Nel's New Day

November 10, 2018

Midterm Elections Not ‘Big Victory’ for GOP

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) claims that Democrats want “to steal the election.” His proof? Democrats want to count every vote. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) wants new elections in Florida and Arizona because a continued count of ballots is favoring three Democrats, both governor races and the U.S. Senate race in Florida. GOP lawsuits against continuing to count ballots are flying fast and furious, and Gov. Rick Scott, also candidate for U.S. senator from Florida, wants to use his gubernatorial power to stop counting votes before his opponent gets a majority and at least manages a recount. And Republicans no longer care about the caravan in Mexico that consumed their media before the election.

Gov. Scott tried to stop the votes from being counted with the law enforcement after three-fourths of his lead on Election night disappeared, leaving him only 15,000 votes ahead. Candidate Scott is suing to block counting after accusing “liberal activists” of trying to “steal the election.”

Former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL), once a Republican, said his absentee ballot was rejected for “invalid signature.” Another voter was told that her signature with her finger on a smart pad at the polling place didn’t match the ID. Cindy McCain, widow of former Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) tweeted about the vote counting issue:

“I am one of those mail in ballots. I was under the impression my vote was always counted.”

While Republicans win, GOP leaders stay quiet; the minute that the vote swings in the opposite direction, they go batsh*t crazy. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who once called Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) a “con man,” joined Scott in coming unglued about Broward County, home to almost two million people, taking longer to count votes than Bay County with 150,000 residents. Broward County leans Democrat, so Rubio alleges that “democrat lawyers” are descending on Florida “to try to steal a seat in the U.S. Senate.” The GOP game plan in Florida is the same as in 2000 when Al Gore supposedly lost Florida by 537 votes: stop the recount and declare Republicans the winner before the discovery that the Democrats have more votes.

With no evidence, DDT and his sort-of lawyer Rudy Giuliani leaped into the fray to portray the Florida counts as rigged, supporting Scott and Rubio in their unfounded claims of voter fraud. Despite lack of legal basis, Giuliani wants to “disqualify [Broward and Palm Beach] votes counted only after all other counties were finished.” He also referred to “[Clinton] Hillary’s lawyers trying to steal Florida election,” probably meaning Nelson’s lawyer Marc Elias who was Clinton’s general counsel during her 2016 presidential campaign. Fox’s Sean Hannity said, ““I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” meaning that he was born after 2000.

Three retired military leaders respond to GOP attempts to stop the voting in three of the 50 states:

“We, the men and women who served under our command, and everyone who served in the Armed Forces swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States. Many died, and many were wounded, protecting it, and our sacred right to vote — and see that vote counted.

“It is appalling that Trump Republicans in Florida, Arizona and Georgia are fighting to stop accurately counting all the votes, as they lose ground. It dishonors everything our troops have fought for, and died for.

“We want to be very clear: Taking actions to stop counting votes is not only un-democratic, it is downright un-American.” – General (US Army, Ret.) Wesley K. Clark, Major General (US Army, Ret.) Paul D. Eaton, and Brigadier General (US Army, Ret.) Steven M. Anderson

Despite GOP efforts to suppress the vote, at least 123 women—103 Democrats and 20 Republicans—will be in the 116th Congress beginning in January 2019, and another ten women could join them. Many of the women are “firsts” in congressional records: age, ethnicity, religion, and states that they represent. Barry Blitt celebrated these women for the New Yorker cover.

Six state legislative chambers also flipped from GOP to Democratic.

Democrats may have fewer senators, governors, and state legislatures, but they comprise the majority of state attorneys general. After flipping four seats in Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin from Republicans, the 27 Democratic AGs will continue to protect states and serve as a check to DDT’s executive orders. Another four AGs are in play as governors of Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming appoint three of them, and the statehouse in Maine elects one.

Voters in 37 states voted on a total of 157 ballot measures on Election Day; here’s sample of the mostly good news:

North Carolina: Voters blocked constitutional amendments that would have packed a state supreme court to continue more gerrymandering and voter suppression, measures that the courts had failed to stop earlier. A GOP election-rigging scheme blew up and installed a civil rights Democrat in the state Supreme Court that led to a court of five Democrats and two Republicans. Voters in the state did pass the GOP photo voter ID mandate, but the state Supreme Court could hear a lawsuit against it.

Michigan: Voters instated a fully independent redistricting commission, removing the ability of GOP lawmakers to gerrymandering congressional and legislative redistricting. Colorado and Missouri passed redistricting reform, and a similar measure in Utah has a one-point lead. To illustrate the importance of Michigan’s vote to remove gerrymandering, President Obama won the popular vote of the state by almost 60 percent in 2012, the same year that the GOP took over 60 percent of the U.S. representatives. Pennsylvania gained three Democratic seats in the House after the state’s Supreme Court struck down its gerrymandered maps last January. These six states show the effect of gerrymandering. [visual gerrymandering]

Maryland: Voters approved same-day voter registration by two to one. Michigan also passed the same law; 18 states and D.C. now let voters register at the same time that they vote on Election Day. North Carolina voters can register during the early-voting period. Other increased voting accessibility in Michigan include automatic voter registration, removal of the need for an excuse to vote absentee, protection of the straight-ticket voting option, and regular election audits for accuracy. Previously, Michigan Republican legislators had allowed unrestricted absentee voting only to voters 60 or older, the GOP base. Republicans also hate straight-ticket voting because it is more popular with blacks, who largely tend to be Democrats.

Nevada: Voters passed an automatic voter registration while doing business with the DMV. That brings the total of “motor-voter” registration to 13 states and D.C.

Florida: Voters overwhelmingly voted to allow people with felony convictions to vote—1.5 million citizens in the state. Laws like this passed in many states after the Civil War were intended to block black voters. Gov. Rick Scott almost ended clemency to return voting rights for specific individuals (aka non-GOP supporters) in 2011. People in prison, on parole or probation, and with murder or sexual offenses may not vote, allowing another 1.4 million people this right. The remaining question is whether Florida will require a poll tax in the form of repaying all court fines and fees, cutting the number to 840,000 new voters.

Michigan & Colorado: Voters elected Democrats for secretaries of state, positions that Republicans use to purge eligible voters. In New Hampshire, the newly-elected Democrat state legislature can replace longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the Democrat-in-name-only appointed by Republicans. Georgia’s Democratic Secretary of State John Barrow, trailing by only 0.6 percent heads to a December 4 runoff. Arizona has called the position for its GOP candidate for the position, but the Democrat is behind by only 21,000 votes with hundreds of thousands of ballots left to be counted.

Idaho, Nebraska, & Utah: Medicaid expansion passed but failed in Montana.

Missouri & Arkansas: Voters passed minimum wage increases.

Washington: New gun control measures passed.

Missouri & Utah: Voters approved medical marijuana with that ballot measure the most popular one in Missouri. Thirty-three states and D.C. now have some form of legalized medical marijuana, and another 14 have laws allowing cannabis but limiting that THC content. Michigan passed recreational marijuana, bringing the total to ten states. Only North Dakota blocked a cannabis initiative, keeping medical marijuana but not approving recreational marijuana. Former AG Jeff Sessions, who declared a war on cannabis, has been fired.

Massachusetts: Voters stopped discrimination against transgender rights by keeping a 2016 law barring discrimination against transgender people in public spaces.

Oregon: Voters rejected a measure banning public funding for abortions available to low-income women. Alabama and West Virginia voters passed measures to prevent a woman’s right to have an abortion through “personhood,” but the initiative is unconstitutional until the GOP Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

In paranoid North Dakota, voters approved a change to the constitution: instead of “every citizen” can vote, they approved “only a citizen” can vote. And Colorado voted to prohibit slavery, once and for all, despite 35 percent of the voters—26 DDT-supporting counties of 64 in the state—supporting the practice as punishment for a crime.

