Nel's New Day

September 10, 2014

Congress Returns to Take More Money from Poor

The peace of Congress’s long summer vacation of Congress is over, and legislators have straggled back into Washington, D.C. (“don’t care,” according to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) opponent, Alison Grimes). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is highly incensed that his party supported a debate on overturning Citizens United. The vote was 79-18 to explore an amendment that would return the regulation of campaign funding to Congress. That’s 25 GOP senators who voted for debate. In his opposition, Cruz said that the measure would ban Saturday Night Live and throw Lorne Michaels into prison because of the program’s political satire. The bill, which has no connection to Cruz’s “reality,” is here.

Fights over government funding scheduled to begin tomorrow have been delayed because of President Obama’s speech and the rising issue about ISIL. It will have to be dealt with before the end of September, however, or the United States will face another government shutdown. As voters ponder on the wisdom of the GOP approach toward starving the United States, let us consider their history of profligate spending during the past few years:

  • $350,000: initial cost of suing the president for nothing with Baker Hostetler charging $500 per hour.
  • $1.3 million: 2011 delay in raising the debt ceiling causing the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence index to plunge from 59.2 in July to 45.2 in August.
  • $3 million: cost for House to defend ban on marriage equality that the Supreme Court overturned last summer.
  • $24 billion: loss in the U.S. economy because of the GOP 2013 government shutdown which doesn’t include shaving 0.6 percent off fourth-quarter GDP growth. During the shutdown, approximately 800,000 federal employees were indefinitely furloughed and another 1.3 million were required to report to work without known payment dates.
  • $1.5 billion per day for 15 days of shutdown: furlough of approximately 800,000 federal employees and another 1.3 million required to report to work without known payment dates; loss in government services, travel spending, National Parks, federal and contractor wages, small businesses suffering from frozen government contracts and stalled business loans, tourism suffering from closed national parks, and military families coping without childcare and other services.
  • $2 million: almost non-stop investigations on the Benghazi attack since September 2012 requiring approximately 50 congressional hearings, briefings, and interviews with the State Department. 
  • $5.65 million: newest “special committee” to reinvestigate Benghazi—larger than budgets for the committees on Veteran’s affairs, Intelligence and the budget itself.
  • $14 million: investigation into the IRS that required over 600,000 pages of documents, “none of which substantiate the GOP’s wild attempt from the get-go to tar the administration,” according to Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI).

Grand Total:  $25,025,300,000

Debates over government funding will result in the GOP’s self-righteous objections to these so-called entitlements for the bottom 90 percent:

  • $220 billion: just over 4 million teachers–an average of $54,750 per teacher.
  • $246 billion: about $100 billion coming from state and local governments with the remainder provided by employee contributions and investment earnings—an average of $27,333 per pensioner.
  • $398 billion: non-medical safety net including SNAP (aka food stamps), WIC (Women, Infants, Children), Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Education & Training, and Housing—an average of $8,600 per recipient because huge corporations refuse to pay a higher minimum wage.
  • $863 billion: Social Security. (The GOP fails to recognize that the average two-earner couple making average wages–$14,600–receives less throughout their lifetimes than they pay in.)

Then there are the entitlements for the wealthy that the GOP supports:

  • $2.2 trillion: tax expenditures, tax underpayments, tax havens, and corporate nonpayment with two thirds of the breaks going to the top 20 percent of taxpayers—an average of $200,000 per individual in the top 1 percent.
  • $5 trillion since 2009: investment income, with 95 percent—an average of $500,000—taking 95 percent of this amount.

Congressional members have an excellent reason to retain the entitlements for the wealthy: they are some of the entitled ones, helped greatly by the stock market boom. More than half the members of Congress (268) had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, up from 257 members the year before. The actual number could be much greater, however, because lawmakers report their assets in sizable ranges. That’s compared to median household net worth in the United States of $56,300. The median net worth for all House members was $896,000 and, for Senators, $2.5 million. You can check out your Congressional members here.

Even without any additional income, members of Congress make over $83 per hour—if they actually worked a standard 40-hour week. That’s something to think about when they object to raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.

Former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who lost his primary after out-spending his opponent 10-1 with $5 million, is no longer jobless. As vice chairman, managing director, and member of the board of directors at “boutique investment bank” Moelis & Co., he gets a base salary of $400,000 each year for two years plus $1.4 million in bonuses for this year and $1.6 million in incentive compensation next year, about ten times the $174,000 salary for being in the House. As Elizabeth Warren said, corporate sell-out politicians like Cantor “head straight out into the industry, not because they bring great expertise and insight, but because they’re selling access back in to their former colleagues who are still writing policy, who are still making laws.” As Jon Stewart quipped on The Daily Show, Cantor is being paid for services previously rendered.

Between 2009 and 2011—the so-called recovery—the mean net worth of households in the top 7 percent grew by 28 percent while the remaining 93 percent of households lost 4 percent. This trend continues the one for the last three decades. The following chart shows how much has been lost by the majority of people since Ronald Reagan and his conservatives shifted the economy of the United States.chart 2Workers at almost all percentiles down from the 95th saw wage declines since 2010. The only wages that went up was at the 10th percentile—an increase from $8.36 an hour to $8.38. Two pennies. That’s $.80 a week and $4.04 for the year. The extra two cents came from minimum wage increases in 13 states last year. When workers can’t afford to spend money for goods and services, businesses don’t make enough money to hire which increases unemployment. The middle class continues to shrink.

In just one state, North Carolina, CEOs in the biggest companies got a 14-percent pay increase last year, to $4.1 million. The raise means that the median CEO pay is 129 times higher than that for the workers, up from 113 times the year before. The media wage for all North Carolina workers increased 1 percent last year to$31,850. The highest CEO pay in North Carolina last year came at Lowe’s; Robert Niblock got $18.7 million, up 54 percent from the year before. Of the 50 largest publicly traded companies in North Carolina last year, two CEOs were women, two were nonwhite, and none were blacks. Nationwide, median pay for CEOs at S&P 500 companies increased 9 percent to $10.5 million.

“Why when American corporation profits have skyrocketed to over $1,800,000,000,000, why are they only investing 9% of all those profits in expansion, in wages, in research and development? Ninety-one percent goes to CEO salaries and to stockholders. What’s wrong with this picture, folks?”—Joe Biden

Free-loading corporations have joined the wealthy in obtaining government entitlements. Technically, the tax rate for corporations is 35 percent; in reality it’s much, much less. They now pay about ten percent of all taxes, compared to the 33 percent in the early 1950s. Their contribution is 1.6 percent of the GDP, drastically down from 5.9 percent in 1952.

