Nel's New Day

June 5, 2019

Court Decisions a Crap Shoot

Although the courts have ruled against Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) 93 percent of the time for his orders, DDT’s percentage may improve if his appointed judges start hearing more of his cases. For example, a judge has ruled against a lawsuit from the House about DDT using funds to build his wall, ruling that courts are not the place to settle this dispute. The House had argued that the spending violated the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution and usurp congressional authority while the DOJ opposed the House with the argument that the case concerned whether the administration failed to appropriately execute a statute. Appointed by DDT, U.S. District Trevor N. McFadden wrote that courts take no part in political fights between other branches.

McFadden’s decision was opposite to the 2016 ruling that the GOP-led House could sue the Obama administration for allegedly spending on an Affordable Care Act program that Congress had not approved. Rosemarie Collyer, a George W Bush appointee, wrote, “Congress is the only source for such an appropriation, and no public money can be spent without one.” Republicans had praised the outcome as a necessary check on the White House’s authority in “protecting Congress’ power of the purse [for] the separation of powers.” That case was settled before an appeal was concluded. During a hearing last month, McFadden had already said that he doubted whether the House had legal standing as a single chamber to sue the president, despite DDT illegally shifting money from other programs to pay for his wall.

Previously McFadden refused to recuse himself from a legal case regarding BuzzFeed’s publication of the Steele dossier from Fusion GPS despite McFadden’s representation a firm owned by a Russian businessman claiming he was libeled by the dossier. McFadden was also top lawyer at the DOJ Criminal Division when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked for an investigation into Fusion and earlier served as a “vetter” on DDT’s transition team where he consistently heard negative arguments about the dossier’s accuracy. One of three DDT-appointed judges on Washington, D.C.’s district court, McFadden donated to DDT’s campaign.

Domestic terrorists won in court by using the U.S. Constitution’s free speech amendment. U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, appointed by George W. Bush, threw out criminal charges against three members of a neo-Nazi organization Rise above Movement (RAM) who conspired through social media to assault their ideological opponents. The three men “publicly documented their assaults in order to recruit” other white men to join RAM. The U.S. has no laws against domestic terrorism as it does against international terrorist groups. Only gun and drug charges were brought against a domestic terrorist planning to “murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country,” and the first judge hearing the case gave the man bail. Convictions for heinous acts bring light sentences, sometimes only for time served. The judge ruled that the federal statute used to prosecute the three men was unconstitutional.

A federal judge conceded to the DOJ in not requiring the release transcripts of conversations between Michael Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, when he was Russian ambassador to the U.S. A federal judge had ordered the transcripts made public, but the DOJ refused. Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations while Barack Obama was president. Barr had redacted all this information in the Mueller report.

DDT did lose his request for the Supreme Court to fast track a request a case about DDT’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, postponing any response from the high court until next fall. Two different appeals courts have ruled against DDT’s ending the DACA program. Earlier justices refused DDT’s challenge to a ruling temporarily blocking officials from closing down the program. The House is considering a vote as soon as this week on the Dream Act which would include legal status to hundreds of thousands of past DACA recipients.

With seven Republicans, all the House Democrats passed a new bill, 237-187, that expands the decade-old Dream Act. The “Dream and Promise Act” would protect young migrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children from deportation and give them a path to citizenship. Other migrants here temporarily from countries devastated by natural disasters and/or wars would also be shielded. Nine years ago, 36 conservative Dems voted the Dream Act with eight Republicans supporting it. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will almost surely not bring the bill to the floor so that Republicans can join DDT in complaining that Democrats are not passing any bills and instead focusing on investigations. Less than halfway through their first year, the House has passed half of its top priorities: democracy-reform, Equality At, Dream and Promise Act, Paycheck Fairness Act, and a bill addressing the climate crisis. Other passed bills lower prescription drug costs and expand the Violence against Women Act along with other healthcare bills. McConnell has ignored all of them and allowed only the passage of a disaster relief bill which House Republicans blocked for weeks. At least 153 bills passed in the House languish in the Senate. The other 15 bills are minor name changes, extensions, or expansions with one of them being payment to employees furloughed by their shutdown. DDT vetoed two bills.  

