Nel's New Day

October 11, 2018

United States, A Banana Republic

“Banana Republic” is a term to describe governments with countries that suffer from lack of democracy and corruption. How the United States fits the description of a “banana republic”:

An extremely stratified social class with a large impoverished working class and an ultra-rich ruling-class plutocracy with a lack of a middle class and lack of upward mobility: The U.S. has had the highest income inequality and lowest upward mobility of any country in the developed world for several years, and it keeps worsening.

Government’s corrupt connection with big business: As in fascist countries, U.S. conservative politicians have supported the merger of state and corporate power by removing regulations, giving corporations billions of dollars in tax cuts and subsidies, and putting banks and corporations above the law. The person occupying the Oval Office is profiting with millions—possibly trillions—from domestic groups and foreign government encouraged to use his businesses despite his constitutional violation of the Emoluments Clause.

A male business, political, and military elite controlling the nation: In a circular pattern, politicians take money from business for campaigns in exchange for subserviency, and conservative politicians vote for increased military expenses to keep money flowing into their states. Lack of regulations moves wealth offshore while workers suffer. Conservative politicians put white conservative males into control on the courts, protecting only white males and big business and permitting illegal tax evasion. All new DDT judicial nominees are male, recognizing that “we the ruling males” are in charge instead of the constitutional “we the people.” Less than one-third of the U.S. population is white male, but they still control the nation.

Police corruption and expanding police state: The frequent pattern of using military equipment for police actions is like military actions in Iraq, and law enforcement increasingly kill people in “accidents” or badly orchestrated sting operations. Laws since 9/11 permit warrantless wiretapping and other tactics common in dictatorships.

Highest incarceration rate in the world: The 716 prisoners per 100,000 residents in the U.S. far exceed the 114 in Canada, the 79 in German, and even the 162 in Saudi Arabia. Privatized prisons have greatly increased the number of prisoners because the government gets kickbacks from these businesses for their campaigns that keep them the ruling party.

Lack of access to healthcare: Despite the Affordable Care Act, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) created a path to health insurance that doesn’t provide for pre-existing conditions, hospitalizations, maternal care, and other health needs by conning them into believing that they save money. DDT’s newest plan is like a person paying less for a car that doesn’t run. People in the U.S. pay more than most developed countries for healthcare expenses and are reduced to medical bankruptcies but are convinced that universal health care is evil.

Much shorter life expectancy in poor than wealthy: In one West Virginia county, life expectancy for males is 63.9 years compared to 81.6 years, 17.7 years higher, in affluent Fairfax County (VA)—a difference of 27 percent. Bangladesh life expectancy is higher than McDowell County (WV). U.S. women’s life expectancy was #41 in 2010.

Hunger and malnutrition: Banana republics are associated with food insecurity, but the need for food stamps in the U.S. has increased from one in 50 during the 1970s to one in eight with 50 million people, including 12 million children, suffering from food insecurity.

High infant mortality: Fifty-seven countries have a smaller infant mortality rate than the U.S. In first-day death rate, babies dying the day that they are born, the U.S. has the highest rate in the industrialized world, twice as many as in the European Union.

One idealistic view of saving the United States is to vote, and millions of people want to exercise their right to select their representatives in this republic. Yet conservative politicians block the ability for millions to vote. Beyond white males rigging the districts so that a state with a majority of Democrats will elect almost all Republicans for state and federal elected officials, voter ID laws that prevent people from voting. The following states have created these ways to keep people from voting:

Arizona: Secretary of State Michele Reagan won’t be required to update voter registration addresses of 384,000 Arizonans who moved since the last election, even if the Motor Vehicle Division system won’t change addresses until people “opt-in” to update their information in conflict with the National Voter Registration Act. When people show up at the wrong polling place because of Reagan’s inaction, the voter can go to the new address and cast a provisional ballot. The state, however, has a record of destroying these without recording them. Reagan said that she’ll fix the system sometime next year—after the midterm election. Maybe.

Florida: Whether prisoners and released felons can vote is dependent on state law. A few states don’t have restrictions against voting after the felons serve their sentence, but a few rely on “individual petitions.” Of the 6 million people with felony convictions permanently barred from voting, about 1.5 million of them are from Florida, and over 20 percent of them are black. Gov. Rick Scott is in charge of deciding whether each one can be permitted to vote, and he has granted only 8 percent of those requesting the right to vote with a backlog of over 10,000 not yet reviewed.

Georgia: Brian Kemp is the state Secretary of State and in charge of elections. Kemp is also running for governor. He is keeping 53,000 voter applications from being processed because of typographical errors. The list has a disproportionately high number of black voters. Kemp’s opponent is Stacey Abrams, a black woman. Because Kemp is in charge of elections, there is no proof that he legitimately won the primary to become candidate in the general election, especially after indications of voting corruption within the past few years. Kemp is also being sued for using a racially-biased methodology to purge 700,000 voters from the rolls in the past two years and failing to send notices of the removal to voters. That’s ten percent of registered voters. Kemp also kept the state from having a paper trail to its woefully inadequate digital voting system, allowing him more election corruption.

North Dakota: A state law, challenged but approved in court, mandates that all voter IDs have residential addresses. Even the Supreme Court thinks that people without street addresses should not have the right to vote. This law takes voting rights from the homeless and people living on Native American reservations who lack the “residential address.”

Texas: Delivering a letter demanding that Waller County address its problems with rejecting registrations of students at Prairie View A&M resulted in the arrest of the campaign staffer presenting the missive to a clerk. Jacob Aronowitz, a field director for Democratic congressional candidate Mike Siegel, photographed the clerk taking the letter, and the clerk objected. When he was arrested, Aronowitz called Siegal who heard Aronowitz asking why he was being held and telling the detaining officer that his lawyer, Siegel, was running for office. Aronowitz was asked for Siegel’s political party, and the officer kept Aronowitz’s phone with his records when he was released. The county gave students the address to use for registration because all students use one post office box and then refused to accept it on the last day to register, jeopardizing the registrations. The letter demanded that the county update the existing registrations because students had followed the county’s direction. Waller County is uncomfortable with students voting because the student body is 82 percent black while the county is 70.5 percent white. It opposed students’ right to vote until a 1979 case in the U.S. Supreme Court upheld students’ right to register at their college address. The county wouldn’t obey the high court ruling, declaring in 2004 that students were ineligible to vote because they failed to meet the residency requirement. The campus did not get a polling place until 2013. So the county, which does not want the students to vote, gave them the wrong address for registration, refused to accept the address they gave students, arrested a person obtaining verification that he delivered a letter of complaint, lied about his not identifying himself, asked for the political party of the person objecting, and refused to return the arrested party’s possessions when he was released.

Voting could help move the United States from a banana republic—if citizens get the permission to cast a ballot and their ballots are counted. Until that time, the U.S. will remain a banana republic.

September 1, 2017

Hurricane Harvey’s Disasters

First a Category 4 hurricane followed by a 1,000-year rain/flood. What can be worse? Explosions!  After EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt delayed rules for chemical plants, organic peroxide at the Arkema chemical facility in Crosby, about 25 miles northeast of Houston, continues to blow up because of refrigerator loss from flooding. Arkema officials refused to keep the chemicals from exploding because it would then be unsalable. They aren’t even required to tell first responders what chemicals are at Arkema to provide safety for the firefighters. In more explosions, the “extremely flammable” chemical will just have to “burn itself out,” producing “incredibly dangerous” fumes, according to a facility spokesperson.  Interview with Houston Chronicle reporter Matt Dempsey regarding Arkema’s refusal to talk.

The rules that Pruitt delayed came after a 2013 explosion at a chemical facility in West, 200 miles north of Houston, that killed 15 people. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is erasing any federal responsibility in disaster response and discouraging corporate investment in new infrastructure. The newest refinery is 60 years old. Millions of pounds of pollutants have been released from flooded and shut-down refineries and chemical plants. Two nuclear reactors are still operating at Bay City, 65 miles southeast of Houston, where people have been evacuated, and flooding could cause electrical fires leading to core damage as well as a meltdown from loss of cooling water inventory.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez lied about the explosion, describing them as a “pop” followed by smoke; FEMA director, Brock Long, said a plume of chemicals leaking from the plant was “incredibly dangerous.”