Of the 288 companies in the Fortune 500 that registered consistent profit every year from 2008 to 2012, 26 of these companies paid no federal income tax from 2008 to 2012. Another 93 paid less than ten percent in taxes. The overall average was 19.4 percent over these five years. Tax subsidies for just these 288 companies were $364 billion during that time with $174 billion going to just 25 of the companies.  Overall, each family in the nation annually pays an average $6,000 subsidy to corporations that have doubled their profits and cut their taxes in half in ten years.

The country is divided into the “makers” and the “takers,” as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) claims, but the takers are the wealthy and the corporations. And the GOP is headed back into session to take more from the workers, the “makers,” at the bottom who lose money every year.

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June 15, 2014

Christians Control Republicans

Although the GOP incumbent candidate for Congress in Mississippi, Thad Cochran, didn’t know that the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election, most other people are aware of this historical first. Cantor’s loss also changes the religious demographics among GOP members of Congress. Cantor is the only Jewish member of Congress on the GOP side–in fact, the only non-Christian. With his disappearance, all GOP members of Congress (278 if the GOP opponent wins) will self-identify as Christians—no other Jews, no Muslims, no pagans, no other minority religions.

On the Democratic side (257) are 32 Jewish, three Buddhist, two Muslim, one Hindu, one affiliated, and 10 unspecified. That’s a total of 49, 19 percent of Democrats compared to 20.8 percent of people in the United States who do not classify themselves as Christians.

Christians running for legislative are becoming more and more conservative. For example, Scott Esk, a candidate running for the Oklahoma House, thinks that stoning LGBT people would be just fine.

“I think we would be totally in the right [to execute homosexuals by stoning]. That goes against some parts of Libertarianism, I realize, and I’m largely Libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) is a little broader in his hatred. He used his time during a Congressional hearing to declare that all non-Christians are going to hell. He made his position clear to a Christian reverend about religious freedom in the United States. Gohmert interrupted the testimony of Rev. Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, to argue with him about the journey to Hell.

Gohmert: “Okay so, you don’t believe somebody would go to Hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?”

Lynn: I personally do not believe people go to Hell because they don’t believe a specific set of ideas in Christianity.”

Gohmert: “No no no, not a set of ideas. Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, or life or you don’t. And there’s nothing wrong in our country with that—there’s no crime, there’s no shame.”

Lynn: “Congressman, what I believe, is not necessarily what I think ought to justify the creation of public policy for everybody, for the 2000 different religions that exist in this country, or the 25 million non-believers.”

Three members of the subcommittee were “non-Christians,” but that wasn’t a problem for Gohmert because they didn’t belong to his political party.

Gohmert is one of the Christians who have a Jesus far separate from the one in the Bible. Rev. Howard Bess believes that the Jesus in the Bible is a man of peace, non-violence, love, and kindness.  Living in a time of economic disparity, Jesus advocated redistribution of property and possessions among the tribes of Israel, by law to have taken place every 50 years but never accomplished. Jesus told a man to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor; he also ridiculed the man who built bigger and bigger barns to hold his wealth. As the 278 Christian Republicans in Congress argue for another war in Iraq and oppose helping the poor, they can only talk about going to Hell if you don’t believe in Jesus’ existence.

The Bible is always used to show the evils of being LGBT. For example, one minister gave this advice to parents of adult LGBT offspring: “Alienate them. Separate them. Isolate them. Refuse to have a meal with them. Turn them over to Satan.” When some found his advice objectionable, a blog protested the responses:

“You need to follow ALL of Christ’s teachings not just a few….  One thing the believer needs to realize is that most scriptures do not come with escape clauses. They do not say ‘do good to everyone except…’  or ‘be just and merciful to everyone except…’.  You really need to examine all scripture on how to act and not cherry pick the few that justify your anger, humiliation or shame.”

According to the Bible, Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. All the objections come from the Old Testament. To help the protester avoid cherry-picking scripture, I’ve provided a few issues that Christians like Louie Gohmert need to deal with:

No foods from cattle or pigs: The Old Testament forbids any foods that have fat or blood, and any food taken from an animal that does not both chew their cud and have split hooves. There goes that bacon cheeseburger at McDonalds. Keep in mind as you compare this and other sins to homosexuality that the New Testament has declared all sins equal. Then it tacks on the order to not judge anyone because it’s the same as condemning yourself.

No genetically modified foods and blended fabrics: Mixing or cross-breeding animals and plants are sins as is wearing clothes made of two kinds of fabrics. If you negate this sin by the New Testament ruling that the law no longer has power, then there go all the laws—including discriminating against LGBT people. 

No tearing your clothes and uncovering your head: The New Testament doesn’t let you out of following this law. In fact, it adds praying or prophesying with an uncovered head is a sin. Someone needs to tell Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) that. Jesus doesn’t like praying in public.

No making idols: Most people would say that they don’t do this, but the mandate is that “you shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Other no-nos are graven images, literally hieroglyphic paintings and drawings—any representative art, photographs, statues, sculptures, jewelry, etc. The Old Testament doesn’t let you off from that sin.

No fashion statements: These include styling hair, shaving beards, getting tattoos, and wearing jewelry and expensive clothing.

No mistreating foreigners: The scripture specifically orders you not to “vex” strangers. This law cannot be voided. According to Jesus, you have to be nice to everyone.

No marrying after a divorce: Remarrying after a divorce is adultery. Newt Gingrich missed this law.

I will give Pope Francis credit for trying to communicate Jesus’ message about wealth inequality. During last month’s meeting in the U.N., he said that a more equal form of economic progress can be achieved through “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.” Afterwards he was even more passionate about his beliefs:

“It’s madness. We discard a whole generation to maintain an economic system that no longer endures, a system that to survive has to make war, as the big empires have always done. But since we cannot wage the Third World War, we make regional wars. And what does that mean? That we make and sell arms. And with that the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies — the big world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money—are obviously cleaned up.

“But we have placed money in the center, the god of money. We have fallen into the sin of idolatry, the idolatry of money. The economy moves by the desire to have more and paradoxically it feeds a disposable culture. By discarding children and the old, we discard the future of a people because the young will pull us strongly forward and the old will give us wisdom.”

Over 30 percent of congressional members are Catholic, many of them on the GOP side of the aisle. It’s time that they took the pope’s advice about alleviating poverty.

Update: The religious demographics of Democrats in Congress has been updated to include one Hindu and one unaffiliated. That raises the percentage of non-identified Christians to 19 percent of the Democrats.

December 2, 2013

GOP Strategy: Block and Blank

Imagine your life if you were paid full time for working a little over one day a week. That’s life if you’re a member of Congress this next five weeks. The House is scheduled to “work” six days during that time, making a total of 113 work days in 2013. With their $174,000 salary, GOP House members made about $1,380 a day this year. In a little over ten days, members of the House make the same amount of money that a fulltime worker paid minimum wage makes in an entire year. At least the House members worked 19 days more than last year, but this year’s calendar is 13 days less than that scheduled next year.

