Nel's New Day

May 21, 2017

Sunday Speeches: DDT Pandering; GOP Spin

The grand introduction to a nine-day tour by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) was today’s pandering speech to over 50 Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia, a speech written by Islamophobic Stephen Miller. Miller knew that DDT had to walk a fine line between not offending his racist U.S. base and the audience of 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, including 3.3 million in the U.S. alone. Gone was the term “radical Islamic terrorism” which he used as a litmus test for conservatives, damning all people who refused to say this expression. Only once did he slip in “Islamic terrorism” among the 32 times that he referred to terrorism in the 34-minute speech. The teleprompter read “Islamist,” but DDT may be accustomed to his own term which refers to the religion rather than a political movement.

Saudi Arabia was the safest place to give the speech because DDT is in sync with the authoritarian regime there. In his desire to feel royal, DDT is comfortable with their ostentatious wealth, lack of concern for rule, and a disregard for democracy. He had also just favored them with the $110 billion arms sale that President Obama had delayed on the basis of human rights and how the weapons would be used as well as the proposed Qatar purchase by Qatar of “a lot of beautiful military equipment,” as DDT describes them. DDT brought them other multi-billion dollar deals such as $6 billion for Lockheed for 150 Black Hawk helicopters and $15 billion for General Electric.

The speech also avoided other such alien concepts to the Middle East as democracy, gender equality, and political reform—again matching DDT’s approach toward ruling. Even better for Saudi support, he blamed Iran instead of ISIS “fueling sectarian violence”; he spoke about the “despair” of the Iranians on the day after they freely elected a liberal reform president and demanded that the largest Shiite country in the Middle East be more isolated. According to DDT, Iran is to blame for “so much instability,” and Shiite Hezbolla and Yemienis were equally condemned.

DDT claimed his purpose was not to “lecture” before he launched into ponderous and repetitious demands of “drive them out” like an Old Testament prophet declaiming that the Muslims are totally responsible in this “battle between good and evil.” Nowhere did he mention that his hosts are responsible for the Wahhabi Salafit extremists who murder “innocent people.” DDT also praised Saudi Arabia for its “strong action against the Houthi militants in Yemen,” an action using U.S.-made cluster bombs in crowded cities indiscriminately killing people and exacerbating a massive humanitarian crisis.

“We are adopting a principled realism, rooted in common values and shared interests,” DDT told his audience, indicating that these “common values” can include misogyny, murder by beheading, and dictatorships in the name of oil and gas. He said, “Our friends will never question our support, and our enemies will never doubt our determination.” But the generality didn’t define “friends,” which could include Russia, Iran’s supporter, and the warring militias in the Middle East. DDT said:

“We will make decisions based on real-world outcomes – not inflexible ideology. We will be guided by the lessons of experience, not the confines of rigid thinking. And, wherever possible, we will seek gradual reforms – not sudden intervention.”

Translations for this statement could  include that the U.S. can reverse its positions at a minute’s notice based on a knee-jerk reaction to an occurrence but that the U.S. will not oppose crimes against humanity unless it will be of some financial benefit.

DDT’s speech is being declared “presidential,” the common description for words he didn’t prepare that were carefully read with no off-script comments.

Yet former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams pointed out a major flaw, “an understanding of what produces extremism”:

 “The president’s approach would work if terrorists were coming from outer space, and our task were solely to organize against them militarily. That is no doubt part of the task—but not all of it, because they are coming from within the societies whose leaders he was addressing. He offered no explanation of what was producing this phenomenon…. Trump had no theory and therefore could not suggest what might be done to prevent more extremists from rising.”

While DDT was in Saudi Arabia trying to overcome the ghastly scandals of May, his faithful were spinning his actions on the Sunday talk shows.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that DDT talked about firing former FBI director James Comey with the Russian officials to prove he wasn’t distracted by any problems in Washington. As usual, Tillerson pressed his talking point that U.S. and Russian relations were “at a low point.”

National security adviser H.R. McMaster explained DDT’s meetings with the Russians as a desire to “find areas of cooperation.” Asked about DDT’s statements about Comey, McMaster said:

“Well, I don’t remember exactly what the president said. And the notes that there apparently have I do not think are a direct transcript.”

DDT reportedly called Comey “crazy” and “a real nut job” as well as firing Comey relieving “great pressure because of Russia.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) disagreed with DDT that Comey is a “nut job.” On Face the Nation, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said:

“This is a horrible thing for a president to say. Former Director Comey is no way, shape, or form a ‘nut job.’”

Even Republican members of Congress didn’t defend DDT’s statements. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that the investigating committees on Russia’s meddling need to have “the notes.” He added:

“The White House would benefit from some systems in place that perhaps avoids some of the unnecessary friction points that come up on a daily basis…. People got what they voted for.”

Asked about DDT’s speech, Rubio said that he differed with him on DDT’s approach to human rights issues:

“I think it’s in our national security interest to advocate for democracy and freedom and human rights. We just have a disagreement on the right way to approach it.”

“The White House would benefit from some systems in place that perhaps avoids some of the unnecessary friction points that come up on a daily basis,” Rubio said.

With the possibility of again running for president, Rubio may have felt the need to soft-pedal his response, but Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was not shackled by any such requirement when he told Fox’s Chris Wallace that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey “had no business in the Oval Office” and cited Russia’s invasion into Crimea:

“Mr. Lavrov is the stooge of a thug and a murderer, who used Russian precision weapons to strike hospitals in Aleppo, who has committed human rights issues all over the place.”

McCain called himself “almost speechless” about the report that DDT told Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that he fired Comey  to take “off” some of the pressure about Russia. Almost, but not completely. McCain said, “I don’t know why someone would say something like that,” he told Wallace.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said in his interview today that the House Intelligence Committee investigation is examining possibly Russian collusion with DDT and his campaign. House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said that the scandal surrounding Russia goes far beyond DDT.

DDT may be back on U.S. soil sooner than expected. His staffers say that he is “exhausted” after less than two days of travel into his nine-day trip and  is already canceling some of his performances. This from the man who said that Hillary Clinton “lacks stamina” after her constant travel around the world while she was Secretary of State. Maybe he’ll be too tired to tweet.

 

August 31, 2016

Florida: Rubio In for Now, Corey Out

Florida’s primary yesterday had bad news and good news. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio is still on the path to re-election after defeating his Trump-supported opponent. He won’t promise to stay the entire six years if elected, obviously using the Senate as a stepping stone for another presidential run in 2020. Whatever Rubio promises, however, is always subject to change, for example, his assertion—10,000 times by his own count—that he wouldn’t run for re-election. Within months, he made these claims: people who don’t want to vote, shouldn’t run for the Senate; all government workers who don’t do their jobs should be fired; he needs to vote only on important issues; and “there is really no other job in the country where if you don’t do your job, you don’t get fired.” The last one was said on the Senate floor, and he’s right—while he takes home $174,000 every year. He said that he didn’t need to vote because he was running for president.

Although Rubio never used the word “hate” for his feelings about the Senate, he did say that “we’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen.” After Rubio had possibly the worst voting record ever in the Senate, missing almost one-third of his votes last year, newspapers such as Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, which had originally endorsed Rubio, called on him to “resign, not rip us off.”

The good news from yesterday’s Florida primary is that 4th Judicial State Attorney Angela Corey lost to a little-known corporate lawyer and former prosecutor, Melissa Nelson, 64 to 26 percent. Nelson still has to defeat write-in candidate Kenny Leigh in the general election, but no write-in candidate has ever been elected to such a position. Leigh has made no campaign appearances and not raised any money. Corey departs the office as the first incumbent state attorney in “modern history” to lose a contested election.

corey-AP_imgPeople may remember Angela Corey as the woman who botched the prosecution of George Zimmerman and saved him from prison after he stalked and killed teenager Trayvon Martin. But the Florida state attorney has a much broader reputation in destroying lives.

Corey was the person who put Marissa Alexander into prison for 20 years after she fired shots into a wall to protect herself from her abusive husband. In Florida, the “stand your ground” law seems to apply only to non-black males. A public outcry got Alexander another trial, but Corey was determined to put her back for 60 years. Alexander finally managed a plea that kept her under house arrest for three years. Two years before Alexander’s conviction, Corey’s territory, Duval County, had the highest incarceration rate in the state despite an historic low of crime in Florida.

