Nel's New Day

March 31, 2016

“Small Government” in Kentucky, Alabama

bevins hammerWhen GOP Matt Bevin ran for Kentucky’s governor, he promised to save the people by doing away from the dreaded “Obamacare” in the state. Republicans elected him, and he kept his promise. Under the former governor, the state’s health care, KYNECT, was a model for the country in its coverage for over 500,000 people.

Here is what happened with the Tea Party’s new state computer system:

  • Benefind—Bevin’s new system to replace KYNECT for—has shut people out of their online accounts or entirely eliminated their health coverage with no warning and no explanation.
  • Children have been cut off from Medicaid coverage.
  • People who visit overcrowded state offices where they are forced to wait hours—sometimes an entire day—to see anyone. Or they are forced to come back the next day after the computers crash.
  • The helpline is available only from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, limiting access for people who work those hours.
  • The recorded message sends people to a website which has many glitches, is hard to use, and provides no help for people without computers or Internet access.
  • People looking for help in public benefits now are forced to wait hours or days as they repeatedly call the helpline that gives them only a recorded message before hanging up.
  • People who can’t get coverage are cutting back on their medications and ending up in the hospitals’ emergency rooms multiple times.
  • Over 500 workers statewide trained to help people sign up for health coverage cannot access Benefind and thus cannot help people to apply for coverage or fix problems with their coverage.
  • People who formerly provided proof of citizenship can no longer get health coverage until they resubmit the documentation.

Bevin’s answer? On YouTube, he says, “I’m aware of and sensitive to your frustrations.”

Republicans who say that big government doesn’t work may be right—when they’re trying to operate it.

[Personal comment: Today I spent over two hours on the telephone with insurance companies and pharmacies on behalf of my partner. One of her medications cannot be generic; therefore she needs prior approval from her insurance company to pay for the brand medication. She has prior approval, but the insurance company will not send her anything in writing to prove it. Even after that, the cost of the medication with differs from $87 to $1500 for a ninety-day supply—with insurance.

I called three pharmacies multiple times to find the prices. All of them started out by stating that they couldn’t do that without the prescription although one of them said on the opening telephone message that it would give the prices of medications for Medicare. The cheapest pharmacy, gave three different prices on three different calls, but refused to give any written verification. It will take faxes for the prescription but won’t send a fax to request the prescription from the pharmacy that holds the prescription. That pharmacy will fax the prescription on but only after it is asked. Another prescription will require a doctor’s visit.

I’m retired—sort of—and have the time to make the calls during the daytime when these places are open. I’m also determined and willing to take on the problems of these calls. After a drastic increase in my blood pressure over the two hours, I can’t imagine the pain that people in Kentucky are now enduring—just because the GOP doesn’t like “big government” and probably people. Then there’s the issue of a different in almost $6,000 for a prescription from a local pharmacy and the “mail-in” part of a huge insurance company. These problems are something that could be changed by single-payer or universal health care, but it might violate our freedom. Big business loves our freedom because it gives them trillions of dollars.]

Did I mention that Republicans hate “big government”? Here’s a fine example of how they legislate it. Mississippi just passed the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” yet to be signed by GOP Gov. Phil Bryant, allowing discrimination against sex by anyone except a male/female couple after marriage. According to the language, an unmarried couple having sex in their personal bedroom is breaking the law if signed by Bryant.

In another Southern state, the big story out of Alabama less than two weeks ago showed GOP Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley governing the state by giving an 80 percent increase in salary to four cabinet members, an extra $73,405 each, after signing a bill banning all cities from raising the minimum wage—the federally mandated $7.25 an hour. These salary increases were the biggest, but dozens of other people—cabinet and staff members—also got sizeable raises.

Last August Bentley defunded Planned Parenthood in the state before a federal judge overturned his move. Taxpayers had to pay for the legal fees. Last December Bentley diverted funding from the 2010 BP oil spill recovery effort to renovate a second Governor’s mansion on the Gulf Coast. In January he took 45,000 people off food stamps if they weren’t supporting minor children. Each of these people had received only $194 a month.

bentleyThis month, however, things got very bad for Robert Bentley after it was revealed that he is having phone sex—and maybe more—with his top aide, Rebecah Mason, on “burner” phones bought at Best Buy. (To find details, just Google the situation.) Rumors have been swirling about his infidelities for quite a while, but they became much more open after his wife of 50 years filed for divorce. He first denied the accusations, despite the tapes played on the media, and then asked for forgiveness. Just for his infidelity and not for refusing poor women health care, causing people to go hungry, appropriating funds for his own personal use, and trying to block LGBT rights in the name of “family values.” Bentley supporters complain that the emphasis in the country shouldn’t be on sex—no problem as long as conservative laws don’t prioritize sex in their “big government” prohibitions.

Although some lawmakers talk about impeaching Bentley, he says he won’t quit. His former Baptist pastor talked about “church discipline” and said that Bentley is no longer a member of the Tuscaloosa congregation where he was once a deacon. The subject of Bentley’s desire has resigned, wanting to spend more time at home with her family, but her husband, state director of the state faith-based initiative office, remains at his job.

Mason’s company was paid over $328,000 during the past three years, more than his cabinet members before their 80 percent raise. She may have been received much more than this. Although Mason served as Bentley’s top aide, she didn’t have to file financial disclosure forms because she wasn’t designated as a state employee.

Alabama has trouble with politicians: a former governor is in prison for corruption, and the speaker of the State House of Representatives is to stand trial this year on 23 felony charges of ethics violations.

Bentley is using his position to investigate two men for blogging about his alleged affair with political adviser Rebekah Mason. He ordered the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the Law Enforcement Tactical System (LETS) to find incriminating evidence against attorney Donald V. Watkins, and Legal Schnauzer blogger, Roger Shuler. Some people question whether Bentley broke any laws in his love fest, but Watkins claims investigations will find “wire and mail fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and racketeering violations under federal law, among other charges …[in circumventing] public oversight, transparency and competitive bid laws by channeling millions of public dollars into entities like the Workforce Councils of Alabama and others legitimate agencies and then directing the recipient agency to execute vendor contracts with certain special friends and supporters.”

The U.S. House Freedom Caucus, each making an annual salary of $174,000, is working toward “small government”by not going to work. Despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’s claim that the entire last year of the presidential term is a “lame-duck session,” the HFC understands that this time is only the approximately 75 days between the general election and the new president’s inauguration. Members hope to not go into session for this time, causing only 17 days in session after July 15 and  zero days after September 30. They have to wait until April 12 to do this because they aren’t in session.

Conservative House members have already killed the budget and the appropriations process for the year, and the government can’t operate after September 30 without a continuing resolution to maintain last year’s spending levels. HFC board member Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) described the lame-duck session as “a bunch of people who have already either quit, retired or been fired by their constituents decide they still want to vote on major stuff.” He admitted that quitting work that early this year wouldn’t look good for the legislators. He also said, “When you’re one of the people who tends to think most of what we do here is screwed up in the first place, then the less we do, maybe the better.”

That’s life in the world of conservatives who want “small government.”

March 29, 2016

Cracks in LGBT Discrimination, SCOTUS Hearings

Two huge events in LGBT rights occurred in the past week—one for and one against. A week ago, North Carolina’s legislators, traumatized by Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance, went into a special session that cost taxpayers $42,000 in order to prevent any city or county from allowing LGBT people rights—especially using the bathrooms that match their gender identities. The justification for this legislation, deemed the “worst anti-LGBT bill in the country,” was that straight men would have the freedom to go into public restrooms and molest women. Shortly after the successful North Carolina legislation, Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a bill that would allow any government entity or private business to discriminate against LGBT people by declaring “religious belief.” The bill was similar to the one in Indiana last year that caused such an uproar that GOP Gov. Mike Pence most likely lost his hopes for a presidential candidacy after he signed the bill.

The uproar this time against Georgia and North Carolina came from the GOP darlings, big business. The Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United  and a later case from Montana  cemented the control of corporate control in both elections and political positions. Corporations know that bigotry keeps them from appealing to a broad customer base. The bigger the business, the more they rely on global acceptance, and the businesses that spoke out against the discriminatory bills are some of the biggest ones in the nation, especially in tech, entertainment, and sports industries. These include Google, Facebook, Paypal, Disney, Sony Pictures, CBS, Netflix, NFL, and NBA.

A great deal of discretionary spending comes from millennials who they are far more accepting than older people. Gen X is even more so. According to a recent study, less than 48 percent of U.S. youth ages 13 to 20 describe themselves as “exclusively heterosexual,” and over 70 percent of these young people “strongly agreed” that public spaces should be required to provide gender neutral bathrooms. About 18 states and 200 towns and cities have added specific LGBT non-discrimination protections.

