Nel's New Day

February 18, 2018

GOP Tries to Erase Constitutional Church-State Separation

Christian counseling has taken a new meaning during the time of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Reports about his paying off $130,000 to a porn star after a sexual liaison with her led to James Bakker complimenting DDT for his “counseling” her and giving her money to get out of the pornography industry.

Now George Gregory, a 61-year-old Pennsylvania pastor, claims that he “was counseling a young man with a drug problem.” The man was found in the front seat of Gregory’s car, naked and tied up with nylon rope. Gregory claimed that the man propositioned him, but that he “did nothing.” A neighbor had called the police, and officers found Gregory in the back seat adjusting his clothing. He told officers that he and the man “were just playing” and that they “meet up from time to time to play with each other.” Gregory also claimed that he thought he was in a private place, and officials reminded him that he was on a public street. He said, “That conversation never happened.” The Pittsburgh pastor has been charged with lewdness and indecent exposure, and the other man confirmed that what they were doing was consensual.

In Texas, evangelical minister Gloria Copeland believes in Christian immunization:

Jesus himself is our flu shot. He redeemed us from the curse of the flu. We have a duck season, a deer season, but we don’t have a flu season and don’t receive it when someone threatens you with ‘everybody is getting the flu.’ We’ve already had our shot.”

Texas has already had 2,300 deaths from the flu, and the season—which Copeland claims doesn’t exist—isn’t over. Jesus didn’t save Copeland’s megachurch from a 2013 measles outbreak after the preaching that people don’t need vaccines because of Jesus’s protection. Both Gloria and her husband, Kenneth, Copeland were members of DDT’s evangelical advisory panel in 2016.

Evangelical belief is fast becoming the mode, as evidenced at the National Prayer Breakfast last week. DDT said that faith “is central to American life and liberty” although he rarely attends church. The percentage of atheists in the United States has almost doubled to 3.1 from 1.6 percent in 2007, and another 4.0 percent identify as agnostics.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), who delivered the keynote address at the event, was even farther off target than DDT. The legislator who was shot at a baseball practice last year gave a revisionist view of American history:

“This was a nation founded with a deep belief in God. Our founding fathers talked about it when they were preparing to draft the Constitution. In fact, Thomas Jefferson—who was the author of the Constitution—If you go to the Jefferson Memorial right now, go read this inscription from Thomas Jefferson: ‘God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?’

“You can’t separate church from state…. People would say, you know, when you’re voting on issues, how do you separate your faith from the way you vote? Faith is part of who you are.”

Time for a reality check:

Thomas Jefferson didn’t write the U.S. Constitution; he was in France at the time. James Madison, who supported separation of church and state, wrote the constitution. Jefferson did write the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson also strongly supported the separation of church and state. The term “wall of separation” between the two institutions come from Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury (CT) Baptist Association about the First Amendment: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” As president, Jefferson refused to issue proclamations for official days of prayer.

People’s votes may come from their personal beliefs, but not always religious. And government neutrality on religious issues allows people to seek their own paths without government interference.

Evangelical ascendance is leading the United States into a “post-truth era,” according to writer and reporter Kurt Andersen, and that seems to reduce the average IQ. Anderson, a linguistic expert on DDT’s speaking style, points out that only one-third of GOP candidates in 2012 agreed to the scientific theory of evolution. George W. Bush said that evolution shouldn’t be taught in schools unless it is accompanied by the religious belief of creationism. By 2016, only one candidate, George W.’s brother Jeb Bush, was the only one in a large field supporting the science of evolution. Anderson thinks that the Republican candidates, however, are forced to deny evolution to keep their voters as the GOP becomes increasingly extreme. When religious belief “bleeds over into how we manage and construct our economy and our society,” the United States suffers from lasting trouble.

One way that the DDT administration puts Christianity in charge of justice for all people is the religious liberty czar required for every U.S. attorney office. The DOJ has ordered each office to assign a person who monitors litigation for any suits involving “religious liberty” and notify supervisors. All offices must get the approval of the Associate Attorney General, formerly Rachel Brand, before that case can proceed. With Brand’s resignation, the replacement may be Noel Francisco, allied with the ultra-conservative Christian group, Alliance Defending Freedom. The new policy mandates:

“To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, Department components and United States Attorneys’ Offices must reasonably accommodate religious observance and practice in all activities, including litigation.”

The policy adds that “the Office of the Associate Attorney General has supervisory responsibility for overseeing the Department’s respect for religious liberty in litigation.”

A new DDT division of the Office of Civil Rights, the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (CRFD), permits healthcare workers to deny treatment to LGBTQ people and women seeking abortions if it conflicts with their religious convictions. [The White House has also issued many other mandates giving Christian control of the United States.]

The CRFD will cost the health care system at least $300 million to set up new religious requirements as hospitals, nursing homes, state health programs, pharmacies, and other service providers must post employee notices, draft policies, maintain documentation, and prepare other methods of guaranteeing that health care workers can discriminate against people based on their form of Christianity. Annual maintenance of these practices will continue to cost $125 million. Catholics at institutions supported by taxpayers have re-confirmed their opposition to abortion and death with dignity practices.

Other GOP leaders are following DDT’s lead. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has picked anti-LGBTQ conservative Christian pastor to head up the Michigan Civil Rights Commission last week. The state senate is supposed to confirm the person for this position, but Snyder ignored that requirement.

As evangelicals move farther from the cultural mainstream, they are also losing their constituents through aging and attrition. As a result, the white evangelical Protestant population in the U.S. has fallen over 25 percent from 23 percent in 2007 to 17 percent in 2016. over the past decade, dropping from 23 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2016. Almost two-thirds of them are now at least 50 years old. Perhaps this change will overcome the listing of the ship of state toward Christian theocracy and Christian sharia-like law.

March 17, 2016

Gov. Snyder, Government Isn’t a Business

The U.S. House actually did something today: they held committee hearings about the travesty in Flint with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder testifying. For those of you who lost track of Flint’s water problems in the midst of Trumpmania, a governor with no political experience who was hired on the basis of his “business” skills and anti-government policies said he saved money on the water supply to Flint’s citizens by poisoning them with lead and causing deaths from Legionnaires Disease. The brilliant minds behind the scheme that poisoned Flint residents were a think tank funded by the powerful, conservative DeVos family, owner of Amway marketing.

Leaked emails show that Snyder didn’t poison Flint residents to save money. He just wanted to privatize the utility.  The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) offered Snyder a deal of $800 million over 30 years, 20 percent cheaper than switching to the polluted Karegnondi Water Authority. It also offered a 50 percent reduction over what Flint had paid in the past to stay with DWSD. By breaking up DWSD and starve it of the Flint customer base, DWDS would be forced to privatize, sold off by Snyder. Snyder refused to release the emails from 2013 which would confirm this information. The governor has also slashed corporate taxes while instituting a flat tax and crippling public schools with budget cuts.

Ironically, Michigan could have saved billions of dollars and thousands of people suffering from serious health issues and brain damage for only $50,000 a year. A city administrator refused to pay to add orthophosphate to the process, as is done in Detroit to Lake Huron sourced water. That chemical would have prevented the corrosion of lead pipes.