Midterm elections are not over. Florida and Georgia are still counting votes for governor, and Arizona and Florida are doing the same for the U.S. Senate. Mississippi has a run-off for one of the U.S. senate positions as well as a congressional representative. Another dozen House races in nine states are still up in the air. And those undecided races don’t include the recounts and lawsuits that will emerge.

October 11, 2018

United States, A Banana Republic

“Banana Republic” is a term to describe governments with countries that suffer from lack of democracy and corruption. How the United States fits the description of a “banana republic”:

An extremely stratified social class with a large impoverished working class and an ultra-rich ruling-class plutocracy with a lack of a middle class and lack of upward mobility: The U.S. has had the highest income inequality and lowest upward mobility of any country in the developed world for several years, and it keeps worsening.

Government’s corrupt connection with big business: As in fascist countries, U.S. conservative politicians have supported the merger of state and corporate power by removing regulations, giving corporations billions of dollars in tax cuts and subsidies, and putting banks and corporations above the law. The person occupying the Oval Office is profiting with millions—possibly trillions—from domestic groups and foreign government encouraged to use his businesses despite his constitutional violation of the Emoluments Clause.

A male business, political, and military elite controlling the nation: In a circular pattern, politicians take money from business for campaigns in exchange for subserviency, and conservative politicians vote for increased military expenses to keep money flowing into their states. Lack of regulations moves wealth offshore while workers suffer. Conservative politicians put white conservative males into control on the courts, protecting only white males and big business and permitting illegal tax evasion. All new DDT judicial nominees are male, recognizing that “we the ruling males” are in charge instead of the constitutional “we the people.” Less than one-third of the U.S. population is white male, but they still control the nation.

Police corruption and expanding police state: The frequent pattern of using military equipment for police actions is like military actions in Iraq, and law enforcement increasingly kill people in “accidents” or badly orchestrated sting operations. Laws since 9/11 permit warrantless wiretapping and other tactics common in dictatorships.

Highest incarceration rate in the world: The 716 prisoners per 100,000 residents in the U.S. far exceed the 114 in Canada, the 79 in German, and even the 162 in Saudi Arabia. Privatized prisons have greatly increased the number of prisoners because the government gets kickbacks from these businesses for their campaigns that keep them the ruling party.

Lack of access to healthcare: Despite the Affordable Care Act, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) created a path to health insurance that doesn’t provide for pre-existing conditions, hospitalizations, maternal care, and other health needs by conning them into believing that they save money. DDT’s newest plan is like a person paying less for a car that doesn’t run. People in the U.S. pay more than most developed countries for healthcare expenses and are reduced to medical bankruptcies but are convinced that universal health care is evil.

Much shorter life expectancy in poor than wealthy: In one West Virginia county, life expectancy for males is 63.9 years compared to 81.6 years, 17.7 years higher, in affluent Fairfax County (VA)—a difference of 27 percent. Bangladesh life expectancy is higher than McDowell County (WV). U.S. women’s life expectancy was #41 in 2010.

Hunger and malnutrition: Banana republics are associated with food insecurity, but the need for food stamps in the U.S. has increased from one in 50 during the 1970s to one in eight with 50 million people, including 12 million children, suffering from food insecurity.

High infant mortality: Fifty-seven countries have a smaller infant mortality rate than the U.S. In first-day death rate, babies dying the day that they are born, the U.S. has the highest rate in the industrialized world, twice as many as in the European Union.

One idealistic view of saving the United States is to vote, and millions of people want to exercise their right to select their representatives in this republic. Yet conservative politicians block the ability for millions to vote. Beyond white males rigging the districts so that a state with a majority of Democrats will elect almost all Republicans for state and federal elected officials, voter ID laws that prevent people from voting. The following states have created these ways to keep people from voting:

Arizona: Secretary of State Michele Reagan won’t be required to update voter registration addresses of 384,000 Arizonans who moved since the last election, even if the Motor Vehicle Division system won’t change addresses until people “opt-in” to update their information in conflict with the National Voter Registration Act. When people show up at the wrong polling place because of Reagan’s inaction, the voter can go to the new address and cast a provisional ballot. The state, however, has a record of destroying these without recording them. Reagan said that she’ll fix the system sometime next year—after the midterm election. Maybe.

Florida: Whether prisoners and released felons can vote is dependent on state law. A few states don’t have restrictions against voting after the felons serve their sentence, but a few rely on “individual petitions.” Of the 6 million people with felony convictions permanently barred from voting, about 1.5 million of them are from Florida, and over 20 percent of them are black. Gov. Rick Scott is in charge of deciding whether each one can be permitted to vote, and he has granted only 8 percent of those requesting the right to vote with a backlog of over 10,000 not yet reviewed.

Georgia: Brian Kemp is the state Secretary of State and in charge of elections. Kemp is also running for governor. He is keeping 53,000 voter applications from being processed because of typographical errors. The list has a disproportionately high number of black voters. Kemp’s opponent is Stacey Abrams, a black woman. Because Kemp is in charge of elections, there is no proof that he legitimately won the primary to become candidate in the general election, especially after indications of voting corruption within the past few years. Kemp is also being sued for using a racially-biased methodology to purge 700,000 voters from the rolls in the past two years and failing to send notices of the removal to voters. That’s ten percent of registered voters. Kemp also kept the state from having a paper trail to its woefully inadequate digital voting system, allowing him more election corruption.

North Dakota: A state law, challenged but approved in court, mandates that all voter IDs have residential addresses. Even the Supreme Court thinks that people without street addresses should not have the right to vote. This law takes voting rights from the homeless and people living on Native American reservations who lack the “residential address.”

Texas: Delivering a letter demanding that Waller County address its problems with rejecting registrations of students at Prairie View A&M resulted in the arrest of the campaign staffer presenting the missive to a clerk. Jacob Aronowitz, a field director for Democratic congressional candidate Mike Siegel, photographed the clerk taking the letter, and the clerk objected. When he was arrested, Aronowitz called Siegal who heard Aronowitz asking why he was being held and telling the detaining officer that his lawyer, Siegel, was running for office. Aronowitz was asked for Siegel’s political party, and the officer kept Aronowitz’s phone with his records when he was released. The county gave students the address to use for registration because all students use one post office box and then refused to accept it on the last day to register, jeopardizing the registrations. The letter demanded that the county update the existing registrations because students had followed the county’s direction. Waller County is uncomfortable with students voting because the student body is 82 percent black while the county is 70.5 percent white. It opposed students’ right to vote until a 1979 case in the U.S. Supreme Court upheld students’ right to register at their college address. The county wouldn’t obey the high court ruling, declaring in 2004 that students were ineligible to vote because they failed to meet the residency requirement. The campus did not get a polling place until 2013. So the county, which does not want the students to vote, gave them the wrong address for registration, refused to accept the address they gave students, arrested a person obtaining verification that he delivered a letter of complaint, lied about his not identifying himself, asked for the political party of the person objecting, and refused to return the arrested party’s possessions when he was released.

Voting could help move the United States from a banana republic—if citizens get the permission to cast a ballot and their ballots are counted. Until that time, the U.S. will remain a banana republic.

August 4, 2018

Reunification: Government Fails

The U.S. government claimed it met the July 26 deadline to return migrant children to their parents by declaring that over 700 of them were “ineligible” out of the approximately 2,500 separated children. The judge who ordered reunification didn’t swallow the excuse. He ordered the feds to provide “detailed information” about each one and weekly status reports with telephonic conferences until resolutions.

Then DOJ decided it wouldn’t take responsibility for the crisis it caused. Instead, it wanted to dump their problems onto the ACLU who had sued the government for reunification. Last Thursday, the DOJ told a federal judge that they are not responsible for finding the 400+ parents who they deported and can’t be bothered to find. Instead, the DOJ claims, the court should require the ACLU to “fulfill their obligations to their clients.” And the DOJ wants the ACLU to tell them all information about the located parents. The ACLU had already found 12 deported parents but discovered that they were in contact with the government, which had not shared this information with the ACLU.