With under five percent of Florida’s population, Duval County has 25 percent of the state’s death sentences and one of fewer than 20 counties that handed out more than five death sentences from 2010 to 2015. Two-thirds of the death sentences between 2009 and 2014 were for blacks, including 19-year-old Michael Shellito who suffers from extreme mental illness and has a low IQ.

cristianCristian Fernandez, 12, was another of Corey’s victims. Five years ago, he was questioned with no adult present and then convicted of killing his two-year-old brother, David. The children were left alone, and their mother waited over eight hours to take David to a hospital after Cristian said the toddler had hurt himself. She was sentenced to probation with no jail time. After Cristian said that he had pushed David against a bookshelf, he was charged with first-degree murder as an adult.

Florida law requires intent to kill for first-degree murder and carries a mandatory life sentence; in Corey’s terrain, all juveniles charged with murder are charged as adults, 1,475 in the Jacksonville area as compared to 34 in Miami-Dade (the most populated judicial district with higher rates of youth) between 2009 and 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced with mandatory life imprisonment but can still be charged as adults. According to this ruling, neuroscience shows that young people, because of their “immaturity, recklessness and impetuosity,” are less culpable than adults.

To protect juveniles in adult prisons from being physically assaulted or raped, these inmates were typically put into complete isolation until President Obama banned this practice earlier this year. Adult prisons have no educational or counseling facilities—no opportunity for rehabilitation. Put into solitary, Cristian had two visits from a mental-health counselor in 30 days along with a few phone calls.

Corey’s office also blackmails juveniles to plead guilty to the maximum juvenile sentence by threatening them with charging them as adults. She had strong support from elected public defender Matt Shirk, who is supposed to be on the defendant’s side. He fired most of the longtime public defenders in the office and appointed his friend Refik Eler as his second-in-command. Shirk was investigated by the Florida Commission on Ethics for violations including sexually harassing women he hired and then firing them because his wife threatened him with divorce if he didn’t. The Florida Commission on Ethics suggested that Shirk resign immediately; he didn’t.

Second-in-command Eler was cited four times by Florida courts for ineffective counsel, including telling clients not to argue that they have a mental disease or defect in death-penalty cases. Eight of Eler’s clients have gone to death row, more than any other Florida public defender. Some indigent defendants now opt to represent themselves, for example a man who lost a 12-month plea deal after the public defender failed to follow up. The man was released after seven years because he filed a federal habeas petition.

Cristian’s fate changed when pro bono lawyers took up his cause, but Corey retaliated by filing another adult charge of Cristian sexually abusing his five-year-old brother. Investigators interrogated Cristian with neither his lawyer nor his guardian ad litem notified, and Shirk continued to sabotage Cristian’s case although he no longer had any involvement. Cristian’s new lawyers reviewed unexamined evidence and built a case for the boy’s defense. They managed a plea deal that put him into a juvenile therapeutic facility rather than risk a jury trial that could lead to an adult prison. Cristian may be released in two years when he is 19 and then remain on parole for five years.

Currently, Corey is running a smear campaign against Darlene Farah, the mother of a murdered daughter. Farah opposes the death penalty for her child’s killer, and Corey accuses her of being “more interested in publicity than actually grieving for her daughter.” James Rhodes, the 24-year-old black man convicted of the killing, has not been sentenced because a temporary halt on death penalty sentences. The Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty law to be unconstitutional because judges could overrule juries and sentence defendants to death. Corey has tried to get support from Farah’s teenage son, Caleb, by showing him video of his sister’s murder. After briefly caving in, Caleb supports a life sentence for Rhodes.

As the district’s state attorney, Corey is the primary advocate for those sentences, making her one of the deadliest prosecutors in the country. Corey also used $108,439 of taxpayer money to upgrade her pension plan, and $425,000 in bonuses for her office staff. Corey was able to maneuver around a Florida statute that bans such bonuses for public employees by claiming the disbursements were “one time” pay raises.

Nelson’s win is not unadulterated good news: she was endorsed by the NRA who thought that Zimmerman should not have been charged at all. After a prosecutor for 12 years in the 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s office, however, she switched to private practice and was one of the defense attorneys for Cristian Fernandez. Maybe there’s hope for kids in the northeastern Florida judicial district. 

Trump Watch: Before Trump’s immigration speech in Arizona, he flew to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto. After the meeting, Trump said that they didn’t discuss who would pay for Trump’s wall between the U.S. and Mexico, but Peña Nieto said that he “made it clear” to Trump that Mexico would not pay for the wall. The president of Mexico also told Trump that illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. peaked years ago and complained to him about the vast number of guns that crossed the border and made Mexico’s drug wars much worse. Trump did get his photo-op with Peña Nieto, who has a 23 percent approval rating in Mexico.

Tonight, Trump gave his ten points of controlling undocumented immigrants with no solid methods of doing so, much of the content expanded from his GOP convention speech. Some Republicans who want more voter support for Trump called it a “softening”; Ann Coulter heard it the same way that many other listeners did. She called it a magnificent speech because there was “no pivot. Illegals will have one path to legal status: To go home and apply through legal channels like everyone else.” The only difference between Trump’s lies and white nationalism tonight was that he read it from a teleprompter.

June 13, 2016

Orlando Aftermath: Lots of GOP Talk, No Action

Filed under: Guns — trp2011 @ 8:56 PM
Tags: , , , , , ,

As the people in the United States try to cope with the killing of 49 people in an Orlando gay bar early yesterday morning, the craziness of a polarized country goes on. President Obama “has become the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency,” according the nonliberal Jeffrey Goldberg, but Donald Trump is calling for the president’s resignation “in disgrace” if the president doesn’t use the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” Conservatives fail to remember that the presidential position that “we ought to avoid the language of religion” goes back to George W. Bush’s “Counterterrorism Communication” guidelines. They’s just happy attacking all Muslims–and of course, they think that President Obama is one.

Donald Trump’s drive for attention led to his making increasingly insane comments during the past 36 hours. He started out yesterday by patting himself on the back in wanting to ban Muslims from the United States and by this morning insinuated that the president may be colluding with terrorists. “There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable,” he said in Trumpese. As Politico’s Blake Hounshell summarized, “This morning, Trump implied President Obama is a terrorist sympathizer.” Politico’s Jake Sherman added, “The Republican Party’s nominee for president seems to be saying it’s possible the POTUS is in cahoots with terrorists.”

In this case, Trump isn’t the only Republican to criticize for the belief. Within the past few weeks, GOP leaders have started falling in line behind their presumptive presidential candidate. As Michael Gerson wrote, “Since Trump now owns [Republican leaders], they now own his prejudice.”

Trump is not alone in stupidity; he has lots of company in Congress. Whether the killer has ever been on a terrorist watch list is still in question, but, thanks to the GOP, being on this list would not prevent him from legally buying a gun. Although people on the list are not legally permitted to purchase plane tickets in the U.S., they can legally purchase guns, including the assault rifle that the killer used. Last December, Republicans defeated a measure to prohibit those on the terrorist watch list from legally purchasing guns. Senate Republicans up for reelection this year—including vulnerable candidates Kelly Ayotte (NH), Ron Johnson (WI), Pat Toomey (PA), and Rob Portman (OH)—voted with the NRA to gun rights for the suspected terrorists’ gun rights.

Florida’s Marco Rubio, whose term is up and who may be running again although he promised not to do so—has strongly argued that guns had nothing to do with the killings. It was the ideology. The man who said that he hated being in the Senate and rarely showed up for votes indicated that the Orlando shooting may have inspired him to run. Hugh Hewitt urged Rubio to run, citing his “foreign policy” knowledge. That must include his opposition to opening trade with Cuba and his determination to destroy any agreement with Iran. Rubio’s foreign policy is very scary.

Terrorists are well aware that the United States is a candy store of guns for them. For at least five years, they have encouraged their followers to purchase assault-style weapons and shoot people in the United States made easy with the extremely lax gun laws in many of the nation’s states. An al Qaeda spokesperson said in that 2011 video:

 “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?”

From 2002 to 2014, 85 percent of people killed by terrorists in the U.S. were killed from guns. Every terrorist attack in the U.S. last year when someone other than the perpetrator was killed involved guns. Building a bomb isn’t easy, and hijacking airplanes has become almost impossible, but accessing guns is quite simple, thanks the GOP support for terrorists purchasing guns. Yesterday, Santa Monica (CA) police stopped a white man from Indiana, who had an NRA symbol on his license plate, on his way to a gay pride parade with “assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, ammunition and chemicals used to make explosives” in his car. Nothing was said, however, about his ideology.