Perhaps House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can’t find anything for the GOP to do in the next five weeks. It appears that the House has stopped repealing the Affordable Care Act because they’re afraid to take insurance away from people. Right now conservative lawmakers seem happy to just tell lies about people who are losing their insurance and having to pay more for other plans. The Senate doesn’t seem to be working any harder than the House as GOP senators sulk about the change in the filibuster rules.

What else is left for federal lawmakers to do this year?

  • Relief from sequester caps
  • Budget plans to keep the United States from shutting down or defaulting on the debt
  • Funding authority, which expires January 15
  • Pentagon policy bill blocked because of dissension over ways to stop sexual-assault cases and increased sanctions against Iran after the White House reached a tentative nuclear pact with that nation
  • Unemployment benefits, funding to help workers displaced by global trade, and business-friendly tax break including research and development
  • Fees paid to Medicare providers to keep doctors and hospitals from dropping patients from the program
  • Confirmation of the new Federal Reserve chair, head of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and three nominees to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia—not to mention all the other nominees waiting in the wings
  • The farm policy that also includes the funding level for food stamps
  • Immigration reform? Ha!

My favorite problem is the expiration of laws banning plastic guns on December 9. The 25-year-old law that stops weapons manufacturers from making guns undetectable by security systems expires without Congressional renewal. If Congress doesn’t act, anyone can easily take a gun anywhere, including onto airplanes, because plastic weapons can’t be detected.

Over 18 months ago, political scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norma J. Ornstein published an article in The Washington Post entitled “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.” One conservative and the other progressive, they agreed:

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Searching for reasons behind the dysfunction, they listed “the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs.”

According to the couple, however, the two people behind the move to the far right are Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. From his entrance into Congress in 1979, Gingrich worked to persuade voters that this branch of government was “so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the Democratic majority.” He spent 16 years bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders and provoking them into overreactions that united GOP voters into opposing Democratic initiatives. Then he exploited scandals to raise public disgust with politicians and recruited conservatives to run against the government.

When Gingrich became speaker, the self-serving leader compromised with President Bill Clinton to build up the House’s reputation, but it was too late. The hatred toward Washington, similar to that from the Tea Party, drove out moderate GOP House members. Some of the radical conservatives moved into the Senate and similarly polarized its culture.

At the same time that Gingrich was poisoning the House, Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform and passed out the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in 1986. Signers were bound to never vote for a tax increase, including closing tax loopholes. As of last year, 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP senators had given their souls to Norquist. Extremists liked the pledge so much that they created offshoots on issues such as climate change.

More recently, Ornstein wrote about the change in the Senate during the past decade. After 14 Senators, seven from each side of the aisle, compromised in confirming extremist judges Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, Republican senators such as Lamar Alexander (TN) promised that they would never filibuster a judicial nominee.

Barack Obama’s move into the White House, however, turned “the filibuster into a routine weapon of mass obstruction.” No longer were filibusters based on qualifications. GOP senators abandoned their 2005-2006 commitments to not filibuster as  well as more recent ones in January 2013 to block everyone nominated for the bench.

In addition to filibusters, senators can block nominations for federal district court vacancies in their states, a practice known as “blue slips.” GOP senators, including Marco Rubio (FL) who actually recommended the nominee, are using this practice.

As the conservative Ornstein wrote:

“If the norms are blown up, which is what Senate Republicans under Mitch McConnell have done over the past five years—using the rules not to build bridges but to construct dams—it becomes almost inevitable that the rules will change to adapt.”

After the recent change in the filibuster rules, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) threatened more judges like Scalia and Alito, but these judges, as well as Thomas, came with the filibuster rules. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), with others, expressed concern that the Senate would get worse in effecting the legislative process. It can’t.

House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will prevent any legislature not in his political interest and support any legislation that will benefit him. Even with the majority of Democrats in the Senate passing a bill, the House will most certainly block it. The immigration reform passed the Senate with supermajorities, and Boehner won’t touch it.

The Party of No recently revealed its plan for the coming year to finish up the 113th Congress as the worst in history. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) met with a group of House GOP members and handed out a blank piece of paper labeled Agenda 2014, proving that they had no “governing vision or even a legislative agenda.” As an aide described the GOP leadership: “We don’t know where we are headed, and we don’t know what we can sell to our members.”

That’s the strategy of the GOP: blank.

October 13, 2013

Day Thirteen of the GOP Government Shutdown: No Movement, GOP in Fantasyland

With the GOP holding the country hostage, one person is in control—Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA). Late September 30, the House Rules Committee changed the standing House rules. Normally any member trying to address a disagreement between the House and the Senate would have the “privilege” to make a motion to bring the Senate bill to the floor of the House. The rules change just before the actual shutdown applies only to the CR keeping the government running.  that could keep the functioning of the federal government.

New rule: any motion to take up the Senate bill “may be offered only by the majority Leader or his designee.” That designee is Cantor, making him the only person in the 532 people currently serving in Congress who can break the deadlock. “I’ve never heard of anything like that before,” Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said.

The rules change may have led to an heated exchange on the House floor between Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Cantor’s floor director, Chris Vieson, after Democrats made requests for a vote for a clean CR. To avoid media attention—and make sure that members got their flights home—Vieson yelled that they were shutting down the debate and pulling the bill. Crowley asked Vieson if a staffer was shutting down democracy, and Vieson said, “That’s right.” Crowley told him that he was behaving in an inappropriate way. Cantor’s spokesman said that Crowley poked Vieson with an index finger; Crowley denied doing it. 

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) said, “This is what happens in the public process when we stymie opposition, when we cut off debate, and when we continue to tilt on disaster by manufactured crises. It is time for us to reopen the government.” House members did manage to escape on Friday, planning to return tomorrow.

At this time, there is no movement toward opening the government, and Cantor and GOP members of Congress claim that there would not no problem if the debt ceiling is not raised in less than 72 hours. Reasonable people are horrified by their lack of concern. Why aren’t they afraid of what Businessweek, called “a financial apocalypse” that would cause a worldwide economic depression? 

Most of the Tea Party base, especially the leadership, are fundamentalist Christians whose religion controls their worldview. This is not a secularist movement interested primarily in promoting “fiscal conservatism.” Tea Partiers are people guided by magical thinking and belief. Pew Research shows that Tea Party members are likely to cite religious belief as the prime motivation for their political views. This latest power play from the GOP is simply a repetition of white fundamentalists to assert their “right” to control the country even if their politicians aren’t in power.

A movement controlled by fundamentalist Christians ignores any real dangers that their actions cause. Fundamentalist religion convinces followers to be more afraid of imaginary threats than real ones. People who believe that the Lord’s work is forcing the government into default in an attempt to eliminate Obamacare cannot see the real, negative effects of their beliefs. They simply continue to believe that the president is an agent of the devil and the world will devolve into mayhem and apocalypse if he is not stopped. 

