Nel's New Day

February 27, 2014

LGBT Rights v. Religion

For an entire week, the nation’s media was obsessed about Arizona’s bill that would let everyone in the state do anything they wanted as long as they said it was because of religion. The bill went to Gov. Jan Brewer on Monday, and many Republicans—including three legislators who voted in favor of it—asked her to veto it. Last night she did. According to her speech about the veto, she didn’t want to divide the state so she denied the right-wing groups their wish.

Using political-speak rather than reason, she said her veto was to stop a divide. And of course, the wacko right got very divided–against Brewer:

Fox network Tucker Carlson maintained that requiring people to provide service to everyone is “fascism.” [For those lacking a dictionary, fascism is an authoritarian nationalism that has a veneration of the state and devotion to a strong leader and invokes the primacy of the state.]

Another Fox network host, Todd Starnes, tweeted: “AZ Gov. Jan Brewer makes Christians in her state second-class citizens.”

 A tweet from Rich Lowry of the National Review: “The Brewer veto shows that poorly informed hysteria works.” He skipped the fact that the loudest protests against the bill came from the business community, usually allied with conservatives.

President of Tea Party Nation, Judson Phillips: “Tyranny is on the march!” And my favorite, the veto means that bakers will be forced to sell cakes with “a giant phallic symbol on it” or cakes with another “shape of genitalia.”

Michele Bachmann claimed that Brewer “eviscerated free speech.”

According to Brewer’s speech, she is comfortable that Arizona law protects religious people from discrimination. There was no mention of the state’s discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing, hospital visitation, education, health care, marriage. While claiming that people in her state didn’t suffer from religious discrimination, she still managed to figuratively shake her finger at President Obama by blaming him for the concerns in the state.

Logic tells us that protecting LGBT people had no relationship to Brewer’s decision: it was purely business.

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The NFL threatened to pull the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale (AZ), and a number of large companies had said that they would either not expand or even come to the state with SB1062. Even now, Arizona may take a hit as Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton suggested. He said, “The negative national and international publicity that our state has already received — it sends a message that our state is not a warm, welcoming place.” The Hispanic National Bar Assocation has already pulled its 2015 national convention.

Another reason for Brewer to veto the bill is highly personal. She became governor after then-governor Janet Napolitano was tapped for the director of the Department of Homeland Security. Her win a year later seemed unlikely until she signed into law the discriminatory anti-immigrant profiling bill. Her GOP opposition dissipated, and she defeated long-time Democratic icon AG Terry Goddard. The state constitution limits governors to two terms, but Brewer has always maintained that she has served only one term. Thus far, eight GOP gubernatorial candidates have signed up for the primary. Some believe that her vetoing the bill indicates she won’t be running, yet her action has gained her support from some of the most powerful GOP leaders both inside and outside Arizona.

Although Arizona got massive publicity from passing its bill in the legislature,  a similar bill was already passed in the Mississippi Senate—with no hoop-la. After the Arizona debacle, Democrats are backing off, such as Sen. David Blount who said he didn’t know that the bill to change the state seal included discrimination. The 2.5-page bill clearly stated that the religious right would discriminate; the following one-page provision added “In God We Trust” to the state seal. Blount added that no one else knew the bill was discriminatory. The debate on the floor did concern issues such as people “praying facing Mecca” and religious liberty for “devil worshipping” and “voodoo.”

The bill has moved to the Judiciary B Committee. Its chair, Rep. Andy Gipson, once invoked a biblical passage asking for the death penalty for gays. If the bill passes the House, it moves to the governor, Phil Bryant, who has violated a federal order by denying spousal benefits to same-sex National Guard spouses.

Then there’s Georgia, another state that wants to get in on the discrimination action with a similar bill. The Preservation of Religious Freedoms Act would erase a law in Atlanta that protects LGBT people in lodging, housing, and employment. The shotgun approach is like that of the Arizona bill: any person or business can discriminate against anyone. Based in Atlanta, Delta Airlines is one company that has spoken out against the bill.

Georgia has tabled its “freedom act,” taking it off the calendar. Mississippi is considering a re-wording of its “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” perhaps because the state’s chamber of commerce, the Mississippi Economic Council, has issued a statement against discrimination by businesses.

The lead author of a similar bill in Oklahoma said he will re-write it, and Ohio has withdrawn its anti-LGBT legislation. Idaho Deputy AG Brian Kane told legislators that their proposed “religious freedom” bills would have constitutional problems. Kansas withdrew its bill after it passed the state House but before the Arizona bill was passed. In Maine, both legislative chambers voted down a bill similar to that in Arizona. Tennessee’s bill suffered serious backlash from the business community and disappeared, as did one in South Dakota. A state representative has filed an Arizona bill in Missouri. In all, 13 states have introduced so-called religious anti-LGBT bills in less than two months.

Oregon is unique in the discrimination game. Instead of a legislative bill, the proposed measure for the 2014 ballot comes from a religious group that claims it only wants to protect businesses from having to provide services at a same-sex wedding or commitment ceremony. In order for the initiative to be on the ballot, the group must collect 116,284 valid signatures by July 5, and signature-gatherers can’t begin until the state AG determines a 15-word title for the ballot. A measure to overturn the constitutional ban on marriage equality in Oregon has already obtained over 160,000 signatures.

