiscated property from Jews, Fred Koch said, “Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard…. When you contrast the state of mind of Germany today with what it was in 1925 you begin to think that perhaps this course of idleness, feeding at the public trough, dependence on government, etc., with which we are afflicted is not permanent and can be overcome.” Conservatives can trace their current philosophy back to Nazi Germany.

Mayer also writes about the oldest Koch brother, William, participating in blackmail with Charles and David to force David’s twin, Frederick, to relinquish any claim to the family business. If he had not, the other three said that would tell their father that Frederick is gay. This information comes from the 700-page book Stealth: The History of Charles Koch’s Political Activities, that William commissioned to describe Charles’ secret plan to manipulate U.S. politics.

In the 1990s, Koch Industries admitted that it had pocketed millions and millions of dollars by mis-measuring oil from Indian reservations and stealing it. The Koch brothers said that it was an accident, but no other companies had this problem.

Twenty years ago, Koch Industries environmental technician Sally Barnes-Soliz revealed that their Texas refinery was releasing 15 times more than the legal limit of benzene into the atmosphere. When Koch falsified a report by 1/149th of the amount she calculated, she reported that also. Barnes-Soliz got an empty office with no email access, and Koch Industries paid $20 million. She quit in 1999 with an undisclosed settlement.

Dark Money chronicles how a small sect of the ultrarich—Richard Mellon Scaife (heir to the Mellon banking fortune) and Harry and Lynde Bradley (brothers wealthy from military contracts) among them—were largely creators of the current conservative movement, now controlled by Charles and David Koch. With others, these political donors poured hundreds of millions of dollars, usually with little or no public disclosure, into supposedly non-profit organizations for anti-government and anti-tax purposes under the veil of promoting public interest.

The Koch brothers are known for their heavy investment in fossil fuels and their leadership in funding climate change denial. Their “crown jewel” is the Pine Hill Refinery in Rosemount (MN), polluting the air with emissions from heavy “garbage” crude from Alberta’s tar sands by daily importing 25 per cent of the 1.2 million barrels of oil into the U.S.

Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute which issued reports such as “Apocalypse Not: Science, Economics, Environmentalism and the Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn’t Worry about Global Warming.” A non-peer reviewed study claiming that climate change was not endangering polar bears came from Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation with funds from ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute. Other climate denial reports came from funding provided by Scaife, heir to the Gulf Oil fortune, and John Olin, whose companies have manufactured DDT.

The nucleus of the Koch donors comes from an owner of coal reserves, two fracking pioneers, and a variety of oilmen and coal company owners. Between 2003 and 2010, climate denial groups colleged over one-half billion dollars which came from self-identified tax-exempt, philanthropic endeavour,” according to Robert Bruelle, Drexel University professor of sociology.

The Koch brothers attack on climatologist Michael Mann was more successful than the one on Jane Mayer. Co-author of a 1999 study showing the way that the earth’s temperature shot up in the 20th century, Mann was briefly discredited by a hacker who gained access to internal emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Misconstrued wording in one email about Mann and his research led to congressional Republicans investigating Mann and sending threatening letters to Penn State about their tenured professor. A self-described CIA officer offered Mann’s departmental colleagues $10,000 for any dirt they could find on him. State GOP legislatures withheld Penn State’s funding until the university took action against Mann. He received death threats and opened a letter with white powder. Mann was exonerated, but the episode left a trail of terror for other researchers.

The Koch’s vast network was designed to persuade other wealthy business owners to donate to the Koch-controlled political groups. Scaife, who died in 2014, joined Koch’s cause with over a billion dollars to prevent his inheritance tax by donating its net income to charity for 20 years. Koch-financed groups provided strategies to oppose the Affordable Care Act and climate change mitigation while supporting cuts to Social Security. Mayer reports that in 2011 about then House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) visiting David Koch for help in resolving a debt ceiling stalemate.

The Koch brothers plan to spend almost $1 billion to elect a Republican president this year. And that doesn’t include all the “dark money” that they collect for their ultra-conservative efforts. Jane Mayer describes their recipe for doing this:

“The Kochs have built kind of an assembly line to manufacture political change. And it includes think tanks, which produce papers. It includes advocacy groups, that advocate for policies. And it includes giving money to candidates. And you put those three together, and they’ve pushed against doing anything about climate change on all those three fronts at once. So you get papers that look like they’re real scientific opinions doubting that climate change is real, you get advocacy groups saying we can’t afford to do anything about it, and you get candidates who have to sign a pledge that—their largest political group is Americans for Prosperity.

“They have a pledge that says that if you want to get money from this—from their donors, you have to sign a pledge saying that, if elected, you will do nothing about climate change that requires spending any money on the problem. And 156 members of Congress currently have signed that pledge. So, it sort of is a recipe for how to tie the hands of the country from doing anything on this.”

Charles Koch was a member of the John Birch Society that his father helped found, and both brothers thought that President Eisenhower was a communist and Ronald Reagan was too liberal to be a president. Their attempt to reform the criminal system is based on getting rid of crimes related to pollution, corporate crime, and tax crimes. And they control billions of dollars to push their agenda. That’s what the progressives are facing in this year’s election.

January 26, 2016

A Tale of Two Occupations

 

Insurgents at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge are in their fourth week of occupation since a small group of armed white people came to central Oregon with the original intent to get two ranchers, in prison for a variety of charges including arson on public lands, released. Occupiers then transferred to a goal of getting all the public land in Harney County given back to ranchers. To accomplish this end, they are keeping the public from using the refuge and rummaging through 4,000-year-old Native American artifacts. Other illegal acts are tearing down a federally-built fence and surveillance cameras while stealing federal vehicles—wrecking at least one of them.

glenn palmerThe debacle took a bizarre turn last weekend when Glenn Palmer, sheriff of nearby Grant County, said he wants the government “concede” to the occupiers by releasing the ranchers from prison and send the FBI away. That action would be just “a start,” according to Palmer. According to the Oathkeeper’s website, Palmer offered occupier leader Ammon Bundy a sanctuary in Grant County if he would leave the Refuge. Palmer has been very definite about not having spoken to Bundy personally, but he has texted him.

Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe, who has been helping Harney County Sheriff David Ward in Burns, said that Palmer “doesn’t help the cause. If anything, it hampers the effort to end this.” Wolfe, president of the Oregon State Sheriffs Association, said the state’s other sheriffs are concerned with Palmer’s conduct.

Palmer’s discussion with the occupiers started almost two weeks ago when he met in John Day with three insurgents and ten Grant County residents. John Day is 100 miles north of the refuge. After meeting privately with the sheriff, occupier Ryan Payne said, “[Sheriff Palmer] has a practical plan for helping unravel the federal government.” Palmer is a part of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a national nonprofit which interprets the constitution to severely limit federal government powers. Founder Richard Mack urges officials to overthrow county governments one by one to pursue a right-wing agenda.

Logger Tad Houpt, whose complaints about federal land management are promoted by the Koch-backed American Lands Council, has advertised a meeting in Grant County to learn about the Constitution and consider a Committee of Safety. Occupiers used the “committee” in Harney County to first establish credibility and then control the committee. Lead occupiers plan to attend the Grant County meeting. Grant County may provide fertile ground for the dissidents with residents unhappy about the slowness in restoring logging on the Malheur National Forest and plans to close forest service roads.

A community meeting in Burns regarding the occupiers scheduled for Monday, January 24, has been cancelled because of safety concerns. Harney County Judge Steve Grasty stated, “Preparations to protest and block entrance to the Senior Center have led me to determine that it’s time to take a time out.” He added that he “will not give these agitators what they want most, which is attention.”