With no reason, Christian conservatives such as Ellis Washington are convincing people that the ACA  will lead to “the systematic genocide of the weak, minorities, enfeebled, the elderly and political enemies of the God-state.” Twenty percent of Republicans believe Obama is the Antichrist.  Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner argued that President Obama is using health care legislation to promote “the destruction of the family, Christian culture” and demanded that Christians “engage in peaceful civil disobedience against President Obama’s signature health care law.” 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined the evangelicals with their demand that the GOP shut down the government rather than let Obamacare go into effect. The excuse was their objection to the requirement that insurance make contraception available without a copayment, saying ending this requirement matters more than “serving their own employees or the neediest Americans.”

Pat Necerato of the Christian News Network accused the supporters of the law of committing idolatry and accused people who want health care of being covetous. The Christian Post approvingly reported various Christian leaders, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, saying things like the health care law is “a profound attack on our liberties” and repeating “today is the day I will tell my grandchildren about when they ask me what happened to freedom in America.”

Rick Phillips, writing for Christianity.com, hinted that Obamacare might be predicted in Revelations, resulting in the End Times. Others went beyond hinting by falsely proclaiming a conspiracy theory of Obamacare requiring microchips planted in all citizens, the “mark of the beast” predicted in Revelations that portends the return of Christ and the end of the world. 

To people who believe in fire and brimstone, worldwide economic depression is no problem. Fundamentalist Christians minimize the problems of the real world while inventing imaginary ones. To these deniers, climate change doesn’t exist because they are more worried about abortion and LGBT rights. 

The far-right have become obsessed with the End Times; one-third of people in the U.S. believes that the Syrian conflict portends the end of the world. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claimed this is true because President Obama is intentionally sending arms to terrorists which tells her that“the leaf is on the fig tree.” 

Even more horrifying than her mythical approach to politics, however, is her delight in a worldwide war that would kill millions. “Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, Maranatha Come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand,” Bachmann claimed. And most horrifying is that she has access to the nation’s most sensitive and highly classified materials because of her membership on the House Intelligence Committee. 

Three-fourths of the evangelicals who foresee God’s mass murder and hellfire believe they will escape any difficulties because the Rapture will whisk them off to a heaven before anything bad happens. This 19th-century invention took off in the late 20th century after pop culture products like the Left Behind series. The world’s end is also important to evangelicals because it proves they are right—they will have won the argument. There’s nothing like a fiery apocalypse to let people say, “I told you so!” That way they would see the non-believers punished and evangelicals would be instated as the rightful rules of all humanity.

Even Senate Chaplain Barry Black is fed up with Congressional stupidity. His opening prayers for Senate sessions have demonstrated increasing frustration. By today, he said in a Fox network interview that there’s a level of “insanity”  in the current government shutdown and ending the impasse will “take humility.”

When the shutdown seemed eminent, Black prayed, “Lord, deliver us from governing by crisis, empowering us to be responsible stewards of your bounty. May they remember that all that is necessary for unintended catastrophic consequences is for good people to do nothing.” Early in the shutdown, he said, “Unless you empower our lawmakers, they can comprehend their duty but not perform it.” On Day Two, he continued, “Save us from the madness.” 

By the fourth day of the shutdown, Black became even more direct: “Remove from them that stubborn pride. Forgive them for the blunders they have committed… the collateral damage of this government shutdown, transforming negatives into positives as you work for the good of those who love you.” He also said, “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.” 

On Day Nine with the delay of benefits for military families, Black said, “Lord, when our federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the families of children dying on far-away battlefields, it’s time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough. Cover our shame with the robe of your righteousness.” By Day Eleven, Black called on the Lord to “give our lawmakers the wisdom to distinguish between truth and error. Give them a hatred of all hypocrisy, deceit and shame as they seek to replace them with gentleness, patience and truth.”

The looming disaster is caused by a small cabal of hard-right legislators and back-benchers pushing the entire GOP into a radically extremist position regarding the Affordable Care Act and other laws. Take a look at this interactive description of 20 people behind the conservative groups with the ability to make the lives of Republicans who seek compromise very, very difficult. 

It’s Sunday night. Black will return to pray tomorrow, and members of Congress are still being paid despite the government shutdown. 

May 10, 2013

No Jobs from the GOP

Jobs, jobs, jobs. That was the campaign promise of the Tea Party infusion of 2010. Yet Congress has done nothing about increasing employment and erasing income inequality. In their new attempt to less offensive to everyone except white males, they have switched away from moral legislating into repetition of what has failed for the past four years or just plain inertia.

A debate among pundits is how many times the House has voted to repeal Obamacare, but it seems to be between 33 and 39 times. No matter how many, the House is about to add another one. Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) announced that there would be another vote of the full House next week because, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said, not everybody in the House has had a chance to vote against it.

The Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is legal, and Boehner declared, “Obamacare is the law of the land.” The bill has no chance to moving forward after the House passes it. The country is still suffering from high unemployment, the middle class has become the poor, the infrastructure is in shambles, and Congress has passed no budget. But the freshmen class needs its rite of passage to deny people in the United States affordable access to quality health care. And the House is just sitting around for another 18 months hoping that the GOP will take over the Senate in the next election.

One of the parts of Obamacare that the GOP wants to block is a fair comparison and transparency of insurance costs. People on Social Security can easily compare costs of supplemental insurance. If you want the benefits given under “C,” for example, you can see what every insurance company charges for “C.” Yesterday in Oregon, the same thing started to happened for all individual consumers and small business owners. A chart of 2014 insurance premiums shows what each insurance company is charging for the same benefits. Two insurers who checked out the competition have already asked for “do-overs” to lower their rates.

According to Oregon Live, “here’s what competition looks like: one health insurer wants to charge $169 a month next year to cover a 40-year-old Portland-area non-smoker. Another wants $422 a month for the same standard plan.” And which insurance company do you think will get more money? The GOP is opposed to this in the same way that they oppose the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau doing the same thing for credit card agreements.

Yesterday, Republicans in the House did manage to approve the Full Faith and Credit Act (HR 807), better named “Pay China First,” that’s what the bill does. Looking forward to the need to raise the debt ceiling, the GOP decided to increase it only to pay off bondholders and pay Social Security. Anyone else, including the military, would get nothing. Although GOP claims that China holds only 8 percent of the U.S. debt, “Pay China First” is a catchy title. If the debt to the Social Security fund is included, China holds 22 percent of our debt.

Only 8 House Republicans voted against the FFC Act while every Democrat opposed it, resulting in a 221-207 vote. The House knows that the Senate won’t touch their bill, and the president certainly won’t sign it. And the country doesn’t need a debt ceiling hike until at least October. The fact that the GOP would start planning five months ahead is highly unusual for them. Perhaps they’re trying to avoid the bigotry and misogyny so obvious in their approaches to non-fiscal bills.

