Nel's New Day

July 30, 2017

Faith-Based Economy Equals Scorched Earth

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 8:57 PM
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After destroying Kansas, its governor, Sam Brownback, is moving on—at least as long as he doesn’t offend Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Brownback has now been nominated as the at-large ambassador to head the State’s Office of International Religious Freedom. The position was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 created the ambassador position which was held by Christians until 2014 when President Obama nominated Rabbi David Saperstein. The Senate approved him in a 61-35 vote.

As ambassador, Brownback would be responsible for a human rights platform and outreach to the diverse religious groups in the United States. Other responsibilities are to support minorities facing persecution or discrimination throughout the world. For example, ambassadors have been on the side of Muslims in Burma. The arch-conservative Brownback has signed a meaningless ban on Shariah law, warred against separation of church and states in public schools and everywhere else, and officially promoted Christian events and programming. He signed a bill in 2013 that states the government may not “substantially burden a person’s civil right to exercise of religion.” In 2015, Brownback signed an executive order rescinding discrimination protections for state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2016, he signed legislation that prohibits the state’s universities from taking action against religious organizations on campuses that restrict membership to students that adhere to the group’s religious beliefs or “comply with the association’s sincere religious standards of conduct.”

Brownback decided to turn Kansas around in an economic “experiment” that drastically cut taxes, slashed public investments, and then expected prosperity to flow throughout the state. He eliminated the state’s top income tax bracket, exempted many businesses from any income tax, lowered the sales tax, and eradicated individual and corporate income tax. Yet there was no prosperity.

In 2012, Brownback said that his experiment could show what would happen in comparison to neighboring states that had not lowered taxes. Since 2013, Kansas has seen private sector employment rise only 3.5 percent, compared to 7.6 percent nationally and the lowest of its neighbors. Total employment is worse—2.6 percent in Kansas compared to 6.5 percent nationally. GDP growth has stayed flat compared to blue states such as California with 3.2 percent and Oregon at 2.5 percent growth. Hospitals completely closed and schools closed early because of the radical cuts in health care and education. Kansas government expenses are expected to outpace income by $1.1 billion through June 2019. Kansas pays a high interest rate on borrowings because its bond rating has been downgraded twice.

Brownback’s tax cuts caused average taxes to go up $200 for the one-fifth of the state’s households that make less than $23,000 a year while the richest one percent saved $25,000 a year. One health insurance company moved its headquarters across the river to Missouri. Brownback “saved” $400,000 by closing services for low-income children and developmentally disabled in Lawrence and then spent the same about in a legal vendetta against the Kansas Bioscience Authority. Brownback started hiding his economic reports that he promised would show the impact of the state’s economic laws. Last year, he killed the report entirely with the claim that it was so complicated that people couldn’t understand it.

The state’s revenue estimates are consistently and massively lower than estimates, leading to cuts to state agencies and reductions in government services. He took $2 billion from highway funding to make up for a budget hold. The budget could be in even worse shape if the Supreme Court orders hundreds of millions of dollars in additional education spending. that court has twice ruled that the budget allocates insufficient funding for public schools. The state does fund private charter schools.

Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation and trickle-down supporter Arthur Laffer have declared the Kansas “experiment” a success by using inaccurate data and highly selective, misleading information about unemployment and job creation.

GOP disasters in Kansas aren’t just fiscal: last year a bill permitted impeachment of any judge who opposed a legislative law. Before that bill, Brownback signed a bill that removes funding from the judiciary if a state court strikes down a 2014 law a 2014 law removing some powers from the State Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court struck down the law. Brownback also signed a bill permitting the Secretary of State Kris Kobach to prosecute someone for voter fraud even if prosecutors choose not to proceed in the cases. Of 18,000 accusations, Kobach convicted nine people, most of whom didn’t understand that they couldn’t vote on local issues in two different states where they had homes. Kobach is now the leader of a federal voter fraud (aka suppression?) commission. Kansas represents what Charles Pierce called the potential of unchecked GOP policies from Tea Party dominance.

Religious diversity’s loss is Kansas’ gain. After his “experiment” in trickle-down poverty, the state legislature overrode Brownback’s veto a few weeks ago to repeal the draconian tax cuts. In the last election, 13 additional Democrats were elected to the legislature, and several conservatives lost to moderate Republicans. Brownback’s gubernatorial approval rating has fallen to 25 percent, tied with New Jersey’s Chris Christopher for the bottom of the heap.

What happens in Kansas now is anyone’s guess. Brownback’s replacement, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, was a key player in the decision to privatize the state’s Medicaid system. Colyer called KanCare a success for saving money, but funding problems left providers without reimbursements. Last January, the federal government rejected the state’s request to extend KanCare because it didn’t meet standards and risked the health and safety of enrollees. Kansas has no system for reporting and tracking critical incidents and no data to show that unexpected deaths were investigated within mandatory timeframes. The program delayed eligibility, cut coverage, and increased caseloads.

