Nel's New Day

September 28, 2013

News Hiding among GOP Shutting Down the Government

The news media has been fixated about the possibility of the U.S. government shutting down with a sideways glance at the first conversation between a U.S. president and an Iranian president in 34 years. The latest comes from The Hill which reports that the House voted to move more quickly on the Continuing Resolution that the Senate sent back to them yesterday. (The article reports that “just a handful of Republicans and Democrats” voted against changing the rule: that “handful” is actually 191 votes—44 percent of the members.)

Rapid voting won’t help because the GOP is adding two amendments to the Senate’s version of the CR, one delaying Obamacare for one year and the other repealing the 2.7 percent tax on medical devices in Obamacare. Another addition is a “conscience clause,” meaning that anyone, for example pharmacists, could refuse preventative care for women. This evening they’re just sitting around delaying the vote. It’s gone beyond ideological to thumbing their noses at women’s rights.

One governor who wants Obamacare is Kentucky’s Steve Beshear who wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “My State Needs Obamacare. Now.”  Pointing out that Kentucky is among the sickest, most unhealthy state in the nation, he credits the Medicaid expansion and Kynect health exchange for providing affordable coverage to more than 600,000 Kentuckians, creating 17,000 jobs, and saving the state $800 million. He writes to his GOP senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and others:

“So, to those more worried about political power than Kentucky’s families, I say, ‘Get over it.’ Get over it … and get out of the way so I can help my people. Here in Kentucky, we cannot afford to waste another day or another life.”

Here’s other news that hasn’t receive attention because of the concentration on Ted Cruz’s and the Tea Party’s games:

The best news is that 32-year-old Marissa Alexander will receive a new trial after serving of her 20-year prison sentence in Florida. Over three years ago, her husband  broke through a locked door into the bathroom where she was hiding, grabbed her by the neck, and shoved her to the floor. She escaped into the garage but couldn’t escape. When she returned  into the house with a gun, her husband said, “Bitch, I’ll kill you.” She fired the gun into the ceiling. The jury took 12 minutes to refuse her claims of self-defense. Firing a gun during a felony gives a mandatory 20-year sentence in Florida.

A state appellate panel reversed the conviction because the court had instructed the jury that she had to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The “stand your ground” law puts the burden of proof on the prosecutor. That’s the reason that the jury failed to award George Zimmerman a guilty verdict for killing Trayvon Martin. The appellate court also stated that Alexander didn’t have to prove she had been injured by her husband because he was not hurt in the shooting.

Alexander, who had no criminal record, had never been arrested, and she had a restraining order against her husband. She was prosecuted by Angela Corey, the same prosecutor in the Zimmerman case.

The next time that conservatives snarl about the current president having used illegal drugs in the past, think about their hypocrisy. According to an advocacy group trying to legalize marijuana, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), at least 100 million “successful Americans” have used marijuana and “even more” think it should be legal. These include such high-profile conservatives as presidential wannabes Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum as well as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and George W. Bush.

The same conservatives who want a “War on Drugs” also think that federal surveillance is important for their safety. A new audit of the Department of Justice finds that the statistics of terrorism have been overstated (aka falsified). In 2009, figures for terrorist convictions were inflated by 13 percent; in the next year, that rate of exaggeration doubled to 26 percent. The Department of Justice branch responsible for these figures, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), gave the reason as human error and “shoddy recordkeeping”—counting terrorists twice or counting those with dismissed charges as convictions. Convictions for non-terrorist crimes such as bank robbery, drug dealing, and animal fighting were also incorrectly classified as terrorist convictions. The insistence that NSA’s surveillance program disrupted 50 terrorist plots is equally false.

By not paying taxes, giant corporations have the money to sue countries around the world. Philip Morris has lawsuits against the Australian government to overturn public health laws aimed at reducing teenage smoking. Chevron has hired 2,000 lawyers in an attempt to avoid paying Ecuador $19 billion in damages due for the horrific oil spills they inflicted. Bayer is suing Europe to overturn their ban on bee-killing pesticide—all while investing millions with Monsanto to defeat an effort to label GM foods in the U.S.

While going through my email requests for petition-signers, I came across this gem. The National Football League (NFL), a $9 billion a year industry, is tax-exempt because it claims to be a non-profit organization. The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, makes almost $30 million a year, more than the heads of Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart; the NFL controls more than $50 billion in contracts with television networks. Taxpayers fund stadiums where NFL teams play. The Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association aren’t tax-free: the NFL should have to pay taxes.

Allen West, famous for his sexist language while he was a one-term U.S. GOP representative from Florida, has left his job at Pajamas Media. There are two versions about why. West said he resigned. Others said that he was fired after he told a female staffer to “shut up” and called her a “Jewish American princess.” West described it as “an exchange.”

In closing most of its women’s clinics in Texas, legislators used the falsehood that the reason was women’s safety. Texas Tribune has now officially debunked that lie with a review of state inspection records for 36 clinics that provided abortions. Although auditors found 19 regulatory violations they claimed were risks to patient safety at six of the clinics not ambulatory surgical centers, none was severe enough to warrant financial penalties. The facilities’ corrective actions were sufficient to protect the patients. In the past five years, the Texas Medical Board took action for just three doctors who performed abortions, all for administrative infractions. During the past 15 years, however, the maternal mortality rate for Texas has quadrupled.