Snyder came into today’s hearing after ignoring the problems for almost two years and said, “This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state and federal officials — we all failed the families of Flint.” To Snyder, everyone else was responsible, and he is innocent, despite his appointment of an “emergency manager” instead of allowing elected officials to guide the city’s government processes. That was before he ignored all the complaints from Flint residents about the dangers of the water after his manager changed the water source and caused the disaster. According to Snyder, “Bureaucrats created a culture that valued technical competence over common sense.” He’s wrong only about his personal bureaucrats. No one valued “technical competence” and no one showed “common sense.”

The governor who believes in states’ rights—and would have screamed bloody murder if anyone had tried to violate them—blamed EPA’s Gina McCarthy for not fixing the problem while Snyder ignored it. McCarthy responded that Snyder’s people in Michigan’s DEQ told the EPA that they had done corrosion controls when they hadn’t done anything. She concluded, “We were strong-armed, we were misled, we were kept at arm’s length, we couldn’t do our jobs effectively.”

After the EPA sent Michigan’s DEQ directives about the Flint water two months ago, the state agency’s director questioned the EPA’s “legal authority” to “order a state and its agencies” to protect the health of its citizens. EPA had told Michigan to inform the public about upcoming steps, but Michigan is one of two states in the nation where the governor is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. In that way, the state thinks that it can legally violate the state’s open meetings act as the governor meets with all his emergency managers behind closed doors. Before this order from EPA, the state supplied the federal agency with altered documents and purposely skewed test results to support the falsehood that there was no problem with Flint water.

Snyder also blamed federal regulations. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires chemicals to reduce corrosiveness in public water systems to keep water from leach lead from pipes. Michigan, however, misread the regulations.

With the disaster in the public spotlight, Snyder now feels really bad about what happened. Yet he refuses to provide any funding from the state’s surplus funds of $575 million to replace pipes and instead is spending $1.2 million on lawyers to deal with the crisis. Snyder’s AG, Bill Schuette, also appointed a special counsel, a donor to both Shuette’s and Snyder’s campaigns, to investigate whether anyone broke state laws. The governor also hired a public relations firm with no offices in Michigan in order to cover himself. Its senior vice president in the Florida office is married to Snyder’s Chief of Staff.

Today’s hearing was the second on the subject this week. On Tuesday, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings (MD), called the testimonies “sickening.” State-appointment Darnell Earley who switched the water moaned about how he’s been “unjustly persecuted, vilified, and smeared.” He claimed that the water was safe even after GM refused to use it because it corroded its auto parts. “I’m not a water treatment expert,” he said. At the same time that he denied any problem with the water, state employees were receiving bottled water at their offices.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who largely contributed to exposing the sham, said, “Apparently being a government agency means never having to say you are sorry.” He said that the agency “covered up evidence of their unethical actions by authoring false scientific reports.”

The water is unusable, but parents were told that the state would take their children if they didn’t pay their water bills because they needed running water in their homes. Flint residents also pay more for unusable water than other U.S. communities pay for usable running water. Average  spending for each Flint household is $864.32—more than twice as much as homes served by public water utilities and ten times as much as Phoenix, Arizona. The average cost for private water utilities is $500, typically 58 percent more than other public utility systems and 2.7 times the average cost in Michigan. The cost in Flint skyrocketed after the emergency manager raised water and sewer costs by 25 percent. Over 40 percent of Flint residents live under the poverty line, and the media income is $25,000.

After Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton brought Flint’s inexcusable condition to the media forefront—soon followed by Bernie Sanders–GOP candidates spoke up. Sen. Marco Rubio, now out of the race, praised Snyder for taking “responsibility,” and Sen. Ted Cruz offered to send water, but only through anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers.” He also single-handedly blocked an aid package of $850 million to help victims in Flint and other cities suffering lead crises.

This week, a resolution “recognizing magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure” was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—the same group holding hearings on Flint.  Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) said he did this as a matter of constituent services. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) tweeted, “The House GOP believes in magic but not climate change.” Evidently representatives don’t believe in constituent service for Flint. Instead of helping Flint and other communities with lead pipes, the U.S. is scheduled to give Israel $30 billion in the next ten years—and Israel wants that increased to $50 billion. House Democrats are pushing a bill to block the appointment of emergency managers instead of elected officials, but it’s an uphill battle.

Michigan’s governor is a Republican dream: Snyder is anti-government and anti-regulation while strongly states’ rights. He firmly believes that government should be run like a business. At least that’s his belief until he wants to blame all his problems on someone else and complain that the federal government didn’t solve his problems years ago so that he wouldn’t be sitting in a House committee hearing. In reality it’s a  nightmare–what happens when GOP leadership is allowed to run rampant over people’s rights.

This week’s test of water shows higher levels than earlier ones. Snyder refuses to replace the pipes until he does extensive studies. People are still without usable running water. That’s Flint under a small government, business plan.

January 21, 2016

Flint’s Poisoned Water Problems Not Disappearing

In the wake of his PR disaster—and the Flint residents’ water disaster—Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released 249 emails to show that he was not to blame. Heavy redactions in the emails don’t hide the administration’s dismissive and belittling attitude toward people concerned about health issues from the brackish water coming into their homes. After traces of “coliform and fecal coliform bacterium” appeared in the city’s water plant, officials just added chlorine to the water. An email from Snyder’s Chief of Staff shows how the administration refused to take responsibility:

 “I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that [State Treasurer] Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject.”

The emails accused residents of using their children’s health as a “political football” and refused action after a hospital and a university stopped using Flint water because it was corroding their metal instruments.  An email stated that Flint residents were only concerned about the aesthetics of the water, “taste, smell and color being among the top complaints.”

According to Snyder, the released emails represent all the Flint-related correspondence in 2014 and 2015. Missing are the ones from 2013 which began the debacle through key decisions. Aides have been non-committal when asked about release of these emails. Snyder has been “invited” to appear in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 3, 2016 regarding the poisoned water that government has provided Flint residents. He has not been “called” to appear because only Republicans can do this.

The EPA may also be asked to appear at a congressional hearing.

A few missing pieces from yesterday’s blog on the Flint water travesty:

In December 2011, Snyder appointed Michael Brown as emergency manager of Flint to replace elected Flint officials and act unilaterally as an extension of state executive power. Brown was George W. Bush’s head of FEMA during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. He sent untrained rescue workers to the disaster area while telling fire and rescue departments not to send trucks or emergency workers without a direct appeal from state or local governments. Three days after the disaster, he told the media that he was not aware that the New Orleans Convention Center housed thousands of evacuees who lacked food and water and blamed those stuck in the city of not choosing to leave the city, despite the lack of transportation. Brown quit the FEMA job days after the hurricane. Later he declared that President Obama wanted the Deepwater Horizon oil spill so that he could “pander to the environmentalists.” Brown lasted in Flint for only nine months.

In March 2013, State treasury and Department of Environmental Quality officials ignored external reports showing that changing the water to the Flint River would not save money Three months later Flint’s emergency manager abandoned Detroit water.

In August 2014, Flint River water violated National Primary Drinking Water Regulations twice with more violations in September and December of that year. Last September, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services claimed that spikes in illnesses from lead were “seasonal and not related to the water supply.”

The first cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint in five years appeared two months after the water source was changed. After a year with 47 cases and five deaths, Snyder declared that the epidemic was over, but the numbers doubled in the next months. The incidence of this waterborne bacterial infection that can be deadly for between 5 to 30 percent of those who contract it is nine times greater in Flint than the national average. Doctors had predicted the onslaught of the disease because of iron caused by corrosion. No one will ever know the source of the Legionnaires’ disease because Michigan failed to take the appropriate cultures. The disease could return with warm weather because the state has not done any testing.

EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, the director overseeing a region including Flint, resigned after it was discovered that she told the former Flint mayor that a report from one of its own scientists be concealed until it was vetted and revised.

The EPA has announced an emergency order requiring that the state and city “take a series of immediate steps to address the drinking water contamination in Flint.” It said the city and state’s response to the crisis has been “inadequate to protect public health.” The EPA will take over lead sampling because of repeated delays and a lack of transparency in the water crisis continue to pose “an imminent and substantial” danger to residents. Months after the EPA required corrosion controls be added to Flint’s water system and the water source be shifted back to Lake Huron water from the Flint River, “underlying problems” and “fundamental deficiencies” remain. The state has one day to comply with the order.

Michigan is also ordered to create a public website for all reports and sampling results, and the state is to inventory all homes in Flint with lead service lines. The EPA told Flint and Michigan to establish an independent advisory panel on drinking water issues and required that the city must show “technical, managerial, and financial capacity” before moving to a new Lake Huron water system.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, President Obama announced that the federal government will send at least $80 million next week, some of it to be used to rebuild water lines and other city infrastructure. The funding comes from a federal revolving loan fund that provides low-cost loans to eligible entities, including municipalities for water infrastructure projects. Replacing lead service lines and making other infrastructure repairs could cost as much as $1.5 billion.

The EPA, which could also be called to appear at a congressional hearing said to be set for early next month, also requested that its Inspector General evaluate Region 5’s supervision program for public water systems, a move U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., applauded as a way to “better understand how EPA could have helped prevent Flint’s water crisis and what they can do to keep this situation from ever happening again.”

Last September, a Flint lawmaker asked Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Shuette, to investigate the Flint water situation. Schuette, a Republican thought to be considering a gubernatorial run, refused. In December, his staffer said that an investigation was not necessary. Five months after building negative publicity about Flint water, Shuette said he would launch an investigation the day after Snyder asked the president to declare a federal emergency in Flint.

In the weeks after Schuette refused to investigate, national media attention on Flint increased, and on Jan. 14, Republican Governor Rick Snyder asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency. The next day, Schuette had changed his tune. He said that he would launch an investigation “without fear or favor.” He office is already defending state officials in a lawsuit generated by protesting Flint residents alleging that officials ignored evidence of the toxic water.

Under state law, the AG has to represent emergency managers when they are sued, but the entity that the manager runs has to pay for the legal costs. Thus the same person who investigates the water poisoning also protect the officials who did it while the people bringing the law suit must pay for the defense’s legal costs. Schuette has not said whether he will bring in outside counsel.

Gov. Snyder was an accountant with no elected office experience before he took over a state with a population of almost 10 million people. Before the Flint water crisis, he had contemplated a run for president. Snyder is a prime example of what happens when the private sector attempts to take over government functions.

After almost two years of Flint water’s fiasco, the state Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh said that “we should have been more aggressive. He blames two top officials in the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance for the misinterpretation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule, but both officials still have state jobs. They just been reassigned to keep away from the Flint water issues. No one has been fired over the catastrophe.

flint safe to washTen days ago, Rick Snyder told the media that the Flint water is so safe that he would let his grandkids bathe in it. It’s a safe assertion because he doesn’t have grandchildren. This poster on the right has been removed from the government website.

This is Republican leadership at its “finest.”

After I wrote the above, I went into the kitchen and ran the water a few seconds, grateful that I don’t live in a state with governor-appointed emergency managers instead of elected officials.

 

January 20, 2016

Michigan Governor Poisons Flint Residents, Wants Federal Money

“If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water, we would have done something about it.” That was Hillary Clinton’s comment about the poisoned water in Flint (MI) thanks to the man assigned by Gov. Rick Snyder to run the city.

The horror in Flint started six years ago when businessman Rick Snyder was elected governor because he claimed to create jobs and run the government like a business—similar to what Donald Trump promises in his current presidential campaign.

The purpose of business is to make money for the owners and cut costs by eliminating jobs; the purpose of government in a democracy is to make people’s lives better, not to profit off them. Business and government require different skills and philosophies, and Snyder is an example of this difference. When he was on the board of the computer company Gateway, it went from 21,000 U.S. workers to 7,400 in about a decade. Gateway no longer exists.

Under Snyder, GOP legislators passed a law allowing the government to replace elected officials with an “emergency manager” picked by the governor. The manager makes all the decisions—just like in a business. The law was repealed by referendum in 2012 but replaced with a new law in a GOP-controlled legislative session that prevented it from being subject to a voter referendum.

The first time that Snyder used his dictatorial powers was in Benton Harbor where a park had been deeded to the city in 1917 “in perpetuity.” The new emergency manager in 2011 took over part of waterfront park for a luxury golf resort, with the help of a development group. It’s board included the sponsor of the new law. That success of stripping elected officials of any powers for the benefit of private business moved on to Detroit, Flint, Highland Park, and other Michigan municipalities.

Michigan residents couldn’t successfully protest the new dictator approach in its state, and the rest of the United States pretty much ignored the problem until MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow began to show the way that the new “business-like” system allowed massive amounts of lead in the city water that Flint residents pay to receive.

flint-waterFlint’s problem started almost two years ago when its manager “saved” $8.5 million over five years by switching the water source from Detroit through a pipeline to drawing water from the polluted Flint River. The acidic water that leaches lead and other metals from pipes could have been chemically treated to control corrosion, but the manager chose not to spend the $100 a day for that safety.

For 18 months people complained about the taste and smell of the brown water piped into their homes while they got rashes and their hair fell out from showering in it. As any good businessman, the manager denied any problems and said that the water was fine.

Not until Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha compared blood test results for 1,746 Flint children before and after the change in water was any whiff of concern evidenced. Even then, Michigan politicians called her an “irresponsible researcher” who caused “near hysteria.” Not until a September 2015 study from Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards did city officials admit there was something wrong with the water and told people not to drink it.

The manager did try to minimize the problem by testing water in a way designed to minimize lead readings by flushing the water several minutes before taking a sample and using very low flow rates. Edwards, however, found readings as high as 13,000 ppb (parts per billion of lead); 5,000 ppb is considered to be “toxic waste.” The EPA set 15 ppb has a point where steps should be taken to reduce the level although levels as low as 5 ppb can be concerning. A few miles away, Troy (MI)’s lead in the water measures 1.1 ppb.  [Pipes from a Flint water study]

flint-water-study-photos

Everyone suffers for exposure to lead, but children are particularly susceptible. Symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Memory loss
  • Pain and tingling in hands and/or feet
  • Weakness

Exposure while a woman is pregnant damages the nervous system of the developing fetus. It can also cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility in both men and women. Children suffer from lasting neurological and behavioral damage, intellectual disabilities, serious difficulty controlling impulses, retaining information, and learning in school. It is difficult or impossible for them to later have thought-intensive jobs. Lead keeps the body from absorbing nutrients for cell development and the growth of strong teeth and bones. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) stated:

“The lead builds up in soft tissue — kidneys, bone marrow, liver, and brain — as well as bones and teeth. … Some scientists believe that low-level chronic lead exposure in childhood can alter secretion of the human growth hormone, stunting growth and promoting obesity.”