Another reason for these debt discussions might be to drive the stock market down to make the president look bad. The DOW has gone from under 8,000 to over 15,000 in the less than five years that Barack Obama has been president. The GOP can’t prove that the president is a failure as long as the stock market is so high. The GOP bill could also send a signal to foreign lenders that the nation might not be fiscally sound. The last time that the GOP played around with the debt ceiling, the country paid billions of dollars extra in additional interest; the same thing could happen this time. The GOP appears to be willing to destroy the country in order to get Republicans elected.

John Boehner explained why China would get the money before members of the military or doctors or small businesses or anyone else in the United States: “Those who have loaned us money, like in any proceeding, if you will, court proceeding, the bondholders usually get paid first. Same thing here.”

The GOP prefers to develop a plan in case of crisis instead of providing solutions to avoid the crisis. They also ignore the $407 billion that the federal government collected in April, the highest amount for any other month on record. This amount created a budget surplus of $113 billion and doesn’t reflect the $59 billion that mortgage giant Fannie Mae has promised to repay the government in June.

While the House GOP busies itself passing stupid bills, the Senate drags its heels in the budget field. Under duress, the Senate Democrats passed a budget for to please the Republicans. Because it differs from the House version (that’s an understatement!), the GOP is blocking efforts to form a conference committee to develop a compromise budget. After snarky nagging from Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sens. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Dan Coats (R-IN), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) to get a Senate budget passed, the budget business compromise came to a screeching halt.

The House GOP is matching the Senate conservatives with its own paralysis. Republicans had hoped that they could extort a budget deal before August recess, but the debt ceiling isn’t coming that early. Now they have to wait until the threat of a government shutdown on October 1. Without leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said last Tuesday that they have no reason to open format budget negotiations because Democrats have no reason to revise Medicare and the U.S. Tax Code. In plain words, right now the GOP doesn’t have what it needs to blackmail the Democrats. They’re admitting that they won’t work for a budget unless they can threaten to crash the economy.

Ryan said, “The debt limit is the backstop.” He wants only to rule by self-inflicted crisis. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said, “Sometimes we don’t want to act until a gun is at our heads.” He flagrantly and explicitly stated that all the GOP wants is the ability to blackmail the Democrats. He describes a party of thugs, a gang that will perform any act, legal or illegal, to get their own way even if it has no benefit for the people of the United States government.

The GOP complains incessantly about President Obama: he’s not trying to get things done, he’s not leading because nothing happens; he doesn’t really mean it when he reaches out across the aisle. But which party is not trying to get things done, not leading, and not reaching across the aisle? I rest my case.

February 7, 2013

Cantor Works to Rebrand the GOP

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:30 PM
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cantor-capitolSo I’m gone for a few days, and when I get back the GOP has turned into a kinder and gentler rendition. Really!? “Over the next two years, the House (Republican) majority will pursue an agenda based on a shared vision of creating the conditions for health, happiness and prosperity for more Americans and their families,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

For this speech, he must have saved money in not hiring a speech-writer. Instead he copied his words from President Obama’s Kansas speech in 2011.

Fair Shot at Success

President Obama: “Well, it starts by making sure that everyone in America gets a fair shot at success. The truth is we’ll never be able to compete with other countries when it comes to who’s best at letting their businesses pay the lowest wages, who’s best at busting unions, who’s best at letting companies pollute as much as they want.”

Cantor: “Our goal – to ensure every American has a fair shot at earning their success and achieving their dreams. In America, we do have higher expectations for our nation. Since our founding, we believed we could be the best hope to mankind. That hope led generations of immigrants to risk everything, to endure a tough journey to our shores, looking for a better future.”

Innovation

President Obama: “The world is shifting to an innovation economy and nobody does innovation better than America. Nobody does it better. No one has better colleges. Nobody has better universities. Nobody has a greater diversity of talent and ingenuity. No one’s workers or entrepreneurs are more driven or more daring.”

Cantor: “A good education leads to more innovation. Throughout our history, American colleges and universities have served as the crucible for the world’s innovation. They are a big part of why the United States remains the destination for the world’s best and brightest. Investment in education leads to innovation, which leads to more opportunity and jobs for all.”

Skills and Training

President Obama: “We should be giving people the chance to get new skills and training at community colleges so they can learn how to make wind turbines and semiconductors and high-powered batteries.”

Cantor: “As job markets are changing, more skills training and education are needed. Federal jobs training programs ought to make it easier for Americans who are out of work or who are changing careers to get the skills they need.”

The difference between the two speeches? The president followed up his statements with examples; Cantor did not. This is what they intend:

School Funding: “Students, including those without a lot of money or those with special needs, would be able to access the best available school, not just the failing school they are assigned to.” The House GOP budget calls for a $2.7 billion cut in spending for disadvantaged students.

Higher Education: “Over the course of this Congress, we will also work to reform our student aid process to give students a financial incentive to finish their studies sooner. We will encourage entrepreneurship in higher education, including for-profit schools.” The House GOP budget eliminates Pell Grants for more than one million students while for-profit corporate schools take huge amounts of taxpayer money that leave students burdened with debt and facing bleak job prospects.

Working Mothers: “Federal laws dating back to the 1930s make it harder for parents who hold hourly jobs to balance the demands of work and home. An hourly employee cannot convert previous overtime into future comp-time or flex-time…Imagine if we simply chose to give all employees and employers this option. A working mom could work overtime this month and use it as time off next month without having to worry about whether she’ll be able to take home enough money to pay the rent.” Because of the GOP, the U.S. is the only developed country with no paid sick leave policy and one of just three without required paid maternity leave.

Tax Reform: “Loopholes and gimmicks benefitting those who’ve come to know how to work the system in Washington, are no more defensible than the path of wasteful and irresponsible spending we’ve been on for decades. Working families should come first. Everyone agrees a fairer, simpler tax code would give us all more time.” The House GOP refuses to close loopholes and deductions for the wealthy and corporations that allow them to pay less tax than the middle class.

Immigration: “It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home…. I’m pleased that many of my colleagues in both chambers of Congress on both sides of the aisle have begun work in good faith to address these issues.” In 2010, Cantor and 160 other Republicans voted against the Dream Act, a measure that “would offer a pathway to citizenship for undocumented young people who attend college or serve in the military.”

Obamacare: “The new medical device tax in ObamaCare makes it harder for researchers to develop these innovative devices in the U.S…. ObamaCare has unnecessarily raised the costs of our health care.“ The GOP refuses to place a tax on the medical device industry–which will benefit from health care reform—to fund coverage expansion, without undermining innovation.

Medicare: “We should begin by ending the arbitrary division between Part A, the hospital program, and Part B, the doctor services. We can create reasonable and predictable levels of out-of-pocket expenses without forcing seniors to rely on Medigap plans….” The president has included these efficiency reforms in his budgets, but the GOP wants to change President Obama has included many of these efficiency reforms in his budgets transform Medicare into a voucher or premium-support program, making seniors pay far more than they do now.