Many people in Oregon think that the initiatives attempting to discriminate against LGBT people in the state actually benefited the community. Threatened by the far-right in the 1990s, lesbians and gays came out of the closet to fight the measures, created alliances, and increased support by becoming visible. One of the men who pushed anti-LGBT laws in Oregon, Scott Lively, left the state and moved his mission to other countries, including Russia and Uganda where LGBT people can be physically abused and sent to prison with the sanction of the government.

The large number of big businesses that opposed the Arizona bill is also a positive affirmation of LGBT people. A solar company fired Jack Burkman as its lobbyist after he said he would push for legislation to stop the NFL from having gay players. Meanwhile, federal courts continue to rule in favor of marriage equality, the most recent Texas. This map shows the status of marriage equality in separate states—at least today! 

map of states marriage equalityUsing religion to justify bigotry is not new. Segregationists used the same argument, often in the U.S. Congress. As late as the 1970s, Bob Jones University excluded blacks and then let them enroll if they were married. When they allowed unmarried blacks to attend the religious school, they prohibited interracial relationships, trying to keep federal subsidies by claiming that their racism came from religious beliefs. The Supreme Court finally struck down the argument of using religious beliefs for racial discrimination. As the court decided, religious liberty is important, but it should not be allowed to eradicate the rights of others. 

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April 30, 2013

Background Check Votes Influence Voters

The NRA has protected conservative voters for decades, but that era may be coming to a close. Since the GOP senators voted against background checks for gun buyers, Public Policy Polling shows a serious drop for their approval ratings while recording spikes for senators that supported the bill. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) went down 16 points, and Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) ratings shrank 18 points from positive to negative. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) got a 52-percent rating of “less likely to support for re-election,” and 46 percent of his constituents said the same thing about Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). In those four states, at least 60 percent of voters support background checks.

Once considered by Mitt Romney for his vice-presidential candidate, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) lost 15 points, and the NRA is bailing her out by paying for advertising. Almost all of the loss in support came from independent and moderate voters, vital to the candidates of the party that is also rapidly shedding voters.

Ayotte is also having trouble in her town hall meetings during the recess. In Warren (NH), Erica Lafferty, whose mother, Dawn Hochsprung, was killed in Newtown (CT), referred to an earlier meeting with Ayotte after the senator had voted against background checks when she addressed Ayotte:

“You had mentioned that day the burden on owners of gun stores that the expanded background checks would harm. I am just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn’t more important than that.”

Quinnipiac saw ratings for Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), a bill co-sponsor, go up a net 7 points. Ayotte’s senior colleague, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) saw her approval ratings also rise 7 points after she voted in favor of background checks.

As for the legislature, 65 percent of voters wanted the bill passed, including 45 percent of Republicans. That was a Gallup poll, known for running a lower percentage than reality, which means the number of voters wanting the bill is probably higher.

Murkowski had been one of the most popular senators in the country; her vote lost her credibility with both Democrats and Republicans.  Her junior senator, Mark Begich (D), didn’t suffer as much, but he still dropped 8 points after the vote.

flakeOn his 100th day in office, Flake has become the most unpopular senator, with a 32 percent approval rating—even below Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who had held the title of “most unpopular sitting Senator” before the vote. In addition to going against the 70 percent of Arizona voters who want background checks, Flake sent a handwritten note to the mother of a son killed last summer at the movie theater in Aurora (CO) that he would “strengthen” background checks the week before he voted against them.  

Yesterday Flake laughed off the PPP survey, saying: “The only accurate poll they’ll do is the one the week before the election, so they can do well in terms of how they’re rated.” He might benefit from reading some editorial comments about Congress’s cowardice.

Flake did have second thoughts about his attack on the polls. Later yesterday he wrote on his Facebook page, “Nothing like waking up to a poll saying you’re the nation’s least popular senator. Given the public’s dim view of Congress in general, that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum.” He’s probably right: pond scum has a purpose.

brewerAnother piece of pond scum came out of Arizona this week. In the hopes of getting guns off the streets, Tucson held a buy-back event and destroyed the ones that they purchased. Arizona legislators didn’t like this, so they passed a bill, passed by Gov. Jan Brewer yesterday, that requires the bought-back guns to be sold.  The lawmakers tried to make people believe that destroying the guns is a waste of taxpayer resources. Therefore Arizona has made police departments into retailers, just putting these weapons back on the street.

We have to remember that Brewer is the same governor who signed off on the sale of the state’s capitol building before leasing it back at a higher cost.

Stupid doesn’t stop at the state line, however. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said that Congress should try to stop terrorists from buying guns. He said that doing this would this restriction would only reduce “the number of firearms nationwide” and undermine the rights of law-abiding Americans.

“Well, the terrorist, they are a part of, not by definition part of a criminal, because they are terrorists, but I would say the same thing is true for terrorists that is for criminals. And that is, if someone in the United States of America or any other place too the criminal element or the terrorist element they will be able to get those.”

Two important pieces of Inhofe’s argument: there is no reason to make laws because criminals won’t follow them, and terrorists aren’t criminals. That’s why al-Qaeda likes the United States. As spokesman Adam Yahiye Gadahn said in 2011:

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

If Inhofe truly believes that there is no use in making laws, the “lawmaker” is committing fraud by collecting his salary.