Yesterday, a judge called DDT’s plan to turn the work over to the ACLU “unacceptable.” The inability “to track and unite … is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.” He gave the government an August 10 deadline to provide information on separated families to the ACLU. The judge also clearly stated that parents with minor criminal charges cannot be permanently ineligible for reunification. In addition, the judge ordered the government to “identify an individual or a team” to create and implement a procedure for those kids to be reunified with their families because it appears that the government has no plan for the remaining families.

Government officials in charge of the children are so cavalier or ignorant about the miserable conditions in their prisons that one of them, Matthew Albence, claimed that the centers were like “summer camps. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asked, “You would send your child to these centers?” Jennifer Higgins, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, stammered, “I—I—it’s—that’s a—that’s a difficult question to answer.” It should be difficult to answer when one considers that the migrant children separated from their parents are physically, emotionally, and sexually abused; starved; dehydrated; underclothed in bitterly cold temperatures; drugged against their will; restrained; and lacking even the toys and other personal belongs that they had brought to the border. When Hirono asked Albence the same question, he sputtered “Again, I think we’re—we’re missing the point.”

At Albence’s “summer camps” in Arizona, two youth care workers were charged with sexually assaulting immigrant teenagers in the most recent claims of abuse at the privatized “shelters” for children taken from their parents at the Mexico border. One of the ex-workers, who is HIV positive, tried to get boys to anally penetrate him. Both centers are operated by the Texas company Southwest Key Programs that received almost $1 billion in taxpayer money to provide services to immigrant children. Allegations against the worker were first reported to Mesa Police Department over a year ago. The other man charged worked at a migrant center that Melania Trump visited.

Another federal contractor kept children in a Phoenix vacant office building until a neighbor reported that she saw ICE taking children into the building. The state failed to take any action about the children being kept in substandard conditions, claiming that the contractor MVM didn’t need a day care license, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. The contractor canceled its lease after city inspectors tried to visit the building five times in one week. MVM, which does not contract for providing shelters, eventually admitted that it lied about not keeping children in the building as a short-term shelter but stated that it “provided notice to both ICE and Arizona officials about the use of this building” and that “ICE approved such use.”

A federal judge has ordered the federal government not to give psychotropic medication to migrant children at Shiloh Residential Treatment Center in Manvel (TX) without parents’ or guardians’ consent except in dire emergencies. She also ordered all children moved out of the facility except for those diagnosed as “risk of harm” to themselves or others by a licensed professional. Government officials denied that medications were only on “an emergency basis,” but children gave testimony that they were given pills “every morning and every night.” Some were forcibly injected with drugs. They suffered nausea, dizziness, depression, and weight gain. The doctor prescribing the drugs lacked board certification for child and adolescent treatment for almost ten years. Shiloh also has a history of other child abuse.

The families designated for reunification faced chaotic situations. Some children in New York were driven from one airport to another to find lights. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that about 100 children remain in New York, “with no end in sight.” Some parents defined as “released” stayed in custody for up to a week with no access to showers, phones, or religious services. Some returned children are sick and beaten, and one child even died soon after she was returned. Others were taken places with no one waiting because parents were deported. Volunteer groups frantically raised funds to help children and parents who were just dropped off with no food or ways to communicate with anyone. Families are afraid to line up for help because the separation happened after promises of assistance to them. Some parents waived rights to be reunified because they could not read the consent form and were told that they could see their children if they signed the form. Even with reunification, some children don’t recognize their parents because they were separated for so long, and others are terrified that the government will take them from their parents again.

The biggest dodge to claim “mission accomplished” for a federal judge were the parents who DHS regarded as “either not eligible, or not yet known to be eligible, for reunification.” Of these, 64 were considered criminals, an overly broad classification because some of them had not been convicted of a crime. Crimes might be a DUI or simply “wanted in El Salvador.” Another 463 parents were “not in the U.S.,” with 411 probably deported. As for the 260 parents requiring “further evaluation,” the government lawyer tried to explain that among those 260 parents, some had already been released from immigration detention and couldn’t be found. Others are children already released to non-parent families in the U.S.

Conservatives praised U.S. agencies for how hard they worked to reunify families. The only reason that they had to manually go through 12,000 records instead of “at the stroke of keystrokes … within seconds,” as HHS Secretary Alex Azar bragged about his ability to “find any child within our care for any parent,” is that not one of the three agencies in charge had any system for returning children to the parents. Azar made that statement in June; he’s been very quiet since then. DDT’s administration never intended to reunify families, and the court ruling requiring them to put migrant children back with their parents came as a shock to them. This article describes the problems and the processes.

Scott Lloyd, a DDT appointment to lead the Office of Refugee Resettlement, set up a roadblock to reunification with his demand that he personally review each request to release migrant children. He made that decision without any agency review and changed it only after the policy was stopped by an injunction last month after a lawsuit challenged Lloyd’s policy. Children are incarcerated for months waiting for him to personally sign releases. In one case, he claimed a 17-year-old boy was a gang member with no proof; the boy lacked the tattoos that Lloyd claimed he saw. He became infamous when he unconstitutionally blocked an abortion for a raped teenage girl and other undocumented teenage girls. His experience for the current job was as a policy worker with the Knights of Columbus that involved research and advocacy for Christians persecuted in Iraq.

To permanently conceal ICE crimes, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) approved ICE’s request to destroy its records related to in-custody deaths, sexual assault, and solitary confinement. ICE also lists only 112 facilities although 203 have been identified. Since January, ICE stripped away due process, privatized detention services to deadly companies, collaborated with local law enforcement to racially target people, gone after domestic abuse victims, doctored documents to detain protected immigrants, and used children as bait to arrest their parents.

Many conservatives, led by the Fox network, consistently minimize the pain of immigrants. Pundits such as Laura Ingraham talk about the “phony concern for the children” by the left. Brian Kilmeade of Fox & Friends, said, “These aren’t our kids…. It’s not like [DDT] is doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas.” According to a recent study, people watching Fox and/or reading Breitbart are more likely to support child/family separation. On The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, Ann Coulter accused separated migrant children of being “child actors weeping and crying …  being coached, … given scripts to read by liberals.” The same accusation was given for gun safety activists from Parkland (FL).

Conservatives are accused of having “no heart.” It’s not true: conservatives have heart but just for a highly limited number of people within their own small tribe that looks exactly like them—namely white for U.S. conservatives. That’s why they can subscribe to genocide. We’re up past Step 8 (above) in the United States.

 

 

 

 

May 7, 2015

Really Big Deals! Alberta, NSA Surveillance, Arizona

U.S. conservatives have waged war for years against the president to allow the Keystone XL Pipeline across the country, moving oil from Alberta to Texas where it would be shipped out of the country to benefit wealthy people like the Koch brothers. After winning the Congress in last fall’s election, the GOP passed approval for the pipeline in both chambers; the president has still not taken any action.

Just a few months after this grand success, Albert overwhelmingly voted in the party that plans to force the gas and oil industries to pay their fair share of taxes and royalty payments and phase out coal power. It also plans to cut back pipeline projects. For almost one-half century, Big Oil and the Tories (oxymoronically called the Progressive Conservative Party) had been in charge. The election took the number of New Democratic Party (NDP) seats in Alberta’s legislature from four to 53 of the 87-seat legislature while the Conservatives (blue in the following chart) fell from 70 seats to third place with 10 seats, following the rightest Wildrose Party that took 21 seats.

chart-alberta-2015-election-resultsDave Weigel of Bloomberg, explained the tremendous change in the Canadian province known as “the Texas of Canada.”

“Imagine if Democrats took not only Texas Governor, but supermajority control of [the] Legislature and all state offices. That’s what [Alberta’s election] is like in Canada.”

