Nel's New Day

October 19, 2017

Don’t Impeach DDT

Throughout the past year, VP Mike Pence has mostly kept a low profile while more and more people are calling to impeach Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Examining Pence’s past shows such great darkness that I cannot advocate exchanging the volatile, impulsive man currently in the Oval Office for someone who plans to turn the United States into a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. People who think that DDT is the worst possible person as the nation’s leader need to consider Pence’s ability to destroy democracy and the entire population of the U.S. except for white men.

DDT brought publicity to Pence when he declared that his VP “wants to hang” all gay people. As outrageous as this claim is, Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary, didn’t deny that DDT’s claim was wrong. In Pence’s history as a right-wing extremist member of Congress, he has opposed nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, supported a federal constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and opposed a federal hate crimes law. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed into law permission for businesses to refuse to serve LGBTQ people, spurring a nationwide backlash. When Pence appeared on television to defend the law, he repeatedly refused to say whether or not the law would allow for discrimination and whether or not he supported nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. But this bigotry is only the tip of the iceberg.

Early in his political career, Pence used dirty tricks in his first congressional campaign: he showed someone dressed in Middle Eastern garb who accused his opponent of connections to Arabian oil interests, sent a mailer with a photo of a razor and lines of cocaine that accused his opponent of being soft on drugs, and told campaign volunteers to call voters and tell them that Sharp planned to sell his family farm to a nuclear-waste facility. All these were lies. Part of his 1990 election loss in that fight may have been his use of campaign donations for such personal expenses as his mortgage, groceries, and golf tournament fees—nothing illegal but considered unethical.

Losing the election by 19 points, Pence hosted a radio talk show and continued his lies. In criticizing the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, Pence maintained that opponents to the Supreme Court justice nominee used KKK tactics and blamed Indiana senators Dick Lugar and Dan Coats for “standing by while Clarence Thomas is being lynched.” Anita Hill’s assertions about Thomas’ sexual harassment is now largely believed.

Pence’s loss also led him to the presidency of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation promoting free-market policies and giving him access to a network of business-funded conservative nonprofit groups. The financial ties to tobacco companies led Pence to claim in 2000 that “smoking doesn’t kill [that] two out of every three smokers doesn’t die from a smoking-related illness.” Government was a bigger “scourge” than cigarettes, he said. As a board member of the Indiana Family Institute, Pence joined the campaign against LGBTQ rights and for the criminalization of abortion. Vi Simpson, former Indiana senate Democratic minority leader, said that Pence’s goal is to reverse the economic and political advances of women, using denial of birth control access to women as one method.

After Pence won a seat in the U.S. House in 2000, he became popular on the conservative talk circuit where he spoke for unlimited gun rights, property rights, pro-life, and pro-Israel positions. Michael Leppert, an Indiana Democratic lobbyist, said:

“His politics were always way outside the mainstream. He just does it with a smile on his face instead of a snarl…. He was as far right as you could go without falling off the earth.”

Far to the right of the George W. Bush administration, Pence didn’t author one successful bill during his 12 years in Congress. He opposed Medicaid expansion for prescription drugs and the emergency bank bailout. He not only opposed LGBTQ rights but also argued that the AIDS resources bill, the Ryan White Care Act, should fund “those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” In 2006 he fought for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Pence wants to erase the science of the world. In 2002, he stated that “educators around America must teach evolution not as fact but as theory” in opposition to “intelligent design,” that maintains life on Earth is too complex to emerge through random mutation. Pence called the latter the only “remotely rational explanation for the known universe.”

In 2008, Pence helped found the Tea Party, opposing taxes and government, and became more militant. In 2011, he threatened to shut down the federal government if it didn’t defund Planned Parenthood. In his arguments against funding Planned Parenthood, he referenced Lex Cornelia, ancient Roman laws that included one sentencing providers of abortion potions to work in the mines. Pence supported “personhood” legislation to ban any abortion under all circumstances except to protect the life of the mother and sponsored a failed amendment to the Affordable Care Act allowing government-funded hospitals to turn away dying women who needed abortions.

The Koch brothers learned to count on Pence when he persuaded 156 congressional members to sign a pledge of “No Climate Tax” that allowed the Koch brothers to annually dump 24 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

In 2009 bill Pence sponsored a bill to prevent native-born children of illegal immigrants from becoming American citizens. Like DDT’s recent executive order, he wants to use his personal moral convictions to control the nation, whether constitutional or not.

Pence became governor of Indiana with only 49 percent of the vote in 2013 because the center didn’t trust him. They were right. Pence had promised to follow former Gov. Mitch Daniels, a fiscal conservative who wanted to avoid divisive social issues. He created “the largest income-tax cut in the state’s history” (according to Pence) in a state with one of the lowest income taxes in the nation. His plan had the same result as the proposed DDT tax cuts: people earning $50,000 a year gained about $3.50 a month. Pence again lied about the cut stimulating the economy. Since Pence left, Indiana had to increase the gas tax by ten cents per gallon to fix its infrastructure.

As a new governor, Pence tried to solve his state’s fiscal crisis by cutting tens of millions for higher education, social agencies, and human services. He blocked local governments from raising the minimum wage or requiring better benefits from businesses. Pence privatized government services in infrastructure and education, rolled back energy efficiency standards, and declared the state pro-coal. He allowed people to keep guns in their cars on school grounds, recruited the NRA to train the state’s National Guard, and stopped Gary (IN) from suing gun manufacturers whose weapons were illegally sold.

In 2014, a year after he was elected governor, Pence killed an application for an $80 million federal grant to start a statewide preschool program because of conservative objections to secular public education. At the same time, he traveled the country to build support for a presidential run.

Pence signed a bill stopping women from aborting physically abnormal fetuses and requiring fetal burial or cremation, even after miscarriages. The law has been found unconstitutional, and Indiana is now permanently barred from enforcing a restriction that would have banned abortions sought because of a fetus’ genetic abnormalities, race, gender or ancestry.

Another Pence disaster was the serious spike of HIV cases in southern Indiana from the closure of Planned Parenthood clinics, none of which performed abortions, and the refusal to legalize a syringe exchange. The state health commissioner called the outbreak a public-health emergency, and Pence permitted a temporary exchange program as an emergency.

Although pro-life, Pence refused to save the lives of a Syrian refugee family who had undergone extreme vetting and was fleeing violence and terror by allowing them to settle in the state. They had relatives in Indianapolis along with the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Indiana. The family was sent to Connecticut, and the federal courts eventually struck down Pence’s executive order as discriminatory.

Pence also declined to pardon Keith Cooper, in prison for nine years for an armed robbery he didn’t commit. Without the pardon, Cooper could be released only if he admitted guilt for something he didn’t do that kept him getting a decent job.

Although opposed to gambling in a state that bans political contributions from casino operators, Pence received donations from gambling sources through the Republican Governors Association with its major donors of casino companies.

As Indiana’s governor, Pence also tried to establish a taxpayer-funded state-run new agency to spread his propaganda and used a private email account for official state business. He claimed that it was different from Hillary Clinton’s private server but cost taxpayers $100,000 in legal fees. Taxpayers also paid for private attorneys so that Pence could join Scott Pruitt’s lawsuit against President Obama’s Clean Power Plan before DDT’s election.

That’s how a Christian ideologue rules. To be continued.