Medicaid: “We can provide states more flexibility with respect to Medicaid that will allow them to provide better care for low-income families in a way that ultimately lowers costs…. And we must make it faster and simpler for states to gain approval of federal waivers to modify their Medicaid programs.” The Democrats support this flexibility, but the GOP, including Cantor, voted to slash federal funding for Medicaid by 1/3 and shift some of the burden of Medicaid’s growing costs to the states, forcing states to reduce enrollment by more than 14 million people, or almost 20 percent—even if they are were able to slow the growth in health care costs substantially.

Charles Schumer, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, said, “If House Republicans can adapt their agenda to match Leader Cantor’s words, this Congress could surprise people with how productive it can be.” We’ll keep checking on the GOP votes. They may have noticed these polls: A Washington Post-ABC News/Washington poll last month found that 67 percent of Americans say that Republicans are doing “too little” to work with Obama. Republicans in Congress have an approval rating of 24 percent, compared to a 37 percent rating for Democrats. Obama’s approval recently hit a four-year high of 60 percent.

It appears that the GOP private retreat at a former Southern plantation brought out a new approach toward getting Republican votes from minorities (like those whose ancestors were slaves in the South), women, and anyone making less than the top 2 percent. GOP directions: Smile, say positive things, and keep the policies continuing the damage during the past few decades.

September 3, 2012

Labor Day, NOT a Time to Celebrate Management

On this Labor Day, my partner and I sat outside the local Fred Meyers’ grocery store and discussed the importance of labor unions. I told her that they are much like bees, that people might complain about getting stung but without unions that society would disappear. In a more optimistic fashion, she maintained that the super-rich would pay the workers just enough to keep buying what the corporations sell so that the wealthy could keep making more and more money. My response was that they weren’t that smart, that they were perfectly willing to kill the golden goose to get all the eggs immediately rather than receiving them piecemeal.

The entire battle regarding labor and labor unions is about power. Workers think that they should have certain rights, and conservatives want the control with the company or the people who pay taxes. If conservatives had their way, they would do away with the minimum wage, child labor laws, the 40-hour week and any overtime, workers’ compensation, workplace safety, pensions, health care insurance, leave for illness, vacations and holidays, equal treatment for the workers, any kind of anti-discrimination laws, etc. Conservatives are intent on accomplishing this race to the bottom.

A tweet from Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) today shows how little regard conservatives have for labor: “Today we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built their own business, and earned their own success.” No mention of people who build roads, nurse the sick, put out our fires, keep us safe, pick our food—those people who worked at Fred Meyers today so that I could buy groceries.

When a group of laborers celebrated the first Labor Day 130 years ago, working conditions were deplorable, but people could still to West to get land and work for themselves. In 1887, Oregon (do you detect my pride?!) was the first of 30 states to declare the day a holiday before the federal government took the same action 12 years later. Tragedies in the early 20th century led to the anger that resulted in the growth of labor unions. From that action and the benefits of President Roosevelt’s New Deal came a strong middle class that had a much more comfortable life in the mid-20th century than people have now.

The percentage of workers in unions peaked in 1954 at almost 35 percent of the workers. Since that time, union membership has grown in the public sector while drastically shrinking in the private sector, now down to 7 percent, the same as in 1932. Private sector workers resent public sector employees having more benefits, including pensions and health insurance; private sector workers prefer to tear down the benefits of public sector workers rather than attempting to build up their own situation. More race to the bottom!

One complaint from conservatives is that unions can require its members to campaign for a political candidate. The truth is that corporations have the same right. That’s why the miners were required to watch a speech by Mitt Romney recently and be photographed while having their wages docked because they weren’t working while attending the event. Rob Moore of Murray Energy Company, which owns the mine, admitted that the workers weren’t paid for the day. He said, “Our managers communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.” Even unions don’t do that.

In states without right-to-work laws, the union must represent all workers if the majority of workers in a private company vote for a union because all workers must then pay dues. In right-to-work states, however, the majority does not rule. Statistics about “right-to-work” states show that the workers are worse off than in other states. Workers have lower compensation in RTW states than in other states. Average wages for nonfarm workers in RTW states are $57, 732, compared to $65,567 in other states. Even when compensation is adjusted for cost of living, those in RTW states lose out by 3.5 percent. This figure doesn’t take into consideration the salaries of federal employees whose wages would be the same in all the states, meaning that salaries are probably even lower in these states.

RTW states lose companies that provide better wages. In one right-to-work state, Oklahoma, the number of new companies coming into the state has shrunk by one-third since it passed its RTW law, and the state has lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs during the same time period.  Idaho has the same problem as Oklahoma. Before it became a right-to-work state in 1985, Idaho was ranked 35th for per capita income. Now it is 49th because the only industries coming into the state are those seeking cheap, unskilled labor.

lRTW states also suffer from more problems than lost wages. The occupational-fatality rate in the construction industry—one of the most hazardous in terms of workplace deaths—is 34 percent higher in right-to-work states than in states without such laws. Workers in RTW states also have less health care and pensions.

Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy signed the Executive Order that brought bargaining rights to most federal workers for the first time. Public sector union rights had no controversy for 20 years; even Ronald Reagan presided over the extension of collective bargaining rights to California state and local workers in 1968 when he was governor. He also caused the shift against public sector unions when he broke the air traffic controllers strike in 1981 although he kept their right to bargain. Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) was the one who stripped government workers of their bargaining rights.

Despite claims that public sector unions are at fault in today’s budget deficits, conservatives, as usual, lie about this. North Carolina with a 10-percent budget shortfall for next year has no collective bargaining. Budget problems in New York, a highly unionized state, are only one-third those of North Carolina. Conservatives’ worship of Ronald Reagan ignore the fact that his position on workers’ rights is much closer to that of Kennedy than to today’s rabid hatred of public “servants.”

Tomorrow the Democratic convention starts in Charlotte (NC). Today the North Carolina State AFL-CIO helped kick off the event with its “hug-a-thug” booth, referring to the Republican use of the term “union thugs.” MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer for the organization, said, “Union members take care of you in the hospital, deliver your packages and sit next you in church. We are just average folks.” Union members run the Guide Dogs of America program and rebuilt the World Trade Center.

As Nathaniel Downes said:

 “No man is an island. We all live and work in a community. We do better when the community is thriving. Our nation did its best when we had a strong concept of community, of society. Those who made the most paid to support that system, paying ahead for the next generation. Those who fell behind were caught in the safety net and given a ladder with which to climb back out of the pit of poverty. The concept of greed and selfishness has sapped society of its strength. The pursuit of wealth at all costs has created a catastrophe in the making, for once enough people fall into poverty the consumer market will seize up. Once that happens, no money in the world will help those at the top as they find their empires crumbling beneath them.”

