Nel's New Day

September 20, 2016

Kaepernick Starts New Movement, Creates Dialog about Entitlement

I hate writing headlines. Long ago, as a journalism teacher, I learned that they needed verbs and should never use a form of the verb “to be.” But how to encapsulate almost 1,500 words into fewer than ten–almost impossible for me. This blog is about racism, sexism, peaceful protest, white entitlement, a new movement–and more. Here goes!

Colin Kaepernick has started a movement. In only three weeks since the San Francisco 49ers quarterback sat during the playing of the national anthem before a football game, professional athletes have been joined by athletes in colleges, high schools, and youth leagues throughout the nation to protest against the injustice for people of color and LGBT people in the United States. Instead of remaining seated, however, protesters are kneeling to show respect for the anthem and military while drawing attention to racial inequality and police brutality. The photo below is of Kaepernick and Eric Reid before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte (NC).

colin-kaepernick

The most recent protest came from four players on the Philadelphia Eagles who raised their fists during the anthem after Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man with raised hands, was shot and killed by Tulsa (OK) police officers. At least 15 black men have been killed by police since Kaepernick began his protest on August 26.

Death threats have been sent to youth as young as 11 years old, and professional players have lost endorsements. Ohio’s high school athlete, Rodney Axson, decided to join the protest after he heard his teammates refer to players on the opposing team with the “n-word.” Since then, he has been the brunt of this term as well as a message that reads “Lets Lynch Ni—gers.” The school now plays the anthem while the team remains in the locker room. The same thing happened after lesbian Megan Rapinoe, Seattle Reign’s professional soccer star, knelt during the national anthem.

Lincoln (NE) Southeast High School student Sterling Smith explained his kneeling:

“I’ve learned that walking in the ‘wrong neighborhood’ past 10:00 o’clock wearing colored skin can get you questioned by the police because you clearly have ulterior motives. I’ve learned that blatant racism is only humor and that I need to ‘not take it so seriously.’ I’ve learned that going to a store will get you followed by employees because obviously your intentions are to steal.”

Donald Trump led the hatred toward a man who conservatives call “unpatriotic,” and NFL executives have unleashed their anger, one of them going as far as to call him a “traitor.” The flag is sacred to these people while women are disposable as shown by Darren Sharper’s nomination to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Less a month ago, he was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison as a serial rapist after pleading guilty in May 2015 for drugging and raping women in four different states as well as pleading guilty or no contest to rape or attempted rape charges involving nine women. Sharper also has other pending cases, including those in state courts. Asked about the nomination, a Hall of Fame said that it’s not about “character.” And Sharper always stood for the national anthem.

David Brooks’ column criticizing athletes for kneeling in protest goes beyond absurd as he revises history to persuade athletes to stand instead of kneel. He describes America’s “civil religion” in 1776 being based on the “moral premise—that all men are created equal.” The omission of women is correct because women still aren’t equal, but the only “equal” men in 1776 were the white landowners. Blacks were considered three-fifths of the other white men as determined in the U.S. Constitution and white men who didn’t own property couldn’t vote. An attempted justification for the clause (Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution of 1787) explains that only enslaved blacks were three-fifths of white people, but this clause remained in the U.S. Constitution until the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments passed almost 100 years later after the Civil War.

Brooks continues his history piece by explaining that this “promised land” is “a place where your family or country of origin would have no bearing on your opportunities.” The entitled white man producing this elegant rhetoric couldn’t be more wrong, and the facts are the reason behind the protests. Yet Brooks attempts to educate protesters that their belief comes from colleges’ not requiring U.S. history—the same high school class that has been co-opted by revisionist historians who want to conceal any bigotry or genocide in our “promised land.”

Another criticism from Brooks is that the number of people in the U.S. who feel “extremely proud” of the nation has fallen since 2003. That was the year of George W. Bush’s preemptive war on Iraq and the acceleration to move the country’s assets from the poor and middle-class workers to the wealthy coupon-clippers. One issue in which he might be right is that “we have a crisis of solidarity.” Unlike Brooks’ impression that the “solidarity” can come from standing instead of kneeling during the national anthem, however, it could come from a cultural shift away from Brooks white entitlement encouraged by Donald Trump’s support of white supremacy.

Missing from Brooks’ pap is that the protest comes from the verse of the anthem that “celebrates the killing of freed slaves who fought against a U.S. government that had kept them in bondage,” as journalist Adam Johnson wrote. Johnson also pointed out that the NFL started the standing for the national anthem in 2009 as the NFL got much more money from the Defense Department instead of being “passed down generation after generation,” as Brooks claims in his column.

Jim Aloisi wrote this statement—and much more—about David Brooks’ column:

“We don’t need the salve of fiction or myth to bring us together as Americans. What we need is a good dose of honesty about our past and our present, an honest conversation leavened and facilitated by civility. The last thing we need is repression of deeply felt emotions that lead to the kind of silent statements being made on sports fields across the nation. If Americans stand in solidarity for anything, it ought to be respect for the exercise of free speech and expression. In this instance, respect for the exercise of that freedom ought to be joined by a candid respect for our history, and a frank acknowledgment of conditions that today still cause many of our citizens to be treated unequally. If we get that right, solidarity will follow.”

