Nel's New Day

July 31, 2015

Travesties in Friday News Dump

The last day of the traditional work day is known in the media as “Trash Day,” according to the classic TV series “West Wing” description of the Friday news dump. The tactic is to “dump” bad news or documents on that day so that media scrutiny would be minimized. Here are some of the Friday dump day travesties:

 

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was last Tuesday: July 28, 2015, is the day when black women caught up with the salary that white men made in 2015. In other words, black women had to work 575 days to match the pay that men made in 365 days. Black women make 64 percent of white men, but Native American women salaries are far worse—at 59 percent of white men’s salaries.

What Voting Problems?! A Wichita State University mathematician asked for Kansas voting machines to be audited because of suspicious patterns in electronic returns, but government officials don’t want anyone to know about its problems. When Beth Clarkson, chief statistician for WSU’s National Institution for Aviation Research, made calculations after last November’s election, she found a “statistically significant” pattern in which the percentage of GOP votes increase according to how big the precinct is, even where other demographics don’t agree. She said that this anomaly happens across the country. Forced to file a lawsuit against state Secretary of State Chris Kobach for documentation, she still hasn’t been able to get the information.

Walker Rides High on Hypocrisy. In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, presidential candidate and Wisconsin’s GOP governor, Scott Walker, wrote, “You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.” His reference was to how Hillary Clinton spent time in meetings with union bosses, who he calls “big-labor special interests,” as she will “shun everyday” people. Walker is headed to a luxury hotel in Southern California with other GOP presidential candidates—Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio—to attend the Koch brothers annual summer conference for Freedom Partners with 450 of the wealthiest donors on the far-right.

An Environmental Award for Rick Scott Is a Joke. The governor has  one of the worst environmental records in the history of Florida—and that’s saying something—and banned state employees from saying “climate change.” He decimated funding for important departments and projects while appointing developers and land use lawyers to their boards. They gave employees bonuses for speeding up permit approval and suspended Connie Bersok who refused to violate state law by approving development in the state’s wetlands. Chair of the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida giving Scott an award for his “conservation work” is Rodney Barreto—wealthy businessman, lobbyist, chair of the South Florida Super Bowl Committee, and Jeb Bush appointee.

McConnell Shows Game Plan for 2017: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to use reconciliation to bypass the 60 votes necessary to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The purpose of reconciliation is reducing the deficit, and repealing the ACA would increase the deficit. The far-right Heritage Action group suggests replacing an official score of a repeal with a GOP invented score.

GOP Women Posted Graphic Illustration of Lynching on Facebook. The official Facebook page of the Oklahoma Federation of Republican Women briefly showed an image of a lynched black man until complaints led to its withdrawal. The text read, “The KKK was formed by the Democrats to keep control over black Americans. The Democrats of today just traded ropes for welfare.” In 2013, over 40 percent of food stamp recipients were white. The number of food stamp beneficiaries who are black has declined every year from 2001 through 2010; in 2013, only one-fourth of the recipients were black. Even if more beneficiaries were black, there is no excuse for using either the illustration or the text.

Pro-Israel, Anti-Iran Agreement Organization Pays to Take Democrat Senators to Israel on a Propaganda Tour: Lobby group AIPAC led the United States into a war with Iraq, and now it wants the United States to start a war with Iran. That’s why they are sending 40 members of Congress, several of them Democrats, to Israel this coming month to listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explain why they should vote with him instead of the President of the United States. Legislators prefer to meet with Netanyahu rather than their own constituents. AIPAC is spending at least $50 million to persuade people to vote against the Iran agreement.

Super PAC Carly for America Is Coordinating with Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina: The Supreme Court ruling allowing almost unlimited money in donations to political candidates through super PACS also mandated no communication between the organizations and the individual campaign efforts of political candidates. Yet the super PAC for Fiorina, confusingly called “Carly for America,” has invited its supporters to join a conference call with the candidate Carly Fiorina while including the necessary legal notice that Carly for America “is an independent expenditure committee and not authorized or coordinated with any federal candidate or candidate’s committee.” The super PAC also performs candidate campaign functions such as managing rapid response to press questions, rolling out endorsements of the candidate, funding grassroots organizing, and organizing advance work for Fiorina’s appearances. Fiorina isn’t alone in crossing the line: presidential candidate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered his anti-Donald Trump speech at a July 22 event hosted by his super PAC, Opportunity and Freedom PAC.

