Nel's New Day

June 28, 2013

‘Moral Monday’ Gives Hope

While legislators in North Carolina have systematically taken state resources from most of the taxpayers and transferred tax cuts to the wealthy, a group of protesters have continued to make their objections clear during the past two months, even to the point of being arrested. Called “Moral Monday,” the protest gathered the largest crowd this past week, about 5,000 people gathered. Of those 120 were arrested.

Although the GOP legislators would like to dismiss these protesters as “crazies,” many of them do their organizing in mainstream churches. Volunteers hand out green strips of fabric for people who are willing to be arrested. Those who have already been arrested are discouraged from signing up for arrest because of the weightier charge for repeat offenders.

For the most recent protest, Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Moral Monday protests, asked during his invocation, “How do you say cutting 500,000 people’s health care is the moral thing to do?” He continued, “When you hurt the poor, you are not faithfully executing the constitution.” All the people standing behind him in this photo were arrested last Monday.

Armenta Eaton spoke about the reason that her 92-year-old mother, Rosanell Eaton, was willing to be arrested for her protests:

“What brought her out was the possibility of requiring voter ID. She was required when she was 21 years old to repeat the preamble to the Constitution in order to register. She did it! She didn’t even know she had to do it, she was just smart. They would yank you around back in those days. She was valedictorian of her class, she knew all that stuff. It’s what she had to go through. She thought things were smooth sailing. She’s seen the good, bad, and the ugly. Now she’s seeing the ugly again. She fought for civil rights, she was a civil rights worker, and now she sees that it’s going backward.”

Chris Carter talked about how the rules protecting water quality have been “stripped away and are under attack.” Darlene Burns said she was doing it for her grandchildren.

“I want a better state for them to grow up in. I’ve got three that are still in the public schools. They’re decimating education and it’s not fair to the kids. It’s attacks on the unemployed, it’s turning down the Medicaid. It’s too many things to list. I’m nervous. I’ve never done this before. But it’s too important not to.”

Charles Warren explained that “it’s about the cause. So much to hurt the middle class, the unemployed, taking Medicaid away from 500,000 people, reducing unemployment. This is terrible for our state. Terrible for the people who’re going to be laid off. I’m really in favor of kicking all these legislators out.”

One man explained that next week 71,000 North Carolinians will lose federal extended unemployment benefits because of a new state law that reduces the maximum benefit an individual can receive. North Carolina is the only state to reject these federal benefits, which come at no cost to the state.

Sen. Thom Goolsby (R) calls them “Moron Mondays,” and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) accuses protestors of not being from North Carolina. McCrory and the legislature rejected an expansion of Medicaid in their state, despite the fact that the federal government would be footing the bill. As a result, 500,000 poor North Carolinians will not receive health insurance.

In 2010, one person was largely responsible for giving both houses of the North Carolina to the legislature for the first time since 1870.  Jane Mayer reported for the New Yorker in 2011, “three-quarters of the spending by independent groups in North Carolina’s 2010 state races came from accounts linked to” wholesale baron Art Pope. When McCrory replaced Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue last January, the GOP had total control of the state.

Here are Art Pope’s dream bills going through the legislature:

Voter Suppression: In addition to requiring voter ID, the state cut early voter hours and eliminated voting on the Sunday before Election Day. Another bill would raise taxes on families with college students if the child registers to vote at school rather than at home. The state would no longer consider the child a dependent even though the parents pay all the bills.

Fewer Taxes for Wealthy: The bill would erase all individual and corporate income taxes and replace them with higher sales taxes that disproportionately burden lower-income taxpayers. A similar bill in Louisiana would raise taxes for 80 percent of the people while giving those in the top 1 percent an average tax cut of $25,423.

Anti-Abortion Moves: New restrictions such as requiring doctors to have admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic would seriously hamper the work of the clinics. Conservatives claim that this is a safety measure, but hospitals refuse these doctors privileges. Also the House has just passed a bill requiring teachers to tell their students that abortions will increase risks of future premature births, despite the fact that this is a lie.

Anti-Worker Constitutional Amendment: Legislators want to lock the prevention of collective bargaining into the state constitution, making it even easier for companies to pressure workers against unionizing.

Subsidizing Home Schooling: A bill would give families a $1,250 per semester tax subsidy if they home school their children.

Judges for Sale: The bills would allow attorneys and special interest groups the ability to provide campaign funds for judges.