Other white conservatives also trash Kaepernick. Columnist Jonah Goldberg thinks that politics has no place in sports. Wayne Newton said that Kaepernick should “get the hell out” if he doesn’t like racism. Tucker Carlson, Rush Limbaugh, and others claim that Kaepernick’s wealth takes away his right to protest racism. People angry about street violence in protest to racial inequality also oppose peaceful protests.

Some treat the protest as an isolated event in sports, but Leonard Pitts wrote about Jackie Robinson long ago writing, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.” As Pitts wrote, protest in the United States “is an act of faith, an expression of the belief that a country founded on that great, self-evident truth can do—and be—better.”

The biggest accusation toward Kaepernick is that he is “un-American” for his actions—always a device to shut people up. (Think of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s committee on “Un-American Activities.”) Calling Kaepernick “a noble and courageous man,” Harry Belafonte said:

“To mute the slave has always been to the best interests of the slave owner … When a black voice is raised in protest to oppression, those who are comfortable with our oppression are the first to criticize us for daring to speak out against it.”

The day after Kaepernick made his first statement about his protest, a black GI started #VeteransForKaepernick to answer complaints about the football player’s disrespect of veterans and soldiers. Answers showed their discontent with U.S. actions—police brutality toward black GIs, lack of treatment for those who return home with physical and mental trauma, homeless, lack of jobs, suicide, etc.

Women who want to protest the nomination of Darren Sharper to the Hall of Fame can sign this petition to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell.

April 6, 2015

The ‘Cake Wars’

lego cakeThe second decade of the twenty-first century may go down in history as the time of the “cake wars”: fundamentalist Christians think that the only problem with declaring unfettered religious freedom in the business world is that same-sex couples would be denied wedding cakes. And maybe a few flowers and a bit of pizza too. The whole rumor started after Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a Gresham (OR) bakery, refused to fill an order for a wedding cake from a lesbian couple. Although the couple did not sue, they filed a complaint with the state of Oregon. An administrative law judge declared that Sweet Cakes’ action was discriminatory and allowed the Bureau of Labor and Industries to impose a fine of up to $150,000.

The firestorm swept across the country after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill into law that allowed anyone to deny any service or product to anyone else because of declared religious beliefs. The final section of the law stated that “there is not a higher protection offered by the state than the person’s protection of a person’s right to religious belief.”

Hundreds of business leaders, sports figures, celebrities, Christian groups, and almost a dozen cities and states—even NACAR–threatened to boycott Indiana because of the new law. The religious right, however, fought back. “Cake is speech,” Indiana pastor Tim Overton said on NPR. He followed that up by saying that no one would use any Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to deny anyone anything except flowers and wedding cakes. Just because people can do it, they probably wouldn’t.

Lee's graphicWorse than this mistaken belief is the downright misconceptions of RFRAs throughout the nation. The federal law was passed for religious minorities in 1993 after an American Indian was fired because of his religious use of peyote. After fundamentalist Christians felt threatened by marriage equality, 19 states jumped on the bandwagon with state RFRAs. Although conservatives claimed that Indiana’s law was patterned after the federal one, it granted far more rights on the basis of “religious liberty.” The law that Pence originally granted “religious rights” to any person or company if those religious objectors had a “substantial ownership,” not even majority control. Also, the government does not need to be a party to case, geometrically increasing the number of lawsuits possible. When some legislators tried to add an amendment to block the law’s use for discrimination, the majority refused, acknowledging that they wanted to use it for discrimination, allowing majority religions the control.

Other conservatives argued that the new Indiana law was no problem because the state had no protections for LGBT people. Although they are correct about the state, various municipalities throughout Indiana had anti-discrimination ordinances which were then negated by the new state law.

Exactly one week after Pence signed the law and subsequently declared that he didn’t want to change the law, he signed a new bill last week that stopped people from using the first law from discriminating to against LGBT people. The fix to Indiana’s discriminatory overreach, designed to mollify protesters, was still not satisfactory, at least to some businesses. “Our position is that this ‘fix’ is insufficient,” Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle said. “There was not a repeal of RFRA and no end to discrimination of homosexuals in Indiana. Employers in most of the state of Indiana can fire a person simply for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning. That’s just not right and that’s the real issue here.” That’s from a man who led the campaign of Pence’s GOP predecessor.

After the Indiana fiasco, Georgia dropped its discrimination bill—for now. Montana, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming also defeated RFRAs.

Arkansas passed a watered down religious belief bill that lacks non-discrimination protections. It can still be used against people of color, minority faiths, women, and anyone else with references in the bible. It is also binding for the entire state because Arkansas passed a law in February that prohibits anti-discrimination ordinances to protect LGBT people in any of the state’s municipalities.

North Carolina is lukewarm about a bill that goes farther than Indiana’s law. Unlike 17 RFRAs in the country, it states that obeying the law is a “burden” to their religious liberty, not a “substantial burden.” Even Arkansas included the term “substantial.” North Carolina added that there must be a “governmental interest of the highest magnitude” to justify overriding religious beliefs. Unworried about the bill’s effect on people, state House Speaker Tim Moore said he wants to know how such a law would “improve North Carolina’s brand.” He also wants “to make sure we don’t harm our brand.”