Rebuilding in Texas will fail because DDT rescinded the requirement that future building company meet tougher flood standards set by President Obama. A bipartisan plea to keep the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard was overwhelmed by real estate developers and builders. DDT announced his change in an executive order at his August 15 press conference when he ranted support of white supremacists at Charlottesville (VA). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) wife and Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, will be implementing DDT’s order. She is a former banker with Citicorp, vice president of Bank of America Capital Markets Group, and board member of Wells Fargo.

DDT’s lack of personnel and budget cuts will also ensure worse flooding and other disasters in the future. The U.S. has no director for either NOAA, which includes the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, nor DHS. Two FEMA deputy directors await confirmation. DDT’s budget slashes $667 million from FEMA programs and grants, including cuts to the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, which provides funding states and cities to better withstand the impact of hurricanes and coastal storms. He wants the funding moved to “the wall.” Proposed NOAA cuts: 16 percent overall; 32 percent to the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the agency’s main ocean, weather and climate research office; computer modeling of storms and observation of storms and data dissemination; and 22 percent to NOAA’s satellite division used for weather prediction.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) submitted an amendment to the federal government’s 2018 spending bill preventing funds for the government’s National Climate Assessment.

Texas wants FEMA money but turned down other aid. People of Quebec offered blankets, beds, and water as well as other relief effort such as equipment and crews to help restore power, but Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos refused everything. He asked for “prayers from the people of Quebec” instead. Mexico has also offered help, but the U.S. has not yet accepted.

Both GOP Texas U.S. senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, begged DDT for “any and all emergency protective measures available by a major disaster declaration.” Along with over 20 GOP Texas representatives in the House, they voted against the emergency aid package for Sandy that hit the East Coast. Thirty-nine GOP senators and 179 GOP representatives opposed money for Sandy, and senators stalled for 91 days.

After two months on the job, FEMA Director Long explained that he didn’t order an evacuation of Houston because it would take too long to get people out of the city. People left in the city sat in water if they couldn’t get out on their own—like these women in a Houston nursing home.

As usual, DDT treated the hurricane disaster as his own television reality show. Balanced on a ladder between two fire trucks in Corpus Christi, he held up a Texas flag and said to a few hundred people, “What a crowd, what a turnout!” He talked about the “ratings” from Hurricane Harvey and bragged that FEMA Director Long “has really become very famous on television over the last couple of days.” He seemed self-congratulatory when he tweeted, “WOW – now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood!” DDT even lied in his tweet about “witnessing first hand the horror & devastation.” In Texas for only three hours, he went to Austin and Corpus Christi, met with the Texas governor, and was briefed at a Corpus Christi firehouse. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to cover for DDT by saying, “He met with a number of state and local officials who are eating, sleeping, breathing the Harvey disaster.”

The piece missing from his impromptu speeches was any reference to the people who died in the storm or were forced to leave their homes from the floods. As a germaphobe, DDT may not have been able to touch any of the victims.

DDT did advertise the items for sale on his campaign website through product placement. The “USA” hat that he consistently wore is available for only $40.

While people in Texas were suffering, DDT concentrated on forcing transgender service members out of the military, pardoning white supremacist Joe Arpaio, advertising racist David Clark’s new book, and demanding his “wall.” At no time did he ask for donations for the people in the disaster areas. President Obama did that.

DDT promised to donate $1 million to an unspecified Harvey relief fund, but it is unlikely that he will. Although Sanders said the money might come from the Trump Foundation, donations from other people, that might be difficult because the Foundation is under investigation. When DDT collected money for veterans during his campaign, he didn’t release the money until the media embarrassed him into giving at least part of it to veterans. His statement that he had given $1 million of his personal money turned out to be false.

From Amy Goodman:

“Hurricane Harvey has been downgraded from a Category 4 hurricane to a tropical depression as it moves over Louisiana and into Mississippi. In Houston, floodwaters have begun to recede, revealing corpses and mass devastation. Texas officials say at least 44 people [now 47] have been killed by the storm. Nearly 100,000 homes are damaged by flooding. More than 30,000 people remain in shelters. Health officials are taking steps to minimize the spread of diseases such as cholera and typhoid, and nearly 150,000 homes have been told to boil their water. East of Houston, in hard-hit Beaumont, drinking water is completely shut off, and emergency workers are evacuating Beaumont’s main hospital. Meanwhile, flooding continues in North Houston as the Neches River surged beyond its banks and is expected to rise another foot by Friday afternoon.”

In another segment on Democracy Now, guest Renee Feltz talked about the release of waters from reservoirs that increases flooding and one of the polluted areas that EPA is still trying to clean up. Houston is home to over a dozen Superfund sites requiring cleaning up from pollutants, and DDT has cut that budget by almost one third.

Five public health problems after flooding in Houston: contaminated water, especially because of the release of pollutants by the oil and gas industry and explosions from the Arkema chemical plant; mosquitoes, bred in standing water and spreading disease; lost medicines left in evacuated homes, perhaps when people don’t know the names of their medications; mold from underwater conditions in many homes and other buildings; spread of infectious diseases from close contact in shelters; and long-term mental issues such as depression.

Eric Holthaus (Politico):

“Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.”

Michael Mann (The Guardian):

“Sea level rise attributable to climate change – some of which is due to coastal subsidence caused by human disturbance such as oil drilling – is more than half a foot (15cm) over the past few decades (see here for a decent discussion). That means the storm surge was half a foot higher than it would have been just decades ago, meaning far more flooding and destruction. In addition to that, sea surface temperatures in the region have risen about 0.5C (close to 1F) over the past few decades from roughly 30C (86F) to 30.5C (87F), which contributed to the very warm sea surface temperatures (30.5-31C, or 87-88F).”

Two high pressure systems kept Harvey in place longer than any other tropical storm in history. The disaster is consistent with last decade’s trend with nine of the past 11 years of Atlantic hurricane seasons producing more storms than normal. And now, Hurricane Irma, suddenly turned into a Category 3 hurricane, is headed for the U.S.

August 31, 2017

DDT Doesn’t Always Win

While Hurricane Harvey continues to destroy a large part of Texas and surrounding areas, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) moves toward his personal disaster. Despite adamant claims that he had no business dealings with Russia during his campaign, he signed a “letter of intent” on October 28, 2015 to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and ask for money from a Russian bank—four months after he declared his candidacy.  Then-Trump Organization Chief Counsel Michael Cohen said that he told DDT three times about the Moscow proposal.

Other Russian issues:

  • Special counsel Robert Mueller has joined N.Y. AG Eric Schneiderman. Three reasons: DDT cannot pardon state crimes; Schneiderman can continue the investigation if DDT fires Mueller; and DDT can’t take information from Schneiderman.
  • Felix Sater, Russian-born real estate broker involved in Trump businesses, wrote emails in 2015 to set up a deal for a Moscow Trump Tower and promised that he can get Putin to “get Donald elected.”
  • Cohen wrote Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, for help.
  • Rinat Akhmetshin, Russian lobbyist and “former” spy, appeared before special investigator Robert Mueller’s grand jury on August 11. He had attended the meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. and others, including Paul Manafort and DDT’s son-in-law Jared Kushner,to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton before the presidential election. Jr. may be testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee this coming week. (DDT called its chair, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), to tell him how much he loves ethanol, important to Grassley’s constituency.)
  • Mueller has sent Paul Manafort more subpoenas.
  • DDT’s deputy chief of staff, Rick Dearborn, tried to arrange a meeting in June 2016 between DDT’s campaign and Putin. Dearborn was also working for then Sen. Jeff Sessions while he received $28,000 from DDT’s campaign.
  • DDT campaign adviser George Papadopoulos also emailed campaign officials in March 2016 about arranging meetings with Russians.
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) will vote in favor of the releasing the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson on the DDT dossier about Russian connections. With his support, the Democrats may be successful in this action.
  • Officials at the CIA Counterintelligence Mission Center are carefully watching CIA director, Mike Pompeo, out of concern that he may protect DDT at the cost of the Russian—and DDT—investigation.

DDT’s pardon for “Sheriff Joe”:

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) may have gotten a spinal implant—or is just fed up with DDT attacking him—when he disagreed with the presidential pardon for former Multnomah County (AZ) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Ryan’s speaker, Doug Andres, said that “the speaker does not agree with the decision.”

When DDT pardoned “Sheriff Joe,” he probably didn’t know that an acceptance of the pardon is an admission of guilt of the crime, according to the 1915 Supreme Court ruling in Burdick v. United States. Arpaio cannot be tried for that crime again, but the pardon may leave him open to hundreds of civil suits. He had intended to appeal the court’s decision.