People in Flint started in April 2014 to persuade the city to take action about the poisonous water. In May 2014, the city learned that trihalomethanes ( TTHMs) were above levels allowed in the Clean Water Act but didn’t tell residents for another eight months and didn’t change to safe water. In October 2014, GM noticed that the water was corroding engines and started trucking in water from outside the city. While Flint continued to deny any problems with the water, the governor’s office secretly ordered that Flint be supplied filters. The discrepancies between reports of toxicity in the water from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint during last year indicate a cover-up by the governor’s appointed manager.

Snyder’s business-like approach became such a PR disaster that he started reluctantly thinking about a solution. Although he switched back to Detroit water last October, the damage to the pipes was most likely done by then. Snyder waited until Jan. 5, 2016 to declare a state of emergency and another week to mobilize the National Guard to distribute bottled water and water filters–starting with seven guardspersons—one per 14,285.7 people.

Finally Snyder asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency. Through FEMA, taxpayers will pay up to $5 million for water, filters and cartridges and other items, but Snyder has been refused an additional $96 million because the Flint water crisis is not a natural disaster. Snyder, his emergency manager, and the GOP legislators who voted for a dictatorship caused the entire calamity, and Snyder finally admitted that he knew about the problems with water for several months, perhaps as much as a year.

Yet in his State of the State speech this week, Snyder blamed the problem on “entrenched bureaucrats.” He also said, “Government failed you at the federal, state and local level.” The problems came entirely from a state decision to create a legislatively created dictatorship in Flint. Michigan residents elected their representatives who allow travesties such as the poisoning of water in one of its cities.

As if the lead in the water wasn’t enough, an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Flint, seemingly a consequence of Flint’s water, has hit 87 people. Ten of these people are dead. Yet Flint is still charging customers for the poisoned water and sending shut-off notices threatening to cut off their water if they don’t pay for it.

In a peculiar coincidence, the office of the public works director who resigned last November during the developing crisis was broken into in late December. No one knows what was taken, and surveillance videos didn’t show anyone breaking into the office.

Distressed by Clinton’s call to do something about Flint’s water, Snyder tweeted, “Political statements and finger pointing from political candidates only distract from solving the Flint water crisis.” He forgets that the problem was caused by politics and that without the growing transparency surrounding the “Flint water crisis,” people would still be receiving the brown, nasty water.

Asked about the problem in Flint,” GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio hemmed and hawed before he talked about not having an opinion because he hadn’t been briefed on it. At the same time, federal GOP legislators voted to overturn provisions of the Clean Water Act—the same provisions that they voted to repeal last June.

As President Obama said about Flint while he was visiting Michigan, “It is a reminder of why you can’t shortchange basic services that we provide to our people and that we together provide as a government to make sure that public health and safety is preserved.” Flint is also a reminder of why people can’t run government like a business.

Reversing the damage to the pipes will cost $1.5 billion. Reversing the brain damage and other health issues is impossible.

Heckofajob, Snyder. And same to all your cohorts.

Snyder has moved Darnell Farley, the emergency manager who switched Flint’s water from the Detroit system to the Flint River, to the new emergency manager of Detroit’s public schools. Here are a few photos of the Detroit schools. (More disgusting ones here.) We’ll see what Farley makes of this.

flint stairway

flint urinals

August 28, 2014

Campaign Fever: Governors

August hit the doldrums for a few weeks, but political scandals have hit the media. With over 80 percent of the governors, states may be changing parties this coming year. The luckiest governor is Texas’s Rick Perry because he isn’t running for re-election. Perry has, however, been indicted for abuse of official capacity and for coercion of a public servant, both felonies. After DA Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving, he threatened to defund the state Public Integrity Unit if she didn’t resign. She stayed, and he took away $7.5 million from the investigating.

Borowitz-Rick-Perry-Strikes-Back-690Although Perry has ridiculed the charges, there are two legal issues. First, this looks a lot like extortion: the funding would stay if she quit. The second is the lack of outrage for other drunk DAs, maybe because they were both Republicans. The Kaufman County DA’s conviction for drunk driving was his second offense, and the Swisher County DA’s conviction was accompanied by a scandal involving the prosecutor and a bad sting operation. Lehmberg, however, was investigating one of Perry’s friends for corruption.

As satirist Andy Borowitz wrote, “Perry blasted the indictments and called for a return to an era of limited government that focuses on requiring gynecological procedures. ‘We are living in dark days indeed when the state of Texas is spending time and money probing its officials instead of its women,’ he said, to thunderous applause.”

Fortunately for Perry, his presidential hopes are a couple of years off. Yet his statements such as referencing Ukraine in complaints about “historic” breeches of the border “from countries with terrorist ties” will return to haunt him.

Wisconsin’s governor, however, is campaigning for another term, and he’s had a bad week. At least on the outside, Scott Walker seemed to think that the investigation into his allegedly fraudulent use of campaign resources was going away—until records went public last Friday. Apparently, he personally solicited millions of dollars in contributions for a conservative group during the 2011 and 2012 recalls. For example, Gogebic Taconite gave $700,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth and got legislative approval to streamline regulations for a massive iron ore mine in the northern part of the state. Wisconsin Club for Growth ran ads supporting the governor and helped disperse campaign funds to conservative allies. An aide gave Walker these talking points when he asked Sheldon Adelson for donations in Las Vegas:

“Stress that donations to [Wisconsin Club for Growth] are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits. Let [potential donors] know that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.”

A Walker campaign consultant referred to donations to the Wisconsin Club for Growth as “investments.” The same email to a campaign adviser stated that “as the Governor discussed … he wants all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging.” In short, Walker illegally rerouted donations to, then coordinated with, Club for Growth. Walker’s sordid background is available here.

Even worse for Walker, he’s losing ground to his opponent, Mary Burke. He’s slightly ahead with registered voters but behind two points with likely voters.

Wisconsin GOP’s Gov. Scott Walker got elected four years ago partly on his promise to create 250,000 jobs for the state. His philosophy to take from the poor and give to the rich has raised a great deal of ire, especially since the state has seen only 100,000 new jobs during his term. In bragging about the state being #1 in Midwest personal income growth, he skipped the growth for the wealthy and decrease for the rest of the population.

In claiming that Wisconsin has also seen the lowest unemployment since 2008, he used the October figures. State current unemployment is 5.8 percent compared to 4.7 percent in 2008. Wisconsin rates 25th in the nation in unemployment and 37th in job creation, nothing to brag about.

Another GOP governor in trouble is Michigan’s Rick Snyder who took over many municipalities by assigning dictators called “Emergency Managers.” Snyder’s pension “reform” raised taxes for the poor, elderly, and middle class by 36 percent and reduced corporate income taxes by 81 percent, while the legislature refuses to repair crumbling roads. Now Snyder is trying to identify with his constituents—like the residents in Detroit who have had their water turned off and the others suffering from recent floods.

He told WJR radio host Frank Beckmann about a leak at his vacation home:

“I’ve been through a lot of things like that, Frank. We just recently had holes in our roof from storm damage to our lake house. We have a vacation place and we had a limb come down on the roof and had water running through the whole place; those experiences are not pleasant ones and they had to take some trees down.”

At least three people died because of the flooding: one woman suffered seizures while stranded in her car, a 100-year-old woman drowned in her basement, and a man died while trying to push his van out of flood waters.

Democratic candidate Mark Schauer has taken a slight lead in the polls.