Eight other states are considering the creation or alteration of RFRAs.

Before the uproar about the Indiana law, most people believed that LGBT people faced no discrimination in lodging, renting, hiring, etc. across the nation. Indiana’s law forced that information out into the open. Now their only justification is to say that those who face discrimination are not “tolerant” or that LGBT people make a “choice” to face this discrimination.

Conservatives who wail about their lack of rights try to punish pro-LGBT businesses.  Former Arizona TV evangelist Joshua Feuerstein called Cut the Cake in Longwood (FL) to order a cake that stated, “We do not support gay marriage.” Bakery owner Sharon Haller thought it was an April Fool’s joke and told him no. Feuerstein posted a recording of the telephone call on YouTube, and Haller received death threats. Her business came to a halt until people posted positive comments on her Facebook page. Haller could prosecute Feuerstein. Sarasota lawyer Andrea Flynn Mogensen said Florida law requires all parties to consent before recording a telephone conversation. Violation is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies determined that a Denver bakery did nothing wrong when the owner refused to write “God hates gays” on a cake because the message on the cakes would be “derogatory.” Bill Jack wanted a cake showing two groomsmen with a red “x” over them and messages about homosexuality being a sin. There was no discrimination because Silva would have responded to any other customer in the same way.

Bigotry is becoming a cottage industry across the nation. Memories Pizza in Walkerton announced that it would not cater any gay weddings, despite the fact that they have never been asked to do so. The owner garnered not only the free publicity that she wanted but also a large donation for a GoFundMe account. The irony is that half the $842,500 that she received will go to the government in the form of taxes; conservatives who hate the government are giving it a nice little chunk of money. A florist in Washington, fined $1,000 for not serving a lesbian couple, has received $90,000.

David Brooks, columnist for the supposedly liberal New York Times, criticized LGBT people for not using politeness and “gentle persuasion” until society decides to grant same-sex rights. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields agreed with Brooks on PBS News Hour last Friday on a panel that has featured contrasting viewpoints before the Koch brothers started massive funding of public television. They agreed it ws acceptable to deny services, employment, etc.—in short, fairness—to LGBT people until society voluntarily changes its mind with no impetus. Shields said that the question of religious liberty has been “lost” in the debate over gay rights. Michael Hulshof-Schmidt wrote, “[This position] puts the blame on the victims, wondering why we have to push so hard to make ourselves heard.”

Brooks and Shields forgot to ask the evangelical Christians to develop this “politeness.” In fact, fundamentalists are more of a minority in approval ratings than the LGBT community. In a recent poll of likely voters, 53 percent responded favorably to LGBT people whereas only 42 percent had a favorable view of evangelical Christians. Eighteen percent had unfavorable views of LGBT people, and 28 percent were negative toward evangelical Christians.

 

lee.s picture 2People who want to wait until religious people are voluntarily willing to give LGBT rights neglect history. The people who sat waiting for service at Woolworth’s 55 years ago didn’t want a sandwich: they wanted fairness and equality. Approval rating of biracial marriage when it was legalized in 1967 was 20 percent compared to the 59 percent approval of same-sex marriage now when it’s still not recognized in the entire United States.

Fed up with his religion being defined by hate, Rev. Drew Ludwig, pastor at Buffalo’s (NY) Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, has organized the “Christian Cake Mob.” The group bakes cupcakes and hands them out near Allentown’s gay bars. People from all faiths are chipping into the effort that Ludwig posted on social media. Ludwig said he won’t be discriminating because they will also give cupcakes to straight people.

cupcakeWhen is a cake not just a cake? When it’s used as a symbol to refuse service to anyone.

February 8, 2015

President Obama Calls for Humility, Gets Slammed

The National Prayer Breakfast, organized by the far-right congressional religious group called the Fellowship Foundation usually passes by with little notice from mainstream media. When prominent evangelical members from “The Family” supporting this annual event connected with people who pushed the Ugandan “kill the gays” bill to criminalize homosexuality, mainstream media said almost nothing. This year, however, legislators and media figures across the country are atwitter after President Obama tried to explain that violence in the name of religion is a global problem across all religions.

Syria’s war, Nigeria’s killings, Europe’s resurgence of anti-Semitism, India’s violence were some of the issues that he brought up. Where Christians in the United States objected, however, was his comparison of the Muslims’ attacks to “terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” including the Crusades. He explained, “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Jonah Goldberg’s attack on the president in the National Review was inelegantly entitled “Horse Pucky from Obama.” According to Goldberg, the Crusades were justified because of Muslim aggression: it was a “defensive war.” In reality, the Roman Catholic Church paid people from Europe to try to take over Jerusalem—900 years before the United States paid people to take over the Middle East for its own selfish gain. To Goldberg, the Inquisition was a way to stop lynchings. He missed the point that anyone who didn’t declare themselves part of mainstream Christianity, usually after extreme torture, were killed—frequently burned.