Kobach calls Colyer a “good guy.” He said that he wished Brownback had won in his “battle … to preserve the tax cuts.”

Brownback’s approach in Kansas represents the GOP faith—indeed, a religion—in a system that consistently fails. The days that Republicans revere, the mid-twentieth century, was a time of great progressive taxation when the highest income tax rates topped 90 percent. As the taxes have shrunk, the income inequality in the nation has put most of the money in the hands of the top ten percent with the top one percent benefitting the most. The faith in trickle-down comes from the wealthy who can’t argue that they want tax cuts to get more money. When the faith in tax cuts is joined deregulation for the powerful, the result is wage suppression for everyone outside the golden circle.

Some conservative states have taken notice of Kansas’ failure in its “experiment” and consider tax hikes. Eight states, including Tennessee and Arizona, may raise gas taxes, and Nebraska is going more deeply in raising sales taxes to make up for falling income taxes.

Brownback’s failure in his religion of tax cuts may factor into the grand GOP plan to give massive tax cuts to the wealthy across the United States while increasing them for everyone else.  Every time that DDT makes a radical decision, he falsely claims it will save taxpayers money. In his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement he falsely claimed that saving the climate would cost $3 trillion in GDP and “6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income….” His numbers came from an isolated report, not a cost-benefit analysis, that omitted fiscal benefits of reduced emissions which could be as much as $4.5 trillion. The health insurance industry attributes the volatility and instability currently provided by the federal government to its departures from the marketplace, not the failure to turn a profit. DDT’s excuse for throwing out transgender service members was to save money–$5.4 million out of a $790 billion budget.

Republicans want Kansas’ faith-based experiment to be a model for the federal government. Like Kansas, the U.S. would then have a stagnant economy, failing job growth, falling personal income, massive budget shortfalls, loss of healthcare coverage, and significant delays in health care services. What the United States needs is the California model where the economy grew by 4.1 percent, and the budget surplus is nearly $900 million.

April 26, 2017

Announcement of Tax ‘Reform’ (aka Tax Cuts for Wealthy) to Cover for Flynn, Trumpcare

Almost all the news today has been about the new tax plan from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). The time is probably to divert media coverage from the scandal surrounding DDT’s former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, and the struggles of the new Trumpcare health plan that he said would pass the House today. At this time, the conservative Freedom Caucus is on board with Trumpcare because it removes healthcare from many people, but the moderates haven’t confirmed that they will vote for it yet. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has enough trouble figuring out how to keep the government open past Friday without passing the budget that has not even been considered.

Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell under George W. Bush, said that Flynn is either “one of the dumbest individuals who’s ever lived or … he really had some nefarious purposes.” Even GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chair of the Oversight Committee, admitted that Flynn might not have complied with the law, but he blamed former President Obama after DDT refuses to reveal any documents about vetting, hiring, and dismissing Flynn for his 24-day tenure with the current White House administration. Flynn became the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012 but left in 2014, over a year before he took the undisclosed payment from Russia’s state-owned news agency, Russia Today, in December 2015. Chaffetz has said that he won’t be running for re-election in 2018 and that he may resign from Congress before that.

By “nefarious purposes,” Wilkerson wrote that he meant activities ranging from “taking money for influencing your government on behalf of another government, to using your influence with the President and his cabinet on an issue for another government whom you are privately advising, even if pro bono. “The $33,000 that Flynn received for a speaking engagement in December 2015 was not on his application. Chaffetz said.

“I see no evidence or no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law. He was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from both the secretary of state and the secretary of the Army prior to traveling to Russia to not only accept that payment, but to engage in that activity.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), top minority member on the Oversight Committee, said that Flynn’s negligence on his SF86 forms could be punished by up to five years in prison but that decision was not up to the congressional committee. Flynn’s secret conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, is being investigated by the House Intelligence Committee, which Chaffetz said would take the lead on examining whether those contacts themselves were inappropriate. Last month, he asked for immunity in exchange for immunity from prosecution, but neither committee has accepted his offer.

Another high official, DDT’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has also filed applications with omissions such as dozens of foreign contacts, including those with Kislyak and Russian bank CEO Sergey Gorkov in December. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted earlier this week:

“Dear Jared Kushner: Lying on the SF-86 security clearance form is a crime. Michael Flynn hired a lawyer. You may also want to hire a lawyer.”