Blocking a federal judge’s ruling that enforced the Constitution for a person who swore to defend the Constitution shows DDT’s open contempt for the U.S. Constitution. Over 150 people, mostly current and former judges and lawyers, protested outside the Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. Courthouse in Phoenix (AZ) in well above 100 degrees against the pardon.The judge, Susan Bolton, has ordered DOJ to file a memo and scheduled a hearing for October 4 when the pardoning team may argue why Arpaio deserves to be pardoned. The prosecution can argue publicly about his extensive crimes, including his concentration camp (Arpaio’s words), inmate torture, refusal to investigate sex crimes against Latina children, and women shackled while giving birth. Another issue is the 160 people who died in his jails with no reason for abusive guards and missing oversight.

DDT retweeted a lie from Fox’s Katie Pavlich that President Obama had pardoned Chelsea Manning, who “gave U.S. enemies state secrets,” according to Pavlich. In fact, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence after she had served seven years. Journalist Pavlich complained that the media was “squabbling” about the difference between “pardon” and “commute.”

Differences with staff and world leaders:

  • The President of the United States typically speaks for the nation, but Secretary of State said that DDT “speaks for himself” about “the American people’s values or the commitment … to advancing those values and defending those values.” Tillerson was responding to a question about the United Nations’ criticism regarding DDT’s response to Charlottesville (VA) and the White House’s “failure at the highest political level to unequivocally reject and condemn the racist violent events and demonstrations.”
  • Last week, chief economic advisor Gary Cohn said that the White House “can and must do better” to condemn racist groups and should “do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities.”
  • Defense Secretary James Mattis told troops that they needed “to hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.” After that he announced that transgender troops in the military can serve pending the results of a study “which will contain the steps that will promote military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion, with due regard for budgetary constraints and consistent with applicable law.” LGBT groups Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN have joined the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and GLAD to sue the government because of DDT’s rejection of transgender service members. DDT will have to prove that transgender people in the military affects “our readiness, ability to fight, and lethality.”
  • Payment for “the wall” is still a bone of contention. In January, DDT knew that Mexico wouldn’t pay for the wall when he begged Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to not tell anybody because it would make him look bad. Recently, DDT tweeted that Mexico would pay, and its foreign ministry answered, “Our country will not pay, under any circumstances, for a wall.” DDT is also whining that Mexico, along with Canada, is being “very difficult” about NAFTA after DDT called Mexico “one of the highest crime nations in the world.”
  • During his press conference with Finland’s Sauli Niinisto this week, DDT talked about the “purchasing large amounts of our great F-18 aircraft from Boeing [and] lots of other military equipment.” Niiniso denied the purchase.

Good news from Arizona:

Seven years after a racist state school superintendent closed down a popular Tucson Mexican-American Studies program that kept students in school, U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled that the ban was enacted with discriminatory intent. Created in 1998, the Tucson program focused on Mexican-American history, literature, and art. Participating students outdid the other students in grades and standardized test results. The part of a law banning classes for students of a specific ethnic group was struck down. Tasimo had harsh words about former state education leaders Tom Horne and John Huppenthal who helped pass the law in 2010.:

“Additional evidence shows that defendants were pursuing these discriminatory ends in order to make political gains. Horne and Huppenthal repeatedly pointed to their efforts against the MAS program in their respective 2011 political campaigns, including in speeches and radio advertisements. The issue was a political boon to the candidates.”

More good news:

  • Opposing DDT, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution “condemning the violence and racist beliefs” of “abhorrent white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, that led to loss of life and numerous injuries.” The resolution also cited the founding of the GOP “in the struggle against slavery and a rejection of the racial beliefs underlying the institution of slavery.”
  • The DOJ withdrew its warrant for 1.3 million visitor records to a site protesting DDT’s inauguration. District of Columbia Superior Court Chief Judge Robert E. Morin approved a new warrant with more limits with the requirement that the data not be disseminated outside the DOJ and will supervise the government.
  • A federal court unanimously struck down Texas’ unconstitutional voter ID law because it discriminated against Latinos and blacks and violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The state must redraw its districting maps before the 2018 election, and the federal government may start overseeing the state’s voting procedures. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has put a hold on the court ruling until September 5.
  • Judge Orlando L. Garcia of United States District Court for the Western District of Texas temporarily blocked Texas’ ban on so-called sanctuary cities supposed to go into effect tomorrow. The law allows police to question the immigration status of anyone and threaten fines, jail, and removal from office for officials. The state’s largest cities—including Houston—are suing to strike down the law.
  • The DOJ support for a lawsuit against DDT’s religious liberty executive order claims that the order doesn’t allow churches and other religious groups to take political action that other charities cannot.
  • DDT rejected requests from coal magnate Robert Murray and billionaire Carl Icahn despite their huge donations to his campaign. Murray wanted to use emergency powers to keep coal-fired power plants open, and Icahn wanted a change to an EPA ethanol rule to profit his oil refining company. Icahn resigned from DDT’s administration. Murray is suing John Oliver for his reporting on the coal mine owner. (Catch this clip before Murray succeeds with his gag order!) Will Jim Justice, coal billionaire and West Virginia governor turned Republican from Democrat recently, get his $4.5 billion annually to pay utilities $15 per ton for Appalachian coal burned?
  • The American Legion adopted a resolution Thursday urging the federal government to allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana in states where it’s legal.
  • Illinois has become the tenth state—20 percent of the nation—to adopt automatic voter registration in just two years since Oregon became the first state with this registration procedure.

The stock market is still climbing, but board members and executives at the top six U.S. banks are now consistently selling their own banks’ shares.

Another cover to post at DDT’s golf courses from Germany’s Der Spiegel.

[The article, “Das wahre Gesicht des Donald Trump”: “The true face of Donald Trump.”]

April 22, 2017

DDT: Thirteenth Week inside the U.S.

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) crowned the week of the March for Science by firing his U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy. Possibly, Murthy’s belief that the over 33,000 deaths and more tens of thousands of woundings from gun violence is a public health issue doesn’t align with DDT’s philosophy. Murthy also believes in vaccinations for children. He had another two years in his four-year term.

Misogynist in Charge of Women’s Issues: DDT has put 31-year-old speech writer Stephen Miller in charge of women’s issues. He has denied the gender wage gap, stating that women just work fewer hours than men; opposed paid maternity leave; and claimed that “in modern-day America, there is a place for gender roles” because closing the gap will force men to give up a “noble career.”

Rally instead of the White House Correspondent’s Dinner: The traditional annual dinner in 2011 to benefit the press association may have been the start for DDT’s push to become president, but he will be the first president to skip the event since Ronald Reagan after he was recovering from a failed assassination attempt. Instead DDT announced he will hold a “BIG” rally in Harrisburg (PA) at the culmination of the Mid-Atlantic Alpaca Association Jubilee. Hours before the traditional dinner is Samantha Bee’s “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.” DDT’s 100th day in office will be a busy day for political wonks.

Another Conservative Loss in Texas: For the third time this month, a court has ruled against the state’s voting laws, this time stating that the GOP-drawn voter map violates the U.S. Constitution with intentional discrimination against minorities. It’s a trifecta: the voter ID law, congressional maps, and state legislative maps all violate the federal Voting Rights Act. Now Texas faces the possibility of mandated federal approval before changing voting laws—not that big a deal since racist Jeff Sessions heads the “Department of Justice.” The minority vote on the panel of three argued that the maps were drawn to favor the Republican party rather than to discriminate against ethnic minorities.

Deported Dreamers: Last year, DDT complained that a judge’s “Mexican heritage” prejudices him against DDT. Born in the U.S., Judge Gonzalo Curiel will now hear another case related to DDT, this one to determine whether DACA participant Juan Manual Montes Bojorquez was illegally deported. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has claimed that no person with an active DACA status has been deported, but Borjorquez is one of several people who disprove Kelly’s assertion.

Proposed Nuclear Storage in Nevada: For the past 30 years, Nevada has fought an underground facility at Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste. The issue was supposedly over in 2016, but DDT has allotted $120 million to resume licensing operations. Nevada opposed the plan on a variety of concerns, including volcanic hazard estimates, corrosion and toxic contamination risks. An experiment to determine Yucca’s suitability showed underground water and waste seepage issues, and research indicates that the place is “geologically and hydrologically active and complex.” Using Yucca Mountain would cost approximately $100 billion. DDT might want to consider what a nuclear accident at Yucca Mountain would do to his Las Vegas hotel.