Although the road to prosperity is now paved with poverty of the vast majority, the wealthy don’t understand what will happen without a strong middle class. It’s a cycle: the worse off that people get, the more that their anger and resentment builds, and they use unions for scapegoats. As these angry and resentful people attack and weaken unions, the economy worsens. Then the angry and resentful are far worse off and trying harder to destroy their scapegoats, which only worsens the economy. In essence they destroy themselves.

Respected Republican presidents of the past understood the importance of labor, not management:

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”–Abraham Lincoln

“Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”–Ronald Reagan

“It is essential that there should be organization of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.”–Theodore Roosevelt

“Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice.”–Dwight D. Eisenhower

“If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.”–Abraham Lincoln

The Republican goal of destroying the public sector unions comes from the GOP desire to destroy the middle class, because this is the group that organizes opposition to conservative ideology that only wants to provide more wealth for the rich. After the public sector unions are gone, the GOP will go after the few private sector unions that remain. Organization means resistance to the GOP objective of taking freedom from everyone in the country except the super-rich.

August 10, 2012

U.S. Still Not ‘Post-Racial’

Previous elections have had one-day stories—here for a few hours and then gone. This year is different. Stories stick around. One example is Mitt Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns. Perhaps this might have been because people now are getting more news from the Internet that keeps the issues at the forefront. For whatever reason, the stories that pervade the Internet these days frequently depict the prevalence of racism.

The election of Barack Obama to the office of president created the myth that the United States had entered a post-racial era. Instead, racism has become more and more widespread. For example, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), commonly known as the deadbeat dad because he owed more than $100,000 in child support, is calling on the Tea Party to pat the Commander-in-Chief, President Obama, on the head and call him “son.” (Walsh is also known for attacking the service of his opponent, Tammy Duckworth, for her value as a veteran; Duckworth is well known as a helicopter who lost both legs and damaged an arm when her UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents.)

Andrew McCarthy renewed another story that won’t go away when he gave a speech at the National Press Club supporting Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) horrific charges that Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. He went further than Bachmann, saying that she “actually understated the case” because “Ms. Abedin had a very lengthy affiliation with an institute founded by a top figure at the nexus between Saudi terror funding, Brotherhood ideology, and al-Qaeda’s jihad against the United States.”

McCarthy claimed that one connection came from Abedin’s exerting influence over Clinton by having her appear at a college that Abedin’s mother had founded in Egypt, the same school where George W. Bush’s adviser Karen Hughes spoke. Mother Jones reporter Adam Serwer asked McCarthy how the president supported sharia law when he also support marriage equality. And what about his position that the president killed Osama bin Laden because

“the Islamists [Obama] wants to engage have decided al-Qaeda is expendable” and counter to their peaceful takeover of American institutions.

McCarthy responded, “I’m a whack job, I guess.” But he keeps promoting whack ideas so that other whack jobs can follow him.

And Bachmann isn’t alone in her whack job attitude: her letters calling for an investigation about the Muslim Brotherhood’s “deep penetration” in the U.S. government were also signed by Trent Franks (R-AZ), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Thomas Rooney (R-FL), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA).

Even anti-President Obama religious leaders condemned these far-fetched claims. One of 42 organizations signing a letter of protest to these letters is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops which has opposed many of the president’s policies.

Gohmert called his critics “numb nuts.” One of the “numb nuts” is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who has seemingly returned to sanity after his campaigns for president (2008) and senator (2010). On the floor of the Senate, he said, “These allegations about Huma Abedin, and the report from which they are drawn, are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable citizen, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.”

Wes Harris, the founder and chairman of the Original North Phoenix Tea Party, ranted against McCain and promised a recall. Harris’ blog piece against the senator ended with what sounded like a threat: “Go to hell, Senator, it’s time for you to take your final dirt nap.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) demanded “credible, substantial evidence” from Bachmann to back up her accusations. In response, he received a letter he described as “16 pages worth of repeated false allegations. Just regurgitated nonsense.” In the letter, Bachmann did omit one of prime sources, Frank Gaffney, so far right that even the far-right organizations have refused to allow him to attend their meetings. He is the source for Rep. Allen West’s (R-FL) claim that the House is sheltering 80 communists among the Democrats. On Gaffney’s radio show, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) endorsed Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) paranoia. Bachmann is a member of this committee.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) defended Bachmann in her Islamophobic quest. In a CBS interview with Charlie Rose, Cantor stated that her accusations came from her “concern about the security of the country.” Romney’s campaign advisor John Bolton joined Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh in saying that there was nothing wrong with Bachmann’s investigation.

Bachmann’s website has posted this statement: “The letters my colleagues and I sent on June 13 to the Inspectors General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Department of State – and the follow up letter I wrote to Rep. Ellison on July 13 – are unfortunately being distorted.”

One serious effect of Bachmann’s stupidity was the protesting against Secretary of State Clinton in Alexandria last month. Bachmann’s lies  led Egyptians to believe that the country’s new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, was pushed on them through a U.S. plot. One of them explained to journalists “that the Obama Administration is pursuing a closeted pro-Muslim agenda.” A Egyptian blogger used information from Gaffney’s radio show as evidence that the U.S. has a strong connection with the Muslim Brotherhood.

After Japan won the 2011 Women’s Soccer World Cup by defeating the United States, U.S. fans flooded social media sites with racist comments about “Japs” and “Pearl Harbor.” The situation was no better this year when the U.S. defeated Japan 2-1 when U.S. fans  gloated about payback, comparing the defeat to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs (MS) refused to marry church members Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson because they are black. No black wedding is permitted at the church. The Southern Baptist Convention still supports slavery.

The killing of six Sikhs in Wisconsin last week is the culmination of over 1000 cases of random violence, killings, vandalism, bullying, beatings and intimidation against the Sikh community since 9/11.

The current Republican presidential nominee told the world in a speech that people in Israel are better off because the Palestinians are a “different” (aka lower) culture than the Israelites, in the same way that people in the United States are more productive than the people in Mexico because of U.S. “culture.”

Google “U.S. racism,” and you get almost 5,000,000 hits—from just the last month. This country is nowhere near “post-racial”!

Everyone in the country should heed McCain’s statement about Bachmann’s actions: “When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.”

November 16, 2011

Occupy Movement Celebrates Second Month Anniversary

The Occupy Movement celebrates its two-month anniversary tomorrow–ten days shorter than Kim Kardashian’s marriage. In the beginning, media didn’t report on it. After the police attacked the peaceful protesters, attention swiveled to Wall Street to watch passive people get pepper-sprayed and arrested. As the movement started sweeping across the country and around the world, more and more media attention focused on people protesting the inequities between the top 1 percent and the rest of the population. Now it’s moved to the top of the media headlines.