In the past, the U.S. has used Christianity as an excuse for colonizing, slavery, discrimination, and cultural destruction. African slaves in the United States were murdered, lynched, burned, and beheaded, and the practice went on for a large part of a century after their emancipation. In the present, the name of Christ is still being used to torment, torture, and kill people in the United States and around the world.

A bizarre part of the argument is that only the Crusades have been referenced, perhaps because the current Christian bigotry in the U.S. is too uncomfortable to discuss. On Meet the Press, conservative Jon Meacham stated that the Crusades was an exception to the rule, as if Christians have not used religion to persecute others outside the eleventh century. Sometimes liberal, but less so as time passes, Andrea Mitchell said that the prayer breakfast was not a place to bring up the issue. To her, “the word Crusade” is “too fraught.” Because “you have to deal with issues that are in front of you,” mentioning anything else is too “nuanced.”

Even more bizarre, however, was David Brooks’ defense of Obama on the same program.

“I am pro Obama. I am totally pro Obama on this. I think he said the right thing. It was a gospel of humility. What sorts of people need a little gospel of humility? People in Washington, pundits, religious believers, — I happen to be all three of those things — and so we are told to walk humbly in the path, that the Lord’s paths are mysterious. And so he was saying we are prone to zealotry. As Jon said we are fallen. So to underline that, that’s useful in Washington today. That’s useful always.”

Earlier this week, the Fox network used the president’s religious speech to attack him by claiming that President Obama is attacking Christianity. According to Eric Bolling, only Muslims kill people in the name of religion:

“Reports say radical Muslim jihadists killed thousands of people in the past few months alone. And yet when you take Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, whatever, their combined killings in the name of religion––well, that would be zero.”

If al-Quaeda had sent death threats to a Christian doctor and then killed him, far-right Christians would be outraged. Yet Dr. George Tiller was killed in his church by anti-abortionist terrorist Scott Roeder on May 31, 2009 after decades of threats and an earlier shooting. Far-right Christians cheered at their victory.

Middle East historian Juan Cole determined that Muslims had killed about 2 million people in the 20th century. His 2013 study revealed that during the same time Christians killed almost 100 million people in the name of Christ. Adolf Hitler’s killings were done in the name of Christianity as were the colonial wars in Southeast Asia and Africa. Although some claim that this violence was not Christian-based, combatants used their religion as part of the military campaigns just as today’s Islamist militants organize around groups sharing a common religious and cultural background.

The 1990 sectarian warfare in the Balkans culminated in genocide against Muslim Bosnians by Serbian Orthodox Christians. Balkans researcher Keith Doubt explained in a 2007 paper that the “role of the Church as protector of the Serbian nation gave the Church increasing social control, and with this power clergy fermented a xenophobic and bigoted attitude towards Muslims in former-Yugoslavia.” The Church dispatched Orthodox chaplains to bless “Serbian forces, such as the elite Panthers commando unit, which has been accused of committing numerous atrocities, before they set off on operations.” The Church would offer “Serb warriors communion without requiring confession,” giving them absolution for the crimes they were committing to create a “Greater Serbia.”

During Rwanda’s genocide, “Churches became sites of slaughter, carried out even at the altar.” Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka wore a gun and colluded with a Hutu militia who massacred hundreds of people seeking shelter in his church. After the genocide, Catholic clergy helped church ministers who were guilty of murder flee the country and re-settle elsewhere.

A Christian militia in the Central African Republic beheaded a young Muslim man, the same thing that ISIL is doing to groups determined to be the enemy. Christian-led Mexican cartels had beheaded and killed journalists in other ways. The cartel organizations have deep financial links to Mexican churches.

After the Fox network had its worst ratings last year in 13 years, it changed a policy of not airing violent propaganda videos from terrorists. It is the only U.S. news organization to air the entire video of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaebeth who was burned in his cage. Fox anchor Bret Baier claimed that the reason was to show “the reality of Islamic terrorism.” Even Fox’s national security reporter, Catherine Herridge, admitted that the video is a recruiting tool for ISIL. Malcolm Nance, an expert on counter-terrorism and radical extremism, said, “[Fox News] are literally – literally – working for al-Qaida and ISIS’ media arm.” Before President Obama was elected, Fox frequently criticized other media outlets for airing “terrorist propaganda” because it would threaten national security and U.S. troops. They were right then; they’re wrong now. Nance said, “The whole value of terror is using the media to spread terror.”

Less than 100 years ago, the Ku Klux Klan lynched and burned a young black man, 18-year-old Jesse Washington. Afterward the body was torn into parts that were sold for souvenirs. A photograph shows white farmers, shopkeepers, and laborers from local churches in and near Waco (TX) standing behind the body. The crowd may have been as large as 15,000. A witness who sent home the photo on a postcard wrote, “This is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.” Between 1882 and 1968 were 4,743 recorded lynchings in the U.S., one-fourth of them white people who sympathized with blacks. No one knows how many recorded lynchings happened.

