Nel's New Day

September 24, 2022

Republicans Get Scarier

Deposed Donald Trump (DDT) is still on the campaign trail, this time trying to ingratiate himself with people at Wilmington (NC) by saying that his beloved daughter in law, Lara, is from the state and that he owns property there. Supposedly attempting to encourage voters to support GOP candidates, he aired his same false grievances which have lots of updates from the past week—the seizing of “his” documents, New York’s “racist,” “raging maniac’ AG Letitia James, and, of course, the “stolen election” in 2020 which he said he actually won.

At last week’s rally in Ohio, DDT promoted J.D. Vance for U.S. senate by saying “JD is kissing my ass.” He also claimed he invented the term “caravans” which he defines as “murderers and rapists.” Derived from Persian in the 1590s from Old French or Medieval Latin, caravan, derived from camel, means a group of travelers through a desert in a long line or a camper with a living area.

The Hitleresque/QAnon salutes and creepy QAnon music, popular last week, returned in his new audience. His Truth Social reposts consistently repeat QAnon messages, and he posted a photo of him wearing a Q pin. “The Storm Is Coming” on the pin refers to the day that QAnon supporters execute all opponents of DDT. The number of DDT’s QAnon posts grows when he feels he’s under attack, now a constant.

The FBI has been investigating QAnon for violent crimes and attacks, and DDT’s rallies will likely incite them to build on that violence. DDT led the crowd in the QAnon gesture although private security guards ask some supporters to put their arms down.

DDT seemed to have trouble reading his teleprompter. At one point, he declared, “We have to keep our country gay.” After a few stutters, he finished by saying “our country [isn’t] great anymore.” Twitter had a great time with his statement, and LGBTQ-friendly groups were already selling merchandise with “Make America Gay Again.”

The flight chartered by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to take 48 legal asylum seekers from San Antonio (TX) to Martha’s Vineyard grows more and more shady. The Vertol Systems Company gave large donations to the governor’s allies and has been legally represented by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and his former partner, Larry Keefe, now Florida’s “public safety czar” in charge of immigration policy. Keefe represented Vertol in dozens of lawsuits between 2010 and 2017.

Developer Jay Odom, responsible for packaging Vertol’s donations to candidates, was convicted and imprisoned in 2013 by an illegal campaign finance scheme for GOP Mike Huckabee’s failed 2008 presidential campaign and later arrested for a scheme with Florida’s House Speaker Ray Sansom in 2009 to build the speaker an airport hangar. In 2019, Vertol contributed $10,000 to Florida’s GOP controlled by DeSantis.

Vertol’s primary business is training pilots for the military and providing helicopters across the globe, not chartering planes. A week before the transport, the company flew its private jet from Florida to San Antonio. DeSantis’ administration refused to reveal the $12 million contract for its part in the “unauthorized alien” program, but the state budget specifies that “unauthorized aliens” are to be flown directly from Florida, not Texas. The migrants on the chartered flight were also not “unauthorized” in the U.S.

A judge in Florida ordered a lawsuit be continued regarding DeSantis’ August 4 removal of elected state attorney in Hillsborough County, Andrew Warren, who said he would not prosecute people for abortions or transgender youth gender transition treatment. Warren claims DeSantis violated his First Amendment rights for political reasons after DeSantis cited Warren’s “woke agenda” for his decision. The judicial ruling could define DeSantis’ ability to purge elected officials who disagree with him. He removed four school board members in Broward County defying his COVID mask mandates but operates selectively with no action against “constitutional” sheriffs who won’t enforce gun laws.

After revealing the GOP “Commitment to America” and then hiding it, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) led over two dozen House Republicans for its big reveal to show what the GOP, if given the congressional majority, will do to people. The party of so-called law and order will protect wealthy people from paying taxes by defunding the IRS. In a return to the past, they will investigate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, orchestrated by DDT during his term, and continue the search for COVID’s origins, specifically investigating Dr. Anthony Fauci who plans to retire.

Law and order Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who refused to block sexual assault of his athletes at Ohio State University, will look into the “weaponization of the DOJ against American people.” The business activities of Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, will be a prime focus. Transgender people will be on the firing line, and freedom means parents who agree with conservatives—not the other parents—will be in control of banning books and determining curriculum. Republicans will throw money at law enforcement without any assistance for their needs.

“Longer, healthier lives for Americans” likely destroys healthcare in the popular Affordable Care Act and defends cures from charlatans such as ivermectin. The GOP’s aim to “save and strengthen Social Security and Medicare” means to privatize, reduce, and then eliminate it. In the House, 158 Republicans already signed on to a budget cutting Medicare and Social Security. “Restore the people’s voices” in voting lists restrictions—means just “some people’s voice.”

Missing from their plans before Midterms are controversial terms such as abortion, election denialism, and Trump. Hoping to be elected House Speaker, McCarthy obtained DDT’s approval for the “Commitment” and praised QAnon member Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), probably to get her vote. Yet she wasn’t allowed to answer questions from the audience of 150 local business owners, parents, and local activists.

The presentation included a video, to “celebrate the rich heritage of the American story and the vibrancy of the American Dream,” using footage of a drilling rig in Russia’s Volgograd region. The work of Serg Grbanoff, filmmaker based in Russia, appears in other parts of the video: his clip of a happy boy in a field with a toy airplane over the words “Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” comes from the same Russian area. The attack on Democrats, blamed by the video on Democrats, uses footage from a European grocery story with a Slovak word. The man featured in a Shutterstock contributor, DedovStock, is in Ukraine and the Carpathian Mountains of eastern Europe.

The “Commitment” and its rollout continues the new GOP’s refusal to govern. Republicans hate government and don’t want to put in any effort such as negotiation, compromise, or participation in hearings—the boring stuff. Even in state legislatures, bills are largely written by businesses looking to further their nests. The GOP either has no solutions for problems or knows that their ideas will be unpopular. Being vague and ambiguous, like “protect the lives of unborn children” or “curb wasteful government spending” being their sole “commitments,” is its only way to quell dissension. Republicans state that Democrats have no plan to solve inflation, but Republicans have not come up with them, only the outcomes with no path to them. After all, the GOP has been promising an answer to healthcare for over a decade.

The “Commitment” calls for a safe nation, free future, strong economy, and accountable government—all Democratic aims. Like Biden, the document wants to fight inflation and lower the cost of living, bring down gas prices, make the U.S. energy independent, strengthen the supply chair, and end U.S. dependence on China. Part of the Democratic platform, they have made progress despite Republicans consistent no votes. Legislation, absent almost all GOP votes, caps costs of some prescription medications for seniors, something Republicans promised to overturn the minute they have a majority. 

To combat high gas prices, Biden released reserves, steadily lowering the cost of gas by at least 25 percent during the same two-plus months. A barrel of oil has also dropped over $50 to under $80. Thus far, Biden has avoided a train strike and expanded the number of truck drivers, and the new climate law starts to make the U.S. energy independent. The CHIPS and Science Act reduces dependence on China although almost two-thirds of GOP senators and 187 GOP House members voted against it.

To refresh yourself about how the “Commitment” distorts language, read George Orwell’s 1984. Then House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) shut down the government for 28 days with his 1994 Contract with America. Republicans are now promising to do the same thing next week by refusing to vote for a budget, due September 30.

The MAGA “make America great again” doesn’t give a time limit for how far back Republicans want to “return,” but an Arizona judge has reinstated an 1864 anti-abortion law passed 48 years before the territory became a state. The only exception is if the pregnant person’s life is at risk; those with health risks or impregnated by rape or incest will have forced birth. That’s what electing Republicans will do for people.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) wants to erase not only trans people but apparently women as a gender. In a fundraiser he protested teaching children that “more than one gender” exists. He claims doing so is “against nature, science, and common sense.” Some people aren’t sure which biological sex he plans to eliminate, but it’s unlikely he’s talking about men.

August 14, 2022

Thanks to Frances Perkins – Dr. Richardson

Today is the 87th anniversary of Social Security. If you receive this benefit, you should thank Frances Perkins. Not familiar with the name? Scholar Heather Cox Richardson provides the background for her and her work in giving the people of the U.S. this invaluable benefit. And no, it’s not an “entitlement.” You paid for it with taxes specifically designated for this monthly check. 

And thanks, American historian and author Dr. Richardson!

On this day, August 14, in 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. While FDR’s New Deal had put in place new measures to regulate business and banking and had provided temporary work relief to combat the Depression, this law permanently changed the nature of the American government.

The Social Security Act is known for its payments to older Americans, but it did far more than that. It established unemployment insurance; aid to homeless, dependent, and neglected children; funds to promote maternal and child welfare; and public health services. It was a sweeping reworking of the relationship between the government and its citizens, using the power of taxation to pool funds to provide a basic social safety net.

