Nel's New Day

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.

 

December 10, 2013

The Poor on Human Rights Day

Sixty-five years ago, the United Nations adopted the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; its drafting committee was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt because of her expertise. The document, celebrated every December 10’s Human Rights Day, defines the world’s commitment to human rights as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Human rights standards for everyone include “the right to life, liberty and nationality, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to work, to be educated, [and] to take part in government.”

From the beginning of years of the 21st century, the United States has been increasingly negligent about human rights as the government supported torture, unjustified imprisonment, and other unethical and illegal violence. Within this country, however, the government has failed millions of people in poverty as Congress has increasingly failed to support a safety net while creating an economy that promotes this poverty.

Because of  bad or nonexistent legislation and a president who struggled to compromise with recalcitrant, extortionist lawmakers in the House, the poor are in the midst of a losing game. The sequester that further puts the screws to the poor digs deeper on January 1, one week after the Christian holiday that celebrates a compassionate Jesus. Here are a few experiences, the poor can expect, thanks to GOP House members:

Homelessness: Budget cuts from increased sequestration will take rental assistance vouchers away from 140,000 low-income families by the beginning of next year, making housing more expensive as agencies raise costs to offset the budget cuts. About three million disabled seniors and families will be affected to save the $2 billion that the government shutdown cost in back-pay to federal workers.

Cold: Those who can stay in their homes may not be able to heat it. Sequester cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) meant that 300,000 low-income families in 2013 were denied government support for energy costs. 

Hunger: The recent reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, affecting more than 47 million Americans, is the largest wholesale cut in the program since Congress passed the first Food Stamps Act in 1964. Those cuts were made on November 1, but the House isn’t satisfied. Their goal is to take $39 billion from SNAP during the next decade. The result is loss of benefits for 3.8 million low-income people in the upcoming year. An additional 2.8 million will lose benefits each year. Last year alone, SNAP kept 4 million people out of poverty.

Cutting SNAP is just a start in creating more hunger. Cuts to Meals on Wheels will cost poor seniors 4 to 18 million meals next year.  The Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), which provides health care referrals and nutrition to poor pregnant and postpartum women and children up to age five, took cuts of $500 million this year with far more next year.

Lack of Education: Head Start started to take children out of its program last March and removed 57,000 children from their classrooms in September. More than half of the public schools fired personnel because of cuts. Forty percent of children who don’t receive early childhood education are more likely to become a parent as a teenager, 25 percent are more likely to drop out of school, and 70 percent are more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

Joblessness: The unemployment program in the United States is one of the worst in the developed world, and it’s getting worse. People out of work for 27 weeks or more–40 percent of the unemployed –have already begun and will continue to lose a large portion of their benefits between January and March. Eight percent of this year’s sequestration cuts are coming from unemployment insurance.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has given the party line that the GOP is doing unemployed people a favor by taking away their benefits because that will force them to get jobs. Evidence shows that government assistance helps the job searches of 4.4 million people. On January 1, 1.3 million will lose the extended jobless benefits if Congress doesn’t take action—which looks highly unlikely. Cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF, or welfare) means even less of safety net.

A proposed shift in Social Security would keep fewer jobs available for the unemployed. President Obama proposes cuts in this program for 2014 through a new formula called Chained CPI. Instead of building an economy that contributes more taxes to the Social Security program, the government plans to keep more money out of circulation, causing more joblessness from fewer consumers.

Sickness: In the 25 states where GOP governors have refused to accept federal funding for Medicaid, a gap between the state’s version of Medicaid and the level for exchanges leaves more than 5 million people in poverty without health insurance. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the part of the Affordable Care Act requiring all states to extend Medicaid to people with household income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level despite the federal government picking up the entire tab for the first three years and then gradually phased back to 90 percent.

The law states that people over 100 percent of the poverty line can go to exchanges, but those under 100 percent are ineligible. It was assumed that Medicaid would take care of them. The GOP governors changed all that. Coverage in Texas is almost non-existent for the poor: Medicaid is available to only these making less than 25 percent of the poverty level. A family of three cannot participate on the exchange if they make over $4,000, the state’s level for Medicaid, and $19,500, 100 percent poverty level.