Back to the tax plan. Here it is—all 226 words, including the title:

 

2017 Tax Reform for Economic Growth and American Jobs

The Biggest Individual And Business Tax Cut in American History

Goals for Tax Reform

  • Grow the economy and create millions of jobs
  • Simplify our burdensome tax code
  • Provide tax relief to American families—especially middle-income families
  • Lower the business tax rate from one of the highest in the world to one of the lowest
  • Individual Reform

Tax relief for American families, especially middle-income families:

  • Reducing the 7 tax brackets to 3 tax brackets for 10%, 25% and 35%
  • Doubling the standard deduction
  • Providing tax relief for families with child and dependent care expenses

Simplification:

  • Eliminate targeted tax breaks that mainly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers.
  • Protect the home ownership and charitable gift tax deductions.
  • Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax.
  • Repeal the death tax.
  • Repeal the 3.8% Obamacare tax that hits small businesses and investment income.

Business Reform:

  • 15% business tax rate
  • Territorial tax system to level the playing field for American companies
  • One-time tax on trillions of dollars held overseas
  • Eliminate tax breaks for special interests

Process:

Throughout the month of May, the Trump administration will hold listening sessions with stakeholders to receive their input and will continue working with the House and Senate to develop the details of a plan that provides massive tax relief, creates jobs, and makes America more competitive — and can pass both chambers.

 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed that 100 people in his department worked on the tax plan, making it about two words per person. Lily Batchelder, former chief tax counsel of the Senate Finance committee, tweeted that the plan was “immensely costly and regressive.”

Benefitting from DDT’s plan are the popular “pass-through entities,” 94 percent of all companies in the nation by 2011, that distribute profits among owners instead of paying corporate taxes. Owners then have these profits taxed as normal income. This organization is popular not only with small companies but also highly profitable ones such as major law firms, hedge funds, and real estate developers. The Trump Organization is a pass-through that would greatly benefit from DDT’s plan, as would all his friends. At this time, 70 percent of income from these corporations goes to the top one percent of people in the nation. Today, Mnuchin said that the new 15-percent rate would be only for small and medium-sized businesses with no definition of “medium.” A business worth $5 million is considered “small.” The plan would allow high-wage workers into pass-through entities by setting themselves up as S corporations to “sell” their freelance services.

A comparison to DDT’s tax plan is Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts in Kansas which ended up being a monumental failure. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded and suffers from an ongoing budget crisis, including horrific cuts in such vital areas as education, from a $1.1 billion shortfall. The GOP is now rebelling against the governor, voting to undo the cuts and almost overruling Brownback’s veto. When Kansas completely exempted pass-through profits from state income tax, a large number of people filed for the break, but few new jobs were created. In 2016, Kansas had the fifth worst employment growth in the nation, and its economy has grown at half the national rate. The state’s credit rating has been downgraded and suffers from an ongoing budget crisis, including horrific cuts in such vital areas as education, from a $1.1 billion shortfall. The GOP is now rebelling against the governor, voting to undo the cuts and almost overruling Brownback’s veto.

Research showed that the Kansas plan, now proposed for the United States, merely encourages people to play the system. DDT’s system could take 20 percent from their taxes According to the conservative Tax Foundation, dropping the rate to 15 percent would reduce government revenue by $2 trillion over a decade, or about 5 percent. Allowing pass-throughs to pay the lower rate would add another $1.5 trillion loss of revenue to the country. DDT claims that his plan will increase economic growth. Alan Cole, a staff economist for the Tax Foundation, stated that the country’s annual growth rate could add about 0.12 percent, which, he said, isn’t a good trade for a cost of $1.5 trillion. “This would be Kansas on steroids,” Eric Toder, co-director of the Tax Policy Center, said about DDT’s plan.

Without looking at DDT’s tax returns, we can almost guarantee that he would vastly benefit from his tax plan. He reports owning more than 200 LLCs, and his approximately 500 businesses are almost all pass-throughs. So much for his promises of helping the “little guys.”

September 4, 2015

What the GOP Stands For

The GOP consistently asserts that it’s the party of values, that the Democrats lack morality and integrity. Here are some examples of their values from just the past week.

GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush opposes almost everything that his opponent Donald Trump represents and attacks Trump for supporting Planned Parenthood, tax increases, single-payer health insurance, and Democrats. Meanwhile Trump trashes Bush about his “love” for immigrants, speaking Spanish, and being weak. When asked if he would support Trump if the business mogul won the GOP nomination, Bush said, “Of course.” He can abandon all of his ideals because “we need to be unified. We need to win.” Trump has signed the “pledge” to support the winning GOP candidate, but it’s not legally binding.

Trickle-down Trumpism” has hit Nevada: as Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), a senate candidate, wants to make doing away with birthright citizenship, “part of the discussion,” as far-right Republicans so quaintly describe their opposition to the 14th Amendment. Nevada is one of five states with the largest numbers of Hispanic voters. Heck also opposes Medicare, minimum-wage increases, reproductive rights, and Social Security.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who plans to speak in the upcoming rally opposing the Iran agreement, sees nothing wrong about his own preemptive Iraq War that killed hundreds of thousands and cost the United States trillions of dollars. About that invasion, he said:

“It was the right thing to do then. I believed it then and I believe it now. No apologies.”