The driving force behind the law was FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins (right). She was the first woman to hold a position in the U.S. Cabinet and still holds the record for having the longest tenure in that job: she lasted from 1933 to 1945.

She brought to the position a vision of government very different from that of the Republicans who had run it in the 1920s. While men like President Herbert Hoover had harped on the idea of a “rugged individualism” in which men worked their way up, providing for their families on their own, Perkins recognized that people in communities had always supported each other. The vision of a hardworking man supporting his wife and children was more myth than reality: her own husband suffered from bipolar disorder, making her the family’s primary support.

As a child, Perkins spent summers with her grandmother, with whom she was very close, in the small town of Newcastle, Maine, where the old-fashioned, close-knit community supported those in need. In college, at Mount Holyoke, she majored in chemistry and physics, but after a professor required students to tour a factory to observe working conditions, Perkins became committed to improving the lives of those trapped in industrial jobs. After college, Perkins became a social worker and, in 1910, earned a masters degree in economics and sociology from Columbia University. She became the head of the New York office of the National Consumers League, urging consumers to use their buying power to demand better conditions and wages for the workers who made the products they were buying.

The next year, in 1911, she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in which 146 workers, mostly women and girls, died. They were trapped in the building when the fire broke out because the factory owner had ordered the doors to the stairwells and exits locked to make sure no one slipped outside for a break. Unable to escape the smoke and fire in the factory, the workers—some of them on fire—leaped from the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the building, dying on the pavement.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire turned Perkins away from voluntary organizations to improve workers’ lives and toward using the government to adjust the harsh conditions of industrialization. She began to work with the Democratic politicians at Tammany Hall, who presided over communities in the city that mirrored rural towns and who exercised a form of social welfare for their voters, making sure they had jobs, food, and shelter and that wives and children had a support network if a husband and father died. In that system, the voices of women like Perkins were valuable, for their work in the immigrant wards of the city meant that they were the ones who knew what working families needed to survive.

The overwhelming unemployment, hunger, and suffering caused by the Great Depression made Perkins realize that state governments alone could not adjust the conditions of the modern world to create a safe, supportive community for ordinary people. She came to believe, as she said: “The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

Through her Tammany connections, Perkins met FDR, and when he asked her to be his Secretary of Labor, she told him that she wanted the federal government to provide unemployment insurance, health insurance, and old-age insurance. She later recalled: “I remember he looked so startled, and he said, ‘Well, do you think it can be done?’”

Creating federal unemployment insurance became her primary concern. Congressmen had little interest in passing such legislation. They said they worried that unemployment insurance and federal aid to dependent families would undermine a man’s willingness to work. But Perkins recognized that those displaced by the Depression had added new pressure to the idea of old-age insurance.

In Long Beach, California, Dr. Francis Townsend had looked out of his window one day to see elderly women rooting through garbage cans for food. Appalled, he came up with a plan to help the elderly and stimulate the economy at the same time. Townsend proposed that the government provide every retired person over 60 years old with $200 a month, on the condition that they spend it within 30 days, a condition designed to stimulate the economy.

Townsend’s plan was wildly popular. More than that, though, it sparked people across the country to start coming up with their own plans for protecting the elderly and the nation’s social fabric, and together, they began to change the public conversation about social welfare policies.

They spurred Congress to action. Perkins recalled that Townsend “startled the Congress of the United States because the aged have votes. The wandering boys didn’t have any votes; the evicted women and their children had very few votes. If the unemployed didn’t stay long enough in any one place, they didn’t have a vote. But the aged people lived in one place and they had votes, so every Congressman had heard from the Townsend Plan people.”

FDR put together a committee to come up with a plan to create a basic social safety net, but committee members could not make up their minds how to move forward. Perkins continued to hammer on the idea they must come up with a final plan, and finally locked the members of the committee in a room. As she recalled: “Well, we locked the door and we had a lot of talk. I laid out a couple of bottles of something or other to cheer their lagging spirits. Anyhow, we stayed in session until about 2 a.m. We then voted finally, having taken our solemn oath that this was the end; we were never going to review it again.”

By the time the bill came to a vote in Congress, it was hugely popular. The vote was 371 to 33 in the House and 77 to 6 in the Senate.

When asked to describe the origins of the Social Security Act, Perkins mused that its roots came from the very beginnings of the nation. When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America in 1835, she noted, he thought Americans were uniquely “so generous, so kind, so charitably disposed.” “Well, I don’t know anything about the times in which De Tocqueville visited America,” she said, but “I do know that at the time I came into the field of social work, these feelings were real.”

With the Social Security Act, Perkins helped to write into our laws a longstanding political impulse in America that stood in dramatic contrast to the 1920s philosophy of rugged individualism. She recognized that the ideas of community values and pooling resources to keep the economic playing field level and take care of everyone are at least as deeply seated in our political philosophy as the idea of every man for himself.

When she recalled the origins of the Social Security Act, Perkins recalled: “Of course, the Act had to be amended, and has been amended, and amended, and amended, and amended, until it has now grown into a large and important project, for which, by the way, I think the people of the United States are deeply thankful. One thing I know: Social Security is so firmly embedded in the American psychology today that no politician, no political party, no political group could possibly destroy this Act and still maintain our democratic system. It is safe. It is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.”

August 8, 2020

DDT: Week 185 –Actions Follow Title of ‘Dictator’

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress “the power of the purse,” but Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is taking his title of dictator seriously. Congress failed to pass another stimulus bill to help people suffering from DDT’s pandemic in the U.S. which crashed the economy. Unable to strike deals, DDT just issued orders to change tax and spending policies, something over which he has no control.

Unemployment benefits: States, which cannot afford the expenses, will pay 25 percent of the $400 in weekly unemployment aid for millions of people. The federal portion will be transferred from FEMA’s disaster relief money which won’t last more than five weeks and decimate the funding the agency needs for the wildfire/hurricane/flooding season. Experts claim the new program would require months to establish and would not increase benefits. Repurposing repurpose funds for unemployment benefits could violate the Antideficiency Act, a federal budgeting law. The current law providing $600 for unemployment benefits ended on July 31.

Payroll tax payments: DDT’s #1 priority has been to defer these payments for Social Security and Medicare for September through December. The action covers people making less than $100,000. This order will go into effect only if companies comply with DDT’s demand; they are the ones responsible for withdrawing the money from employees’ paychecks. DDT said he will extend the deferral and “terminate” owed taxes if he is reelected with the goal of ending the Social Security and Medicare programs. No one knows the source of the financing for deferred taxes. 

Eviction protections: The order only makes suggestions to federal agencies instead of halting evictions nationally. The executive order only states U.S. policy minimizes evictions and foreclosures; it doesn’t reinstate the federal moratorium expiring last month of fund billions in assistance necessary for people already behind in rent. It calls on HHS and CDC to “consider” the necessity of temporarily halting evictions and the Treasury Department and HUD to “identify” federal funds for temporary assistance to renters and homeowners. The moratorium on evictions ended on July 24.

Student loan relief: This measure tries to extend congressional relief in March through the remainder of the year.

Missing: Funds for safely opening schools; another $1,200 stimulus payments program; the continuation of the Paycheck Protection Program; etc.

DDT declared his mix of memoranda and an executive order were “bills” instead of “measures.” Only Congress can write and vote on bills. The actions authorize only limited relief—for example, $50 billion from FEMA before the White House must go to Congress for money. DDT’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, questioned whether DDT will be able to extend unemployment benefits. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who refused to address the House stimulus bill for almost three months, praised DDT for helping people when Democrats wouldn’t. Democrats promised to meet GOP senators in the middle by taking $1 billion off their bill and asked Republicans to add $1 billion, making the bill $2 billion. Republicans refused their overtures.

Last night, DDT gave a speech to a crowded room, including children, at his Bedminster Golf Resort where only four people wore masks. To defy New Jersey restrictions slowing the COVID-19 spread, DDT called the gathering a “peaceful protest.” He claimed the pandemic “is disappearing. It’s going to disappear.” The next day, he put together more supporters, members who paid a six-figure fund to join his private club, to witness his signing documents providing little help impoverished people in the U.S. This time, he distributed masks. In addition to other lies, he promised an executive order requiring health insurers to cover preexisting conditions for all customers, something he said “has never been done before.” The Affordable Care Act, that he wants to get rid of, already enshrined this requirement in law. DDT’s administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court to invalidate the ACA, including preexisting conditions.

