Nel's New Day

July 28, 2013

North Carolina Deciminates States’ Rights

Politics and religion are taking sides—sometimes opposite ones. Moral Mondays are an excellent example of religion fighting legislature as North Carolina finalizes its legislation for the year.

Moral Monday old manLast Monday’s arrests of 73 people brought the total to 925 since the group started on the last Monday of April. Each Monday, thousands collect at the state capital to demonstrate against cuts in social programs, education, and employment, against the state’s anti-abortion and anti-Medicaid laws, against labor rights and the resuming of the death penalty–against all the draconian action that this year’s legislature has taken. Last week’s group, many of them organizing in churches, came to fight the restrictive voter laws that will go into effect in the state.

In an effort at intimidation, a right-wing group has set up a website with the high-sounding name of Civitas Institute that includes the names, mug shots, addresses, phone numbers, occupations, and salaries of all those arrested. All it seems to prove is that almost all the people are North Carolina residents, instead of out-of-state carpet baggers, as GOP lawmakers claim.

The lawmakers must be getting worried about the demonstrators: this past week they moved their meeting time three hours earlier from the usual 7:00 pm schedule. Yet the protesters who sang and chanted in an almost empty building were still arrested.

The Assembly’s action has led to its approval rating below 20 percent, just a bit higher than for the U.S. Congress. Gov. Pat McCrory saw his approval rating fall 15 percent in just one month, and it may go farther down after he signed the anti-abortion bill that only 34 percent of the voters want. He had promised during his campaign not to sign any anti-abortion bill.

Arrests of residents who disagree with the legislative action are also becoming more aggressive with many being handcuffed for “petty citations” and sent to jail, according to House Democratic Leader Larry Hall. The lawyer from Durham said, “I believe we have a great police force here. Now, who do they work for? They work for whoever is in the majority in the House and the Senate, who are responsible for the messages sent to them from the top.”

He may have a point about the conservatives telling the police what to do. In July 2001, when the Assembly was controlled by the Democrats, conservative activists held a mass gathering to protest a proposed tax increase. No one was arrested.

Moral Monday participants refuse to be discouraged. Their numbers are growing, and they seem to be gaining confidence and courage because of the attention that they have drawn.

Past legislative actions have included killing the Earned Income Tax Credit, raising taxes on 900,000 poor people, cutting corporate and personal income taxes for the top 5 percent, eliminating unemployment for 70,000 people, denying Medicaid expansion that will cost taxpayers more, inviting corporations to frack in the state, defunding schools before distributing them to private companies—many of these through the 20 bills written by the ultra-conservative, corporate-owned ALEC.

The state’s most recent anti-abortion law mandates that all seventh-graders be taught the falsehood that abortions cause preterm births. It also requires a doctor to be present when the first drug in a chemical abortion is administered. Abortion clinics are required to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers whenever the state Department of Health and Human Services wishes. In order to slip through the new anti-abortion law, the state Senate put it under an anti-Sharia law, and the Assembly attached it to a motorcycle safety bill. A drawing shows the similarity between the uterus and the motorcycle.

motorcycle As someone tweeted, “If my uterus could fire bullets, you wouldn’t regulate it.”

The voter suppression law passed this week is the worst in the nation, disenfranchising 318,000 registered voters who don’t have the narrow forms of state-issued ID, almost two-thirds of them women. One woman said that getting the appropriate identification would cost her $120, which amounts to the poll tax that has been ruled unconstitutional.

The new voting law contains all the ways other states have legislated to keep minorities and the poor from voting: cutting a week of early voting, ending same-day registration during that period, preventing counties from offering voting on the last Saturday beyond 1:00 pm or extending poll hours by an hour on Election Day because of long lines, purging voter rolls, and allowing vastly more vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters and give erroneous information as they have in the past.

Other methods of suppression, however, are unique to North Carolina. Citizens may not file provisional ballots if they go to the wrong precinct, confusing because many precincts in urban areas can be housed in the same building. It eliminates state-supported registration drives and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds as well as Citizens Awareness Month to encourage voter registration. Parents of students who register where they attend college will lose the $2,500 child dependency tax deduction for their children, again creating a poll tax. 