A judge kept Missouri from being the only state without a clinic performing abortions for the past 46 years—at least temporarily. Yesterday the court ruled that doctors who no longer work at the clinic are not required to comply with subpoenas about safety questions at the clinic. It already complies with gratuitous requirements such as transfer agreements with hospitals, inspections, and two pelvic exams for every woman wanting a surgical abortion. The court will continue to review state allegations about “failed abortions” and legal violations.

DDT is facing more problems about his Panama tower as Ithaca Capital Partners claims that he failed to pay Panamanian taxes equivalent failed to 12.5 percent of the management fees he took from the hotel. That failure plus other financial irregularities amount to “millions of dollars.” DDT’s projects in Canada, Mexico, India, Azerbaijan, Uruguay, and elsewhere are elsewhere in trouble. Although DDT claimed others developed real estate projects, information shows serious family involvement in projects, often with deceptive practices. With the failure of projects, DDT and his family lie about their lack of involvement and walk away with the money that they have already collected.

In a surprising move, Brett Kavanaugh voted with the four progressive Supreme Court justices to expand plaintiff’s fights to class-action lawsuits against big corporations. Consumers may move forward with a suit against Apple, accusing the company of acting as a monopoly. At this time, iPhone and iPad users may download apps, even those developed by third parties, only from the Apple portal while the corporation takes a cut of sales. The ruling concerns other tech giants such as Facebook and Google.

In another case, Kavanaugh went with conservatives in a decision that overturns a 40-year-old ruling and puts four decades of legal decisions into question. About a decision that “states retain their sovereign immunity from private suits brought in courts of other states,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote:

“To overrule a sound decision like [Nevada v. Hall] is to encourage litigants to seek to overrule other cases; it is to make it more difficult for lawyers to refrain from challenging settled law; and it is to cause the public to become increasingly uncertain about which cases the Court will overrule and which cases are here to stay.” 

Clarence Thomas prides himself on being a constitutionalist who follows the words of the document, but his opinion in this case refers only to the “history and structure” of the U.S. Constitution and fail to not support interstate sovereign immunity. Instead Thomas claims that the Constitution bestows “equal dignity and sovereignty” to states. To Thomas, that means that states are immune from private lawsuits brought in other states’ courts. Brett Kavanaugh declared the importance of precedent in his confirmation hearings, and John Roberts had claimed during his hearings that he would not be overturning settled law through the Supreme Court.

Earlier this spring,  Justice Neil Gorsuch maintained that using the death penalty to torture a person to death doesn’t violate the constitution’s Eighth Amendment opposition to “cruel and unusual punishment” as long as people don’t want to inflict pain. His majority opinion for Bucklew v. Precythe allowing the killing of Russell Bucklew in Missouri also asks death penalty defense attorneys to determine methods of killing their clients. Kavanaugh wrote a separate opinion suggesting that firing squads be used for execution because Bucklew could choke from vascular tumors with lethal doses of pentobarbital. Conservatives have already approved drugs for execution that gave inmates “the feeling of being burned alive.” Gorsuch’s opinion of the 5-4 majority in Bucklew destroys over a half-century of precedents and returns to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

With DDT in charge of forming the judicial system for generations to come, court decisions are a crap shoot.

March 7, 2016

More Than Candidate Conflict–Such As Women’s Rights

The results from wacko caucuses that let 18,000 people in an entire state determine its presidential candidate continue to roll in and dominate the media while almost all other news is left in the dust. Tomorrow brings more about the presidential election and nothing else. But there is more news—like information about the GOP’s attempt to dominate women’s lives by denying us our reproductive rights.

For example, the House committee to close down Planned Parenthood after 11 other investigations showed no fault for the organization that operates thousands of women’s clinics nation-wide. The only indictments related to the discredited doctored videos produced by extremists were for the anti-choice activists.