Republicans may survive election efforts in Florida because of the gerrymandering that the court currently upholds, but the governor’s position is state-wide and Rick Scott has a lot going against him. Questions have been raised about Scott’s campaign and the GOP paying over $227,000 for a jet owned by his wife’s business. Another problems were whether Florida campaign finance laws have been violated through undisclosed expenditures and the transfer of money from a communication organization to a political committee.

An analysis of polls on Nate Silver’s website shows that Scott and his opponent, Charlie Crist, are both so unpopular that it is not predicting the winner. Crist, once a Republican governor, was far more popular before Scott poured money into negative campaigning instead of explaining why people should vote for him. Crist has come back with his own ads, reminding people of the biggest Medicare fraud while Scott was CEO of the hospital company. The company ended up paying $1.7 billion. The ad also points out Scott’s tax giveaways while taking money from seniors.

The lieutenant governor who helped Scott win four years ago because of her outreach to minorities and was forced out in 2013 and now has a new book. It’s not a pretty picture of the GOP candidate for governor. In “When You Get There,” Jennifer Carroll states that Scott got six percent of the black vote because of her actions that the campaign opposed. Without those votes, she wrote, “Scott would have lost the election.”

The good news today in Pennsylvania is the Gov. Tom Corbett has become the ninth GOP governor to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This act will give 500,000 low-income individuals subsidies to purchase private insurance and reduces the number of available benefit plans to be reduced from 14 to two, a “high-risk” option and “low-risk” options. Much as I would like to commend Corbett for his humanitarian impulse, I’m more likely to think that he was reacting to the latest poll numbers: he’s down 25 points to his Democratic opponent, Tom Wolf.

Looking good is Gov. John Kasich (Ohio), one of six governors who Gov. Chris Christie (NJ), responsible for GOP governors’ campaign fundraising, placed high priorities on; the others are the four above and Paul LePage in Maine. Projections say that LePage will lose, but he may be lucky again in another three-way race against Democrat Michael Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.

Meanwhile things are so economically bad in Koch-country Kansas, that the once popular Sam Brownback is eight points down. Jimmy Carter’s grandson, Jason Carter, is up by four points over incumbent Nathan Deal in Georgia. A lot can happen in the next 68 days.

December 27, 2012

If Six People Had Lost the Election …

One example of what the Republicans wanted to do in the 112th Congress came from Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) who lost his campaign to switch to the Senate. Earlier this year, he proposed a “license to bully” amendment to the defense budget guaranteeing blatant discrimination against harassed LGBT people in the military because there could be no discipline for this action. The House even passed the amendment. The Senate didn’t consider the amendment, but the lame-duck Senate is trying to put it back into the bill. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is working with Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), both with anti-gay records. McKeon had pledged to pass clean defense bills that were “not weighed down” by social issues but has done just the opposite.

Imagine if the Republicans had taken over the Senate and the presidency as well as the House. Only six elections made the difference—five Senators and one president. If President Obama had lost and if six more Senate seats had gone to the GOP, both the legislative and administrative parts of the government would have been Republican joining a highly conservative Supreme Court.

Michigan is an example of how destructive this could have been.

Worried about the loss of his super-majority in the legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder pushed through 282 laws since November 6 during the lame-duck session. The law that got the greatest media notice was the union-busting “right-to-work” bill that Snyder put through the legislature after he said he had no interest in taking away union rights. No warning, no hearings, no public input, no floor debate—just two days between its passage and Snyder’s signing.

All private-sector and public-sector unions—except firefighters and police—are blocked from their rights. Maybe because the two exempted unions have a large number of Republicans? The law requires that employees cannot be required to pay union dues. The process not only weakens bargaining for better wages and working conditions but also limits the unions’ participation in elections.

The Koch brothers political machine and the conservative lobby group ALEC, which write bills for legislators, had been planning this action for months. The non-profit Mackinac Public Policy Center spent $5.7 million in 2011 alone to fight unions. The two major financiers of the company are Charles Koch and Dick DeVos, son of Amway’s founder and loser to Democrat Jennifer Granholm for governor in 2006.

Mackinac was also a major supporter of the “financial martial law” allowing “emergency financial managers” to take over municipalities and drive out the elected officials. Upset by this law, voters removed the Republican super-majority in the November election and overturned this law, forcing Snyder to work fast. After the people overturned the law, the legislature put it back—again including the managers’ ability to void union contracts and labor agreements.

These bills are harder to overturn with a ballot referendum because both are attached an appropriations measure.

Not content with attacking workers and elected officials, Snyder attacked women’s rights. The so-called “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act” states that “[h]ealth care providers could refuse to perform certain medical procedures, and employers could opt not to provide coverage for certain medical services as a matter of conscience.” The 1978 state law allows any medical professional and institution to refuse to perform abortions. Now they can refuse to provide contraception and “other services and medications that they oppose as a matter of conscience.”

Just in case the “Protection Act” doesn’t stop enough abortions, Michigan also passed an anti-abortion law which has been called “the nation’s worst.” Ms. reported, “HB 5711 requires that clinics meet the same standards and regulations as surgical centers and that fetal remains are to be treated the same as a dead human body, including authorization from the local or state registrar before cremation. The bill also requires that doctors provide a written ‘risk assessment’ to patients at least 24 hours before having a procedure and prohibits the use of telemedicine to prescribing abortion-inducing medication. Doctors will also have to certify that a woman is not being coerced into having an abortion by asking probing and invasive questions as a result of HB 5711.”

One House bill that failed was barring the use of “foreign laws that would impair constitutional rights”—the “anti-Sharia” bill.  The courts had already overturned a similar Oklahoma law that specifically mentioned Sharia. Some Michigan Republicans are still convinced that President Obama is a Muslim, bad because Rep. Dave Agema thinks “just about every terrorist is a Muslim.” Agema’s bill was similar to model legislation produced by David Yerushalmi, the conservative attorney who once urged the U.S. to declare war on Islam and referred to liberal Jews as “parasites.”

Other religious groups in the state, such as the Michigan Catholic Conference, opposed the bill because it might affect any religious group that chooses to enter into a contract based on their religious beliefs. After all, the Pope doesn’t live in the United States.

The only bill that Snyder vetoed was the right to carry concealed weapons in schools. He probably would have signed that one too if not for the 26 people killed in the Newtown (CT) school.

Snyder still has 23 months before his next election, but his popularity is plummeting, down nine points since the sweeping legislation. His disapproval rating is up 19 points. The question is how long the voters’ memories are.

Governors across the nation will undoubtedly follow Snyder’s actions during the last month. The result:

  • Severe economic problems because lower wages from union-breaking means that people will have less spending ability;
  • Fewer elected officials retaining the right to perform their responsibilities because governor-appointed managers will take over towns and cities;
  • More deaths from illegal abortions because of the severe restrictions on legal abortions;
  • A greater number of unwanted pregnancies from severe restrictions on clinics limiting contraception for poor women.

This next year, the Michigan House still has a GOP majority but not a super-majority. The irony is that Michigan has more Democrats than Republicans. It is the gerrymandering of districts following the 2010 census that  allowed the GOP majority to continue.

gerrymandering

 

The same thing happened in the U.S. House where the GOP controls almost 54 percent of the seats in the 113th Congressional House although they lost the popular vote by at least 1.2 million.