October 4, 2016

Pence May Be Worse Than Trump, Can’t Defend Him

Democratic Tim Kaine and GOP Mike Pence, vice-presidential candidates, just squared off in the only VP debate of 2016, and the GOP blogged that Pence won—hours before the debate began. The blog soon disappeared, but it does leave all their other opinions open to question. [Photograph: Andrew Gombert/AFP/Getty Images]

debate

Both candidates have been in Congress and both have been elected to governor, but their future—if they don’t get elected—may follow a different path. Kaine would go back to the Senate if Trump succeeds. Pence jumped at the offer to be Trump’s running mate because he was unlikely to be re-elected for another gubernatorial term in Indiana. If he isn’t elected, Pence would be looking for another job—perhaps back to the U.S. House of Representatives. Reports from closed door meetings showed that Pence may not get a warm greeting from representatives because of Trump’s attitude toward women.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) said that his daughter had told him that “Trump hates women,” and Pence denied it, claiming that he was improving with women. In a private meeting with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Pence was pressed on his reluctance to denounce former KKK leader David Duke and the Alt-Right movement. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) rebuked Pence and called Russian president Vladimir V. Putin “a thug and a butcher,” referring to Trump’s acceptance of the dictator to be unacceptable.

Trump is well known for his sexist attitude toward women, but Pence has been in a position to make life much worse for women:

  • Pence repeatedly voted for a law to criminalize abortion with no exception for a woman’s health and puts doctors into prison for up to two years.
  • Pence repeatedly cosponsored legislation to not only make abortion illegal in almost all cases but also ban common forms of contraception, stem-cell research, and in vitro fertilization.
  • Pence repeatedly voted to allow hospitals to refuse to provide emergency abortion care, even when a woman’s life is in danger.
  • Pence signed a bill to force women to carry non-viable pregnancies to term.
  • Pence’s Department of Health gave a $3.5 million contract to a “pregnancy crisis center” that lies to pregnant women about their options.
  • Pence signed every anti-abortion bill, including one mandating funerals for aborted or miscarried fetuses. A judge overturned that law as unconstitutional.
  • Pence forced a Planned Parenthood clinic to close in Scott County which led to a huge outbreak of HIV.

In an argument supporting a state law against abortion, Pence claimed that women might get voluntarily raped hoping to get pregnant and avoid work:

“And it gets worse – when you get an abortion, you get several days off of work and whatnot to recover. And there are a lot of crazy people out there. What if women would go out and get raped on purpose just so they could get off work? I mean, Indiana’s economy is struggling as it is, and having thousands of women absent from their jobs would be horrific for the state, I’m telling you. I made the right call and that will be confirmed in the long run.”

Pence is also anti-worker:

  • Pence worked to keep Indiana a “right to work” state by forcing unions to provide grievance and bargaining services to non-members free of charge. Although two judges ruled the law unconstitutional, the state Supreme Court upheld Pence’s law.
  • Pence opposes increasing the minimum wage above $7.25 and signed a bill keeping local governments from raising this amount.
  • Pence signed a law repealing the state’s common construction wage, meaning that local boards cannot allocate wages for publicly-funded construction projects.
  • Pence also supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership because he thinks that his state would “enjoy increased market access and fairly compete on the world stage.” Unions—and Donald Trump—oppose TPP because it hurts manufacturing jobs.

Pence also opposes LGBT rights by signing a “right-to-discriminate” bill against LGBT people fighting the right of gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military. More Pence positions that make Trump proud.

The problem with running for an important office is that past peccadilloes sometimes come back to haunt a candidate. In 1990, Mike Pence, like Marco Rubio, used campaign funds to pay for personal items, in Pence’s case the mortgage on his house, his personal credit card bill, groceries, golf tournament fees, and car payments for his wife. Because it was not illegal, the FEC created rules preventing the use of campaign funds for personal needs. Pence lost his race for the House by 19 points. This fact needs to be pointed out when Pence falsely complains about Hillary Clinton’s expenditures.

Pence may get another black eye from his refusal to pardon an innocent man. A man convicted for an armed robbery served ten years before DNA indicated another man and eyewitnesses recanted their testimony. The new prosecutor in a retrial offered a plea deal for an immediate release, leaving the convicted man no choice but to admit to a crime he didn’t commit in other to keep his family from becoming homeless. Pence’s argument against pardoning the man is that no governor has ever pardoned an innocent man: he obviously knows the man is innocent and won’t pardon him. The prosecutor who got the plea agreement is running for Attorney General of Indiana as a Republican, and a pardon would hurt his campaign.

In the coming week, Pence may also suffer with everyone except far-right voters after his losing a court case. A panel of three conservative judges from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Pence cannot discriminate against Syrian refugees by withholding funding from refugee resettlement organizations promised aid by federal law. Judge Richard Posner, a Ronald Reagan appointee, said that Pence’s unfounded “fear of terrorist infiltration” is not a rationale for discrimination. He added that federal law forbids restricting settlement funding on the basis of national origin and compared it to forbidding black people to come to Indiana because Pence might be afraid of them. As an illustration of how conservative this panel was, another member of the unanimous panel, Diane Sykes, is on Trump’s short list for Supreme Court candidates.

People who watched tonight’s debate saw Kaine attacking Pence and frequently interrupting him. Pence stayed unflappable while making faces as Kaine delivered fact after fact of Trump’s egregious statements. The debate itself will probably be soon forgotten, but Kaine’s statements about Trump will most likely be frequently televised along with Pence’s facial expressions and his frequent shaking his head. For example, Pence claimed that he didn’t call Putin a “strong leader,” but video shows did exactly that. Kaine made points asking about Trump’s tax returns, his praise for Putin, his negative comments about women, and his refusal to apologize.

As Kaine pointed out, Pence couldn’t defend Trump—he could only pivot away from him most of the time. One of Pence’s mistakes was to accuse Hillary Clinton of taking money from the Clinton Foundation because Kaine took the opening to list the ways that Pence had abused the Trump Foundation. Another mistake was to blame Clinton for the Russian aggression in Ukraine because it led to the discussion of Trump’s support of Russia.

In one sense, tonight’s debate may be a prelude to the presidential campaign on October 9. Watch next Sunday for the complaint from Trump that Clinton has released an “avalanche of insults.”  If so, this accusation will come from the man who tweeted his own “avalanche of insults” tonight. Otherwise it was pretty much a non-event.

Bottom line: Confronted by Trump’s statements, Pence said that the candidate didn’t say things that he did, avoided the topic, or looked away.

April 7, 2016

Lawmakers Rule Medical Advice for Women

In an interview on MSNBC, Donald Trump brought up the idea that women who seek abortions should be “punished.” The audience, women’s rights groups, and other politicians were incensed. How dare he say that!? The March for Life erroneously referred to women who gets abortions as “victims” and said that it was wrong to “punish” these women. There can’t be punishment for these women in such a free country as the United States! Oh no?!

In most states, women cannot get abortions from state health care, at least five states have each closed all except one clinic providing this service, a current case in the Supreme Court is considering whether to force women in Texas to drive at least 200 miles to a women’s clinic, and at least one state restricts abortions past 18 weeks. Women are forced to get and watch ultrasounds, wait up to three days, and listen to lies from doctors telling them the problems of having abortions such as cancer.