Always direct with its covers, the NY Daily News has one placing the blame for the Orlando shootings square on the NRA. The organization makes millions and millions of dollars from the gun manufacturing industry and then uses the money to lobby legislatures for more lax gun laws that will allow the industry to sell more and more guns. The marketing strategy is brilliant: when men aren’t buying enough guns, advertising is directed to women. When that market seems saturated, guns sales for small children are pushed. Not one person can figure out a reason why private individuals have a need to own an assault-style weapon other than to kill as many people as possible in as short of a time as possible–but the U.S. lets them buy these military weapons.

Daily News cover

Ted Cruz may be the only Republican leader who openly recognized that the killer targeted the LGBT community. His purpose in doing so, however, was to call on Democrats “to speak out against an ideology that calls for the murder of gays and lesbians.” He defined the killers as members of “ISIS and the theocracy in Iran (supported with American taxpayer dollars).” In other words, he wants the Democrats to join the Republicans in banning all Muslims—and probably other immigrants—from the United States.

Aside from the fact that the U.S. does not send “taxpayer dollars” to Iran, Cruz ignores the Christian ideology that promotes the execution of gays. At least one of these Christian leaders who wants to kill gays is Cruz’s colleague, Kevin Swanson, who spoke immediately before Cruz in Des Moines (IA) where Swanson hosted a “National Religious Liberties Conference.” Swanson did say that homosexuals should not be sentenced with a death penalty until they’ve had time to repent.

Speakers at the same conference were other Christian supporters for killing gays–Phillip G Kayser, pastor of Dominion Covenant Church in Nebraska, and Joel McDurmon, president of the Christian Reconstructionist organization American Vision. McDurmon criticized Uganda for backing off the death penalty in its anti-LGBT legislation.  Rafael Cruz, Ted’s father and a strong campaigner for Ted’s presidential candidate, is a preacher in the Dominion Church. Ted Cruz follows many of that church’s beliefs.

Congress called today for a moment of silence regarding the killings. That’s what they do best—silence in adversity. My hero for the day is Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) who refused to participate in today’s moment of silence and walked off the House floor after calling them “obnoxious expressions of smug incompetence.”

In an interview with Slate, Himes said:

“’Thoughts and prayers’ are three words that cost you nothing. I’m sick of it. Show some courage. There’s an array of pathetic arguments with the ideologues you hear, that we can’t ever end gun violence. That’s true. We’re not going to end polio or cancer, either, but we can take some huge strides.”

After Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) held the pro forma moment of silence, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) tried to ask the Speaker when he would consider bills curbing gun use. Before he finished, Ryan ruled his question out of order and directed the House to move to the next vote. Democrats responded by shouting, “Where’s the bill?” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters Democrats have “had enough” of moments of silence after mass shootings when Congress does not act to tighten gun laws.

People talk and write a great deal about the killer being “radicalized.” This may be true. But what is the term for Christians who kill? Will we ever talk about Christians who want to kill innocent people being “radicalized”? If Christians kill innocent people, can we call it “domestic terrorism”? Or “radical Christian terrorism”? And will there ever be enough brave people to stand up and say that the killings couldn’t happen without guns?

January 24, 2016

Christians Entitled, Not Victimized

Cries for free expression inundate the media amid complaints about “political correctness,” but where is the free expression in the fundamentalist Christian religion?

Academia is denigrated by conservatives as a liberal environment brainwashing students’ minds, yet evangelical and Catholic schools are praised for controlling female clothing, dating and social life, and even behavior of faculty members in their own homes that are subject to unannounced inspections. One teacher reported that her vanilla extract was confiscated for its alcohol content. Heaven forbid that any students are openly LGBT, transgender professors transition, women get pregnant out of wedlock, and couples divorce. At least 35 schools received federal waivers allowing them to discriminate against LGBT, female, and pregnant students and faculty while taxpayers continue to send funding to the colleges.

Student clubs for nonbelievers can be restricted, and Liberty University banned the student Democratic club. Katha Pollitt wrote that she was required to sign a statement promising that she wouldn’t offend Catholic doctrine before her speech at two Catholic colleges. Larycia Hawkins was suspended from Wheaton College for stating on Facebook that Christians and Muslims “worship the same god.” The school also requires that faculty sign a faith statement declaring their belief in the literal Adam in Genesis. John Schneider, professor of theology at Calvin College, was forced into retirement after he published an article questioning the story of Adam and Eve.

The response to any of these complaints is that people cannot hold religious beliefs to normal scholarly standards. Religious colleges are also private, which means that they can do anything they want and employers and enrollees know what they’re getting. Ramesh Ponnuru, a right-wing critic of academic-speech restrictions, stated that “PC threatens the robust exchange of ideas” but defended Wheaton’s treatment of Hawkins because “no serious person argued that the college had violated a principle of free speech.”

All the GOP presidential candidates express opposition to Sharia law but want to mandate Christian law. The worst of these candidates may be Ted Cruz, as he continues to pick up endorsements from religious right activists. The most recent is Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer labeled by some as a cult and known for its nonstop 24-hour-a-day prayer in preparation for the End Times and its anti-gay activism in Uganda. According to Bickle, LGBT marriage is “rooted in the depths of hell,” homosexuality “opens the door to the demonic realm,” and Oprah Winfrey is a forerunner of the Antichrist. He called her “one of the clear pastors, forerunners, to the harlot movement.” Earlier in his campaign, Cruz shared a state with Kevin Swanson, who demands the death penalty for homosexuality.

Marco Rubio, accused of being a flip-flopper in his political views has been a Mormon, a Catholic, and most recently a member of the extremist pro-exorcist Christ Fellowship. He has put out a television ad having nothing to do with politics and everything to do with “His Christian Faith.” His opening statement:

“Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our Creator and for all time, to accept the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ.”

He claims that “the purpose of our life is to cooperate with God’s plan” and closes with “I try to allow [his religious belief] to influence me in everything that I do.” In between, he says much more about how Christianity should lead the country. There was once a time when a president’s religious views were personal and private—even a time when a presidential candate’s religion made voters question whether they should vote for him. No more. It’s all on the table now: vote for [fill in the blank] because he’s the most Christian.

The recent accusation of Christian victimization comes from their sense of extreme entitlement and their fundamentalist creed “do as I believe.” For example, in a case before the Supreme Court a church claims that Missouri illegally excluded their playground from a state program that provided safer play surfaces.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia wants state funding to replace the pea gravel in its day-care center’s playground with recycled tires. The letter of refusal stated a section of the state constitution that  “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” A judge agreed with the state position, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals panel split 2-1 on its decision after the church appealed.

The church’s attorney claimed the case is about “religious hostility.” He said, “This case [Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley] has huge implications for state constitutional provisions across the nation that treat religious Americans and organizations as inferiors solely because of their religious identity.” In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that states offering college scholarships can deny them to students majoring in theology. Churches want “equality” but pay no taxes while demanding handouts.

Washington State Rep. Mary Dye decided that her religion gave her the right to ask a group of high school students whether they were virgins. On Teen Lobbying Day, the teenagers, chaperoned by Planned Parenthood Rachel Todd, went to Dye’s office to advocate for expanding insurance to cover birth control where Dye gave them an unwanted lecture about marriage and sex advice. Fortunately, the stunned young people received a different reception from the GOP Senate Majority Leader, Mark Schoesler. Eleanor Loewus, 18, called him very respectful. Schoesler said, “I handled it like a normal meeting.”

While Kansas suffers from disastrous financial problems, one GOP legislator is more concerned with what women are wearing. Mitch Holmes, chair of the state Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, has announced a dress code for women who come to testify. Not men, just women because women’s dress can be “distracting.” His 11-point code of conduct includes inappropriateness of “low-cut necklines and miniskirts” because he says there are “provocatively clad women” at the Capitol. According to Holmes, men don’t need fashion guidance.

Even other Republicans were appalled at Holmes’ mandates, saying that they haven’t noticed any problems. Sen. Vicki Schmidt said, “Who’s going to define low-cut? Does it apply to senators?” Sen. Carolyn McGinn said that people without clothes that meet Holmes standards might e deterred from testifying.

Mesa Valley School District 51, a public school district, used its email system to advertise a Christian event using Bible lessons to encourage girls as young as 11 to stay “pure” while looking for husbands. Announcing “Wake Up Sleeping Beauty: Worship At His Feet,” the flier includes the silhouette of a girl’s face with a Bible verse from Luke 7:38.