The occupiers have voted to convene a “common law grand jury” overseen by Tea Party activist and so-called “sovereign citizen” Joaquin Mariano DeMoreta-Folch. Earlier illegal “grand juries” have resulted in government officials being kidnapped and beaten. Jury members have also filed fraudulent liens against officials’ homes and stalked or harassed them for years afterward. Typical indictment from extralegal grand juries is usually treason that carries a death penalty.

The FBI refuses to allow media to tape its “negotiations” with the occupiers, but the insurgents have taped and released them to the public. Insurgents have said they will leave only after investigations into a large number of federal agencies and the complete turnover of public lands throughout the nation to private citizens. Law enforcement have allowed armed infiltrators throughout Harney County, creating danger for all residents. Ryan Payne has voiced the opinion of the occupiers that they have the legal authority to kill police officers who, according to the occupiers, are “unlawfully trying to arrest” them.

The Paiute tribe is requesting that occupiers be blocked from free access to come and go from the refugee. Tribal chair, Charlotte Roderique, also told U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch that the government that it is obligated under its treaty with the Northern Paiutes to inflict punishment for “any crime or injury…perpetrated by any white man upon the Indians.” Roderique is concerned that the insurgents will finance their occupation by selling valuable Indian artifacts, especially if they can continue to mail materials. Videos have shown the occupiers rifling through these artifacts.

Drone hobbyist Mark Cooper made this video of the refugee last Saturday.

Palmer is up for re-election in May, and former Grant County Undersheriff Todd McKinley has filed to run for sheriff. McKinley, director of Grant County Community Corrections, said that he decided to run after witnessing the “audacity of individuals who think they can dictate the course of Grant County, without the input of all.” He pointed out that the oath of office states that he “would support the Constitution and the laws of the United States and of the state of Oregon, and to honestly and faithfully perform the duties imposed upon the member under the laws of Oregon. I do not remember that there were any clauses that told me this was optional, and up to my interpretation of the Constitution and laws.”

The peaceful life of the occupiers of federal property is a huge contrast to another occupation over 40 years ago. While the occupiers can come and go from the refuge whenever they want, shopping at local stores and eating at local restaurants, Leonard Peltier, leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), has been imprisoned since the federal government’s armed raid on Indian land at Wounded Knee in 1973. Peltier was convicted on the word of Myrtle Poor Bear who retracted her statement 16 years ago, explaining that FBI agents had abused her to get the testimony. The FBI admitted that they didn’t know who was responsible for the deaths of two FBI agents, but Peltier is not scheduled to be released from prison until 2040 when he will be 96 years old.

Beatings, deprivation of medical care, inadequate nutrition, and a disregard for his failing health are causing Peltier to die a slow isolated death. A stroke left him almost blind in one eye, he can barely walk because of untreated bone spurs, and an ever-worsening jaw condition from a prison beating causes difficulty in eating. Peltier has had a heart attack, a severely inflamed prostate condition, and diabetes. Early this month he was diagnosed with a serious abdominal aortic aneurism requiring immediate surgery, but nothing has been done about it. White insurgents, several of them at Malheur, have never been charged for pulling guns on federal officials last year on Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada.

Bill Means, veteran of the Vietnam War and the standoff at Wounded Knee, said:

“The Feds didn’t serve us coffee and pizzas. They came heavily armed, ready to do battle, and opened fire before they asked the first question. The laws are recast and enforced in order to suppress any type of minority movement to shift all the power of recognition to the white community. So that when the posse comitatus or bunch of racist ranchers take over a piece of land, they do it in the name of their country, and they become immune to the criminal laws of the United States.”

Means remembered his experience in 1973:

“We were immediately surrounded by over 7 or 8 federal jurisdictions: FBI, U.S. marshals, U.S. Border Patrol, BIA police. I’m missing a few, but you can understand the type of response we get as Indian people.”

Native American activist Morningstar, a member of the Pit River Tribe that shares a boundary with the Paiute, also commented about the people whose land has been “occupied again by armed white people,” this time white ranchers and cattlemen. They claim “sovereignty” over land that has been inhabited by these tribes for thousands of years, calling themselves the “original caretakers of the land.” She is highly concerned about the occupation of the refuge that contains sacred burial grounds of their tribes’ ancient ancestors and extensive personal records about the community and its people.

“The Paiute have 420 members enrolled, half of whom live on and near the reservation. And so they have essentially taken over the bird refuge. The main concern right now is that there are over 4,000 artifacts. There are maps within the BLM offices. These are maps that are not disclosed to the public, and so we’re hearing stories now of the militia members, Bundy’s faction, you know, going through personnel files of the staff members there, many of which include tribal members. They have access to this classified material, and to the 4,000 artifacts.”

Morningstar also mourned the damage from driving large herds of cattle over sacred Indian land:

“[The occupiers] are contaminating our springs, our waterways, our creeks. They’re inside the rivers and stream ways. We’re having to do a lot of restoration work along the creek ways because we have cattle that are just pushing the soil and dirt into the water.”

Whenever unarmed black people are killed, conservatives are fond of saying, “If you don’t comply, you die.” They become enraged when President Obama trades prisoners with Iran. Yet the current conservative position is that the lawbreakers at the refuge should be given everything they want.

January 25, 2016

Aerial Herbicides Seriously Damage Humans, Animals

The poisonous water in Flint (MI) has been widely publicized—at least in more progressive publications—but lead is not the only danger to water in the United States. Much closer to my home is the practice of spraying herbicides in Oregon’s forests where the poison moves far beyond the intended destination. Each year, helicopters spray herbicides on more than 165 square miles of Oregon timberland, an area larger than the city of Portland, under the West Coast’s weakest regulations.

As endocrine disruptors, herbicides are banned in many countries because of their carcinogenic properties. Exposure results in rashes, nausea, headaches, seizures, and convulsions, and even death. Some herbicides cause nervous system disorders, such as peripheral neuropathy, which begins with numbness and tingling in toes and fingers that spreads to hands and feet as well as pain, muscle weakness, and sensitivity to touch. Long-term exposure to chemicals used in aerial spraying can injure the liver and kidneys.

State foresters and private timber companies use helicopters to kill vegetation on recently logged land through herbicide spraying. Washington, Idaho, and California are aware of dangers and attempt to protect their residents from indiscriminate spraying. Oregon officials with the Oregon Department of Forestry, however, have permitted pesticide sprayers to continue even after they have lost their license. Although complaints against Applebee Aviation found several violations, owner Michael Applebee told his employees to keep flying—which they did on 16 more parcels of forest, two of them public lands.

Applebee employee Darryl Ivy, recorded over 200 videos, showing how helicopters sprayed the toxic poison on workers, drivers moved leaky trucks covered in weed killers past homes and rivers, and one man who dipped a bucket with a chemical polluting water into a stream. One of the weed killers, Velossa, can cause irreversible eye damage; another, 2,4-D, causes skin irritation. Just breathing vapors can cause dizziness. Ivy wasn’t told that they were supposed to wash their skin for 15 minutes if chemicals land on his clothes.

In one video, Ivy inquired about complaining neighbors, and a driver answers, “Pansies.” Asked about deer in the way, a forester says, “They all get sprayed.” After a few days on the crew, Ivy started coughing blood in hacking fits. Red welts still dotted his arms and neck after two weeks. At the emergency room at Roseberg’s Mercy Medical Center, hospital staff immediately put him in a decontamination shower, sealed his clothes in a bucket and kept him in an isolation room, equipped with a special ventilation system used when treating highly infectious patients. A doctor diagnosed him with “acute chemical exposure” and “acute contact dermatitis.”