Just when rational people think that a state cannot come up with more punishment for women who have abortions, Indiana has thought of a few new wrinkles. Gov. Mike Pence has totally banned abortions if a women requests it because a fetus has Down syndrome or any other disorder. These defects could include the ones related to Zika virus, meaning that a woman would be forced to carry fetuses to term that have no chance of surviving long after birth. A lethal fetal illness is legal only if the woman informs the state that she plans to terminate the pregnancy.

A woman’s doctor can face a wrongful death lawsuit if he provides an abortion after learning about a pregnancy complication. One OB/GYN said that the law could imperil patients’ health by deterring doctors from performing a legal medical procedure. He said that “some women have “cases in which the risk of death during a full-term pregnancy is more than 14 times higher than for a termination of pregnancy.” The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, with 30,000 members, opposes the law because a patient might keep life-threatening information from her doctor.

The legislature didn’t stop there. Donating fetal issue to scientific research is classified as a felony crime, and abortion providers responsible for burying or cremating “fetal remains.” Physicians must also provide information “about perinatal hospice care to a pregnant woman who is considering an abortion because the unborn child has been diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly.” Women are forced to listen to a fetal heartbeat and view an ultrasound 18 hours before getting an abortion in a state that has only four clinics in 92 counties.

Women have decided to fight back. In a new program called “Periods for Pence,” women are calling the governor’s office with details about their menstruation. It is based on the women’s assumption that the governor deserves updates on their bodies because he has shown so much interest in them. Below are sampling of call reports:

Me: “Good morning. I just wanted to call and let the good Governor know that I am still not pregnant, since he seems to be so worried about women’s reproductive rights.”

Irritated lady on the other end of the phone: “And can I get your name, please?”

Me: “Sure, it’s Not Pregnant Laura.”

 

Just got through to Governor Pence’s office. (The operator must be on break.)

Me: “Hi, is this the operator, or the Governor’s office?”

Them: “Um, this is the office, but I am covering for the operator right now.”

Me: “Oh, good. I need to get a message to the Governor that I am on day three of my period. My flow seems abnormally heavy, but my cramps are much better to–”

Them: (Seriously pissed and trying to keep their voice down, but not quite succeeding.) MA’AM, WHAT IS IT THAT I CAN HELP YOU WITH?

Me: “Oh, I don’t need your help, I just wanted to keep Governor Pence informed of my reproductive cycle, since he seems so concerned.

Them: “Ugh.” (Click.)

 

I called to let him know that I am a lesbian so I won’t be needing an abortion (or legal protections, for that matter lol double whammy! Thanks, Pence!) also mentioned that I’m not currently menstruating but I might be ovulating.

 

Me: “Good Morning. I just wanted to inform the Governor that things seem to be drying up today. No babies seem to be up in there. Okay?”

Them: (Sounding strangely horrified and chipper at the same time.) “Ma’am, can we have your name?”

Me: “Sure. It’s Sue.”

Them: “And your last name?”

Me: “Magina. That’s M-A-G-I-N-A. It rhymes with–”

Them: “I’ve got it.” (Click.)

 

Someone from Pence’s campaign literally just rang my doorbell, wanting to know if I was likely to vote Republican or Democrat in the upcoming election. I let him know that I wasn’t sure, and that I’m going to be ovulating soon, and that I was unclear on whether or not I was legally required to fertilize the egg. He started cracking up.

 

Operator: Governor Mike Pence’s Office, please hold…  (Six minutes later.) Governor Pence’s office, thank you for waiting…

Me: Hi, I’m a native Hoosier who derives from the uterus of another native Hoosier…

Operator: (clears throat.)

Me: I now live in California and I’m wondering if my uterus still falls under the jurisdiction of Governor Pence or– ?

Operator: Please hold. (Click.)

The woman who launched this initiative on Facebook wrote:

“The more I read this bill, the more vague language I found and the more loopholes, and it just seemed incredibly intrusive. So I wanted to give a voice for women who really didn’t feel like they were given any kind of input into a bill that would affect our life so much.”

The law includes a reporting requirement that “some women on their periods may unknowingly expel a fertilized egg and thus have a miscarriage and be potentially liable if the egg is not correctly disposed of.” Lawmakers didn’t take into consideration that about half of miscarriages take place shortly after a fertilized is implanted and occur about the time when a woman might expect her menstrual period. She may not even know that she was having a “miscarriage.” As the creator of Periods of Pence wrote, “I would certainly hate for any of my fellow Hoosier women to be at risk of penalty if they do not ‘properly dispose’ of this or report it.” Therefore she recommends to women that they report to the governor about their menstrual periods in detail to keep from breaking his new law.

Some women, such as Madi Whitman, are choosing to post information on the governor’s Facebook page instead of calling:

Dear Governor Pence,

I recently switched from tampons to a menstrual cup and have found that it has an unexpected learning curve. I am having trouble with the position of my cervix at the onset of my period and as a result the cup leaks. Since you are so invested in my reproductive health and clearly understand my anatomy better than I do, I would appreciate any advice you have in cup placement and rotation techniques. Thanks!

And this request from Brandy Hager Smith:

Governor, I am thinking about getting a pair of underwear called Thinx. They are designed to catch the blood from Menstruation, replacing the need for tampons & pads. Are these approved by you? I don’t want to violate any of our strict women’s rights laws in Indiana. Thanks for undying commitment to women’s health!!!

Those wishing to participate in “Periods for Pence” can call (317) 232-4567, or 317–569-0709, fill out a form on the governor’s website,  or leave a message on his Facebook page. More message are on his Facebook page.)

In late March, one Missouri state legislator explained one reason why lawmakers consider themselves authorities on women’s reproduction. In a discussion about whether to ban abortion in the state, GOP Rep. Mike Moon claimed to know when a fetus becomes an “unborn human child” because he is a “former embryo.” After the audience finished laughing at him, a certified health expert testified against the resolution, explaining that there is no scientific consensus on when a fetus becomes a person and declaring that women should have the final choice about ending a pregnancy. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that only “all persons born” are granted citizenship under the jurisdiction of the United States. Two key words: persons and born. Personhood begins at birth.

When the cervix of a pregnant woman in Texas began prematurely dilating, nothing could be done to save the 20-week-old fetus. State law sent the woman home to wait until the fetus no longer had a heartbeat or the woman could deliver the fetus. After she started bleeding, she went back to the hospital where she had to wait four days until the fetus no longer had a heartbeat.

Thanks to “religious liberty” and conservatives, medical decisions are made by ignorant lawmakers who consider themselves experts in women’s reproductive health.

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.

March 29, 2015

Conservatives Fight for Power through Claims of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence is even farther from a run for president after the media attention he received last week. After he signed into law the RFRA discrimination bill using religious belief as an excuse, Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle announced that his company has abandoned its expansion in Indianapolis that would hire an additional 1,000 employees. Oesterle isn’t some wide-eyed liberal: he directed GOP Mitch Daniels’ 2004 campaign for governor. Seattle has also joined San Francisco in not allowing work-related, city-funded travel to Indiana.

Is Pence truly confused about “the hostility that’s been directed at our state” or just trying to cover his bigoted actions? “I’ve been taken aback by the mischaracterizations from outside the state of Indiana about what is in this bill,” Pence said, indicating that he’s not prepared to be the president of the United States.

Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Pence avoided six questions about whether a merchant in Indiana could legally refuse to serve LGBT customers. One answer was that “this is not about discrimination, this is about empowering people to confront government overreach.” he said. Two questions needed only yes-or-no responses about whether state law permits legal discrimination against LGBT customers.