Lawsuit against DDT’s Inciting Violence: In a lawsuit against DDT’s encouraging his supporters to be violent, his lawyers claim that a president can’t be sued, but the perpetrator of the violence blames DDT. A lawyer for Alvin Bamberger, who was taped shoving protesters over a year ago, wrote that Bamberger “would not have acted as he did without Trump and/or the Trump Campaign’s specific urging and inspiration.” Bamberger even wants DDT to pay his damages if he loses the lawsuit. A year ago February, DDT told an Iowa audience:

“So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of him, would you? Seriously, okay, just knock the hell. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees; I promise, I promise.”

Another DDT-supporter, Matthew Heimbach, has claimed that he “acted pursuant to the directives and requests of Donald J. Trump and Donald J. Trump for President” and that “any liability must be shifted to one or both of them.” In his filing, Heimbach wrote that he “relied on Trump’s reputation and expertise in doing the things alleged.” DDT’s lawyers are also trying to stop a defamation civil suit filed by one of the women who accused DDT of sexual misconduct through the same claim that no one can sue the president.

No First Amendment Rights for Protesters: In response to the lawsuits about violence at DDT rallies, lawyers argued that protesters “have no right” to “express dissenting views” at his campaign rallies because such protests infringed on his First Amendment rights. According to DDT’s lawyers, he was protected by First Amendment rights, but dissenting people don’t receive the same constitutional protection at his rallies.

DDT’s Continued Profiteering from Current Campaign: On Inauguration Day, DDT announced his candidacy for president in 2020. Last week’s filings show that over six percent of his current take—about $500,000—goes to DDT-owned hotels, golf clubs and restaurants, including $274,013 in rent to Trump Tower, $58,685 for lodging to the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., and $13,828 for facility rental and catering to the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. Donald Trump predicted his “scampaign,” several years ago:

“It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”

Yup.

New Chief of Staff in White House: Before DDT was inaugurated, he said his children would have no role in his administration. Then Ivanka Trump joined as a senior adviser. It was legal because she wasn’t being paid. Now Ivanka, the “special” assistant, has a taxpayer-funded chief of staff. As well as a taxpayer-funded close adviser. And who knows how many more staff members for a member of DDT’s family.

While taxpayers suffer, Ivanka Trump adds to her fortune because of her father’s “connections.” On the same night that she and her husband sat next to Chinese president Xi Jinping, China gave her three new trademarks with monopoly rights for her brand of jewelry, bags, and spa services, in addition to the existing 13 trademarks and 32 pending applications. She has over 180 pending and registered trademarks throughout the world. Her imports into the U.S., mostly from China, increased 166 percent last year and another 40 percent in the first quarter of 2017. Both Ivanka and her husband have extensive communication with China’s government. Kushner’s financial disclosure form lists 24 corporate entities directly related to his wife’s company, but Ivanka has not filed a disclosure.

Smaller Easter Egg Roll at White House: DDT managed to survive the Easter Egg Roll with a rare appearance by First Lady Melania who had to remind DDT to put his hand over his heart during the national anthem. Asked by a child to autograph a hat, DDT complied and then threw it away into the crowd while grinning like a little kid and the child screams “No!” Attendance was about half that at President Obama’s Easter event although Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the former president had lied about the numbers during his terms. The event has been touted as a success, perhaps because it was run by 400 President Obama volunteer holdovers. My favorite tweet from the event, however, comes from David Frum, past ? for George W. Bush: “The people who f—cked up the White House Easter Egg Roll are asking America to follow them into war without allies in NE Asia?” [DDT’s first Easter Egg Roll]

Dropping Polls: The pundits may have loved the DDT’s bombing in the Middle East, but his actions haven’t brought the hoped-for bump in popularity. Except for glowing comments from far-right media, polls show that he’s still at the lowest approval rating for new presidents, somewhere around 40 percent. Even worse is the loss of 17 points in the number of people who think that DDT keeps his promises—from 62 percent in February to 45 percent in April after people had a chance to watch him as president. He also lost seven points in being seen as a “strong and decisive leader” and a president who “can bring about changes the country needs.” The percentage of people who said they see him as “honest and trustworthy” also dropped by six points. Fewer than half of voters (46 percent) say they are “very or somewhat confident” in Trump’s ability to work with Congress, down from a 60 percent majority in December.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) has also dropped to 29 percent approval with with 54 percent disapproving. And that’s before this next week with the zombie health care reappearing and the potential of a government shutdown if DDT’s staff carries through with their blackmail threats.

October 18, 2015

World Didn’t End, Benghazi Arguments Continue

October 7, 2015 has come and gone, and people reading this are still here despite the predictions of the E-Bible Fellowship. Their website’s explanation for the mistake reads in part:

“The world today is populated by a generation of people that has outdone all past generations for wickedness. It tends to view a “passed date” for its end as some sort of victory and celebrates it as though it means it will now never end. And yet, the truth is that the world is in its death throes. A date of destruction given to the world (like October 7th, 2015) is like a man with a terminal disease that was given a short time to live his Dr. The man passes the 6 months (or year) he was told. Yet the prognosis hasn’t changed. He’s still terminally ill. It’s still certain he will die from his disease. It’s just a matter of when that remains in question.”

There have no posts since that one on October 8. Unfortunately, the congressional control of climate deniers gives a sense of validity to the planet’s “terminal disease.” Meanwhile the United States struggles to loosen a grip by fundamentalist Christians.

Muslims may inadvertently cause fundamentalist Christians to separate church and state. In Tennessee, conservative legislators want to prohibit “anything deemed ‘religious doctrine’ ” for public school students in ninth grade or younger after parents complained about the content of world history curriculum. Teachers were teaching about the Five Pillars of Islam in order to “provide historical context about the influence the religion had on regions of the world.” And about Islamic role in introducing algebra and influencing the Renaissance. The resolution of “no religious indoctrination” in schools will be very enlightening.

First, Rowan County (KY) Clerk Kim Davis refused to allow anyone in her office to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Then she spent five days in jail and said that her staff could issue the licenses although they wouldn’t be legally binding because she changed them. Now she’s totally caved: her lawyers admit that they are binding. Meanwhile federal judge David L. Bunning has ordered Kentucky’s Democratic governor Steve Beshear to decide if the altered marriage licenses are valid.

A bike lane is impinging on a Washington, DC church’s “religious liberty” because fewer parking spaces” “would place an unconstitutionally undue burden on people who want to pray.”

Televangelist Pat Robertson usually has an answer for everything—frequently “send me money”—but one viewer took him aback. “Why have you undergone surgeries if your faith would be enough?” prompted Robertson come up with some non-answers before he said, “I don’t know what else to say. If you have enough faith … maybe I don’t have enough, but I have enough for other people.”

Herb Titus, a dominionist Christian Reconstructionist attorney, has declared that the United States has changed its immigration policy and gone against the Bible. Immigrants can come only from countries that are based on Christian principles because the United States would otherwise “become a kind of multicultural society,” according to Titus. He said, “We had a carefully designed policy for many years to allow as immigrants into the United States only those people from countries that have a Christian-principled culture.” What he bases his beliefs on, no one seems to know. The U.S. has had quotas, but they were based on nationality. Barring all Asians from emigrating was not based on religion, but ethnic background.

A federal judge seems to be supporting Titus in acting unconstitutionally. Texas health officials are denying birth certificates to immigrant families with U.S.-born children, and U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman has denied an emergency injunction to recognize identification cards issued by Mexican consulates to citizens living and working in the U.S. Before 2013, these documents were acceptable to receive birth certificates. The immigrant rights lawyers represent 28 adults and their 32 children. Without birth certificates, the children could be considered criminals and deported. The newborns could not even receive baptisms without birth certificates. The 14th Amendment guarantees the right to citizenship for children born on U.S. soil, and the parents have documentation from the U.S. hospital where the children were born.

Evangelical pastor Rob Schenck has taken on Sarah Palin in a documentary, The Armor of Light, about gun violence and the question of whether a person can be both pro-life and anti-gun safety. One scene shows Palin telling a NRA audience not to waste ammunition on a warning shot. She criticized Vice-president Joe Biden for this advice and said, “Gals, you know that nowadays, ammo is expensive. Don’t waste a bullet on a warning shot.” In the film’s voice-over, Schenck wonders about the “ethical dimensions of having a constant, defensive posture.” He said, “When pastors, preachers, bible teachers, ignore these questions, it creates a vacuum. And other voices fill that vacuum.”