Some Republicans in the House report that they are willing to let taxes on the wealthy increase. They’re coming back to town in three days; we’ll see what they do then with one day left to overturn the law they passed 18 months ago.

August 22, 2012

Did You Lose Your Right to Vote?

Over 180 bills that restrict voting have been introduced in 41 states since the beginning of 2011; 34 states successfully passed such restrictions as mandating photo ID and limiting times when people can vote. Nowhere are these new laws more important than in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Although voting should be a constitutional right, the controls in different states limit the abilities of people to vote differently. People have different voting rights depending on where they live.

Initially conservatives tried to justify voter restriction by claiming massive voter fraud. Now, many admit that there’s no problem. An investigation of 2,068 purported cases of fraud during the last decade found only 10 cases of fraud among 146 million voters—one per 15 million voters. James O’Keefe, notorious for video stings, showed two supposed non-citizens voting. Both are actually U.S. citizens. Despite the falsehoods of his video, O’Keefe will be a Republican conference speaker at an exclusive luncheon where he will talk about “the role of the citizen journalist.”

Florida started purging their voting roles weeks ago with no apparent reason other than trying to hoping to keep more liberal voters from participating in the process. This was after Florida passed draconian laws preventing people from registering new voters. Then they moved forward in their attempts to limit students, seniors, and the poor from voting by curtailing the times that people could vote in the last election. A federal appeals court stopped the state from limiting early voting because it was determined racially discriminatory under the federal Voting Rights Act.

Because this act covers only five of Florida’s 67 counties, Tampa plus four other small counties, there is a question about what the state will do now. If the state fails to file an amended plan for Justice Department approval, the entire election reform bill will be struck down. Gov. Rick Scott persuaded four of the five states that voters would be fine with polls open for 12 hours during eight days of early voting. The fifth election supervisor, a Republican in the Florida Keys, is sticking to his guns, and Scott is threatening to fire him.

The state of Ohio isn’t covered by the Voting Rights Act so the Republicans in charge of county voting and the Republican secretary of state John Husted have limited early voting to 8:00 am-5:pm on weekdays. Doug Preisse, chair of the Franklin County Republican party, said, “We shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban, read African-American, voter-turnout machine.” Because many people who want to vote earlier also work during the day, 82 percent of those who cast their votes in the last election went to the polls during the now-banned times.

Politics got even nastier in Ohio when Husted, who had established the restrictive voting times, removed the two Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections. Because Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie, Sr., did not see any written prevention of weekend voting, they brought up the issue at the board meeting. A 2-2 tie along party lines sent the issue to Husted to settle where all the problems with voting times began. Because all county election boards are split 50-50 between Democrats and two Republicans, Republican Husted makes the final decision.

Husted’s letter to the country election board demanded that it rescind Lieberman’s motion and threatened them with being fired if they didn’t. Lieberman, an attorney and former county Democratic Party chair, refused to withdraw his motion, arguing both that his motion did not violate the directive and that it was best for local voters. Both Democrats were suspended; the two Republicans remained on the board.

In Pennsylvania, a Republican state court judge ruled that the new voter ID law is constitutional.  One of the lead plaintiffs, a 93-year-old woman, doesn’t have her birth certificate or any photo ID because her purse was stolen while she was shopping, but the Republican judge didn’t see this as a problem. Also the name on her birth certificate was different from that on other documents, a not unusual situation for any woman who changed her name after she married, but a situation that can keep her from voting. Since the lawsuit, election officials gave her an ID card, an illegal action for them, but she is just one of possibly 600,000 people who would have to go to extremes to gain the ability to vote for the first time in their lives.

Watching the Pennsylvania photo ID court case unfold was black comedy. Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai (R-PA) was very open about his opinion that photo ID would guarantee Mitt Romney’s election:  “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” The commonwealth’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett—the same guy who signed the measure into law—couldn’t remember what IDs he is making his constituents have to vote. During her testimony, Carole Aichele, secretary of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth, didn’t know what the law said but was positive that 99 percent of voters had valid identification. She just couldn’t provide an evidence for her claim.

The pre-hearing filing made all this very clear:

– There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania

– The state is not aware of any in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania

– The state will not offer any evidence that in-person voter fraud has occurred

– The state will not offer any evidence or argument that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in the absence of the photo ID law

According to the Supreme Court ruling in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, plaintiffs have to show that a law is unconstitutional—extremely difficult until it goes into effect. Gonzales v. Carhart requires the court to make the assumption that legislators make laws in good faith—frequently no longer true and certainly not true with the photo ID laws. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced the day after the ruling to keep photo IDs that he was dumping plans to let voters apply online for absentee ballots and register online to vote. During testimony in the case, the governor’s administration had promised to take these two actions, but, heck, they won. They don’t need to help people register to vote.

Fortunately, the Department of Justice is investigating the effects of the Pennsylvania law.

In Massachusetts, Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) protested a federal voter registration law. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, sometimes called the Motor Voter bill, mandates that citizens be offered the opportunity to register to vote when they get a driver’s license or apply for social services. Sued for lack of compliance, the Commonwealth settled the case out of court and agreed to contact by mail 477,944 welfare recipients who might have been denied their right to be offered a chance to register to vote. Because the daughter of Elizabeth Warren, Scott’s opponent, is chair of one of the boards that sued, Brown made this statement:

“I want every legal vote to count, but it’s outrageous to use taxpayer dollars to register welfare recipients as part of a special effort to boost one political party over another. This effort to sign up welfare recipients is being aided by Elizabeth Warren’s daughter and it’s clearly designed to benefit her mother’s political campaign. It means that I’m going to have to work that much harder to get out my pro-jobs, pro-free enterprise message.”

One conservative governor deserves praise. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, known for appointing removing democracy from towns and schools in his state by appointing emergency managers, vetoed voter suppression laws. In his veto statement, he wrote that “voting rights are precious.”

Conservatives that lose the voter restrictions might be able to rig the election through computers. The swing states of Pennsylvania and Virginia use paperless systems that cannot do recounts and have no way to recover lost votes. Two large suburban counties around Denver (CO) also have no audit trail. Much of Ohio and Nevada use touchscreen electronic machines that print a cash register-like record of votes; Ohio does require polls to have backup paper ballots. Printouts from these computers, however, may not be the legal equivalent of a paper ballot marked by a voter if a recount is necessary.

Other swing states, such as Florida, North Carolina, and much of New Hampshire, scan paper ballots that may miss votes. Earlier this year, Palm Beach County (FL) scanners identified the wrong winner in two local contests, an error not discovered until a routine audit the next week. In 2010, Humboldt County (CA) officials finally figured out that when they re-scanned batches of mail-in ballots that the previous batch count was erased. The manufacturer knew about that problem but hadn’t told a new local election official. In the recent New York City congressional primary involving Rep. Charlie Rangel, officials failed to record all of the results from optical scan tabulators causing some precincts to report zero votes.

Computers also allow gatekeepers to magically “discover” more votes after an election.. Such was the case with Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus who personally got David Prosser his place on the Wisconsin Supreme Court because she was the only person in charge of the computers that “found” 7,582 votes for him, two days after the election, just enough for Prosser to win the election without a recount. Wisconsin’s state’s attorney general announced yesterday that he is filing a petition to the Supreme Court to place a harsh state photo identification law—already ruled unconstitutional by two Wisconsin judges—into effect before the November election.