Ex-felons cannot vote for five years after their release and only after they obtain two affidavits from local voters about their “upstanding moral character,” apply to the board of elections, and receive unanimous approval. Over 80 percent of those with a criminal record in the state are black. The state will also ban “incompetent” people from voting even if the person’s mental health issues have nothing to do with their ability to understand voting.

Yet outsider groups—those “carpet baggers”—can more easily donate money for electioneering while the law reduces disclosure of money sources. Contribution limits are raised from $4,000 to $5,000 per person and links future increases to inflation.

During 2012, 56 percent of North Carolinians—more blacks than whites—voted early; 78 percent of voters support the current early voting system. Over 155,000 voters used same-day registration in 2012. Many black citizens voted the Sunday before Election Day, no longer possible.

The Assembly will most likely continue to be GOP-controlled because of conservative gerrymandering of legislative maps helped by the voter oppression law. The Supreme Court has invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act because the conservative majority did not see on-going racist problems in voting laws. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca even bragged that they wouldn’t have to bother with Section 5 of the VRA.

North Carolina Republicans claim that the law will combat voter fraud and insure integrity in polling places. Between 2000 and 2010, for a total of 6 election cycles, North Carolina had a grand total of two allegations of voter impersonations and zero convictions. Once again the political party that decries an expansion of government has done exactly that. The state claims to need money, but just the voting mandates will cost between $3 million and $20 million dollars.

I can visualize GOP legislators in all the other GOP-controlled states salivating as they wait to go back into session and copy all North Carolina’s laws. The country is going to need many more Moral Monday members.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has filed a federal court challenge to force Texas to obtain “pre-clearance” before implementing future voting changes. Perhaps he will do the same in North Carolina. would go after North Carolina’s voter ID law, which would be the strictest in the country.

July 9, 2013

The GOP Looks for a Few Good Vaginas

Distress with the majority of women voting for Democrats during the 2012 general election, the GOP is trying to bring the fairer sex back to the fold. A practical way would be to change some of its policies such as denying women our reproductive rights, equal pay, immigration laws, etc. Maybe even stop being patronizing and controlling. But that isn’t their approach. After an expensive report revealed that a majority of women are not happy with the GOP platform, leaders set out to tell women that Republicans like women.

For example, Rep. Renee Ellmers and 18 other Republican women put together the Republican Women’s Policy Committee with a really nice website and Facebook page to show women that the GOP party likes women. http://rwpc.ellmers.house.gov/  It’s got really nice photographs of women legislators unlike the real ones when all the male lawmakers get together to make life harder for women. And it’s got promises like telling people that the GOP will protect women from being forced to have health insurance.

The latest GOP endeavor is Project Grow which stands for “Growing Republican Opportunities for Women.” (It’s also an acronym for “Gerrymandering Republicans Oppose Women.”) “We need to be a party that allows talented women to rise to the top,” according to the RNC publicity. The GOP still hasn’t figured out that women can be annoyed by the control thing of being “allowed” to do something which is actually their right. Needing a woman to lead the grow project, the GOP selected as a leader Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who opposes pay-equity measures for women and voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The GOP has a ways to go to “allow” women into their camp. The House Democratic Caucus is one-third women compared to the 8 percent of women in the House GOP majority. Last year almost twice as many Democratic women filed paperwork to run for the House as Republicans, and over three times as many Democratic women were elected.

In the new legislative session this year, state lawmakers have introduced over 300 bills to eradicate women’s reproductive rights. The House passed an anti-abortion bill, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is working on one in his chamber.

Project Grow was launched just before the week of the Fourth of July when both Ohio and Wisconsin passed unconstitutional anti-choice bills. Texas would also have succeeded if the media hadn’t pointed out that the GOP leadership cheated by changing the time clock. Now Texas, accompanied by North Carolina, is charging along toward a more successful outcome for the conservatives, despite the vast majority of voters opposing their bill.