After Indiana’s law was slightly narrowed, the state lost only about $60 million with its “religious freedom” act, but North Carolina are aggressively marketing themselves as good for business. The nine other states joining the “War on Bathroom Use” may look carefully at the differing success rates between two states who have taken opposite stances on human rights. Missouri is facing both a discrimination bill and rejection from many businesses, including Petco, with its passage.

North Carolina’s Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill in the same 12 hours in which it was introduced and passed in the legislature, but he faces opposition from the state AG Roy Cooper in this fall’s election. Cooper claims that McCrory’s action not only jeopardizes the state’s economy but also allows discrimination against protection of veterans and wages. The new law may revoke a fair housing ordinance in Greensboro and a policy governing municipal contracts in Raleigh.

North Carolina’s law has also frozen the minimum wage everywhere in the state to $7.25. Thus far, New York (both city and state), Washington State, San Francisco, and Portland (OR) have banned state travel by state workers to the state, and 20,000 retail and interior-design companies won’t attend the twice-annual High Point furniture market. The largest economic event in the state, this market generates over 600,000 visitor days to the state with an annual economic impact of $5.38 billion. The Market and the home furnishings industry provide 37,000 jobs in the state. The NFL may pull out the Super Bowl in 2019, an event that brought $800 million to Arizona’s economy last year. ESPN may look elsewhere for its summer X games, and the NBA may change its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.

payton_transgender_ncIf McCrory and his Republicans stick to their guns, they’ll lose a lot more than economic support from big business. States fighting marriage equality lost millions of dollars in lawsuits, and legal action against North Carolina has already started. The ACLU, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina are suing the state, and AG Cooper said he won’t defend the state against the lawsuit. One plaintiff is Payton McGarry (right), a transgender student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is one of the people who McCrory wants to send into the public women’s bathroom.

ACLU lawyer Tara Borelli, said:

“[In 1996], Colorado enacted a law that said there could be no statewide protection whatsoever for lesbian, gay, bisexual people. The law was so clearly aimed at lesbians and gay people that the Supreme Court didn’t have any trouble striking it down as being clearly motivated by animus against them. This law goes further because it says there are no protections for transgender people. Even more than that, the law specifically requires discrimination against them in all schools and all public agencies.”

By violating Title IX in keeping transgender student out of bathrooms, North Carolina could also lose more than $4.5 billion in federal funding for schools.

McCrory is trying to justify the law with a series of false arguments:

 “We are not taking away any rights.” McCrory overturned the rights that Charlotte provided to its residents along with 11 other cities and five counties. The University of North Carolina system can no longer enforce its LGBT nondiscrimination policy on its 17 campuses.

No business has threatened to leave the state. News articles show how laughable this claim is.

“We have the same rights … that Houston, Texas has [after they overturned the Equal Rights Ordinance.]” North Carolina’s law goes much farther by mandating discrimination in all public arenas. Transgender people aren’t banned from accessing the appropriate restrooms in Houston’s public spaces, and other Texas cities and counties aren’t banned from providing protections.

Discrimination is just “common sense.” McCrory complains about too much “political correctness,” a frequent excuse currently used for conservative bad behavior.

Donald Trump came to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) home town of Janesville today; last night the city approved an ordinance to protect LGBT people from discrimination. The Speaker’s home now has broader protections than provided at the state and federal level. In Janesville, transgender people can use a public restroom based on the gender they identify with, rather than the gender on their birth certificate. Ryan has no comment.

Corporations have created the monster of discrimination that they now decry. The Bank of America’s PAC consistently donated large sums to campaigns for McCrory, state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, state House Speaker Tim Moore, and the North Carolina GOP. The PAC’s treasurer is Wendy Jamison, BofA senior vice-president for public policy. North Carolina-based Lowe’s “opposes any measure in any state that would encourage or allow discrimination,” but its PAC treasurer, Lowe’s Assistant Treasurer Cindy Reins, donated heavily to the same politicians. Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, criticized the new state law, but its PAC, run by Managing Director for Government Affairs Edward Ingle, has donated to the same GOP campaigns. The American Airlines PAC gave to Berger and Moore.

 

The best news today! A case about public sector unions got a 4-4 vote in the Supreme Court, meaning that union members must still pay for the benefits that they receive because of the lower court ruling. Unions are required by law to bargain on behalf of all the workers, even if workers don’t join the union. One union benefit is the wage premium of almost 12 percent higher than in non-union shops. In California a wealthy organization trying to break unions found a teacher to challenge this law. A win against the unions would create a class of “takers” who would then starve the union by not paying fees for these benefits. Justice Antonin’s Scalia’s death caused the 4-4 split in the Supreme Court for Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association which kept the mandated fees.

Today’s tie retains a 40-year SCOTUS decision, impacting unions for millions of government workers. The plaintiffs stated that they would ask for another hearing because of the tie, but the justices may be reluctant to provide them with one especially if the number of court justices stays at eight for the next two or three years because of GOP obstructionism.

Today’s judgment may be the shortest ever delivered. It reads: “Per Curium. The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) maintains his refusal to consider any President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, 16 Republican senators now say they will meet with Merrick Garland. That’s more than 25 percent of McConnell’s senators who are defecting.

March 27, 2016

Authoritarian Christianity Not Healthy or Safe

If your only hospital is Catholic—good luck! Between the Republicans and the Church making the rules about women’s health, women are in danger if anything goes wrong with their pregnancies. In Michigan, for example, at least five women risked death in just 17 months because they could not obtain immediate and appropriate health care after life-threatening miscarriages.

The U.S. bishops’ directive allows medical care if the mother’s life is in danger, but Mercy Health Partners (Muskegon) doctors determined they would wait until sepsis—an advanced infection—or no fetal heart beat. For one woman, it was sepsis as her temperature climbed for eight hours. Doctors didn’t even give these five women, none of them more than 20 weeks pregnant, the option of going to another hospital where they might have received appropriate health care. Mercy Health Partners is the only provider of emergency care in the entire county after a 2008 merger gave control of the county’s secular hospitals to Trinity Health, among the largest healthcare systems in the country.

Marie Hilliard, director of public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, pointed out that the directives make an exception to protect a woman’s health even if the fetus dies. Hospitals ignore this exception. Hospitals claim that they will induce labor if “the mother’s life is in jeopardy,” but there are no clear standards for determining this situation.

At least 10 percent of the hospitals in the U.S. are Catholic, following the same inadequate health care directions for women. The number of Catholic hospitals increased 16% between 2010 and 2011 and is still growing. At the same time, the numbers of public, secular and other religious hospitals all dropped. One out of every nine hospital beds in the US is located in facilities that follow Catholic teachings, and in far more than 30 communities, the only local hospital is a Catholic one.

One of the five women at the Muskegon hospital was prescribed Tylenol for a potentially deadly infection and sent home—twice—where she miscarried by herself on the toilet. Another woman spent three days in the hospital and required additional surgery.  One woman even reported seeing a fetal limb in her toilet but was forced to wait 18 hours.

Former Muskegon County health official, Faith Groesbeck, talked to the hospital about these concerns. After her concerns were ignored, she reported Mercy Health Partners to a division of Health and Human Services, accusing the company of violating the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, a 1986 act of Congress requiring hospitals to provide any patient experiencing an emergency with “stabilizing treatment.” She stated that Mercy Health Partners made unilateral healthcare choices for the five women without their knowledge or their consent. Since blowing the whistle on the hospital, Groesbeck has been transferred from the county initiative to reduce and fetal mortality and transferred to deal with substance abuse prevention.

All the women had had the membranes surrounding the fetus rupture too early, always leading to a miscarriage if it happens before the fetus is viable. When the woman develops an infection, most doctors “absolutely urge” the woman to have delivery induced. All women showed infections, but the doctors either didn’t warn the women or, in the case of one of them, refused immediate delivery.

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the hospital because federal courts in Michigan lack control over the bishops’ mandates. ACLU appealed the dismissal to the 6th Circuit Court in July 2015.

Michigan lawmakers, known for allowing the governor’s administration to poison the state’s water, want to join Catholic bishops in giving orders to doctors. Introduced legislation would ban dilation and evacuation (D&E), the surgical approach to abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy. Women would then be forced to endure painful, expensive, risky labor, fraught with health problems, in order to abort fetuses that are likely to die.