We could subtitle the committee “Baby Parts,” which is how Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) referred to the issue, but the issue  is called the “Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” despite the fact that the subject is fetal tissue—not infants. The hearing’s focus was on a legal act since 1970, the ethics of donating fetal tissue from aborted fetuses for scientific research that has resulted in vital medical breakthroughs. This donation has nothing to do with whether women have abortions, but the choice by chair, Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), to feature people hostile to abortion shows her political bent.

Two people were allowed to testify about the facts of the case. R. Alta Charo, a professor at University of Wisconsin’s Law School and the School of Medicine & Public Health, said, “Federal review has repeatedly found that the option to donate tissue has no effect on whether a woman will choose to have an abortion.” She added that the Center for Disease Control has requested fetal tissue donations to speed up its study of Zika, the virus linked to severe brain defects in thousands of newborns. “The absence of this kind of research could lead to more abortions” by women who find out their fetus has been affected by the disease. “If we cut off this research, we’re facing a global emergency,” Charo said.

A serious difference of opinion on the committee, with the Republicans winning, was whether to issue subpoenas to medical researchers instead of disbanding. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) asked why the committee is demanding names of researchers and medical students dealing with fetal tissue and pointed out that publicizing their names could “endanger their lives” from attacks from anti-abortion extremists. Blackburn said that the committee has the right to do this but refused to give any reasons for why the committee needed these names. Pointing out the shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic and explaining the committee members would be “complicit” in murders of researchers had no influence on the eight GOP members who outnumbered the six Democrats. The gunman who shot 12 people, killing three of them, explained his actions by saying “No more baby parts.”

The Democrats at the hearing called the committee’s actions a witch hunt. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) compared Blackburn’s investigation into researchers and doctors to former Sen. Joe McCarthy’s (R-WI) abusive tactics 60 years ago. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said that those burned at the stakes “are our scientists, who hold future medical breakthroughs in their hands [and] brave women’s healthcare workers who are simply trying to care for their patients.” Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) said, “This is not an objective hearing. This is a debate against a woman’s right to chose.” Rep. DelBene summarized the day’s events with this question: “Do you think ideology should shape the rules about scientific research?”

On the same day as this House travesty, the remaining eight U.S. Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, concerning the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the nation. If the court decides to rule on the case this year, it will need five votes to overturn the Texas law but just four to make the laws uncertain in other states. Justice Antonin Scalia would certainly have voted to uphold the Texas law, but he is no longer on the court.

Four of the justices hearing the case, three of them women, seemed suspicious of the claim that the law was to protect women’s health because of unreasonable mandates for women’s clinics to turn them into “ambulatory surgical centers.” Stephen Breyer pointed out that colonoscopies, which don’t need to be performed in an ambulatory surgical center, are 28 times more likely to have complications than abortions. Elena Kagan asked the Texas attorney about this, but he had no response. Then she pointed out that liposuction actually has greater complications. Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked why a dilation and curettage associated with a miscarriage can be performed in a doctor’s office whereas a basically identical D&C for an abortion must be performed in an ambulatory surgical center.

The swing vote for a majority comes from Anthony Kennedy, who shifts back and forth from finding abortion “icky” (Gonzales v. Carhart) and wishing to keep some vestige of abortion (Planned Parenthood v. Casey). After statements that Texas imposed heavy burdens on clinics performing abortions but not on facilities performing riskier procedures, Kennedy suggested that the law creates an “undue burden,” a criterion, determined in Casey, that could result in striking down the law. A Kennedy concern was that the law would result in more women having surgical abortions rather than mediation abortions, a situation that he said “may not be medically wise.”

The uncertainty of the court’s decision comes from the claim that admitting privileges requirements cannot be determined at this stage of litigation. In discussing this procedural issue, Kennedy suggested returning the case to the lower court for additional fact-finding. To block the pro-choice faction, Justice Samuel Alito suggested the requirement of very specific information or challenges to each line of the many pages of regulations individually. Alito noted, “It will be work,” and the burden falls on abortion providers and their advocates.