Chuck Todd, conservative host of Meet the Press, gave Pence a pass by concentrating on Hillary Clinton’s emails and waiting until the last five minutes to address the new Indiana law. Even more progressive Sam Stein of the Huffington Post seemed surprised—like Pence—that corporations thought the state should be boycotted.

While Pence waffled, an Indiana business owner, who prefered to be anonymous, bragged on the radio that he has already discriminated against gay and lesbian couples. He didn’t even claim a religious belief. Fortunately for Pence, the Fox network has his back. FOX News contributor Mike Gallagher compared LGBT people wanting service at restaurants to “Nazis” asking for hate-filled “Swastika signs” made for a “skinhead rally.” Pence and Fox will most likely defend the pending bill in Georgia that can legally permit domestic violence.

The Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is one of at least 35 bills moving through at least 19 state legislatures after Indiana passed its discriminatory RFRA. As with Indiana’s law, the bill would permit a wide variety of discrimination including bullying in schools.

The Georgia GOP legislators know that their bill is wrong because of the way that it was moved through the process. Sponsor state Senator Josh McKoon pushed it through the judiciary committee while opposing members were in the bathroom. Then he refused an amendment from a fellow Republican that would have specified that the “religious freedom” could not be used to discriminate against others. He didn’t even permit an amendment keeping religious belief from stopping child abuse. Speakers in favor of the bill were allowed far more time than those opposed to it, sometimes twice as much as allotted.

The RFRA passed the Senate on March 5 and moved to the State House with a 2-1 GOP majority. After an anti-discrimination amendment passed in its judiciary committee, conservatives tabled the bill, claiming that an anti-discrimination amendment defeats the purpose of the bill. According to conservatives, a religious freedom measure with an anti-discrimination provision is not a real religious freedom measure.

Blogger Eric Erickson slammed the man who proposed the amendment as “the man who wants to deny protection to Christian businesses.” Clearly, the religious freedom bill is freedom for only some religious people. Erickson may not be aware that Georgia’s RFRA permits Sharia law because it defines “exercise of religion” as any “practice or observance of religion, whether or not compelled by or central to a system of religious belief.”

Tomorrow, conservatives plan an amendment, stating that the RFRA cannot be used to discriminate against anyone protected against state law. Georgia has no statewide civil rights law, no protected classes.

Legal commentators have surmised that the law would give a pass to spousal and child abusers if the husband or father has a religious pretext. The Christian Domestic Discipline Network offers a raft of rationales for “wife spanking,” and Proverbs 13:24 states, “He who spares his rod hates his son. But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Although Georgia has laws protecting child welfare, a court might determine that these laws are not the “least restrictive means” of protecting it. The new law can be a defense for assault and battery. Religious views may not completely stop an investigation into child-endangerment and child-abuse charges, but they can slow down its progress. Even conservative district attorneys have said that the bill would delay investigations and prosecutions of child abuse.

Even Mike Bowers, successful supporter of state anti-sodomy laws in the Supreme Court case Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) opposes the proposed Georgia law. In an open letter, Bowers wrote that the law is “unequivocally an excuse to discriminate….[P]ermitting citizens to opt-out of laws because of a so-called burden on the exercise of religion in effect ‘would permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.’”

Pence is probably envious of the silence from Georgia’s business world, compared to eminent boycotts of Indiana. Only recently have some major corporations began to speak out although they rather weakly state that they “don’t support discrimination.” That includes responses from Home Depot and Atlanta Hawks. AmericasMart Atlanta, one of the world’s largest permanent wholesale trade centers, said that it doesn’t take public positions on pending legislation but they do welcome everyone.

Coca-Cola, Delta, Turner Broadcasting, the Atlanta Braves, and the Atlanta Falcons have not responded to questions about their positions although both Delta and Coca-Cola opposed an identical bill last year. Lawmakers may be blackmailing the companies. Another pending bill would eliminate Georgia’s tax subsidy on jet fuel in retribution for Delta CEO Richard Anderson’s recent history of weighing in on public affairs, including opposition to last year’s version of RFRA. Although he supported the fuel subsidy in the past, Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R), sponsor of the bill to eliminate the subsidy, said, “Will I more than happily take advantage of those who are tired of him chiming in to pass a piece of legislation? Absolutely.”

Businesses afraid of losing business conventions and tourism, however, are more openly opposing the RFRA. The executive board of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau issued a resolution “in opposition to the implementation of any legislation which could be used to potentially discriminate,” noting that the bill would “tarnish Atlanta’s reputation as one of the world’s most welcoming cities.” The resolution followed a letter to lawmakers last week stating, “This bill is unnecessary, divisive, and a distraction from the issues needed to advance Georgia.”

Local conferences possibly moving away from the state include the comic and fantasy convention Dragon Con, the American Society for Higher Education, American Academy of Religion, American Historical Association, German Studies Association, History of Science Society, Philosophy of Science Association, Society for Biblical Literature, and Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts. The NCAA, which was “especially concerned” about the new Indiana law, is scheduling its 2019 convention in Atlanta.

Although 31 states, 18 of them since the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, have passed forms of RFRA, the most recent bills and Indiana’s law are far more radical. The federal law says that the government may not pass a law that “substantially burdens a person’s exercise of religion,” but some businesses are claiming that they don’t have to meet the substantial burden test.

The state House in Kansas passed a bill allowing anyone to refuse to recognize same-sex couples or provide them with services on religious grounds without showing that it would substantially burden their ability to exercise their faith. In late February, the state Senate refused to take up the bill.

University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock wrote that the fight over extremist religious freedom is “ polarizing the country and endangering religious liberty more generally.” Extremists invited to Pence’s signing the Indiana law reflect how far to the religious right the law is:

  • Micah Clark, Head of the American Family Association of Indiana: Claims that “homosexuality has no societal benefit…and it’s individually destructive and dangerous.”
  • Curt Smith, President of Indiana Family Institute: Equates homosexuality with bestiality and adultery and said, “…I believe homosexuality is harmful to all, including society, and is against the teachings of the God of the Bible…” 
  • Eric Miller, Exec. Director of Advance America, Indiana’s leading anti-LGBT org.: Distributed fear flier falsely claiming that pastors could be jailed for preaching against homosexuality once same-sex marriage passes and  claims “[b]anning same-sex marriages and civil unions will prove to be the greatest moral battle of this generation.”

pence The RFRAs are not about protecting religious freedoms. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does that. It’s about power. The RFRAs are all about a select group of white Christian males, approximately one-fourth of the U.S. population, trying to renew their dominance over everyone else. These haters are destroying freedom of religion for everyone.

March 27, 2015

Indiana Legalizes Discrimination

For most of my life, Indiana was just the state between Illinois and Ohio, fairly innocuous when compared to the corrupt one on the left with four of the last seven governors going to prison and the occasional scandals in the one on the right. Indiana’s one president, Benjamin Harrison, barely made a splash, and most people don’t know that Vice-president Dan Quayle, is a native. Current governor, Mike Pence, is a possible GOP presidential candidate. He’ll just have to decide whether to make another gubernatorial run because he can’t run for both offices. Little noticed when he accepted a form of expanded Medicaid last January, his latest law has put him on the map like New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Texas’ Rick Perry.

Yesterday he signed state Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. Religious belief can now be used for legalized discrimination in Indiana starting on July 1:

“A governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability…. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding.”