In her protest against this bill, an OB/GYN described the situation of a pregnant woman with life-threatening high blood pressure who was carrying a fetus with a serious heart defect. The D&E allowed her to preserve her fertility. Another patient whose water broke at 18 weeks had had four prior cesarean sections; labor induction was life-threatening for her. Without a D&E, her four children may have been motherless. Other patients had a molar pregnancy, heart failure, kidney failure, uterine or blood infections, and disorders leading to hemorrhage in labor.

The United States is the only developed nation where the maternal death rate has increased: between 1990 and 2013, the maternal mortality ratio rose 136 percent. At the same time, safe abortions have radically decreased as Christian religious beliefs  led to closing hundreds of women’s clinics through GOP-controlled states.

As fundamentalist Christians and Republicans continue to push their personal beliefs on the people of the United States through punitive laws, Christian faith continues to decrease in the nation. In 2014 the percentage of Christian-identified population dropped to 70.6 percent from 78.4 percent just seven years earlier. Thirty percent of millennials don’t support any religion. People like presidential candidate Ted Cruz blame an assault on Christianity, and 17 states introduced “religious freedom” laws this year, laws which negatively affect health care and personal safety. Christian sects promote wife-beating and doctors’ rejection of patients who don’t match personal beliefs.

This self-perception of danger directed toward Christianity comes from its history of martyrdom, but a reason for the decline is the religion’s nonsensical dogmas. Saying “Happy Holiday” doesn’t represent a “War on Christmas”—a cultural holiday taken from pagan rituals on a date when the prophet Jesus wasn’t born.

The Christian martyrdom is far more prevalent with whites: 61 percent of white evangelicals believe that their religious liberty is threatened compared to only 37 percent of non-white Christians. As whites lose the culture war, many grasp the straw of religious liberty and attempt to use it as a battering ram against people of color. This loss has led 77 percent of U.S. evangelicals to believe that they are living in the End Times. They may express themselves in hate, but they are motivated by fear of secularization.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) gained international fame by persuading 46 Senate colleagues to sign a treasonous letter to Iran saying that the United States might not live up to its agreement. He’s back with a bill to give Christians special visas to enter the United States while banning Syrian refugees of other faiths. Most of the others who seek “religious liberty,” however, don’t mention Christians although their rhetoric is obvious. For example, Cruz ranted:

“There is a war on faith in America today, in our lifetime. Did we ever imagine that in the land of the free and home of the brave, we would be witnessing our government persecute its citizens for their faith?”

Cruz followed that up with recommending that people declare their freedom from the law if the law doesn’t allow “religious freedom.” Yet Cruz declared war on Muslims by comparing them Muslims to criminal gangs and wanting police to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods.” He claims that it’s part of the GOP willingness to fight “political correctness.” His strategy is to make people afraid and then capitalize on their fear. With Donald Trump he is a classic example of what Stanley Feldman calls “the classic authoritarian leadership style: simple, powerful, and punitive.” A recent poll shows that over 40 percent of likely voters score “very high” or “high” in authoritarianism.

One place where this “Christian” fear has been manifested is in Bullard Elementary School (Kennesaw, GA). To reduce stress among students, administrators instituted the “mindfulness” of yoga and other practices. Because of parental objections, the school eliminated practices such as the Sanskrit greeting “namaste,” placing hands “to heart center,” and coloring pages with the symbol of the mandala. One mother complained about the school “pushing ideology on our students,” and another parent called this “scary.” Parents are pushing fear of “mindfulness indoctrination.”

Cheryl Crawford explained that the purpose is to help the students be “aware of their breath patterns, their tendencies and habits.” She added that focusing inwardly “helps them if they’re very worried.” Crawford explained that “namaste” is a word like “hello,” that the goodness in me sees the goodness in you.” Yoga’s myriad health benefits also include reducing chronic back pain, improving mobility, and relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression—something that doesn’t come from fundamental Christianity.

Evidently authoritarian Christians have entered a new battleground—the War on Mindfulness.

March 21, 2016

The U.S. Needs Another Frances Perkins

 

A century ago, the United States suffered from horrendous income inequality, rampant disease, atrocious living conditions, debtor prisons, and warehouses of mentally ill people. Although some people lived well in the 1920s, GOP president Herbert Hoover in his first elected position, drove the country into the greatest economic depression in its 250-year history through his pro-business and anti-government beliefs. Anti-civil rights, he appealed to white Southern voters with his use of religion in his campaign that warned people against voting a Catholic into the presidency. By the end of his four-year term, Hoover understood that his drastic tax cuts contributed to the disaster of the 1930s, but his change was too little, too great. Franklin D. Roosevelt was swept into office with an over 57 percent mandate.

FDR is typically given credit for the New Deal, beginning in his first 100 days, that instituted Social Security, minimum wage, work-hour limitations, CCC, etc.  Two people behind this 180-degree transition from Hoover’s catastrophic policies were two women—FDR’s wife, Eleanor, and the first woman in a presidential cabinet, Francis Perkins, who FDR appointed after his wife’s urging.

Perkins’ activism began in 1911 when she witnessed the deaths of 146 workers, primarily young Jewish and Italian women, during the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Horrified as she watched many of them die when they jumped from the fire, Perkins helped shape 30 pieces of legislation in fire safety and working conditions during Al Smith’s four terms as New York governor of New York, the most progressive governor in the nation. Perkins continued her work in New York in 1929 after that state’s new governor, FDR, picked her for Commissioner of Labor. During that time, she showed that Hoover’s claim of improving unemployment was false and moved FDR into national leadership.

frances perkins bookPossibly the best book about Perkins is Kirstin Downey’s The Woman behind the New Deal. The opening paragraphs of the book illustrates Perkins’ dedication to her cause in her conditions of FDR’s offer to become his Secretary of Labor:

“She ticked off the items: a forty-hour work week, a minimum wage, worker’s compensation, unemployment compensation, a federal law banning child labor, direct federal aid for unemployment relief, Social Security, a revitalized public employment service, and health insurance.”

FDR accomplished all these and more during his first of four terms: the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration putting millions of unemployed men to work, and the Civil Works Administration and the Public Works Administration that evolved into the Works Progress Administration.

Created during World War I, FDR’s “NRA” (National Recovery Act) was a way to “stabilize” prices that gave workers higher wages and the right to organize and collectively bargain in unions. Unfortunately, it didn’t go far enough because of the government’s lack of enforcement and toleration for labor inequalities—blacks and women could receive lower wages for doing the same job as men. Other weaknesses came from large companies that led writing the bill and used it to drive up prices, limit production, lay off workers, and divide markets among themselves at expense of smaller competitors. Even so, it moved the nation forward until the Supreme Court ruled the NRA unconstitutional in 1935. Other similar laws took its place but not before successful programs were interrupted.

FDR’s death was the end of Perkins’ great influence. President Harry Truman remembered that Perkins had given him his first federal job and fired her. She asked to be head of the Social Security program, but instead Truman made her one of three Federal Civil Service Commissioners. She resigned that position after her husband died and she no longer had to support him and her daughter, both bipolar. Perkins worked into her 80s, teaching at Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School. Her last lecture was two weeks before she died.

 

inequalityA century after Perkins began her reforms, the U.S. has the worst inequality in the developed world. The new Robber Barons have rolled levels back to the 18th century to where it’s more severe than it was in 1774.

Labor union membership shrank to 11.8 percent of the total workforce and only 6.6 percent of the private sector—percentages equal to 1900.

mentally illMentally ill people are now warehoused in prisons after being turned out on the streets instead of held in mental institutions. The three biggest jail systems—Cook County (IL), Los Angeles County, and New York City—have over 11,000 prisoners under treatment each day compared to the combined 4,000 beds in the three largest state-run mental hospitals.

Private companies now make money off prisons just like a century ago when private companies made profits off Convict Leasing—prisoners employed outside prison during the day and returned at night. Abuse, brutality, and neglect along with official corruption so rampant that prisoners barely survived longer than ten years, calling for more labor. Simple assault led to eight year sentences of hard labor, larceny was 20 year in prison, and stealing $5 of goods meant 12 months jail time–sentences mostly for black people.

Prison privatization leads to contracts with “occupancy guarantees” mandating a minimum number of occupied beds for prisoners, leading to the same abusive treatment as a century ago. At least 65 percent of all private prison contracts have such guarantees; Arizona has a 100-percent guarantee. With an imprisonment rate of almost 50 percent higher than Russia and 320 percent higher than China, the U.S. incarcerates more people per capita than any other nation. This nation imprisons more types of criminal offenders, including non-violent and drug offenders, and keeps them imprisoned longer than other developed countries. Prison overcrowding leads to putting violent offenders with non-violent prisoners. Many states face fiscal crises because of paying $20,000 to $30,000 per year for each prisoner. Five states pay more for prisons than higher education.