He also wants to go to war with ISIS because they may have weapons of mass destruction—another several trillion dollars lost to the United States.

As he is wont to do, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker claimed and then disclaimed something, this time that a border wall on the Canadian border of the U.S. should be considered because it is a “legitimate issue.” He never said that, claimed the GOP presidential candidate after millions of people heard him on last Sunday’s Meet the Press. It was a joke, he said, because millions of people were outraged by his foreign policy strategy.

Chief video editor James O’Keefe, who managed to kill ACORN through falsified videos, has gone after Hillary Clinton. At a press conference, he claimed his hidden video cameras by Project Veritas caught two senior Clinton campaign officials accepting illegal contributions from a foreign citizen. The video shows Campaign staffers turned away a Canadian customer at a Clinton rally because financial support for U.S. campaigns can come only from residents in the U.S., but a Project Veritas employee took $40 from the Canadian woman and bought her the t-shirt plus another $35 worth of merchandise. Project Veritas wants its $35 back and people to believe that Clinton violated the campaign-finance laws.

A project attorney admitted that the staff who bought the merchandise broke the law but said it shouldn’t count. According to the Federal Election Commission’s campaign finance laws, people cannot “knowingly provide substantial assistance” by “acting as a conduit or intermediary for foreign national contributions and donations.” In Roman mythology, Veritas (the name of O’Keefe’s project) was the goddess of truth and mother of Virtue.

Once the United States was proud to be a “melting pot” of cultures, but the GOP wants to eradicate the concept. Rick Santorum, whose father was born in Italy, ridiculed the value of diversity in the United States, a viewpoint popular with conservatives. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) blamed “diversity in America” for gun violence, using the “murder in Virginia” as an example. Vester Flanagan, the man allegedly behind the “murder in Virginia,” was born in Oakland, California.Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose mother was pregnant when she arrived in the United States, said, “Immigration without assimilation is invasion.”

Kansas started a downward spiral when Sam Brownback became governor with a GOP legislature four years ago and stripped the state of most of its funding. When schools sued the state for adequate funding, the legislature passed a law removing authority for the state Supreme Court to appoint chief judges for the state’s judicial districts. This year’s budget declared that any court striking down this law would stop funding for the entire court system throughout the state. A district judge has just struck down the law because state constitution sets broad standards that the legislature must meet.

Kansas AG Derek Schmidt plans to carry through the removal of all funding for the courts. Attorney Pedro Irigonegaray stated, “Without funding, our state courts would close, criminal cases would not be prosecuted, civil matters would be put on hold, real estate could not be bought or sold, adoptions could not be completed.” A stay has been granted until the state Supreme Court can hear an appeal. Thanks to Brownback’s generosity to corporations and the wealthy while raising property taxes, Kansas has lost jobs and suffers billions of dollars of debt.  A report from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities called the state “a cautionary tale, not a model” because it’s remained in the recession and declining even further. At one time, Brownback aspired to the White House.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a GOP presidential candidate sometimes considered less nuts than his opponents, has a goal for his desired presidency: put the name of McKinley back on Alaska’s Mt. Denali. That was the mountain’s name, meaning “the high one” in Athabaskan language, until 1896 when the gold miner who “discovered” it wanted it named after the champion of the gold standard. McKinley never visited Alaska, and most people don’t know anything about him except for his assassination six months into his presidency. In American Place-Names, George R. Stewart wrote, “The original naming [McKinley] was little more than a joke.”

Alaska changed the name back to Denali in 1975, but Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH) blocked the change in Congress until 2009 when his colleagues took up the battle. By keeping the legislation pending, the Board of Geographic Names couldn’t make a change, a protocol and not a law. Fortunately, a 1947 law gave the Secretary of the Interior the power when “the Board does not act within a reasonable time,” now 40 years. Incensed, Regula is calling the president a dictator. Ohio evidently considers the name change of vital importance for the United States.

In less than two weeks (September 16), at least ten GOP presidential candidates will stand on a stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to engage in a debate sponsored by CNN. That’s “at least ten” because Carly Fiorina may have browbeat the cable network to let her participate. Since the August 6 debate, Fiorina has done well in the polls, but the ones before that debate kept her out of the main event.  CNN refused to change the guidelines, saying that it would be illegal, until they changed the guidelines. Nobody previously included could be bumped, but Fiorina might be added in what could be called “the Fiorina addendum.” The GOP is delighted because having a woman on the stage might make them look slightly better.