In 2010, an Applebee pilot covered a Hillsboro cyclist with herbicide, but neither the pilot nor the company was fined. In 2014, another Applebee pilot allowed weed killers to drift 400 feet into a neighbor’s front yard, sickening several people. The pilot and the company were each penalized $407, less than driving 36 mph in a 25 mph zone.

In October 2013, a logging operation sprayed chemicals on over 40 people in Curry County’s Cedar Valley as an independent pilot repeatedly flew over homes between two clearcuts, misting people below. His license was suspended for a year, and both he and the business were fined $10,000. No one has been punished, however, because the case is on hold while Steven Owen, the pilot, is contesting the judgment.

Last fall, a parent saw the aerial spray of chemicals drifting toward Triangle Lake Charter School from two miles away. A new law prevents spraying within 60 feet of school buildings but not the playgrounds or other outdoor areas. Weyerhaeuser had filed a spray notice on August 12, 2015 that they would be spraying between September 2 and December 31; the spray was September 8 and 9, the first two days of school. There were at least ten sprays the first day. The school was not notified because it was not on the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s list.

The 30-minute documentary Behind the Emerald Curtain by the Oregon-based conservation group Pacific Rivers  shows testimony from the damaging herbicide spraying, including near schools, healthcare facilities, and schools.  As in other communities depending on watersheds for water, Rockaway Beach suffers from degraded water quality and sickened forestry workers because of herbicide spraying.

Last year, the Oregon legislature failed to pass SB 613 to protect Oregonians against exposure to herbicides. The bill proposed to:

  • Provide as much protection to people, livestock, and crops as to fish.
  • Ensure that people know that herbicides will be sprayed nearby.
  • Allow people to know what chemicals are being sprayed near their homes and drinking water supplies.

Although Oregon’s Forest Practices Act requires helicopters to keep chemicals away from a 60-foot buffer zone along fish-bearing streams, residences and agricultural lands have no buffer zone. Washington state has a 200-foot buffer around residences, and Idaho bans spraying within one-half mile of agricultural lands.

Oregonians must each pay $25 for advance notification. Otherwise, Rockaway Beach resident Nancy Webster said, “You just listen for the helicopters.”  Information about chemicals in herbicides is difficult or impossible to find.

Up to 40 percent of herbicides sprayed from the air is lost to drift that travels four or more miles. Oregon law does not prevent pilots from spraying in windy and rainy conditions, allowing chemicals on private property and homes.

Opponents of SB613 claim that people get sick because pilots violate existing laws and fear that spraying forest herbicides will be completely banned as it is on federal lands.

Oregon law permits clearcutting on slopes of any steepness within 20 feet of most waterways but with no buffer for small streams without fish. Toxins can be sprayed directly on small streams that flow into larger streams. This practice causes a temperature rise greater than in areas with wider buffers. Last year, Oregon was the first state to have its regulatory program disapproved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and NOAA Fisheries, partly because it did not control the aerial application of pesticides.

Conservationists say that there is an alternative to spraying clearcuts to destroy plants competing with new fir saplings. According to Lisa Arkin, executive director of Beyond Toxics, trees will grow with killing off understory vegetation but take longer.

Economist Ernie Niemi points out that the practices are as bad for the economy as for the environment. The exporting of most cut trees eliminates local jobs and income. The film also features private forest owner Peter Hayes, whose family timber company Hyla Woods cuts its trees in ways that maintain as much forest diversity as possible in order to preserve ecosystem health.

Like other rural areas of the state, the abuse of aerial pesticide spraying in Lincoln County (OR) has gone back decades. When a county commissioner protested the EPA ban of herbicide 2,4,5-T in 1979, claiming that any health problems came from smoking marijuana, 22-year-old Melyce Connelly decided to fight back. She had just learned that the EPA found dioxin in a neighbor’s water supply; the neighbor had had two miscarriages and one child with multiple birth defects. The Forest Service announced that it would substitute 2,4-D for that year, spraying the headwaters of Ryan Creek, Melyce’s watershed for her farm.

Melyce and her neighbors met with the district ranger who promised that their water sources would not be sprayed. Three days later, a helicopter sprayed their water source. Within a few days, all the young chicks and ducklings on Melyce’s farm died, and her six-month-old son developed persistent, bloody diarrhea. Over the next month, every pregnant women in her first trimester who lived in the surrounding valley miscarried, and several children were hospitalized with near-fatal cases of spinal meningitis. Melyce carefully preserved the dead chicks and ducklings in her freezer, hoping to get them analyzed.

Melyce 2Hearing the commissioner’s claim about marijuana, she took some of the dead chicks and ducklings and dumped them on his desk along with her baby’s bloody, soiled diaper. The commissioner apologized, and from that time on, Commissioner Andy Zedwick campaigned against the aerial spraying of herbicides. Later Melyce gave researchers the dead chicks and ducklings for analysis only to find out that the results had been “mixed up” with Dow Chemical samples from Midland (MI).

In the next five years, dioxin levels increased four-fold in sediments upstream from Melyce’s home. There was no attempt to collect further samples in the valley, and the EPA announced that the levels presented no “immediate” health risk. Ten years after Ryan Creek was sprayed with 2,4-D, Melyce Connelly died on July 4, 1989 of brain, lung, and breast cancer. She was 32 years old. If she had lived, she would have celebrated her 60th birthday this year.

Not until 1993 did EPA admit that 2,4-D was contaminated with the most toxic form of dioxin, 2,3,7,8-TCDD although they had known this since the early 1970s. The use of 2,4-D in forestry and on residential lawns, roadsides, golf courses, and school grounds continues to this day, with EPA approval.

January 24, 2016

Christians Entitled, Not Victimized

Cries for free expression inundate the media amid complaints about “political correctness,” but where is the free expression in the fundamentalist Christian religion?

Academia is denigrated by conservatives as a liberal environment brainwashing students’ minds, yet evangelical and Catholic schools are praised for controlling female clothing, dating and social life, and even behavior of faculty members in their own homes that are subject to unannounced inspections. One teacher reported that her vanilla extract was confiscated for its alcohol content. Heaven forbid that any students are openly LGBT, transgender professors transition, women get pregnant out of wedlock, and couples divorce. At least 35 schools received federal waivers allowing them to discriminate against LGBT, female, and pregnant students and faculty while taxpayers continue to send funding to the colleges.

Student clubs for nonbelievers can be restricted, and Liberty University banned the student Democratic club. Katha Pollitt wrote that she was required to sign a statement promising that she wouldn’t offend Catholic doctrine before her speech at two Catholic colleges. Larycia Hawkins was suspended from Wheaton College for stating on Facebook that Christians and Muslims “worship the same god.” The school also requires that faculty sign a faith statement declaring their belief in the literal Adam in Genesis. John Schneider, professor of theology at Calvin College, was forced into retirement after he published an article questioning the story of Adam and Eve.

The response to any of these complaints is that people cannot hold religious beliefs to normal scholarly standards. Religious colleges are also private, which means that they can do anything they want and employers and enrollees know what they’re getting. Ramesh Ponnuru, a right-wing critic of academic-speech restrictions, stated that “PC threatens the robust exchange of ideas” but defended Wheaton’s treatment of Hawkins because “no serious person argued that the college had violated a principle of free speech.”