In 2010, just two prison corporations made $3 billion in profit. Judges have been found taking bribes for these companies to harshly sentence juvenile offenders—two judges making $2.6 million—because they provide the best labor.

The U.S. prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, uniforms, belts and shoulder belts, vests, ID cards, shirts, pants, tents, backpacks and flasks for the country`s army. In addition, prisons produce 98 percent of installation tools; 46 percent of bulletproof vests; 36 percent of home appliances; 30 percent of headphones, microphones, megaphones; and 21 percent of office furniture, aircraft and medical equipment; etc. (Imagine the low rate of unemployment if companies had to hire non-prisoners to make these items!)

Self-financing prisons means no economic pressure to close them. Corporate interests want to keep as many people in prison as possible.

Judges create debtor prisons by jailing people with no money to pay fines. Debtor prisons were abolished by federal and some state laws in the 1830s, and three Supreme Court rulings have declared that debtor prisons are unconstitutional. Yet almost one-third of the states permit poor people in prison for failure to pay even minor fines. These 15 states have the highest incarceration rates. With “poverty penalties”—late fees, payment plan fees, interest, etc.—people cannot pay their way out of prison. Alabama charges a 30 percent collection fee, and Florida allows private debt collectors to add a 40 percent surcharge on the original debt. People have no right to a public defender in some Florida county collection courts.

Public health almost eradicated such diseases as whooping cough, mumps, rubella, polio, and TB, but that success is being reversed. The religious right’s War on Science rejecting vaccinations and the loss of funding for public health is exposing people to a return of these and other diseases.

Monopolies were broken up a century ago because they are a threat to both economy and democracy, but the country no longer protects anti-trust enforcement. The result is loss of labor unions, increase in cost of living, and stagnating economy. Monopoly wipes out competition, but Milton Freedman and Alan Greenspan said that monopolies are good for free markets. Standard Oil and AT&T are back in control, and Monsanto monopolizes seed production.

Media monopolies are supporting oligarchies. Nine-nine percent of the 1,500 daily newspapers are the only one in each city. All but a handful of the 11,800 cable systems are monopolies in their cities. Just a few formats dominate the 11,000 commercial radio stations in all the cities. Only a few meagerly financed public stations offer any alternative to the four commercial television networks and their affiliates. Wall Street is a prize monopoly.

The nation’s Gilded Age of a century ago was characterized by excessive corporate influence, blatant corruption, and wars that made money for huge companies. For over 35 years, the U.S. sent Marines to overthrow governments to Central America and the Caribbean because they couldn’t pay debts to Wall Street banks. The wars stopped in 1934, the year that the Glass-Steagall Act regulated Wall Street. Now the oil and weapons corporations are making money off the Middle East. Iraq’s domestic oil industry, fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies before George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion, is now largely privatized and completely dominated by foreign firms.

After decades of building the country’s infrastructure, the middle class, care for the mentally ill, and the reduction of poverty for the elderly, the government, now largely controlled by Republicans who declare gridlock if they don’t get everything they want, are killing the United States through corporate greed in prisons and wars. A century ago, Theodore Roosevelt began the great expansion of national parks; now the GOP wants to sell off all these lands. Ecological activists made inroads in the destruction of this nation until “conservatives” began to take over in the last half century.

Frances Perkins changed the United States and brought it into the 20th century; Republicans have taken this nation back to the 19th century. We need another Frances Perkins.

March 17, 2016

Gov. Snyder, Government Isn’t a Business

The U.S. House actually did something today: they held committee hearings about the travesty in Flint with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder testifying. For those of you who lost track of Flint’s water problems in the midst of Trumpmania, a governor with no political experience who was hired on the basis of his “business” skills and anti-government policies said he saved money on the water supply to Flint’s citizens by poisoning them with lead and causing deaths from Legionnaires Disease. The brilliant minds behind the scheme that poisoned Flint residents were a think tank funded by the powerful, conservative DeVos family, owner of Amway marketing.

Leaked emails show that Snyder didn’t poison Flint residents to save money. He just wanted to privatize the utility.  The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) offered Snyder a deal of $800 million over 30 years, 20 percent cheaper than switching to the polluted Karegnondi Water Authority. It also offered a 50 percent reduction over what Flint had paid in the past to stay with DWSD. By breaking up DWSD and starve it of the Flint customer base, DWDS would be forced to privatize, sold off by Snyder. Snyder refused to release the emails from 2013 which would confirm this information. The governor has also slashed corporate taxes while instituting a flat tax and crippling public schools with budget cuts.

Ironically, Michigan could have saved billions of dollars and thousands of people suffering from serious health issues and brain damage for only $50,000 a year. A city administrator refused to pay to add orthophosphate to the process, as is done in Detroit to Lake Huron sourced water. That chemical would have prevented the corrosion of lead pipes.

Snyder came into today’s hearing after ignoring the problems for almost two years and said, “This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state and federal officials — we all failed the families of Flint.” To Snyder, everyone else was responsible, and he is innocent, despite his appointment of an “emergency manager” instead of allowing elected officials to guide the city’s government processes. That was before he ignored all the complaints from Flint residents about the dangers of the water after his manager changed the water source and caused the disaster. According to Snyder, “Bureaucrats created a culture that valued technical competence over common sense.” He’s wrong only about his personal bureaucrats. No one valued “technical competence” and no one showed “common sense.”

The governor who believes in states’ rights—and would have screamed bloody murder if anyone had tried to violate them—blamed EPA’s Gina McCarthy for not fixing the problem while Snyder ignored it. McCarthy responded that Snyder’s people in Michigan’s DEQ told the EPA that they had done corrosion controls when they hadn’t done anything. She concluded, “We were strong-armed, we were misled, we were kept at arm’s length, we couldn’t do our jobs effectively.”

After the EPA sent Michigan’s DEQ directives about the Flint water two months ago, the state agency’s director questioned the EPA’s “legal authority” to “order a state and its agencies” to protect the health of its citizens. EPA had told Michigan to inform the public about upcoming steps, but Michigan is one of two states in the nation where the governor is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. In that way, the state thinks that it can legally violate the state’s open meetings act as the governor meets with all his emergency managers behind closed doors. Before this order from EPA, the state supplied the federal agency with altered documents and purposely skewed test results to support the falsehood that there was no problem with Flint water.

Snyder also blamed federal regulations. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires chemicals to reduce corrosiveness in public water systems to keep water from leach lead from pipes. Michigan, however, misread the regulations.

With the disaster in the public spotlight, Snyder now feels really bad about what happened. Yet he refuses to provide any funding from the state’s surplus funds of $575 million to replace pipes and instead is spending $1.2 million on lawyers to deal with the crisis. Snyder’s AG, Bill Schuette, also appointed a special counsel, a donor to both Shuette’s and Snyder’s campaigns, to investigate whether anyone broke state laws. The governor also hired a public relations firm with no offices in Michigan in order to cover himself. Its senior vice president in the Florida office is married to Snyder’s Chief of Staff.

Today’s hearing was the second on the subject this week. On Tuesday, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings (MD), called the testimonies “sickening.” State-appointment Darnell Earley who switched the water moaned about how he’s been “unjustly persecuted, vilified, and smeared.” He claimed that the water was safe even after GM refused to use it because it corroded its auto parts. “I’m not a water treatment expert,” he said. At the same time that he denied any problem with the water, state employees were receiving bottled water at their offices.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who largely contributed to exposing the sham, said, “Apparently being a government agency means never having to say you are sorry.” He said that the agency “covered up evidence of their unethical actions by authoring false scientific reports.”

The water is unusable, but parents were told that the state would take their children if they didn’t pay their water bills because they needed running water in their homes. Flint residents also pay more for unusable water than other U.S. communities pay for usable running water. Average  spending for each Flint household is $864.32—more than twice as much as homes served by public water utilities and ten times as much as Phoenix, Arizona. The average cost for private water utilities is $500, typically 58 percent more than other public utility systems and 2.7 times the average cost in Michigan. The cost in Flint skyrocketed after the emergency manager raised water and sewer costs by 25 percent. Over 40 percent of Flint residents live under the poverty line, and the media income is $25,000.

After Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton brought Flint’s inexcusable condition to the media forefront—soon followed by Bernie Sanders–GOP candidates spoke up. Sen. Marco Rubio, now out of the race, praised Snyder for taking “responsibility,” and Sen. Ted Cruz offered to send water, but only through anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers.” He also single-handedly blocked an aid package of $850 million to help victims in Flint and other cities suffering lead crises.