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) Lecture Nuclear Physicist on Nuclear Weapons. Last week, Cruz and Johnson accused Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz of knowing less that they did about Iran’s possible nuclear weapons and the threat of an imaginary Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon to take out the nation’s electronic grid. First, the senators accused Moniz of not knowing what an EMP was because he had said he did not know the 2008 Congressional report recommendations. Cruz claimed to be “stunned” at what he considered Moniz’s ignorance about the subject. Then he refused to allow the nuclear physicist, longtime MIT professor, and holder of a PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford to answer a question before accusing him of “refusing to answer the question.” Far-right articles claim that the EMP could easily leave “9 out of 10 Americans dead,”but the Federation of American Scientists stated that this would require a “large device” detonated about 300 miles above Wichita at the altitude of the International Space Station.

Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, Appointed Matthew Brown to the State Department of Education: The new appointee is a fundamentalist Christian who hates the public school system and has sworn that his children will never attend public school. Bentley said, “Matthew brings a unique perspective to the position.” His perspective is to starve the public education system through vouchers and charter schools, which Bentley strongly supports through taking $30 million from public schools.

Medicare Turned 50 Yesterday: That’s the good news. The travesty is the GOP attempts to eliminate health care for the elderly and disabled. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is leading the charge to”figure out a way to phase out this program for [younger people] and move to a new system that allows them to have something.” Backlash led a Bush spokesman to say that Bush wanted only modest reforms. Conservatives say they want to shift the current “defined benefit” program providing specific protections and levels of financial security to a “defined contribution” that distributes money according to a pre-determined formula and require seniors to shop for coverage. What they really want is to end Medicare’s guaranteed health care.

Cruz Tells Code Pink That “Truth Matters” Before He Lies: After pointing out the importance of truth, Cruz said that both Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani “explicitly said they are developing nuclear weapons. There is no doubt about it.” Code Pink’s co-founder Medea Benjamin said, “That is absolutely false.” Benjamin speaks the truth, but Cruz told Benjamin not to interrupt him. Conservatives failed to report the statements but said that Cruz “crushed” Code Pink. [Insight into Cruz: one of his favorite superheroes is Rorschach, the mentally unstable killer in Alan Moore’s Watchman who lives by his own moral code and exacts severe—maybe psychotic—punishment for anyone who violates it.]

pigs flyTexas Displays Judicial ActivismAfter anti-LGBT activists couldn’t get the 17,000 signatures required to put Houston’s anti-discrimination measures to a vote, the Texas Supreme Court suspended the ordinance, ruling that it either be repealed or put before voters. The court couldn’t do this legally, but it made the ruling. Do conservatives find this judicial activism—which they profess to hate? Will they object? Do pigs fly?

Congress Passes Short-term Highway Funding Bill: The Senate has passed a funding bill to continue the Highway Trust Fund for six years but pays for only three, providing $45 billion spread out for the six years over the gasoline tax. They not only refused to increase the gas tax to levels of 20 years ago but also could not work anything out with the House, that passed only a three-month extension of the funding. The Senate made a bipartisan refusal with 18 Democrats and 15 Republicans voting against it. Great comment from Oregon’s senior senator, Ron Wyden:

“I said to a friend this morning with apologies to the elephants: When the elephants lock tusks, it’s never dull.”

States cannot possibly plan for major transportation projects and prolong maintenance on dangerously damaged roads and bridges with short-term fixes, and this is the 34th “fix” since 2009—an average of five each year. After the recess, the two congressional chambers will have to tackle the problem again. And the Iran deal. And the appropriations bill. And Planned Parenthood. And anything else that has nothing to do with jobs. And the infrastructure suffers because Congress hands out the money in dribbles and drabs.