Kid-Setting-Barack-Obama-on-Fire-84399-e1423171421131Some of the people enraged by the president’s statement that religious people can use their beliefs in a “twisted” manner may be the same people who pass along this photo of the President of the United States. Or this lynching on the lawn of Terry Jones’ church. He is the Florida pastor who burned the Quran.

obama lynch

In his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama decried ISIL’s actions and celebrated U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae’s release from North Korea. He talked about faith as a force for good, giving as an example Kent Brantly, the doctor who lived after contracting Ebola in Liberia and donated plasma to fight the virus. He praised former NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip as an example of people who speak freely about the role of faith in their lives. Referring to his personal faith,  President Obama said he has sought God’s guidance “not just in my own life but in the life of our nation.” The mainstream media, however, is only concerned about his talking about the Crusades. Maybe it was because he concentrated on humility.

May 14, 2013

GOP View of Benghazi Falls Apart

No one questions that the killing of four people, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, at the Benghazi consulate was a tragedy. But the fallout after this disaster has been disgusting as conservatives put everyone involved on the grill—over and over. During the GOP flack last October, Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name for consideration for Secretary of State, but the House came back for another round of hearings in January. I thought that was the end of the investigations.

Like a zombie, however, it’s come back to life after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s high level of popularity. Sunday’s Meet the Press spent most of the show on the issue with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) as the star. The real star, though, was conservative columnist David Brooks.

For 15 minutes, Issa tried to justify his accusation of a coverup because an email had 12 changes and because the administration didn’t answer all the questions. One of Issa’s big talking points was that the president was wrong because he said “act of terror” instead of “terrorist act.”  He called both former CIA Director David Petraeus and Ambassador Pickering liars, even though he was sitting beside the ambassador.  Issa looked like a fool.

The real star, however, was conservative columnist David Brooks. In a follow-up discussion, he said:

 “My reading of the evidence is that a very terrible event happened at a CIA, basically a CIA facility, they went into intense blame shifting mode, trying to shift responsibility onto the State Department, onto anywhere else, and the State Department pushed back. They said no, it is not our fault. It’s your facility. And so they push back and they say why we are suddenly releasing information that we haven’t been releasing so far. So the CIA was super aggressive, there was some pushback, out of that bureaucratic struggle all the talking points were reduced to mush and then politics was inserted into it. So I don’t think we should necessarily say this is politics intruding on a CIA pure operation.”

That’s it in a nutshell: Benghazi is not the big story that the GOP want.

Refusing to be a GOP shill, moderator David Gregory ran the list of casualties at embassies over the past decades, but Issa just ignored it in the same way that he ignored the casualties at 13 embassies and consulates during Bush’s two terms—96 people killed and at least 90 people wounded. Republican lawmakers made no outcry after 241 members of the military were killed in the Beirut Barracks Bombing of 1983, despite the fact that the blame was placed on Reagan’s administration because the president ignored then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger’s attempts to change Reagan’s military orders.

One of Issa’s arguments is that the military should have charged over to Benghazi to save the day. Bush’s and Obama’s former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates disagrees. On Face the Nation, Gates called these ideas “cartoonish” and agreed with testimony given by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint  Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

Gates said:

“We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East—despite all the turmoil that’s going on—with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. And so, getting somebody there in a timely way would have been very difficult, if not impossible.”

In referring to dangers from surface-to-air missiles, he considered the sending of military aircraft in the volatile situation as too risky. “I would not have approved sending an aircraft,” Gates said, “a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.”

Trying to make hay out of nothing, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a GOP presidential candidate in 2016, travels the country, proclaiming, “I think it precludes Hillary Clinton from ever holding office. I think her mistakes were of such significance that she should never again be in that position, to make those decisions.”

Less than two months ago, Congressional members saw what they now perceive as the damning emails when lawyers from the Office of National Intelligence briefed House and Senate Intelligence Committee members. At that time, House Speaker John Boehner declined to attend or send a representative. Both Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) had said that briefing satisfied their concerns. No one from the House raised any questions. The emails were also shared with Congressional members during the confirmation of CIA Director John Brennan, who was confirmed 63-34.

Six months and one week after the 2012 election, Karl Rove’s Super PAC, American Crossroads, has launched the first ad for the 2016 campaign, using the Benghazi disaster and targeting Hillary Clinton. Polling shows that the smear campaign isn’t making a difference. Voters trust Clinton over the GOP on Benghazi by a 49 to 39 margin, and her +8 favorability at 52 to 44 is identical to that in late March. Meanwhile Congressional Republicans have a 36 to 57 unfavorability rating. By a 56 to 38 margin, voters say that passing the immigration reform bill is more important than a focus on Benghazi, and passing a bill requiring background checks for gun purchases is higher by 52 to 43.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) described Benghazi as ten times bigger than Watergate and Iran Contra put together. Even more outrageous is former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s comment, “I think it’s one of the worst incidents, frankly, that I can recall in my career.” Even worse than the lies and intelligence failures of 9/11, the Iraq War, the outing of Valerie Plame, the disasters in Afghanistan, the travesty of Abu-Graib, the failed response to Hurricane Katrina, the stock market debacle, the recession, the deaths in consulates and embassies on his watch, …?