This week, a resolution “recognizing magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure” was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—the same group holding hearings on Flint.  Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) said he did this as a matter of constituent services. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) tweeted, “The House GOP believes in magic but not climate change.” Evidently representatives don’t believe in constituent service for Flint. Instead of helping Flint and other communities with lead pipes, the U.S. is scheduled to give Israel $30 billion in the next ten years—and Israel wants that increased to $50 billion. House Democrats are pushing a bill to block the appointment of emergency managers instead of elected officials, but it’s an uphill battle.

Michigan’s governor is a Republican dream: Snyder is anti-government and anti-regulation while strongly states’ rights. He firmly believes that government should be run like a business. At least that’s his belief until he wants to blame all his problems on someone else and complain that the federal government didn’t solve his problems years ago so that he wouldn’t be sitting in a House committee hearing. In reality it’s a  nightmare–what happens when GOP leadership is allowed to run rampant over people’s rights.

This week’s test of water shows higher levels than earlier ones. Snyder refuses to replace the pipes until he does extensive studies. People are still without usable running water. That’s Flint under a small government, business plan.

March 16, 2016

President Nominates SCOTUS Justice – Good Luck, GOP!

The ball is now in the GOP Senate’s court: President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the D.C. Circuit, for Supreme Court justice. After President Clinton nominated Garland for the D.C. Circuit Court in 1995,  seven current GOP senators were among the 32 who voted to confirm him with a 76-23 vote after waiting for 19 months. A Harvard Law School graduate, Garland clerked for two Eisenhower appointees, Justice William Brennan and Judge Henry J. Friendly. At 63, Garland is the oldest nominee for the court since Lewis Powell (1971) who was 64 when appointed. Garland would be the fourth Jewish justice; the other five are Roman Catholic.

In 2003, Garland voted to bar Guantanamo detainees from seeking relief in U.S. Courts, a ruling reversed by the Supreme Court. In 2010, SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein noted that “Judge Garland rarely votes in favor of criminal defendants’ appeals of their convictions.” Goldstein “identified only eight such published rulings,” along with seven where “he voted to reverse the defendant’s sentence in whole or in part, or to permit the defendant to raise an argument relating to sentencing on remand,” in his tenure on the DC Circuit. An extensive blog delineates other Garland decisions when he was being considered for the high court in 2010.

Ultra-conservative Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called Garland an acceptable nominee just last week. In 2010, Hatch called Garland “terrific” and said he could be confirmed “virtually unanimously,” yet Hatch now says that he won’t even meet with Garland although he has “a high opinion of him.”

Despite his background of valuing Senate traditions, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chair of the Judiciary Committee, is sticking to his guns in denying Garland a meeting. His intransigence is already costing him as Patty Judge, a Democrat, is challenging Grassley in his re-election this year. Although he voted against Garland for the D.C. Circuit in 1997, his only reason was that the court already had too many judges.

Trying to deflate some of the criticism coming from their constituents, Republican senators have established a task force to orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach with the objective of to bolstering their denying consideration of Obama’s nominee.The National Republican Senate Committee calls Garland “a liberal” and “an activist” although lack of proof.

Senators up for re-election are getting nervous about their leadership’s adamant refusal to even consider a nominee. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said that he would consider Garland but only next year if the new president nominates him. Mark Kirk (R-IL) claimed that he will “assess Judge Merrick Garland based on his record and qualifications.” Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) plans to meet with Garland but follows the party line of opposing any confirmation, waiting until the “people speak” in the November election. She may be fighting a Tea Party candidate in her primary on October 13, 2016. Ron Johnson (WI) said earlier than not voting is an action so he plans to vote—presumably against the president’s nominee.

Although she’s not up for re-election, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said that she would meet with Garland because “I view it as my job.” (The two women senators from Maine have been the most reasonable during the past decade.) Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) will do the same. Collins and Hatch voted in favor of Garland’s appointment to the D.C. Circuit along with other GOP senators Dan Coats (IN), Thad Cochran (MS), Jim Inhofe (OK), John McCain (AZ), and Pat Roberts (KS).

As a member of Clinton’s Justice Department, Garland effectively supervised investigations into such bombings as those of the Unabomber, Oklahoma City, Atlanta Olympics bombings. Supreme Court expert Nina Totenberg wrote that Garland has “a reputation for collegiality and meticulous legal reasoning.” He has “more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in history,” a White House official said. “No one is better suited to immediately serve on the Supreme Court.” National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill praised Garland for “a rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials, and a record of excellence” but said his record on women’s rights was “more or less a blank slate.”

The media will be filled with lies about Garland and his nomination, but here are some facts.

Senate Republicans Routinely Obstruct Noncontroversial, Qualified Nominees: The reform of filibuster rules in 2013 came after GOP senators held up three highly qualified nominees for the D.C. Court of Appeals, appointments that Republicans admitted were highly qualified. These three were on top of 17 others being blocked or who withdrew, causing a logjam throughout the judiciary branch with positions unfilled back for at least six prior years. The travesty received less attention because none of them was for the Supreme Court.

Republicans Are Falsely Referring to Filling Court Vacancies as “Court-packing”: That term is defined as a president’s attempt to increase the number of seats on a court, not fill a vacancy which is basic governance. The threat of court-packing came from FDR’s desire to expand the number of justices to tilt the Supreme Court in his favor. President Obama is following the constitutional mandate to appoint nominees for vacancies.

Republicans Are Worse than Democrats in Obstructing Presidential Nominees: Obstructionist behavior to President Obama’s nominees is unprecedented as half of all filibusters of executive nominees happened during his terms. Earlier, GOP senators blocked the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because they didn’t like the law. Eighteen months ago, PolitiFact noted that 68 nominees had been blocked before President Obama’s election and 79 in less than five years of his two terms. Last year, the Senate confirmed only 11 federal judicial nominees. In at least one case, the same GOP senator—Marco Rubio—who recommended a nominee blocked a hearing for her. The seat was vacant for almost two years, and judges had more than 600 cases during 18 months because of Rubio’s refusal to complete his recommendation.

GOP Obstructionism Has Negative Consequences: Contrary to the position that filling vacancies has no urgency, the practice makes the court system less able to address concerns of people in the U.S. and deny them justice.

Republicans who refuse to give Garland even a nod will show themselves even more ideological in selecting a justice, an action that they have highly criticized in the past. Moderate to the point of being conservative, he’s the chief judge of the second most important court in the nation. The Judicial Crisis Network, largely funded by the Koch brothers, has $2 million to spend on ads, but they may not be able to ruin Garland’s career the way that they can for younger nominees. The D.C. Circuit does not normally deal with such social issues as abortion and LGBT rights, but JCN is already salivating over Garland’s vote to rehear a case over D.C.’s tough gun restrictions.

Garland’s nomination may put Republicans into a no-win situation. Sixty-three percent of people in the U.S. believe that the Senate should hold hearings on President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia as opposed to 32 percent who don’t want this to happen. Never before has the Senate refused to consider any presidential nominee at all simply because it was an election year. Rejecting Garland sight unseen shows that the nomination is not about the person appointed but about the person doing the appointing.

If Garland appears as a centrist jurist suitable for both parties, GOP opposition makes them look even more obstructionist. Yet caving in on their past irrational promises can alienate the core Tea Party members who the establishment has courted for almost a decade. All GOP senators have left is the media as they hope that the nominee isn’t the even-handed, excellent judge that they have claimed he was in the past.

The November election could change the GOP position of refusing Garland if a the new president is a Democrat. In such a case, Republican senators may confirm him during President Obama’s lame-duck session to avoid the possibility of a more liberal justice. Jeff Flake, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said, “If the election doesn’t go the way Republicans want it, there will be a lot of people open to that I’m sure.”

In nominating Garland, President Obama contacted every senator. He did his job; now it’s time for the senators to do theirs.  The best thing about the nomination? The media may move some of its focus away from Donald Trump.

March 15, 2016

Voter ID Laws, Solution in Search of a Problem

Pundits are calling today the “make or break” day for the GOP, depending on whether Donald Trump sweeps the five major states with primaries—Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. Democrats are waiting to see if Bernie Sanders does better in these states than in the polls. People eligible to vote who can fill out their ballot are lucky. In the United States, GOP legislatures and governors have kept almost six million people from exercising this constitutional right.

Florida is a prime example. Over ten percent of adults—including one in four Blacks—are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. Three-fourths of them are released from prison either under probation, on parole, and with completed sentences, but the law requires them to wait five to seven years after the completion of their sentences to apply to vote, a process that can then take eight to ten years.