“As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”

A video posted to the Wake Up Sleeping Beauty Facebook page encourages fathers to “protect her purity” and shows a father watching over his daughter as she puts on makeup. Promotional videos on the website of the sponsoring group, Wake Up Ministries, includes warnings for girls about the “gag reflex” caused by kissing with your tongue. A parent’s complaint about the flier’s imagery of a girl using her hair to wash a man’s feet before kissing them, was quickly dismissed by the school district. District 51 Communications Specialist responded:

“Having reviewed the flyer and KHB-R per your request, we do not find that the flyer promotes a religious organization or demeans a person or group on the basis of gender.”

Right-wing Christians believe that they know the only path for people to follow and they should be able to pass laws to force everyone in the United States to follow them. That’s the supreme form of entitlement.

August 12, 2015

Only Trump Supports Women in Planned Parenthood Debacle

All the problems in the United States come from a lack of Christian belief, according to GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who promises that he will create Christian dominion over the entire country. In an interview with American Family Association leader Tim Wildmon, Cruz said,

“Nothing is more important in the next 18 months than that the body of Christ rise up and that Christians stand up, that pastors stand up and lead.”

As U.S. president, Cruz would fight the nonexistent religious persecution and seek criminal charges against Planned Parenthood. Cruz’s ad to prosecute Planned Parenthood begins with this pitch:

“For a century, Americans have helped heal and care for millions in need. Our values propelled extraordinary innovation. America made the world better.”

Visuals in the beginning of the ad use images of polio victims, people who suffered from the dread disease before a poliovirus vaccine, using fetal kidney cell research, saves 550,000 lives every year. People are actually angry about the use of fetal tissue in research, but they use Planned Parenthood as a symbol of this. The public doesn’t want to think about the use of fetal tissue as an answer to exploring treatment and cures for health issues from vision loss to cancer. Not one person in Congress, including Cruz, has introduced legislation to ban this kind of research. All of the attackers are removing health care from lower-income people, both women and men, not dealing with the issue that has caused a series of inflammatory statement.

Of the 17 GOP candidates, 16 of them, including the one woman, are firmly united in opposing Planned Parenthood. Carly Fiorina said that Planned Parenthood should be “defunded immediate.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), oddly declared the winner of the first candidate debate although he fell to seventh place in the field, is trying to lead the attack with a new initiative on both social media and his campaign website. A large picture of a fluffy-white kitty cat is accompanied by the statement, “Watch this video and sign this petition if you know that a human life won’t become a donkey or a cat.”

rubio's catRubio’s brilliant (at least to himself) idea came from an interview with Chris Cuomo on CNN after the debate when he began to insist that “science” has declared that human life begins at conception. In reality, biologists maintain that life is continuous and that a fertilized egg has the same level of life as a sperm or an unfertilized egg. Conservative men such as Mike Huckabee so fond of “personhood” might want to consider this science the next time that they masturbate. Cuomo tried to explain the facts of life to Rubio, who kept his own irrational viewpoint:

“[The fertilized egg] cannot turn into an animal. It can’t turn into a donkey. The only thing that that can become is a human being…. If scientists] can’t say it will be human life, what does it become, then? Could it become a cat?”

Pro-choice advocates don’t believe that a human egg can become a cat. The accurate description of the belief is that a difference exists between people and fertilized human eggs just as there is a difference between acorns and trees—and between eggs and chickens.

The one candidate who separated himself from the crowd in defunding Planned Parenthood is—surprise—Donald Trump. Although the businessman still opposes abortions, he explained to Sean Hannity that Planned Parenthood does “good things that aren’t having to do with abortion.” He also talked about “many Republican conservative women [who] come up and say Planned Parenthood serves a good function other than the one aspect. We have to help women.” Hannity wasn’t happy with Trump, but Fox president, Roger Ailes, wants the network to go easy on Trump.

The rest of the candidates know that they have to oppose abortion—and therefore Planned Parenthood—to have any chance of being elected. Seventy years ago, Jeb Bush’s grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood. In 1950, however, he narrowly lost a run for U.S. senator after a newspaper publicized his connection to the “Birth Control Society.” Twenty years later, Prescott Bush’s son, George H.W. Bush, championed family planning as an important backer of Title X, the program which helps Planned Parenthood get millions of federal dollars every year. GOP President Richard Nixon signed the legislation that passed with a bipartisan vote. H.W. Bush went on to support population control and family planning services around the world. Conservatives forced him, however, to follow the GOP’s anti-abortion position, and by 1989, he eliminated funding for the U.N. program that he supported ten years earlier. Jeb Bush knows that he can’t get elected with support for the evangelicals, and that means he has to be strongly against women’s reproductive rights.

The worst STD rates are in the United States are in Georgia. State legislators have decided to make the rates worse by stopping STD testing kits to Planned Parenthood. State school law mandates abstinence training in sex education with no information about safe sex. Georgia pharmacists can legally deny filling prescriptions for birth control for “religious” reasons. Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal has kept 600,000 people in his state from getting health insurance. At the same time, he is spending thousands of taxpayer dollars investigating Planned Parenthood despite all the other investigations that have proved that Planned Parenthood has not broken the law. In Texas, the state with the highest rate of uninsured people of any state, Planned Parenthood cannot afford to offer cancer screenings because of state defunding.

The United States has organizations dedicated to shutting down Planned Parenthood. The sole purpose of some legislators is to make abortion and birth control illegal. For example, a new bill in Wisconsin would lower birth control reimbursement rates for safety net providers serving low-income women to a level that could shut most or all of these health centers down. When GOP presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker defunded Planned Parenthood, he shut down five of the mostly rural health centers that didn’t perform abortions but did screen for cervical and breast cancer. In 2013, 25 percent fewer women have access to a woman’s health center in Wisconsin than in 2010 when Walker became governor. State laws prevent the use of public funds for abortion services, but states want to deny federal family planning funds to providers, including Planned Parenthood.

A leader in stopping Planned Parenthood, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is supported by the wealthy Koch brothers. This is a group that provides state legislators with ready-made conservative legislation. ALEC pretends not to address social issues such as abortion, but national anti-choice groups exhibited model policies and rubber fetuses at the recent ALEC convention. They share the same funding sources and goals—electing Republicans to carry out the extremist conservative agenda.

Debate moderators need to ask GOP presidential candidates why they are so determined to cause more pregnancies by stopping access to birth control. Candidates should also be asked why their position on “smaller government” doesn’t apply to women’s medical decisions, which legislators are determined to make for them. As studies show, the greater the access to contraception, the fewer unwanted pregnancies. Mike Huckabee talks about abortion demonstrating the moral depravity in the United States. This “depravity” would dissolve if Huckabee—and all his conservative colleagues—would help women from getting pregnant.

The good news is that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is warnng states that defunding Planned Parenthood may be illegal by restricting beneficiary access to services. State Medicaid programs are required to cover family-planning services and supplies for anyone of child-bearing age. Defunding agreements with Planned Parenthood would limit beneficiaries’ access to care and services from qualified providers of their choice.

A sixth video asserting wrong-doing on the part of Planned Parenthood has surfaced. Here is an explanation of how it was doctored to make watchers believe that Planned Parenthood is breaking the law.

July 22, 2015

U.S. Justice for the Top 1 Percent

Mass media is gradually turning to the criminal (in)justice system within the past few months. One publicized tragedy is a teenager’s suicide after he was incarcerated at Rikers for three years with no trial following his arrest for allegedly stealing a backpack. When the case was finally dismissed, he was so traumatized by the years in solitary confinement and abuse that he couldn’t survive.

President Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, has recently been addressing the serious problem that the U.S. incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other industrialized country. The discussion about a system that imprisons almost twice as many people as two decades ago and that disproportionately jails people of color is long overdue.

prison_pop_increase

Adam Benforado is one person who has researched the differences between freedom and imprisonment—not only class and race but also juror life experience and the fatigue level of parole boards. In his new book, “Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice,” he describes the great emphasis of unreliable confessions on convictions. The Innocence Project, responsible for over 330 exonerations, found that “more than 1 out of 4 people wrongfully convicted but later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement.” Saul Kassin, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, stated, “Once the confession is taken, it trumps everything else…its effects cannot be reversed.”