“Person” is defined as an individual, organization, religious society, church, corporation, company, “unincorporated association or another entity,” but the law fails to define “substantial burden.” Individuals can find legal protection in the bill “regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” The exception enables discrimination because people cannot file complaints against businesses for discrimination.

Although other states have proposed the same law, even Jan Brewer was smart enough to not sign a similar bill when she was governor in Arizona. The signing was a private ceremony with only invited fundamentalist Christians and Jews, news of the event crossed the country like a wildfire.

Businesses and organizations that complained about the discrimination, but Pence told them that their concerns were only a “misunderstanding.” When signing the bill, he said, “This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination I would have vetoed it.” He blamed the media for the national outrage and said his primary concern was for religious believers who feel their liberty is endangered.

Major businesses, activists, and organizations speaking out against the bill included the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Indiana’s Republican mayor Greg Ballard. The chief executive of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Kevin Brinegar, assailed the law as “entirely unnecessary.”

CEO Marc Benioff of Salesforce, purchaser of Indianopolis-based Exact Tartet, was joined by other cloud computer companies in protest. Benioff tweeted, “Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the Indianapolis-based group would examine “how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.” The Final Four men’s basketball tournament is in Indianapolis next week. Arn Tellem, a prominent sports agent whose clients include the basketball players Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Jason Collins, wrote:

“The measure codifies hatred under the smoke screen of freedom and jeopardizes all that has been recently accomplished. It legalizes discrimination against L.G.B.T. individuals and will cause significant harm to many people.”

Tellem urged the Indiana Pacers and the entire NCAA “to not only condemn this blatantly unconstitutional legislation, but to take forceful action against it by re-evaluating their short- and long-term plans in the state.”

Indianopolis’ largest convention, Gen Con, has threatened to take its 56,000 attendees and $50 million in revenue elsewhere when its contract with the Indiana Convention Center expires in 2020.

Todd Adams, associate general minister and vice-president of the Indianapolis-based Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) said, “Our perspective is that hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry.” With 659,000 members in North America, the denomination has been headquartered in Indianapolis for almost 100 years. The group may look for another location for its 2017 convention that draws about 6,000 attendees.

CEO Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp, which publishes online reviews of businesses, wrote a blog opposing laws that legalize discrimination. “It is unconscionable to imagine that Yelp would create, maintain, or expand a significant business presence in any state that encouraged discrimination by businesses against our employees, or consumers at large.”

Eli Lilly, employer of over 11,700 people in the state, wrote, “Simply put, we believe discriminatory legislation is bad for Indiana and for business.” It added, “As we recruit, we are searching for top talent all over the world. We need people who will help find cures for such devastating diseases as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Many of those individuals won’t want to come to a state with laws that discriminate.”

George Takei, actor in Star Trek, promised a boycott. “If it goes into effect, Indiana will be marked as a state where certain people are not welcome,” he posted on Facebook. “We will not spend. And we will not attend events, including GenCon, the world’s largest gaming convention, held in Indianapolis each year. Many fans here are gamers, Governor Pence, and we will demand the convention move out of your state.”

Broadway actress Audra McDonald threatened to drop an upcoming Indiana performance but decided instead to donate proceeds to LGBT rights groups. She tweeted, “On the phone w/@united so long I forgot what year it was, then saw the law Indiana Gov.Pence just signed & remembered…It’s 1950.”

San Francisco is the first city to take action since the bill was signed into law. Mayor Ed Lee announced that the city will not use taxpayer money to fund any city employees’ trips to Indiana.

The law’s target is the LGBT community after the state was forced to legalize marriage equality across the nation. Eric Miller, executive director of the group Advance America, said the law protects Christian bakers, florists and photographers who don’t want “to participate in a homosexual marriage,” Christian businesses that refuse “to allow a man to use the women’s restroom,” and churches that refuse to allow their premises to be used for same-sex weddings.

Yet the discrimination can be against anyone. An employer can refuse to hire Jewish employees, a landlord can refuse to rent to Muslims, or a business can refuse to serve atheists. Pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or drugs dealing with HIV. Restaurants can refuse to serve African-Americans, and people can be exempted from compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Anyone violating a biblical passage is at risk for discrimination.

Indiana has problems more serious than a same-sex couple wanting to buy a wedding cake. With 79 newly confirmed HIV cases within the past three months in Scott County, Pence declared an epidemic and lifted the state law preventing needle exchange in the county. The number is up from an annual average of five cases, and all the new cases are linked to needle sharing among drug users. Pence said, “despite my reservations,” that he is permitting drug users to exchange used hypodermic needles for sterile ones and only in that county for 30 days. Doctors disagree with Pence that this will fix the problem. Poverty has led to an outbreak of hepatitis, a precursor to HIV epidemics, and the county has no addition treatment center. They expect the problem to grow worse across the state.

 

Complaints of over-pricing have forced Coventry Health Care to lower the cost of HIV and AIDS drugs of more than $1,000 per month to $5 to $100 per month for most treatments starting in June. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago had warned Coventry that its high prices might violate federal protections against discrimination. In February, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a rule for 2016 that prohibits plan designs that place “most or all drugs that treat a specific condition on the highest cost tiers” and that charge more for single-tablet regimens than for treatments that require patients to take multiple pills.

 

Mike Pence plans to call the businesses and organizations that think his new law is discrimination. He may have difficulty persuading them, but he could use the approach that a Democratic state representative in Oklahoma developed. Emily Virgin proposed that businesses who wish to discriminate “shall post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including websites.” The amendment adds that the notice “may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which couples the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or race.” People should know whether businesses plan to discriminate.

July 14, 2013

Fundamentalists Can’t Turn the World Backwards

It’s almost as if fundamentalist evangelical Christians are suicidal because of how much they look forward to the Rapture—the idea that Jesus will come back to Earth, leaving no one alive. Four out of ten people in the United States think that their Christ will show up here by 2050. That may be the reason that they have no interest in preserving the planet for future generations.

According to “End Times Theology,” a study by political scientists David Barker and David Bearce, “A belief in the Second Coming reduces the probability of strongly agreeing that the government should take action [in slowing climate change] by more than 12 percent.” The reason is that “end-times believers ‘know’ that life on Earth has a preordained expiration date, no matter what—and that all Christians will be raptured before the going gets too tough.” Over three-fourths of Republicans identify as end-timer believers.

Discussing the study, one woman epitomized the extremist Christian’s apathetic, fatalistic attitude toward climate change: “Of course I don’t want [polar bears] to die, but you also have to realize this is just a part of the world coming to an end like it’s supposed to. And there’s nothing really that they can do.” She continued, “That’s why we need to be educated in the Bible, so we know what signs to look for. Because you’re just wasting all that money on research when it’s, sadly, not going to help.”

End-believers plan for the future, however, by keeping bank accounts and sending their children to college. Many of these people reason that people should not do anything about the climate because “God is in control.” Maybe that’s the reason that the conservatives want to give all their money to the wealthy and the corporations and destroy the United States. But why do they bother to take Social Security and Medicare from older people and food stamps from the poor if there is nothing that can be done. They are paying their legislative representatives to do nothing.