Trump and other Republicans likely call these felons “bad, bad people.” Felonies in Florida, however, are very easy to come by. Offenses include disturbing turtle nesting eggs, driving with a suspended license, burning a tire in public, trespassing on a construction site, and releasing helium-filled balloons in the air, according to Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Released from prison in 2004, he cannot even practice law in Florida although 48 other states would permit him to apply to the bar.

In only one Tennessee county, 19,000 people were purged from the registered voter list because they had not voted for three years. Federal law allows purging but only after eight years. Voters won’t know they have been purged until they go to the polls when it’s too late for them to register to vote.

Georgia is being sued for illegally purging tens of thousands of voters from the rolls while it plans to eliminate hundreds of thousands of more legal voters. The National Voter Registration Act blocks states from purging voter rolls for failure to vote, but Georgia has put over 800,000 names on the inactive list with the intent to purge them.

This year’s presidential election is  the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, the first since the Supreme Court destroyed major parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act intended to protect minority voters in states with racist election laws. Sixteen states passed restrictive voting laws starting an hour after the decision was released. During the March 1 Super Tuesday, over 500,000 Texans—mostly poor and minority—lacked the correct ID to vote. This restriction may have impacted the Democratic primary because the majority of “voters of color” will most likely register for this party.

Kansas got rid of voters by requiring either a birth certificate or passport in order to vote. Even a 13-year military veteran who owns his home and registers in Kansas lacked the appropriate ID. Brian Newby, the new executive director of the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and friend of the man who instigated the Kansas law, unilaterally changed the instructions for the online voting form in three GOP states–Kansas, Georgia and Alabama—without knowledge of the agency’s commissioners who chose him. Newby’s edict kept over 30,000 Kansans from voting. In 2014, Kansas spent $250,000 searching for voter fraud and found zero cases. It finally found three people who had residences in two different states and mistakenly voted in both states—although not for president.

North Carolina’s voter ID laws are now on trial after 94-year-old Rosanell Eaton sued the state. The black woman voted in every election during the past 70 years since she had to recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution after a two-hour trip to the county courthouse before she could be registered. To get registered for the current election she had to make ten trips to the DMV, drive over 200 miles, and spend over 20 hours to get the correct ID because her driver’s license didn’t exactly match her voter registration: the driver’s license omitted Rosanell Johnson Eaton’s middle name, and the license listed her birth date as 1921 instead of 1923.

Young registered voters are also negatively impacted by North Carolina’s voter ID law, used for the first time today. Of the 218,000 residents in the state, about five percent, many are college students blocked from the polls. They reported being forced to use provisional ballots which may not be counted. Law allows people who register to vote within 90 days of Election Day to use an out-of-state ID to vote, but the same policy does not go for those who register more than 90 days ahead. Black voters comprise 22 percent of North Carolina voters and 26 percent for those who have an impediment for not having the required ID. Today voters can use precincts outside their normal one because of a court injunction, but the same does not hold true in November because it was eliminated by GOP legislation. Same-day registration is also eliminated after today.

A Wisconsin woman couldn’t vote because she couldn’t use her hands to sign a document to get a voter ID. Wisconsin had seven cases of fraud among three million votes in 2004, before the voter ID law. In 2014, the state Supreme Court found the voter ID law imposes severe burdens on some voters, but Gov. Scott Walker has purchased new justices since then. The state, like South Carolina, adopted new procedures which on the face of the new law seem to help but are not widely known and do not provide any assistance. People simply give up in anger and frustration. These changes, however, are enough to keep the federal government from closing down the overly harsh voting laws.

Even poll workers don’t know the law. Texas allows identification from voters whose names on the rolls are “substantially similar” to photo ID, but misspellings on a voter registration card are enough to disenfranchise voters. The same poll workers also fail to offer provisional ballots.

A recent study found that “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place” as opposed to just 3.6 percentage points for Republicans. Some Texans will have even more trouble voting  after the 5th Circuit Court, the most conservative federal appeals court in the U.S., vacated a three-judge panel decision that the ID law disproportionately targeted black and Latino voters in order for a full-court review. The long delay between the panel’s ruling and the court’s decision to hear the case may indicate that the ten GOP judges are worried about a U.S. Supreme Court decision after Antonin’s Scalia’s death. Without a SCOTUS decision, the 5th Circuit makes law for Texas.

Voting has been a contentious issue since the Founding Fathers allowed only land-owning white men to participate. As more and more people were permitted this constitutional right, conservatives became more and more nervous—claiming that not everyone should have this “privilege.” The Koch brothers, who plan to provide almost $1 billion to elect their private politicians, have collected hundreds of millions of dollars to suppress non-conservative voting. The charge to repeal the Voting Rights Act came from Koch-supported think tanks. The laws restricting voting came from and were underwritten by Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

At this time, however, the Koch brothers has a serious problem—Donald Trump. They’ve managed to get rid of some Democratic voters, but the Republicans are gathering behind Trump. The brothers selected Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as their choice for a few minutes but moved on after he made some ill-advised comments. Last summer, the Kochs refused to give Trump any of their data or let him speak at their gatherings. The big problem is that Trump doesn’t need the Koch brothers, and the masterminds behind voter restrictions have eliminated many people who would vote against them. In desperation, the Koch brothers assigned their top political operative, Marc Short, to Marco Rubio’s campaign last month. Too little, too late because Rubio dropped out of the race tonight.

Meanwhile the Koch brothers are intent on selecting the next Supreme Court nominee and destroying the nation, one state at a time, while crying that they want “civil justice.”

After President Obama criticized voting restrictions in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott tried to defend the discrimination—like most other Republicans—by crying voter fraud. Yesterday, he tweeted a link to a Dallas Morning News article supporting his false claim. In fact, the report stated that of the 80 cases of voter fraud prosecuted in the past 14 years, “only a handful of those cases involved the kind of in-person voter fraud that Texas’ voter ID law aims to stop.” Its research shows that “fewer Texans commit in-person voter fraud than get struck by lightning.” A comprehensive study found there are “fewer than three” alleged instances of fraud for every 1 million votes cast in the Lone Star State since 2000.

Republicans would probably say “not my problem.”

March 14, 2016

GOP Platform—Not My Problem, No

Conservatives tend to care only for themselves. Asked about the importance of health care for all, they respond, “But then I can’t find a doctor.” According to conservatives, suffering for anyone else is “not my problem (NMP).” Questions showing how conservatives take no responsibility for anyone except for their personal, selfish needs with conservatives’ responses:

Birth Control: Do you know that birth control keeps women from having unwanted pregnancies? “NMP.”

Abortions: Do you understand that more unwanted pregnancies mean more abortions? “I’m pro-life.” What about women who have children they can’t afford? “NMP.”

Food Stamps: Do you realize that forcing women to have children they can’t afford means they need food stamps and Medicaid? “I cut spending on those because I’m fiscally responsible.” But that means children have no medical care and go hungry. “NMP.”

Crime: What about children growing up in poverty who turn to crime? “I live in a gated community so NMP.”

Minimum Wage: What about millions of people forced to live in poverty because of low wages even if they work 60 hours or more each week? “NMP.”

Food Stamps Again: What about people who have to rely on food stamps because of low wages? “I cut spending on those because I’m fiscally responsible–NMP.”

Immigration: Do you know that building a wall along the entire border would such up taxpayer money and not even work? “NMP.”

Families: Don’t you understand that deporting parents away from their children is cruel and inhumane. “NMP.”

Racism: What about the anti-Latino rhetoric increasing racial tensions and violence against innocent people? “NMP.”

“War on Drugs”: Do you understand that the so-called “war on drugs” does no good while it puts millions of people in prison for smoking a plant? “NMP.”

Racism Again: What about the effect of these laws to put Blacks in jail more often and for longer times than Whites? “NMP.”

Gang Violence: And what about the devastation of black communities that contributes to poverty and gang violence? “NMP.”

Health Care: Do you care that repealing Obamacare would talk health care away from over 20 million people? “NMP.”

Pre-existing Conditions: Are you aware that Obamacare stops insurance companies from denying health care to sick people? “NMP.” And kicking people off insurance if they get sick? “NMP.”

Pro-Life: How can you be pro-life and not care about people dying from lack of insurance. “NMP.”

Heroin: Do you realize that the white communities will have the same experiences because millions of Whites are using heroin? “That can’t be true. We need to change the laws (ala Koch brothers)! They aren’t criminals—they victims and deserve our compassion and help! Spare no expense!”