As for the pipeline, premier-elect Rachel Notley pledged to stop lobbying Congress for its construction because poorly-regulated production of tar sands oil has made Alberta the biggest producer of climate-changing gases in Canada. Most of the oil coming from Alberta, 78 percent of Canada’s oil, comes from the extraction of dirty tar sands oil, which releases much larger amounts of greenhouse emissions than the regular production of oil. Unlike regular oil, the thick mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen is extracted from the ground by “non-conventional” methods that are more carbon-intensive. Companies get the oil by digging up the tar sand and heating it with water or injecting steam underground. Making the steam requires a great deal of extra energy. Alberta’s extraction of tar sands produces more greenhouse gasses than transportation throughout Canada because of extremely weak regulations.

Alberta’s current premier, Jim Prentice, is immediately resigning and quitting his legislative seat. In this position for less than eight months, he called a snap election to get a mandate in a tax-raising budget after the drastic drop in oil prices caused a $7-billion hole in government finances. Prentice’s budget raised taxes and fees for everyone except corporations and ran a $5-billion deficit. When his female opponent challenged him for not raising corporate taxes, Prentice responded, “Math is difficult.” The election was a year earlier than necessary, but Prentice hoped to get a four-year term with what he perceived as weakened opposition.

The Conservative Party’s loss in Alberta may damage the re-election of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative member in that position for the past nine years. Harper came out of the oil industry and lives in Alberta.

Investors, who had ignored the polls warning them of the shift in the political weather, are stunned, and Canada’s main stock index fell sharply on the day after the election because of large losses among energy companies.

The new controlling party may increase oil royalties, at this time between 25 and 40 percent of the companies’ profits. Texas charges 25 percent, one-fourth more than any other state in the U.S. while Norway charges about 80 percent of profits. The NDP plans at the least to make the royalty process more transparent and also raise the corporate tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent. Between 2011 and 2014, Alberta’s oil-sands production increased from 1.5 million barrels per day to 2 million barrels per day. It could double to 4.3 million barrels per day by 2023 although the recent oil price crash may change that prediction. An increase in royalties would only affect future projects because operation is far less than upfront investment in oil sands projects.

Referring to the election, one commentator said, “Pigs do fly.”

Pigs flew as well in the United States today. For the first time ever, a court has ruled against the NSA massive surveillance. A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York unanimously rejected the National Security Agency’s program on collecting and storing bulk information on telephone calls by overturning an earlier ruling that the surveillance could not be subject to judicial review. According to Josh Gerstein, the panel ruled that “allowing the government to gather data in a blanket fashion was not consistent with the statute used to carry out the program: Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.”

Currently, NSA is gathering and storing all data to search later if it sees a need, an act that the panel found to be illegal. The judges used the clause that “the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation” to make its ruling against the NSA because there was no discussion of relevance in the collected data. They explained that Congress did have the opportunity to authorize “such a far-reaching and unprecedented program … unambiguously.” This may not happen because the House wants to replace the bulk record collection with “a new program that would preserve the ability to analyze links between callers to hunt for terrorists but keep the bulk records in the hands of phone companies.” Last year, the House passed a bill to disallow the bulk collection, but the Senate refused to take it up. GOP Senators continue to prefer the status quo.

Today’s decision didn’t strike down the NSA program; instead it sent the problem back to a lower court. The ruling also didn’t end the collection while Congress debates the issue. The provision under discussion expires on June 1. With no decision by then, NSA has no justification after that for its actions. Without a law from Congress, the legal dispute about the constitutionality of NSA’s collection/storage will continue.

The ruling also covertly warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who wants to allow the massive database collection by merely re-authorizing an unmodified Section 215:

“There will be time then to address appellants’ constitutional issues…. We hold that the text of section 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program.”

Without Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA database, the U.S. public would have no knowledge about NSA’s surveillance. In 2013, Snowden leaked a court order to Verizon to produce “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’’ relating to Verizon communications within the United States or between the United States and abroad.” The federal government has not opposed the claim that “all significant service providers in the United States are subject to similar orders.” The Circuit Court used the phrase that “the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation” to make its ruling against the NSA because there was no discussion of relevance in the collected data.

One final piece of good news—an Arizona judge has ruled that Dreamers, the Latino youth in the United States because of DACA, are in this country lawfully because federal law, not state law, determines the legality. A 2012 executive order created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for young people who had been brought to the United States illegally as children. According to the court decision, DACA residents in Arizona are to pay in-state tuition for the Maricopa County Community Colleges instead of out-of-state tuition which can be almost four times as much as the in-state costs. Arizona community colleges lost 15,000 enrollees when DACA students couldn’t afford to pay $355 per credit. The current attorney general, Mark Brnovich, is considering whether to appeal, and the decision affects only Maricopa County, covering much of Phoenix, but the Maricopa County Judge started a movement that may have great repercussions.

 

September 14, 2014

If Christians Controlled the United States

ISIL’s control of Iraq has been top in the news this past week, especially after President Obama’s speech, partly because many people are afraid of having a government controlled by religion. Here are some attempts to have that control in the United States.

Rick Santorum: “I think we should start calling secularism (which is defined as ‘without religion) a religion,” Santorum told a grinning Fischer. “Because if we did, then we could ban that, too, because that’s what they’ve done: they’ve hidden behind the fact that the absence of religion is not a religion of itself.” “We always need a Jesus candidate.”

Steve Williams, mayor of Huntington (WV):  The only “silver bullet” to stop drug use is prayer. His prayer beam was on September 7. The next day the police department arrested a local man on drug charges after organizing a massive anti-drug offensive codenamed “Operation: River to Jail” to eliminate drug trafficking.

U.S. Air Force: An airman cannot reenlist because he won’t say “so help me God.” Until last October, enlistees could omit the God phrase, but an update dropped that option. The Air Force says it can’t make any changes unless Congress changes the statute mandating the oath. The Department of Justice has been asked for an opinion in the case. The other branches of the military don’t require the God oath.

Bryan Fischer, American Family Association spokesman: Atheists should be banned in the military because they won’t die for God like true Americans will.

“This is an absolutely foundational, non-negotiable, bed-rock American principle: there is a Creator – with a capital “C” (you could look it up) – and he and he alone is the source of the very rights the military exists to protect and defend. Military service should rightly be reserved for those who believe in and are willing to die for what America stands for – and what America stands for is a belief in God as the source of our rights.”

Paul Wieland, Missouri Republican State Representative: Providing birth control for his daughters violates his religious beliefs so he’s suing President Obama. A judge originally dismissed the case because the family has no legal standing to file the lawsuit, but five Supreme Court justices permitted discrimination in the Hobby Lobby decision. Now Wieland’s lawyer, Timothy Belz, declares that the man’s daughters are like “employees” who have to listen to their father, the “boss.” He should be able to police the sexual lives of his adult daughters. A suggestion was to drop the insurance for the daughters, but providing health insurance is also one of Wieland’s religious beliefs.

Russell Pearce, Arizona GOP vice-chair:  Women on government aid such as Medicaid and food stamps should be sterilized as well as tested for drugs and alcohol. Food stamps should also be restricted to such items as 15-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese, and powdered milk—no fruits or vegetables. They should also be required to live in military barracks-style housing and endure spot inspections with punishment for not keeping everything spotless. Possessions will be inventoried to restrict the women from having unapproved items—such as televisions. Pearce didn’t say anything about men on government aid.

Barrie Goettsche, store owner of the Christian-based Chick-fil-A: Employee Daphne Richards was demoted without insurance after medical leave for a double mastectomy because of cancer in both breasts. Her workweek was cut from 40 hours to 10-15 hours and her hourly wage dropped from $14 per hour to $10 per hour. Goettsche said that she had been written up before her leave, but Richards has a letter from Goettsche that praises her work. “Daphne is a very sensitive, loving and compassionate person. I know she will continue to be a valuable asset and resource to the restaurant as she gains more experience, responsibility and time under her belt.” Richards was attracted to Chick-fil-A because of their Christian standards, but she has filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission regarding about the company’s treatment of her.