State Sponsored Religion: A GOP-backed resolution proclaimed that the U.S. Constitution “does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional,” and then decreeing that North Carolina could establish its own state religion. That one failed, but it didn’t put anything into effect even if it passed.

Climate Change Denial: The state is banned from basing coastal policies on the most recent scientific predictions of sea level rise.

There are many more laws, some of them very strange, including preventing Tesla Motors from emailing its customers and banning “foreign law” in the state. Fracking in the state is legal now, however, because an exhausted senator pressed the wrong number. State law prevents her from changing her votes if it changes the result of the vote.

Only a few hundred protesters could fit inside the building. Orders of magnitude more waited outside. The others waited outside. Inside, people chanted, sang songs, and gave speeches.

North Carolina has no collective bargaining rights in North Carolina, even for public employees unions. One police officer thanked those arrested at the detention center for helping him get more overtime pay. Another officer described protesters as “very nice,” “orderly,” and “great to deal with.”

After the first bus headed off to jail with protesters, the crowd chanted, “You’re gonna need another bus ’cause baby there are more of us.” Some of the protesters went back to the church where they had gathered earlier for a potluck and planning for next week.

bus

Eaton was released from the detention center at around 9pm as well-wishers cheered her on. Many protesters returned to the Pullen Baptist Church afterward for a potluck where they traded stories and began to think about what more they can do next week.

The first people arrested on Moral Monday over eight weeks ago were to appear in court last Monday and expected to plead not guilty. Almost all the protesters have been charged with second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse, and violating building rules. NAACP legal advisor Irv Joyner, also a law professor at N.C. Central University, said that many of those charged with breaking building rules by displaying signs were not holding one. He also said:

“On public property, people can’t be directed to disperse or leave unless someone is engaged in unlawful activity. You can apply the same rational to the trespassing charge, which is the same idea. If you have a right to be there, that’s not trespassing.”

In addition, building rules allow visitors to move about freely unless they create disturbances.

Moral Monday gives me hope for change in this country.

May 1, 2013

ALEC, GOP Want Bangladeshi Model

It’s International Workers’ Day, the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago when people protested for the eight-hour workday. When someone threw a bomb at the police trying to disperse the assembly, they fired into the crowd and killed four of the demonstrators.

Also this week, ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is having its “Spring Task Force Summit” to organize legislatures against not only workers but everyone else except the wealthy. Corporations give so-called lawmakers already-prepared legislation to take back to their states with the purpose of eliminating workers’ rights, public education, and environmental and consumer protections. Other ALEC laws suppress voter rights, lower corporate tax rates, and undermine food safety through “ag gag” laws. Of course, the elected officials present this legislation as their own, hiding the fact that corporations drafted the bills.

Sitting on all nine ALEC task forces, corporations such as Koch industries fund ALEC and are equal members to the legislators who take away 1,000 bills each year. Twenty percent of these make it into law for unsuspecting state residents. Spinning itself as “transparent,” ALEC keeps its organization invisible, refusing to release its agendas.

Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir, an ALEC Board Member, is on the ALEC National Board of Directors, until recently chaired the ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force, and was the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin. Last October she wrote an op-ed, “In Defense of ALEC,” that was published in Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel.

In response to an open records request for all ALEC-related records relating to the Oklahoma meeting, however, Vukmir’s office replied that they do “not have any documents that are responsive to your request.” Yet a Texas legislator released an ALEC email with a link to its Health and Human Services Task Force agenda that Vukmir had led in the past.

ALEC avoids direct email in communicating model bills and meeting agendas. Instead, it provides a link to an Internet drop box for access to documents. The link expires in 72 hours. Thus the Texas legislator provided the email but not the contents of the ALEC’s folder, despite the fact that the request for information specifically asked for that information.

Last year, the Center for Media and Democracy filed a lawsuit against five Wisconsin legislators for hiding from the open records law by using a personal email account, such as gmail or yahoo, for ALEC correspondence. As part of the settlement, legislators, who agreed that they had failed to release ALEC-related emails, promised that they would in the future.

Missouri is another state sympathetic to ALEC and its corporations. At least 60 legislators belong to ALEC, and over 40 bills have come from ALEC model bills. These include so-called right to work laws which remove union rights, support for the Keystone XL pipeline, acceleration for the privatization of public schools, and others that create legal and financial shields for corporations whose products injure or kill people.