Police who initially focus on behaviors showing that a suspect lies, use methods from false ideas about body language and leading lines of questioning. Detectives ask provocative questions and then look for “jittery limbs or averted gaze.” Benforado explained that “frequently someone who’s committed a horrible crime will look you straight in the eye and tell you that they’re innocent.” Techniques  to get admissions of guilt employ coercive “good-cop, bad-cop” routines. Vulnerable people such as those with low IQs, a history of mental health problems, or with less life experience such as teenagers often make false confessions in efforts to appease interrogators. Over 80 percent of people who confess but please not guilty are convicted because the confessions are almost impossible to erase.

Even recordings can result in viewer bias. According to Benforado, the point of view can make a huge difference:

“When people watched the footage shot from the perspective of the interrogator, they tended to say, well, this looks like a completely fine, voluntary confession. But when they watch the videotape from another perspective, through the eyes essentially of the suspect, suddenly they notice all of these coercive factors. And they tended to think, well no, actually that confession cannot come into court because it is so badly influenced by the actions of the interrogator.”

Benforado also pointed out how facts have little relationship with jury verdicts. Black men typically get longer prison terms and have a higher incidence of death sentences than white men. Jurors’ backgrounds and experiences, “cultural cognition,” weigh more heavily in guilt or innocence than legalities. For example, in trials of rape date, “women who were older, who were more conservative, who adhere to more traditional gender norms, were far more likely to let the man off in this particular case than women who were liberal and younger.”

Parole boards may be the most alarming part of injustice because of how the time of day plays a big part of whether prisoners are released or returned to prison. The worst time to get a parole is before the first break of the day.

The saddest conclusion of Benforado’s study is that the legal system is primarily created by and composed of white, wealthy, highly-educated older men. At this time, white people in the United States think that they are at risk. That’s the reason that a young man went to a Bible study at a church in Charleston (SC) and killed nine people.

One major tragedy  in the United States criminal justice system is that 2,500 people in the United States were sentenced to life without parole when they were teenagers. The country will pay $4 billion to keep them there for the rest of their lives. All UN-affiliated countries in the world have signed and ratified a treaty to ban life imprisonment for juvenile offenders except for the United States, Somalia, and South Sudan.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama by a 5-4 vote that these life sentences violate the 8th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. and the court banned mandatory life sentences for minors. The ruling, however, left the decision of whether the ruling is to be applied retroactively up to individual states. Eleven states have thus far ruled in favor of retroactivity, but five have ruled against retroactivity.

One of these 2,500 juvenile lifers is Efren Paredes, who went to prison in Michigan when he was 15 and has been there for 26 years. An honor roll student with no criminal record, he was arrested but claimed that he was at home with his family watching TV when a convenience store clerk was shot and killed in a robbery. The Supreme Court announced last March to hear Toca v. Louisiana in the upcoming session that would determine whether Miller would be retroactive nationwide.

Michigan is second only to Pennsylvania in the number of juvenile lifers. According to Michigan law, teenagers as young as 15 years old are automatically tried in adult courts for murder cases, and convicted teens go directly to adult prisons. If the court rules in favor of retroactive treatment, convicts tried as juveniles must have a re-trial with the hope that a jury grants the possibility of parole because they plead their cases before a parole board. Even if the Supreme Court rules for nationwide retroactive application of Miller in Toca v. Louisiana, Parades’ parole could be in danger because he has always maintained his innocence when parole boards demand for a showing of “remorse.”

Another tragedy is that female victims of abuse are sent to juvenile detention halls that fail to treat them for mental health issues. “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story,” produced by the Human Rights Project for Girls (Washington, DC), the Center on Poverty and Equality (Georgetown University Law Center), and the Ms. Foundation, reported that girls’ involvement in juvenile justice systems nationally is “growing disproportionately” and that girls of color are especially affected.

Many infractions, such as running away from home or school truancy, should not have led to incarceration, and the Human Rights Projects for Girls is fighting for legislature that would require prompt help for sex trafficking victims who are foster-care children and expose sex trafficking of minors. Most youth are confined in facilities lacking licensed professionals as mental-health counselors. Congress could fix loopholes in treatment of girls in crisis by tying funding to federal law requirements.

The biggest sin of prisons, however, is that privatization has made prisons a chief money raiser for the top one percent in the United States. With the rise of privately-owned prisons, incarceration has become big business in America. Holding a population of over 130,000, private prisons hold about 17 percent of federal and 7 percent of state inmates, bringing over $3.3 billion in revenue to just two corporations, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, just last year. Almost half the immigrant detention population is in private prisons. Corporations fiercely lobby against any reduction in their population, whether from reductions in mandatory minimum sentencing laws, immigration reform, or drug legalization and decriminalization. There’s not much danger of losing their prisoners, however, because privately-owned prison companies usually include an occupancy level of 90 percent or above in their contracts.

Private companies are in control of extending prisoners’ sentences through doling out infractions—twice as many as government-run prisons—adding about $3,000 of costs to taxpayers per prisoner. When released, prisoners from private prisons are more likely to go back into the system. CCA has provisions in its contract to keep the most costly inmates—those with health issues—from going into its prisons. They had 14 different exclusion criteria including HIV-positive, disabled, elderly, or those with “sensitive medical conditions and/or high risk diagnoses.”

Current laws that incarcerate millions have not resulted in any greater safety for the country’s population and are a giant waste of money. Yet politicians support these failed policies because lobbyists pay them. While Chairman of the Florida House of Representatives, now-Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) took $75,000 for his state campaigns, hired a former GEO trustee as economic advisor, and made sure that GEO got a $110 million contract for the state’s largest private prison facility. A federal inquiry found tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to Florida lawmakers and ended up indicting Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom. Moving on to being a U.S. senator, Rubio pushed Florida Gov. Rick Scott to turn 27 state prisons to GEO. For that, Rubio’s PAC got $114,000 in 2011.

The U.S. is horribly over-incarcerated. The 2.4 million men, women, and children in jails and prisons are more people per capita than any nation except for Seychelles. This 700-percent increase has come since 40 years ago when the U.S. was comparable to other nations. During that time, the War on Drugs cost $1 trillion and arrested 45 million people. Imprisoning people means that they cannot get treatment for the reason behind their drug use, and the prisons resort to solitary confinement. Portugal decriminalized all drug use and now treat addition as a medical issue with humane correctional methods. Drug-use rates have markedly declined.

The criminal justice in the United States is totally skewed toward the privileged who will fight to keep the status quo because it gives them money and position.

April 25, 2015

Presidential Campaign Updates

Three declared GOP presidential candidates and almost 20 others are jostling each other with insults and geometrically increasing extremist positions to make them stand out from the crowded field. Most of their speech time is spent condemning Hillary Clinton, the top Democratic candidate at this time, but this is what they have to say in their spare time. Just a peek at how they would act if they were elected President of the United States:

Ted Cruz: “Obama is a … socialist.” Conservatives think the word socialist—actually meaning public ownership of the means of production—is a term for “stuff Republicans don’t like.”  To Cruz, however, it must mean all-time high corporate profits and stock market with the big drop in unemployment based on private-sector jobs. Cruz’s complaint that “the top 1 percent in this country … earn a higher share of our national income than any time since 1928” must mean “an unmitigated socialist.”

Cruz has openly attacked his two declared opponents, Paul and Rubio, for not supporting the Second Amendment. As a blogger wrote, “Let the cannibalism begin.”

Last Wednesday, two wealthy gay business hoteliers, Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner, arranged a fundraising dinner; Thursday Cruz rolled out his plan to make marriage equality illegal. The first proposed bill is pretty standard for a Republican: amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent same-sex marriage in any state that doesn’t want it. The second bill, however, is bizarre. It would ban any federal court from issuing a ruling related to marriage equality until the constitutional amendment passed. No mention was made of these proposed bills the night before, but Cruz did say, “If one of my daughters was gay, I would love them just as much.” Reisner and Weiderpass both disavowed Cruz’s position, but they’re taking a lot of heat about the event from their customers.

In the House, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is introducing a bill to keep judges from hearing or deciding “any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, any type of marriage.” Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) has countered with a bill to restrain King from introducing bills and made a statement about King’s long record of outrageous racist and other inflammatory remarks–ending “anchor babies” and describing undocumented immigrants as having “calves the size of cantaloupes” because they were smuggling drugs.”