Sarah Slamen, 28, tried to explain the facts of life to the legislators while testifying. Three men had to haul her out of the court because she was giving very uncomfortable information to them. This is one women that the GOP will not get to “grow.” [The video is well-worth watching!]  In an interview with Daily Kos, state Sen. Jane Nelson said that Slamen was being disrespectful but never stopped the 13 hours of testimony that “called women murderers, killers, promiscuous, thoughtless, and selfish.”

Part of Slamen’s statement was to be the way that Gov. Rick Perry’s sister, Milla Perry Jones, would benefits from the closures of clinics because she is head lobbyist for allied surgical centers and doctor-owned hospitals that has given $4 million to get Perry’s bill passed. The Texas Observer had pointed out that these facilities overcharge for tests, procedures, and services.

The Texas House committee passed the bill, that will close all except five clinics, onto the House which also approved the bill. They will take a formal vote on it tomorrow morning. Democrats pointed out that GOP committee leaders “limited testimony at a public hearing, declined to hear from hundreds more waiting to testify and refused to consider Democratic amendments–and at times even failed recognize Democrats to speak at all to raise questions.”

walkerMost of the GOP action last week surrounding anti-abortion bills took place in the dark of night, Wisconsin included. Gov. Scott Walker’s signature was barely dry when the new law was taken to federal court where a judge blocked part of the law for ten days. A hearing is scheduled for July 17. [Left: Scott Walker]

In his 19-page ruling, U.S. District Judge William Conley noted that the admitting-privileges provision of the new GOP law serves “no medical purpose” and was rushed into law for no apparent reason. It is up to state officials to prove that it safeguarded women’s health, he wrote, which he said “does not bear even superficial scrutiny on the current record.” He also agreed that the law had been rushed onto the books, noting that it was proposed, passed, signed and enacted in just 34 days, a timeline he called “precipitous.” 

“[T]he State,” Conley wrote, “must demonstrate that the regulation is reasonably related to ‘the preservation and protection of maternal health’ but it failed to do so.” In addition, he pointed out that “the majority of patients are at or below the federal poverty line.”

Last night 64 members of North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” protesters, now in their tenth week, were arrested for objecting to a bill that limits abortion access. The weekly rallies have grown from a few dozen in the early weeks to over 2,000 people. State GOP legislators claim that their protests make no difference, but the activities are beginning to affect tourism in the state.  The state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said, “The current environment makes it very challenging to market North Carolina.”

Last week’s bill mandating clinics performing abortions to conform to the standards of ambulatory surgery centers was pushed through the Senate without a public hearing. The state House has scheduled public hearings on the bill today.

Cecil Bothwell, a city councilman from Asheville (NC), summed up this attack on women: “It amazes me that they claim they don’t want government intervening in health care issues [about Obamacare], yet they want to tell women what to do with their bodies.”

Tanya Glover, 34, came to the protest because the legislature’s lean education budget slashes services for her special needs child. “This state has gone to hell and it’s hurting my family,” Glover said.

Her description fits the 30 states controlled by the GOP.

June 28, 2013

‘Moral Monday’ Gives Hope

While legislators in North Carolina have systematically taken state resources from most of the taxpayers and transferred tax cuts to the wealthy, a group of protesters have continued to make their objections clear during the past two months, even to the point of being arrested. Called “Moral Monday,” the protest gathered the largest crowd this past week, about 5,000 people gathered. Of those 120 were arrested.

Although the GOP legislators would like to dismiss these protesters as “crazies,” many of them do their organizing in mainstream churches. Volunteers hand out green strips of fabric for people who are willing to be arrested. Those who have already been arrested are discouraged from signing up for arrest because of the weightier charge for repeat offenders.

For the most recent protest, Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Moral Monday protests, asked during his invocation, “How do you say cutting 500,000 people’s health care is the moral thing to do?” He continued, “When you hurt the poor, you are not faithfully executing the constitution.” All the people standing behind him in this photo were arrested last Monday.