When he signed the Voting Rights Act 47 years ago, President Johnson called the right to vote “the basic right without which all others are meaningless.” It seems that Republicans beg to differ.

August 3, 2012

Michigan Voters Win

Ten days ago, I wrote about how petitioners in Michigan went to the state’s Supreme Court to get a referendum on the ballot after it was refused by the Board of Canvassers in a partisan 2-2 deadlock. Their petition was to overturn the state’s emergency financial manager law that has allowed towns and school districts to be taken over and run by Gov. Rick Snyder’s appointees, disenfranchising the voters who selected the people who Snyder deposed.

The Board of Canvassers ruled against the petitions on the basis that they had  the wrong type font size despite the petitions’ approval bythe state’s Board of Elections. The state requirement for font size is 14 point. Petitioners used a Calibri font, making the 14-point size unacceptable to challengers. To see how hard the anti-referendum people fought to keep a legitimate referendum off the ballot, the ten pages following p. 16 of the Opinion make for good reading.

The petitioners won! In a 4-3 decision, the judges ruled today that the petitions met the state requirements and can be certified for November’s election. One of the four Republican judges broke from the other three to join the Democrats. The immediate result is that the law, which has been used for over a year, is now frozen for the next three months until the Michigan voters determine its outcome.

Putting the law in limbo creates confusing implications for towns and school districts that had lost its local leadership. In Muskegon Heights school district, the new emergency manager privatized all the schools into a charter system. In Benton Harbor, the new emergency manager sold the local park, donated to the city a century ago, to a wealthy developer. Three holes of the private golf course are already in place.

In Detroit schools, the new emergency manager ordered a ceiling of 61 students in every class. For the past two years he fired all the teachers. This year he has forced any rehired teachers to follow his personal contract with greatly reduced teacher pay and refused any negotiations with the teachers. Detroit leaders slashed the city workforce to avoid Snyder’s assigning the city an emergency manager. The question is whether this agreement will stand because it was done under duress.

Flint, Pontiac, and Ecorse all have governor-appointed emergency managers as do public schools in Detroit and Highland Park. River Rouge and Inkster also have consent agreements to avoid an emergency manager.

Snyder said that the emergency managers will remain because an earlier law will go into effect. Challengers said differently, meaning that question will almost certainly go to court. The earlier law did not allow as much latitude for the manager in breaking contracts and removing pensions.

The repeal side is behind by 10 percentage points, but 20 percent of voters are undecided. A November vote at least gives people the right to determine their fate rather than handing it over to the governor’s appointees.

July 24, 2012

GOP Vision for America

Yesterday I had breakfast with a friend who used to be a Republican, and I realized how lucky Democrats are these days. Not everyone in the party is  enamored with everything that Obama does, and the Democrat lawmakers are sometimes irritating. But the old-guard Republicans are lost.

During our discussion she said, “I’ve lost my party! I don’t tell anybody that I’m a Republican any more. I say that I’m an independent.” So I thought about the Republican vision for the United States: miserly, selfish, controlling, and violent. Conservatives are changing the United States from the “can do” to the “won’t do” beliefs.

Violence, of course, comes from the conservatives’ attitude toward gun control. It’s not just that they want everybody to have one or two guns in the house to protect themselves and use for recreational hunting. Instead, they want everyone to have as much fire power as they can afford to buy without considering that a restriction in this–or even licensing guns–might result in fewer deaths. The recently deposed head of the Arizona state senate, Russell Pearce, accuses the people in the Aurora (CO) theater of being cowards for not taking down the young man with four weapons and unlimited rounds for them at his disposal.

As for the current war in Afghanistan, the one that costs us $88.5 a year and where the country wants us to leave, the House managed to debate our situation there—for one hour. That’s all the nation’s destiny is worth to these people.

The conservatives’ craving for control has been clearly shown through the conservatives’ drive to eradicate unions, primarily for teachers, and contraception availability. Both these destroy salaries for women because teaching has been one place in the past where women can come closer to achieving economic equality. Without a decent salary, without the fair pay act which would require that women are paid the same as men for the same work, and without the chance to avoid pregnancy, women are losing the ability to stay out of poverty, where the conservatives think that they don’t deserve help. They want to control women.

Another control from the Republicans is the rash of laws mandating restrictive photo IDs for voting. Initially conservatives said the purpose was to prevent voter fraud, but by now they are admitting, as all sane people knew, that there was no fraud. Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai said,  “[…] Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Conservatives simply tried to remove as many progressive voters from participating in the election as possible.

Michigan is now a prime battleground against Republican control of municipalities and school districts by dictators appointed by the governor. The process started over a year ago with Public Act 4, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, that extended emergency manager laws. In Michigan, an emergency manager gives all orders in the town or school district and can break contracts and fire elected officials. The first city that Snyder took over, in the name of fiscal problems, was a tiny, largely black town because a wealthy developer wanted to build a golf course on a public park along the lake.

In protest to the Michigan law, a coalition called Stand Up for Democracy submitted 226,000 signatures for a referendum to overturn the law. They needed just under 162,000, and the Bureau of Elections found 203,238 valid signatures. Another organization challenged the petitions on the basis of wrong font size. The Republicans on the Board of Canvassers succeeded in declaring all petitions invalid. Last month the state Court of Appeals ruled that the signatures should be accepted, allowing a public vote in November. That decision has been appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court which will hear the case tomorrow. Part of the debate will be how the “point” and “type” should be measured, whether by size of the printer’s block or the actual printed character. This comes from the anti-regulation party.

In its supposed craving for austerity, conservative lawmakers have one response for any action that would help the country: we can’t afford it. And they use this excuse with no justification. Health care won’t bankrupt the country as demonstrated by all the other countries with universal health care, but we can be bankrupted with escalating costs and a sick workforce with lost work days and productivity. In fact, repealing the health care act will cost the country $109 billion that the taxpayers will save if we keep the law. The World Health Organization reports that the United States spends 16 percent of its GDP, the highest portion of any country, on health care but ranks 37th out of 191 countries in performance. By contrast the United Kingdom spends 6 percent of its GDP but rates 18th in performance, almost 20 places higher than the U.S.

Social Security isn’t bankrupting the country; it just needs some tweaking the way that President Reagan did 30 years ago. And green energy isn’t too expensive; it hasn’t bankrupted Denmark. Start-up costs for anything are more expensive as the country found out with technology such as television and computers. This area combines austerity with selfishness because those huge corporations that present everyone with high utility bills, charge high gas prices, and give everyone dirty air and water don’t want to lose their customers. Republicans keep talking about all the money that the government lost in solar companies going bankrupt. Facts show companies lost less than 4 percent of the total program funding for alternative energy. Because Chinese companies got massive government subsidies, they were able to flood the U.S. market with solar equipment. Yet this is the time to continue the program because the drop in prices because of Chinese solar panels greatly reduces installation costs.

In its austerity, conservatives balk at providing sufficient education for the nation’s young people. In 2003 the US ranked 15th of 29 in reading literacy, 21st of 30 in scientific literacy, 25th of 30 in mathematics, 24th of 29 in problem solving. Conservatives claim that the United States has bad teachers as conservative lawmakers continue to starve the schools and increase the number of students in classes. The United States conservatives also want to charge high interest rates on student loans for higher education while Europe and Russia have tuition-free colleges and universities free to reduce the shortage of workers in specific fields.