In another disastrous Friday news dump, DDT’s new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy continued his work to destroy the post office services before the election, reassigning or displacing 23 USPS executives, including the top two who oversee day-to-day operations. DeJoy’s actions gives him complete power and ignores decades of postal knowledge. He kept 33 staffers or reassigned them plus adding five more staffers to leadership from other roles. The Postal Service will also have a hiring freeze, ask for voluntary early retirements, and scale down from seven to four regions. Democrats are conducting an investigation into DeJoy and his new procedures greatly slowing down the delivery of mail. DeJoy’s failure concern not only the excessive time in mailing ballots but also problems with people receiving prescriptions, pay checks, and other vital mail. While taking far more time to deliver ballots, DeJoy told states they cannot send them bulk rate, raising the cost from $.20 to $.55.

Holdings of DeJoy and wife, Aldona Wos who is the nominee for ambassador to Canada include between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in assets in USPS competitors or contractors. DeJoy has not cited any conflicts of interest, but he has donated over $2 million to DDT’s campaign or GOP causes since 2016. Even Florida’s GOP Sen. Marcos Rubio finds the slowing of the mail “outrageous” and asked the inspector general to look into the reason. The USPS is the only agency required to be self-supporting; the military, ICE, FDA, USDA, etc. are not required to make money from the public to support their services. Congress allotted $10 billion to the USPS in its March stimulus bill, but Treasury Secretary held the funding for leverage until recently when he suggested he would “lend” the money to USPS in exchange for revealing its top ten contractors.

Having slowed down the mail delivery, DDT is suing Pennsylvania for using ballot drop boxes, claiming they are unconstitutional. Ninety days before Election Day, he’s working with the RNC to further block voting access in 17 states over half of them key battlegrounds: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, Iowa, North Carolina, and Nevada.

In two other executive orders with no due process (remember when he said orders were wrong because they showed presidents didn’t know how to work with Congress), DDT prevented China-based TikTok and messaging app WeChat from doing most business in the U.S. The transactions weren’t specific, but it was assumed the companies could not be on Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store in the U.S. as well as blocking U.S. companies from purchasing advertising on TikTok. DDT said a U.S. firm could purchase TikTok within the 45 days if it gives the U.S. a bribe for rights. In the U.S., TikTok has 100 million users with a high popularity among people under 25 years of age.

According to White House officials, DDT’s decision followed a “knock-down, drag-out brawl” between Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and China-hating trade adviser Peter Navarro. Mnuchin wanted a sale while Navarro wanted a total ban. Like DDT’s famous business transactions of yore, shouting debates led to multibillion-dollar decisions reshaping, in this case, technology for the future.

DDT’s Citizenship and Immigration Services has a way to keep people from getting visas: all applications are rejected if every field isn’t filled in, even ones not applying to the applicants. No middle name? The applicant fails without a N/A in that space. No apartment number if the applicant lives in a house. Rejected. No address for deceased parents. Yup, rejected. Same for no siblings named by only children or work history dates for a child. One applicant filled in names for his three siblings but was rejected because the application has fields for four siblings. The agency insists on N/A or None, but coding on the PDF file won’t allow these responses.

DDT continues to illegally expel unaccompanied minors coming to the U.S. under Stephen Miller’s COVID-19 health order. Some children as young as one-year-old old are kept at Arizona and Texas hotels until they can be returned. With only a cursory government screening, they have no judicial ruling and no access to social workers, lawyers, or their family. According to a report for April through June, of “3,379 unaccompanied minors at or between ports of entry … just 162 were sent to federal shelters” operated by HHS. CBP didn’t provide information about where the other children are, and the lack of identifying information means they cannot be located after being expelled.

DDT is charging all states 25 percent of the cost for National Guard deployments helping with coronavirus response—except Florida and Texas. No reason except for being red states with lots of Electoral College votes.

Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security who outstayed his legal assignment, gave at least $160 million in government contracts to former lobbying clients while he served in DHS.

DDT named Elliott Abrams, a “war criminal” and Iran-Contra convict, as envoy to Iran. In 1991, the supporter of Latin American death squads was convicted of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal. Abrams will also keep his position as special representative for Venezuela where he’s still trying to overthrow the legally elected president.

August 8: U.S. COVID-19 cases – 5,149,723; deaths – 165,070.

June 15, 2020

High Court Gives LGBTQ Victory

On the first Mondays of June, the Supreme Court releases surprises, and today’s decision is the greatest reward for LGBTQ people since the high court ruled for marriage equality almost exactly five years ago. By a 6-3 vote, employment discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity is now illegal. The ruling goes back to 1964 when segregationist southern Democrat Howard Smith (V) put the word “sex into the Civil Rights Act as a joke to make the bill fail. Instead the bill passed, giving rights to women—and now LGBTQ people.

Three cases were joined in the court appeal, two against gays and a third against a transgender woman. Two of the three plaintiffs have died, Donald Zarda in 2014 and Aimee Stephens in mid-May this year. Gerald Bostock, fired because he joined a gay softball league, has recovered from prostate cancer and will return to court in Clayton County for issues such as his job reinstatement and back payment.

AG Bill Barr and Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) fought the Supreme Court decision, claiming “the ordinary meaning of ‘sex’ is biologically male or female; it does not include sexual orientation.” In a dissent, DDT’s justice Brett Kavanaugh claimed the law is based on the “ordinary meaning,” not the literal definition. Kavanaugh had been handpicked by his predecessor, Anthony Kennedy, who voted in favor of LGBTQ rights. The ruling is in keeping with public opinion, however, even Republicans who support it by 74 percent. Over 200 major corporations filed a brief supporting the gay and transgender employees in the cases. This ruling means all 50 states cannot use LGBTQ status, or perceived status, to fire employees instead of the 21 states protecting residents from firing until the decision. Seven more states protect LGBTQ public employees.   

Most exciting about the victory is that DDT’s conservative appointment to the court, Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. The term “sex” in Title VII, the anti-discrimination law applying to workforces of 15 or more people, doesn’t use the words “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”  Gorsuch, however, stated:

“It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

Another surprise was a vote from Chief Justice John Roberts to support the ruling after he was on the losing side when the high court voted in favor of same-gender marriage. Two years later, however, Roberts voted with five other judges to overrule the Arkansas Supreme Court in Pavan v. Smith to treat same-gender married couples the same as heterosexual couples when listing parents on birth certificates.

A question about the ruling is whether it applies to military service because DDT has banned transgender people from serving. Legal and Policy Director Peter Perkowski for the Modern Military Association of America stated:

“Make no mistake: the Supreme Court has ruled that discrimination against LGBTQ people is discrimination based on sex. That truth applies regardless of context.”

I can understand the joy people feel about today’s ruling removing LGBTQ job discrimination. Throughout our teaching careers of over 30 years, both my partner and I lived in fear we would lose our jobs. Although we never openly discussed our sexual orientation, most people were aware of our relationship. We could have been fired at any time with no justification other than our being lesbians.

The current ruling opposing LGBTQ discrimination in employment, upholding findings from lower courts identifying sexual orientation discrimination as sex discrimination, is unique because no other court has decided on the violation of a statute. Instead, they have focused on liberty, dignity, or hatred. This new decision can open the floodgates to LGBTQ lawsuits in other areas.

Last Friday, DDT finalized a rule banning sexual orientation and gender identity from being covered by the 2010 Affordable Care Act prohibiting discrimination on sex. Joshua Block, a litigator at the ACLU’s LGBT Project, tweeted:

“It’s hard to overstate how much this administration has staked its anti-LGB-and-especially-T agenda on its misreading of Title VII. It’s now an achilles heel in built into almost every terrible regulation and enforcement action for past 4 years.”

DDT’s ban on transgender people in the military is challenged in Karnoski v. Trump. Last year, the Supreme Court allowed the ban to continue while the case awaits a hearing in the 9th Circuit Court or moves to the high court. Aaron Belkin, director of an organization researching military personnel policy, stated:

“Today’s ruling makes the military, so often a successful leader in ending discrimination in American life, an outlier amidst a national consensus that arbitrary discrimination is harmful and wrong. With transgender workers protected by federal law in all other sectors, the military’s transgender ban is now even harder to defend.”

That military issue uses different legal issues from today’s decision, but Justice Samuel Alito Jr stated in his dissent the decision “may exert a gravitational pull in constitutional cases,” citing the military ban challenge.

Litigation on Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 uses the definition of the word “sex” regarding to equal treatment in education and sports. David Flugman, a civil rights litigator at law firm Selendy & Gay, said:

“That line of case law is going to immediately be bolstered by this case. I think this case will be helpful in a number of ways, and just like Title VII itself, we’ll see this decision used in a number of ways we can’t predict.”

Single-sex homeless shelters can also discriminate against transgender people, HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced today.

A victory last month for transgender people is the refusal of the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from Idaho to refuse gender confirmation surgery for a transgender woman in prison. In a 7-2 decision, the high court sided with a 9th Circuit Court ruling for Adree Almo, in prison since 2012, to receive the surgery. Last year, the 5th Circuit Court ruled against a Texas inmate to get the same surgery.