If the Texas laws go into effect, the state will have fewer than ten women’s clinics for 5.4 million women of childbearing age, many of whom live 200 miles away.  The attorney general defending Texas law said that women who live more than 100 miles from a clinic can just go across the border into New Mexico. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg found that “odd” because “New Mexico doesn’t have any surgical ASC requirement, and it doesn’t have any admitting requirement.” Kagan asked if Texas could demand that all clinics conform to Massachusetts General to increase health benefits “because MGH, it’s a great hospital.”

Texas laws are proposed in many red states throughout the country and drafted by Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group that, according to its website, “works to advance life issues through the law and does so through measures that can withstand judicial obstacles so that pro-life laws will be enforced.”

Missouri initiated both laws under discussion in the Supreme Court, mandating clinics performing abortions be outpatient surgical centers in 1986 and requiring doctors have privileges at a nearby hospital in 2005. By now, the state has only one clinic, making it one of five states in the nation in this situation. If the court strikes down these laws in Texas, other states may lose them. States have passed over 200 TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws within the past five years, including Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period. The claim is always that the laws protect women, and the claim is always false.

Two laws that Missouri  lost are spousal consent for an abortion and second trimester abortions to be performed in a hospital. The state did block abortions in public facilities, for example the University of Missouri’s medical school in Kansas City. In accordance with religious beliefs, laws signed by then Gov. John Ashcroft in 1986 stated, “The life of each human being begins at conception.”

Also last week, seven of eight justices blocked a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital rights within 30 miles of the clinics. In this case, June Medical Services v. Gee, Clarence Thomas was the only dissent. The order blocking the Louisiana law began with 14 important words: “Consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.” In short, they criticized the 5th Circuit Court for ignoring the high court’s previous stay orders if the lower court “cannot discern the underlying reasoning” behind those orders and rebutted the lower court’s logic on its own terms.

This order may show that the Supreme Court opposes the 5th Circuit Court’s efforts to eradicate Roe v. Wade. And Scalia is not there to protect laws that violate women’s reproductive rights.

 

August 19, 2015

Lawmakers Learn Sexism in School

Republican lawmakers have a solution for legislators who can’t keep their hands off interns: just make the interns—female, of course!—follow an “intern dress code.” The idea, promoted by Republicans, came to a screeching halt after Democrats’ disgust, social media firestorms, and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s ire, but it got a lot of publicity and made Missouri Republicans look even more misogynistic than they’ve appeared in the past.

McCaskill’s letters to the lawmakers promoting the idea pointed out its sexism, stating that it “reeks of a desire to avoid holding fully accountable those who would prey upon young women and men seeking to begin honorable careers in public service.” She knows whereof she speaks: McCaskill was harassed when she was a legislative intern decades ago.

The issue went viral after House Speaker John Diehl, a “family values” conservative, was forced to resign because his sexually suggestive texts with a 19-year-old House intern became public. That was two months before state Sen. Paul LeVota resigned because two interns accused him of sexual harassment.

A request for reviewing a proposed new “intern code” resulted in the answer, “intern dress code.” Another representative agreed, emailing his colleagues:

“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females. Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”

A third Republican, this one a woman, supported the idea by stating that dress codes are common in the workplace.

Sanity returned, however, when another representative asked, “We’re really not going to require interns to dress so we’re less distracted, are we?” He added, “All we need is a code of ethics and a penalty provision.” Another response got to the crux of the matter: “The finger is being pointed at the young, female interns. [The dress code should be] “the same as for everyone in the House.”

For the information of all those conservatives who think that female interns are at fault for all the infidelity, a handbook for interns already has a dress code:

“Those engaged in [lawmaking] must dress professionally and appropriately. Men are required to wear a jacket and necktie for admission to the side galleries of the House Chamber. Women should dress in appropriate business attire (such as dress, suit, dress slacks and jacket).”

As one representative said, the problem is “harassing interns,” not a dress code. He added, “If my plaid jacket or the sight of a woman’s bare knee distracts you from your legislative duties, I would look for other work.”