After the Tea Party’s three-day boycott of Fox News last weekend, protesting the network’s lack of Benghazi coverage. Fox and Friends put out a highly “edited” video of President Obama. It lies about his statements regarding the “sideshow” of the GOP party. Their falsehoods have gone viral across the Internet on right-wing blogs.

Satirist Andy Borowitz gave a quality description of  the GOP dilemma:

“A deep divide has emerged within the Republican Party over whether to waste Congress’s time investigating Benghazi talking points or repealing Obamacare, G.O.P. lawmakers confirmed today.

“House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), sounded the first discordant note at a press briefing this morning, telling reporters, ‘The time for wasting day after day investigating Benghazi is over. The American people are counting us to waste our time repealing Obamacare yet again.’

“Warning that ‘the American people don’t have an endless appetite for meaningless political theater,’ Cantor added, ‘If we’re going to do something that’s purely symbolic, pointless, and detached from reality, I say it should be repealing Obamacare for the thirtieth or fortieth time.’

“Rep. Cantor’s comments drew a strong rebuke from Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has spearheaded the investigation into Benghazi: ‘Quite frankly, we have all the time in the world to blow repealing “Obamacare. The moment to waste our time investigating Benghazi is now.’ Noting that previous attempts to repeal Obamacare had cost the taxpayers approximately fifty million dollars, Issa said, ‘I think we’re entitled to spend at least that much, if not more, investigating Benghazi again and again and again.’

“But even as the debate raged over whether Obamacare or Benghazi was more worthy of Congress’ wasted time, House Speaker John Boehner offered a third point of view: ‘Personally, I think the time we’re wasting on Benghazi and Obamacare could be better spent blocking progress on guns and immigration.’”

After her appearance on Meet the Press, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote an excellent summation:

“If my Republican colleagues are serious about conducting real oversight on the tragedy in Benghazi, they should start by looking in the mirror….

“But Republicans choose to ignore these facts and are instead running negative ads and raising campaign dollars off the tragic events in Benghazi. Republicans tried and failed during the 2012 presidential election to use this tragedy for political gain and now appear eager to recycle these failed attacks. Their efforts are clearly aimed at the 2016 presidential race….

“As a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I well remember Secretary [Hillary] Clinton’s testimony following the Benghazi attack. She took responsibility and pledged to do everything in her power to put corrective measures in place….

“Republicans are shamelessly seeking to turn this tragedy into ‘Benghazi-gate’– comparing it to the Watergate scandal. Let’s remember: Watergate involved Republicans paying campaign money to break in and bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Benghazi involves Republicans cutting money for embassy security–funding that was clearly desperately needed.

“But Republican efforts to manufacture a controversy surrounding this tragedy are not only disingenuous, they are dangerous because they take our eye off the ball and divert attention from where it should be: protecting the American people and those who bravely serve our country overseas.”

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/3019154/posts  The plethora of GOP Congress members should take heed of Boxer’s advice instead of calling for a special investigative committee into Benghazi. Perhaps they will after today’s breaking news about the recently “leaked” emails. It now appears that someone falsified them to make it appear that the White House was trying to hide what happened.

After the unraveling of their Benghazi arguments, the GOP may switch their target to the IRS for targeting conservative fund-raising groups and the DoJ for obtaining Associated Press telephone records.

May 13, 2013

Immigration Reform Divides GOP

The split between the two parties has grown into internecine war during the past two years, but now the battle has moved over to the GOP party as the immigration reform bill is creating a deep divide between the far-right conservatives and the extremists. (The moderate Republicans are now almost extinct.) As the Senate Judiciary Committee started to work on over 300 amendments to the 844-page bill, the tear between the two parts of the GOP daily became increasingly obvious.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) a politician with a very checkered past, leads the opposition, even calling the bill’s architects “dishonest.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is fighting back with his own “myth vs. fact” campaign, probably difficult for a politician whose positions tend to lean toward “myth.”

Republicans know their party’s survival is dependent on more more votes from women and people of color, especially after the announcement that Mitt Romney got only 17 percent of the minority vote, but this knowledge doesn’t affect some of the vitriolic speech.

Starting out as a bipartisan act, the proposal was drafted by four Republican and four Democratic senators. The bill strengthens Southwest border security and creates new guest-worker programs, especially for the badly needed low-skilled labor. The magical path to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S. would require 13 years along with paying back taxes, fines, and fees.

A major player on the extremist, anti-immigration side is the Heritage Foundation, newly headed by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). Supposedly a non-partisan “think tank,” the group published a report last week claiming that the bill would cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion, a number that came out of thin air. In contrast, the Social Security Administration estimates that the reform would add more than $275 billion in revenue to Social Security and Medicare, increase the gross domestic product by 1.63 percent, and provide more than 3 million jobs over the next decade. 

The report drew much controversy after the discovery that co-author Jason Richwine believes that  race determines intelligence. Richwine said:

“You have Jews with the highest average IQ, usually followed by East Asians, then you have non-Jewish whites, Hispanics, and then blacks. These are real differences, and they’re not going to go away tomorrow, and for that reason we have to address them in our immigration discussions and our debates.”