Armenta Eaton spoke about the reason that her 92-year-old mother, Rosanell Eaton, was willing to be arrested for her protests:

“What brought her out was the possibility of requiring voter ID. She was required when she was 21 years old to repeat the preamble to the Constitution in order to register. She did it! She didn’t even know she had to do it, she was just smart. They would yank you around back in those days. She was valedictorian of her class, she knew all that stuff. It’s what she had to go through. She thought things were smooth sailing. She’s seen the good, bad, and the ugly. Now she’s seeing the ugly again. She fought for civil rights, she was a civil rights worker, and now she sees that it’s going backward.”

Chris Carter talked about how the rules protecting water quality have been “stripped away and are under attack.” Darlene Burns said she was doing it for her grandchildren.

“I want a better state for them to grow up in. I’ve got three that are still in the public schools. They’re decimating education and it’s not fair to the kids. It’s attacks on the unemployed, it’s turning down the Medicaid. It’s too many things to list. I’m nervous. I’ve never done this before. But it’s too important not to.”

Charles Warren explained that “it’s about the cause. So much to hurt the middle class, the unemployed, taking Medicaid away from 500,000 people, reducing unemployment. This is terrible for our state. Terrible for the people who’re going to be laid off. I’m really in favor of kicking all these legislators out.”

One man explained that next week 71,000 North Carolinians will lose federal extended unemployment benefits because of a new state law that reduces the maximum benefit an individual can receive. North Carolina is the only state to reject these federal benefits, which come at no cost to the state.

Sen. Thom Goolsby (R) calls them “Moron Mondays,” and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) accuses protestors of not being from North Carolina. McCrory and the legislature rejected an expansion of Medicaid in their state, despite the fact that the federal government would be footing the bill. As a result, 500,000 poor North Carolinians will not receive health insurance.

In 2010, one person was largely responsible for giving both houses of the North Carolina to the legislature for the first time since 1870.  Jane Mayer reported for the New Yorker in 2011, “three-quarters of the spending by independent groups in North Carolina’s 2010 state races came from accounts linked to” wholesale baron Art Pope. When McCrory replaced Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue last January, the GOP had total control of the state.

Here are Art Pope’s dream bills going through the legislature:

Voter Suppression: In addition to requiring voter ID, the state cut early voter hours and eliminated voting on the Sunday before Election Day. Another bill would raise taxes on families with college students if the child registers to vote at school rather than at home. The state would no longer consider the child a dependent even though the parents pay all the bills.

Fewer Taxes for Wealthy: The bill would erase all individual and corporate income taxes and replace them with higher sales taxes that disproportionately burden lower-income taxpayers. A similar bill in Louisiana would raise taxes for 80 percent of the people while giving those in the top 1 percent an average tax cut of $25,423.

Anti-Abortion Moves: New restrictions such as requiring doctors to have admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic would seriously hamper the work of the clinics. Conservatives claim that this is a safety measure, but hospitals refuse these doctors privileges. Also the House has just passed a bill requiring teachers to tell their students that abortions will increase risks of future premature births, despite the fact that this is a lie.

Anti-Worker Constitutional Amendment: Legislators want to lock the prevention of collective bargaining into the state constitution, making it even easier for companies to pressure workers against unionizing.

Subsidizing Home Schooling: A bill would give families a $1,250 per semester tax subsidy if they home school their children.

Judges for Sale: The bills would allow attorneys and special interest groups the ability to provide campaign funds for judges.

State Sponsored Religion: A GOP-backed resolution proclaimed that the U.S. Constitution “does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional,” and then decreeing that North Carolina could establish its own state religion. That one failed, but it didn’t put anything into effect even if it passed.

Climate Change Denial: The state is banned from basing coastal policies on the most recent scientific predictions of sea level rise.

There are many more laws, some of them very strange, including preventing Tesla Motors from emailing its customers and banning “foreign law” in the state. Fracking in the state is legal now, however, because an exhausted senator pressed the wrong number. State law prevents her from changing her votes if it changes the result of the vote.

Only a few hundred protesters could fit inside the building. Orders of magnitude more waited outside. The others waited outside. Inside, people chanted, sang songs, and gave speeches.

North Carolina has no collective bargaining rights in North Carolina, even for public employees unions. One police officer thanked those arrested at the detention center for helping him get more overtime pay. Another officer described protesters as “very nice,” “orderly,” and “great to deal with.”