All the GOP presidential candidates express opposition to Sharia law but want to mandate Christian law. The worst of these candidates may be Ted Cruz, as he continues to pick up endorsements from religious right activists. The most recent is Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer labeled by some as a cult and known for its nonstop 24-hour-a-day prayer in preparation for the End Times and its anti-gay activism in Uganda. According to Bickle, LGBT marriage is “rooted in the depths of hell,” homosexuality “opens the door to the demonic realm,” and Oprah Winfrey is a forerunner of the Antichrist. He called her “one of the clear pastors, forerunners, to the harlot movement.” Earlier in his campaign, Cruz shared a state with Kevin Swanson, who demands the death penalty for homosexuality.

Marco Rubio, accused of being a flip-flopper in his political views has been a Mormon, a Catholic, and most recently a member of the extremist pro-exorcist Christ Fellowship. He has put out a television ad having nothing to do with politics and everything to do with “His Christian Faith.” His opening statement:

“Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our Creator and for all time, to accept the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ.”

He claims that “the purpose of our life is to cooperate with God’s plan” and closes with “I try to allow [his religious belief] to influence me in everything that I do.” In between, he says much more about how Christianity should lead the country. There was once a time when a president’s religious views were personal and private—even a time when a presidential candate’s religion made voters question whether they should vote for him. No more. It’s all on the table now: vote for [fill in the blank] because he’s the most Christian.

The recent accusation of Christian victimization comes from their sense of extreme entitlement and their fundamentalist creed “do as I believe.” For example, in a case before the Supreme Court a church claims that Missouri illegally excluded their playground from a state program that provided safer play surfaces.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia wants state funding to replace the pea gravel in its day-care center’s playground with recycled tires. The letter of refusal stated a section of the state constitution that  “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” A judge agreed with the state position, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals panel split 2-1 on its decision after the church appealed.

The church’s attorney claimed the case is about “religious hostility.” He said, “This case [Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley] has huge implications for state constitutional provisions across the nation that treat religious Americans and organizations as inferiors solely because of their religious identity.” In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that states offering college scholarships can deny them to students majoring in theology. Churches want “equality” but pay no taxes while demanding handouts.

Washington State Rep. Mary Dye decided that her religion gave her the right to ask a group of high school students whether they were virgins. On Teen Lobbying Day, the teenagers, chaperoned by Planned Parenthood Rachel Todd, went to Dye’s office to advocate for expanding insurance to cover birth control where Dye gave them an unwanted lecture about marriage and sex advice. Fortunately, the stunned young people received a different reception from the GOP Senate Majority Leader, Mark Schoesler. Eleanor Loewus, 18, called him very respectful. Schoesler said, “I handled it like a normal meeting.”

While Kansas suffers from disastrous financial problems, one GOP legislator is more concerned with what women are wearing. Mitch Holmes, chair of the state Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, has announced a dress code for women who come to testify. Not men, just women because women’s dress can be “distracting.” His 11-point code of conduct includes inappropriateness of “low-cut necklines and miniskirts” because he says there are “provocatively clad women” at the Capitol. According to Holmes, men don’t need fashion guidance.

Even other Republicans were appalled at Holmes’ mandates, saying that they haven’t noticed any problems. Sen. Vicki Schmidt said, “Who’s going to define low-cut? Does it apply to senators?” Sen. Carolyn McGinn said that people without clothes that meet Holmes standards might e deterred from testifying.

Mesa Valley School District 51, a public school district, used its email system to advertise a Christian event using Bible lessons to encourage girls as young as 11 to stay “pure” while looking for husbands. Announcing “Wake Up Sleeping Beauty: Worship At His Feet,” the flier includes the silhouette of a girl’s face with a Bible verse from Luke 7:38.

“As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”

A video posted to the Wake Up Sleeping Beauty Facebook page encourages fathers to “protect her purity” and shows a father watching over his daughter as she puts on makeup. Promotional videos on the website of the sponsoring group, Wake Up Ministries, includes warnings for girls about the “gag reflex” caused by kissing with your tongue. A parent’s complaint about the flier’s imagery of a girl using her hair to wash a man’s feet before kissing them, was quickly dismissed by the school district. District 51 Communications Specialist responded:

“Having reviewed the flyer and KHB-R per your request, we do not find that the flyer promotes a religious organization or demeans a person or group on the basis of gender.”

Right-wing Christians believe that they know the only path for people to follow and they should be able to pass laws to force everyone in the United States to follow them. That’s the supreme form of entitlement.

January 23, 2016

GOP Presidential Candidate Climate Deniers

Midwinter Meetings for the American Library Association are typically at the end of January. This one this year in Boston was unusually early—January 8-11. If we have met at the customary time, over 10,000 people would have been unable to get to the conference or stranded in the Northeast as a blizzard threatens 50 million people on the East Coast. With this storm, we can expect Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) or one of his colleagues to bring another snowball onto the Senate floor to prove that climate change doesn’t exist. Once again, they lack the education—or willingness to accept science—to understand that “Snowmageddons” is all a part of the human-created changes in climate around the world.

Once again, climatologists try to explain to the uneducated how warming-fueled ocean temperatures super-charged all this snow. As Thomas Mann, Director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, explained:

“There is peer-reviewed science that now suggests that climate change will lead to more of these intense, blizzard-producing nor’easters, for precisely the reason we’re seeing this massive storm—unusually warm Atlantic ocean surface temperatures (temperatures are in the 70s off the coast of Virginia).”

Extra moisture plus a cold Arctic outbreak equals monster snowfalls, he said, pointing out that massive winter storms are favored by climate change.

Levom Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, added:

“At present sea surface temperatures are more the 3F above normal over huge expanses (1000 miles) off the NE coast and water vapor in the atmosphere is about 10 to 15% higher as a result. Up to half of this can be attributed to climate change.”

A long-term pattern of more extreme precipitation, especially in Northeast winters, has led to superstorms predicted by climate scientists. Trenberth stated that “all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.” The U.K. Met Office explained:

 “Basic physics tells us that a warmer atmosphere is able to hold more moisture — at a rate of approximately 7 per cent increase per degree [Celsius] warming. This is expected to lead to similar percentage increases in heavy rainfall, which has generally been borne out by models and observed changes in daily rainfall.”

When the temperature drops far enough down for snow, the storms will be fueled by more water vapor and thus be more intense themselves. The result is fewer snowstorms in regions close to the rain-snow line, such as the central United States, but with more intense snowstorms in the area when they do occur, just like more intense snowstorms in generally cold regions.

Climate warming is not enough to end below-freezing temperatures during midwinter but large enough to put more water vapor into the air. Studies show that warmer-than-normal winters favor snow storms as shown by wide fluctuations during the twentieth century, which experienced upward trends corresponding with strong cyclonic activity. Most of the United States had 71 to 80 percent of their snowstorms in warmer-than-normal years.

Climate change also causes snowstorms to be longer. The changing jet stream results in slower storm systems and longer periods of heavy precipitation.

Scientists announced that 2015 was the warmest year on record, the second year in a row. The world is on a trajectory of rapid global warming. Fifteen of NOAA’s 16 hottest-recorded years have occurred since 2000, and last year was the 39th consecutive year in which global temperatures have been higher than the 20th century average.  To Democrats, these facts make the fight against climate change more urgent than ever. Yet GOP presidential candidates laughed at Bernie Sanders when he said that climate change is the greatest threat to the U.S., preferring to stick with international terrorism. (It’s easier to scare the people in the U.S. with this position.) GOP candidates’ positions:

Donald Trump: The snowstorms are just “weather” until someone can prove otherwise to him.  Global warming is a “hoax.

Ted Cruz: He uses incomplete data in an attempt to show that satellite data shows no warming in the past 17 years.

Marco Rubio: Climate change exists, but the U.S. shouldn’t bother with addressing any problems in this area if other countries don’t do the same thing. The Paris climate deal is “ridiculous.”  The U.S. can’t limit its economy to tackle climate change.