The same year, 2011, the GOP on the House Judiciary Committee, lobbied by the NRA, voted down an amendment to prevent people on the federal terrorist watch list from buying guns, even though a Government Accountability Office had found that suspected terrorists bought firearms and explosives from licensed dealers 1,300 times since 2004. Without this law, the older brother suspected of the Boston marathon bombing could have legally purchased up to 50 pounds of gunpowder and any number of guns legally just by going to a state adjacent to Massachussetts.

Peter Loewy, a retired Navy air traffic controller, self-identified marksman, and member of such organizations as the NRA and the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, wrote about how to solve the gun purchase problem by using “available technology and a grass-roots movement.”

Referencing the chips found in most electronics today—cell phones, cameras, thumb drives, newer cars, etc.—he recommended putting these in all guns. As he wrote, this technology is inexpensive and common, even appearing in many animals.

“Such chips could be affixed to the frame of every firearm and could include the name of the manufacturer, the date of manufacture, the serial number, the caliber and any other pertinent data. When the manufacturer sells the firearm, information about the sale would be written to the chip, as would the information about all subsequent sales. Firearms already in circulation could be allowed a reasonable time in which to have a chip installed. At the time of installation, information about the current legal owner of the firearm could be written to the chip along with firearm identification information.

“This would accomplish two things. First, the ownership history of any firearm in the possession of law enforcement could be quickly and easily obtained and compliance with legal requirements verified. Second, we would avoid the creation of a central database that would constitute gun and gun owner registration — the shoals upon which proposed legislation has foundered in the past.”

He continued by citing the benefits of such a plan. Because gun owners might take greater care in storing their weapons, fewer criminals and children would find these accessible. Society would be safer, and the Second Amendment wouldn’t be violated.

Can you hear that noise? It’s the sound of NRA and gun manufacturers screaming!

December 5, 2012

Conservatives Meet to Work against Majority

ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council responsible for creating such laws as those that promote anti-immigration, stand-your-ground, and voter suppression, met a couple of weeks ago to decide how to destroy the people in the United States. The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk discussed “how to limit union influence,” and the finance committee heard a presentation on “The Effects of Dodd Frank on the States,” sure to be an unhappy perspective on ways to help consumers.

Task force documents showed that the meeting concentrated on which of its destructive bills to “sunset” and retain, perhaps a response to the past year’s intense criticism when over 40 large corporations cut their links with ALEC. The organization also suffers from multiple complaints that it has violated its charitable 501(c)(3) status allowing special interest groups to write off lobbying expenses. As people became more savvy about ALEC’s actions, they got more vocal about elected officials who are more accountable to special interests than to their voters.

Before last year, ALEC successfully moved to privatize everything from schools to prisons and put legislators under corporate control. It was when identical bills popped up in a large number of states that journalists started looking into the background of these bills. By November, negative publicity caused 117 ALEC members to lose their elections.

Starting last April, ALEC struggled to erase trails for their most controversial legislation, and in July they promised to expand membership among “underrepresented segments,” probably meaning people of color and progressives. They hid their activities by sending members a link, that expires in 72 hours, to an Internet drop box instead of communicating through emails that might be discovered through an open records request.

ALEC is also using a public relations firm to examine public interest groups seeking information about its activities and then libel these groups to its legislative members.

The shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, when the killer claimed to be self-defense, brought information about ALEC to the forefront. Now another black 17-year-old has been killed, and again the killer is using ALEC’s law as his justification. As Jordan Russell Davis sat in his car with friends, 45-year-old Michael David Dunn fired nine shots into the car after complaining that their music was too loud. None of the teenagers was armed.

Even if ALEC just stuck to economic issues, it would cause great damage to the people. A study released last week by the Iowa Policy Project and Good Jobs First shows the correlations between ALEC policies and less prosperous state economies and concludes: “A hard look at the actual data finds that the ALEC…recommendations not only fail to predict positive results for state economies — the policies they endorse actually forecast worse state outcomes for job creation and paychecks. ”

According to the study, instead of boosting states’ fortunes, ALEC’s preferred policies provide “a recipe for economic inequality, wage suppression, and stagnant incomes, and for depriving state and local governments of the revenue needed to maintain the public infrastructure and education systems that are the true foundations of long term economic growth and shared prosperity.”

As if ALEC wasn’t bad enough, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) have joined forces to destroy the new health care act. Because they receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the insurance industry, they need to keep funneling money to private insurers. Currently they want to repeal a provision imposing a fee on some insurance policies to help subsidize coverage for millions of uninsured low-income people.

If they succeed, insurers can sell a highly profitable insurance product to small employers with mostly young and healthy male workers, allowing these employers to avoid the future state insurance exchanges for worker coverage. The employers would be exempt from complying with important consumer protections in the health law and make coverage only affordable and available to those stay healthy.

The Chamber and the NFIB took their fight to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners that just finished meeting in Washington. There, the Chamber pressured the NAIC to ease the way for insurers to sell this “stop-loss” coverage to small businesses which could then side-step state regulations. Stop-loss means that the employer assumes the risk of paying medical claims, but only to a previously-negotiated amount when the stop-loss insurer pays. The policy would be a disaster for employers with young female and older workers; doing this would drive up costs for small businesses who have these employees.

Leading the charge is the Illinois Chamber of Commerce with some of the biggest sellers of stop-loss insurance–WellPoint, UnitedHealthcare, Humana and Cigna—on its board. Part of NAIC understands that this will subvert the purpose of the health care act; another committee is keeping NAIC from voting it down by asking another committee to gather more information.