 

November 1, 2013

Confirmations Have Consequences

Last Monday I cheered when the state Supreme Court overturned just part of the draconian Texas law keeping women without money from abortions. The good feeling was short-lived: yesterday a higher court reinstated the law that forces 12 of the state’s clinics that perform abortions to close their doors, to no longer help women with any health issues. Because of a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Texas’ abortion restrictions have now gone into effect, and all appointments have been canceled.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot impose “undue burdens” on women who intend to terminate pregnancies. But the three-judge panel of the court considered the requirement of traveling several hundred miles each way to a health clinic is not really an “undue burden.” They agreed that the new Texas law would increase the cost of an abortion because of fewer providers in the state, but “the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough” to strike it down.

Who are the three judges who made the decision against the women of Texas? The author of the ruling is Priscilla Owens, confirmed by the GOP Senate in 2005 to a seat that the GOP had refused to fill while Bill Clinton was president. She is so radical that then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales—no liberal—accused her as being guilty of “an unconscionable act of judicial activism” in a reproductive-rights case during their tenure together on the Texas Supreme Court.

The editorial board of the Houston Chronicle described Owen as “less interested in impartially interpreting the law than in pushing an agenda.” Owen’s hometown Austin American-Statesman described her as “so conservative that she places herself out of the broad mainstream of jurisprudence,” adding that she “seems all too willing to bend the law to fit her views, rather than the reverse.”

Twenty years ago, Enron’s political action committee gave Owen $8,600 for her successful Supreme Court bid. Two years later, Owen wrote the majority opinion that reversed a lower court order and reduced Enron’s school taxes by $15 million. Between 1993 and 2001, Enron contributed $134,058—more than any other corporation—to Owen and other members of the Texas Supreme Court. In 2001, Enron filed bankruptcy and became an example of willful corporate fraud and corruption. A study by Texans for Public Justice found that the court ruled in Enron’s favor in five out of six cases involving the company since 1993.

Owens has also been a strong supporter of Halliburton, declining to hear a case overturning a $2.6 million jury verdict for a field worker who had been framed to test positive for cocaine. Halliburton provided thousands of dollars to Owens’ campaign.

In 2003, the Austin-American Statesman declared that Owen could “usually be counted upon in any important case that pitted an individual or group of individuals against business interests to side with business.” Furthermore, she had a questionably ethical tendency to take “campaign contributions from law firms and corporations … and then, without recusing herself, [rule] in their favor when their cases came before her.”

Owen’s rulings are considered so business-friendly and tainted that a member of the National Employment Lawyers Association once quipped:

“In my more cynical moments, I suggest that, just as sports stadiums are now named after corporations, judicial seats are soon to follow. In that vein, I believe that Justice Owen could well fill the Exxon/Mobil or Wal-Mart seat on the Fifth Circuit.”

She has no trail of articles or speeches, but her pro-business approach can be traced through her rulings.

The day after the decision to deny Texas women their constitutional rights, Justice Janice Rogers Brown ruled that employers can ignore the federal birth control rules on the flimsiest of religious excuses. She started her written opinion by labeling the Affordable Care Act a “behemoth.” Nine years ago, she was the only judge on the California Supreme Court to rule as she did in her most recent decision, a position that led George W. Bush to appoint her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The federal court panel made its decision by a 2-1 vote. The dissenting judge, Harry Edwards, wrote:

“There are three reasons why the Mandate [to provide free contraception] does not substantially burden the Gilardis’ ‘exercise of religion.’ First, the Mandate does not require the Gilardis to use or purchase contraception themselves. Second, the Mandate does not require the Gilardis to encourage Freshway’s employees to use contraceptives any more directly than they do by authorizing Freshway to pay wages. Finally, the Gilardis remain free to express publicly their disapproval of contraceptive products.”

Brown has strong opinions: FDR’s New Deal is a “socialist revolution,” and through Social Security, “senior citizens blithely cannibalize their grandchildren because they have a right to get as much ‘free’ stuff as the political system will permit them to extract.” Her opinions from the bench suggest that all labor, business or Wall Street regulation is constitutionally suspect, an adversarial position on a court that makes decisions on most federal administration and regulation cases such as those involving regulations set by agencies like the Social Security Administration, Federal Elections Commission, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Federal Communications Commission, and those dealing with federal environmental and labor laws.

Also confirmed in 2005 to her current position on a federal court, Brown was earlier the first California Supreme Court Justice to receive an unqualified rating from the state bar and still be nominated by a governor, in this case GOP Pete Wilson, and put on the state court.