When the conservatives took over both congressional chambers 14 and a half months ago, they bragged that they were going to move the country forward. Instead, they’ve created more gridlock.  The policy of”not my problem” is accompanied by “hell, no!”

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) promised a “Year of Ideas,” with legislation aimed at poverty and health care. The chamber has been in session for 154 of the 431 days since the GOP Congress took over. As in the past few years, legislation previously dominated by name changes for buildings can’t even manage that any more: nine GOP members fought naming a post office after national treasure and poet Maya Angelou, calling her a “communist sympathizer.” The House did manage to delay regulations for brick kilns.

The GOP Senate has 298 House-passed bills awaiting action while it spent four weeks on an energy efficiency bill that isn’t finished. Opioid legislation was passed with no funding, and individuals stalled bills for criminal justice reform and Flint’s water crisis—in this case GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz.  It also made the policy of NO quite clear by rejecting the constitutional directive to consider any nominee for the Supreme Court. President Obama came out with six possible appointments, three of them women. That number has been cut in half as conservatives trash professional careers.

One of those who disappeared is Jane Kelly, heartily endorsed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for the 8th Circuit Court. Grassley described Kelly, unanimously confirmed for her present position in 2013, as “a forthright woman of high integrity and honest character” with an “exceptionally keen intellect.” That was before an ad funded by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) smeared her for defending constitutional rights guaranteeing all people accused of a crime “the assistance of counsel for his defense.” A public defender in 2005, Kelly represented Casey Frederiksen, on child pornographer who was later convicted of killing a five-year-old girl. Although Kelly did not defend Frederiksen for this murder, the ad uses this murder to inflame people.

JCN began a Judicial Confirmation Network during the Bush administration to help confirm George W.’s nominees. The name changed in 2010 to prevent President Obama’s nominees after the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. It has a seven-figure advertising budget to keep Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and vulnerable senators up for election from allowing a nominee to be considered as well as a six-figure campaign targeting Democrats. JCN has also hired a team of ten researchers from America Rising to locate information keeping any nominees from going to the Senate.

Not satisfied with its continuation of congressional malfunction and trying to wreak the same for the Supreme Court, Congress has decided to ignore the country’s budget—the first time since the system began in 1974. This after bitterly complaining about Democratic inaction several years ago. Both the House and the Senate have decided that they will not have hearings on the president’s budget or allow administration officials to testify about it. This decision came before they even saw any budget. This stupidity follows the 14-month refusal to act on a nominee to head up the Treasury Department’s terrorism section. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), chair of the Banking Committee, explained the reason for the wait: he faced a primary challenge and couldn’t approve any Obama nominee.

The NMP and NO economic stagnation policies for 99 percent of people in the U.S. have led to widespread poverty and misery. It’s the conservative “me me me” philosophy that trashes long term greater good for short term personal profit. Now the establishment Republicans can’t understand why Donald Trump is in the lead. The word “demagogue” is freely tossed around—even applied to President Obama. Users of this term need to consult their dictionaries: it refers to “a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason, a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.”

GOP consultant Alex Castellanos may have said it best:

“If our self-indulgent Republican party establishment had really wanted to prevent a takeover of the GOP, they should not have gorged on political power while they failed to do anything to prevent the decline of the country. Our leaders could have led. They could have done more than say ‘no’ to Democrats while offering no alternative.”

President Obama followed up this analysis when by connecting the Trump phenomenon to “a notion that everything I do is to be opposed; that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal.” This, he said, made “an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive.” Tomorrow will show how much Trump is thriving when five states hold their primaries. If he does, the GOP will be—well deservedly—suffering.

trumpprotest-missouri2This is what happens to a non-violent protester at a Trump rally. And it may get much worse. Trump supporters have called for a “militia” supposedly to protect voters against so-called “violent far-left agitators.” “The Lion’s Guard” calls on people to “provide security protection to innocent people who are subject to harassment and assault by Far-left agitators “ and be “willing to forcefully protect people if need be.” Members are already asking for “uniform suggestions.”

While Trump invites violence, he calls for pledges.  As Saturday, he told his audience to repeat after him:

“I do solemnly swear that I, no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions, if there are hurricanes or whatever, will vote on or before the 12thfor Donald J. Trump for president.”

He then promised that “bad things” would happen to them if they broke their pledge.

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Donald Trump’s campaign is reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s as he asks for violence and demands people to swear that they willl vote for him. All this came from the GOP that decided on a platform of NMP and NO.

 

March 13, 2016

Christianity – Good, Bad, Ugly

 

Good:

After over seven years in office, President Obama has decided not to include abstinence-only education programs in his budget. Ronald Reagan began in 1981 to fund these programs that are proved to be failures, and funding “grew exponentially” between 1996 and 2006. In 25 years, taxpayers have been forced to pay over $1.5 billion for these failed programs. One survey showed the doubling of participants in one type of this program who would “probably” have sex during high school. Teen pregnancy has steadily declined in states that require comprehensive-sex education while teen pregnancy in states where abstinence-only sex education is allowed and even mandated stays high.

States with the highest rate of teen pregnancies are New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma—places that mandate sex-education programs stress abstinence and “the importance of sex only during marriage.”New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Maine had the lowest numbers of teen pregnancies in the nation during the same time. Teen pregnancy costs the U.S. about $9.4 billion in 2010.

Unlike the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts have long refused to engage in bigotry, a policy that occasionally makes them the target of conservative religious groups. The most recent event comes from a Missouri Catholic archdiocese when St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson urged priests to sever all ties with Girl Scout troops, accusing them of “exhibiting a troubling pattern of behavior.” A week later the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri had raised a record amount of money at its annual fundraiser—over $350,000. In addition, increased sales of Girl Scout cookies has caused shortages, and  several local businesses offered to host cookie booths in their lobbies.

In a possible lessening of Catholic anti-contraception position, Pope Francis said that its use in avoiding infecting fetuses with the Zika virus is better than abortions. He said, “Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil.” For example, Pope Paul VI permitted African raped nuns to use contraception. The Catholic church’s position on preventing contraception does not hold up in Latin America: 88 percent of Mexicans, 91 percent of Colombians, and 93 percent of Brazilians support the use of contraceptives. Francis also said that Catholic lawmakers are free to vote for same-sex marriage and civil unions in opposition to Pope Benedict XVI’s document in 2003 when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that explicitly forbid Catholic legislators from voting for same-sex marriage or unions.

Bad:

Good news, bad news. Idaho is getting rid of a law mandating daily Bible readings in schools while allowing Bibles to be used in school classes—including science.

The Rev. Dwight C. Jones, mayor of Richmond (VA), thinks that the First Amendment protects him as he hires people from his church to do volunteer work for the church while being paid by the state’s capital city. Over ten percent of Richmond’s executive-level positions were filled by members of Jones’ church, First Baptist of South Richmond. Head of public works for Richmond, Emmanuel Adediran, was discovered supervising renovation work for First Baptist while on his city’s job. Two contractors also listed Richmond city offices as the billing address for estimates on kitchen equipment for the church. One employee has already been fired, but more are in the pipeline. Jones is asking for respect “for the wall of separation between church and state.”

Many Christians who fear Sharia Law in the U.S. support Christian Law. GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz is one of those according to his wife, Heidi. She claims that her husband is the only one able to provide a “combination of the law and religion.” According to Heidi Cruz, “the God of Christianity is the God of freedom, of individual liberty, of choice and of consequence.” She also calls Christians “loving” and  “nonjudgmental”–the same ones who want to take away rights from people. Cruz is running on a platform that rights in the United States come from God and talks about “Christianity under attack.” He openly supports torture, carpet bombing, distribution of water in Flint only to anti-abortion religious centers, and has connections to which supremacy groups.

GOP presidential candidate John Kasich, who claims to be “small government,” goes beyond pushing Christianity through the United States. He wants an agency to make Christians out of everyone in the world. His proposed tax-payer funded agency would “beam messages around the world about what it means to have a western ethic, to be part of a Judeo-Christian society.” In many ways, Kasich is as dangerous as his GOP competition, but the media gives him as pass as a “moderate Republican.”

Ugly:

God has declared that domestic violence abusers should have the “freedom” to “open carry” guns in order to protect themselves, according to Rep. Jeff Coody in his defense of an Oklahoma bill that passed the House by a large majority. When Rep. Mike Brown asked if the government had a responsibility to protect other people, Coody said, “No.” Since the state passed a concealed carry law, it is at a 10-year high for rapes. This bill also removes any requirement for permits or training before people can buy guns. “If we give people some freedom, people tend to use that responsibly,” Coody said.