Ben Carson: “There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused. Gimme a break.” His spokesman tried to cover for his ignorance by explaining that Carson is a “questioner” and “could be persuaded.”

Jeb Bush: He follows Rubio, calling himself a climate “skeptic.”

Chris Christie: Although New Jersey has met clean air goals and expanded zero-emission electricity—according to the candidate—he doesn’t like government intervention “to chase some wild left-wing idea that somehow us [sic] by ourselves is going to fix the climate.”

John Kasich: He admits a problem with climate change but doesn’t “want to overreact to it.” Ohio is a fossil fuel-producing state (aka fracking) so Kasich doesn’t want to “worship the environment.”  Last September, he said, “I don’t believe that humans are the primary cause of climate change.”

Carly Fiorina: The energy industry should innovate on its own instead of having climate change regulations. The Paris conference was “baloney.”

Rick Santorum: A skeptic of climate change, he follows Trump and Cruz. He wants more than 97 percent of the scientists to believe in human-created climate change. “Lots of things cause climate change,” he said.

Mike Huckabee: In the past, he said that people need to take care of the Earth, a biblical precept, but he’s moved to “science is not settled” on climate change.

Rand Paul: Nature is a bigger part of climate change than humans. The planet has always had different climates, according to Paul, although he left out the parts in which humans couldn’t live on it.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was the only candidate who believed in climate change, and he’s gone.

climate-matrix-640px-8_0

The Earth’s average land temperature of 2.39 degrees Fahrenheit above the twentieth-century average should make it difficult for climate deniers to claim that global warming stopped in 1998. Record-high temperatures in ten months don’t show the “pause” that some people claim. Republican climate deniers are now much quieter than in the past, but they still won’t agree. Pundit David Brooks wrote that the GOP “has come to resemble a Soviet dictatorship” about climate science: even politicians who know the truth about global warming say otherwise “because they’re afraid the thought police will knock on their door and drag them off to an AM radio interrogation.”

A month ago, the North Pole temperature was 50 degrees higher than normal. Manhattan was over 70 degrees on Christmas, and people were surfing in Queens. The storm system drawing warm air to the North Pole caused recent tornadoes in Texas and heavy rain and flooding in the Mid- and Southeast. A January hurricane in the north Atlantic was the first at this time of the year in 78 years. During an upper level low pressure center above Tucson in December created a temperature of -26 degrees at about 18,000 feet while the temperature at the same altitude in Barrow, Alaska was just only a few degrees colder.

states prepared

 

Do you live in a state that’s preparing for climate change disaster? Check the above map to see what grade your state receives.

January 22, 2016

‘Roe v. Wade’: Past, Future

Filed under: Reproductive rights — trp2011 @ 9:14 PM
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Abortion is as old as the Bible, but recently its history and politics have moved from attention on pregnant women to unborn fetuses. “Women always have and always will have abortions,” said Heather Ault, 4000 Years for Choice founder and graphic designer. “It’s fundamental to human existence, and all human societies around the world have practiced forms of controlling pregnancy, to various degrees of effectiveness with the tools and knowledge they had available at that time, whether it be toxic herbs, early surgical methods, or magic and spells.”

In Numbers 5:11-31, God is described as instructing Moses to present “The Test for an Unfaithful Wife” (NIV), a ritual to be used by priests against women accused by their husbands of unfaithfulness. These women are to drink “bitter water,” a potion that to abort any pregnancies that result from “having sexual relations with a man other than your husband.”

The Royal Archives of China holds the earliest written record of an abortion technique in the 3000s BCD. The Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, a founder of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture in the 2700s BCE, wrote recipes for contraception and abortion which were quoted into the 16th century. In the 300s BCE, siliphium, now extinct, was regarded as a gift from Apollo and used for both contraception and abortion in northern Africa and Greece. At the same time, Egyptians and Greeks used the birthwort plant for the same purpose. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote, “If too many children are being born, there are measures to check propagation,” and Aristotle agreed on the need for population control.

In the 200s, prolific Christian theologian Tertullian described two surgical methods used for abortion. In 418, St. Augustine, like most theologians of the time, felt that abortion wasn’t homicide because “unformed fetuses perish like seeds which have not fructified.” In 1318, St. Thomas Aquinas opposed abortion unless the fetus was “ensouled” at approximately 30 days after conception. Aquinas did not consider abortion a sin before this time because it was not a human being. After England broke with the Catholic Church in 1540, abortion was no longer considered a crime under common law.

During American slavery beginning in the 1600s, black slaves used the cottonwood plant as an abortive remedy to spare their children a life of misery. Colonial women used the same technique because abortion was legal through common law before “quickening,” the first detectable fetal motion at about the fourth month.

In 1821, Connecticut passed the first law in the United States that made abortion illegal. By the end of the nineteenth century, every state had passed anti-abortion legislation except Kentucky, which waited until 1910. The oppressive maternity homes established for pregnant women refused, however, to house black women. A choice was Dr. Bronson’s Female Pills, which promised to “remove difficulties arising from obstruction”; text warned that taking these during the first three or four months or pregnancy might result in miscarriage—most likely the remedy’s intent. The most widely known abortionist in the 1830s, Madame Restelle operated for 35 years with additional offices in Boston and Philadelphia. By the 1850s, she was one of over 200 abortionists in New York City, largely sought out by middle- and upper-class Protestant women who wanted smaller families.

Male doctors pressed for laws against abortion when they took over health care for women from the midwives, who they considered a threat to the male economic and social power. After the AMA declared in 1857 that abortion should be illegal, politician and “morality” advocate Anthony Comstock crusaded against birth control, sex workers, and eventually abortion. In 1873, the “Comstock Law” outlawed contraception and abortion with limited exceptions for health and women lost their common law right. Comstock also succeeded in passing laws against sending anything through the mail related to sexuality and was instrumental in jailing Margaret Sanger for defying the contraception prohibition.

Not until 1869 did the Catholic Church condemn abortion at all stages of pregnancy. By 1896, the Chicago Health Department forbade “any midwife having in her possession any drug or instrument or other article which may be used to procure and abortion,” as well as eleven other rules intended to control how they practiced traditional women’s health care.

When Margaret Sanger surveyed 10,000 working-class women during the 1920s, she found that 20 percent of them had had abortions. Another study showed that ten to 23 percent of educated, middle-class women had had the same procedure. By the late 1920s, 15,000 women a year died from illegal, unsafe abortions from knitting needles, crochet hooks, hairpins, scissors, and buttonhooks. Physicians reacted to the rising death toll in the 1930s by providing abortion care through underground clinics and working to protest the prohibition on abortion.

In 1931, a study in the Bronx found that 35 percent of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish women had had at least one illegal abortion. The next year, Harlem Hospital (New York City) opened a separate ward to treat women seeking emergency post-abortion emergency services from illegal abortions. For 10 years during the Depression, Dr. Josephine Gabler performed over 18,000 abortions at her office on State Street in Chicago. Eighty percent of the women were married and 57 percent already had children. She had referrals from over 200 area doctors.

During the 1930s, the U.S. had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with induced abortions responsible for at least 14 percent of the deaths. The increase in the number of the abortions to over 681,000 coincided with the rising economic problems faced by most people in the U.S. Women began to organize their own “birth control clubs,” such as one in New Jersey with 800 members. They paid dues and carried cards entitling them to regular examinations and access to illegal abortions.

Dr. Edgar Bass Keemer, Jr., a black physician in Detroit, started providing abortions in 1938. After performing 30,000 procedures, he was incarcerated from 1958 to 1960. In 1939, 68 percent of medical students in the U.S. said that they would be willing to perform abortions if they were legal. By the 1950s, between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed each year.