In 2000, she upheld an initiative that banned affirmative action for women and minorities in public contracts, hiring, and college admissions. Although she ruled that the First Amendment should protect racial slurs and discriminatory speech in the workplace, she thought that it should not protect the right to freely assemble. To Brown, ageism is not a form of discrimination, and that it’s too easy to prosecute against discrimination based on disability.

At the same time as these anti-women decisions from two different federal courts of appeal, GOP senators are filibustering the first of President Obama’s nominees to the DC Court of Appeals. Because the court is short three of eleven justices, the GOP appointees dominate the court. (The elevation of John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court has left a vacancy for eight years.) Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) wrote that the GOP senators should prevent all of Obama’s nominees from being confirmed to this court to keep Democrats from gaining a majority. At this time, three of the judges were appointed by Bush 43 and one by Bush 41.

When Senate Democrats threatened to filibuster Brown’s nomination, they caved because the GOP senators were going to invoke the “nuclear option” to eliminate filibusters of judicial nominees. The same thing happened to get Owens confirmed. GOP threats resulted in two of the conservative and activist judges in the country gaining seats on a federal circuit court of appeals.

The most frightening part of these two anti-women decisions is that they come from the highest courts in the land except for the highly conservative U.S. Supreme Court. Appeals will go to the full court but may move on to the U.S. Supreme Court. These appeals could lead to a reversal in which women lack the rights to contraception and abortions as they did a half-century ago. Even worse, some people consider Janice Rogers Brown as a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court.

June 25, 2013

SCOTUS Accelerates ‘War on Voting’; Displays ‘Hubris’

The Supreme Court has delivered its long-awaited decision on the Voting Rights of Act of 1965 that required some jurisdictions to obtain “pre-clearance” from the Department of Justice before changing their voting laws. The conservative majority, except Clarence Thomas, agreed that the U.S. praised the VRA because racial prejudice still exists. Yet its 5-4 ruling struck down Section 4, considered out of date, as unconstitutional, leaving Section 5 intact.

It’s an odd twist: Section 4 provides the formula and the locations for Section 5. That means that the pre-clearance directive remains but without any criteria. SCOTUS suggests that Congress pass a different formula for Section 5.

A competent Congress could do this, but the current federal legislative branch has an extremist caucus that uses of extortion, hostage-taking, and inertia to control those who actually wish to govern. The House cannot even pass a farm bill. With the GOP in the majority of many states, particularly the South, Republicans will avoid any voting legislation. To restrict voting rights will bring down the wrath of the Justice Department; to allow minorities an equal right to vote will result in the wrath of the conservative electorate.

VRA was used to block more than 1,000 proposed changes to voting laws between 1982 and 2006, over 80 percent of them on the local level. Last year, the act stopped a voter identification law in Texas and elimination of early voting days in Florida. The case that SCOTUS heard from Shelby County (AL) tried to eliminate the only black city council in Calera. Just five months ago, a majority of the states in the nation worked to suppress votes from minorities and the poor.

Surveying data on racial stereotypes from the 2008 election, law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer found that it is consistent with “the geography of anti-black prejudice.” In one day, SCOTUS destroying the progress of the past 100 years, repeating the failings of Giles v. Harris that upheld poll taxes and literacy taxes 110 years ago. The burden of proof has moved to those who are discriminated against, rather than those performing the discrimination. The next step will be to erase the rest of VRA.

Almost six months ago, Ari Berman described the problems:

“a whiter, more Southern, more conservative GOP that has responded to demographic change by trying to suppress an increasingly diverse electorate; a twenty-five-year effort to gut the VRA by conservative intellectuals, who in recent years have received millions of dollars from top right-wing funders, including Charles Koch; and a reactionary Supreme Court that does not support remedies to racial discrimination.”

Within an hour of the ruling’s announcement, Texas moved forward with its voter ID law that can disenfranchise 800,000 voters, according to Attorney General Greg Abbott. They will also put into effect the gerrymandered redistricting maps to ensure that each district has sufficient GOP voters to keep that party in control of the state legislature and the U.S. representatives.