I admire Pastor Schenck for addressing this issue, but he’s going to have a difficult time persuading the people who think that they have the right to shoot anyone at any time because of their skewed sense of reality. An example of this is the Alabama KKK. In an interview with the BBC documentary, KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy, a KKK member explained that the Nazi Holocaust concentration camps were actually “summer camps” for Jewish people instead of death camps.

“These death camps, they gave the so-called people that were being killed cigarettes, there was coffee, there was a movie theater, a library, even a swimming pool in Auschwitz. And if you’re going to sit there and kill all these people then how come all these things would be in there?”

Stunned, the interviewer asked the KKK member what the Jews were doing in Auschwitz. “Swimming” was the answer. “And working. Because they didn’t want to do any work, and what Hitler was trying to do was he was trying to teach them to work, trying to rehabilitate them, if you will.” Asked where he heard this, the Klan member said, “It’s all history.”

And now all the television viewers in Great Britain will know how stupid “Amuricans” are.

Sunday is almost as well known for political interviews as for religion, and CNN’s Jake Tapper hit the ball out of the park in his interview with Jeb Bush. Raw Story described this follow-up to Donald Trump’s comment that George W. Bush was president during the 9/11 attacks. There was nothing false about Trump’s statement, but Bush has taken great umbrage at the insinuation that Bush was responsible for the disaster.

Tapper asked Bush how he could blame Hillary Clinton for the attacks in Benghazi while exonerating his brother George W. from any blame for the 9/11 disaster. Told that “my brother … kept us safe,” Tapper asked if Bush’s loyalty to his brother “might be in some ways a political or policy liability blinding you to mistakes he made.” Tapper continued by asking how Bush could “make the jump that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are responsible for what happened at Benghazi.” Bush was unable to find an answer, but Tapper asked why terrorists were not responsible for the four deaths at Benghazi if they were those solely responsible for the 3,000 deaths on 9/11. Bush said, “They are!”

Bush has a problem: either he admits that his brother was inept in protecting the country by ignoring intelligence about Osama bin Laden’s attacking the U.S., or he is forced to admit that Clinton and the Obama administration aren’t liable for the Benghazi attacks. (This exchange was omitted in reports from CNN and The Hill about Tapper’s interview with Bush.

Equally enlightening about the Benghazi select committee was the discussion on Meet the Press when Andrea Mitchell responded to Rep. Mike Pompeo’s (R-KS) statement about Clinton relying on former advisor Sidney Blumenthal’s intelligence. “That is factually not correct… I cover the State Department. That is just factually not correct,”Mitchell said. Pompeo tried to put down Mitchell—and failed—but he said nothing when Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) said that the committee doesn’t “know what this committee’s supposed to look for. Apart from damaging Hillary Clinton, it has no reason for existence.” The clip is worth watching.

June 30, 2015

Last Week at SCOTUS: More Forward Than Backward

Two landmark cases came down from the Supreme Court last week—keeping health care for low-income people and granting marriage equality. Other lesser noticed cases, however, have influences on people across the United States. In seven other decisions last week, SCOTUS took at least five steps forward with two steps back, a better result than most progressive people expect from the current court.

The two steps backward were pollution and the death penalty:

pollution from power plantsPower plants can continue releasing unlimited mercury, arsenic, and other pollutants, in a step toward invalidating the first U.S. regulations to limit toxic heavy metal pollution from coal and oil-fired plants. The 5-4 conservative ruling, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, accused the EPA of not  considering costs to the power industry before creating its regulation. The EPA actually estimated costs, but Scalia didn’t believe the agency’s calculations. Fortunately, the case was remanded to the D.C. Circuit for further consideration. If the lower court eliminates the regulations, pro-coal states have no arguments against EPA’s proposed regulations on carbon emissions, perhaps leaving the EPA free to regulate carbon dioxide. The EPA estimated that the new regulations would prevent 11,000 premature deaths each year as well as increasing the IQ for children who survived.

Executions are still permitted to use cruel and unusual punishment because the conservative court didn’t stop the use of a drug that fails to sufficiently sedate the subject. Glossip v. Gross goes farther, however, because it makes the death penalty impervious to many constitutional challenges. In oral arguments for the court, the opinion’s author, Justice Samuel Alito, sneered at death penalty opponents and accused the drug companies refusal to sell products to kill people, a “guerrilla war against the death penalty.”

A key declaration in the opinion is that the United States is required to have methods to execute inmates despite the fact that there is “some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution.” Another part of the opinion is that lawyers must help decide the method of execution for their clients: a lawyer challenging one method of execution must name another, alternative method to be used instead.

Alito’s opinion brought fiery dissents, two of them read from the bench. Supported by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer protested the argument that the death penalty is constitution, writing, “I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.” Scalia went back to the bench to call Breyer’s opinion “gobbledygook.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was far more scorching when she wrote:

“Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment—the chemical equivalent of being burned alive. But under the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove the availability of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, the State could execute them using whatever means it designated.”

By refusing to hear a case preventing mandatory documentation for citizenship in federal elections, the Supreme Court blocked this requirement. Kansas and Arizona wanted a change in registration requirements to include proof of citizenship for these elections, but the 10th Circuit Court ruled that states cannot require this documentation.

 

Another step forward came from the Supreme Court decision to leave women’s clinics in Texas open until the court has heard the appeal about the state law to prevent abortions outside hospitals and “mini-hospitals,” ambulatory surgical centers. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the progressive justices in the 5-4 vote. Texas restrictions had already closed about half the state’s 41 clinics within the past four years, and the newest law shut down all but nine, concentrated in four urban, higher-income areas of the state.

Progressive voters in Arizona may also be rejoicing after a 5-4 Supreme Court vote ruled that a voter-approved independent redistricting commission in Arizona is constitutional. Complaints of legislative partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts led to the law that a legislative-chosen independent commission of two Republicans and two Democrats with a chair who is not a member of either party make this decision. Although the ballot measure for a constitutional amendment to approve the commission went into effect 15 years ago, Arizona Republicans had no problem with the redistricting process until Democrats started winning more seats in 2012.

The U.S. Constitution states that the “times, places, and manner” of federal elections “shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” The minority argued that a ballot measure is not part of “the legislature” because it is determined by the people of the state although the court had earlier decided that “legislature” can refer to the process exercised by people through direct democracy. The losing lawyer, Paul Clement, failed to persuade the majority with his argument that those election laws didn’t take power away from the legislature but the creation of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission did.

In arguing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan asked if all the voter ID laws created by ballot measures would then also be unconstitutional. Kennedy argued that a constitutional amendment had given power to the people by allowing them to select U.S. senators.

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “What chumps!” in reference to the Congressional members who passed the 17th Amendment in 2012 that was then ratified by 41 states. The ruling was only for Arizona, but it may have far-reaching effects outside that state. Twelve other states also have commissions to assist in the redistrict process. The ruling also empowers voters in other states to reduce partisan control of the U.S. House. Studies show nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions leads to “districts both more competitive and more likely to survive legal challenge.” According to Ginsburg, 21 states have created initiative or direct lawmaking power, and 18 states can adopt amendments to the state constitution.

Arizona redistricting will return to the Supreme Court in the coming year when justices will hear another case accusing the independent commission of using race and partisanship for the congressional boundaries.

The Supreme Court struck a blow against the prison industrial complex in Johnson v. United States with the ruling that part of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) is unconstitutionally vague. Passed in 1984, the law requires judges to sentence people to 15 years life if they have three prior convictions for “serious drug offense” or “violent felonies.” The law, however, had no concrete definition for a “violent felony.” A clause in the ACCA sends felons to prison for any crime that “presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” It could be drunk driving, fleeing police, failing to report to a parole officer, or even attempted burglary. Johnson’s prison sentence was extended because of a prior conviction of possession of a sawed off shotgun. Writing the opinion for the 8-1 decision, Scalia wrote that the clause in the law lacking a definition violates due process. Alito likes the law, and the ACCA was very popular with lawmakers because many states are required to fill up beds in private prisons.

prisoners

This room in the California Institution for Men four years shows how overcrowded that prisons have become. Photo by Ann Johansson for The New York Times.