Today, a bipartisan Congressional committee chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) released a two-year budget plan that they hope will pass both chambers. The poor is sure to not benefit from Paul’s work. He continues to believe that poverty can be cured by “spiritual redemption” as he again said in a speech last week at the Heritage Foundation. There were no specifics of how religion will put food on the table.

A missing part of the budget deal is any tax reform. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s low tax rate is a prime example of the nation’s tax abuses. The “carried-interest loophole” allows investors to have their entire income taxed as if they were capital gains, saving them 19.6 percent on income over $400,000. Using the 20-percent capital gain tax rate instead of the 39.9-percent income rate takes $25 billion from the government and lowers the percentage of taxes paid by the wealthy below those in the middle class.

The refusal of 25 GOP governors to accept federal Medicaid funding is both driving up rates in their own states’ exchanges by 15 percent and returning billions of dollars back to the federal government. That means that everyone on exchanges have to pay much more, and the state doesn’t have the jobs resulting from improved economy that the federal infusion would provide. Just 15 of these states, including Texas, have turned down $8.4 billion in assistance.

The estimate of reduction to the deficit from the ACA has increased since the original projections. In 2020, Medicare spending will be $137 billion lower than thought in 2010, and Medicaid spending will be 16 percent, $85 billion, lower. Private health insurance premiums are expected to be about 9 percent lower. These projections are assuming a temporary slowdown, but the savings could actually be $750 billion over a decade.

The proposed deal is split between revenues through fees and spending cuts. Travelers will pay higher prices on airline tickets, and federal workers will have to contribute more to pensions. Millionaires and billionaires are safe from higher taxes. Defense spending takes half reduction of sequestration for 2014 of $45 billion, and non-defense discretionary spending takes the rest. The sequester’s cuts to mandatory spending are not affected. There is no chance of an extension for unemployment benefits.

As of today, the House plans to vote on Friday to pass the budget deal and delay the SGR’s cuts to Medicare’s doctor pay. There are no changes to Social Security and Medicare in the deal, but amendments can always change that. If conservatives have their way there will be another “continuing resolution” for a few days so that Republicans can avoid talking about issues such as jobs.

 

The struggle will be between the Republicans who are afraid that they will lose their next elections because the country knows they are unreasonable and the extremists who believe that no one can defeat. Three years ago, the mainstream Republicans thought the Tea Party would save them. Now they see them as a menace.

cartoon snake tea party

Later this week, the fight begins as conservative Republicans push to inflict the poor with more homelessness, cold, hunger, lack of education and jobs, and sickness because they think the poor deserve to suffer. Even if today is Human Rights Day.

November 22, 2013

We Need to Return to JFK’s Dream

Today is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death from a gunman in Dallas (TX). For weeks, the media has discussed the controversy surrounding his murder and the tortured activities of the Warren Commission that investigated the killing. Fox network, however, took a slightly different approach.

Fox News host Chris Wallace, son of 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace, tried to convince Kennedy’s niece, Kathleen Townsend Kennedy, that the president was “quite conservative.” When Wallace insisted that the president lowered taxes because he thought this would spur the economy, Townsend Kennedy pointed out he lowered the top marginal rates from 90 percent to 70 percent, over double today’s 33 percent.

Wallace claimed that Kennedy was a “Cold Warrior”; Townsend Kennedy responded that he resisted generals who wanted to declare war during the Bay of Pigs incident.

Conservative columnist George Will asserted, “Well, he was a conventional liberal before liberalism changed in the late 1960s. He … did indeed believe in supply side tax cuts, increased revenues from lower rates.” According to Will, that was the reason Kennedy was killed, because he was too conservative. “We happen to know he was killed by a silly, squalid, little communist,” Will finished.

Fox contributor Brit Hume followed up by saying, “I think he was the coolest president we ever had. I think, however, despite the thinness of the record that [Wallace] just mentioned and that George mentioned, he has been the subject of the most successful public relations campaign in political history. It is a legend bordering, I think, on myth.”