Today’s Asides from the News: Walmart could have prevented November’s fire in Dhaka that killed over 100 people if they had signed a contract agreeing to pay higher prices so the 4,500 Bangladesh clothing factories could afford fire safety improvements. The company met with others purchasers of the factories’ clothing—Gap, JC Penney, Sears, etc.—in April when Walmart set the tone by refusing to do this. According to a study by the Worker Rights Consortium, the cost to Walmart would have been less than 10 cents per garment. PVH Corp., which owns the Tommy Hilfiger brand, and the German retailer Tchibo signed on to the fire safety measures memorandum. You can sign a petition asking that Walmart meet basic safety and human rights for its workers. 

There were a few places where Arizona governor Jan Brewer wasn’t this week: she didn’t attend the state ceremony certifying the delayed election results, and she couldn’t be found among members of the National Governor’s Association who met with the President to discuss how the “fiscal cliff” will impact states. It seems she was found in Afghanistan. Is it possible that she now knows that she can’t run for a third term as governor and is aiming for the president’s position?

Mitt Romney  found a job—back with Marriott, the company that got in trouble with the IRS because of the ways it avoided taxes in the 1900s. Romney headed the audit committee in 1993 to 2001 when Marriott had a tax shelter known to attorneys as “Son of BOSS.” Marriott lost their court rulings in both 2008 and 2009.

Good news for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)! He just finished paying off his student loans.  He said that when he graduated from law school in 1996 he had almost $150,000 in student debt, a sum ridiculed by wealthy Republicans who think that it’s outrageous that students are allowed to run up debts like this. Two years ago, he had between $100,001 and $250,000 in debt, but now he’s paid back the student loan—with the proceeds of his book, An American Son, which he touted at the Jack Kemp Foundation Awards dinner as “the perfect holiday gift and available on Amazon for only $11.99.” I wonder if he had copies there to sell.

The most amazing news of the day is that the Senate passed the $631 billion defense authorization bill, The National Defense Authorizations Act, unanimously with a vote of 98-0. The bill restores threatened Pentagon biofuels programs, issues new sanctions against Iran, and changes U.S. detention policy for American citizens. A unanimous vote has occurred for the defense bill in the Senate only twice in 51 years. The Pentagon policy bill now heads to a House-Senate conference committee, where there are numerous differences that must be resolved including a ban on same-sex wedding ceremonies on military bases. It’s not a done deal yet!

June 25, 2012

Immigration Not a ‘Victory’ for Brewer

The U.S. Supreme Court is probably holding onto its revelation of the health care ruling until the last minute (aka Thursday), but justices did reveal their decisions on immigration and Montana’s version of Citizens United today. Both these cases will set the direction of the United States for decades to come.

American Tradition Partnership Inc. v. Bullock, the Montana case, was lower profile than the Arizona case on immigration but equally important. Those who watch the millions of dollars rolling into the Republican candidate campaigns know that Citizens United gave corporations unrestricted political spending in the name of “free speech.” Before this SCOTUS 2010 ruling, Montana had passed a law, exactly one century ago, against corporations buying elections, but a 5-4 ruling from SCOTUS refuses to let this law stand.

The immigration ruling, Arizona v. United States, has been far more publicized and perhaps more misunderstood. Justice Elana Kagan recused herself from the decision, resulting in a 5-3 split for most of the decisions.  (Clarence Thomas should take a lesson from Kagan because of his conflict of interest in an extensive number of cases!)

Three provisions of Arizona’s immigration law were struck down; making it a state crime for an immigrant not to be carrying papers, criminalizing the failure of immigrants to register, and forbidding an illegal immigrant from working in Arizona. The fourth provision, the requirement that police check the immigration status of people they stop for traffic or other offenses, was allowed to stand because it seemed to coordinate with federal law and had not gone into effect. The justices left the door open for this provision to be challenged again after it does go into effect, allowing the possibility that it, too, will be declared unconstitutional.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has been touting the decision as a victory. However, most law officials in Arizona, other than the infamous Sherriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, disagree; they view the SCOTUS ruling as a way for them avoid racial profiling. The provision does require Arizona police to check the immigration status of people reasonably stopped in the course of keeping public order in the state, but it doesn’t permit police to hold people if they don’t have papers. The only responsibility that police have is to tell immigration authorities about undocumented immigrants.

According to the ruling, a state doesn’t have the right to make laws on a law reserved for the federal government. In the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.” Supporting Kennedy’s decision were Chief Justice John Roberts and liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Samuel Alito joined the majority of five in striking down the provision that immigrants not carrying papers are guilty of a misdemeanor.

From these two rulings came two revelations that are not connected to the decisions themselves. The first is the lack of professionalism from at least one of the justices. Antonin Scalia used his dissent to rant against President Obama’s executive directive to allow undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 to stay in the United States to apply for citizenship if they meet certain criteria including being brought into the country as a minor.

Scalia also declared that the Constitution’s Framers would have “rushed to the exits” if they’d known an executive branch would wield such power and that some of the states would not have joined the union if they knew what the president was going to do. In addition, he stated that keeping the Arizona immigration law was important to protect the state.