Dr. George Visnich, a Pennsylvania oral surgeon: His prayers went with the employee of 12 years after he fired her. The letter to her stated, “You are currently engaged in a battle against cancer that will be demanding physically, mentally, and emotionally. You will not be able to function in my office at the level required while battling for your life. Because of this, I am laying you off without pay as of August 11, 2014.”

Fran Millar, Georgia state senator: Voting on Sunday would be a violation of separation of church and state in DeKalb County, according to the GOP legislator. On his Facebook page, Millar gave another reason: “If you don’t believe this is an efort [SIC] to maximize Democratic votes pure and simple, then you are not a realist.”

Love in the Name of Christ, Church Everett (PA): A teenager may go to prison for two years because he allegedly took a photo of himself simulating oral sex with a statue of Jesus. The 14-year-old was charged with desecrating a venerated object. A vandalism charge carries only a maximum penalty of one year in jail. The church did not press any charges.

Cardinal Francis George, head of the Archdiocese in Chicago: In his column in Catholic New World he complained that his church members are forced to live under a pro-gay, pro-choice “state religion” similar to those living in nations “governed by Sharia law.” George has a history of LGBT hatred: in 2011, he compared LGBT rights advocates to the Ku Klux Klan.

Marian (Catholic) High School, Bloomfield Hills (MI): Barbara Webb has been fired for getting pregnant from artificial insemination. The school has known for five years that she is in a same-sex relationship, but administration declared that a “nontraditional” pregnancy broke her contract’s “morality clause.”

fred and georgeFred McQuire and George Martinez: The marriage of these two men is one that Francis George bitterly protests. Together for over 45 years, they legally married in California. An Arizona judge recognized their marriage in Arizona after Martinez died last month of pancreatic cancer. McQuire can now get his partner’s death certificate to settle Martinez’s affairs.

What McQuire won’t get are spousal Social Security and veterans benefits. Federal law requires him to have been married to Martinez for at least nine months to qualify for his Social Security benefits and one year to qualify for veteran benefits. With Martinez’s benefits, McQuire would have had a monthly income of $4,000. Without it, his benefits alone total $1,300. Martinez’s pancreatic cancer was blamed on exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam where both men served in the military. In this country, thanks to religious law from people like Francis George, a male and female married for one year are eligible for spousal benefits, but a gay couple together for 45 years has no rights.

In their craving for a “Christian nation,” these people want to deny LGBT people and poor women any rights, eliminate voting for blacks, ban non-Christians from public office and serving in the military, allow employees to fire people for illness, and put imprison youth for a long period of time for foolish pranks.

Those U.S. Christians—including the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute—who claimed the U.S. should be like Russia’s totalitarian regime because of its persecution of LGBT people might want to reconsider their support of Vladimir Putin. Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are now killing people to purge Slovyansk of rival Christian denominations in a return to control by the Russian Holy Orthodox Church.

Meanwhile, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and former Sen. John Breaux (L-LA) are lobbying to lift President Obama’s sanctions on Gazprombank GPB (OJSC), controlled by Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom, the country’s largest gas producer that supplies about a third of Europe’s natural gas.

In a bit of good news for people who believe in religious freedom, Allegheny County has voted against posting “In God We Trust” in its council chambers.

February 22, 2014

Discrimination, Fracking, Christie, Net Neutrality, Economy

The past few days have brought more information on the following topics:

Arizona’s Discrimination Bill: In its attempt to give everyone in the state the right to discriminate against LGBT people, the legislature has passed a law that would permit discrimination for everyone. The bill, awaiting Gov. Jan Brewer’s signature by this coming Tuesday, would prevent the government from enforcing any anti-discrimination law if the refusing party claims religious reasons.

These are some ramifications in addition to those listed in yesterday’s Nels New Day:

 

  • Employers could pay men more than women—for religious reasons.
  • Legally accrued interest on liens or other amounts owed to private individuals or entities could be refused—for religious reasons.
  • Corporations could refuse to hire people from another religion—for religious reasons.

 

Four businesses, each with the potential of hiring over 1,000 people, have already said that they will not come to Arizona if the bill goes into law. That will happen if Brewer signs it or fails to veto it by this coming Tuesday. Hundreds of people protested in both Phoenix and Tucson yesterday against the measure. 

arizona protest

To the millions of people in the United States who think that fracking is just fine:

Fracking: Rex Tillerson, CEO of fracking company Exxon, wants to frack near everyone else’s property but not his own. He is part of a lawsuit to stop a 160-foot water tower next to his Texas home. The tower would supply water to a nearby fracking site. Plaintiffs—including Tillerson—argue that the proposed project would have too much noise and traffic. The CEO’s lawyer said that Tillerson is worried about his property being devalued. Acting as Exxon CEO, Tillerson has objected to opponents of fracking when he said in 2012:  “This type of dysfunctional regulation is holding back the American economic recovery, growth, and global competitiveness.” The company in charge of the water tower, Cross Timbers Water Supply Corporation, claims to be exempt from zoning laws because it’s a public utility. It’s a massive case of NIMBY (Not in My Backyard).

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: Once again, the GOP governor under fire has lost federal money for his state, this time $7.67 million after he reversed his opinion about setting up a state health insurance exchange. The state applied and received the grant two years ago. A year later, Christie announced that they would accept a federal insurance marketplace. Last Thursday was the deadline for the state to submit an acceptable plan for using the grant money, including marketing or expanding outreach. The state missed the deadline, keeping 95,000 New Jersey residents uninsured. Conservatives criticized him Christie for accepting the Medicaid expansion; perhaps this hopes to appease them for a future presidential run.

Net Neutrality:  One of the few GOP women in Congress, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) wants people in the United States to pay more for internet access and allow Big Business to run a monopoly. Yesterday she introduced a bill to prevent the FCC from rewriting the agency’s rules for equal access across the nation. If she stops the FCC, internet providers can block or slow access to specific websites to increase their earnings. Ironically, it’s called the Internet Freedom Act, and Blackburn proclaims that it will “return the keys to the free market.” As usual, she describes these rules as “job-killing regulations” that “restrict our Internet freedom.”

U.S. Economy:  Most of the markers for an improving economy show that the country is improving: growth in the housing market and number of jobs; drop in energy costs; and record high corporate profits and stock market. At the same time, unemployment is too high, and wages are too low, causing the huge decrease in the middle-class share of wealth. Student loan debt is at a record high, and consumer confidence is low.

These two charts show why.

Chart 1: Availability of investment money should be making the U.S. grow faster than China. Businesses are getting more and more money with lower taxes, less regulation, tax-funded price supports, loss of unions, and free new technology.

Chart 1

 

Chart 2: Businesses are using their money to repurchase their own stocks to increase management salaries and hoard their cash and bond holdings. People buy products, and businesses stash it away while complaining that they don’t have the money to hire more people.

Chart 2 

Higher tax rates during the terms of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton increased investment. During the terms of Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush, investments dropped as taxes were cut.

Therefore this week the GOP wants to allow religious discrimination to everyone for everything, let “special people” avoid the problems of fracking, refuse health care to poor people, charge people more for unequal access to the internet, and allow Big Business to hoard money and kill jobs.

 

February 21, 2014

Boycotts Focus on Arizona – Again

constitution-burning-485x322Couples in at least 25 states are suing for marriage equality in their home states, federal courts are overturning discriminatory constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, and a number of states are refusing to protect state anti-LGBT laws. Yet Arizona has decided to pass Senate Bill 1062 which allows anyone for any reason to refuse service to anyone if they claim they are doing so because of religious beliefs.

Last week, the bill passed the Senate with a party-line vote of 17-13. A day later, the House approved the bill with a 33-27 vote with three Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. Democratic House Minority Leader Chad Campbell of Phoenix responded to the legislation by saying, “I’m not sure if Russia is any less progressive than Arizona now against gay rights.” He concluded, “There’s only one type of equality, and that’s equal.”