Missing from Wallace’s narrative is that conservatives hated Kenndy because he supported equality for blacks, suggested that the U.S. should agree to a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and planned to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam after the 1964 election.

For his book JFK and the Unspeakable, endorsed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Jim Douglass’  information from declassified government documents showed the actions of a man who was definitely not conservative:  

  • A major conflict with military contractor United States Steel because the corporation double-crossed the president by raising steel prices despite a deal between the two parties.
  • Refusal to start an all-out nuclear war despite regular pressure from the military-industrial complex.
  • A secret arrangement with Russia’s Nikita Krushchev for a nuclear disarmament treaty.
  • Open support for Castro in the Cuban Revolution.
  • Efforts to end the U.S. occupation of Vietnam.
  • Refusal to stage terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that would be blamed on Cuba.

Fifty years after Kennedy’s assassination, the government shows the destruction of conservative politicians. Minimum wage is 20 percent lower than 45 years ago, and Social Security benefits are 25 percent lower than 30 years. At the same time, 60 percent of the pensions disappeared, and the recent recession wiped out much of the retirement that some people had saved in 401(k)s.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is a leader in moving the United States back to Kennedy’s dream. In response to a study by Dr. Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied the economic impacts of the current minimum wage, she said, “If we started in 1960 and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. And if that were the case then the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour.” Dube pointed out that growing the minimum wage at the same pace as the increase for the top 1 percent of income earners would make the minimum wage closer to $33.

Warren also spoke about other changes in the past 50 years:

“During the Great Depression and the years after World War II, our country made two remarkable decisions. First, in a boom-and-bust world, we created a basic set of fair rules that ended the financial panics and provided almost a half-century of economic stability and growth. Second, we invested in ourselves and our children, creating the basic building blocks for a strong middle class and a strong economy: education, roads and bridges, mass transit and rail, water and sewage, research, and energy. It worked. America’s middle class prospered. We celebrated success, but we always paid ahead, making sure that the basic ingredients would be in place so the next generation could do even better.

“But about a generation ago, Washington turned in a different direction and changed the rules.

“Financial cops were taken off the beat, and government regulators began to work for those they were supposed to regulate. We fought wars we didn’t pay for, recklessly piling on debt. Powerful companies got subsidies, and ordinary families and small businesses had to pick up the burden. We didn’t repair our roads and bridges, and we cut back on research.  We stopped investing in our future.”

An important piece of investment in the dream and the future is Social Security. Those wailing about how the program is going broke are forgetting about the free ride that the wealthy is getting. The current cap on deductions is under $114,000, much less than the $200,000 in 2013 several years ago. The wealthy also make most of their money now from capital gains which Social Security does not tax.

The growing wealth of the top percent of people in the United States might bring up the question of how people manage to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. People can have only so many mansions, jets, yachts, cars, and other expensive items yet still have left-over money. If that’s your problem, here’s help:

  • A $95,000 truffle: Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin recently ordered this at Nello, a Wall Street restaurant. To him, $95,000 wouldn’t seem like much money: the relationship of $95,000 to $1 billion is the same as $.95 to $10,000. Before going to Nello, however, you might want to read Yelp reviews—two stars and complaints about inedible food and rude service.
  • A $5,000 hamburger: In Las Vagas at Mandalay Bay, the Fleur de Lys restaurant offers the “Fleurburger 5000, a Kobe beef patty “topped with a rich truffle sauce and served on a brioche truffle bun.” For that price it comes with a bottle of 1990 Chateau Petrus served in Ichendorf Brunello stemware that you get to keep.
  • A $500 milkshake: The Powder Room restaurant in Los Angeles includes “special stuff: edible gold, Belgian chocolate, and a crystal ring.”
  • A $117,000 bottle of 1811 Chateau d’Yquem: If that’s not enough, the Le Clos wine shop in Dubai International Airport offers three 12-liter bottles of 2009 Château Margaux for $195,000–each.
  • A $142 million piece of art by Francis Bacon: At the same auction, three other pieces sold for more than $50 million; 11 for more than $20 million; and 16 sold for more than $10 million. An Andy Warhol piece sold for almost $60 million.