This and other comments show that his dissent came from an opinion regarding what “should” be done and not the constitutionality of the Arizona law. Like his arguments during the health care debate, Scalia is showing himself to have lost his ability to “judge”; instead he wants to make law. The conservatives should take notice that Scalia has gone far beyond the classic “activist judge.”

Scalia’s fury may also have come from the way that the ruling seemed to approve of the president’s directive to allow young undocumented workers to remain in the country. On page 17 of the opinion, the Court explicitly lists “a veteran” or a “college student” as two examples of undocumented immigrants who should not experience “unnecessary harassment.”

The other revelation from these two landmark rulings is the consistent rejection of state’s rights. Both decisions put federal rule over states’ rights, the opposite of traditional conservative views. Ironically enough, the four more liberal judges voted for states’ rights in the case of Montana’s case. Scalia, who had a temper tantrum about the sovereignty of state law in the Arizona case voted against Montana having the right to retain a century-old law to keep fraud out of elections.

The decision for a third case, Miller v. Alabama, announced today also ruled federal law over states’ rights when it forbid mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. The dissent in this case also shows the stress that at least one justice may be feeling. In his dissent to the decision, Alito mixed up the name of the prison administrator, Donald Roper, and the name of the 17-year-old juvenile offender, Christopher Simmons. Alito’s dissent read that Roper “committed a brutal thrill-killing just nine months shy of his 18th birthday.”

The health care case could also be seen as a states’ rights situation, with 26 states trying to keep the Affordable Care Act out of their terrain. There is no second-guessing this court. It may come down to Kennedy’s vote.

May 22, 2012

Brewer’s New ‘War on Youth’

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If you Google the name ”Jevin Hodge,” you’ll find the accomplishments of this graduating senior from McClintock High School (Tempe, AZ) in academics, athletics, and community service—over 800 hours, in fact. As co-chair of the Governor’s Youth Commission, he’s so sold on this service that he talked to state Sen. David Schapira who brought a bill to the Arizona senate which would create an award for high school students who complete more than 200 hours of community service.

The bill passed through the senate unanimously, a major miracle in the Arizona legislature these days with its constant anti-immigrant and anti-women laws. Gov. Jan Brewer supports community service. She has challenged high school students and everyone else to each complete 100 hours of community service to celebrate the state’s Centennial this year. Toward that end, the state Commission on Service and Volunteerism has tracked more than 35,000 volunteers with 2.3 million service hours.

Hodge wanted this award help students’ opportunity to be accepted into college. He said, “Colleges aren’t looking for just a high GPA anymore; they’re looking for student leaders. This award would reassure colleges that a student has the qualities they are looking for.”

It’s all very positive, right? A teenager wants other teenagers to contribute to their society and receive an award for doing this. Very simple.

Brewer disagreed, however. She vetoed SB 1066 because it was “unnecessary, redundant and a violation of constitutional separation of powers.” The letter to Hodge also stated, “In this bill, one branch of government is obligating another branch of government to do something it already can do.” This is the same governor who ignores the federal Constitutional separation of church and state in requiring taxpayers to pay for private religious schools.

A disappointed Hodge said, “I thought that when she saw a piece of good policy, she would have instantly jumped on it. It’s very disheartening to see that she doesn’t want to award the youth that are serving her state. Arizona would have been the first state to formally recognize youth for their community service…it could have possibly persuaded other states to follow suit.”

Hodge probably learned more from this experience that from his formal education. The question is whether Brewer, who is thinking about running for governor again, learned anything. After alienating women and minorities in her state, she has started to drive young voters away from herself and her party.

Brewer’s running for governor, by the way, is against the state constitution, but she thinks that she can serve a third term by challenging the terminology passed in 1993: “No member of the executive department shall hold that office for more than two consecutive terms. No member of the executive department after serving the maximum number of terms, which shall include any part of a term served, may serve in the same office until out of office for no less than one full term.” That’s okay, governor—just skip the part about “any part of a term served.” Maybe no one will notice.

December 31, 2011

2011–Not All Bad

Although the year 2011 began on a dark note—and got blacker—as the conservatives fought to wipe out a century of progressive movements that gave people in the United States a safety net, I find many things to be grateful on the last day of the year.

First, I am most thankful for my wonderful family (who is visiting me as I write), my fantastic partner of 42+ years, and my fabulous friends, many of whom send me topics and information for Nel’s New Day. And a thumbs-up to my pets, especially the new kitten who is turning everything upside down in our household.

After almost nine years, the Iraq War, that killed at least 120,000 people and left far more wounded, has come to an end. At a conservative estimate of $806 billion, the war left over 1.6 million refugees and another 1.24 million internally displaced with the country’s infrastructure almost disseminated.  The war that conservatives started planning almost two decades ago has taught some people in our nation a lesson about being wary of government “intelligence” and avoiding pre-emptive wars.

The political scene may be looking up for progressives. The Occupy people  are willing to suffer extremely discomfort not only in the wet, snowy cold or while being indiscriminately pepper-sprayed or tasered but also jailed for following their First Amendment rights. Their slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” has made the country acutely aware of economic inequities despite the naysayers who live in their comfortable homes and ignore hungry and homeless people.

The Occupy Movement wasn’t the first big protest of the year, however. Wisconsin fought their new governor Scott Walker, Ohio won against union-busting politicians, Maine voted down unfair election changes, and Time made “the protester” its person of the year. Conservatives have gone so far to the right in denying people their rights that the rest of the United States—like the “Arab spring”—may have reached the tipping point to fight back.