A huge victory for civil rights came from the 5-4 decision in Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities. Kennedy again joined the four progressive judges to rule that a lawsuit under fair housing law doesn’t need to prove that a developer or the government knowingly discriminated—only that the policy had a disparate impact which can frequently be shown with statistics.

The case came from Texas’ distribution of tax credits for low-income housing almost exclusively in racially segregated low-income areas, denying minorities few opportunities to move to integrated or wealthier areas. The opinion in this case also requires that decision-makers consider race to comply with the Fair Housing Act and design remedial orders to eliminate racial disparities through race-neutral means.

The typical 5-4 vote had one almost-silent justice writing the dissent. Clarence Thomas used an unfortunate example for his belief that “disparate-impact doctrine defies not only the statutory text, but reality itself.”

“Racial imbalances do not always disfavor minorities.… And in our own country, for roughly a quarter-century now, over 70 percent of National Basketball Association players have been black.”

Taxpayer funds for religious schools may be on the docket next year after Colorado’s supreme court ruled that conservative families in affluent neighborhoods can not use public funds to send their children to religious charter schools.  A big player in this area is the Koch Brothers, whose Americans for Prosperity PAC works to expand voucher programs and buy school board elections throughout the country. In just one Colorado county, AFP spent $350,000 to dismantle teachers’ unions and public schools. GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush is also a big player in the school privatization program. Conservatives desperately need students in private religious schools to indoctrinate them.

June 23, 2015

‘Roe v. Wade’ May Survive

The Supreme Court may have already made a decision about the closure of women’s clinics across the state of Texas in a little-watched case, Los Angeles v. Patel, about hotels. That case concerns a city ordinance requiring hotel operators to keep records, such as names and addresses of guests, and make these records “available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection.” Refusal could give hotel operators up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. A 5-4 decision, including the four more liberal justices joined by Kenney, determined that the ordinance violates the Fourth Amendment’s safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures because it does not afford these hotel operators “an opportunity to obtain precompliance review before a neutral decisionmaker.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the plaintiffs may bring a “facial” challenge to the Los Angeles ordinance. These challenges seek to totally invalidate a law whereas “as-applied” challenges seek a decision about whether a law is applied only to a specific plaintiff or plaintiffs. The court’s precedents were not clear before Patel about the appropriateness of facial challenges, and one case indicated that “the challenger must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid.”

Sotomayor explained that in the court’s assessment of a facial challenge, it “considered only applications of the statute in which it actually authorizes or prohibits conduct.” In the major abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court struck down the part of Pennsylvania’s law requiring a woman to notify her husband before getting an abortion. Supporters of the law argued that facial relief was wrong because most women tell their husbands if they are getting an abortion. That means the law does not impose an undue burden on these women. The court disagreed because constitutional law should be considered by its impact on people who it affects. “The proper focus of the constitutional inquiry is the group for whom the law is a restriction, not the group for whom the law is irrelevant.”

This statement can also be used as a rebuttal to the decision about closing women’s clinics in Texas by three George W. Bush-appointed judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel ruled that facial challenges can almost never be brought against anti-abortion laws. Although 900,000 women of reproductive age would have to travel more than 150 miles for an abortion, the lower court reasoned that these 900,000 women are only 17 percent of the 5.4 million women of reproductive age in the state. To these three men, 17 percent isn’t enough to allow a facial challenge because it doesn’t provide a sufficient burden to most of the women in Texas.

Justice Sotomayor’s opinion in Patel repudiates this analysis by the 5th Circuit. If “[t]he proper focus of the constitutional inquiry is the group for whom the law is a restriction, not the group for whom the law is irrelevant,” as the Court held in Patel, then the Fifth Circuit erred by focusing on how certain aspects of Texas’s law would influence women that they do not impact.

Although the Patel case did not have a unanimous vote, the position on facial challenge apparently did. Even Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Patel agrees that a litigant’s “self-description” of his lawsuit as a “facial” challenge provides no “independent reason to reject it, unless we [are] to delegate to litigants our duty to say what the law is” (invoking Marbury v. Madison without citing it). In a separate dissent Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, notes that he sees “serious arguments” that the fact-specific Fourth Amendment is “inconsistent with facial challenges” and so he proceeds only by “assuming” that “such facial challenges ever make sense conceptually.”

Roe v. Wade is still at risk across the country, but Patel is a good beginning. Perhaps a majority of the Supreme Court won’t be as restrictive as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Patel’s decision may also be the foundation for overturning the decision from the 5th Circuit to highly restrict the reproductive rights of women in Texas and other states.

Last Friday, the 5th Circuit refused, by two to one, to delay its June 9 ruling closing many of the women’s clinics although it modified it by giving a clinic in McAllen more time to adapt to new restrictions. Ten of the remaining 19 clinics in Texas are still required to close on July with some of them never reopening. The case has been appealed to the Supreme Court through Scalia who handles emergency legal filings from the 5th Circuit.  He can act on his own or consult with the other justices. The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to review a Mississippi case to replace a state abortion law that would close the last clinic in the state.

In Texas, the issues are whether clinics performing abortions must have facilities equal to those in surgical centers and whether doctors performing abortions must have patient-admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. These limitations will reduce Texas abortion facilities by 75 percent in just two years, causing “a severe shortage of safe and legal abortion services.” Clinics and doctors argue that the two provisions are not medically necessary at women’s clinics. The state had 41 abortion clinics before the new law began taking effect. A temporary Supreme Court order putting limits on the state law allowed some clinics to reopen last October. Ten of the remaining 19 clinics were closed by the 5th Circuit decision.

Abortions are a minor part of women’s clinics, and Gov. Greg Abbott is creating more health risks for low-income women. He just signed a budget proposal ousting Planned Parenthood from Texas’ Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, which provides cancer screenings for uninsured, low-income women. Any clinics affiliated with abortion providers will no longer receive funding for cancer screening services.

drone_2813285b

As more and more states close women’s clinics, the United States is rapidly becoming a Third World country for women’s reproductive rights. Drones might help solve the problem. In Poland, Women on Waves, the Dutch group advising women in countries where abortion is illegal on how to safely terminate their own pregnancies, is dropping medication-abortion packets for women’s groups to distribute to those who want abortions. In Europe, only Poland, Ireland, and Malta fail to have legalized abortions.

Telemedicine abortion is an easy way to safely end abortions early in a pregnancy as shown in Iowa, but 16 states have outlawed the practice. In states that have not yet outlawed the method, Utah has a mandatory face-to-face meeting with a doctor, followed by a 72-hour wait, but lacks any prohibition on doing a medication abortion without a doctor present.

Six states have just one legal abortion clinic each. Louisiana is following Texas in a fight to close down most of the women’s clinics. Four states have three-day waiting periods. Texas and Louisiana are in the courts fighting to close most of their clinics down. In the United States, women can technically legally end their own pregnancy legally as long as they do it well before viability. If this sounds medically dangerous, think about how much worse illegal abortions can be because safe and clean women’s clinics are gradually closed throughout the United States.

November 8, 2014

GOP Candidates Elected; Ebola Gone

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Remember when the word “Ebola” dominated the media? When the disease had top billing on Sunday talk shows for an entire month and the conservatives accused President Obama of weak leadership?

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said on Fox that the government was going to import Ebola patients.

Nick Muzin, Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff for Senator Ted Cruz, tweeted, “Before Obamacare, there had never been a confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S.”

Scott Brown said that Ebola would never have happened if Mitt Romney were president.

Caregivers for Ebola patients in the U.S. were allowed to go home from the hospital, but a nurse, who showed no symptoms of the disease but had cared for them in Africa (a country, according to Laura Ingraham), was pilloried when she dared leave the house for a bicycle ride in the Maine countryside.

What should President Obama have done, according to the conservatives? Perhaps the actions of Saint Reagan could give us a clue. AIDS is very similar to Ebola: both are caused by viruses that originated in Africa, have high mortality rates with no effective cure, and are difficult to contract. Ebola can be passed only by bodily fluids of an infected person actively displaying the disease’s symptoms, unlike AIDS which can be passed by a person who is not showing symptoms.

In 1981, the first 41 cases of AIDS were diagnosed in the United States, but Ronald Reagan, president during most of the 1980s, didn’t mention the word until six years later after over 40,000 people in this nation had died of the disease. When Reagan did start to talk about AIDS, he told schools and parents to teach children “moral” choices rather than look to the government for help. Reagan’s press secretary, Larry Speakes, did use the word, but he laughed his way through several press conferences about it. Thanks to Saint Reagan’s lack of leadership, over 636,000 people have died of AIDS since he became president.