No week would be complete without Fox network idiocy. The Black Lives Matter movement is a “criminal organization,” according to Tom Shillue. He said that “it’s time to arrest the leaders” and “people are drunk on rights in this country.” An onscreen banner during Fox & Friends described it as a murder movement, and Elizabeth Hasselback asked why Black Lives Matter was not labeled as a hate group, trying to falsely connect the death of Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth (TX) to the movement. Frequent guest David Clarke, a Wisconsin law enforcement officer, said President Obama “breathed life into an ugly movement.” Shannon Miles, who killed Goforth, has a criminal history and was declared mentally incompetent in 2012 but has no connection to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The biggest irony of the week? (And that’s hard to pick!) Sen. Rand Paul, sort of Libertarian and GOP presidential candidate who opposes government surveillance, has provided the masses with an app for a selfie with him. Installing it will give his campaign permission to follow the person with a GPS and find the person’s social media accounts.

Media and ignorance is driving the decisions of many Republicans, and these are the results. A new Public Policy Polling shows that 51 percent of GOP voters want to eliminate birthright citizenship, 54 percent think President Obama is a Muslim, and only 29 percent believe he was born in the United States. Meanwhile, 40 percent think that Ted Cruz, born in Canada, was born in the United States. Only 14 percent of Republicans are convinced that the president is a Christian; even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he doesn’t know. Trump’s supporters have even higher percentages about these issues: 66 percent believe President Obama is a Muslim, 61 percent say he wasn’t born in the United States, and 63 percent want to amend the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of bigotry and stupidity from the past week.

June 9, 2015

June Pot-pourri

Best news of the week: The gun-friendly Supreme Court may understand that enough is enough. In refusing to hear the case Jackson v. City and County of San Francisco, the Supremes have let stand a lower-court ruling that gun owners are required to keep their guns “well-regulated” by locking them up. Still standing is a 2007 San Francisco regulation requiring all guns to be locked up, disabled, and/or controlled by a trigger lock when stored in a home. The two dissenting justices are Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. A gun in the home increases the likelihood of gun related deaths, including accidental deaths, and injuries and death to children. The lower-court ruling came from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which covers my beloved state of Oregon.

Speaking fees from the GOP president: While conservatives rant about the “Clinton Cash scandal” when Hillary Clinton donates her speaking fees to charity, they ignore George W. Bush, who has been given $100,000 to $175,000 for over 200 paid speeches, putting the money into his personal account as he continues to “replenish the ol’ coffers,” according to Bush. The “coffers” are up to about $15 million dollars. One of these speeches was at the 2014 International Bowl Expo where Bush explained that “bowling is fun.” He also raked in $100,000 at a fundraiser in McKinney (TX) for a homeless shelter.

mckinney2Speaking of McKinney: Witnesses have given another side to the pool fight story in McKinney (TX) about unruly black kids who didn’t belong at the pool party. The problems started when a white couple came up to the kids—who lived in the area—and used racial slurs (“black f*ckers”), insulted them (“go back to your Section 8 housing”), and slapped the teenage girl who hosted the party after she tried to defend a 14-year-old white girl who was also at the party. The couple then called police, claiming that black kids were fighting. Eric Casebolt, now resigned from the force, shouted at the young black girl kneeling on the ground, “Get on the ground.” He immediately grabbed her hair and pushed her face down into the grass before putting his knee on her back.  On a Daily Show segment, Jessica Williams pointed out that there has been progress because “a cop pulled a gun on a group of black kids and nobody is dead.” That segment is here. Casebolt, who also pulled his gun on unarmed teens in bathing suits, was “2008 Officer of the Year.”

President Obama’s invasion of Texas: Texas citizens have received over $11 million in FEMA funds after the most recent severe flooding. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who couldn’t support aid for Sandy victims because of the “pork” and “wasteful spending” in the Disaster Relief Act of 2013, demanded money for his own state. The “pork” in the 2013 bill was to “replenish FEMA’s disaster relief fund, which funds relief from future disasters.” Other “pork” came from bribes to red state Republicans—including Texas—to pass the bill over their filibuster. Texas and Oklahoma have had over one-fourth of FEMA’s declared disasters in the past six years, Texas at 75 and Oklahoma at 45. Former Gov. Rick “I hate the federal government” Perry said after fire devastated much of his state, “It is not only the obligation of the federal government, but its responsibility under law to help its citizens in times of emergency.”

Two sides of Ted Cruz:

“This [Disaster Relief Act of 2013] bill is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington–an addiction to spending money we do not have.”—2013

“Democrats and Republicans in the congressional delegation will stand as one in support of the federal government meeting its statutory obligations to provide the relief to help the Texans who are hurting.”—2015

Cruz isn’t alone in his hypocrisy. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) voted against emergency aid to Hurricane Sandy victims when he was a U.S. representative, arguing that he didn’t “think Arkansas needs to bail out the Northeast.” The Northeast bailed out Arkansas last July when Cotton got FEMA funds for his state after severe flooding. Every Colorado Republican in the House voted against post-Sandy relief before they wanted emergency funding for Colorado in September 2013.