Until the Rapture, however, fundamentalist Christians complain about giving rights to those not of their religion. Pat Robertson on Monday complained that Facebook doesn’t have a “vomit” option for photographs of same-sex couples. He followed that statement three days later by saying, “We are not anti-gay.” Robertson thinks that gay people are just confused straight people “because they have forsaken God, it’s not something that is natural and when people reunite with the Lord, the Lord will get their priorities the way it is supposed to be.”

The televangelist gives reasons for this LGBT confusion, one being child abuse: “A lot of people are into this homosexual thing because they’ve been abused….” Another reason is that some gay people “maybe got some chromosomal damage that’s different from heterosexuals.” His solution is another ex-gay ministry to emerge after the disappearance of Exodus “to help people who want out.”

In discussing LGBT people, Robertson warned that the land will “vomit you out.” He explained that Leviticus puts homosexuality on the same abomination level as incest and bestiality “and those who do that in the Old Testament were stoned to death.” Like other fundamentalists, he said, “Which is going to take precedence, the Supreme Court of the United States or the holy word of God?” Following their literal reading of the Bible, the extremist Christians may think about purchasing slaves.

Also last week, Robertson recommended following Egyptians by overthrowing President Obama because of Obamacare.  “You know, they revolted in Egypt against the oppressive actions of the Muslim Brotherhood and this example of state socialism is something that Americans should rise up against,” he said, complaining that it was a partisan initiative.

Conservatives conveniently forget that Republicans, led by the Heritage Foundation, proposed the Affordable Care Act in the 1990s. And they’re still upset because President Obama won the last democratic election, despite the massive illegal efforts to stop people voting.

The Church of England suffers from the same ambivalence toward LGBT people as Robertson. It launched an anti-homophobia school campaign at the same time that it affirmed its opposition to marriage equality. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said, “The majority of the population rightly detests homophobic behavior or anything that looks like it and sometimes they look at us and see what they don’t like.” Approximately 20 percent of UK students are taught in a Church of England school. It appears that the religious group wants people to like them more.

The former Archbishop claimed that marriage equality will destroy society, shred heterosexual marriage, and damage children. (Sounds like the U.S. fundamentalists!) The Church of England has also moaned about how legal marriage equality will force the schools to “teach” gay marriage.  Without accepting marriage equality, the Church will most likely fail in its anti-homophobic campaign.

States in the U.S. suffer the same ambivalence as the Church of England. The Supreme Court ruled that the nation recognizes marriage equality just days before Indiana made state marriage equality a felony. According to an Indiana law, same-sex couples applying for a marriage license in the state after July 1, 2014, can be punished by 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. Anyone performing a same-sex marriage, including clergy and judges, will be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. Indiana has made same-sex illegal in a statute, but they plan a constitutional ban when legislators meet in the January-March 2014 session.

Pastor Kevin Swanson suffers no ambivalence on Generations Radio. The Colorado wildfires have already been blamed on abortion and LGBT people; Swanson has added a third problem—the way that people, mostly women, dress. He started out with complaints against women wearing “a male style of dress” in the 1980s followed by Sen. Carol Moseley Braun dressing in a pants suit in 1993. “Pantsuits, pantsuits everywhere,” Swanson said before he moved on to video on a 14-hour flight from Australia.

“I’ve never seen so many breasts in all of my life …. I mean every form of aberrant sexuality and women’s breasts are shown in front of me almost nonstop for fourteen hours. It’s just such an oppressive, horrible, horrible world,” Swanson declaimed before he moved on to androgyny.

“How many young boys are running out and doing the metrosexual thing with the skinny pants and the little fairy shoes. They’re working on the gender blender for themselves and they don’t want to look like a man and God is just so upset, He hates it when man are not manly in their approach. 1 Corinthians 6 speaks about homosexuality and feminine behavior and feminine dress for men. God does not want men to be androgynous and feminine like in their approach; He gave them facial hair for a reason.”

Christianity is also a good excuse to not pay taxes, according to a software entrepreneur who has failed to pay income tax for a decade. Doing so would break his “blood covenant” with God, according to Chester Evans Davis, 56, of Oregon City. He said, “My hands, my feet, my words, my ideas, my labor, my actions are all and have been given to the Lord for his glory.”

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon didn’t buy the argument and found Davis guilty of transferring money in an effort to hide it from the government, attempting to file harassing liens against federal officials, and trying to obtain arrest warrants against IRS employees. Davis now owes $7.1 million in taxes and penalties along with eight years and one month in prison. Most of the success in his company, ESA International, came from federal contracts. Davis’ friend Thomas Schultz, who called himself a “private attorney general,” said that “the labor of a human being is not a taxable commodity.”

Sadly for all these people, the world seems to be inexorably moving forward instead of returning to earlier centuries.

February 20, 2013

Who Elected These People!?

The U.S. Representatives and Senators have gone home to tell their constituents what a great job they’re going while state legislators continue to spread their craziness in their capitols–all from the party that claimed they wanted to increase jobs and help the economy.

Former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), who served six terms and left in 2009, has admitted that he fathered an illegitimate child with Michelle Laxalt, the daughter of former Nevada Gov. and Sen. Paul Laxalt (R) and a top Washington lobbyist.  She raised Adam, their son, as a single parent and continually praised Domenici for his character and “integrity.” This story might not be important if Dominici had not supported Bill Clinton’s impeachment for covering up his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. According to Dominici, “I have concluded that President Clinton’s actions do, indeed, rise to the level of impeachable offenses that the Founding Fathers envisioned.” Domenici also voted for the sanctity of the Defense of Marriage Act.

In his appearance on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) came out with the real reason that he wants to destroy the economy by continuing the sequester. After Chris Wallace asked him if Graham really wanted to slash Head Start programs for 70,000 children, cut 2,100 food inspectors, and eliminate $900 million in loan guarantees for small businesses, Graham said that he would do it to get rid of Obamacare.

The supposedly kinder, gentler House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) struggled to explain the reason behind removing health care from people who need it on Meet the Press a week ago. Immediately after he talked with great sympathy about a 12-year-old child who has had cancer for 11 years, he moved, without segue, to how the child will benefit from lowering the deficit. Somewhere he missed the point that without health care, the child will die.

Virginia’s Gov. Bob McDonnell, once a possibility for vice-president until his proposed title meant “vaginal probe,” is following private industry to cheat employees. He’s limiting the number of hours for state employees to 29 per week to avoid paying for Obamacare, assuming that he can save $110 million a year in health care benefits. McDonnell failed to take into consideration the money that these people without insurance will cost in emergency care. Adjunct faculty in higher education may lose a third of their current wages. Teaching an almost full course load,  they are paid a one-time fee, but considered hourly wage employees. My question for VP McDonnell: will you also limit your weekly work load to 29 hours?

Virginia is known for other mind-boggling activities. Not only did Del. Robert G. Marshall (R) propose the idea of the commonwealth making its own money—because, of course, the United States is going to collapse, but the plan passed by a two-thirds majority earlier this month. Saner minds prevailed in the Senate that voted it down, perhaps in part because the U.S. Constitution does not allow states to have individual currency. Yet there are enough people in one of the original 13 states that believed this could be workable.

The Thirteenth Amendment, adopted in 1865, abolished slavery. This year, 148 years later, Mississippi made the vote unanimous. Although the state’s legislature voted in 1995, 120 years later, to do so, they failed to notify the Office of the Federal Register of that legislative action. This month they did so.