The parallels of Ebola and AIDS continue. Conservative politicians and the media whip up hysteria directed toward stigmatized victims, primarily blacks and those who provide humanitarian care.  The same people call for travel bans, just as Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) did in the 1980s, with no distinction regarding which countries had Ebola outbreaks. Only people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have Ebola, but conservatives want automatic quarantines for everyone who travel from the entire continent. Helms’ ban on HIV-infected travelers in 1987 was lifted only four years ago.

Fox helped get the Republicans elected with Ebola. Before the election, Ben Carson, now an official 2016 presidential candidate, warned that lab workers could sell Ebola-tainted urine. Fox’s Peter Johnson, Jr. blamed the federal grant structure for limiting the treatment drug for Ebola and said the shortage was “a poor example of federal government intervention.” The president requested $6.2 billion for Ebola prevention. Now Fox accuses him of exploiting the “sense of danger” which Betsy McCaughey calls “a man-made problem.”

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/220506-mccain-calls-for-ebola-czar  A popular solution from conservatives to save the country from the disease that killed one person is to have someone “who’s in charge.” Almost four weeks ago Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called for an Ebola “czar” on CNN’s State of the Union. He and his fellow conservatives have done a 180-degree turn on the president’s lead officials, earlier accusing President Obama of having “more czars than the Romanovs — who ruled Russia for 3 centuries.”

Yet Senate Republicans have obstructed the confirmation of the president’s nominee for surgeon general. Dr. Vivek Murthy has impeccable credentials in Boston-area hospitals, worked in clinical-trial operations involved with Merck, and started health programs in India including an HIV/AIDS youth education program. George W. Bush’s former Surgeon General described Murthy as “superbly” qualified for the post, pointing to his “impressive track record of accomplishments,”  and the executive director of the American Public Health Association declared that Murthy is “clearly qualified to succeed” in all of the major roles of the Surgeon General.

Senators won’t confirm Murthy because the NRA opposes him. Several years ago, he said that gun violence is a public-health issue, understandable because it affects the health of hundreds of thousands of people. Most medical professionals agree with Murthy. The president nominated Murthy for Surgeon General almost exactly one year ago, but the Senate refuses to act.

After two people in the United States showed symptoms of Ebola, the president bowed to GOP demands and appointed Ron Klain as the policy coordinator for the federal response to the virus—in short, the “czar.” GOP members erupted with massive criticisms. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) was furious that Klain didn’t take off his second full day on the job to go talk to the Oversight Committee. Chaffetz demanded that a doctor be appointed to field the federal bureaucracy in different government agencies, an odd request because conservatives ignored everything that doctors said about Ebola. If Chaffetz really wants a doctor to guide the health issues of the country, he should talk to the intransigent GOP senators.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) planned to save the United States with a law that would “ban travel between the U.S. and West African countries.” A reporter pointed out that there are no direct flights between the U.S. and West Africa. Ross couldn’t believe it. He also probably couldn’t believe that recent travel bans failed to block viruses such as SARS and H1N1 (“swine flu”) into the U.S.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), the man who shouted “you lie” at the president during his State of the Union speech, thinks that the Hamas will infect themselves with Ebola and come to the United States. Hamas isn’t our enemy, and they aren’t allies with ISIL who is. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, Wilson should learn that.

Vaccination against Ebola hadn’t been develop because the U.S. had no cases. Throughout the past years, the GOP has decreased funding for research because they wanted the money to decimate the Middle East. The National Institutes of Health has lost 23 percent of its funding during the past decade. The chart below shows the vanishing funding since 2006.

Public-Health-Funding.0

Even with the current fear—or at least the fear before the election—the pro-life movement will do everything to stop the use of two potential vaccines. Children of God for Life opposes the use of fetal stem cells for this purpose. Their role is to protect stem cells of aborted fetuses so that thousands of people can die. This organization is actually opposed to all vaccines because of their belief that they lead to autism. They have company from people who fail to understand that mass production of vaccines for West Africa would stop the disease there, thereby preventing the possibility that it will come to this country.

Even crazier than the pro-life opposition is Fox’s resident psychiatrist, Keith Ablow, who claims that the president’s loyalty is to his people in Africa and the president wants to bring Ebola into the U.S. as a punishment for past evils perpetrated against Africa. According to Ablow, “[President Obama] has it in for us.”

Ablow went even farther to say that 9/11, seven years before the current president was first elected, made the nation afraid of brown people so we elected one as “a shield” with the hope that we wouldn’t be attacked again if one of them with “names very similar to two of our archenemies” led the country.

All the GOP legislators have ignored the fact that Ebola first came into the U.S. in Texas, the state with the highest rate of uninsured (one-fourth of the residents) and that the ACA Medicaid. Uninsured people are less likely to seek medical care for flu-like symptoms even if they might have been exposed to Ebola. Texas also has the least consumer-friendly medical malpractices laws. It was in Texas that the first U.S. borne case was contracted by a healthcare worker in a hospital that failed to follow the CDC protocol for containing Ebola. Officials at the hospital ignored the fact that the man who died of Ebola had a high fever when he went for health care and that he had recently traveled from West Africa.

Annual causes of death in the United States: tobacco-related – 450,000; obesity-related – 300,000; alcohol-related – 88,000; firearms-related – 32,000; staff infection MRSA – 18,000; AIDS – 16,000; Ebola – 1.

Ebola isn’t a problem any more, though, because the election is over for another two years.

October 18, 2014

Supreme Court Decision on Texas Voting Rewards GOP Candidates

About 600,000 Texans won’t be voting in Texas on November 4, thanks to today’s Supreme Court ruling. At least five nine justices voted to permit the voter photo ID law to be in effect on that day. A federal judge had struck down the law last week, but the 5th Circuit Court put the lower ruling on hold, leaving the law in effect. After an appeal, the highest court ruled, without comment and indication of how justices voted, to agree with the circuit court. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, saying they would have left the district court decision in place allowing people to vote.

Ginsburg wrote:

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.”

In her 143-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos called the law an “unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.” She found the law a deliberate discrimination against the state’s minority voters and described the requirement an equivalent to a poll tax. Ginsburg said that a full trial in district court found that the law was “enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and would yield a prohibited discriminatory result.”

Ramos also wrote:

“Based on the testimony and numerous statistical analyses provided at trial, this Court finds that approximately 608,470 registered voters in Texas, representing approximately 4.5% of all registered voters, lack qualified SB 14 ID and of these, 534,512 voters do not qualify for a disability exemption.”

The rationale from the majority of the Supreme Court for leaving the law is that it would inconvenience those running the election because it is so close to Election Day. According to the current majority of the Supreme Court, it’s better to stop a minor inconvenience than allow over one-half million people to vote.

Regarding the majority opinion, Ginsburg wrote:

“There is little risk that the District Court’s injunction will in fact disrupt Texas’ electoral process. Texas need only reinstate the voter identification procedures it employed for ten years [from 2003 to 2013] and in five federal general elections.”

Ginsburg echoed Ramos’ findings:

“The potential magnitude of racially discriminatory voter disenfranchisement counseled hesitation before disturbing the District Court’s findings and final judgment. Bill 14 may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5% of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification. A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic.”

She added that “racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact. To the contrary, Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.”

Texas officials tried to justify their actions by claiming that all eligible voters are able to get a photo ID. Ginsburg, however, pointed out that any cost of getting the mandated ID, even $2, is an unconstitutional barrier to voting. She wrote in her dissent:

“For some voters, the imposition is not small. A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID. Texas voters born in other States may be required to pay substantially more than that.”

Over two-thirds of eligible voters may have to travel three hours or more round-trip to the nearest government office where they can get photo IDs and need a certified birth certificate costing $22, according to Ginsburg. Although the state offers one for $2 or $3 that is used only for election purposes, it has not publicized this option on election or birth certificate websites.

Ginsburg pointedly added:

“Racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact. To the contrary, Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.”

Attorney General for Texas, Greg Abbott, has vigorously fought for the photo ID law that keeps minorities, largely assumed to be Democrats from voting in this year’s election. Abbott is also the GOP candidate for governor.

This was the first time in over 30 years that the Court has allowed enforcement of a law restricting voters’ rights after a federal court ruled it to be unconstitutional because it intentionally discriminated against minorities.