Cruz may have found his billionaire supporter in Wall Street hedge-fund magnate  Robert Mercer who made his fortune using computer patterns to outsmart the stock market.  Oregonians remember Mercer as the man who bankrolled Art Robinson’s attempt to unseat Rep. Peter DeFazio. Robinson, known for his opposition to scientific viewpoints about evolution, AIDS, and nuclear waste, is now collecting urine samples from people across southeastern Oregon in an experiment about curing cancer.

With the highest percentage of missing votes in the Senate—10.4 percent—Cruz also skipped the vote on Loretta Lynch for Attorney General for a fundraiser in Texas. He also missed the vote on the Keystone Pipeline while fundraising in California. (Rubio is second in missed votes with 8.2 percent.)

Rand Paul: Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are President Obama’s “lapdogs,” said Paul in response to the two war hawks accusing Paul of naivete. from the two war hawks. McCain and Graham are actually contemptuous of the president’s foreign policy because he won’t attack more nations and start more wars: the president is more like Paul until as Paul advocates a huge increase in defense spending and more strikes against ISIL.

Paul is over 50 years old, but he still struts around in his shades trying to look “cool” with his shades. The inclusion of “Rand branded Raybans” in his campaign store, however breaks the law just as Paul’s plagiarism may have. The glasses are gone after a Rayban made a formal request that Paul remove the glasses from the store and “cease any further use of our trademarks.”

Paul’s revelation that he had found a Hillary Clinton scandal so terrible that her campaign would be wrecked fizzled after Peter Schweizer admitted that he had no proof for his allegations in his book, Clinton Cash. Now Paul is begging for information about Clinton scandals on his website and through Twitter.

Paul wants to terminate programs for the elderly such as Meals on Wheels and let old people depend on the “nobility of charity.” He also wants to destroy more federal agencies than Rick Perry did, eliminating all federal funding for education—even school lunches. Privatizing Medicare and Social Security also fits into his agenda.

Paul wrote the piece lauding the Koch brothers on Times’ 100 most influential list, praising their “generous philanthropic efforts” and their consistent lobbying “against special-interest politics.” The brothers developed the pledge “No Climate Tax” to combat climate change, signed by over 450 federal and state politicians including Rand Paul. Thirty-six of 48 Koch Industries lobbyists in 2013-2014 had held government jobs in the past. Here’s a partial list of the special-interest groups that receive millions from the Koch brothers. And they plan to donate almost $1 billion to elect a GOP president in 2016.

Marco Rubio: The $85 billion bailout of GM and Chrysler was not the “right way” for the federal government, but “our auto industry is important.” The bailout actually saved hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the industry bounced back. It was an effective action, but Rubio still thinks that the successful policy wasn’t “the right way to handle it.” Everyone can agree and disagree with Rubio’s statements because he takes both sides with the same breath.

A few other self-avowed “undeclareds”:

Mike Huckabee: “I might suggest to parents, I’d wait a couple of years until we get a new commander-in-chief that will once again believe ‘one nation under god’ and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country.” In other words, Huckabee is telling young people to not join the military in an attempt to weaken security for the United States.

Huckabee claims that the backlash to Indiana’s law permitting discrimination is proof that liberals hate all Christians. He also says that the upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding marriage equality will be moot because “one branch of government does not overrule the other two.”

Bobby Jindal: Despite watching the debacles in other states attempting to legalize discriminatory “religious freedom” laws, Jindal wants one of his own. IBM has asked Jindal to change his position because the law creates a “hostile environment” in the state that is already in dire financial straits. Jindal refused and thinks he can solve his fiscal problems with an 82-percent cut for higher education. Louisiana is already in the top ten least educated states in the country and almost last in the annual education report card issued by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. College professors get about $16,000 less than the national average salary. Jindal explains his low approval rate—27 percent—by saying that it’s dropped by 15 to 20 points because he cut spending and took on the teacher unions. That was his campaign platform in a deep red state; he did exactly what he told the voters he would do.

Rick Santorum:  As president, the former senator would force children to read the Bible, force pregnant rape victims to give birth, stop birth control, and keep mothers at home. He thinks that people misunderstood the Crusades, Palestinians don’t exist, and President Obama wants a secular theocracy. It’s an oxymoron: theocracy is a system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god, and  secular is not subject to or bound by religious rule.

Scott Walker: Wisconsin’s current governor is such a disaster that his actions require several books to explain, but, using Wisconsin as a model, the U.S. would get higher employment and deficits if Walker were president. From January 2011 to January 2015, Wisconsin was 35th in job growth, compared to a national average of 8.21 percent. (Other governors considering the White House have the same problem: Jindal’s Louisiana is 32nd, and Chris Christie’s New Jersey is 40th.) Walker, with a two-year deficit as high as $2 billion, has cut $300 million for higher education on top billions in previous education cuts. Without a college diploma, he may consider education to be superfluous. In his home state, his disapproval rate is 56 percent.

After the New York Times published an article accusing Hillary Clinton of exchanging favors for donations to the Clinton Foundation, Mitt Romney’s commented, “It looks like bribery.” He missed the facts. As Secretary of State, Clinton had nothing to do with the review of the Uranium One deal, and nine separate U.S. agencies, including departments of Treasury, Justice and Commerce, were part of the process. The donation to the Clinton Foundation occurred in early 2008, a year before Clinton became Secretary of State. As NBC news wrote, “[U]pon reflection, that Times article doesn’t hold up that well 24 hours after its publication.” All the discussion was on “perception” or “narratives.”

Deficits, high unemployment, lack of personal freedom, poor education, corruption, illegal activities, lying, bigotry, war—which one do you pick for president?

April 13, 2015

Rubio Wants to be the Young President

Another GOP presidential candidate rollout, today Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Writing for Nate Silver’s famous election analysis website, fivethirtyeight.com, Harry Enten puts him in the top tier following Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Despite Rubio’s poor showing in polls, Enten calls him “electable and conservative.” A hawk on foreign policy, he may avoid Rand Paul’s pitfalls; less extreme than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), he hasn’t alienated fellow senators; and more conservative than Bush, he could be an alternative, rather than a challenger.

resizeRubio’s entrance into the ring failed to make the splashes of the first two because Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy yesterday. His polling is even below Donald Trump with New Hampshire Republicans. Twitter responded with Rubio’s infamous video of reaching for a water bottle 11 minutes into his 14-minute speech responding to President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union speech. Constant references to the incident may seem cruel, but his votes against the people of the United States are also cruel.

Tweets about Rubio’s positions were less funny than the water bottle. As one said, “Rubio used to believe in climate change. Now he’s running for president.” Another suggested that he would lose Latino votes through his denial of climate change. They also included his argument that employers should be able to fire people for being LGBT and recorded robocalls for the National Organization of Marriage, an anti-LGBT group. One tweet posted a video of his top-ten anti-LGBT statements. He has also called adoption as a “social experiment” on children and joined 29 other senators in voting against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

In 2013, the Russian parliament declared war on LGBT people with a law that promoted anti-LGBT atrocities, including beatings and causing LGBT Russians to try to flee the country. The same day, Rubio dropped his personal immigration reform legislation because of an amendment allowing U.S. LGBT citizens to sponsor foreign spouses for permanent residency, even if they had death sentences in other countries. Thirteen days later the Supreme Court struck down a major provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, making Rubio’s argument moot. Because conservatives were increasingly opposed to his reform, Rubio may have jettisoned the immigration reform by blaming LGBT people.

Rubio has made as many—if not more—flip-flops as Rand Paul. Originally a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, he changed his position to look GOP presidential. He could separate himself from the GOP crowd by opposition to lower taxes for high earners and punishing the poor and working class, but he won’t. When he fails in persuading anyone toward his position, he caves to the popular GOP position on increasing income inequality. He makes promises such as improving the lives of poor people with no substance, even compromising in causing more harm to the poor.

To identify as the foreign policy specialist in the candidate field, he collected right-wing advisers who call themselves “reform conservatives” to address economic issues. Rubio’s tax reform pairs a few middle class benefits with massive cuts for the wealthy, similar to George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts that cost the country trillions of dollars. His tax plan would eliminate capital gains taxes and the estate tax, dropping taxes for the wealthy like Mitt Romney far below the 14 percent that Romney claimed he paid. Romney’s sons would also pay no taxes on the millions that they inherit from their wealthy dad.

Criticized by conservatives as too generous, Rubio added more regressional tax cuts for the wealthy into his earlier unworkable plan, greatly increasing his plan’s original $2.4 trillion deficits over a decade. He also followed the conservative approach that solves the increased deficit with massive reductions in social spending, just like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. In theory, that worked when he was just a senator. As a presidential candidate, he will be scrutinized for his tax and spending proposals. No one can successfully argue the success of simultaneous upper-income tax cuts, middle class credits, and anti-poverty spending.