With abortions still illegal in many states in 1959, Patricia Maginnis, a medical technician in San Francisco, developed a do-it-yourself abortion procedure that involved dilating your own cervix to miscarry. Although oral contraceptives came on the market in 1965, it was available only through prescription to married women for the next seven years. In Chicago, a group of young women started “The Service,” an underground feminist healthcare system to help women find safe and affordable illegal abortions, before it renamed itself “Jane” and trained themselves to provide surgical abortions in-house. Between 1969 and 1973, Jane performed nearly 12,000 abortion procedures. A similar group called the Feminist Women’s Health Center began in California.

All these efforts could stop in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade  that the right of privacy included “a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” The 7-2 decision found that a person’s “zone of privacy” extended to their doctor’s office although Justice Harry Blackmun’s decision ruled that more narrow state laws could be constitutional after the point of fetal viability.

Blackmun’s ruling is the reason for the huge spate of anti-abortion, anti-women laws clogging state constitutions and statutory restrictions in the past half decade which have again removed the “zone of privacy.” In the past four years, 231 abortion restrictions have been enacted at state levels. The U.S. is rated D+ in overall reproductive rights and health, downgraded from the C rating in 2014,  and 27 states are ranked either “hostile” or “extremely hostile” to abortion. Not satisfied with attacking abortion, many of these states have attacked pregnant women, imprisoning them for using drugs or alcohol and convicting them of feticide if they accidentally have miscarriages. At this time, 38 states have feticide laws.

As the number of restrictive anti-choice laws rise, so does the number of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth—from 14.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2007 to 28 in 2014—almost double, as the conservative states pass draconian laws surrounding reproductive rights. This rate is seven times higher than seven European countries and 14 times that of Israel which has liberal abortion laws and government-subsidized abortion services. The states with the most restrictive abortion laws also have the highest uninsured rates, infant and child death rates,  and teen drug and alcohol abuse as well as lower preventive care and cancer screening rates.

On March 2, 2016, the Supreme Court will hear its first abortion case in eight years: Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case concerning a Texas law designed to close down more than 75 percent of clinics that provide abortion services in the state—a law which is actually a de facto abortion ban. The question before the court is whether reducing abortion clinic numbers into single digits for a state the size of Texas constitutes an “undue burden.” The decision will most likely set new precedent for the country. The answer will be whether every woman has a right to safely and legally end a pregnancy in this nation that claims to prize personal freedom.

Today is the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. We can only hope that women will regain some of the rights they have lost during the past 43 years.

January 21, 2016

Flint’s Poisoned Water Problems Not Disappearing

In the wake of his PR disaster—and the Flint residents’ water disaster—Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released 249 emails to show that he was not to blame. Heavy redactions in the emails don’t hide the administration’s dismissive and belittling attitude toward people concerned about health issues from the brackish water coming into their homes. After traces of “coliform and fecal coliform bacterium” appeared in the city’s water plant, officials just added chlorine to the water. An email from Snyder’s Chief of Staff shows how the administration refused to take responsibility:

 “I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that [State Treasurer] Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject.”

The emails accused residents of using their children’s health as a “political football” and refused action after a hospital and a university stopped using Flint water because it was corroding their metal instruments.  An email stated that Flint residents were only concerned about the aesthetics of the water, “taste, smell and color being among the top complaints.”

According to Snyder, the released emails represent all the Flint-related correspondence in 2014 and 2015. Missing are the ones from 2013 which began the debacle through key decisions. Aides have been non-committal when asked about release of these emails. Snyder has been “invited” to appear in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 3, 2016 regarding the poisoned water that government has provided Flint residents. He has not been “called” to appear because only Republicans can do this.

The EPA may also be asked to appear at a congressional hearing.

A few missing pieces from yesterday’s blog on the Flint water travesty:

In December 2011, Snyder appointed Michael Brown as emergency manager of Flint to replace elected Flint officials and act unilaterally as an extension of state executive power. Brown was George W. Bush’s head of FEMA during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. He sent untrained rescue workers to the disaster area while telling fire and rescue departments not to send trucks or emergency workers without a direct appeal from state or local governments. Three days after the disaster, he told the media that he was not aware that the New Orleans Convention Center housed thousands of evacuees who lacked food and water and blamed those stuck in the city of not choosing to leave the city, despite the lack of transportation. Brown quit the FEMA job days after the hurricane. Later he declared that President Obama wanted the Deepwater Horizon oil spill so that he could “pander to the environmentalists.” Brown lasted in Flint for only nine months.

In March 2013, State treasury and Department of Environmental Quality officials ignored external reports showing that changing the water to the Flint River would not save money Three months later Flint’s emergency manager abandoned Detroit water.

In August 2014, Flint River water violated National Primary Drinking Water Regulations twice with more violations in September and December of that year. Last September, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services claimed that spikes in illnesses from lead were “seasonal and not related to the water supply.”

The first cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint in five years appeared two months after the water source was changed. After a year with 47 cases and five deaths, Snyder declared that the epidemic was over, but the numbers doubled in the next months. The incidence of this waterborne bacterial infection that can be deadly for between 5 to 30 percent of those who contract it is nine times greater in Flint than the national average. Doctors had predicted the onslaught of the disease because of iron caused by corrosion. No one will ever know the source of the Legionnaires’ disease because Michigan failed to take the appropriate cultures. The disease could return with warm weather because the state has not done any testing.

EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, the director overseeing a region including Flint, resigned after it was discovered that she told the former Flint mayor that a report from one of its own scientists be concealed until it was vetted and revised.

The EPA has announced an emergency order requiring that the state and city “take a series of immediate steps to address the drinking water contamination in Flint.” It said the city and state’s response to the crisis has been “inadequate to protect public health.” The EPA will take over lead sampling because of repeated delays and a lack of transparency in the water crisis continue to pose “an imminent and substantial” danger to residents. Months after the EPA required corrosion controls be added to Flint’s water system and the water source be shifted back to Lake Huron water from the Flint River, “underlying problems” and “fundamental deficiencies” remain. The state has one day to comply with the order.

Michigan is also ordered to create a public website for all reports and sampling results, and the state is to inventory all homes in Flint with lead service lines. The EPA told Flint and Michigan to establish an independent advisory panel on drinking water issues and required that the city must show “technical, managerial, and financial capacity” before moving to a new Lake Huron water system.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, President Obama announced that the federal government will send at least $80 million next week, some of it to be used to rebuild water lines and other city infrastructure. The funding comes from a federal revolving loan fund that provides low-cost loans to eligible entities, including municipalities for water infrastructure projects. Replacing lead service lines and making other infrastructure repairs could cost as much as $1.5 billion.

The EPA, which could also be called to appear at a congressional hearing said to be set for early next month, also requested that its Inspector General evaluate Region 5’s supervision program for public water systems, a move U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., applauded as a way to “better understand how EPA could have helped prevent Flint’s water crisis and what they can do to keep this situation from ever happening again.”

Last September, a Flint lawmaker asked Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Shuette, to investigate the Flint water situation. Schuette, a Republican thought to be considering a gubernatorial run, refused. In December, his staffer said that an investigation was not necessary. Five months after building negative publicity about Flint water, Shuette said he would launch an investigation the day after Snyder asked the president to declare a federal emergency in Flint.

In the weeks after Schuette refused to investigate, national media attention on Flint increased, and on Jan. 14, Republican Governor Rick Snyder asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency. The next day, Schuette had changed his tune. He said that he would launch an investigation “without fear or favor.” He office is already defending state officials in a lawsuit generated by protesting Flint residents alleging that officials ignored evidence of the toxic water.