After the first bus headed off to jail with protesters, the crowd chanted, “You’re gonna need another bus ’cause baby there are more of us.” Some of the protesters went back to the church where they had gathered earlier for a potluck and planning for next week.

bus

Eaton was released from the detention center at around 9pm as well-wishers cheered her on. Many protesters returned to the Pullen Baptist Church afterward for a potluck where they traded stories and began to think about what more they can do next week.

The first people arrested on Moral Monday over eight weeks ago were to appear in court last Monday and expected to plead not guilty. Almost all the protesters have been charged with second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse, and violating building rules. NAACP legal advisor Irv Joyner, also a law professor at N.C. Central University, said that many of those charged with breaking building rules by displaying signs were not holding one. He also said:

“On public property, people can’t be directed to disperse or leave unless someone is engaged in unlawful activity. You can apply the same rational to the trespassing charge, which is the same idea. If you have a right to be there, that’s not trespassing.”

In addition, building rules allow visitors to move about freely unless they create disturbances.

Moral Monday gives me hope for change in this country.

June 1, 2013

TPP Should Terrify Us

The March against Monsanto was huge last Saturday, despite the lack of press about it. And the Moral Monday marches in North Carolina against the extremist actions of far-right conservatives is growing, based on the number of ordinary middle-class people arrested for chanting and singing outside the House and Senate chambers.

The Forward Together Movement started their protests four weeks ago, and within that time over 150 people have been arrested for not dispersing. A tour has also stopped at 25 cities throughout the state to organize opposition to the outrageous legislative agenda. Their complaints are like those in the rest of the states: cuts to unemployment benefits, education spending and education programs; plans to use tax dollars to underwrite private-school education; rejection of federal Medicaid dollars for lower-income people’s health care; plans to expand sales taxes to pay for cuts to the state income taxes; and plans to reduce voting days and require voters to present ID when voting.

The Occupy encampments are coming back. Today Occupy Homecoming re-takes Liberty Plaza (aka Zuccotti Park). For other people who want information about protesting movements, a new website has been designed to connect and build on the current mass popular resistance.

PopularResistance.org provides daily movement news and resources about actions, events, and tools for community organizing. Its goal is to challenge the corporate control of our government, a corrupt economy, and U.S. militarism to put people’s needs and protection of the planet protection before corporate profits. Two examples are these Occucards on Corporate Media and Public Banking. The website shows a strategic framework and links to 200 tactics proven effective through solidarity among movements and weakening the power structure by involving people in the movement.

Building on the March against Monsanto, the first campaign from PopularResistance.org is to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This issue is being sold as a “trade” agreement, but it’s really a corporate grab on everything from Internet freedom to banking regulation, worker rights to health care, environmental protection and agriculture to consumer safety.

For three years, business interests such as Monsanto, Wal-Mart, Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical companies, Exxon-Mobil, BP, and nearly 600 other corporate advisors have secretly negotiated to draft the TPP. Because the key word here is “secretly,” the only information comes from leaked documents, but these are scary. Really scary. Even Congress doesn’t know anything about it.

From what people have discovered, the TPP is a very big deal. If the Senate and President Obama agree to TPP, it can override U.S. laws and regulations. NAFTA, China’s entry into the WTO, and other “trade” agreements have caused huge trade deficits while sending jobs, factories, and industries out of the country to give wealth to the top 1 percent of our population. In the 2000s we lost 50,000+ factories and at least 6 million jobs just to China. These agreements are nothing compared to TPP.

If the TPP is passed, it will be almost impossible to rescind. And it will tell Congress and state legislatures what laws and regulations that they can pass or enforce in areas such as patents and copyrights, government procurement, investment and land use, service-sector regulation, food and product safety, corporate competition, labor, and environmental standards. It will also limit government regulation of financial services.

TPP can cause prices, such as those for pharmaceuticals, to go sky high: tariffs and quotas can increase costs by 20 to 30 percent, and patent and copyright protection can raise prices by 2,000 or 20,000 percent above the free market price.