Change.org and the Internet have helped to right some wrongs perpetrated by large corporations. The most recent win is Verizon’s reversal in its attempt to charge customers a fee for paying bills online. Bank of America decided not to charge a monthly fee just for using a debit card. These are the companies that net billions of dollars while paying no taxes and having the right—as “persons”—to pay unlimited funds to elect more conservatives who will take more money from the poor to give to the wealthy.

Yet not all corporations are greedy blood-suckers. In Alternet, Lauren Kelley highlighted five companies that support the environment and economy: Ben & Jerry, Patagonia, H&M, Hewlett Packard, and Method Products. May more companies join them in the coming year!

Through their humor, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert continue to enlighten millions of Americans, particularly young ones who might have been lost to Fox lies. Republican presidential candidates have provided these two comedians much fodder although these politicians look ridiculous on their own.

After the disappointing show of progressives in last August’s debacle of raising the debt ceiling, Democrats seem to have found a spine. Led by President Obama, Congressional Democrats refused to roll over (mostly!) this month to the Republicans’ demands regarding the payroll tax reduction. Democrats wanted to keep the tax, aka Social Security taxes, the same; Republicans wanted to increase it. The 99 percenters discovered that Republicans want to lower taxes only for the wealthy, a good lesson for them.

A new political figure in town, Elizabeth Warren, may turn things around. After Republicans refused to consider her nomination as director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency that she created, she decided to run for Massachusetts senator. Despite the huge funding that corporations are pouring into incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s re-election and his recent turn toward a more moderate position,Warren is leading! And she knows where all the bodies are buried!

Courts are also taking a constitutional (what conservatives call “activist” if it opposes their far right positions) approach to new laws for immigration, elections, etc. For example, after Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer fired the chair of the state’s nonpartisan commission to determine redistricting for the House of Representatives because it didn’t favor Republicans 100 percent, the state supreme court overturned her decision. Courts in Texas overturned the legislature’s partisan redistricting decision, and the Department of Justice overruled the highly restrictive South Carolina photo ID mandates.

American minorities made advances when the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ban on gays and lesbians openly serving in the military was finalized. New York legalized same-sex marriage, and California’s Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, stayed unconstitutional for the time-being. Representatives and senators are working to advance the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal the “Defense of Marriage Act,” that keeps marriage to one man with one woman even if it only lasts for 72 hours.

More people in theUnited States are getting health care, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and the economy is supposedly improving. Approval rating for the Tea Party has shrunk, and  “Progressive” is the most positively viewed political label inAmerica, ahead of “Conservative.” And all these positive facts are just the tip of the iceberg.

In the words of former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich:

“Yet the great arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern: Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, the nation eventually rallies and moves forward. Sometimes it takes an economic shock like the bursting of a giant speculative bubble; sometimes we just reach a tipping point where the frustrations of average Americans turn into action.

“Look at the progressive reforms between 1900 and 1916; the New Deal of the 1930s; the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s; the widening opportunities for women, minorities, people with disabilities and gays; and the environmental reforms of the 1970s. In each of these eras, regressive forces reignited the progressive ideals on whichAmericais built. The result was fundamental reform.

“Perhaps this is what’s beginning to happen again across America.”

We’ll all hope so! Happy New Year!

November 15, 2011

Arizona’s Brewer Touts Her Political Book

Every politician on the rise seems to come out with a book—except for George W. Bush who did it on the way down. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is the latest to travel the country with her immortal words printed in Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media and Cynical Politicos to Secure America’s Border, a short 283 pages when one considers the length of the title. The book is published by the Murdoch arm of HarperCollins.

Although the governor of a smaller state, she started a wildfire against undocumented immigrants across the country, causing the states that followed her to suffer sagging economies—Alabama for example. Brewer’s ghost-written book comes with high points for revisionist history and politics.

The cover of the book starts Brewer’s history: she photoshops herself as Rosie the Riveter, an image developed during World War II as a symbol of putting people in this country to work and an image long associated with organized labor. Labor suffered, however, when Brewer became governor after President Obama appointed her predecessor, Janet Napolitano, as Secretary of Homeland Security.

The promo text, about the death of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz on the Arizona-Mexico border, is the next clinker. Brewer declares throughout the book that Krentz was killed by an illegal trespasser (Brewer-speak for undocumented immigrant). No one has ever been indicted for this murder, but Brewer’s lie proved useful in fomenting hatred for anyone who tried to cross the border fromMexico.

A former governor, Sarah Palin, provided the book’s foreword which praises Brewer for rising through the political ranks by “bringing people together–by building up, instead of tearing down.” When one considers the state of affairs in Arizona, that statement also goes into the list of revisionist history.

Brewer does briefly admit that the numbers of undocumented immigrants coming into the state has gone far down recently, due to recession, but that information wouldn’t have helped her pass SB1070, the incendiary law discriminating against Latinos. She skipped the facts about crime rates being the lowest since she moved from California to Arizona in 1970. “This is a media-created event,” one sheriff told the Arizona Republic a week after Brewer signed SB 1070. “I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure.”