Under state law, the AG has to represent emergency managers when they are sued, but the entity that the manager runs has to pay for the legal costs. Thus the same person who investigates the water poisoning also protect the officials who did it while the people bringing the law suit must pay for the defense’s legal costs. Schuette has not said whether he will bring in outside counsel.

Gov. Snyder was an accountant with no elected office experience before he took over a state with a population of almost 10 million people. Before the Flint water crisis, he had contemplated a run for president. Snyder is a prime example of what happens when the private sector attempts to take over government functions.

After almost two years of Flint water’s fiasco, the state Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh said that “we should have been more aggressive. He blames two top officials in the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance for the misinterpretation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule, but both officials still have state jobs. They just been reassigned to keep away from the Flint water issues. No one has been fired over the catastrophe.

flint safe to washTen days ago, Rick Snyder told the media that the Flint water is so safe that he would let his grandkids bathe in it. It’s a safe assertion because he doesn’t have grandchildren. This poster on the right has been removed from the government website.

This is Republican leadership at its “finest.”

After I wrote the above, I went into the kitchen and ran the water a few seconds, grateful that I don’t live in a state with governor-appointed emergency managers instead of elected officials.

 

January 20, 2016

Michigan Governor Poisons Flint Residents, Wants Federal Money

“If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water, we would have done something about it.” That was Hillary Clinton’s comment about the poisoned water in Flint (MI) thanks to the man assigned by Gov. Rick Snyder to run the city.

The horror in Flint started six years ago when businessman Rick Snyder was elected governor because he claimed to create jobs and run the government like a business—similar to what Donald Trump promises in his current presidential campaign.

The purpose of business is to make money for the owners and cut costs by eliminating jobs; the purpose of government in a democracy is to make people’s lives better, not to profit off them. Business and government require different skills and philosophies, and Snyder is an example of this difference. When he was on the board of the computer company Gateway, it went from 21,000 U.S. workers to 7,400 in about a decade. Gateway no longer exists.

Under Snyder, GOP legislators passed a law allowing the government to replace elected officials with an “emergency manager” picked by the governor. The manager makes all the decisions—just like in a business. The law was repealed by referendum in 2012 but replaced with a new law in a GOP-controlled legislative session that prevented it from being subject to a voter referendum.

The first time that Snyder used his dictatorial powers was in Benton Harbor where a park had been deeded to the city in 1917 “in perpetuity.” The new emergency manager in 2011 took over part of waterfront park for a luxury golf resort, with the help of a development group. It’s board included the sponsor of the new law. That success of stripping elected officials of any powers for the benefit of private business moved on to Detroit, Flint, Highland Park, and other Michigan municipalities.

Michigan residents couldn’t successfully protest the new dictator approach in its state, and the rest of the United States pretty much ignored the problem until MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow began to show the way that the new “business-like” system allowed massive amounts of lead in the city water that Flint residents pay to receive.

flint-waterFlint’s problem started almost two years ago when its manager “saved” $8.5 million over five years by switching the water source from Detroit through a pipeline to drawing water from the polluted Flint River. The acidic water that leaches lead and other metals from pipes could have been chemically treated to control corrosion, but the manager chose not to spend the $100 a day for that safety.

For 18 months people complained about the taste and smell of the brown water piped into their homes while they got rashes and their hair fell out from showering in it. As any good businessman, the manager denied any problems and said that the water was fine.

Not until Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha compared blood test results for 1,746 Flint children before and after the change in water was any whiff of concern evidenced. Even then, Michigan politicians called her an “irresponsible researcher” who caused “near hysteria.” Not until a September 2015 study from Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards did city officials admit there was something wrong with the water and told people not to drink it.

The manager did try to minimize the problem by testing water in a way designed to minimize lead readings by flushing the water several minutes before taking a sample and using very low flow rates. Edwards, however, found readings as high as 13,000 ppb (parts per billion of lead); 5,000 ppb is considered to be “toxic waste.” The EPA set 15 ppb has a point where steps should be taken to reduce the level although levels as low as 5 ppb can be concerning. A few miles away, Troy (MI)’s lead in the water measures 1.1 ppb.  [Pipes from a Flint water study]

flint-water-study-photos

Everyone suffers for exposure to lead, but children are particularly susceptible. Symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Memory loss
  • Pain and tingling in hands and/or feet
  • Weakness

Exposure while a woman is pregnant damages the nervous system of the developing fetus. It can also cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility in both men and women. Children suffer from lasting neurological and behavioral damage, intellectual disabilities, serious difficulty controlling impulses, retaining information, and learning in school. It is difficult or impossible for them to later have thought-intensive jobs. Lead keeps the body from absorbing nutrients for cell development and the growth of strong teeth and bones. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) stated:

“The lead builds up in soft tissue — kidneys, bone marrow, liver, and brain — as well as bones and teeth. … Some scientists believe that low-level chronic lead exposure in childhood can alter secretion of the human growth hormone, stunting growth and promoting obesity.”

People in Flint started in April 2014 to persuade the city to take action about the poisonous water. In May 2014, the city learned that trihalomethanes ( TTHMs) were above levels allowed in the Clean Water Act but didn’t tell residents for another eight months and didn’t change to safe water. In October 2014, GM noticed that the water was corroding engines and started trucking in water from outside the city. While Flint continued to deny any problems with the water, the governor’s office secretly ordered that Flint be supplied filters. The discrepancies between reports of toxicity in the water from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint during last year indicate a cover-up by the governor’s appointed manager.

Snyder’s business-like approach became such a PR disaster that he started reluctantly thinking about a solution. Although he switched back to Detroit water last October, the damage to the pipes was most likely done by then. Snyder waited until Jan. 5, 2016 to declare a state of emergency and another week to mobilize the National Guard to distribute bottled water and water filters–starting with seven guardspersons—one per 14,285.7 people.

Finally Snyder asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency. Through FEMA, taxpayers will pay up to $5 million for water, filters and cartridges and other items, but Snyder has been refused an additional $96 million because the Flint water crisis is not a natural disaster. Snyder, his emergency manager, and the GOP legislators who voted for a dictatorship caused the entire calamity, and Snyder finally admitted that he knew about the problems with water for several months, perhaps as much as a year.

Yet in his State of the State speech this week, Snyder blamed the problem on “entrenched bureaucrats.” He also said, “Government failed you at the federal, state and local level.” The problems came entirely from a state decision to create a legislatively created dictatorship in Flint. Michigan residents elected their representatives who allow travesties such as the poisoning of water in one of its cities.

As if the lead in the water wasn’t enough, an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Flint, seemingly a consequence of Flint’s water, has hit 87 people. Ten of these people are dead. Yet Flint is still charging customers for the poisoned water and sending shut-off notices threatening to cut off their water if they don’t pay for it.

In a peculiar coincidence, the office of the public works director who resigned last November during the developing crisis was broken into in late December. No one knows what was taken, and surveillance videos didn’t show anyone breaking into the office.

Distressed by Clinton’s call to do something about Flint’s water, Snyder tweeted, “Political statements and finger pointing from political candidates only distract from solving the Flint water crisis.” He forgets that the problem was caused by politics and that without the growing transparency surrounding the “Flint water crisis,” people would still be receiving the brown, nasty water.

Asked about the problem in Flint,” GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio hemmed and hawed before he talked about not having an opinion because he hadn’t been briefed on it. At the same time, federal GOP legislators voted to overturn provisions of the Clean Water Act—the same provisions that they voted to repeal last June.