Mississippi and Alabama will move forward with their voter ID law. Alaska has also targeted blacks, Hispanics, and native Americans in its restrictive laws. Among the 31 states requiring voter ID are WisconsinOhioNorth Carolina, and Michigan.

 

These voting restrictions will continue to cross the nation:

Strict voter ID laws:  For example, Virginia will abandon the DOJ-required flexible law for the much tougher 2013 photo ID-only restrictions. Any challenge to the law must require a disenfranchised voter to sue and prove injury.

Racially-gerrymandered legislative maps:  When Texas based its redistricting plans on race, it was blocked because of racial gerrymandering. Judge Thomas Griffith, appointed by George W. Bush, said that black districts were cut off from representatives’ offices while districts of white Congress members were either not touched or “redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren.” Again, Texas is is not unique. A study shows that gerrymandering is the reason that Democrats won the popular vote for House candidates but the majority of representatives are GOP.

Blocking grassroots get-out-the-votes efforts:  Arizona Republicans are ready with their proposal to undermine voter turnout efforts in Latino communities by making it a felony for anyone working or volunteering on behalf of a political committee or other organization to deliver mailed ballots to a polling place. In the last election, Sheriff Joe Arpaio won by a narrow margin after a large number of Latino ballots were considered provisional, meaning that the state would not count them.

Chris Hayes described the decision as “one of the most stunning exercises in ‘judicial activism’ ever.” This term was coined by the far-right to complain about any decisions that they didn’t like, but there’s a different definition. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and then re-approved it four more times, each time with large bipartisan majorities. In 2006, the Senate, in a unanimous vote of 98-0, and the House, in a vote of 390-33, renewed the VRA until 2031. Presidents from both parties have also supported VRA. SCOTUS’ ruling said that the country needs this guidance but they don’t approve of where the guidance is being applied. That’s judicial activism.

Constitutional Accountability Center’s David Gans explained another indication of “judicial activism.” He said that Chief Justice John Roberts described Section 4 of the VRA as unconstitutional without explaining how this was true. Roberts’ opinion stated that the VRA provision is not consistent with the “letter and spirit of the Constitution” and wrote about state sovereignty. Yet the Fifteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to prevent racial discrimination in voting.  In fact, the ruling seems to unconstitutional in itself: the VRA is legal. It’s just that Roberts has hated the Voting Rights Act for over 30 years when he worked for Ronald Reagan.

President Obama made the following statement this morning:

“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act–enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress–has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent. As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg summarized the ruling: “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) wasted no time in declaring that Congress will take action:

“Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has protected minorities of all races from discriminatory practices in voting for nearly 50 years, yet the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the coverage formula effectively guts the ability of Section 5 to protect voters from discriminatory practices. I could not disagree more with this result or the majority’s rationale. The Voting Rights Act has been upheld five times by the Supreme Court on prior occasions, and Section 5 was reauthorized and signed into law by a Republican President in 2006 after a thorough and bipartisan process in which Congress overwhelmingly determined that the law was still vital to protecting minority voting rights and that the coverage formula determining the jurisdictions to be covered was still applicable.

“Several lower court decisions in recent years have found violations of the Voting Rights Act and evidence of intentional discrimination in covered jurisdictions. Despite this sound record, and the weight of history, a narrow majority has decided today to substitute its own judgment over the exhaustive legislative findings of Congress.

“As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I intend to take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination in voting.”

What are potential solutions to this destruction?

 A New Act of Congress:  As we have said, this will be difficult.

“Bail-In” Lawsuits: Section 3 of the VRA allows federal courts to put jurisdictions back into pre-clearance if it finds violations of Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendment. It has rarely been used, meaning that it has little precedent.

Fixing The Judiciary: Another difficult fix, this requires approval of nominations by the Senate.

The right wing has accused the Voting Rights Act of using a hatchet instead of a scalpel to fix laws that eviscerate voting rights for minorities. With yesterday’s and today’s decisions against minorities, the Supreme Court is guilty of using a hatchet to murder any way that minorities and women can find recourse through the courts for wrongs against them.

Meanwhile Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has dropped his investigation into the IRS and the privacy of the press scandals and gone back to Benghazi. With this SCOTUS ruling, I think that he’s not going to get much publicity.

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