Shocker of the week: President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy was wrong, according to his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He told the British newspaper The Times, that the plans to replace Saddam Hussein’s regime with democracy were unworkable and that he had serious concerns from the first time he heard about the idea. [After the article was published, Rumsfeld denied that he had criticized Bush or that his statements contradicted his previous positions about the Iraq War.]

Loss of the judiciary in Kansas: After Gov. Sam Brownback destroyed Kansas’ economy, he signed a bill to obliterate the state’s judiciary if is rules against a law that he likes. He went into a snit after the state supreme court ruled that the inequality between school funding for rich and poor districts was unconstitutional. The justices ordered the disparity fixed, and the legislature stripped the supreme court of its authority to appoint local chief judges and set district court budgets. Brownback and the legislature have threatened the supreme court with recall elections, splitting the court into two sections, lowering the retirement age, and creating partisan elections. If the supreme court strikes down these laws, it  loses its funding.

The week’s oddity: A ruling is imminent on the lawsuit from Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, founder of AIG, who is suing the U.S. government because it saved his company from financial ruin. He claims that the government seized his assets illegally and wants to be paid the original value of the company. Before the bailout, he was forced out of the company because he used off-the-books schemes to fake profitability and paid a $15 million fine for the crime while AIG paid $1.6 billion in penalties. James Millstein, the Treasury official who oversaw AIG’s restructuring, said about AIG:

“The AIG which came begging to the Fed’s doorstep was the AIG that Hank Greenberg built. Its capital structure was opaque, it was heavily dependent on short-term funding, with a highly leveraged financial products subsidiary that had been organized to evade effective regulatory oversight. [Greenberg] ran the parent company like a hedge fund with a triple A rating.”

AIG had gone to other lenders before, in a last resort, it went to the federal government. It would receive $85 billion for an 80 percent stake in the company and the option of additional lending. The U.S. Treasury took AIG’s offer. Greenberg’s lawyer is David Boies, whose career includes getting George W. Bush appointed to president for his first term and saving marriage equality in California. Judge Thomas Wheeler is a George W. Bush appointee. A Greenberg win could undo the entire financial bailout, possibly forcing every bailed-out bank, no matter how successful, into receivership. Greenberg just wants $40 billion.

GOP problem with losing “Obamacare”: With the Supreme Court judgment on King v. Burwell, everyone is getting nervous, especially the GOP legislators who can’t figure out what to do if the Supremes do what the GOP wants. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) wrote:

“Six million people risk losing their health care subsidies, yet @POTUS continues to deny that Obamacare is bad for the American people.”

The lawsuit to do away with subsidies in states that use the federal exchanges is funded by a conservative organization, promoted by conservative think tanks and conservative law professors, and backed by many top Republicans including several of Thune’s GOP colleagues. The minority of lower court judges siding with the plaintiffs are all Republicans. Only Republican-appointed justices are expected to vote for the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court, and the majority of the justices are Republicans. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs boasted that he does not plan to “lose any Republican-appointed judges’ votes” when his argument was being considered by a lower court. The Republicans are most likely more nervous after a poll shows that 55 percent of the respondents don’t want the subsidies taken away by the Supreme Court.

“News” that people can’t trust: Journalism is expensive which is why newspapers publish information that corporations send them. CNN plans to sell air time to corporations for in-house programs that look and feel like news but actually present the corporate PR goals and narrative. The new CNN advertorial program will be called “Courageous.” Corporations will be willing to pay for programming on “Courageous” in order to trade on the perception—from some—about CNN‘s “trustworthiness” and unwillingness to “blur the lines.”

Owned by Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting, CNN already published 18 “original series” last year, 17 of them sponsored by a corporation. CNN’s in-house studio will produce “news-like content on behalf of advertisers” to reflect marketers’ growing desire for articles and videos that feel like editorial work. “Courageous” will highlight “news,” such as the building of a manufacturing plant or a philanthropic effort, according to Otto Bell, the lead of the studio and former creative director at OgilvyEntertainment. Dan Riess, executive vice president of integrated marketing and branded content at Turner, said, “This isn’t about confusing editorial with advertising. This is about telling advertisers’ stories.” Oh, sure.

[Note: Nobody pays me for writing this blog. It’s just my perception of the world!]

April 7, 2012

Meat and Poultry Suspect

Ham is the traditional entre for Easter Sunday—unless you’re vegetarian. That means missing the “pink slime” that has been a part of ground beef since 2001 when they moved it from dog food to people food. Don’t remember pink slime? It’s those ammonia-treated beef scraps and connective tissue that gained fame in an expose of  school lunches.

Famous conservatives such as Govs. Sam Brownback (KS), Terry Branstad (IA), and Rick Perry (TX) have enthusiastically defended the practice of adding this processed “meat” to ground beef although I’m guessing that they don’t eat it. Beef Products Inc. closed three of its four plants last week in Kansas, Iowa, and Texas; and AFA Foods (PA) is filing for bankruptcy. Branstead is asking for a congressional investigation into how the “smear campaign” against pink slime got started. “They are people who do not like meat,” he said.

Branstad has a vested interest in Beef Products: the company’s top executives and workers have given $820,750 to congressional and presidential candidates over the past decade, with all but $28,400 going to Republicans and Branstad receiving $150,000 over the past two years. (Stephen Colbert provides an excellent—and hilarious—account of “the beefstate governors” and pink slime.)

After the USDA told schools districts that the National School Lunch Program will be allowed to opt out of pink slime this coming fall, major grocery stores announced their meat will be pink-slime free: Krogers (the largest grocer with 2,435 supermarkets), Safeway, Supervalu, Shop ‘n Save, and Costco stated that they’ve stopped pink slime; Wal-Mart, which sells more food than any other retailer, said they will give people a choice, but of course they are not legally bound to label it. In the fast-food market, Wendy’s said it never has, and McDonalds said it won’t.

Problems with beef, however, go far beyond the pink slime problem. Because of the nation’s high demand for the product at a cheap price, cattle, whose stomachs are meant to digest grass, are fed only grain which exacerbates its problem with E. coli. An unbelievable quantity of cattle manure is deposited on the land of the factory farms and sometimes seeps into the water supply, leading to E. coli in vegetables. Combine that with the massive amounts of antibiotics regularly fed healthy cattle, and the result is drug-resistant strains of salmonella and other pathogens.

The Food and Drug Administration has a chance to solve this problem. After the Natural Resources Defense Council brought a lawsuit regarding the routine feeding of antibiotics, U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Katz ruled that the FDA must determine whether this practice constitutes a threat to human health. The FDA has admitted the dangers of medicating healthy farm animals for over three decades which includes its own finding that this indiscriminate use of antibiotics can lead to the growth and spread of drug-resistant bacteria that can infect people. These infections annually kill 70,000 people in hospitals.

So you think that after Easter you’ll switch to chicken? Or turkey? Think again. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing a rule that poultry plant employees can do food inspection and replace government inspectors. HIMP, that I call “Fox in the Hen House,” would supposedly save almost $100 million over the next three years while giving $520 million to poultry companies.

Food & Water Watch looked at over 5,000 USDA documents and found extremely high rates of missing defects under the trial version of “Fox” or HIMP. Often company employees miss defects such as “feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea, and bile still on the carcass.” The average error rate for these types of defects in chicken slaughter facilities was 64 percent and 87 percent in turkey slaughter facilities. In one turkey slaughter facility, nearly 100 percent of samples found this category of defect that had been overlooked. The Government Accountability Office has already reported that the majority of HIMP plants had higher rates of salmonella contamination and higher rates of defects.

As for saving money, one of every six Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses each year, with 128,000 cases resulting in hospitalization and 3,000 ending in death. According to Georgetown University’s Product Safety Project, those illnesses come at a cost of $152 billion a year.

The problem, however, is more than pink slime, unnecessary antibiotics, and faulty inspections. It’s about not knowing what’s happening behind the scenes, and more and more states are passing laws to make sure that no one will ever find out. Iowa and Utah have enacted new laws, nicknamed ag-gag bills, that threaten jail time for anyone working undercover to take photos or videos of food-destined animals without permission. The laws are not new—North Dakota, Montana, and Kansas have had them for years—but they are becoming more punitive, increasing from 30 days jail time to two years. Similar bills were killed in Florida, Illinois, and Indiana while others are pending in Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.

There is a solution, however. The following came from one of the blog’s readers: “We have a great head of the kitchen here at my school, and we are now using locally produced meat and lettuce in our school lunch program. It’s been great for the kids and great for the producers (the lettuce farm is a smaller hydroponic operation). We have salad and vegetables on every line now. It’s amazing what we’re doing here, so it can be done with some effort, instead of the ick that many programs serve.”

March 17, 2012

Make Sperm Equal to Women

When I was growing up, men had more rights than women. Many of us didn’t even pay attention. After all, we were allowed to vote. What more could we want?

Because of the second wave of feminism,  girls were allowed to take the same classes in high school as boys, sports teams became more equal, and women were even allowed on juries by the end of the 1970s. Many of us weren’t even aware that we weren’t judged by a jury of our peers until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1975.

By the end of the 20th century, the third wave of feminists made us believe that we were headed toward equality even if our salaries still lagged behind those for men. After almost a century of progress, however, women have a new competitor for equality: sperm.

The GOP is now convinced that sperm rules. It appears that the sperm has the inalienable and God-given right over that of women. Catholic bishops successfully fought our right to birth control until 1965, and now they are working to remove this right as well as women’s right to make a choice regarding abortion.

Seven years after the religious leaders lost the ability to control women’s access to birth control, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government could not prohibit women from stopping the reproductive process after the egg’s fertilization. The court’s decision matched early Catholic policies.

Based on Aristotle’s three embryonic stages, St. Augustine determined the abortion in the first trimester should not be regarded “as homicide, for there cannot be a living soul in a body that lacks sensation due to its not yet being formed.” Pope Innocent II concurred at the beginning of the 13th century when he declared that abortion was not homicide until “quickening,” the feeling of the fetus movement, a time made specific over three centuries later by Pope Gregory XIV after 116 days. This rule wasn’t changed until 1869.

Almost 90 percent of all abortions are done within the 116-day window with 60 percent in the first eight weeks. Ones that occur later are almost always because of state-enacted delaying laws or serious medical issues.

While Republicans are working hard to erase our reproductive rights, they neglect the children.  States with the most punitive laws for abortions spend the least on education, facilitating adoption, and nurturing poor children. Those same states have fewer insurance mandates to cover hospital stays after childbirth. With its sonogram mandate for abortion, Texas cut its family planning budget by almost 70 percent, eliminating services for nearly 284,000 women. The sperm rules.

Women across the country are campaigning to gain equality with sperm. With almost a dozen states requiring transvaginal ultrasounds before abortion and more states leaping on the bandwagon, some women have gone to Facebook pages to protest–those of Republicans who are convinced that they know more about women’s health than women and doctors do, Republicans who believe that limited government and reduction of regulations stop at women’s bodies.

One Republican suffering from women’s ire is Virginia’s state senator and Republican caucus chairman Ryan McDougle. Despite his frantically deleting messages on his Facebook page, he hasn’t kept up. And even when he erases them, someone has already copied them. These messages are all over the Internet. Kansas governor Sam Brownback is getting the same treatment. The following is one of the more benign entries that appeared on the McDougle’s Facebook page:

“Hi senator. I seem to be irregular and my cramping is pretty bad- so bad that I can’t sleep at night or get anything done. Imagine being repeatedly kicked in the crotch for hours, but move the pain up to the whole lower abdomen, because that’s the only way I can describe it to someone who doesn’t have a uterus that can cramp so badly that it restricts blood flow to surrounding tissues. I thought you would be concerned.”

Another way women are fighting for equality with  sperm is to keep it from entering women’s bodies. Liberal Ladies Who Lunch, a women’s right group, is asking for a sex strike in April to oppose conservative infringements on our bodies. According to the group’s call to action, this protest doesn’t rely on picket signs and chants to get across their message. “Younger men and women may not remember the ‘good old days’ when the only reproductive choice we had was to deny men access to sex. In truth, if we lose our hard won rights to medical care, birth control and pregnancy choice, it won’t only affect women. Men will have to go back to the days when they waited for or paid for sex,” explains the group.

In Virginia, former lawmakers have formed the Women’s Strike Force, a political action committee with the goal of defeating state lawmakers who pushed for legislation to prohibit or restrict a woman’s ability to terminate her pregnancy. “The steps that have been taken by lawmakers in Virginia and states across the country to deprive women of their reproductive rights are a slap in the face to every American wife, mother, sister, and daughter in our country,” former Del. Robin Abbott, the group’s co-chair, said. Former Del. Leslie Byrne said, “As a former member of the General Assembly and Virginia’s first woman in Congress, I fought for women’s rights in the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s. We must move the Commonwealth and the nation forward, not backslide to denying women rights.”

A week ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the following statements at the Women in the World Summit:

“In America, in Tunisia, anywhere in the world, women should have the right to make their own choices about what they wear, how they worship, the jobs they do, the causes they support. These are choices women have to make for themselves, and they are a fundamental test of democracy.

“Now, we know that young woman in Tunisia and her peers across the region already are facing extremists who will try to strip their rights, curb their participation, limit their ability to make choices for themselves. Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies. Yes, it is hard to believe that even here at home, we have to stand up for women’s rights and reject efforts to marginalize any one of us, because America needs to set an example for the entire world. And it seems clear to me that to do that, we have to live our own values and we have to defend our own values. We need to respect each other, empower all our citizens, and find common ground.”

That is what women in the United States are now doing—defending our values. Let’s declare equality to sperm.

© blogfactory

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