Dozens of women—including current and former interns, legislative aides, lobbyists and lawmakers—have told the Kansas City Star that sexual harassment in the Capitol is commonplace. One of them claimed that the prevalence of this harassment “has nothing to do with what a female wears. This is not the 1950s. Harassment in the workplace is illegal and a woman’s attire does not give anyone the right to harass, regardless if they feel distracted.”

Taylor Hirth and Alissa Hembree, the interns who blew the whistle on LeVota’s alleged sexual harassment, released a joint statement expressing disappointment in the newly proposed intern code:

“Suggestions requiring certain GPAs, increased supervision and mandatory dress codes suggest that the interns are lacking in quality, knowledge, or character and are in some way to blame for the harassment they experience. Additionally, it implies that those perpetuating this behavior are unable to control their own behaviors.”

In an opinion piece, Mary Sanchez took on the misogynists:

“Gentlemen of Jefferson City, please refrain from veering off track.

“There is one sure way to end the sexist, slovenly behavior of some male politicians toward female college interns and other women working in, or elected to, our state capital. Demand that men behave properly. Focus there….

“The proposal [for a new dress code] was a centuries-old patriarchal paradigm: Shift the guilt so that the woman is chastised and monitored, lest she lead the innocent man astray. As if the sight of a knee uncovered unleashes a torrent of hormones that men simply cannot control.

“The errant male politicians need to change. Not the women who have been forced to deal with the juvenile antics of some representatives, senators and lobbyists.

“And yet the idea to focus on the women’s behavior, via their dress, was among the fastest replies to sprout. It’s backward thinking. Worse, it comes from people who make laws for the rest of us. As much as I’m a stickler for appropriate business dress for both men and women, this misses the point.

“Men should have been offended too. The idea assumed that they are weak, unable to control themselves at the sight of an attractive woman. It implied that men will be men. And it’s up to the women to be on guard.

“The onus is on the elected officials to behave with respect for themselves, the intern, the political office that they hold. College interns are there to learn about good government, not to prop up some middle-aged man’s faltering ego….

“The most effective means to curb sexism in Jefferson City will likely occur informally. Sexual harassment at the capital will cease to be a problem when men hold other men accountable.”

Men learn the belief that women should be responsible for controlling the male libido early on. School dress codes are meant to protect males, both students and faculty, by keeping girls covered up. One example is Woodford County High School (Kentucky) where Stacie Dunn’s daughter Stephanie was sent home for showing her collarbone that “may distract their male class mates.” Dunn took a scarf for her daughter to cover up the offensive collarbone, but the principal sent her home anyway for giving him “an attitude.” Apparently, the scarf still didn’t cover enough.

stephanie

Superintendent Scott Hawkins tried to justify the dress code because it had been in effect for over 10 years. He said, “The whole idea behind the dress code is to make sure you have a safe learning environment and that’s what we’re trying to create.” In Kentucky, dress codes are set by school districts and not separate campuses.

Last March, student Maggie Sunseri made a documentary of interviews with female students and school principal, Rob Akers. In the 33-minute film, “Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Code,” the 33-minute film Girls said they felt embarrassed and ashamed after being “called out” for “revealing” outfits. They also talked about having trouble finding acceptable clothing and being forced to miss class. Rules weren’t uniformly enforced, according to the interviewees.

Akers justified the removal of distraction as the reason for dress codes because “guys would make inappropriate statements.” The girls, however, said it was unfair to limit their clothing instead of dealing with the boys who harassed them. “It sends the message to boys that it’s all girls’ fault, basically—any reaction or any action that they do is the girl’s fault,” one girl said in the film.

Sunseri said her film was about “the underlying message behind a code that tells young women to cover up and young boys that they can’t control themselves.” The 16-year-old high school junior said the dress code is sexist toward both girls and boys in that it “perpetuates the notion that a woman’s body is inherently more sexual than a man’s body, and that young boys’ natural tendencies are to harass or assault women.”

No wonder some male Missouri lawmakers cannot control their libido: they may never have seen a collarbone.