Republicans want freedom—or so they say. Missouri state Rep. Mike Leara (R) has proposed legislation making it a felony for lawmakers to so much as propose bills regulating guns. It provides that “[a]ny member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States, shall be guilty of a class D felony.” Like many other anti-gun law people, Leara, in ignoring the constitutional Speech and Debate clause, thinks that the U.S. Constitution is composed of only the Second Amendment.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long (Indiana) is introducing a measure calling for a convention where states could propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. His goal is to keep Congress from taxing and regulating interstate commerce. Article V of the U.S. Constitution permits this but only if two-thirds of all state legislatures demand the convention. Indiana conservatives criticize Long because he is preventing votes on measures he calls “blatantly unconstitutional.” The state’s house speaker Brian Bosma said he will carry Long’s measure if it reaches his chamber.

You can’t make up this stuff. Montana State Rep. Jerry O’Neil (R) is sponsoring a bill to allow defendants to “bargain with the court” to receive “corporal punishment in lieu of incarceration.” The bill would apply to not just misdemeanor crimes, but also felonies, though the bill requires that the “exact nature of the corporal punishment to be imposed” be “commensurate with the severity, nature, and degree of the harm caused by the offender.” John S. Adams, who covers the Montana legislature for the Great Falls Tribune, wrote, “Republican leadership has been doing its best to tamp down any potential bills the other side might use to embarrass the GOP as they work to craft a budget. This one apparently didn’t get tamped.” We can guess that Karl Rove’s new group won’t be funding O’Neil.

Another politician who probably won’t get Rove’s support is Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) who told 18-year-old undocumented student Jessica Bravo, “I hate illegals.”  She made an appointment to talk with him because she “wanted to explain that I have no other home than Costa Mesa, I wanted to speak for all those in my community who are too afraid to talk about their status.” When she told Rohrabacker her status, he became angry and shook his finger at her. As she left his office, Bravo told reporters that he asked if she had registered for the meeting. “Well, now I know where you live,” he had told her threateningly.

And scratch Rep. John “Jimmy” Duncan, Jr. (R-TN) off Rove’s list. Yesterday, in talking about the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) which the House has yet to act on, Duncan said, “Like most men, I’m more opposed to violence against women than even violence against men, because most men can handle it a little better than a lot of women can.” Despite his offensively ignorant sexist statement, he isn’t sure whether he will support VAWA.

Top on my list of stupid statements, however, comes from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in her outrage against raising the minimum wage to $9.00, as President Obama suggested in his State of the Union address. She began with the argument that young workers couldn’t learn responsibility as she did as a teenage retail employee in Mississippi:

“I remember my first job, when I was working in a retail store, down there, growing up in Laurel, Mississippi. I was making like $2.15 an hour. And I was taught how to responsibly handle those customer interactions. And I appreciated that opportunity.”

To those who think that $2.15 an hour isn’t much, like Blackburn does, consider that the $2.15 an hour she made between 1968 and 1970 is now worth between $12.72 and $14.18. Forty-five years ago, the minimum wage was $1.60, equivalent to $10.56 in today’s terms. Today’s minimum wage of $7.25 is equivalent to just $1.10 an hour in 1968 dollars, meaning the teenage Blackburn managed to enter the workforce making almost double the wage she now says is keeping teenagers out of the workforce.

Blackburn’s statement may be matched only by former Rep. Ron Paul’s appeal to the United Nations. The father of Libertarian Sen. Rand Paul is known for his anti-UN position: “American national sovereignty cannot survive if we allow our domestic laws to be crafted by an international body.” The owners of the domain name RonPaul.org, his own followers, have offered him the domain free along with their mailing list of 170,000 email address.  He turned them down and filed a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a global governing body that is an agency of the United Nations. Maybe they’ve settled: the link for the PDF of the complaint doesn’t work.

Right now, polling puts approval of Congress at 15 percent, four percent lower than a month ago. At that time, Congress was lower than used car salesmen, root canals, colonscopies, and cockroaches. It probably still it. Have a nice time talking to your constituents, Congresspeople!

January 6, 2013

Religious Madness

Mind-bloggling events from the religious perspective:

While the country needs resolution for the economy, jobs, poverty, etc., one of the first bills introduced in the Indiana legislature is to force students to recite the Lord’s Prayer in school every morning. State Sen. Dennis Kruse is known for his ignorance about the constitution: last year he introduced a bill to teach creationism in public schools. Before that, he tried to get language on evolution taken out of the state’s science standards. Taxpayers pay Kruse and others like him to waste time in the legislature.

The Vatican is also struggling with the 21st century in a bipolar fashion. Pope Benedict said in his New Year’s message on Tuesday he hoped 2013 would be a year of peace and that the world was under threat from unbridled capitalism, terrorism and criminality.

There’s already a lack of peace in the Vatican. The country can no longer  take credit cards—at least for now. The Bank of Italy pulled its authorization as of the first of January because the Holy See hasn’t complied with European Union safeguards against money laundering. The Vatican has tried to upgrade its measures, even hiring a Swiss expert, but got failing grades for its financial watchdog agency and its bank.

A Catholic priest is also giving the Vatican bad press. In Italy, where 118 women were murdered last year in domestic violence, Father Piero Corsi blames the women.  On the church bulletin board, the Catholic priest in the northwestern part of the country posted a message titled, “Women and Femicide, How often do they provoke?'”

According to NPR reporter Sylvia Poggioli, “Corsi said scantily dressed women bring out the worst instincts in men and cause violence or sexual abuse. He claimed women end up exacerbating tensions by ‘leaving children to themselves, having filthy houses, serving cold meals, buying fast food and providing dirty clothes.'” Corsi has a controversial history: in October he posted anti-Muslim cartoons on the church bulletin board and before that, scuffled with a homeless man.

In the United States, a mother is upset with the Catholic Church because it refuses to allow her daughter to play football. Sixth-grader Caroline Pla has played football with the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) for two years, but this year she can’t suit up with her team. The family started a petition on change.org calling for an update to the CYO rules. “Archdiocese of Philadelphia CYO Office: Stop Discrimination – Change the CYO Football Rule – Allow Girls to Play.” Caroline’s teammate, Jake Kueny, and her coach, Jim Reichwin, agree that she should be able to play. CYO’s website says that the purpose of the organization is to develop the individual and promote teamwork.

The fundamental Christian side of religion is not happy either. Bryan Fischer of the far-right American Family Association is upset with legislation passed to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” He declared that it violated the Ten Commandments’ prohibition on covetousness and accused the Democratic Party of being driven by a “Satanic” ideology. Thus the legislation is “demonic.”

Fischer also thinks that abortion is a good idea if—and only if—scientists find a “gay gene.” He wrote, “… I expect many abortion-minded parents will want to know exactly how strong this epi-marker is in their unborn children so they can decide whether or not to exercise reproductive choice. ” Thus he supports abortion for one characteristic that he considers “a birth defect.”

The AFA is also trying to rile up its constituency by warning members that, within 50 years, Christians will be treated like African Americans during the Jim Crow era. The email from Donald Wildmon predicted that government will take children from parents at birth and any city with “saint” or other religious-related name will have to change. “Marriage will include two, three, four or any number of participants. Marriage will not be important, with individuals moving in and out of a ‘family’ group at will,” according to the email.

Two good ideas from Wildmon are that churches will no longer receive “tax credit” and “churches will not be allowed to discuss any political issues.” The email also said that “we will have, or have had, a Muslim president.” It seems that the AFA no longer believes that the current president is a Muslim. And from left field comes the warning that anyone with “any religious affiliation will be forced out of health care.”