A new study by two University of Delaware professors and a Pennsylvania high school student found that white people are more likely to support photo IDs laws after being shown a picture of a black voter than when they see a picture of a white voter. Black and Hispanic respondents were about equal in their support or opposition to a photo ID law no matter what person was in the picture. This research matches studies showing that whites are more likely to support harsh criminal justice policies if they see pictures of or hear statistics about black prisoners. In 2012, the Brennan Center for Justice found that blacks and Hispanics are less likely to have photo IDs than a cross-section of people in the United States.

None of the courts ruling on photo ID this month has addressed the issue on a constitutional basis. That will happen after this year’s federal election. The question is whether courts will permit the laws if there is no basis for them. With cases of voter fraud being one in every 14.6 million people in the U.S., there is no reason for such draconian laws. The question is whether legislatures can pass laws to cover problems that don’t exist. If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?” asked Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the dissent in the 5-5 decision for the 7th Circuit Court. After a three-judge panel held that the Wisconsin photo IDs for voting could go into effect, Posner asked for the entire court to hear the case. The court ruled 5-5, meaning that the panel’s decision, which the Supreme Court later overturned, stayed in effect.

Posner also pointed that the Supreme Court had once ruled in favor of photo ID for voters because they supposedly increased voters’ confidence in elections. Studies, including a Harvard Law Review study, refutes the idea that photo ID laws promote public confidence. It revealed that “perceptions of voter-impersonation fraud are unrelated to the strictness of a state’s voter ID.” When Commonwealth Judge Bernard L. McGinley struck down Pennsylvania’s photo ID law, he determined that “implementation of the voter ID law in a manner that disenfranchises qualified electors will undermine the integrity of elections.” In short, these oppressive laws erode confidence in the voting system.

Voting laws across the nation vary greatly. Ohio’s constitution prohibits “idiots” from voting. Casting your ballot in Alabama can’t take longer than five minutes. Texas will let you vote with a gun license but not a student ID. Some people in Arizona can vote for federal candidates but not state ones if they lack the appropriate ID. Thirty-three states have restrictions on voting with new ones in 22 of these. Almost half the country will have a much harder time in trying to carry out their constitutional right in 17 days than four years ago.

Four years ago, when the Tea Party took over the House, it was seen as a mandate from the people. This year, any conservative votes can be seen as the control of GOP legislators and GOP-leaning judges. And the control of the white people.

May 14, 2014

Texas Execution Postponed

Last night, Texas failed to kill someone. After several appeals, a judge finally stopped the execution just two hours before the scheduled execution at 6:00 pm. Robert James Campbell was convicted of a 1991 rape and murder when he was 18 years old. He has been in prison for 23 years. His execution was scheduled for exactly two weeks after Oklahoma injected drugs into Clayton Lockett that left him writhing in pain before he died of a heart attack.

One appeal concerned the unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment that Campbell might have suffered because Texas planned to use unknown drugs compounded at an unknown facility with no federal oversight. Judges didn’t find that a problem. Texas did lose on the next count, however, because Texas had hidden psychological evaluations showing that Campbell is intellectually disabled.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision will permit Campbell to appeal his execution because the state had failed to turn over his past intelligence tests. Texas has no law against executing mentally disabled people because Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill have it passed the legislature. Perry has executed people who committed crimes as juveniles (3), mentally disabled (10), and victims of inadequate counsel (5). Two of Perry’s executed men didn’t commit murders. He even executed a man who was most likely innocent.

A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision, however, ruled that executing the mentally disabled violates the Constitution. One school test put Campbell’s IQ at 68, well below the average of 100. Officials said he scored 84 after a robbery conviction two years earlier but there were no details about the exam. In April, a psychologist reported his IQ at 69.

While in school, Campbell couldn’t make change, read a gas gauge, or tell time. Prosecutors claimed that he showed higher intelligence because he played sports, sang in a church choir, and mowed yards. His execution would have been the eighth this year in Texas. The next one is scheduled for August.

The Fifth Circuit Court has a reputation of supporting executions. Judge Edith Jones reinstated a death penalty for a man whose lawyer slept through his trial. Last year, she claimed that blacks and Hispanics are predisposed to crime and “prone” to violence. The execution, according to Jones, is a “positive service” because the executed have an opportunity to get right with God just before the state kills them. Her position is that appeals on the basis of mental retardation “abuse the system” because anyone who can plan a crime can’t be mentally retarded. 

So many people have been executed in Texas that the residents of Huntsville, where the killings take place, pay very little attention to the hundreds of people legally killed in their community. Instead of the three-drug “cocktail” used in Oklahoma, Texas uses a single drug, pentobarbital. Prison administrators from other states visit Texas to gain guidance for killing its prisoners. Occasionally, Texas executioners are outsourced to other states to perform their executions. They have a great deal of practice: 515 men and women have been killed in Texas since 1982 with lethal injections. Forty percent of the nation’s legal killings of prisoners occur in Texas. Since 1976, Texas has carried out more executions than the six other busiest killing states combined: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Virginia.

Texas officials think they are efficient even though a prisoner who was being executed last month woke up and said, “It does kind of burn.” David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has represented more than 100 death row inmates during their appeals, said, “I think Texas probably does [executions] as well as Iran.”

Last year Woodland Compounding Pharmacy demanded that Texas return drugs to them because the state had obtained them under false premises. The state had ordered the drugs in the name of “Huntsville Unit Hospital,” which hadn’t operated for over 30 years. According to a letter from Woodland’s owner Jason Lovo, however, it was obvious they knew the use for the drugs they were selling:

“I am the owner and pharmacist-in-charge of the Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy, the pharmacy that has provided TDCJ with vials of compounded pentobarbital.

“Based on the phone calls that I had with Erica Minor of TDCJ regarding its request for these drugs, including statements that she made to me, it was my belief that this information would be kept on the “down low” and that it was unlikely that it would be discovered that my pharmacy provided these drugs. Based on Ms Minor’s requests, I took steps to ensure it would be private. However, the State of Texas misrepresented this fact because my name and the name of my pharmacy are posted all over the internet. Now that the information has been made public, I find myself in the middle of a firestorm that I was not advised of and did not bargain for. Had I known that the information would be made public, which the State implied it would not, I never would have agreed to provide the drugs to the TDCJ.”

Huntsville is a lovely town of about 40,000 people with seven state prisons in the vicinity. The Walls prison fortress is about a half mile from City Hall in the heart of town. Jim Willett, Walls warden from 1998 to 2001, said that the “tie-down team” that straps the prisoners on the execution table “can take that man back there and put those straps on perfectly and easily in 30 seconds.” He added, “They take pride in what they do. They’ve done it so often that it’s almost second nature to them.”

Willett’s job now is director of the Texas Prison Museum that had 31,208 visitors last year. Built to resemble a state prison, it has a replica guard tower in one corner. The electric chair for executing people until 1964 is displayed behind a protective glass barrier. The sign states: “Attention: Please do not enter past the rope or attempt to touch ‘Ol’ Sparky.’ An alarm will sound if you do try to enter.”

Texas attorney general Greg Abbott, also a GOP gubernatorial candidate, thinks that Texas is much better at executing people than Oklahoma. The drug to be used came from a compounding pharmacy and is potent and “free of contaminants,” he wrote. There is no information about how the drug is tested.

Austin D. Sarat, an Amherst College professor who has studied the death penalty, rates Texas’s mishaps at 4 percent, higher than that of Oklahoma, when considering difficulty in finding a vein. In 1988, a tube attached to a needle inside Raymond Landry Sr.’s right arms shot drugs across the death chamber toward the witness room. The warden closed the curtain, and 14 minutes later when it was re-opened, Landry’s eyes were half-closed. Three minutes later he was pronounced dead.

In the late 1990s, when George W. Bush was governor of Texas, between 40 and 50 death sentences were handed down in Texas. The number has fallen to below 10 a year since 2010, perhaps because of the 140 high-profile exonerations in the state in recent years, including a dozen death row inmates. Questions also exist about the guilt of already executed prisoners.

People justify executions by saying that those people have killed—a type of vengeance. There’s the belief that if these evil people act outside the law that the government should do the same—kill people. Twenty-two countries executed people last year, including Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, China, Sudan—and the United States. As we criticize other countries in the world for being less “democratic” or “highly developed,” we need to consider the company we keep.

executions

Strapping down prisoners to kill them, injecting drugs, running a museum with an electric chair–it’s just business as usual to the people who have become desensitized to legally killing people.

 

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