Legislators financially benefit from ALEC “scholarships:” corporate-funded gifts of flights, meals, and hotel rooms for those who attend ALEC meetings.  ALEC provided South Dakota legislators over $4 million in scholarships, while state taxpayers were charged hundreds of thousands of dollars for legislators’ ALEC memberships and trips to ALEC meetings. In turn, ALEC gave state residents the “Stand Your Ground” law that increased homicides in states by 8 percent and climate change denier education in the schools.

ALEC benefits in North Carolina from millionaire Art Pope, the state’s budget director, who also funds state campaigns for legislators who will provide giveaways to corporations. His latest project is “tax reform” giving cuts to the wealthiest 20 percent and increasing taxes for the bottom 60 percent. Thus a person making $24,000 would pay an additional $500 whereas a $1-million earner could get a $41,000 decrease.

By supporting what they call “free enterprise” or the “free market,” ALEC supports what I could call the “Bangladesh model.” Hundreds of Banglideshi workers die because of burning or falling to their death in substandard buildings. Through the destruction of regulations, worker safety, living wages, and human rights, ALEC will bring these same disasters to the United States.

GOP lawmakers want “labor reforms” to support “free trade,” increasing exports. Nations can use one of two ways to be competitive in exporting: either develop a more skilled workforce or slash working class wages. In their anti-education approach, the GOP has decided that the latter is far more effective. The result is worsening recessions, which makes the GOP try to further slash wages in a frantic “race to the bottom.” Out of this race, the laws create crime as corporations refuse to pay not only overtime but also the wages that they have already promised.

ALEC claims to “foster the discussion and debate of policy differences in an open, transparent way” and boasts of being an “open exchange of ideas.” Both the press and average citizens, however, are barred from ALEC meetings. A petition is circulating to disseminate information about ALEC.

While ALEC provides regressive bills to GOP legislators, conservatives in  South Carolina are having trouble replacing former Republican Tim Scott with another conservative. Mark Sanford, infamous for exposed trip to Argentina to visit his mistress and the ensuing divorce mess, continues to look like a fool.

AshleyMadison.com, a website that connects users looking to have casual affairs, spent only $6,000 for this billboard featuring Sanford’s photograph on I-26 that gets almost 60,000 cars daily.

sanford_billboard_ashleymadisoncom_605

The major GOP organizations may have abandoned Sanford, but Freedomworks, the conservative PAC that its founder Dick Armey left in disgust, gave $7,000 for yard signs and door hangers. The anti-abortion group National Right to Life added a bit more money for mailers and fundraising calls. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is having a fundraiser tonight. And both Pauls, Sen. Rand (R-KY) and former Rep. Ron (R-TX) have endorsed Sanford.

The elder Paul also endorsed Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) for senate. Last year Broun declared that “evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory” are all “lies straight from the pit of hell.” Broun is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. He has compared President Obama to Hitler and said that the president was interested only in upholding the “Soviet constitution.”

My favorite endorsement of Sanford, however, comes from Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, who praised him as “the sex pioneer of our time.”

Flynt added:

“Sanford’s open embrace of his mistress in the name of love, breaking his sacred marriage vows, was an act of bravery that has drawn my support. His attack on sexual hypocrisy is the only issue in this campaign. It is what defines Mark Sanford. Placing sex at the top of the agenda, he continues his courageous fight, demanding forgiveness while brazenly hugging his mistress at campaign parties.”

Of Sanford’s supporters, Flynt said,

“They have the courage to toss aside lifelong convictions to embrace the sex pioneer of our time. They have rejected the religious teachings of their Bible-thumping preachers and tossed the false sanctity of marriage into the trashcan. Sanford’s fellow pioneers are teaching their children the invaluable lesson that traditional values are nothing more than a scam.”

I love the dilemma in South Carolina this coming Tuesday. Do conservatives vote for a symbol of  free sex or—horrors—a Democrat.

[Update: In a final act of desperation, conservatives have started a smear campaign against Sanford’s opponent with not one shred of truth to it. People claiming to be from SSI polling are calling homes with bogus questions such as “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she had had an abortion?”; “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if she had done jail time?”; and “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you a judge held her in contempt of court at her divorce proceedings?” There’s no validity to any of these veiled accusations, but that doesn’t stop conservatives.]

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