Conservatives’ first approach was to denigrate protesters’ actions. Tea Partyers deplored the fact that Occupiers didn’t go home like nice, well-behaved people. Those same conservatives forgot that they behaved so badly in town hall meetings with their Congresspeople had to be call off these meetings or monitor them with a strong police presence.

House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) called them “growing mobs” before he decided they were all voters and said that they were “justifiably frustrated.” “They are out of work. The economy is not moving,” Cantor said. “Their sense of security for the future is not clear at all. People are afraid, and I get it.” It was a short-lived change: he’s back to cutting benefits for the poor and middle-class.

The police continued to physically abuse the protesters in Oakland until an Iraq veteran went to the hospital in critical condition with head injuries, and the mayor called them off. The stricken man has since been sent home although he hasn’t regained his speech. Other cities followed the more peaceful approach—for a while.

After mayors from 18 large cities conferred, police started on Sunday to drive protesters out of their camps across the country from Oakland (CA) to New York City. Police destruction of these areas went so far as to throw the New York Occupy Wall Street library, over 5,000 books, into a dumpster along with everything else including shredded tents, tarps, sleeping bags, clothing, food, and electronics. Told that their library was being saved for them, protester librarians found only a few boxes of books, destroyed laptops, and one chair at Sanitation.

City officials claim that their actions against the protesters came from the violence surrounding the camps although those not associated with the protest movement including undercover cops perpetrated many of these actions while the actual protesters tried to stop them. Because of this movement, the homeless and mentally ill are now highly visible, something that city officials try to oppose.

Unions, such as the ones that fought union-busting Ohio Gov. John Kasich, will join Occupy protesters and liberal groups such as moveon.org and the American Dream Movement tomorrow in a “day of action” to pressure lawmakers on jobs. Since people first occupied Wall Street, President Obama presented his jobs program, and conservative legislators refused it. Events tomorrow will focus on getting lawmakers to pass federal funding for infrastructure. Republican-led filibusters blocked funding to repair government structures such as bridges, funding that would help the jobs crisis that Republicans refuse to address. A $60 billion infrastructure bill could have been funded by a .7 percent tax on millionaires, but most Republicans have zero tolerance for making the wealthy pay their share.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA), the nation’s largest telecom union, is coordinating two marches with Occupy protesters to coincide with the day of action. Both are tied to the battle over union contract negotiations with Verizon. In one march union members and other protesters will go from Albany (NY) to New York City; the other goes from a Verizon call center in Maryland to McPherson Square in Washington, one of the Occupy’s encampments.

After accusing the Occupy Movement as being just a bunch of hippies, conservative media has worked daily to connect Occupiers with unsavory characters. Fox started by claiming that protesters were part of ACORN, an organization that conservatives destroyed last year. Then Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and his guest, Glenn Beck, said George Soros was funding the protesters and their newspaper, the Occupied Wall Street Journal. Glenn Beck reported that former KKK leader David Duke had “endorsed” Occupy but neglected to point out that Duke also endorsed the Tea Party. As usual, Andrew Breitbart rose to the top of outrageous claims when he suggested that Occupy was affiliated with Al Qaeda.

The Family Research Council is battling the Occupy Movement in the same way that Texas Gov. Rick Perry tried to solve the drought across the state: pray. It is calling on all its members to destroy the movement through mass prayer. “May the movement simply fizzle” is what people are called upon to say to their god.

The hundreds of thousands of people protesting across the country are largely composed of people in the mainstream—students, labor unions, unemployed workers, teachers, artists, singers, writers, former real estate brokers, political activists, in short, people who have given up on the traditional political system. A growing contingent is composed of veterans who are suffering from high unemployment but want to support their country while banks prey on them. Politicians give money to profiteering corporations as they try to cut and privatize veterans programs through proposals of capping military basic pay, limiting veterans’ health benefits, and swapping the military pension program for a 401k system.

Almost 80 years ago, more than 20,000 unemployed World War I veterans occupied Washington to support a bill that would have given them immediate cash payment of the war service “bonus” they were due in 1945, 27 years after the end of the war. Although the House of Representatives passed the bill, the Senate and President Hoover opposed it. Disturbed by the “Bonus Army” or “Bonus Expeditionary Force,” the 15,000 veterans who refused to leave, Hoover called up four troops of cavalry under the command of General Douglas MacArthur to clear the area of men, women, and children. More than 1,000 people were injured in the incident and two veterans and one child died.

A year later the new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, took a different tack with the 3,000 Bonus Marchers who converged on Washington, giving them housing and providing them with housing. Although he refused their demand for the early payment of their pensions, he offered them work in the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Ninety percent of them accepted, the Bonus Marchers voted to disperse, and those that opted to return home rather than join the CCC were given free rail passage.

Complaints about the protesters include the one about their breaking laws: they stay at the park during hours when this isn’t allowed. Protesters ask why they are arrested for not walking on sidewalk etc. while few major prosecutions of banking executives and other financial actors are prosecuted for financial frauds and other crimes related to the economic crisis. Major players causing the crisis have not been touched.

Some protesters weren’t even breaking the law when they were arrested. After about 50 people went to the LaGuardia Place Citibank to close their accounts, 23 Citibank customers were locked inside the bank and arrested. As a result, ACLU provides information about protesters’ rights.

Another objection to the protest is that they lack direction. Orrin Hatch said, “I am very concerned that they don’t seem to have any real agenda other than causing problems.” He missed the piece that protesters in the Occupy Movement seek justice for the vast majority of the people being left out of the dominant economic and political systems. The Occupy Wall Street Movement’s website states: “The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.” The site contains contact information, news, and much more.

Specific issues addressed by protesters begin with the huge inequalities in wealth and income as people gradually realize that the government is responsive only to that tiny percentage of people who control the vast percentage of the money.  It’s the worker bees—public school teachers, police, firefighters, etc.—who get their salaries lowered and put out on furlough and sometimes lose their jobs while conservatives refuse to impose a surtax on the extremely wealthy. Conservatives refuse to close the loophole that allows hedge fund managers to pay a 15% capital gains tax instead of the full income tax on the millions of dollars they rake in every single year. Such an approach  shows that the only constituents are the wealthy. The wealthy corporations caused the private debts, but they are the only ones exempt from repaying this debt.

Although a recent poll cited only 35 percent of the surveyed 1,005 adults held a favorable impression of the Occupy Movement, these protesters fared better than anyone else. Only 16 percent said the same for Wall Street and large corporations, only 29 percent had a favorable impression of the tea party movement and 21 percent for the government in Washington. Wall Street and large corporations tied with Washington government in unpopularity, with 71 percent of those polled saying they had an unfavorable impression of big business and Washington. The tea party got a 50 percent unfavorable response and Occupy Wall Street 40 percent. If conservative legislators don’t decide to do some compromising, their numbers will only get worse.

Tomorrow: more information about the 1 percent versus the 99 percent.

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