In the House, 33 members ignored Rep. Ruben Gallego when he reminded them that state is trying to attract the Super Bowl and companies like Apple and Google. “God forbid someone should come to the Super Bowl and come to a restaurant that is not going to allow them in,” he warned. “We’re saying it’s open season on gays; it’s OK to put this sign up,” he said, holding a large “No Gays Allowed” sign. The majority of the House also opposed Gallego’s bid to require businesses that refuse service to post notices at their front doors.

Like the rest of the United States, Arizona has a history of discrimination that leads to world-wide notice and boycotts. In early 1987, newly-elected Gov. Evan Mecham’s first official act was to rescind an executive order creating a Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Arizona. Originally, former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supported Mecham in his action. Among other boycotts and protests to the loss of the state holiday, the NFL took the 1993 Super Bowl away from the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe and moved it to Pasadena. Mecham was the first Arizona governor to be impeached and left office within 15 months after his conviction. In 2010, the enactment of SB 1070, a measure dealing with illegal immigration, led to boycotts and the state paying millions of dollars in lawsuits.

On the House floor, Rep. Victoria Steele talked about how Pilgrims who came to America subjugated and slaughtered the Indians in the name of religion. She also read pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous poem posted at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Also urging Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the bill is the ACLU of Arizona:

“Once again Arizona’s Legislature is on the wrong side of history. Four years ago, after the passage of SB 1070, we were ridiculed for legalizing discrimination against brown people. The targets today are gay and lesbian Arizonans. They own homes, run businesses and pay taxes just like everyone else but under the guise of religious freedom they are now being vilified by Arizona lawmakers. This bill is not about God or faith. There are already laws on the books in Arizona protecting religious freedom. What today’s bill does is allow private individuals and businesses to use religion to discriminate, sending a message that Arizona is intolerant and unwelcoming.”

Rep. Mark Cardenas talked about the economic impact the legislation will have, and framed the debate as Arizona suffered when it refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day. Problems go far beyond the loss of tourism. The Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) has directed the chair of its board to send a letter to Brewer, urging her to veto the bill. This organization works with the Arizona Commerce Authority for business expansion or relocation to the state. The letter declares that such a law would “further the agenda to tarnish the business-friendly reputation we have all worked so tirelessly to build.”

Barry Broome, GPEC president and CEO, said the group has already heard from four companies that said they will look elsewhere if Senate Bill 1062 becomes law. Proposed legislation in Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Idaho was blocked after the business community objected.

Before Brewer signs the bill, she might want to consider other ramifications. Such a law could permit Sharia law in Arizona because the there is no sanctioned state religion. As the state Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar pointed out, the bill is so broad that it can permit discrimination “based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.” The bill expands  “the definition of person to include any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.”

If the bill becomes law, anyone who does anything in the name of religion—including physical assault—will be protected. Homeowner’s associations can keep people of color from moving into their neighborhoods; minorities can be evicted from their homes if “religion” is invoked. Even cities could ban a person or group of people, if they wish. People citing religious freedom could stone unmarried, pregnant women with impunity.

pizza

Meanwhile, a Tucson pizzeria, is taking action. Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria has a window sign with that business’s discrimination—against Arizona legislators who voted for SB 1062. Owner Anthony Rocco DiGrazia said on Facebook, “The response has been overwhelming and almost all positive from across the globe. I just want to serve dinner and own and work in a place I’m proud of. Opening the door to government-sanctioned discrimination, regardless of why, is a huge step in the wrong direction. Thanks for all the support.”

pizza 2Some media outlets have questioned whether Brewer will sign the bill because she vetoed a similar one last year. Her reason for doing that was not an objection against the bill’s content; it was a vendetta against the legislators for refusing her Medicaid expansion proposal. This year, she has no such issues. We’ll know by next week: if she either signs the bill or takes no action with five days, it will become law.

 

October 14, 2013

Day Fourteen of the GOP Government Shutdown: GOP Value System

Since the beginning of the shutdown, the GOP conservatives have been obsessed with national parks and monuments.

It began with Rep. Randy  Neugebauer (R-TX) publicly scolding a park ranger at the World War II Memorial because she was following the law. “The Park Service should be ashamed of themselves,” Neugenbauer said to the ranger. She replied it was a difficult task, but “I’m not ashamed.” He retorted, “You should be.” Since then, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have filed an ethics charge against Neugebauer for attempting to “coerce” the ranger to allow access to the memorial, that he violated a House rule requiring members to behave in “a manner that reflects the creditably on the House.”

Even yesterday, protesters are illegally forcing their way into areas that the shutdown has closed. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) led a crowd that removed barricades at the World War II memorial and chanted “tear down these walls.” Cruz said that President Obama is using military veterans as “pawns” in the shutdown argument.

These protesters, including the one carrying the Confederate flag, are most likely the same people who write letters to the editor and contact their legislators to keep the undocumented immigrants from “breaking the laws” by entering the country.

Senior House Natural Resources Committee Republicans sent a letter to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis ordering him to “not destroy documents related to the decision this week to restrict public access” to open-air memorials and monuments in the Washington area. Those documents are actually the House votes that closed the government. As Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) pointed out:

“These same veterans that they’re pretending to help today at the WWII memorial, you know, they’re going to have access to their disability pensions is going to be limited after Oct. 15. There’s going to be cuts in prosthetic research for veterans. The National Cemetery Administration is not going to be able to lay our heroes to rest at the same rate that they were. And Michele Bachmann who was there today at the World War II Memorial actually said, ‘The shutdown is exactly what we wanted. We got what we wanted.’ A good day for the tea party is when government is having a bad day.”

Arizona’s obsession with national parks was evident when one of the state “lawmakers” referred the president as “De Fuhrer” [sic] on a Facebook post, in the mistaken belief that it was he, and not her U.S. representatives, who closed down the national parks. Arizona State Rep. Brenda Barton (R) called on rogue “Constitutional Sheriffs” to arrest park service rangers for doing their jobs and urged people to ask their local sheriffs to revoke arrest powers to federal agents within their counties. When questioned about her terminology, she said she was keeping to her Adolf Hitler analogy:

 “It’s not just the death camps. [Hitler] started in the communities, with national health care and gun control. You better read your history. Germany started with national health care and gun control before any of that other stuff happened. And Hitler was elected by a majority of people.”

Arizona has now sunk even lower, if possible.  Gov. Jan Brewer is using state funds to open the Grand Canyon, yet Arizona was the only state in the nation that stopped issuing welfare checks after the federal shutdown. The $651,000 from state taxpayers will keep the park running for only a week, and there’s no guarantee that the state will be reimbursed. The federal government will reimburse the state for welfare checks if the shutdown ends.

In Arizona, 5,200 families receive an average of $207 a week from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, less money than keeping the Grand Canyon open. After protests regarding the withholding of welfare checks, Brewer reversed the halt, claiming that “just” 3,200 families failed to receive checks for October.

In its decision to use money from the rainy-day fund of $450,000,000, state senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor (D-Phoenix) explained why the state needs to re-open the Grand Canyon: “The rainy-day fund is for emergencies, and this is an emergency. This is beyond hurting the families. … Families are relying upon this.” Arizona government has determined that families relying on Grand Canyon businesses are of more value than those forced to live below poverty level, often because of rapacious corporate wages.

Brewer has been clear that the state will continue to pay for the Grand Canyon if the shutdown has not ended in five days. TANF and other critical federal programs may not be as fortunate.

During the shutdown, conservatives find national parks important, but several of them have wanted to sell them. Rep. Cliff Steans (R-FL) told a town hall meeting that the country needs to “actually sell off some of our national parks.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed selling off 3.3 million acres of public lands last fall, and former Rep. Richard Pombo suggested selling national parks to mining companies in 2005. U.S. parks created $31 billion and 258,000 jobs in 2010 while providing recreation for everyone, not just the wealthy elite—or the mining companies. Mitt Romney said that he doesn’t know “what the purpose is” of public lands, Rick Santorum said that public lands should go “back to the hands” of the private sector, and Ron Paul advocated for public lands to be turned over to the states.