Even the lead author of the report, Robert Rector, admitted that he wrote the report for Heritage Foundation without looking at the entire bill. The Rector/Richwine report of 2013 is a 180-degree turn from the 2006 report published in 2006 that noted, “Worker migration is a net plus economically.”

Following ridicule—except from white nationalist websites—Richwine resigned, and the Heritage Foundation tried to distance itself from him. Yet the far-right organization is still stuck with his presence on their report, created to give cover to GOP lawmakers who wants to reject the bipartisan immigration reform bill.

One of DeMint’s dissenters is “no-new-tax” Grover Norquist, who claims that the bill would increase tax revenue by growing the economy. (I always worry about my thinking when I agree with Norquist.) Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention has asked that lawmakers consider “the human dignity” of the immigrants, and evangelicals started a pro-reform prayer campaign last Wednesday. Although formerly friends with DeMint, Rubio took particular umbrage at the Heritage Foundation statements.

Attempting to drown the bill by weighting it down, Congressional lawmakers have proposed the following amendments:

Prevents undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens. Sort of defeats the purpose of the bill. (Sen. Ted Cruz, TX)

Require DNA testing. This is to compare against the Combined DNA Index System at the FBI. (Sen. Orrin Hatch, UT)

Prohibit undocumented immigrants from applying for permanent residence if they qualify for any government assistance. No supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), no the temporary assistance for needy families program (TANF), no supplemental security income benefits (SSI), no nothing. (Sen. Jeff Sessions, AL)

Ban humanitarian travel. Anyone returning to a home country for any humanitarian reason, such as visiting a sick relative, couldn’t reenter the United States. The current provisional legal status requires authorization for such travel. (Sen. Chuck Grassley, IA)

Deletes family re-unification. Points on a green card for entering the country would not allow points for siblings of U.S. citizens. (Sen. Jeff Sessions, AL)

Mandate in-person interviews for 11 million immigrants. That will most likely add a few decades to the process for 11 million people. (Sen. Jeff Sessions, AL)

Limit visas to South Korea. E-5 visas from all South Korean immigrants will be withheld until the country removes its age-based import restrictions on beef. (Sen. Chuck Grassley, IA)

Enforces head-of-household deportation and cause family separations. The current bill allows immigration to decline to deport people if they believe this would result in hardship for his or her U.S. citizen child. The party of family values doesn’t believe in keeping families together. (Sen. Chuck Grassley, IA)

Prevent low-income undocumented immigrants from seeking legalization. People have to make above 400 percent of the poverty line (more than $92,000 for a family of four) instead of the current bill that requires 100 percent of the poverty line or show regular employment. Sessions may not be aware that about two-thirds of the people in the United States make under this magical 400 percent—and in his state, 70 percent make less than that. (Sen. Jeff Sessions, AL)

Restrict visas for refugees. Nobody could apply for refugee and asylum status until one year after the Director of National Intelligence submits a review related to the Boston bombings to Congress. (Sen. Chuck Grassley, IA)

Allow undocumented immigrants to be hired, but only as domestic workers. These would specifically include cooks, waiters, butlers, governessess, maids, valets, gardeners, footmen, grooms, and chauffeurs. (Mike Lee, UT) 

Allow for racial profiling. Federal law enforcements could take into account a person’s country of origin when allowing them into the country. This comes from the party that’s screaming about the IRA’s profiling of Tea Party organizations despite the fact that these organizations have had a high rate of IRS “issues” during the past two years. (Sen. Chuck Grassley, IA)

Although conservatives fight any additional government spending except for defense, five Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to increase, by an undetermined billions of dollars, money spend on border security. Cruz wanted to triple the number of border patrol agents on the border and quadruple the technological infrastructure—probably meaning “the fence.” That would cost the country about $60 billion and stop any undocumented people’s movement toward citizenship by ten years. The measure failed in a vote of 5 to 13; even Arizona’s GOP senator, Jeff Flake, voted against it.

During the 2012 fiscal year, the government spent $18 billion to secure the border, employing 21,000 agents and building 650 miles of fencing in the past eight years. The existing bill already appropriates $3 billion to increase border security with the government able to spend billions more.

In a recent poll, 83 percent of respondents said they supported a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally, as long as certain requirements—such as the ones on paying fines and back taxes, passing a criminal-background check and learning English–were met. Unlike extremist lawmakers, these people agree with President Reagan’s 1986 position when he signed a bipartisan immigration reform package that extended amnesty to any immigrant who entered the country illegally before 1982. 

Conservative columnist David Brooks made great sense in the immigration debate when he excoriated the opposition to the proposed bill by declaring that the “one core concern” is control, the desire to restrict conservatives in the country, assimilation, love, social mobility, skills, and the inevitable. His take on the situation is well worth reading.

Or for great dark humor on immigration reform in the Senate, just watch Jon Stewart.

July 14, 2012

Poor, Lazy and Undisciplined–Brooks

In late April when both Rachel Maddow and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos appeared on Meet the Press, part of the discussion surrounded the fact that women are paid less than men for the same work. A fact, that is, except for the Republicans, like Castellanos, who believe that women get equal pay. After this clash, Maddow pointed out that Republicans actually believe the outrageous things that they say. (This may be part of Mitt Romney’s problem: people think he is lying when he may believe his falsehoods.)