Same-gender couples also scored a victory from a federal judge order to pay Social Security benefits to surviving partners of same-gender couples denied the ability to marry sooner because of state marriage bans. In Arizona, James A. Taylor, committed partner of Michael Ely, died six months after the couple was married in 2014 following the Supreme Court legalization of marriage equality. Ely was denied federal survivor benefits because they had been married only six months, and the law requires nine months for qualification. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Macdonald wrote that “reliance on an unconstitutional law” perpetuated an “unconstitutional infringement on Ely and Taylor’s fundamental right to marriage.” He ordered Social Security benefits paid to every person denied benefits because of same-gender marriage ban. For almost 25 years, Taylor worked as a jet mechanic for Bombardier in Tucson (AZ), and Ely took care of their home. Now Ely, 67, can receive the same benefits as any heterosexual surviving spouse. [Right: Ely with a photo of his husband, “Spider” Taylor.] 

More victories today came from cases the Supreme Court didn’t take today. It passed on ten challenges to federal and state gun control laws, despite the dissent of two justices, Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas. Left in place are restrictions on the right to carry weapons in public in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey; Massachusetts’ ban on some semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity ammunition magazines; a California handgun control law; and a half-century-old federal law banning interstate handgun sales. 

Wisconsin’s bid to reinstate a state law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals was put on hold while being litigated.

Although justices Thomas and Alito objected, the remaining seven judges refused DDT’s challenge of California’s so-called sanctuary law limiting local cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Left intact, the 2017 California law creates policies barring the use of state and local resources to help federal enforcement efforts.

And the next two Mondays? Decisions on subpoenas for DDT’s tax returns and financial records, continuation of the DACA program to allows immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to apply for protection, women’s right to abortions by outlawing TRAP laws, religious control of government, and the right of DDT to fire independent agency directors. Have a good week waiting!

May 19, 2020

Sour Notes Continue from the $2.3 Trillion COVID-19 Bill

As I wait for my $1,200 check—not knowing whether I’ll ever get it because “Get My Payment” says I don’t exist–I follow what’s happening with the taxpayers’ $2.3 trillion assigned to rescue the country. (And yes, I fit all the eligibility requirements.)

Checks are being sent to people who have died, and now the government is sending two $500 payments for just one child. The parent claiming a child on the 2019 return should get the $500, but in the case of divorced, separated, or never-married parents who alternate claiming the child in different years, the parent claiming a child for 2020—who might not be the same one as 2019—might also receive $500. A check was also sent to a wealthy British woman who lives in London, as well as a double payment—one to the person who owed child support and another to the ex-spouse who filed an “injured spouse” claim.

These cases, however, are just the tip of the $2.3 trillion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that 83 percent of the money in that bill goes to the top one percent. 

A $500 billion Treasury Department fund from the Cares Act passed in March still hasn’t spent much money, according to the Congressional Oversight Commission. The group doesn’t have a chairperson because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) disagree on the choice. The remaining four members issued a 17-page report, primarily questions about the process of the Treasury fund disbursements. The Treasury Department has created only one lending facility of $37.5 billion to purchase corporate debt. The department did set aside $46 billion for the airline industry but hasn’t disbursed any money. Guidelines for the Main Street Lending Program intended to help small and medium-size businesses—up to 15,000 employees and $5 billion in revenue—have changed. Loans are bigger; companies don’t have to claim they need the money because of the current health crisis; and applicants only need to make “commercially reasonable efforts” to maintain payroll and retain employees.

None of the $150 billion for state and local governments in the Municipal Liquidity Facility has gone out, and the Treasury Department has no response about how it and the Federal Reserve will assess success or failure of this program and the Main Street Program. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) described the money as a “slush fund” for corporations. Democrats are skeptical of the nominee to oversee the $500 billion Treasury Fund because he won’t comment about DDT’s firing at least four inspector generals in fewer than two months or the part he played in the on-going purge. Brian Miller’s level of independence was also questioned because, as senior associate counsel at the Office of White House Counsel, he participated in protecting DDT during the impeachment trial.

Among the first 96 airline companies receiving taxpayer funds, owners of two private jet companies donated to DDT’s and GOP campaigns in 2016. Catering to well-to-do CEOs and executives, Omaha (NE)-based Jet Linx Aviation, whose owner gave $68,100 to DDT’s campaign, received $20 million. Clay Lacy Aviation in Van Nuys (CA), whose founder gave almost $50,000 to the RNC, got $27 million. The other private jet companies received about $110 million to share among 68 of them. United Airlines got $5 billion and then told employees to voluntarily leave the company while it cuts pay and organizes layoffs. Among workers moved to part-time are 15,000 airport employees. United asserts it is complying with the terms of the bailout to keep employees.

Friends with cruise line owners, DDT is adamant about protecting the companies.  To avoid paying U.S. taxes or following U.S. environmental and health regulations, cruise lines do not register as U.S. companies. The Fed, however, is offering them billions in loans. Carnival has promised to mitigate health issues, but the cruise industry avoids most U.S. regulations

Big oil is getting $1.9 billion in tax breaks designed for small businesses. Diamond Offshore Drilling, already headed into bankruptcy, received a $9.7 million tax refund and then asked a bankruptcy judge to authorize the same amount as bonuses to nine executives. Its tax refund was small compared to the $55 million for Antero Midstream, $41.2 million for Oil States International, $96 million for Devon Energy,  $110 million for Valero, $195 million for Oxy, and $411 million for Marathon. The oil industry was using its financial problems from before the health crisis to get generous subsidies. Three coal companies with ties to DDT are receiving $22 million.

In addition to $16 billion in direct subsidies for oil and gas, the industry is lobbying for another $100 billion in tax cuts—especially for Halliburton and ExxonMobil. The IRS Inspector General found that almost $1 billion in credits were fraudulently claimed so GOP senators demanded that the tax credit be expanded and made permanent in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill. The Interior Department is granting royalty relief by reducing or eliminating the share due to taxpayers for oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters.

The fossil fuel industry has been getting trillions, likely $20 billion or more a year for over a century. The cost of these subsidies could be as high as $649 billion a year. The Department of Education gets $68 billion, and the National Institutes of Health $42 billion for 2020. Oil and gas companies needed bailouts not because of the health crisis but because they took on massive debt to drill more wells, leaving a glut of oil. Their stock placed last in the S&P 500’s index for the last decade.  

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette admitted during a television appearance that the White House pushed the Federal Reserve to benefit fossil fuel companies by changing a lending program but that there was no encouragement to keep workers on the payroll. Bharat Ramamurti, a member of the Congressional Oversight Commission, has asked for an investigation after Brouillette said DDT personally told him and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to guarantee “access for these energy industries to those programs.”

A wealthy nonprofit think tank with a $115-million endowment and billionaire trustees, Aspen Institute, received $8 million in small business funds but decided to return it after negative publicity. The 72-person board includes Chairman James S. Crown, a member of one of America’s wealthiest families, and former Disney chairman Michael Eisner.

As the Federal Reserve gives out trillions of dollars in taxpayer money to large corporations, the recipients and amounts can be kept totally secret with no accountability. Terms, collateral, repayment, etc.—all these and more may never be revealed. Despite a 1976 law after Watergate that federal agencies’ meetings “be open to public observations,” closed-door meetings deliberating who and how much don’t need minutes until December 31, 2020. The record of votes can also be kept hidden during the COVID-19 crisis. Dispersing about $450 billion of the $500 billion bailout fund, the Federal Reserve can leverage that amount into $4.5 trillion.  Late last month, the Fed pumped $1 trillion a day into the banking system.

Small businesses—really small businesses with under 50 employees—are suffering around the country, but three-fourths of the 12,000 Catholic churches applying for money are thus far being given money from the stimulus law. Forty percent of Protestant churches applied for financial assistance and 59 percent of them also get funding. The bigger the church, the more likely it is to have applied. Among applications from Jewish organizations, 219 synagogues received over $50 million, and another 391 asking for $106 million are waiting for responses. Churches want money because their donations are down.

One goal of the Republicans is to use the COVID-19 crisis to cut Social Security benefits. Now that the huge corporations are getting trillions of dollars, Republicans are expressing concern about expenditures. One proposal, the Eagle Plan, pays individuals $10,000 in exchange for delays and/or cuts to Social Security benefits. The program is the brainchild of Jared Kushner and the State Department, odd because that agency isn’t in charge of domestic policy. DDT has said that he will not sign any future stimulus bill that doesn’t cut the payroll tax, money that pays for Social Security and Medicare.

Two months after the first COVID-19 relief bill went into law, it has been called insufficient, misguided, or both by a cross-section of lawmakers, economists, business groups, and labor advocates. One mistake was not paying companies directly to keep workers employed, a system used in some European countries. Instead, loans to companies went through the funnel of commercial lenders and were managed by the Small Business Administration. Black-owned businesses were disproportionately disadvantaged because tiny businesses with little credit and no relationship with lenders were bypassed for funding provided to firms with as many as 500 employees, also called a “small business.”

Banks didn’t receive guidance to prioritize rural businesses and those owned by veterans, women, and economically-disadvantaged people. The SBA didn’t provide a way to request this demographic information, but it did require that 75 percent of the money go to payroll although this was not part of the law.

Data shows that construction businesses, which didn’t stop during the crisis, got $45 billion more than any other sector. The second largest amount went to professional scientific and technical concerns whose lawyers, accountants, and financial planners worked from home. Publicly traded companies already doing poorly for decades did well in the bidding process.

As Republicans move forward with deregulation hidden under the health crisis, look for small bank failures as lawmakers and lobbyists push for the removal of financial safeguards. That will be the next need for bailouts.

May 19, 2020: 1,570,583 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (despite states concealing their numbers) in the U.S. with 93,533 deaths, and 37 states testing more than the U.S. based on numbers per million population.

January 25, 2020

DDT: Week 157 – Outside the Impeachment Bubble

Historic anniversaries this week:

January 21: Inauguration of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) in 2016.

January 22: Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade permitting women to have abortions up the third month and in danger of being overturned.

January 23: Supreme Court decision in Citizens United that gave candidates $2.9 billion of dark money from Super PACs to influence elections with unlimited funds

This week DDT also announced he plans to cut Medicare and Social Security if he is re-elected because of his “great economy”:

“We have tremendous growth, we’re going to have tremendous growth. Next year, it will be towards the end of the year, the growth is going to be incredible….”

On the same day, the Dow dropped over 150 points. Economic growth is far below DDT’s projections for his tax cuts benefiting the wealthy and big business—not yet 3 percent–and the deficit spiked to $1 trillion. For next year, the Chicago Federal Reserve projects 1.9 percent economic growth, but DDT hopes to cut taxes again for more personal benefit. 

White House officials prompted DDT to cover up his statement that alienates his older voters, and DDT came out with the falsehood that Democrats will “destroy your Social Security” and that he will “save it!” Democrats created the program and spent almost a century protecting it. DDT already proposed tens of billions of dollars in Social Security cuts, and Republicans believe that “saving” Social Security can be done by “cutting” Social Security.

In his speech at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland), DDT called climate scientists “foolish fortune tellers,” “alarmists,” who want “absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives.” After basing his two campaigns for president on fear, he said, “Fear and doubt is not a good thought process.” Then he repeated his lie that the U.S., which has seen worsening air quality, has “the cleanest air in the world.” DDT spoke an hour after 17-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, at a conference concerned with climate change. He dodged an onstage question-and-answer session after the speech.

The conference focus was on climate change.

Although red states in the South won’t acknowledge the existence of climate change, they will receive billions of dollars for “natural” disasters made far worse by the human-caused changes in climate. These states need a reason to get the money so they use terms such as “changing coastal conditions” and the “destabilizing effects and unpredictability” of being hit by multiple storms in a short time. A $16 billion fund will be distributed to prepare for future natural disasters in states most affected by disasters from 2015 to 2017—GOP-oriented states along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Of the eight states fitting the criterion, only California didn’t vote for DDT. Half the money was assigned to Puerto Rico, but DDT withheld the funding because of “corruption.”

In support for DDT’s climate denial, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that activist Greta Thunberg should go to college to learn about economics after she called for investors to take their money out of fossil fuel stocks. Mnuchin, known as the “foreclosure king,” made his money from unethical mortgage practices. Climate economist Gernot Wagner, who has gone to “college”—Harvard and Stanford—presented a letter from Larry Fink, chief executive of Blackrock, the world’s largest asset management firm. Fink announced his company’s divestment of companies centered on fossil fuels and contribute to climate change. Wagner said that this decision came from the “scenario of having fossil fuels go the way of tobacco that makes fossil fuel execs the most nervous.” Divestment is economics, not politics.  

In his continued assault on the environment and people’s health, DDT has overturned or begun overturning 95 environmental regulations and is especially fixated on building pipelines. The oldest environmental law, created during Richard Nixon’s first year in the presidency as a response to the Santa Barbara Oil Spill, has been called the Magna Carta of environmental law. NEPA helps guarantee that the government considers development affects on climate and the affected local community by covering infrastructure such as highways and fossil fuel exploration. DDT’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposes horrific changes to NEPA after working for 2 years with those it considers is stakeholders, industry groups like electrical utilities, the American Petroleum Institute, and the American Gas Association. New rules eliminate considering climate change in environmental impact reports, allow companies to conduct their own reviews, and limit public input. The rule changes, like all others, has a time for public comment, and like all other DDT rule changes, all public comments will be ignored if they disagree with DDT’s plans to help big business.

In another environmental change, DDT plans to pollute 60 percent of waterways in the United States by removing protections for streams, wetlands, and groundwater. Winners are real estate developers (including golf courses), fossil fuel producers, and farmers; losers are the rest of the people in the nation. His changes affect not only smaller bodies of water but also the Chesapeake Bay, Mississippi River, and the Puget Sound. Not only is protection set up by President Obama in 2015 rescinded but also protections from the 1972 Clean Water Act are also eliminated. The chemical discharged into all these bodies of water will then move into larger and larger bodies of water. Wetlands can no longer perform their jobs of filtering surface water, protecting against floods, and providing wildlife habitat.

Even DDT-appointed scientists disagree. The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board determined that DDT’s rule ignores science with “no scientific justification” for the devastating impact on the health of all water systems—and people.

DDT’s earlier deregulations have been on everything from chemicals in drinking and shower water to sprays on food and into the air. One Indiana town already experienced an outbreak of childhood cancers from chemicals. His rule changes also block the production of food. In 2018, the EPA allowed “emergency” approvals to spray the insecticide sulfoxaflor, highly toxic to bees, on over 16 million acres of crops that attract bees, vital to pollinating one-third of the food supply as well as other plants that animals need. The last decade has shown a drastic loss in the bee population.

Also at Davos, DDT tried to cover up his statement that “no Americans were harmed” when Iran retaliated to DDT’s assassination of Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani by firing over a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi air bases where U.S. forces were housed. To avoid combat, DDT said that he wouldn’t counter-attack Iran because “we suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.” Yet 11 U.S. service members were sent to hospitals for treatment for concussions because of the strike, and more troops were transported out of Iraq for medical treatment and evaluations in Germany. The Pentagon said that more military members may need to be transported from Iraq in the next few days. Caught in his lies, DDT said that he “heard they had headaches and a couple of other things … not very serious.” To DDT, brain damage is far less severe than missing limbs. Thus far, 34 U.S. service members have been diagnosed with concussions and traumatic brain injuries after the airstrikes; 17 are back on active duty, according to the Pentagon.

In a speech to his donors at Mar-a-Lago, DDT admitted Soleimani presented no “imminent” threat to the U.S. and killed him because he said “bad things” about the U.S. DDT had planned to kill Soleimani months earlier because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton wanted a push-back against Iran. Once the murder was a fait accompli, White House, State Department, and Pentagon officials struggled to justify what DDT had ordered while other officials and the president daily changed the rationale to hide DDT’s sole concern about the killing’s impact on his election. Based on all the available intelligence, DDT’s “presentation” to private citizens, one he has not made to lawmakers, deserted his “rationale” for killing Soleimani of “imminent” threats on four U.S. embassies to just his being a “bad person.  

Officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are so afraid of DDT that they asked Senate and House Intelligence committees to stop public hearings on the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment. DDT has prevented these hearings since he moved into the Oval Office.

DDT also threatened Iraq that it could lose access to its central bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York if U.S. troops were expelled from U.S.-occupied Iraq. That account is used for oil revenue and payment for government salaries and contracts. He also threatened to end waivers allowing Iraq to purchase Iranian gas for generators supplying much of Iraq’s power.

At Davos, DDT said that “we have to protect Thomas Edison—we have to protect all of these people that came up with originally the light bulb, and the wheel.” The message was that these inventors are still alive and that someone from the U.S. invented the wheel.

October 19, 2018

DDT: Week 91 – Violence against Reporters Acceptable

After passing a tax cut for big business and the wealthiest, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided that the ballooning deficit is “disturbing.” The GOP solution is to reduce “entitlement programs”—the ones that taxpayers funded and the Republican legislators siphoned off to pay for the military and huge tax cuts for the wealthiest. Voters might want to consider this plan when they vote.

DDT has threatened to protect the Mexican border with military and overturn his shiny new trade agreement with the country if they don’t stop a caravan of Honduran immigrants crossing Mexico. He also plans to cut off foreign aid to Honduras, saving the United States a grand $127 million, equivalent to about a year of DDT’s weekend getaways. The differences of opinion in the White House led to a fight between Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton when Bolton dared to criticize DHS director Kirstjen Nielsen’s inability to keep immigrants from crossing the border.

Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and WaPo reporter, wrote about the importance of freedom of the press, the Saudis murdered him, and DDT is protecting Saudi Crown Prince MBS. After denying his death for weeks, Saudi Arabia claimed that he got in a “fist-fight”—presumably with the 15-person death squad sent with a bone saw into the Saudi embassy—and sadly died. DDT called the assumption “credible.” Photos show that members of the murder squad have close ties to Mohammed, including four of them who served as his guards during his visit to the U.S. last March–this 59-year-old man against 15 strong men possessing a bone saw. Here is the piece of trash that Saudi Arabia released. DDT lamented, “This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately.” Everytime he is asked about Khashoggi’s death, DDT says that he doesn’t want to lose $100 billion of arms sales. Now one of the murder squad of 15 has mysteriously died in a car crash.

DDT has restricted access to any information about the murder of Khashoggi by refusing to share any of this information with the Senate. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) described the situation “disappointing.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was derisive about the Saudi story, but most Republicans are covering for DDT by smearing Khashoggi’s reputation using conspiracy theories spread by the radical right-wing press that falsely accuse him of being sympathetic to Islamic terrorism. The GOP support for Saudi Arabia has even erased their memory that 15 of the 19 hijackers attacking the U.S. on 9/11 were Saudis. Saudi Arabia went so far as to claim that 9/11 was an Israeli plot.

Only after Saudi Arabia delivered $100 million to DDT as support for stabilization in northeastern Syria, did DDT agree that Khashoggi was probably dead. The State Department denied any relationship between the money and Mike Pompeo’s discussions with the Saudis about Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia has followed a pattern for paying off countries to support its foreign policies, and it may pay off Turkey for a joint investigation into the murder. Saudi Arabia is looking more and more like ISIS

In his rally this past week, DDT entertained his audience by praising Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) for his physical assault on a Guardian reporter. For the first time, DDT openly cheered a violent act against a journalist in the United States when he expressed his approval of Gianforte because he “body-slammed a reporter.” Gianforte pled guilty to the charge of assault and was sentenced to four days in jail which was changed to 40 hours of community service and a mandated anger-management course. The Guardian US editor, John Mulholland, said:

“The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.

“In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”

A bizarre continuing story this week focused on the Interior Department where the IG, in the midst of four separate investigations into its secretary, Ryan Zinke, seemed to be fired. HUD Director Ben Carson emailed information about her replacement with Suzanne Israel Tufts, one of his own employees who is a DDT political appointee with no experience in government work. After a report was released showing that Zinke violated his department’s policy on travel, White House officials said they knew nothing about these personnel transactions. Interior Department spokeswoman said that Carson’s email “had 100 percent false information” and the long-term IG is staying.

Zinke permitted his wife to travel in government vehicles while she was assisting in a campaign for a political candidate, tried to make her a “volunteer” to justify his actions, told the department’s top lawyer to lie to the public about the situation, and ordered his security detail to drive an associate to the airport. His decision to take an unarmed security detail on his overseas vacation cost taxpayers $25,000. Other investigations include Zinke’s involvement in a Montana land deal and two Connecticut tribes’ application to open a new casino. Interior Department officials also objected to the new political appointee as the Interior’s IG.

The story didn’t end there, though.  HUD said that the information was just a “mistake” and that Tufts had a job interview for IG elsewhere in the government. She didn’t show up for the appointment and then resigned her HUD position. Although she hadn’t come to her HUD job for the past two months, she had been regularly paid. All of this drama and revelation in less than a week.

More drama came from the First Lady’s self-pity party when she called herself “the most bullied person” in the world during an interview. In 2009 Minnesota GOP Senate candidate Karin Housley compared then-First Lady Michelle Obama to the chimpanzee from 1951’s movie Bedtime for Bonzo. And Michelle Obama did not parade in a cheap “I really don’t care” jacket like Melania Trump did. The GOP has a decade-long record of describing the Obama family as simians. (BTW, Trump also said that her jacket was a putdown on the press.)

Senate Democrats have again learned that they cannot trust their GOP counterparts. They agreed to quick confirmation of 15 more DDT judicial nominees so that they could recess for campaigning. Republicans stayed in Washington to hold hearings on more nominees and claimed that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had agreed to these hearings. She didn’t. The handful of Republicans attending Wednesday’s hearing moved them forward.

Last Sunday, DDT’s 60 Minutes interview addressed the people he does and does not trust. Here’s a summary:

Asked about climate change, DDT again dragged out his Uncle John and their conversations to prove that he knew best. John Trump, who died in 1985, worked in electronics and X-ray machines. DDT said that he didn’t talk about his uncle about climate change, but he has “a natural instinct for science.”

Farmers—DDT’s base—have a better instinct about climate change, and they are concerned. They may not need to worry about tariffs stopping them from shipping soybeans; almost a foot of rain has turned their crops into a bog. Their fertilizer is running off into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico to create a dead zone the size of New Jersey that destroys the shrimping industry. Soil is annually disappearing at two to three tons an acre but regenerates at only a half-ton each year. Less soil means less protein in a kernel or pod, and corn becomes higher in starch. Corn yield can also drop by one half within 50 years. Des Moines Water Works faces $100 million in improvement costs because of toxic agricultural chemicals. Minnesota crops are either washed out or weedy. Kansas now requires 100 acres of prairie grass for a calf instead of 40 acres. The huge Ogallala Aquifer, vital to cattle feedlots, is down 150 feet at Dodge City in a little over a half century and may be gone in 20 years. Corn can’t be grown in western Kansas because of the heat.

More people in North Carolina are accepting the fact of climate change after two overwhelming hurricanes in rapid succession. While DDT hosted an insane rant from Kanye West in the Oval Office, needy people are without food, water, and electricity. FEMA director Brock Long told them to be patient, and Florida’s governor Rick Scott, running for U.S. Senate, said that “everyone just needs to help each other.”

Once again, the Republicans have failed, and midterm elections are 18 days away.

June 27, 2018

Democracy in the United States – Gone?

With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s resignation from the Supreme Court and the GOP stolen seat for Neil Gorsuch, no one will have to wonder about decisions from the Supreme Court: they will always favor Christian and business conservatism. Gone are any careful deliberations about the constitutionality of the cases. The five conservative justices will legislate from the bench according to their united radically right-wing ideology. An appointment from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) can ban legalized abortions and contraception, reverse LGBTQ rights, promote discrimination against minorities and women, and increase capital punishment and solitary confinement.

Despite Kennedy’s conservative leanings and his decision to appoint George W. Bush as president in 2000, Kennedy was the swing vote to legalize marriage equality and preserve—to some extent—Roe v. Wade.  On the other hand, he overturned DC’s handgun ban, allowed unlimited finance restrictions, and set in place the destruction of equal voting right. Recently he supported discrimination against Muslims and Christian opposition to abortions and birth control. The week of his resignation after 30 years in the U.S. Supreme Court, Kennedy contributed to the taint of the “Robert Court.”

Despite Republicans ranting against legislating from the bench, the conservative justices made conservative law today in deciding against public-sector unions. The decision of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees permits workers to take union protection for free despite the fact that the small fees they paid has no political influence. The takers, including Mark Janus, won. Even conservative Antonin Scalia, who died before he could hear the case, wrote in 1991 that public sector unions could compel agency fees. Forcing unions to help nonmembers who do not pay them, “mandated by government decree,” would be constitutionally problematic. [Left: Janus was the name for a two-faced god of transition.]

For 41 years, public sector unions could levy fair-share fees to pay for workers interests.  The only intention of the five conservative justices is to break the union in their goal to protect large businesses and hurt working people. The loser in this case is the future for women and young people in the nation because union workers have greater wages—up to 20 percent more. The winner is the group of foundations funded by rightwing billionaires such as the Koch Brothers and the DeVos family who want to make money from privatizing the public sector. Their actions cost people more because privatization always costs taxpayers more money. Therefore people have lower wages while paying more money for everything.

The restrictions in Janus follows the courts’ history of blocking worker freedom. Nineteenth-century courts ruled that workers’ collective action infringed on employers’ freedom of commerce guaranteed by antitrust laws. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Lochner v. New York (1905) decided that labor protections such as maximum-hour laws violated workers’ freedom of contract. The Depression of the 1930s encouraged courts to give labor protections, but the GOP soon gained success in destroying these rights, actions that greatly expanded since their success in electing Ronald Reagan.

Although the Janus ruling may feel like doom, Shaun Richman, a veteran union organizer, warned that the ruling might require public employers to allow multiple unions competing for workers instead of negotiating with just one. If unions go to great lengths to show that they are the best worker advocates, the results could be more union militancy and power.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,”  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said two years ago when President Obama nominated a Supreme Court justice eleven months before the next president would be inaugurated. His position was that no nominee should be considered in an election year, and he refused a hearing for the nominee. For over a year, the Supreme Court was sometimes tied because of only eight justices voting on rulings. The next Congress is only six months away, but McConnell has abandoned his former belief. “We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall,” he said on the Senate floor with no idea of who that nominee will be.

Much has been said about the standard of whether a nominee will overturn Roe v. Wade, but McConnell’s standard is an approval by the NRA. In an interview with Fox, he said that he “can’t imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association [and] the National Federation of Independent Businesses.” McConnell also told a crowd at a campaign rally:

“One of my proudest moments was when I looked at Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.’”

The United States, which claims to be a democracy, now has a bogus president, a bogus Supreme Court justice, and a senate leader who decides which nominees can be confirmed.

Two days ago, the Supreme Court sent a gerrymandering case from North Carolina back to a trial court for further examination. Emboldened by other recent Supreme Court non-decisions on gerrymandering, North Carolina Republicans are asking SCOTUS to use the 2017 map plan that would inordinately favor the GOP.

DDT is fortunate that the media is not concentrating on some of the worst news for the United States because of DDT’s horrific policy separating children and families, his Russian scandals, and the recent disasters of the Supreme Court. During the time of President Obama, conservatives railed against the growing national debt after the president saved the U.S. economy that tanked from George W. Bush’s decreased taxes, $5 trillion wars, and the corruption of subprime mortgages. The last budget from President Obama, the one for 2017, increased the national debt by only $672 billion, a lot of money but much less than the projected deficit from DDT’s first budget in 2018. DDT’s first deficit is $1.233 trillion—almost twice that from President Obama—and his next year is about the same. DDT blamed President Obama for doubling the national debt after he took over Bush’s excesses, but now DDT is doubling President Obama’s debt.

Continuing deficits from tax cuts for the rich and big companies will come with increased dependence on foreign investors that weakens the world power of the U.S. Usually drastic debt increases result because of war and poor economy; the U.S. has neither at this time. After President Obama made progress in decreasing the deficit, however, Republicans’s huge tax cuts moved the nation to higher debt levels and erased its ability to respond to emergencies. Instead of addressing the problem, the GOP wants to make permanent the temporary taxes for individuals after 2026 to create even greater debt. Also contributing to greater debt and decline in the economy is DDT’s trade war with China, Mexico, Canada and Europe.

The GOP solution for the debt in the coming year will be to shred the safety net and established programs that people have paid into for decades. DDT ran on a campaign of preserving Medicare and Social Security, but the 2019 budget proposed by the GOP House now have drastically cuts many programs, including Medicare and Social Security, in order to pay for its tax cuts. Presenting these priorities that hurt the GOP voting block of older U.S. citizens is a brave move less than five months before Republicans try to keep the House majority in the midterm general elections. Republicans knew that the tax cuts could drive up the deficit, but they are now crying that the biggest domestic problem are debts and deficits. The GOP budget, called “A Brighter American Future,” goes back to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) desire of privatizing Medicare which supposedly reduces Medicare by $537 billion over the next decade. Considering that privatization always costs more than government programs, that’s a big slice out of health care for its recipients.

A new law that permits additional Medicare benefits for people with multiple chronic illnesses is a move toward privatization. These benefits may include home improvements such as wheelchair ramps, transportation to doctor’s offices, home delivery of hot meals, and other social and medical services. The catch is that only people with MedAdvantage programs, contracted with private companies, will have this “advantage.” Those who subscribe to traditional Medicare won’t have them available because Congress waived the requirement that all plans offer the same benefits for those with chronic illnesses.

Ryan is blaming God for taking benefits for people:

“Catholic social teaching … cautions us against allowing the state too great a reach into civil society. This is about saving souls, not dollars.”

Ryan’s college education was provided by his survivor’s benefits from the “state” after his father died. At the same time Ryan began “dreaming” about destroying Medicaid when he was “drinking out of kegs.” He plans to spend his last six months taking more money from people like him and ordered his team to provide reconciliation instructions to fast-track the budget without Democratic votes in the Senate—probably in the lame-duck session after the elections.

This June, the Supreme Court ended with a bang.

October 30, 2015

Budget Bill, GOP Debate Dismay Republicans

This past week was filled with news, especially the GOP debate and the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. A miracle also happened, but the media largely ignored this amazing event: Congress passed a bill that stops threats of government shutdown from the GOP refusing to both raise the debt ceiling and eliminate the sequester for the next 18 months. The GOP cannot use these threats before the general election a year from now. President Obama will finish his second term without the budget warfare, including an almost month-long government shutdown, that he’s endured for the past five years.

The budget agreement raises the government debt ceiling until March 2017 and sets the budget of the government through the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. A collection of spending cuts and revenue increases provides $80 billion more for military and domestic programs, avoiding the sequester for another two years. The appropriations committees are just left to write legislation to reflect the spending by December 11.

The House passed the deal by a 266-167 vote; 79 Republicans joined 187 Democrats. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had hoped for this bill to pass before he left his position—and the House—but most people didn’t believe it was possible. Not everyone in the House wanted the bill: 167 Republicans voted against the bill. The so-called Hastert Rule, requiring that no bill would be put on the floor without the promise of enough Republican votes for passage, was totally ignored. The rule is named after the former Speaker who just pled guilty about lying to the government after they discovered he had been paying off a former student sexually abused by Hastert while he was a high school coach.

The budget accord raises spending caps on domestic and defense spending over the next two years and makes changes to the Social Security disability program while raising the debt limit until March 2017. There’s also a drawdown from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and savings reaped from a Justice Department fund for crime victims that involves assets seized from criminals.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the budget a “major victory” and removes “the stranglehold of sequestration … from our nation’s growth.” The other indicator that the bill is a positive move forward is that conservatives absolutely hate the agreement. Boehner almost lost the deal over the proposed cap for insurance in the federal crop insurance system but backed down in an agreement that the situation would be addressed later this year.

Social Security played a part in the bill that continued a two-percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors and other health care providers. Earlier this year, the Republicans tried to eliminate part of the Social Security disability program, but the current bill covers the shortfall in the disability trust fund with Social Security funds. At least one-third of Medicare recipients avoided a 52-percent premium hike.

The bill finally passed the Senate by 64-35 at 3:00 in the morning after long wrangling when 18 Republicans joined all Senate Democrats to support its final passage. The vote could have been earlier, but Rand Paul (KY), who came back from his presidential campaign trail for the vote, spoke against it for an hour. GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz (TX) and Marco Rubio (FL) also voted against the bill; Lindsey Graham (SC) voted in favor of it.

The bill’s great advantage is that the congressional appropriations committees can stop arguing about short-term continuing resolutions to avert government shutdowns. Cruz can no longer threaten the nation with his favorite activity—stopping all government activity. Hedge funds and private equity firms are losers because the bill calls for heightened IRS scrutiny for them. The government receives $11 billion to audit large partnerships.

The bill also requires generic drug makers to pay an additional rebate under Medicaid if drug costs outpace inflation—a given. Non-generic drugs already have to pay that rebate. The GOP should be happy that it finally killed one small part of the Affordable Care Act that no one knew about—the mandate for large employers to automatically enroll new employees in health plans. That part hadn’t been enforced yet so people won’t notice.

Equally crushing for conservatives is that over half the Republicans joined Democrats to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which conservatives called corporate cronyism. The backers used a little-used discharge petition which circumvents leadership opposition to bring the bill up for a floor vote. It is yet to be seen whether the Senate will pass a bill that got almost three-fourths of the House vote.

While the congressional Republicans were fighting about the budget, the GOP presidential candidates were honoring the liberal union position of striking to get better working conditions. They banded together to protest what they perceived as unfair media treatment at last Wednesday’s debate and erase the contract with NBC for the debate in Houston on February 16, 2016. RNC Chair Reince Priebus called the questions “petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates.” He added that the debate “was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.”

Conservatives are calling for “conservative media professionals” (an oxymoron) to moderate GOP debates because “liberal moderators” are in charge. This may be the first time that the Fox network has been called “liberal.” Their suggestion is to have Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin as moderators because they “influence more Republican primary voters.” Diana Banister, Executive Director of Citizens for the Republic, described past debate questions as being “of zero relevance, yet designed to bring chaos and disorder to the Republican’s chance to win the race for the White House.” Others went farther to ask that Democrats have a debate moderated by “conservative opinion leaders.”