 

March 23, 2015

Happy Birthday, ‘Obamacare’

Today is the Affordable Care Act’s fifth birthday. For five years, most of the GOP legislators have been making predictions about the law’s leading the entire country to wrack and ruin. The following dozen failed predictions show how all these people have been wrong:

happy birthday Failed Prediction #1 – Americans won’t enroll in the ACA: The demand was so great that the website sometimes crashed from the heavy usage. About 8 million people signed up for private insurance coverage in 2014, and the number rose to 11.4 million in 2015. While it was hard to sign up for health care on the exchanges last year, it was harder to be uninsured or underinsured.

Failed Prediction #2 – The ACA won’t meet its enrollment goals: In its first two years, enrollment totals exceeded preliminary projections.

Failed Prediction #3 – Insurers will want no part of the ACA system: Many insurers see the ACA as a major growth opportunity that lets them expand in the individual market.

Failed Prediction #4 – The ACA will cause the economy to suffer and kill jobs: In one press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) used the phrase “job-killing” an average of every two minutes while talking about the ACA. Yet the U.S. has had 59 consecutive months of job growth since October 2010, the longest stretch of time in history.  National data also shows no indication of employers hiring people under 30 hours a week to avoid the ACA insurance mandate. The average length of the work-week, which dropped during the recession, recently matched pre-2010 levels. Using interviews with major U.S. employers, Bloomberg found that the law “is putting such a small dent in the profits of U.S. companies that many refer to its impact as “not material” or “not significant.” It decided that “the biggest entitlement legislation in a generation is causing barely a ripple in corporate America.”

Failed Prediction #5 – People who enrolled wouldn’t pay their premiums: Again the GOP was wrong. Five months into last year, over 91% of the 8 million consumers who enrolled through an ACA exchange marketplace paid their premiums.

Failed Prediction #6: People would see exorbitant premiums: Those who qualify for tax credits through the insurance exchange pay an average of $82 per month for premiums—one-fourth of the expenditure without financial help. More people who changed from individual insurance to exchanges have lower premiums.

Failed Prediction #7 – Premiums will shoot up next year: State-by-state information shows that more insurers coming to the market are pressuring prices to go down. In 2015, premiums for the ACA’s mid-level plans rose by an average of 2 percent. In 48 major cities, prices for these benchmark plans actually fell by 0.2 percent, compared to the 10-percent increases before the ACA.

Failed Prediction #8 – The ACA helps only those with coverage: Republicans are wrong.

Failed Prediction #9 – The ACA will lead to a “net loss” on overall coverage: Boehner argued that fewer people had health insurance after the health law’s insurance expansion than prior to it, but the uninsured rate has dropped by one-fourth. In Minnesota it’s gone down by 40 percent, and in some cities the number will shrink by 60 percent in cities with expanded Medicaid. People who would not get subsidies still got the same insurance plans by going to an insurance broker. Boehner also ignored the expansion of 9.1 million enrollees on Medicaid.

Failed Prediction #10 – The ACA will lead to higher deficits and a weaker fiscal footing for the nation: The GOP, the party that actually raises the deficit, told the country that “Obamacare” would “bankrupt” the country. In April 2014, the Congressional Budget Office reduced its budget forecast by $100 billion, less than it expected to spend during the first projection in January 2010. The CBO reduced its 10-year estimate of ACA cost by 20 percent and its Medicaid costs attributable to the law by 8 percent, partly because people with health insurance no longer rely on the emergency room for health care.

Failed Prediction #11 – Americans will end up hating the coverage they receive through the ACA: A new Gallup poll shows that 71 percent find their coverage through exchanges to be good or excellent, and another 19 percent said the coverage was fair. Only 9 percent gave it a poor rating.

Failed Prediction #12 – “Obamacare” will mostly sign up people who already have insurance:  A Kaiser Family Foundation survey finds that 57 percent of enrollees previously lacked insurance.