Proving that “religious liberty” is only for Christians, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) is furious that President Obama has blocked the sale of a San Carlos Apache sacred site to foreign-owned Resolution Copper. He justifies his actions by alleging that the place has never been sacred, despite testimony from Scientists for the Society for American Archaeology the site has been used for religious purposes since “well before recorded history.” The area had been closed to mining since then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s recognition of the sacred land in 1955. Tribe members have occupied the site since it was sold out to the mining company according to a provision in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act. The sale would mark the first time in history that Native American land would be handed over to foreign interests by Congress.

Just when people thought that the Catholic Church might try to stop child sexual abuse, the church has delivered a different message. The guidelines for training newly ordained bishops state:

“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds.”

This directive ignores the pope’s statement that “everything possible must be done to rid the church of the scourge of the sexual abuse.”

Girls-are-like-apples-on-trees

In addition, just plain creepy weird:

“Girls are like apples on trees. Their fathers are the farmers, whose job is to care for them. He must protect his apples from pests and disease. He must guard them against thieves who may pick his apples prematurely. Neither those at the top nor those at the bottom can help their location. But, when each reaches peak ripeness, it is the farmer’s job to harvest that fruit and give it to whom he will, to those in need. So there is nothing wrong with the apples still on the tree and nothing wrong with the boys who seek them. But it is the farmer’s duty to provide for both, in due season.”

That comes from Vaughn Ohlman, who thinks that Christian youth aren’t marrying early enough because fathers are too selective about which “boys” they give their “girls” to in marriage. According to Suzanne Titkemeyer, Ohlman is upset because he wanted a girl in his church and the father wouldn’t “give” her to Ohlman.

Mass shootings have increased within the past few weeks across the nation, but the GOP refuses to take any actions for prevention.  Their solution is prayer. Several months ago, the president said, “[T]houghts and prayers are not enough…. It does … nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America, next week or a couple of months from now.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) responded, “When you are praying, you are doing something about it. You are revealing the presence of God….  That is why prayer should always come first.” No comment on what should come next. For Christian Republicans, solutions are denial and prayer while giving all the resources in the nation to the wealthiest people. This would be worsen under a fundamentalist Christian president.

March 8, 2016

International Women’s Day: U.S. Behind in Gender Parity

Today is International Women’s Day. Around the world, people, countries, and organizations celebrate progress for women’s parity and advocate for change to improve gender equality and women’s rights. Although the UN declared this official commemoration only 40 years ago, its seeds came on March 8, 1857, when garment workers marched and picketed in New York City, demanding a ten-hour day, better working conditions, and equal rights for women. The police broke up the march, and the next march occurred 51 years later when women in needle trades honored the 1857 march by demanding the vote and an end to sweatshops and child labor.

A tradition of women’s unions came after the Civil War when widowhood and poverty forced women into the labor force, much to the hostility of men who refused to allow women into their unions. Women cigar makers, umbrella sewers, printers, tailoresses, and laundresses formed unions. The most famous union came from clothing workers, especially the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, founded about 1900. At that time, women worked in horrible conditions with no overtime pay and were fined for anything—talking, singing, etc. The formation of the National Women’s Trade Union League in 1903 led to strikes against two companies, one of them the Triangle Waist Company where 146 people died in a fire after being trapped by locked doors. Judges ruled against women who were clubbed by police while picketing, claiming that they were “on strike against God.”

The first National Women’s Day in the United States was February 28, 1909 after a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. In 1910, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed the commemoration of the U.S. demonstrations on March 8 to honor working women throughout the world. By 1913, when Russia first celebrated Women’s Day, countries settled on March 8 for the date of International Women’s Day. Participation of Russian women textile workers in a mass strike in 1917 helped spark the Russian Revolution. By 1965, the USSR declared Women’s Day as a non-working day, and IWD is an official holiday in 15 countries including China, Ukraine and Vietnam.. In China, women began celebrating in 1924 with a strong women’s movement in the Communist party.

Remarkable working women activists in the United States include Mother Jones, Ella Reeve Bloor, Kate Mullaney, Sojourner Truth, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. At the age of 90, Jones terrorized scabs in the 1919 steel strike. Joining these women were untold numbers of unnamed women who knew that they needed to stand and work together to keep from being individually destroyed. Among these were the women in the Lawrence textile strike who carried picket signs reading “We want Bread and Roses, too.” From this demand for a living wage with a decent and human life came James Oppenheim’s song “Bread and Roses”:

As we come marching, marching, in the beauty of, the day,

A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray

Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses

For the people hear us singing, Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses.

 

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.

The rising of the women means the rising of the race,

No more the drudge and idler that toil where one reposes

But a sharing of life’s glories, Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Pledge for Parity,” calling for complete gender equality and the closing of the gender gap in social, economic, political, and other situations. Unlike countries such as Afghanistan and China, the United States does not formally recognize March 8 by giving time off work.

Women in the U.S. lack the same equality as women in many other countries. A survey regarding the best countries for women to live in shows the United States to be 13th. Rankings were determined by five factors: concern for human rights, gender equality, income equality, safety, and progressiveness. The top seven in ranking are mostly European nations with Denmark rated #1 for its earnings-related daycare system and flexible parental leave policies. Sweden is the top in gender equality with women politicians taken half the positions in the Swedish Parliament, education in sexism beginning in kindergarten, and freed education for all.

Canada falls in third place with its quality of health, workplace opportunities, and freedom from violence. Canadian women have access to contraception, and 33 percent of federally appointed judges are women. In the United States, about one-third of the courts—including the Supreme Court—are women.

I repeat: the United States is 13th in ranking.

Other ways in which U.S. women’s equality falls behind that in other countries:

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW): Only seven of the 193 member states of the UN have not ratified this “international bill of rights for women” to end discrimination, establish equality, and fight against violence—Iran, Palau, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tonga, and the United States. Two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of CEDAW, adopted by the UN in 1979; the issue has never even gotten to the Senate floor for a vote.

Guaranteed paid leave for mothers of newborns: Only nine countries in the world do not provide this benefit—Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, and Tonga. Five of these countries—but not the United States—do provide paid maternity leave for public sector workers. Also, 49 percent of countries, including Saudi Arabia, provide paid leave to both parents.

Wage equality: Of 142 countries, the United States ranks 65th in pay equality for similar work. Countries where women are better off include the United Arab Emirates, the Kyrgyz Republic, Egypt, Iceland, Japan, Botswana, Honduras, and Ethiopia. The top five are Burundi, Mongolia, Qatar, Thailand, and Malaysia. In 2013, women who worked full-time, were paid 78 cents for every dollar earned on average by men. Black women made 64 cents, and Latinas made 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.

Congress: The United States now has more women in Congress than ever—104 of 535 seats. That’s 19.5 percent at a time when women make up 51 percent of the population. This nation ranks in the bottom half of the world’s national parliaments—72nd of 139 spots with almost 50 ties in the 190 countries, in female population.

Female Head of State: During the past 50 year, 52 other countries—including India for 21 years—have had women leading the country. Other countries with women in charge include Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Liberia and China.

Constitutions: Of the 197 constitutions throughout the world, 165—about 84 percent—explicitly guarantee gender equality. But not the U.S. Constitution. Some people have claimed that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment may protect women, but at least one Supreme Court justice—Antonin Scalia—has said that women are not protected by the nation’s constitution. Since the U.S. drafted the post-World War II Japanese constitution, which included equal rights for women, women in Japan have more rights than those in the United States. The Equal Rights Amendment, meant to give women in this nation the protections in other countries, was first introduced to Congress in 1923. Both houses of Congress passed it in 1972, but by the 1982 deadline it fell short of the 38 states necessary for ratification by three states.

One reason for women’s oppression comes from female legislators who oppose equal rights. Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Jackie Black (R-TN) work in the U.S. House to keep women from having reproductive rights, and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted against giving women equal pay in the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Phyllis Schafley, leader of the Eagle Forum, was instrumental in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment.

In my beloved state of Oregon, House members decided to replace its two statues in the U.S. Capitol’s Statutory Hall. After a popular vote from the people, a commission selected Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe and Abigail Scott Duniway, an activist largely instrumental in gaining women’s suffrage in Oregon before a federal amendment mandated women’s right to vote. Yet an overwhelming House vote chose Mark Hatfield instead of Duniway because the bill’s sponsor was mentored by the long-time influential GOP senator. All the 20 women in the Oregon House—one-third of the chamber—voted against Duniway except one who was excused. At this time, only ten women—ten percent of the total—are represented in Statutory Hall. Just one small example of many showing how females continue to be disadvantaged because many women refuse to support gender equality.

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