The tiniest blip on the radar is probably the most dangerous news for people in the U.S. and the world. Secret negotiations for the proposed “free trade” agreement among over 12 countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to be concluded in October, will destroy the U.S.’s ability to make laws protecting the country. A drastic consequence is the dissolution of our internet freedoms. Provisions in this agreement, according to leaks, deal with intellectual property, including online copyright enforcement, anti-circumvention measures, and Internet intermediary liability. If passed, the TPP provisions will infringe on privacy, freedom of expression, and innovation on the Internet.

Specific risks would include blocking deaf and blind people from existing uses of the Internet; forcing service providers to collect and hand over your private data without privacy safeguards; kicking entire families off the Internet for minor copyright infringements; giving media conglomerates more power to fine you for Internet use and remove online content—including entire websites; and creating a parallel legal system of international tribunals that will undermine national sovereignty and allow conglomerates to sue countries for laws that infringe on their profits.

After individuals and organizations began protesting TPP, the negotiations went farther underground with no meeting announcements from the U.S. Trade Rep. There may have been one in September in Mexico City during which countries resistant to U.S. demands to sign onto the standards may have been strong-armed into doing so. .

Congress members in Peru have presented a motion to demand a thorough and public debate on current TPP proposals and for trade delegates to give a comprehensive report on the ongoing negotiations. Chilean Senators recently called for a public debate on TPP, requesting the President to provide “timely and accurate” information on the affects of the agreement on their country. In New Zealand, a Parliamentary member is demanding answers from the Prime Minister about the secrecy of the agreement and how its provisions could undermine consumer protection laws. Canadian Member of Parliament Don Davies has called on the Prime Minister to give Parliamentary Member access to the TPP, especially in light of documents revealing how a small group of industry associations have had special access to Canada’s negotiating position. The Malaysian Cabinet released a statement saying that it would not be bound by a fixed timeline on TPP and calling for more transparency in the process.

At this point, the timeline for TPP’s conclusion is ambiguous. The U.S. Trade Rep Michael Froman continues to claim that the U.S. will not force countries to rush a deal by any particular deadline, while also stating that the Obama administration has placed top priority on concluding the TPP before the end of the year.

My favorite: Two weeks ago when First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up with Partnership for a Healthier America to encourage people to drink more water, Rush Limbaugh did his usual attack against her: “This is really absurd.  Drink more water?  It’s none of their business.  Why do they care?  You drink when you’re thirsty.” Hopefully, no one looks at Limbaugh as an example of someone in good health. At this point, one way to kill off conservatives would be for Michelle Obama to recommend breathing. Meanwhile, I’m trying to drink more water. It’s my personal protest against the right-wing conservatives.

September 5, 2012

Democratic Convention 2012 – Day One, Masterful

While the “We Built That”  theme of the GOP Convention 2012 was hateful and snarky, playing off a misinterpretation of a President Obama speech, the theme of the Democratic Convention 2012 is upbeat—“Americans Coming Together.” Although the people are the United States are polarized, President Obama has brought together everyone–women, minorities, youth, liberal older people, etc.– except the angry old white men.

Last night when the Democratic convention started, I was a bit apprehensive after being immersed in last week’s negativity and hatred of last week. The first speech I heard was from Tammy Duckworth, candidate for the House in Illinois. A returned Iraq veteran who lost both legs in Iraq, she now helps other veterans. Just as Republicans talked about their families last week, Duckworth talked about the way that she worked as a teenager to help support her family who had to have food stamps to survive. Republicans told about how their parents struggled; Duckworth talked about how this generation need a safety net to improve. She also said that a member of her family had been in every U.S. conflict since the Revolutionary War.

Last week, nobody talked about veterans or soldiers or the war except for John McCain who wants another disastrous war. Duckworth talked about how her fellow comrades saved her life because what’s what soldiers do. Her message was that we do for our country what her crew did for her. She also said, “Look adversity in the eye and come together to overcome it.”

I told my partner about Duckworth’s speech, and she joined me for the next one. The next speaker was a young woman from Phoenix (AZ), Stacy Lihn, who talked about how the Affordable Care Act saved her infant daughter because the ACA had removed the insurance caps. Mitt Romney said that the best day for the people who voted for Obama was the day that they cast the vote; Lihn said that the best day was when the Affordable Care Act passed and removed the insurance caps so that her infant daughter could have heart surgery. My partner and I were both hooked.

Lihn was followed by Secretary of State Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius who said that after President Obama was elected, “Being a mother is no longer a liability and being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.” She pointed out that people are getting refunds from the insurance company because they have to use a specific percentage for providing health care. She also said, “What’s missing from the Romney/Ryan Medicare Medicare plan is Medicare.”