More failed projections: there is no “death spiral,” or “death panels,” or “rate shock.” Not one prediction has lived up to scrutiny. And not one prominent Republican is willing to admit the failed predictions or even explanations for these mistakes and misjudgments. Instead, they’re still busy trying to repeal the law.

Facts will not change the minds of many in opposition, as Jonathan Chait pointed out:

“Suppose you strongly objected to the idea that your city should own a bunch of buildings where people can go borrow books for free. (Some people do!) If you couldn’t persuade a majority of fellow citizens of your conceptual objections to libraries, you might try arguing that the library scheme was doomed to collapse in cost overruns, or that nobody would ever use them, or that shelves of heavy books would be routinely toppling over and killing small children. But the fact is that running buildings where people can check out books, and running exchanges where people can purchase basic health insurance packages, are both things that governments can do.”

One GOP complaint is that “Obamacare” helps only the poor. It is true that the poorest people get free Medicaid, and those up to an income of $94,000 a year for a family of four can get tax credits. People who receive insurance from their employees are having their coverage paid by “other people’s money.”

Employer-sponsored insurance get tax deductions, giving the largest benefits to those who earn the most money as compared to the ACA which gives the most to those who earn the least. For example, newly-announced presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) premiums, up to $40,000 for the year for his family, were paid by his wife’s employer, Goldman Sachs. Cruz will be shopping for health insurance because his wife has taken an unpaid leave while he runs for president.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) may have summarized the GOP complaints with this comment on the floor of the Senate: “It’s time for the White House to stop celebrating [the ACA] and start thinking about the people.” Huh?

What’s ahead for the Affordable Care Act?  After voting dozens of time to repeal the ACA, the GOP is trying to pass a budget that would double the uninsured rate and eliminate $1 trillion in tax revenue that pays for the law. Republicans have no plan to help the millions of families losing affordable medical care if they succeed. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has only one suggestion: he urged state lawmakers to stop state insurance exchanges if the Supreme Court rules that this as a requirement for the ACA. That’s what he told state legislators last week during a conference call organized by the conservative think tank Foundation for Government Accountability.

If the Supreme Court were to rule for mandated state exchanges, subsidies in the mostly blue states would continue while millions of consumers in GOP-run states would go without. Michigan and Ohio are intending to set up the exchanges that Ryan warns against because no one should do what the White House wants, even if it puts constituents in jeopardy.

Missouri is a prime example of problems with GOP legislators. GOP legislators have threatened to filibuster any Medicaid expansion bill and Bob Onder, a new state senator, has proposed a bill to keep an insurance company from selling policies in the state if it accepts federal subsidies sold on the federal health exchange. The state refuses to accept billions of federal dollars to offer Medicaid coverage to approximately 300,000 uninsured residents. Onder said, “To expand Medicaid would only put further stress on a system that’s already strained,” Onder said. A single mother with two children must make less than $3,700 to get Medicaid, and rural hospitals are facing either huge cutbacks or closure because the state refuses Medicaid expansion.

aca cowThe GOP-led legislature, however, has passed a bill to insure cows in the state. It would subsidize up to 70 percent of farmers’ premium payments for dairy insurance. The House passed it by 110 to 49, and the Senate did better at 31-2. Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D-MO) called it the “Affordable Cow Act” because insurance subsidies for cows are fine but “not for people.”

Maybe some day, Republicans will figure out that “Obamacare” should be called “GOP Cares.”

Republican_Obamacare

February 20, 2013

Who Elected These People!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 23, 2012

Anti-Choice People Get Crazier

How crazy can anti-choice people become? Just when you think you’ve seen it all ….

Members of an anti-choice group performed an exorcism outside a women’s clinic in Ohio last Sunday. Priests got permission from the Rev. Steve J. Angi, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, to perform the “exorcism of locality,” designed to drive evil out of a place, rather than out of a person. Participants read the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1886, that states, “Seize the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the devil and Satan, bind him and cast him into the bottomless pit, that he may no longer seduce the nations.”