Nor did she write in her book about last spring’s extensive study from the Center for American Progress showing that “undocumented immigrants don’t simply ‘fill’ jobs; they create jobs. Through the work they perform, the money they spend, and the taxes they pay, undocumented immigrants sustain the jobs of many other workers in the U.S. economy, immigrants and native-born alike.” Were undocumented immigrants to “suddenly vanish” from SB 1070’s “attrition through enforcement,” the study estimated that Arizona’s economy would shrink by $48.8 billion–like that in Alabama.

It’s the quotations from the book, however, that show how conservatives think of their world and those around them. Sarah Mimms, writing in the National Journal, has pulled together some choice bits to save the rest of us the time and money to read the book. She describes her method as the “excerpt lottery,” in which page numbers are chosen based upon recent winning lottery numbers from various states.

“The best comparison I could think of was: This must be what it’s like to be waterboarded….  Advice, objections, encouragement, discouragement, fan letters and death threats were coming at me so fast I could barely breathe…. Manning the buckets were the national media, the unions, civil rights groups, business groups and political operatives all the way up to the president himself. Was it torture? I never did ask Dick Cheney, but I’ll tell you this: It was not an experience I want to repeat” — p.3 (NY’s “Midday New York Numbers,” 10/17).

“A strange cast of characters–everyone from the Reverend Al Sharpton to Hollywood actress Eva Longoria to former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka–was invited, but not one sitting governor and not one current member of Congress. I told the press that I considered it a ‘snub’ that I wasn’t invited. Not that I was so eager to return to the Obama White House and be lectured again–been there, done that” – p. 213 (MN’s “Daily 3,” 11/1).

“[The Secret Service confiscated] our cell phones and cameras. Too bad we weren’t illegal aliens, or we could have sued them” – p. 162 (MO”s “Midday Pick 3,” 11/2).

“This guy had clearly seen too many movies in which menacing Gestapo agents demanded to see a terrified refugee’s papers” – p. 147 (MO’s “Pick 3 Midday,” 10/23).

“Last July, illegal alien deaths were so high that the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office had to use a refrigerated truck to store some of the bodies” – p. 47 (VA’s “Pick 3,” 11/1)

“Chapter Four: Nazis in the Desert” – p. 129 (NY’s “Midday Numbers,” 9/5).

“That same week, I noticed, the president’s schedule included a fund-raising event in Pittsburgh, a reception for Major League Soccer, and a concert at the White House to honor Paul McCartney. I know he’s cute and all, I thought, but we’re in serious trouble here!” –  (N.J.’s “Pick 3 Midday,” 10/11).

“Amid all the chaos, a group of people I don’t even know started a Web site to defend me against all the obnoxious, hurtful accusations being recklessly thrown around. It was a tongue-in-cheek site in which people could post colorful descriptions of me. The actor and activist Chuck Norris alerted me to one of his favorites: Jan Brewer eats scorpions for breakfast.

“I guess it was meant to be flattering. I guess it was meant to portray me as tough. But even if you’re tough enough to start your day with a meal of deadly poisonous insects, it’s not something you particularly want to do. You don’t seek it out. You do it because there’s no other honorable option” – p. 11 (NY.’s “Evening Numbers,” 10/24).

Also her statement about multi-cultural studies in school: “Multiculturalism sounds like a nice, friendly word that means respect for others. In practice, however, it’s worked out very differently. Multiculturalism encourages its followers to put racial and ethnic identity above all … multiculturalism and open borders philosophy go hand in hand.”

Brewer also claims, “The majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming into the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels and they are bringing drugs in.” She also refers to the “bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded,” something which medical examiners from six of Arizona’s counties, four of them bordering Mexico, say that they’ve never encountered an immigration-related crime.

So that’s what Jan Brewer is all about—believing that getting negative mail is as bad as waterboarding, sulking because she wasn’t chosen to attend the White House, and willing to lie for her personal benefit. I’ve skipped all the pieces about her saying that the $10 million given to Arizona for education will go to border security, her cavalier attitude toward dying people by removing them from the state health care, etc., etc. At least she has Sarah Palin for a friend; too bad she doesn’t use her as a model.

April 20, 2011

GOP “Small Government”

Conservatives pride themselves on pushing for smaller and smaller government whereas liberals are known for “big government” (aka regulations that help people be safer and more comfortable). But just look at some examples of the GOP’s “small government” concepts.

Imagine that you lived in a town that could be taken over by the state with no voter rights. That’s what happened in Michigan after GOP Governor Rick Snyder signed, on March 16, the Local Government and School District Financial Accountability Act. The law gives the governor the right to rule towns and cities with neither legislative oversight nor residents’ consent. By declaring that the town or city is in financial distress, he can legally appoint an emergency manager, answerable only to the governor. This person can then dismiss elected officials, close or reorganize schools, alter or abolish government contracts and collective bargaining agreements, control taxes and spending and even dissolve the town as if it never existed.

It seemed impossible that this would actually happen, but Gov. Snyder did exactly that when he appointed Joseph L. Harris as Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) of Benton Harbor, Michigan. With that appointment, elected officials are permitted only to call meetings to order, approve minutes, and adjourn meetings. Why would Gov. Snyder want to do this? When Whirlpool closed its plants and decided to convert old manufacturing land into Harbor Shores, a $500 million golf course and residential development, the development company wanted Jean Klock Park, a beautiful shoreline donated as a park for the public good and a children’s park in 1917.