People in the United States are going jobless because of the government shutdown, and some GOP Congressional members suffered a backlash from their defiant attitude toward continuing to receive salaries. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) said, “The thing of it is, I need my paycheck. That is the bottom line.”

Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) joined Ellmers in her sentiment. “Whatever gets them good press,” Terry said of members giving up their salary. “That’s all that it’s going to be. God bless them. But you know what? I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That’s just not going to fly.”

In acts of embarrassment, both Ellmers and Terry joined over 100 over members of Congress who refused to take their salaries until the end of the shutdown. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) did offer financial advice for furloughed workers:

“If you are a furloughed government employee, we encourage you to reach out to your financial institution as soon as you worry you may miss a paycheck. Financial Institutions [sic] often offer short-term loans and other resources. Don’t wait until you are behind on a bill; call now and explore your options.”

This from a man who has helped shut down the government.

Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said this afternoon that they made progress toward opening the government and stopping the U.S. from defaulting on its debts. The House, however, will have to accept any Senate decision to stop the disasters, and that cannot happen unless Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) permits a vote in the House. Yet House members may still be as confused as Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN):

“We’re not going to be disrespected… We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) said today that the House should be prepared to reject any agreement from the Senate. The classic House position comes from Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX): “We don’t have to fund laws we didn’t pass.” There goes just about every law in the history of the United States because this House has done almost nothing except rename post offices.

While Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) may oppose a debt limit deal, he says that defaulting on the nation’s debt would be “an impeachable offense by the president.” GOP logic: we won’t let you pay the bills and then we’ll impeach you if you don’t.”

Paul Krugman’s description of the Tea Party:

“So you have this neighbor who has been making your life hell. First he tied you up with a spurious lawsuit; you’re both suffering from huge legal bills. Then he threatened bodily harm to your family. Now, however, he says he’s willing to compromise: He’ll call off the lawsuit, which is to his advantage as well as yours. But in return you must give him your car. Oh, and he’ll stop threatening your family — but only for a week, after which the threats will resume.

“Not much of an offer, is it? But here’s the kicker: Your neighbor’s relatives, who have been egging him on, are furious that he didn’t also demand that you kill your dog.”

That’s the U.S. House of Representatives.

Meanwhile four of the five new Nobel-prize winners working for the government are furloughed while members of Congress are still being paid. Taxpayers are still paying for the lawmakers’ gym. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) said, “This job is very stressful and if you don’t have a place to vent, you are going to go crazy.” (It may not have provided that assistance to all members of the Congress.) A week ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that the Senate’s gym was becoming “rank.” Yesterday he said that he wouldn’t vote for any agreement that compromises John Boehner’s (R-OH) leadership. That gym is going to get a lot more rank.

GOP values: I’ve got mine; too bad for you.

May 19, 2013

Religion, Our Country’s Culture Crisis

As I grew up, politics and religion seemed to be separate, unlike the last few decades. My partner (a very smart person!) and I pondered about when and how the fundamental evangelical Protestants became the power in the United States.

After the rigid Puritans settled the New World during the seventeenth century, other persecuted religious groups coming to America diluted the Puritans’ power. Although evangelicals, Baptists, and Methodists proselytized the colonies in the eighteenth century, thinkers behind the organization of the new country were largely Deists who, in their rejection of the Christ’s divinity, were comparable to today’s Unitarians. They were the ones who cemented the “wall of separation” between church and state. At the same time, the American Revolution strengthened the view that God was “partial” to this country.

During the nineteenth century, revivals crossed the country in spurts, and new religions such as the Mormon Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Church of Christ, Scientist gained their footings. The revivals of the early twentieth century established fundamentalist Christian religions such as that of the Foursquare Church from Aimee Semple McPherson, immortalized in the Elmer Gantry, a book by Sinclair Lewis made into a movie starring Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons. During its early popularity, this religious approach occurred primarily within poorer populations and in the South. After the 21st Amendment overturned prohibition in 1933, Protestants seemed to be a religion that didn’t try to control people in the United States through the government.

John F. Kennedy’s election started that included eight years of Democratic presidents. This was the time when the conservative Southern Democrats left the party for the GOP and when conservatives laid the groundwork for later domination. During the next 24 years, the only Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, was a Southern Baptist who served just one term. 

Ironically, Tea Party that claimed to have no concern for social issues ultimately gave fundamentalist Christians the power that they craved. These conservative factions gained control through the organization of savvy politicians such as Dick Armey (formerly of FreedomWorks) and funding from corporations that found their ideology useful in adding to corporate wealth.

As the growing Tea Party was co-opted by fundamentalist Christians, it changed from the party for smaller government and no taxes into one that worked to change the United States into a theocracy. The result was a larger, controlling government because of restrictive laws to force people into their morality and their obsession to investigate anything they thought could damage the opposition. The corporations continued to financially support them because the Tea Party members support laws that increased corporate wealth. 

Now the dichotomy between fundamental and mainstream Protestantism is causing a crisis of identity within the nation. In Clash!: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are, Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Connor address the acrimony between the two parts of Protestantism.

Moderate Protestants believe in science as part of their religion, and the history of their persecution in Europe showed them the importance of the wall between religion and government. Fundamentalists don’t agree. Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a Southern Baptist, calls evolution a mere “theory,” and Texas Gov. Rick Perry agrees. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), an evangelical Lutheran, dismisses both evolution and climate change, calling it “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”  Other Republican leaders—Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, etc.—go along with the non-belief in science.

The country’s only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Santorum, a Catholic who ran for president last year, reported that when he first read these words, he “almost threw up.”

Conservative Protestants want clear social hierarchies, traditional moral codes, and more God in their lives. Their God is their best friend while moderate Protestants have a more distant God. Although warmer, the conservatives’ God is more wrathful, angrier, and more punishing while moderate Protestants see their deity as more benevolent and forgiving.   

An example of this punishment comes from a Texas judge, John Roach Jr., who invoked his “morality clause” and punished Carolyn Compton for living with her partner out of wedlock. If the partner doesn’t move out within 30 days, Compton will lose her two children. Because Texas does not recognize same-sex marriage, Compton cannot marry, Page Price, her partner of three years. Therefore she loses her loving partner or her children to an abusive man.

Fundamentalists also perceive God’s punishing the entire country. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) recently claimed that the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Benghazi attack were judgments by God as a way to punish America.

Pat Robertson’s recent marriage advice to a woman who called his program and asked how to forgive her cheating husband shows the fundamentalist perspective of hierarchy.

As the woman was talking, Robertson interrupted her:

“Stop talking about the cheating. He cheated on you. Well, he’s a man, okay. What you do is begin to focus on why you married him in the first place, on what he does good.” 

“Does he provide a home for you to live in? Does he provide food for you to eat? Does he provide clothes for you to wear? Is he nice to the children, do you have a happy family? Does he take the kids to sporting events? Does he go out and watch their Little League games? Does he share with you stuff that is going on? 

“And…uh…is he handsome, or is he, you know, what is it? Start focusing on those things and essentially fall in love with him all over again, and I recommend that you reach out and touch him. Touch his face! Hold his hand. Look into his eyes. Talk to him…”

“He must have some good points, or you wouldn’t have married him. So, give him honor, instead of trying to worry about it…but recognize, like it or not, that males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.

“Reach out and think of the good stuff, then begin to thank God that you have a marriage that is together and that you live in America and that good things are happening…” 

Thus the Seventh Commandment applies only to women. 

Will Robertson continues his belief about LGBT people, who he equals with murderers and rapists and thieves? Or continue to believe in Bachmann’s theory of punishment about the 9/11 attacks being caused by feminism, ”a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”? When pigs fly?