While the Catholics are exorcising “locality,” Republican legislators are becoming more and more outrageous. In Arizona Rep. Terri Proud wants a bill to force women witness an abortion before they can have the procedure. An Alaskan bill requires women who opt for abortions to prove in writing that the fetuses’ fathers approve of the procedures.

To keep women from having abortions, both Arizona and Kansas are considering bills giving women’s doctors the legal right to lie about health issues regarding both the pregnant women’s and the fetuses’ health. In a 20-9 vote, the Arizona Senate approved a bill, sponsored by Nancy Barto, that prevents lawsuits if doctors fail to inform women of prenatal problems. The Kansas bill goes further, permitting doctors to outright lie outright if they discover a medical condition that could affect a pregnant women or fetus. Nine other states already have “wrongful birth” laws on their books allowing doctors to withhold information from pregnant women.

Idaho State Sen. Chuck Winder clearly states the arrogant attitude that many Republican legislators have toward women. While discussing his mandatory ultrasound bill, he said, “Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”

Gov. Rick Perry (TX) stated that he can take money from Planned Parenthood because the Tenth Amendment allows him to do anything with federal money that he wants. Between the withdrawal of state and federal funds from Planned Parenthood, over 300,000 Texas women in poverty can no longer receive health care. Texas also has a 24-hour waiting period and ultrasound requirements for abortions. The Texas Observer has published a story about the pain that these laws cause for women carrying fetuses with irreversible medical conditions, an article that every Republican should be required to read.

Utah’s governor signed the bill that demands a 72-hour waiting period before women can get abortions. The rationale behind lengthy waits seems to be that women will change their minds if given enough time … or perhaps not meet the short window of time during which women can get abortions.

The trend against women, however, seems to be slightly reversing. Tennessee is thinking about not requiring the publication of the names of doctors’ who perform abortions although the women’s identity could still be obvious. The change comes from the only physician in the legislature, a Republican who wants to protect at least doctors if not women.

The Idaho House is backing off forced ultrasounds after the Senate passed the bill 23-12 with five Republicans voting against it. The cancellation of a House committee hearing gives the impression that the bill may have died. After the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would force doctors to lie to their patients by telling them legislature-specified statements that abortions give higher risks for breast cancer, legislators decided to take the bill back to committee so that it could be reconsidered. Abortions do NOT give a higher risk of breast cancer.

Arizona’s bill requiring women to tell their employees why they want contraception has already passed the House, but it’s being amended by its sponsor, Rep. Debbie Lesko, who pulled it from the Senate Rules Committee. The intent to return to committee is to work on amendments—what kind wasn’t disclosed. Gov. Jan Brewer said she was concerned that women might be “uncomfortable” with the bill.

Utah governor Gary Herbert vetoed a bill banning public schools from teaching about contraception in health education classes.

Women are still fighting back. Project TMI is still posting on legislators’ Facebook pages across the nation.

The National Organization for Women (NOW), which has been almost invisible in the past few years, has tackled the bust of Rush Limbaugh being sculpted for the Missouri state capitol. The state chapter’s program, “Flush Rush,” has sent hundreds of rolls of toilet paper to Steven Tilley, the state House Speaker responsible for inducting Limbaugh in the Hall of Famous Missourians. Tilley’s justification for keeping Limbaugh in the capitol is that the Hall is “not called the Hall of Universally Loved Missourians. We’ve inducted people like John Ashcroft, Warren Hearnes, and Harry Truman. They certainly had their detractors.” Apparently at least one Missouri Republican compares Limbaugh to Harry Truman.

Because of its opposition to Planned Parenthood, the Susan G. Komen Foundation is losing affiliate officers and events. Another group—one that’s pro-choice and spends more of its funding helping women prevent breast cancer—would better suited to take its place.

Conservative legislators are also more reluctant to fight in other areas such as same-sex marriage. Two-thirds of the New Hampshire House voted to keep its 2007 same-sex marriage law in a 211 to 116 vote. Republicans hold 189 seats in the House; they could easily have passed the bill.

Even with this trend, the country trends farther and farther to the right. There must a tipping point somewhere!

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