As Thomas Galbraith, of online auction house Paddle8, said, “Since the recession, the wealthy appear to be becoming even wealthier, while middle-class wages are more stagnant.”  Katherine Markley, artnet’s lead market analyst, added, “The 400 richest Americans [are] now worth a cumulative $2 trillion, up $300 billion from a year ago and with an average net worth of a record $5 billion, an $800 million increase from a year ago.”

As the first Catholic president of the United States, Kennedy swore he would not let his religion rule. His inspiring call to people of this nation led to the establishment of the Peace Corp, an organization that still sends thousands of U.S. volunteers around the world to help the needy. He was committed to land a human being on the moon; his support of space exploration helped that happen six years later. His Area Redevelopment Act helped states suffering from high unemployment rates, his laws ended segregation in interstate travel facilities, and his executive order stopped discrimination in housing sales and leases financed by the government. Kennedy also promoted the arts through concerts, plays, and musicals at the White House.

Fifty years later, the GOP wants its religion to rule the United States, works to deprive the poor of food and housing, fights the accomplishments of science through denial, increases unemployment rates by austerity, and demonstrates extreme racism. To the GOP, the arts are a waste of money.

Average hourly earnings have been flat for 50 years (after adjusting for inflation), as companies steer their wealth primarily to senior management and owners at the expense of average employees. Tax policies increasingly favor investors and high wage earners over middle-class and upper-middle-class wage-earners. An obsession with “shareholder value” at the expense of other stakeholders (namely, customers and employees) has led companies to cut employee costs to the bone.

These and other factors have contributed to the most radical redistribution of wealth that the United States has ever seen. Since the late 1970s, the country’s assets and income have moved steadily from “average” Americans to the richest Americans. The wealth inequality is the greatest since the 1920s. Consumers have little money to spend, businesses suffer and look for way to cut costs, and consumers are hurt even more.

Big companies and their owners and senior managers, however, are not suffering. They’re doing better than any other time in history. The free-market system, which worked well 50 years ago, is costing everyone except the top 1 percent. The result is a nation of over 300+ serfs who serve a few million overlords.

As Warren said, “The Republican vision is clear: ‘I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.’ ” That wasn’t John F. Kennedy’s dream, and it shouldn’t be ours either.

November 16, 2013

Progressives Decide to Move Forward

While House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) sits on all potential legislation such as immigration reform, non-discrimination, etc., the rest of the world is moving forward to make life better for people. Here are some recent actions:

The Sacramento Superior Court defended California’s clean energy economy by upholding California’s cap-and-trade program. Business interests opposed the law, but the court supported the state’s position that auctioning carbon permits holds polluters accountable for making an adverse impact on the climate. The first four “auctions” raised $395 million for the state, and the fifth one is due this coming week.

In two different cases, Mutual Pharmaceuticals v. Bartlett (2011) and Pliva v. Mensing  (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that makers of generic drugs could not warn people of the dangers associated with their drugs because they had to copy the brand-name drug label, per FDA mandates. The FDA policy and Supreme Court decisions eliminated any incentive for generic drug makers to investigate and report safety problems related to their products, about 84 percent of the medication market, by giving them total immunity.

Recently, differences between generics and brand-names, such as Wellbutrin and its generics, resulted in several generics being pulled from the market because the generics are not equivalent to the brand-name drugs. For example, stories about problems surrounding Wellbutrin generics were in the media for at least six years before the FDA ruled that the generic was not equivalent.

The good news: After extensive petitioning, the FDA proposes revising its 1992 ruling to requiring changes in generic drug labels listing dangers not provided in labels for brand-name drugs. If generic drug makers present a valid case for changes in the labeling, the FDA may permit this information on the labels. Generic drug manufacturers could also distribute “Dear Health Care Provider” letters. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that the change would create new liability standards for generic drug manufacturers under the same failure-to-warn standards that have resulted in huge fines for many branded drug manufacturers. The FDA is providing 60 days for public and industry input regarding the changes in the rules before they could go into effect.