Thus far the group of protesting presidential candidates has at least ten of the remaining 16 wannabes although they are excluding RNC Chair Priebus.  Each one is voicing complaints and ways to make the debates more successful for them individually.

Jeb Bush and Rand Paul want equal speaking time, and Bobby Jindal, still at the kids’ table, wants to change the criteria for determining who qualifies for the prime-time debate. Polling better in Iowa than nationally, he wants early state polling instead of just national surveys. Others at the early debate at the bottom of polling want a random drawing instead of poll numbers to determine the main debate. Ben Carson is upset about what he called “gotcha” questions about his affiliation with the fraudulent supplement company Mannatech. He skipped over the fact that he lied about his relationship with the firm. Chris Christie accused a moderator of being rude, “even in New Jersey”; he’s the governor who bellowed “sit down and shut up” and calls people in the audience “idiot.”

Donald Trump had already convinced the networks that two hours was better than three hours, reducing fire from other candidates. The candidates also demanded opening and closing statements, something that the network said would take too much time for ten candidates but agreed to. Before the debate, candidates complained about the quality of their green rooms. The post-mortem of the GOP-failed 2012 campaign concluded that 20 debates were too many because they allowed candidates to show the weaknesses of their opponents.

Petty? Mean-spirited? Too long? Zero relevance? “Gotcha” questions? Designed to embarrass? All these terms describe the past month’s grueling 11-hour Benghazi hearing at the House of Representatives that Democratic presidential candidate faced with grace and patience. The GOP candidates could take a lesson from watching her.

July 18, 2015

GOP Competes with Trump in Bigotry

No matter how much Republican politicians want Donald Trump to go away, he continues to suck the energy out of the presidential candidate. HuffPo has so little regard for him that they are leaving him in the entertainment section instead of putting his news in “politics.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) railed against Trump’s “firing up the crazies,” having forgotten that he tried to put one of the finest crazies just a heartbeat away from being President of the United States. McCain may have the last word, however, after Trump insinuated that McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured. The question is whether that’s the tipping point of Trump’s outrageous statements.

For what seems forever, Trump has led the growing GOP pack of presidential candidates, now at 18 percent and trailed by Scott Walker and Jeb Bush who flip back and forth between second place. This was after Fox laid out Trump’s position, repeating the accusation that undocumented immigrants are “rapists.” Seven in ten Republicans—70 percent—believe that Trump is right.

Even worse for the Republicans is the increase of President Obama’s approval rating, up three points last month to 47 percent—on a Fox poll. A real poll put the president at 52 percent approval.

Having gotten elected for another six years, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) set out to alienate another GOP constituency—older people. After the House passed a five-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund—meaning no projects because of no funding assurance for next year–McConnell wants a long-term funding law paid by removing money from Social Security for the elderly and disabled, homeowners, and retirement funds for federal employees. McConnell’s proposal would cut the return investment rate on a retirement investment plan and eliminate Social Security payments for an elderly recipient who has an outstanding arrest warrant, no matter the reason or how long ago the warrant was issued. There was no mention of increasing taxes on the wealthy or cutting funding from wars.

The grand idea for the future highway funding from the House is not much better: a small tax on monies that corporations bring back from tax havens in exchange for massive corporate tax breaks in the future. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supports the idea, why I don’t know.

Technically, highways should be funded by the gas tax, but that hasn’t been increased for 22 years, and the GOP isn’t about to raise it now. President Reagan, for all his lack of progressive attitudes, raised the gas tax by 125 percent because he knew the importance of the nation’s infrastructure. President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system in the name of national security, but current Republicans lack the foresight to consider this while they clamor for war in the Middle East.

The GOP is also back to attacking women’s reproductive rights through a bill limiting abortions to under 20 weeks. At this point, they think they’ve got the goods on Planned Parenthood through a heavily-edited misleading video that insinuates the falsehood that the organization sells fetal tissue from its abortions. Conservatives have gotten a lot of press from an official talking clinically about fetal tissue, but there was no indication of wrong-doing—just a lack of perceiving a fetus as a cuddly creature as anti-abortion activists think of it.

Examining the issue, however, brings up some unpleasant facts for the congressional members who are crying foul: they have known about the video for almost a month and saved it for their own political reasons. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee looking into the video, said that he’d seen the clip weeks before. When he was asked why he and others waited weeks to take action, Murphy searched for words until he said, “This interview didn’t happen.” He’s been in Congress for 12 years and knows that he can’t tell a journalist that there was no interview. He does know how ridiculous the GOP looks to call the situation potentially criminal but do nothing about it, such as calling authorities.

Obviously, Republicans want to use the video to push their anti-choice issues. The destruction of the low-income housing group ACORN was so successful years ago from edited undercover videos suggesting criminal activity that they hope the strategy will work with Planned Parenthood. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said he keeps an acorn in his pocket that “represents ACORN’s scalp.” He added, “Ask me after the appropriations cycle and see if I have a talisman in my pocket for Planned Parenthood’s.” (I hate to think what it would be.) King, known for his outrageous, virulent anti-immigrant statements, also tweeted yesterday, “What does [Housing and Urban Development Secretary] Julian Castro know? Does he know that I’m as Hispanic and Latino as he?” He hasn’t responded to questions about what he meant by the tweet.

On the video, Planned Parenthood didn’t talk about doing anything illegal, but it may have been illegally made. The organization called Center for Medical Progress (CMP) may also be in hot water. It describes itself as “a group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances” and filed with the IRS as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The group actually pushes pro-life, anti-abortion principles, as shown by its website, with its “undercover footage.” Pushing anti-abortion legislation makes the group a “right-to-life” non-profit which must be shown in its filing.

The head of CMP, David Daleiden, is a former anti-abortion Live Action worker and associate of both Lila Rose and James O’Keefe, who creates edited sting videos to attack progressive organizations and politicians. CMP is a recent creation, its blog starting 12 days ago, tweets not coming out until last Tuesday, and its Facebook page only two months old. Deliberately misleading the IRS and donors makes an organization subject to civil and criminal fraud penalties.

While the House is looking for ways to destroy women’s reproductive rights, the Senate voted in favor of LGBTQ discrimination and bullying in K-12 public schools by voting down Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) bill to ban these activities. The Student Non-Discrimination Act, would have extended the same protections to LGBTQ students that they receive for race, national origin, sex, and disability. School officials can still ban same-sex couples at proms and stand by while LGBTQ students are bullied. Even Franken’s statements about LGBTQ youth suicides didn’t sway the GOP no vote, led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). All 45 votes against the bill were Republicans. As usual in the senate, a majority of 52 yes votes didn’t move the bill forward. Two presidential candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against Franken’s bill; two voted for it—Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Franken said that the Republicans were “grumpy” since same-sex couples now have the legal right to marry.

I gave Jeb Bush a pass over his statement that people “need to work longer hours” because he might have been misquoted or misunderstood. Now, however, he claims that the president’s proposed expansion of overtime pay to millions more “managers” and white-collar workers” to earn below $50,440 a year will result in “less overtime pay” and “less wages earned” because it would “lessen the number of people working.” Experts and studies refute this claim, but Republicans have never been deterred by facts and evidence. At this time, employers can deny overtime pay to “exempt” salaried managers earning more than $23,660 a year, allowing a fast-food assistant manager to work 60 hours a week with no overtime. If employers don’t want to pay the overtime, they can hire more people—creating more jobs. Increasing pay nationwide by $1.5 billion a year also increases the taxes the employees pay. Bush also misrepresents the proposal by claiming that the rules would prohibit bonuses. Ross Eisenbrey, a vice-president of the Economic Policy Institute, said: “Bush should be embarrassed about how misinformed he was.” No pass for Jeb Bush this time.

At the same time the GOP fails to support human rights, a federal agency fills in the void. Over 50 years after the civil Rights Act was passed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided that the law protects LGBTQ people in the workplace. The new decision states, “Allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex.” EEOC rulings aren’t law unless the person is a federal employee; for others, courts consider EEOC rulings as only expert advisories. When EEOC and the Supreme Court disagreed about whether federal law indefinitely prohibits discriminatory pay practices against women, only congressional action—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—granted these protections to women. This ruling is a start in the 31 states that don’t prevent job discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The GOP supports bullying and discrimination against LGBT kids, taking money from needy Social Security recipients who paid their SS taxes, destroying the U.S. highways, and discriminating against women–not men–who have sex while single. Pregnant women lose their rights but not the men who impregnated them. Welcome to the GOP US of A.

 

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