In their selfishness, conservatives frequently avoid addressing a need. The farm bill expires on September 30, but House Republican leaders don’t plan to do anything about it. The bill would save $35 billion during the next 10 years, but Republicans don’t want to touch it until after the November election—an attitude that they seem to have for any legislative activity. Nothing like this has happened for at least a half century. Doing this will put the farmers suffering from the worst drought since the middle of the last century with Medicare doctors whose pay will run out, fired workers who worry about jobless benefits, and possibly millions of families whose tax breaks may expire. The Senate has already approved its farm bill so that the House needs to stop whining about the Senate not taking any action.

If the conservatives want to save the country, they need to take a hard look at the defense budget. The United States not only spends more money than any other country but also spends more than the next 14 nations combined. This nation’s military budget accounts for 41% of the total military spending in the entire world. This is the conservatives’ “dream for America.” T

April 20, 2011

GOP “Small Government”

Conservatives pride themselves on pushing for smaller and smaller government whereas liberals are known for “big government” (aka regulations that help people be safer and more comfortable). But just look at some examples of the GOP’s “small government” concepts.

Imagine that you lived in a town that could be taken over by the state with no voter rights. That’s what happened in Michigan after GOP Governor Rick Snyder signed, on March 16, the Local Government and School District Financial Accountability Act. The law gives the governor the right to rule towns and cities with neither legislative oversight nor residents’ consent. By declaring that the town or city is in financial distress, he can legally appoint an emergency manager, answerable only to the governor. This person can then dismiss elected officials, close or reorganize schools, alter or abolish government contracts and collective bargaining agreements, control taxes and spending and even dissolve the town as if it never existed.

It seemed impossible that this would actually happen, but Gov. Snyder did exactly that when he appointed Joseph L. Harris as Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) of Benton Harbor, Michigan. With that appointment, elected officials are permitted only to call meetings to order, approve minutes, and adjourn meetings. Why would Gov. Snyder want to do this? When Whirlpool closed its plants and decided to convert old manufacturing land into Harbor Shores, a $500 million golf course and residential development, the development company wanted Jean Klock Park, a beautiful shoreline donated as a park for the public good and a children’s park in 1917.

The bill that allowed Gov. Snyder to take over Benton Harbor was sponsored by Al Pscholka, who has some interesting connections to the town. The former aid to Congressman Fred Upton, a Whirlpool heir, he represents the area that includes Benton Harbor, he is the former vice-president of the development company responsible for building Harbor Shores, and he was on the Board of Directors for a nonprofit involved in the Harbor Shores development.

Once appointed, EFM Joseph Harris didn’t waste any time in moving ahead with his plans. He first replaced people on the Benton Harbor Planning Commission, involved in decision-making about Benton Harbor real estate development, with his personal choices. These hand-picked people decide who gets permits, what the developments will look like, and who gets the best parts of Benton Harbor.

This is just the beginning. Snyder has over 200 EFMs in training, just waiting to take over more Michigan towns and cities. Financial distress in Michigan cities and towns will increase greatly because the state is withdrawing its support of them. And the mainstream national media is not reporting this!

As evident by the sweeping tide of union-breaking across the United States after Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker started his devastation, a conservative idea in one state moves to another. Although Walker says that he doesn’t intend to follow Michigan’s example, a business group in Milwaukee is pushing to stress tests for municipalities, euphemism for erasing elected officials in Wisconsin. Over a dozen states are considering a similar law. Your state could be next.

The federal budget has been settled for this year (which ends in September), but the conflict continues, first with deciding whether to raise the deficit and then to determine next year’s budget. Much has been said in the past few weeks about Rep. Paul Ryan’s recommendation for a budget that removes money for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. while lowering tax rates for the wealthiest people in the U.S. (Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, is from Wisconsin. What is there about Wisconsin!?)

A letter-writer to The Oregonian (Portland, OR) comments that watching Eric Cantor cradling “The Path to Prosperity” document reminds him of the Twilight Zone episode about the advanced alien race landing on Earth. As they promise benevolence and peace, they also have a handbook, ”To Serve Man.” That particular handbook is a recipe book.  He concludes, “Space ships which took Americans on vacations to the beautiful alien homeworld were on ‘the path to prosperity’ for alien restauranteurs and marketers of fresh or frozen food, creating jobs jobs jobs!”

Ryan’s plan, The Roadmap for America’s Future, would give the most affluent households very large tax cuts by reducing income tax rates on high-income households; eliminating income taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest; and abolishing the corporate income tax, the estate tax, and the alternative minimum tax. The Ryan plan would cut in half the taxes of the richest 1 percent of Americans—those with incomes exceeding $633,000 (in 2009 dollars) in 2014. Households with incomes of more than $1 million would receive an average annual tax cut of $502,000. The richest one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans—those whose incomes exceed $2.9 million a year—would receive an average tax cut of $1.7 million a year on top of those from the Bush tax cuts.

At the same time, the Ryan plan would raise taxes for most middle-income families, privatize a substantial portion of Social Security, eliminate the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, end traditional Medicare and most of Medicaid, and terminate the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The plan would replace these health programs with a system of vouchers whose value would erode over time and thus would purchase health insurance that would cover fewer and fewer health care services in the future.

To offset some of the cost of these massive tax cuts, the Ryan plan would place a new consumption tax on most goods and services. About three-quarters of Americans—those with incomes between $20,000 and $200,000—would face tax increases. For example, households with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 would face an average tax increase of $900. The shift tax in burdens proposed by The Roadmap for America’s Future from the wealthy to the middle class results in people with incomes over $1 million paying much smaller percentages of their income in federal taxes.

How successful will this plan be? There are suggestions that this “roadmap to poverty” will destroy the conservatives.

Remember Arizona and its SB1070 that plans to identify illegal immigrants without profiling? (More small government?) Their latest ploy seems to be too much even for conservative Gov. Jan Brewer. Last Monday, she vetoed two bills: one would have allowed firearms onto parts of college campuses, and the other, referred to as the “birther bill,” would have mandated certain “proofs” of US citizenship for candidates running for president. The latter would have accepted a “circumcision certificate” if a long form of the birth certificate was not submitted. Is is the circumcision certificate that stopped her? Or is it the fact that John McCain might have trouble passing the “birther” law because his birth certificate was issued by the Panama Canal Health Department?

This “birther bill” concept is catching on across the nation. Thirty-seven states are considering it, and some are coming very close. Louisiana’s bill extends the birth certificate requirement to U.S. Congressional candidates. Another state wants not only the candidates’ birth certificate but also those of the candidates’ parents. And running on the birther wave, Donald Trump has a 52 percent approval rate from voting Republicans.

Unfair taxation is the topic of Iris Van Rynback and Pegi Deitz Shea’s picture book, The Taxing Case of the Cows:  A True Story about Suffrage, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Clarion, 2010).  One-hundred years after the American Revolution, women could not vote—but they could be taxed.  Sisters Abby, 72, and Julia, 77, Smith believed that this was taxation without representation, especially when town leaders taxed them an additional amount because they were single female landowners.  Their fight that began in 1869 lasted seven years during which time the sisters continually lost their cows and bought them back at auction.  They also had to sue the town for confiscating their home; supporters helped them financially by selling bouquets of flowers and hair from the cows’ tails with a black ribbon with the words “Taxation without Representation.”  These two “older” sisters show that anyone can fight unfair taxes, even when they may not think they have the backing to do so.

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