The messages about how things are better since 2008 kept coming. Kal Penn, actor and former White House official, talked about the importance of the Pell grants for students and the jobs that his friends got with a car company that exists because of President Obama. He also described how the president kept the GOP from eliminating tax credits for the middle class when Republicans were bargaining to raise the debt ceiling. Lilly Ledbetter, prevented by the Supreme Court from filing a salary discrimination suit although she didn’t know about the discrimination for over 20 years, said in that wonderful Southern voice, “What a difference four years make!”

As Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said, “What’s at stake is the American dream. That dream is essential to who we are as a nation.” He described Romney’s disastrous governance in the state was with education cuts, increases in business taxes, loss in business confidence, and poor job creation. According to Patrick, freedom means keeping government out of our private affairs. Romney is “a fine fellow and a great salesman,” Patrick said, but “he’s more interested in having the job than doing the job.

And the upbeat speeches kept coming: Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley described how the progress of the nation since George W. Bush, repeating “forward, not back” until the crowd chanted the refrain. Julian Castro, San Antonio’s mayor, gave a great speech about his mother and grandmother while he explained that, like Duckworth, he had achieved what he has done because of this country.

The tissues rolled out again when Elaine Byre, four out of five children in the military service and the fifth heading that way, talked about how the president helped bring the soldiers “honor and respect in action.” She met Michelle Obama after she wrote her a card last Christmas and got invited to the White House with her husband. Byre said she’s not even a political person but she’s a mom. “If somebody is there for my family and families like mine, then I’ll be there for them.” Her relationship with Michelle Obama shows that the First Lady walks her talk: “We were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.”

The hit of the night, however, was Michelle Obama and her magnificent energy and love for her husband. Her funny stories about their financial struggles far outdid those of Ann Romney: Barack Obama took her out on a date in his car with the hole in the floorboard so rusted that you could see the pavement below; Obama’s favorite coffee table was one that he found in a dumpster; and his best shoes were actually one-half size too small. When they got married, their combined student loan payments were larger than their mortgage. She talked from the heart, saying that she loved her husband instead of telling the audience that they should love and trust her husband the way that Ann Romney did. Her message was that the way that the president tries to make life better for people because it’s personal to him, not political. “When you walk through that door of opportunity, you don’t slam it shut. No, you give other folks the chance to succeed,” Michelle Obama said. “Doing the impossible is the history of this nation.”

And these were just the tip of the massive iceberg that rolled over the GOP blackness. Over and over people made the point that to get change, you have to keep working. It’s a long term thing.

I missed the first part of the speeches but read what Don Hamel‘s description. His blog is well worth reading. He wrote that, as a middle-aged heterosexual man, he listened to the speeches from Anthony R. Foxx, the young looking African-American mayor of Charlotte; the women of the U.S. House of Representatives; Rep. Jared Polis, the first openly gay parent to serve in the House; and the president of NARAL who talked about the battle over women’s reproductive rights. Hamel then described the audience as “a sea of faces of every color, people who wanted to discuss Muslim’s rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, voter disenfranchisement, every one of them with a seemingly different agenda.”

After watching all this, Hamel had an epiphany. He said, “It’s not tolerance that makes me support the rights of LGBT Americans; it’s love of country, as well as respect for its citizens. If you believe in America, you believe in it for everybody. And it’s practical, as well; your rights are only as safe as everyone else’s. I’m not tolerant of women’s rights to make choices about their own bodies; I’m insistent that everyone in my country has that right. And if anyone’s freedom can be taken away, so can yours.”

He concluded by writing that he is “not tolerant of the Tea Party, the Ayn Rand disciples, the people who will spend a 100 million dollars to avoid paying a dollar in taxes. Their values are not ‘traditional’ or ‘Christian,’ and the only ‘family’ they truly value is their own. The people who arm themselves against their countrymen, the ones who legislate by skin-tone or income size; we have given them all the attention they should be allowed. They’re to be feared or pitied, but they needn’t be listened to any longer. The Americans at the podium, and the Americans in the crowd all have many voices, but they are all saying the same thing as I am: Move America forward.” [Thanks, Don!]

Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland summarized the difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney in very blunt terms. As he said, “If Mitt Romney was Santa Claus, he would fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.”

Deval Patrick encouraged the Democrats to grow a backbone to get President Obama re-elected. Last night started this process.

Asides: Fact checking has now reached a new low. FactCheck.org refuted San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro’s claim that Romney would “raise taxes on the middle class” was false because Romney had promised he wouldn’t do this. This is the same Romney who consistently switches from one position to another, the most recent today when he stated that he would not support any abortions, even to save a woman’s life. Yesterday he disagreed with himself.

Ezra Klein said that last night’s speeches may be remembered as the turning point in health care politics when “Democrats stood up and began fighting for their health care law.”

Less than two years ago, Paul Ryan asked for a health care grant to develop a new facility in his district at Racine (WI).

CNN contributor Erick Erickson referred to the women speakers at the Democratic convention as “the Vagina Monologues.” Erickson, who once said he “kind of like[d] the idea” that women are barred from a golf club so that he wasn’t “hanging out at some women’s event,” half-heartedly expressed regret for his comment, saying “My apologies to those offended by my tweet. Wasn’t my intention.” (He doesn’t sound very sorry.)

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