Even the just-signed Korea Free Trade agreement is already hurting our economy by increasing the trade deficit, increasing imports, and decreasing exports. One year into the agreement, U.S. goods exports to Korea have declined by 10 percent ($4.2 billion decrease) while the U.S. trade deficit with Korea has shot up 37 percent. That’s a loss of 12,000 jobs.

Good trade agreements can help the country. The bad trade deals that we’ve made have boosted the trade deficit, unemployment, income and wealth inequality, the loss of factories and industries, the hollowing-out of our middle class, and the domination of our politics by the large corporate interests. Our recent trade agreements have made winners out of Wall Street, the 1-percenters, and giant multinational corporations.

The good news is that protest movements are crossing the nation. Seattle became the seventh U.S. city in which low-paid workers walked out of McDonalds, Wendy’s, and other fast-food restaurants to demand a living wage of $15 per hour; Wal-Mart workers launched their first sustained strike and plan their June 7 Ride for Respect to the annual shareholders meeting; United Students against Sweatshops is organizing at 180 colleges to protest sweat shops, unfair wages, and industrial accidents. Even in Cambodia, thousands of women working in garment factories held a sit-down strike despite police wielding cattle-prod-like electric stun batons.

The Home Defenders League organized a protest last week that began at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and ended up occupying the Department of Justice. Some spent the nights in tents. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the bankers are “too big to jail,” yet they continue to take homes from people in the United States, sometimes with no justification.  

The proposed TPP can stop laws to help the bottom 99 percent. For example, the Homeowners Bill of Rights passed in Minnesota because of activist pressure, but the TPP could erase this law and others. Banks and mortgage lenders could sue in trade tribunals for lost profits, where the judges will often be corporate lawyers on leave from their jobs.

The “banks too big to jail” will stay big if TPP goes into effect, and top officials can’t be prosecuted for causing disastrous financial losses. The TPP gives banks greater laxity to move money in and out of countries, stops regulation of banks, and allows casino-style high risk investments to continue. Wall Street will use the TPP to weaken the already weak financial regulation of the big banks.

School closings are crossing the nation, and these can be replaced by private corporate schools under TPP which opposes so-called “state-owned enterprises.”  The result is weakened public services such as health care in favor of for-profit corporate interests.

Corporations have filed 450 suits against 89 governments; these corporations have been paid $700 million, about 70 percent of this from challenges to natural resource and environmental policies. For example, if a country—or even a county as one in New Mexico recently did—the companies can sue for exorbitant lost profits. With TPP, environmentalists can’t protest the raping of the land.

More and more places across the country are voting against corporate personhood, for example, 76.6 percent of those in Los Angeles. That city joined 175 others calling for an end of the rule of money. The TPP can stop this opposition to corporate personhood.

With TPP, Monsanto and other corporations selling genetically engineered foods will be in control. Nobody can stop them. And TPP will force other countries to follow in its field testing and lack of labeling to identify GMOs.

People need to force the transparency of TPP negotiations. Last June, 130 members of Congress wrote to U.S. Trade Representative asking for this as well as requesting their consultation with Congressional members. More than 400 organizations have asked Congress to replace the “Fast Track” system that limits Congress’ (democracy’s) ability to get involved in the process, and to call for a new direction for TPP as well as other trade agreements.

TPP needs strong tests and irrevocable language about withdrawing from the agreement if it harms our economy, environment, smaller businesses, tax base, and/or our working people. All future trade deals, including TPP, must include clear and enforceable rules covering currency manipulation and other ways that countries game the system.

Since Citizens United, the misguided Supreme Court decision that declares “corporations are people, my friend,” to quote Mitt Romney, corporations have gone power-hungry crazy. A fine example of this is the incorporated Hobby Lobby Stores, which is fighting for an exemption from giving employees access to the morning-after pill. First, they argue that emergency contraception is abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. The company also opposes coverage for some intrauterine devices.

Second, Hobby’s lawyers argue that the stores are a “a ministry.” They added that the constitutional right to freedom of religion is “not a purely personal right.” According to the lawyer, corporations can have religious beliefs.

The case is in front of eight judges in the 10th Circuit Court in Denver. But if Hobby waits for TPP, they can probably do anything they want.

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