AFA’s email comes from the same group that called for kidnapping the children of same-sex couples through a modern-day “Underground Railroad” system. When a man followed this advice and helped a lesbian take her daughter into hiding in South America, AFA recommended that he flee the country to escape U.S. law.

Does Irving Independent School District have an “Islamic bias” in the school curriculum? That was what a chain email claimed. Worried about the backlash of such a possibility, the district asked for a response from the director of Region 10 that administered the state-wide teaching program called CSCOPE, which is put together by the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative.The 72-page answer revealed a “Christian bias” in the school. Jan Moberly told the board  that “she hired a ‘very socially and fiscally conservative’ former social studies teacher who ‘watches Glenn Beck on a regular basis’ to seek out any Islamic bias in CSCOPE [the curriculum].” She “asked her to look for anything she would consider the least bit controversial.”

The report about the investigation that mentioned “every religious reference in the CSCOPE curriculum, from kindergarten to high school” was not a surprise:

Christianity got twice as much attention in the curriculum as any other religion. Islam was a distant second.

The Red Crescent and Boston Tea Party reference mentioned in the email were nowhere in CSCOPE’s curriculum, although they may have been in the past.

If there was any Islamic bias in CSCOPE it was “bias against radical Islam.”

At least one church is the loser after Superstorm Sandy hit the Northwest. After it hit St. George Malankara Orthodox Church of India in New Dorp, Staten Island, ruining its basement, windows and doors, the vicar tried to get a grant from FEMA to help with the estimated $150,000 rebuilding cost. FEMA said no. “They considered the church a business, so they offered us a loan,” the Rev. Alex K. Joy said.

A variety of private nonprofit organizations qualify for federal disaster assistance grants, including zoos, museums, performing arts centers and libraries, but houses of worship, however, are not on the list. In recent years the federal government has ruled that some religiously affiliated institutions like schools and hospitals can get grants. Many other churches don’t have the problem that St. Malankara does because they carry insurance.

Churches may not receive preferential treatment from FEMA, but their tax-exempt status protects them in many other ways. Trying to stop this, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has filed a lawsuit with the IRS, alleging that churches and religious non-profits get unconstitutional preferential treatment unavailable to secular groups. Churches and other religious organizations are exempted from the requirement to file detailed reports required from non-profit organizations, according to the lawsuit. The FFRF alleges it is unconstitutional for the IRS to provide benefits to churches and religious organizations “while discriminating against” secular non-profit groups “solely on the basis of religious criteria.”

It’s interesting that FEMA considers churches a business, but the government fails to collect taxes from this “business.”

February 5, 2012

‘Right-to-Work’ Law a Loss for States

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:22 PM
Tags: , , ,

Indiana enacted a “right-to-work” law last week, the first state in a decade to do so. Under the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), states are permitted to pass legislation stating that workers are not required to join unions in their place of employment. Business owners want these right-to-work laws because the workers’ rights are weakened: the owners can fail to provide rights that unions may demand. (Think the textile mills a century ago that could hire and fire at will if employees objected to the hours or wages.)

The 23 right-to-work states are all in the Rocky Mountain, Plains, and Southern states with Indiana the first Midwest state unless Iowa fits into that area. There are no right-to-work states on the West Coast or in the East, but Steve Buckstein of the Cascade Policy Institute wants to change that.

In an op-ed piece for The Oregonian (Portland, OR), Buckstein extolled the virtues of a right-to-work law for the state. He joined that conservatives party line that such a law would provide faster employment and income growth with speedier recovery from recession. His crystal ball showed the increase in number of employed people and the additional billions of dollars that they would be making while more people move to Oregon from other states.

In collecting and reporting statistics, Buckstein missed a few:

  • During the past four quarters, seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rate are right-to-work states.
  • In right-to-work states, 21 percent more people lack health insurance than in free-bargaining states.
  • Employer-sponsored health insurance is 2.6 percent less in right-to-work states compared with non-right-to-work states.
  • Employer-sponsored pensions are 4.8 percent less in right-to-work states.
  • Infant mortality rate in right-to-work states is as much as 16 per cent or higher than states without these laws.
  • The rate of people dying from workplace-related problems is 51% higher in a right-to-work state than in a non-right-to-work state. Weakened unions lose their ability to fight for tougher safety rules
  • Twelve of the 15 states with the lowest average hourly wage for production workers are right-to-work states.
  • The average worker in a right-to-work state makes about $5,333 a year less than workers in other states ($35,500 compared with $30,167). Weekly wages are $72 greater in free-bargaining states than in right-to-work states ($621 versus $549).
  • Women and minorities have higher income inequities with white men in right-to-work states than in other states: union women earn $149 more each week than nonunion women; the pay gap between all men and union women is only 5 percent, compared to a national gap of 32 percent; Latino union members earn 45 percent ($180) more each week than nonunion Latinos; Blacks earn 30 percent ($180) more each week than nonunion Blacks; in two occupations with high representation of African Americans—protective services and machine operators—union members earn 56 percent and 39 percent more, respectively, than their nonunion counterparts.
  • The poverty rate in right-to-work states is 12.5 percent compared to 10.2 percent in other states.
  • Seven of the 10 states with the highest percentage of their citizens in poverty are right-to-work states.
  • Eleven of the 15 states with the highest poverty level are right-to-work states, while 11 of the states with the lowest level are not.
  • Eleven of the 15 states with the highest household income are non-right-to-work states, while 11 of the 15 lowest are right to work.
  • Although 10 of 15 states with the lowest unemployment levels are right-to-work states, right-to-work states also have half of the highest 16 unemployment rates.
  • Eight of the 10 states with the highest GDP per capita are non-right-to-work states. Of the 10 states with the largest percentage increase, seven were non-right-to-work states. Conversely, seven of the 10 states with the lowest percentage increase (or with a loss) were right-to-work states.

People who choose not to join unions in right-to-work states benefit from union protection. For example, when a non-union person is illegally fired, the union is required to use its resources, even in a costly legal process, to protect that person. If non-union employees think that the union is not adequately serving them, they can then sue the union. Unless the business owners have frightened all their employees from joining unions with the threat of being fired. Then no one working at that business has any rights.

Buckstein also tried to show that a right-to-work law would return “freedom” to the workers by allowing them to refuse to join a union. According to Buckstein, “basic principles of liberty and justice demand that we defend everyone’s right to work without third-party interference. The right to work is therefore a moral as well as an economic imperative.” Federal law protects workers who don’t want to join a union to get or keep their jobs as well as protecting nonmembers from paying for union activities that violate their religious or political beliefs.

I always find the conservative’s use of the term “freedom” ironic because they are so intent on getting into U.S. citizens’  bedrooms with their desire to control women’s reproductive rights and prevent LGBT rights. I consider the rights of people to make a living wage and live their lives without religious interference to be a “moral as well as an economic imperative.”

If a non-right-to-work state, like Oregon, were to change their laws like Indiana, it would have lower paid workers who would require more government assistance, pay more workers’ comp for worker injuries, have fewer low-income people with health insurance again requiring more government assistance, receive less taxes because of lower salaries, have a higher unemployment rate, and lose part of its GDP. Mr. Buckstein, I think that passing a right-to-work law in Oregon is a losing proposition for the state and its people.

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