Last week, columnist David Brooks blamed the “welfare” state for the country’s problems, ignoring the housing bubble and the successes of the 1990s when people still received government help. This week, he tackled Chris Hayes’ new book, Twilight of the Elites when he claimed that the wealthy deserve everything they have.

Excerpts from Brooks’ column:

“[Hayes] argues that meritocratic elites may rise on the basis of grades, effort and merit, but, to preserve their status, they become corrupt. They create wildly unequal societies, and then they rig things so that few can climb the ladders behind them. Meritocracy leads to oligarchy. Far from being the fairest of all systems, he concludes, the meritocracy promotes gigantic inequality and is fundamentally dysfunctional. No wonder institutional failure has been the leitmotif of our age.

“It’s a challenging argument but wrong. I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined. They raise their kids in organized families. They spend enormous amounts of money and time on enrichment. They work much longer hours than people down the income scale, driving their kids to piano lessons and then taking part in conference calls from the waiting room.

“The corruption that has now crept into the world of finance and the other professions is not endemic to meritocracy but to the specific culture of our meritocracy. The problem is that today’s meritocratic elites cannot admit to themselves that they are elites. As a result, today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess.

“The best of the WASP elites had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. They cruelly ostracized people who did not live up to their codes of gentlemanly conduct and scrupulosity. They were insular and struggled with intimacy, but they did believe in restraint, reticence and service.

“The difference between the Hayes view and mine is a bit like the difference between the French Revolution and the American Revolution. He wants to upend the social order. I want to keep the current social order, but I want to give it a different ethos and institutions that are more consistent with its existing ideals.”

If Brooks believes that today’s elite do not perceive themselves as part of the meritocracy, he missed the example of the woman attending Mitt Romney’s fundraiser who asked, “Is this the V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.” As for the belief in stewardship of the elite a century ago, he needs to remember the abuses of labor that improved only after strikers and unions demanded laws requiring minimum wages, restricted child labor, and reasonable working conditions. George W. Bush is a prime example of the meritocracy when his position allowed him to dodge the draft after his family got him into a prestigious university.

The most egregious statement, however, is that the meritocracy are more hardworking and better organizing while spending much more money and time on enrichment. They do spend more money on “enrichment” simply because they are already wealthy, many of them inheriting money or cheating others to obtain it. But do they really work harder?

Teachers put in up to 80 hours a week in school and class preparation while still caring for their families, probably taking kids to piano lessons, and then attending classes to better their education. Picking strawberries is the hardest work in the nation, yet it doesn’t pay well. In fact, after the migrant workers left Alabama because of the restrictive immigration laws, farmers could not find anyone else to spend more than a couple of hours to do the labor that the migrants did. People waiting tables in a restaurant have one of the hardest jobs I know, both physically and mentally. Yet in many cases their pay is so low and the tips so bad that they work overtime just to pay the rent on a one-bedroom apartment.

Jason Linkins disagreed with Brooks when he compared his personal experiences between working “down the income scale” and writing “pithy jokes about politics for substantially more money than I ever did razing and remodeling apartment buildings with my bare hands.” He also passed along a tip.

“If you are chilling outside your kid’s piano lesson and taking a conference call, you aren’t ‘working long hours.’ You aren’t even working. I’ve been on thousands of conference calls. They are not ‘work.’ If your job involves a lot of conference calls, then congratulations, you are a winner in the game of life. Who is actually working the “longer hours” in the scenario Brooks describes? The person teaching his dumb kid how to play the piano.”

Dean Baker also addressed the issue of hard work.

“Perhaps Brooks can tell us what Erskine Bowles did for the $335,000 that he earned as a director of Morgan Stanley in 2008. That year might ring a bell, since that was the year that Morgan Stanley was at the center of the financial crisis. It would have gone bankrupt had it not been for a rescue by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke.”

I haven’t read Hayes’ book, and Linkins bets that Brooks didn’t either, at least completely. According to Brooks, Hayes proposed that we “upend the social order.” In fact, Hayes wrote,

“At its most basic, the logic of “meritocracy” is ironclad: putting the most qualified, best equipped people into the positions of greatest responsibility and import. It would be foolhardy to toss this principle out in its entirety. You certainly wouldn’t want surgeons’ licenses to be handed out via lottery, or to have major cabinet members selected through reality TV-style voting. Anyone who’s ever worked in an organization of any kind has seen first hand that there are sometimes vast differences between individuals in ability, work ethic, and efficiency. An institution that pays no heed to these differences will almost certainly fare poorly.”

In one way Brooks is right: a half century ago, the privileged elites paid far higher tax rates, built businesses, and created jobs rather than gambling on the failure of others through hedge funds. He does, however, support the Republicans’ point of view, that people are poor because they are lazy and undisciplined. The irony is that many Republicans, particularly the evangelists, are poor. Do they realize what their leadership thinks of them?

Julia Child explained the fallacy of Brooks’ argument: “I was a Republican until I got to New York and had to live on $18 a week. It was then that I became a Democrat.”

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