Attempts to woo warring parties usually alienate both of them. Rubio wants both the conservative base and the left-leaning minorities. The Tea Party calls Rubio’s former immigration reform as his “amnesty” plan and refuses to believe that he has abandoned this position. His public scolding of undocumented protesters also alienated Latino voters. According to his own campaign staff, Rubio needs over 40 percent of the Latino vote but is trailing Hillary Clinton in polls with this population. Romney got only 27 percent of Latino vote.

Rubio brags that his foreign policy credentials as his signature, setting him above other GOP candidates, but he vows to block normal trade with Cuba, calling President Obama’s position a “victory for oppression.” Koch Brothers’ business megadonors think that Rubio’s philosophy is “out of step with the more noninterventionist” beliefs amongst Koch network donors.

In March, Rubio stumbled badly while questioning Secretary of State John Kerry on foreign affairs. Rhonda Swan, a Florida-based journalist, wrote that Rubio fails his own test that the next president have a “clear view of what’s happening in the world” and a “practical plan for how to engage America in global affairs.” The next week he complained that President Obama is nicer towards Iran than Israel, despite Netanyahu’s gratitude for the billions of dollars the Obama policy annually gives Israel and the help for attacks on Israel, for example the Hamas rocket assault. Rubio’s position is that he would immediately abandon U.S. allies and negotiating partners by “unilaterally” imposing “crushing” sanctions on Iran—which, as president, he couldn’t do.

Rubio wrote in his memoir that he has shifted among the Mormon, Catholic and Baptist churches. He grew up a Catholic before he became a Mormon, then switched back to Catholicism, then became a Southern Baptist and a Catholic, then left the Baptists and simply became a Catholic, then he became a Baptist again, then a Catholic again, all the while technically remaining a Mormon. Even right-wing websites are a bit snarky about this statement, responding that “many Americans might question how someone could attend both churches and fully share in both denominations.”

Last year he alienated both LGBT and conservative religious people by condemning discrimination against gays and lesbians and arguing they should be denied equal legal rights. He went farther this year with harsh statements against the pope for helping arrange talks between the US and Cuba, accusing him of not prioritizing “the cause of freedom and democracy.” Seventy percent of Latino voters identify as Catholic.

Enten may see Rubio as a viable “alternative” to Jeb Bush, but Bush has been working behind the scenes to collect the elite support to decide the nomination. Both are establishment-oriented candidates who aim for compromise within the party. The New York Times described Rubio’s competition:

“Scott Walker, who took on unions and won in Wisconsin, is a conservative hero. Ted Cruz is a favorite of the Tea Party. Mike Huckabee is a favorite of evangelical Christians. Then there is a long list of other conservative candidates—like Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal—who might compete for votes.”

enten-datalab-rubio-21 chart conservativeRubio has lost credibility with almost everyone in the GOP. He failed to carved a niche in any majority faction of the party, and his message fails to resonate with any wing of the GOP. A winning candidate needs to be seen as exceptional—and Rubio does not have that designation.

Rubio’s speech slogan is that “it’s time for our generation.” The 43-year-old disses his old mentor, 62-year-old Jeb Bush, as well as many more in the over-50 crowd—Huckabee, Santorum, Carson, Fiorina, Graham,  Rick Perry—even Rand Paul and Chris Christie. On the other hand, he has “young” competition: 48-year-old Scott Walker, 44-year-old Ted Cruz, and 44-year-old Bobby Jindal. President Obama was only 47 when he was elected for his first term. Everyone took the hit from Rubio’s slam against 67-year-old Hillary Clinton.

Other conservatives are attacking Clinton, for example Meet the Press host Chuck Todd who asked, “How does Hillary Clinton deal with this freshness issue?”

Panelist and journalist Maria Hinojosa responded: 

“I have to be honest with you. The terms ‘expiration date’ and ‘stale’ and ‘too late for you’ as a woman, it’s like, I don’t know if men have that same reaction, that’s nuclear.”

Panelist Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore, agreed, adding that the GOP is “stale.”

Rubio’s website uses the motto, “New American Century,” an organization that led the U.S. into war against Iraq. In 1997 founders called for regime change and much greater defense spending for the U.S. as the “world’s pre-eminent power” that led to George W. Bush’s “dominant” power. The focus was on military attacks rather than diplomatic strategy. By 2006, the organization had dissolved into a voice mail-box. Rubio may be bringing back the neo-con group to declare war on the world.

March 12, 2015

Infamous 47 Senators Face Backlash over Treasonous Letter

The past week has seen news issues such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email, two drunken Secret Service agents disturbing a crime scene at the White House, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott preventing state EPA officials from uttering the term “climate change.” All these major stories, however, have been eclipsed by the letter that 47 GOP Senators sent to Iran in an effort to either join Iranian hardliners in their effort to stop negotiations stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons or undermine the White House administration in working for a peaceful resolution with Iran.

Sen. Tom Cotton, the attempted coup’s leader, received $13.9 for his senatorial campaign, much of these funds from Israeli hard-line sources, almost $1 million from the Emergency Committee for Israel, that support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in going to war with Iran. Cotton has also called for supplying Israel with B-52s and so-called “bunker-buster” bombs for a possible strike against Iran. He has had a good week, going to the top of TV bookers’ lists and being sought out by colleagues on foreign policy. As such, he finds himself in “tall cotton,” a farmer’s term for success from good prices for crops. The attention, however, may come from his idiocy. Cotton is not known for his connection with reality and even takes pride in his ability to lie to the public. While a U.S. representative, Cotton told uninsured people not to use the health care marketplace because their personal information would be “stolen by Russian mobsters.” Others, however, may suffer from the continuing outrage about the senators’ treasonous action.

Lacking any sense of propriety, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) used the letter for fundraising.  A communication from his “Reclaim American PAC” stated that a $25 donation “will allow us to immediately fight back against these outrageous attacks [against the letter signers].” He should instead be apologizing for telling Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. can’t fight ISIS because the president is afraid of antagonizing Iran. Rubio said, “Tell me why I’m wrong.” Kerry did. “Because the facts completely contradict that,” he said, before he offered more details in a classified session. ISIL is a threat to Iran, and the country appreciates the U.S. campaign against the terrorists. Rubio repeated his false theory, and Kerry described it as “flat wrong,” following the statement with information about his meeting with King Solomon who supports U.S. actions against ISIL.

Facing the outrage across the country, other senators are trying to cover their sabotage like a cat in its sandbox. Republican aides tried to excuse the letter as a lighthearted attempt to show Iran that Congress should have a part in the negotiations. Other aides described it as a “cheeky” reminder of congressional rights, accusing the administration of having “no sense of humor.”

Failing in this tack, the GOP blamed President Obama for their letter. If he had consulted legislators or not threatened a proposed bill to give them the final vote on the agreement, they wouldn’t have had to write the letter, they said. This argument  also came from both Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who did not sign the letter, and hopeful GOP presidential candidate, Jeb Bush.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) admitted that the letter might not have been the best idea. He also said, “I saw the letter, I saw that it looked reasonable to me and I signed it, that’s all. I sign lots of letters.” Next time he might want to actually read what he signs. His next excuse was that “everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he signed it to “strengthen the president’s hand.” He has lost any credibility as a non-interventionist, non-nation builder libertarian Republican by saying that he wants to create a new nation for the Kurds by giving them arms. He wants a new independent country, Kurdistan, by redrawing borders of Syria and Iraq. This claim came two weeks after he told Tea Party libertarians that the GOP should stop attempts at international nation building.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) might want to reconsider her signature; as an active duty lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, she may have violated her state’s Code of Military Justice, specifically, Chapter 29B.85:

“Any person subject to this code who uses contemptuous words against the president, the governor, or the governor of any other state, territory, commonwealth, or possession in which that person may be serving, shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

Chapter 29B.1 notes that “this chapter applies to all members of the state military forces, while not in federal service.” Thomas Jefferson, one of the constitutional founders who Ernst reveres, wrote, “[The president] being the only channel of communication between this country and foreign nations, it is from him alone that foreign nations or their agents are to learn what is or has been the will of the nation….”  An Iowa National Guard representative said that Ernst is an on active duty, but Ernst claimed on CPAC that “today I serve as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.”