The bill that allowed Gov. Snyder to take over Benton Harbor was sponsored by Al Pscholka, who has some interesting connections to the town. The former aid to Congressman Fred Upton, a Whirlpool heir, he represents the area that includes Benton Harbor, he is the former vice-president of the development company responsible for building Harbor Shores, and he was on the Board of Directors for a nonprofit involved in the Harbor Shores development.

Once appointed, EFM Joseph Harris didn’t waste any time in moving ahead with his plans. He first replaced people on the Benton Harbor Planning Commission, involved in decision-making about Benton Harbor real estate development, with his personal choices. These hand-picked people decide who gets permits, what the developments will look like, and who gets the best parts of Benton Harbor.

This is just the beginning. Snyder has over 200 EFMs in training, just waiting to take over more Michigan towns and cities. Financial distress in Michigan cities and towns will increase greatly because the state is withdrawing its support of them. And the mainstream national media is not reporting this!

As evident by the sweeping tide of union-breaking across the United States after Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker started his devastation, a conservative idea in one state moves to another. Although Walker says that he doesn’t intend to follow Michigan’s example, a business group in Milwaukee is pushing to stress tests for municipalities, euphemism for erasing elected officials in Wisconsin. Over a dozen states are considering a similar law. Your state could be next.

The federal budget has been settled for this year (which ends in September), but the conflict continues, first with deciding whether to raise the deficit and then to determine next year’s budget. Much has been said in the past few weeks about Rep. Paul Ryan’s recommendation for a budget that removes money for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. while lowering tax rates for the wealthiest people in the U.S. (Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, is from Wisconsin. What is there about Wisconsin!?)

A letter-writer to The Oregonian (Portland, OR) comments that watching Eric Cantor cradling “The Path to Prosperity” document reminds him of the Twilight Zone episode about the advanced alien race landing on Earth. As they promise benevolence and peace, they also have a handbook, ”To Serve Man.” That particular handbook is a recipe book.  He concludes, “Space ships which took Americans on vacations to the beautiful alien homeworld were on ‘the path to prosperity’ for alien restauranteurs and marketers of fresh or frozen food, creating jobs jobs jobs!”

Ryan’s plan, The Roadmap for America’s Future, would give the most affluent households very large tax cuts by reducing income tax rates on high-income households; eliminating income taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest; and abolishing the corporate income tax, the estate tax, and the alternative minimum tax. The Ryan plan would cut in half the taxes of the richest 1 percent of Americans—those with incomes exceeding $633,000 (in 2009 dollars) in 2014. Households with incomes of more than $1 million would receive an average annual tax cut of $502,000. The richest one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans—those whose incomes exceed $2.9 million a year—would receive an average tax cut of $1.7 million a year on top of those from the Bush tax cuts.

At the same time, the Ryan plan would raise taxes for most middle-income families, privatize a substantial portion of Social Security, eliminate the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, end traditional Medicare and most of Medicaid, and terminate the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The plan would replace these health programs with a system of vouchers whose value would erode over time and thus would purchase health insurance that would cover fewer and fewer health care services in the future.

To offset some of the cost of these massive tax cuts, the Ryan plan would place a new consumption tax on most goods and services. About three-quarters of Americans—those with incomes between $20,000 and $200,000—would face tax increases. For example, households with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 would face an average tax increase of $900. The shift tax in burdens proposed by The Roadmap for America’s Future from the wealthy to the middle class results in people with incomes over $1 million paying much smaller percentages of their income in federal taxes.

How successful will this plan be? There are suggestions that this “roadmap to poverty” will destroy the conservatives.

Remember Arizona and its SB1070 that plans to identify illegal immigrants without profiling? (More small government?) Their latest ploy seems to be too much even for conservative Gov. Jan Brewer. Last Monday, she vetoed two bills: one would have allowed firearms onto parts of college campuses, and the other, referred to as the “birther bill,” would have mandated certain “proofs” of US citizenship for candidates running for president. The latter would have accepted a “circumcision certificate” if a long form of the birth certificate was not submitted. Is is the circumcision certificate that stopped her? Or is it the fact that John McCain might have trouble passing the “birther” law because his birth certificate was issued by the Panama Canal Health Department?

This “birther bill” concept is catching on across the nation. Thirty-seven states are considering it, and some are coming very close. Louisiana’s bill extends the birth certificate requirement to U.S. Congressional candidates. Another state wants not only the candidates’ birth certificate but also those of the candidates’ parents. And running on the birther wave, Donald Trump has a 52 percent approval rate from voting Republicans.

Unfair taxation is the topic of Iris Van Rynback and Pegi Deitz Shea’s picture book, The Taxing Case of the Cows:  A True Story about Suffrage, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Clarion, 2010).  One-hundred years after the American Revolution, women could not vote—but they could be taxed.  Sisters Abby, 72, and Julia, 77, Smith believed that this was taxation without representation, especially when town leaders taxed them an additional amount because they were single female landowners.  Their fight that began in 1869 lasted seven years during which time the sisters continually lost their cows and bought them back at auction.  They also had to sue the town for confiscating their home; supporters helped them financially by selling bouquets of flowers and hair from the cows’ tails with a black ribbon with the words “Taxation without Representation.”  These two “older” sisters show that anyone can fight unfair taxes, even when they may not think they have the backing to do so.

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