The Arizona government has established the same anti-LGBT punishment policy. After Phoenix included LGBT and disabled citizens in its anti-discrimination law to give them rights in housing and employment, religious leaders, including the Roman Catholics, said that the new law could “trample on religious liberties.” To save religion, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth and Sen. Steve Yarbrough reintroduced a tweaked, already-defeated bill as an amendment to an unrelated bill in order to skip a second public hearing. 

Language for the bill written by a conservative group, Center for Arizona Policy, states that no government entity can “burden” religious freedom, a “stand your ground” law for the religious. It allows people to discriminate against anyone they want if they claim religious grounds as an excuse—discrimination based on personal belief. The bill passed the Arizona House by a vote of 32-24.  

The Christian News calls it a way “to expand protections for the free exercise of religion.” The bill now goes to the Senate which has 17 Republicans of 30 members. At least one Republican representative had a bit of sense. “Can I create a religion and then claim infringement?” asked Kate Brophy McGee. 

What an interesting idea! Would that happen if we have a theocracy or do we have to follow just one religion,  that of the fundamental evangelical Protestants. 

February 16, 2013

Arizona Female Prisoners Need Help

Arizona has gotten such a bad rap—deservedly—that I was delighted to see something positive about the state. Having lived in Arizona for three decades, I read with interest the letter to the editor in the most recent issue of Ms. (Winter 2013) from Sue Ellen Allen, convicted of securities fraud at the age of 57, who was allowed to teach at the Perryville women’s prison while she was incarcerated and battling breast cancer. Named for Gina Panetta, who died of myeloid leukemia soon after her release from prison, Allen’s program, Gina’s Team, uses the motto “Education, not incarceration, is the cheapest form of crime prevention.”

My positive feelings about Arizona soon dissipated after a bit of research on women in Arizona’s jails and prisons. The high number of prisoners in this country is well-known: a 2010 report stated that the U.S. has a greater share of its population behind bars than any other country in the world. In 2008, the number was 753 per 100,000 people, 240 percent higher than in 1980. Over 60 percent of these people are non-violent offenders, and non-violent drug offenders account for one-fourth of all prisoners, up from less than 10 percent in 1980.

For women in Arizona the story is much worse. The number of women admitted to Arizona state prisons increased 60 percent in the six years between 2004 and 2010, twice the rate of increase for male admissions. Arizona is also home to the only female chain gang in the entire country, thanks to the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was just re-elected after the Hispanic vote was suppressed. According to a 2012 law, only pregnant women cannot be restrained in shackles—but just during transportation, labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery.

Women in chains work in 104-degree heat.

Women in chains work in 104-degree heat.

Health care is almost non-existent for women in Arizona prisons. Allen chronicles the indifference toward her breast cancer, already diagnosed when she was convicted and sentenced. She was fortunate: other women died because they had no health care for lumps in their breast or their care came too late.

A year ago, the state agreed to investigate complaints from inmates to postpone a lawsuit. Proper medical care could have prevented inmates’ suffering as well as their loss of sight, amputations, and severe disfigurement. The prison suicide rate in Arizona is also more than twice the national average, perhaps resulting from the lack of health care. Corrections officials don’t admit the poor health care, but they said that it was harder to fill medical staff vacancies because of pending plants to privatize prison health care and rule changes that cut payment to these outside contractors.

Corrections spent $5.3 million less on full-time health-care staff salaries during the 2011 fiscal year than two years earlier, a 13.5 percent drop. Many contract providers such as Carondelet Health Network stopped doing business with Corrections, saying the reimbursement rates were too low. The expenditure per inmate was 27 percent less in the fiscal year ending in June 2011 than two years earlier.

One form of prisoner discipline killed at least one woman. The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) has over 600 outdoor cages where prisoners are confined or held while they wait for medical appointments, work, education, or treatment programs. On May 20, 2009, when the temperature was 107, Marcia Powell, a mentally ill 48-year-old woman imprisoned for prostitution, was put into one of these unshaded cages at Perryville.

Despite prison policy that “water shall be continuously available” to caged prisoners and that they should be in the cage for “no more than two consecutive hours,” guards continually denied her water and kept her in the cage for four hours. After Powell collapsed of heat stroke, she was sent to West Valley Hospital until she was taken off life support a few hours later. An autopsy report showed she had first- and second-degree burns on her face and body and a core body temperature of 108 degrees Fahrenheit.

No one was charged with her death, and some of the fired employees were reinstated. The temporary suspension on caging prisoners was lifted after media attention faded.

At the end of January, the Arizona Department of Corrections changed its healthcare provider from Wexford Heath Sources to Corizon of Brentwood (TN) after ADC threatened Wexford with a $10,000 fine for not fixing staffing problems, properly distributing medication, and communicating problems to the state. One example was a “nurse” who exposed 103 inmates to Hepatitis C because she continued to use the same needle for insulin.

Arizona officials knew that Wexford had a bad record in other places when they hired the company. Some people believe that Corizon will do no better. Now the largest prison health provider in the United States, responsible for over 400 correctional facilities with 400,000 prisoners in 31 states, Corizon has a long record of malfeasance, including the charge that its care “amounts to cruel and unusual punishment,” according to a federal, court-ordered report.

Noted privatization expert Alex Friedmann, Associate Editor of Prison Legal News, wrote, “If you take all the bad parts of the HMO [Health Maintenance Organization] and put it in a monopoly situation, then you have the private prison medical care industry…But prisoners can’t go to another clinic, can’t pick a plan.”

If you purchase produce at Wal-Mart, because it’s cheap, think of the women incarcerated at Perryville Prison. Arizona fines employees who knowingly hire undocumented workers so farmers get their laborers from ADC instead.  For almost 20 years, in compliance with state law, companies such as Martori Farms, Wal-Mart’s vendor, pay Perryville women two dollars per hour, not including travel time. They have no choice: state law mandates that all able-bodied inmates work.

A woman prisoner who worked at Martori Farms described the conditions:

 “We work eight hours regardless of conditions …. We work in the fields hoeing weeds and thinning plants … Currently we are forced to work in the blazing sun for eight hours. We run out of water several times a day. We ran out of sunscreen several times a week. They don’t check medical backgrounds or ages before they pull women for these jobs. Many of us cannot do it! If we stop working and sit on the bus or even just take an unauthorized break we get a MAJOR ticket which takes away our ‘good time’!!! We are told we get ‘two’ 15 minute breaks and a half hour lunch like a normal job but it’s more like 10 minutes and 20 minutes. They constantly yell at us we are too slow and to speed up because we are costing $150 an acre in labor and that’s not acceptable… In addition, the prison has sent women to work on the farms regardless of their medical conditions.”

One woman suffered such severe chest pains while working that she was sent to West Valley Hospital where an emergency room doctor ordered that she be exempt from the farm work crew and any other physical exertion for three to four days. Back at the prison, the nurse told the woman that they would not honor the doctor’s order and then ordered her back to work. Another woman on oxygen in a wheelchair was issued a disciplinary ticket for not working.

The number of prisoners in Arizona will continue to grow because state legislators guaranteed that all the prison beds in the for-profit prisons, which cost more than the state-operated ones, will be full. One way to do that is to provide immigrant detainees, a rich source of prisoners in Arizona. Nearly half of the 400,000 detainees are in for-profit prisoners, and Arizona isn’t always careful to make sure that these people are not U.S. citizens.

Briseira Torres of Glendale (AZ) was arrested on three counts of forgery for using her real name and real identification. She was kept in jail for over four months without bail, losing her house and car. Her 14-year-old daughter had to live with friends and could see her mother only in jail. Torres was finally released after two attorneys provided a statement from Arizona’s Office of Vital Records, proving her birth certificate was legitimate. In court, the detective continued to claim that her birth certificate had been canceled, and Torres was left without an official ID. Three months later the state still tried to cancel her legal birth certificate, despite the fact that she was born at home in Avondale (AZ) with witnesses.

This is life for women prisoners in Arizona.

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