Before the letter, some Democrats had considered joining GOP senators to pass a bill requiring more sanctions against Iran. The plan that would kill Iranian negotiations is likely dead.

Historically, the GOP has fought congressional interference with White House foreign policy. In 1986, then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, joined by Cotton’s letter signer Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), insisted that President Reagan had the constitutional authority to ignore the congressional ban on aid to the Nicaraguan Contras. That was when Reagan provided weapons to Iran in its war with Saddam Hussein, who was backed by the United States at that time. Cheney’s support of the president’s constitutional powers applied to all issues and all occupants of the White House:

“[C]ongressional overreaching has systematic policy effects…. Congress’ efforts to dictate diplomatic bargaining tactics, as well as the efforts by individual members to conduct back channel negotiations on their own, make it extremely difficult for the country to sustain a consistent bargaining posture for an extended time period, whomever the President and whatever the policy.”

A fact-check pointed out the flaws in Cotton’s letter. President Obama is working on an “executive agreement,” not a treaty, and the Supreme Court has ruled that the president has authority to carry these out. Cotton maintains that future Congresses could “modify” the agreement, but the agreement would be supported by five permanent UN Security Council members plus one: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, plus Germany. Modification requires all signers to agree to changes. Even if Congress demanded this action from the United States, at least 67 senators would have to vote in favor of this to override a veto, an unlikely number now and perhaps less likely after the 2016 election which could lose some GOP senatorial positions. Even with a GOP president, the action would require 60 votes.

Reneging on an executive agreement may violate international law, and doing so would certainly endanger the nation’s diplomatic credibility. At this time, 95 percent of international agreements are done through executive agreements; reversing one of these would create global doubt to the United States commitment to most of the existing international agreements.

Asked about the letter from the infamous 47, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.  It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.  This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.”

Zarif expressed the same astonishment that at least 22 major newspapers across the country expressed on their editorial pages. Like the media, Zarif pointed out that the senators fail to understand both international law and their own Constitution as it pertains to presidential powers in foreign policy.

As of this evening, a White House petition against the 47 letter signers has reached almost 260,000 signatures.

December 20, 2014

Conservatives Whine about President’s Shift in Cuba Policy

The big news this week was President Obama’s announcement that relations between the United States and Cuba would be normalized. For three returned Cuban spies, he got a prisoner held for five years for trying to establish a telecommunications network outside government control, a U.S. spy in a Cuba prison for almost 20 years, and 53 political prisoners. Cuban citizens will also be permitted significant access to the Internet, and human officials from the Red Cross and the United Nations will be allowed to be inside the country. This is the first serious change since Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba caused the U.S. to impose its embargo against Cuba almost 54 years ago.

In addition, the policy change will restore full diplomatic relations and expand the import and export of goods. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, Cuba has progressed toward some private ownership of property and employment in private-sector jobs as well as encouragement of foreign investment. The Republicans believe that opening up trade and investing opportunities push countries toward an American-style economy. That was the party’s philosophy in opening up relations with China several decades ago. Their belief in this progress appears limited to GOP moves, however; as usual, President Obama’s actions are wrong simply because he is a Democrat.

The policy shift was announced after 18 months of secret talks between the two countries with the support of Pope Francis. The details were finalized after a 45-minute telephone conversation last Tuesday. Leaders of the two countries had not spoken directly to each other in over 50 years.

President Obama’s new Cuban policy put him in the midst of swarming wasps led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who is still claiming that his parents, who came to the United States five years before Castro took over, are “exiles.” Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declared Rubio the expert in this area. The media have given Rubio an inordinate amount of time and ink as he whined about possible trading with an oppressive government.

Cuba seems to be the only oppressive government that Rubio hates. In August, top aides to Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) “took an all expenses paid trip to China … courtesy of the Chinese government,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. At a cost of “10,000 a person,” the trips included meetings with Chinese government officials. Rubio’s spokesman Alex Conant explained that diplomatic relations with China could spread freedom and democracy. “Staff travel … is sometimes necessary in helping advance our advocacy on a host of foreign policy issues.” That’s pretty much the same thing that the president said about Cuba.

Another possible presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, has also jumped on the denounce-Cuba-relations bandwagon. Because of his position, Bush will lose over $1 million a year as an advisory board member of Barclays. The corporation had to pay a $298-million fine to the U.S. government for illegal transactions with countries subject to U.S. sanction—including Cuba.  Bush also made money from foreign investments in China and personally visited Hainan, a Chinese province. He “praised Hainan’s environmental and economic development and spoke hopefully of establishing stronger ties between Hainan and Florida.”

According to the Human Rights Watch, “[China’s] government remains an authoritarian one-party state. It places arbitrary curbs on expression, association, assembly, and religion; prohibits independent labor unions and human rights organizations; and maintains Party control over all judicial institutions.” Huffington Post’s Igor Bobic pointed out, “Of the 16 countries identified by a recent Freedom House report as the world’s worst human rights abusers (Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Burma, Chad, China, Cuba, Laos, and Libya), only four lack a U.S. diplomatic presence (North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Somalia, which is restoring relations).”

Rubio also doesn’t mind Saudi Arabia, a place that punishes homosexuality with floggings, lashings, and death—including hanging and beheading. Treated like property there, women are arrested for driving. Rubio also supports giving foreign aid to African countries where LGBT people are imprisoned for their sexual orientation and gender identity. In the United States, Rubio opposes civil rights such as job protections and marriage equality to LGBT people.

Elliott Abrams, who had pled guilty to withholding information Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, is concerned that the world will react negatively to the U.S.’s policy shift with Cuba, specifically in the Middle East, Asia, and European countries near Russia. His excuse was that the U.S. has pursued the ineffective policy for over a half century, and it should remain consistent for the sake of stability. Simon Maloy paraphrased Abrams: “How can they trust the U.S. when we’ll only adhere to a policy position for five decades for no discernible reason?”

Abrams missed the great approval from Latin America which called the president’s change, “historic steps … [and] courageous.” The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, said, “This is a decision of great vision on both sides, because this conflict, which has significant negative implications for citizens of both countries, had stagnated politically for too long.” French and Canadian officials have also announced enthusiastic support. No country has made any negative announcements about President Obama’s announcement about Cuba.

The GOP is divided about President Obama’s announcement. The two Cuban senators working toward a presidency, Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), are trying to outdo each other in their rage at President Obama. On the other hand, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said, “The 50-year embargo just hasn’t worked. In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea.” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was on the plane from Cuba that brought Alan Gross back after five years and has said that he will sponsor legislation to expand travel from the United States to Cuba. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) promises the same in the House, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced his support for the Obama administration’s policy. GOP allies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce really like the idea of profits through Cuban trade, leaving the conservatives’ opposition to figure out how to fight business interests.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) complained that this shift “is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America’s influence in the world.” His position is in comparison to the McCain of 2000, facing off George W. Bush for president, when he said that the U.S. could normalize relationships with Cuba in the same way that it did, with his help, in changing its policy toward Vietnam. The Miami Herald reported in 1999 that McCain was the only GOP presidential candidate at that time who believed “there could be room for negotiation on the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.”

A recent survey shows that 56 percent of people in the United States—and 52 percent of Republicans—want “normalizing relations or engaging more directly with Cuba.” Over half of Cuban Americans in Miami agree, according to a Florida International University poll. This percentage rises among Cuban Americans ages 18-29, 62 percent of whom oppose continuing the embargo. Similarly, 58 percent of those arriving since 1995 oppose continuing the embargo. A large majority of 69 percent favors diplomatic relations with Cuba with 90 percent of younger respondents strongly backing the policy shift. Younger respondents—89 percent—overwhelmingly endorse this policy shift as do 80 percent of the most recent arrivals.

If Rubio is fighting the president to get the vote, he may be disappointed. Asked if they would vote for someone who supports diplomatic relations with Cuba, 53 percent responded very or somewhat likely. Younger voters expressed the strongest support, 75 percent of those ages 18 to 29.

The subject of Cuba called for several questions at President Obama’s end-of-the-year press conference. More notable than his answers to eight journalists—at least to conservatives—is that all eight of these people are women. The right-wing responses went beyond sexist to racist. Fox White House correspondent Ed Henry criticized the women because then didn’t “press” the president. Male journalists who were not called on to provide questions shouted out two questions: did the president have resolutions for the new year, and did the president plan to start smoking Cuban cigars? Not exactly intelligent and thought-provoking—much like the complaints about the president’s new policy with Cuba.

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