As President Obama said about Flint while he was visiting Michigan, “It is a reminder of why you can’t shortchange basic services that we provide to our people and that we together provide as a government to make sure that public health and safety is preserved.” Flint is also a reminder of why people can’t run government like a business.

Reversing the damage to the pipes will cost $1.5 billion. Reversing the brain damage and other health issues is impossible.

Heckofajob, Snyder. And same to all your cohorts.

Snyder has moved Darnell Farley, the emergency manager who switched Flint’s water from the Detroit system to the Flint River, to the new emergency manager of Detroit’s public schools. Here are a few photos of the Detroit schools. (More disgusting ones here.) We’ll see what Farley makes of this.

flint stairway

flint urinals

January 19, 2016

Tale of Two Debates

Presidential candidate debates from two political parties last week demonstrated a world of difference. 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In the first of two presidential candidate debates last week softball questions gently thrown by Fox Business facilitators turned into a knock-down, drag-out fight among seven GOP candidates. Donald Trump came out on top, Marco Rubio failed, and all the others except Ted Cruz disappeared. Several of them complained about the lack of release of ten sailors who were released the day before, after only 16 hours.

The “big time” GOP debate began with bashing the President of the United States. Cruz accused President Obama of “betrayal,” and Chris Christie described him as “a petulant child” before he claimed he would kick his “rear end out of the White House.” Rubio charged that the president “doesn’t believe in the Constitution.” Then they battered Hillary Clinton, who Jeb Bush described as “just a disaster.”

The real fight, however, started as Bush talked about “backbench senators” and Trump’s “unhinged comments” and Rubio attacked Christie as a liberal. Then they got serious, delving into birther and flip-flopping accusations toward their candidate colleagues. GOP solutions were more guns, more income inequality, and more anger and violence. Marco Rubio actually said that everyone needs to buy guns because ISIS is coming to your house.

Both debates took place in South Carolina where black people comprise 27 percent of the population. Both debates occurred the week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and were staged just one block from the historic church where a white man killed nine black people during a prayer service less than seven months ago. Yet the word “black” was uttered only twice among GOP candidates: black lung and black market. Also missing during the GOP debate was any reference to issues of specific concern to over half the population—women. The result was a pack of jackals in a cage where they were tossed red meat from laissez-faire moderators and wild audience applause.

Recent presidential debate moderator Hugh Hewitt, however, managed to even out-bizarre the GOP candidates. In talking about positions espoused at the GOP debate, Hewitt said:

“Fact checking doesn’t matter in these things. What matters is personality, an aura and your command presence. And of all those two, the best command presence last night was Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. And I keep marveling at how Donald Trump can dominate a television screen.”

The fact-free zone of GOP presidential campaigns is not new: Mitt Romney used this style against President Obama in 2012. It’s just that Republican pundits now admit that their candidates are welcome to make up anything that they want on the spot, leaving the audience misinformed rather than just ignorant. Jeb Bush explained he knew Clinton was going to be indicted because “I only get my news from Fox & Friends, so that’s all I get.”

The fact-free approach has become so blatant that full-time fact-checking would result in volumes rather than articles. They even lie about falsehoods easily checked, for example Cruz’s answer to a question about his not disclosing a $1 million loan from Goldman Sachs, his wife’s employer at the time, for his 2012 campaign. He first talked about how hateful the New York Times is and then launched into pretending he had done so. The problem was Cruz’s failure to list any bank loans on his FEC report. All his publicity about how he and his wife had scraped the bottom on their financial barrel to fund the campaign was bogus. So was Chris Christie’s claim that he didn’t support Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court justice, a claim disproved by a New Jersey Star-Ledger headline.

Even Mitt Romney is disgusted with the candidates. He called the Republicans “nuts” for not raising the federal minimum wage, something he calls part of GOP orthodoxy. “As a party, to say we’re trying to help the middle class of America and the poor and not raise the minimum wage sends exactly the wrong signal,” Romney said. None of the GOP candidates pays attention to Romney, however, some of them suggesting that this wage should be $0. Fiorina thinks that the law is unconstitutional.

Rand Paul boycotted the “also-ran” table, but Carly Fiorina tried to carve out a place for her by abandoning her promise to make no personal comments about Clinton. Fiorina’s attack: “Unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband.” Mike Huckabee wants to train poor people as if they were dogs. The comments just came coming.

“Politician turned reality show star endorses reality show star turned politician.” That’s Ari Melber’s response to Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump. The newest NBC/WSJ poll shows that almost two-thirds of Republican voters could vote for Trump, an increase of 42 percent in the past ten months from 23 percent to 65 percent. The same NBC/WSJ poll shows that 42 percent of voters view the GOP less favorably compared to 19 percent who like it better.

University of Massachusetts PhD candidate Matthew MacWilliams conducted a poll to determine what lies behind the “Trump phenomenon.” His research showed that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a GOP voter’s preferred candidate—only authoritarianism trailed by the less significant fear of terrorism. Authoritarians obey, rally to, and follow strong leaders while responding aggressively to outsiders. Trump promised to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border and closing mosques through iron-fisted solutions to sometimes manufactured dismay, agitation, and fear.

Writer Rick Salutin compared Trump’s rise to that of European dictators in the 1930s. Trump’s favorite word is “strong”; Chinese and Japanese are “killers”; and the nation has been lost because of “stupid,” “weak” leaders. Trump mocks opponents’ weakness through “low energy.” According to Trump, the growing economic inequalities affecting whites comes from non-whites who are poised to become the majority within the U.S. The unchallenged occupiers at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (OR) are prime examples of “Trumpers”—trigger-happy, anti-Islamic, and power-hungry. Trump doesn’t need a platform of informed policy because of his “patriarchal self-proclaimed omnipotence.” Like Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, Trump knows the value of “spectacle and incendiary propaganda” appealing “to emotion, not reason.”

MacWlliams concludes:

“Those who say a Trump presidency ‘can’t happen here’ should check their conventional wisdom at the door. The candidate has confounded conventional expectations this primary season because those expectations are based on an oversimplified caricature of the electorate in general and his supporters in particular. Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity.”

Even if Trump doesn’t win the primary, he has poisoned GOP campaigns. Benjy Sarlin wrote:

“Trump has defined the Republican primary and the debate showed just how far he’s shifted the conversation. His rivals — even the supposedly more moderate candidates running on their appeal outside the party — are adopting a darker tone, more bellicose rhetoric, and shifting their positions to the right as the contest continues.”

Another reason for the possibility of Trump becoming president is ignorance. Jimmy Kimmel honored MLK Day in his Lie Witness News segment to interview people what they thought about the announcement that Martin Luther King, Jr., who was murdered in 1968, was endorsing Donald Trump.

One woman answered, “I figure if he’s going to endorse Donald Trump for president, then maybe he thinks he will be a good president,” one woman said. Some people thought King should have voted for President Obama, and others believed were surprised when they were told that King didn’t vote for Barack Obama, and others thought that Malcolm X and Hillary Clinton vacation and play golf together at Martha’s Vineyard.

In the Democratic debate, two leading candidates and one polling at two percent argued about how to improve the country. Bernie Sanders is mad at the system, wants universal healthcare, and doesn’t get paid by Wall Street for speeches; Hillary Clinton wants to improve the health care law, thinks that Sanders doesn’t fight enough for gun safety laws, and supports President Obama’s policies. Martin O’Malley complained about not getting enough questions. Discussions were intense as they criticized each other’s positions, but the event was nothing like the free-for-all cage fight of the GOP candidates just three days earlier. It was the “best of times” because it was opposite of the GOP debate.

Now we’ll wait for the first primary results after the Iowa caucus on February 1.

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