Public Citizen, which worked to petition the FDA regarding labeling rules, has also issued a report about the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma and Texas just weeks before the 485-mile-long pipeline is supposed to have 700,000 barrels of diluted bitumen pumped through it daily. Members of Public Citizen who walked a 250-mile stretch documented and photographed engineering code violations and approximately 125 “anomalies” of dents, sags, peeling patches, and other problems.

 multipatch2_1292 (2)

Public Citizen has called for a U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) investigation into its findings. The organization has also requested that Congress and the White House delay any pipeline use until a government investigation is complete.

Martin Bashir has called out Sarah Palin about her comparison between slavery and the national debt. Although right-wingers accuse Bashir of being a misogynist, I think he’s a hero for his history lesson, using the diary of plantation overseer Thomas Thistlewood to describe the brutality and inhumanity of slavery in Colonial America.  

In 1756, Thistlewood recorded that a slave named Darby “catched eating kanes had him well flogged and pickled, then made Hector, another slave, s-h-i-t in his mouth.” The overseer’s punishment became known as “Darby’s Dose.” The diary also described treatment for a man he called Punch. “Flogged punch well, and then washed and rubbed salt pickle, lime juice and bird pepper, made Negro Joe piss in his eyes and mouth.”

The liberal wing of the Senate is moving forward while GOP senators filibuster the three women nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit: Nina Pillard, Patricia Millett, and Caitlin Halligan. GOP senators accused the women accused of “militant feminism” because of their work for women’s rights. (Misogyny?)

Democratic senators have introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 that would prevent states from passing TRAP laws. Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers attempt to stop abortion access in 45 states by creating frivolous regulations such as specific dimensions for clinic restrooms and mandates that doctors performing abortions have privileges at nearby hospitals. These state laws, some of them overturned by courts, have closed 54 women’s clinics, 12 of them in Texas. That state’s reduction in funding closed another 50 family planning clinics.

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Barbara Boxer (CA), Tammy Baldwin (WI) introduced the bill in the upper chamber. Reps. Judy Chu (CA), Marcia Fudge (OH), and Lois Frankel (FL) brought the bill to the House. The last time that Congress passed proactive legislation protecting abortion access was the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994.

Another Senate bill extends the life of Social Security and improves its benefits. Democrats Sherrod Brown (OH),Tom Harkin (IA), Brian Schatz (HI), and Mark Begich (AK) are sponsoring the Strengthen Social Security Act of 2013:

Strengthen Benefits by Reforming the Social Security Benefit Formula:  By changing the way that SS benefits are calculated, the average increase per person would by about $70 per month with those in low- and middle-income levels targeted.

Ensure that Cost of Living Adjustments Adequately Reflect the Living Expenses of Retirees: A change in the calculation of Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) would also create an increase in SS benefits. At this time, the COLA is tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation, using items that do not correctly reflect purchases that seniors make, such as medical care. The bill bases future COLAs on the CPI for the Elderly (CPI-E), an experimental index that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been keeping since 1982.

Improve the Long Term Financial Condition of the Trust Fund: According to the most recent Social Security Trustees report, the Trust Fund can pay full benefits through 2033, another 20 years. The proposed change is phasing out the current taxable cap of $113,700 so that the wealthiest Americans contribute to the program the same share of their income as the middle class.

Republicans may not vote for these bills, but they’ll be forced to show that they vote against women and senior citizens.

 

Next Page »

Mind-Cast

Rethinking Before Restarting

the way of improvement leads home

reflections at the intersection of American history, religion, politics, and academic life

© blogfactory

Genuine news

Civil Rights Advocacy

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

AGR Daily News

Quaker Inspired, Evidence Based, Art And Science Of Sustainable Health Plus Success - How To Create Heaven On Earth - Education For Seventh Generation Rainbow Warriors

JONATHAN TURLEY

Res ipsa loquitur - The thing itself speaks

Jennifer Hofmann

Inspiration for soul-divers, seekers, and activists.

Occupy Democrats

Progressive political commentary/book reviews for youth and adults

V e t P o l i t i c s

politics from a liberal veteran's perspective

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

Rainbow round table news

Official News Outlet for the Rainbow Round Table of the American Library Association

The Extinction Protocol

Geologic and Earthchange News events

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Over the Rainbow Books

A Book List from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: