Nel's New Day

August 25, 2019

Recession Looms, Unconstitutional Demand

Filed under: economy — trp2011 @ 10:15 PM
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The use of “dictator” for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) may be a misnomer.  He approvingly retweeted a comment from a radio host that “Jewish people in Israel love him like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God…” He followed that by saying “I am the Chosen One” while looking meaningfully up at the sky. He was supposedly talking about tariffs on China. Earlier in the week, he accused Jews who vote for Democrats (79 percent of them in 2018) of showing “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” meaning to Israel as if U.S. citizens swear fealty to a foreign country.   

DDT panders to evangelical Christians because Jews don’t believe in the second coming. Evangelicals refer to Jews as “uncompleted Christians,” that they still need to come to Jesus.

One response:

“Matthew 24:24 – ‘For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.’”

Self-identified evangelical Jay Lowder did call equating Trump with God “blasphemous and sacrilegious.” He added that the “antagonism” toward evangelicals will increase if they support a double standard for DDT’s “actions, policies, or behaviors” and will be forced “to do the same with the next president.”

DDT’s accelerated tariff fight caused the stock market to go on a roller-coaster ride, the Dow Jones down almost 400 points last week after dropping over 600 points on Friday. The volatility came as DDT increased tariffs onto China, China increased them on the U.S., and DDT ordered private companies not to deal with China. After the stock market closed Friday, DDT again increased the tariff percentage on Chinese goods.

Earlier, DDT delayed new tariffs on Chinese goods from September 1 to December 15 but will raise tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports from 25 percent to 30 percent starting Oct. 1. In addition, tariffs on $300 billion worth of other goods would increase from 10 percent to 15 percent on the December 15 tariff. DDT decided to punish China by withdrawing from the 192-member Universal Postal Union that set international postal rates for over 150 years. If nothing changes by DDT’s deadline in October, mail service will be disrupted for U.S. voters living abroad and cost them $60 to return their ballots.

DDT excluded some tariffs as favors to his base: no bibles although books are fined; no Chinese processing of salmon and cod caught in Alaska although pollock is not protected; no chemicals used for fracking; zirconium for airplanes, even civilian ones; aluminum oxide for steel manufacturers already protected by earlier tariffs on imported steel; shipping containers for big companies like J.B Hunt and CSX. These items were exempted for “health, safety, national security and other factors (aka favoring his voter base).” Legally, DDT can put tariffs on products only for the reason of “national security,” yet his first tariffs were on washing machines to protect “national security” for Whirlpool. Meanwhile U.S. Steel is laying off hundreds of workers the week after DDT bragged about how he had made the company strong.

After 13 failed trade war talks with China, DDT’s Friday tweets were particularly vicious:

“Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA.”

Trump also “ordered” the U.S. Postal Service and private companies like FedEx, Amazon, and UPS to search packages from China for fentanyl and refuse delivery. DDT claims that he has the power to force private companies to change their business practices because of the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act that targets rogue regimes, terrorists, and drug traffickers in commerce regulation. Earlier this year, he threatened tariffs on Mexico with the same law because of southern border crossings. By today, he said he had no plan to call a national emergency. (DDT’s Trump Organization has business ties with China; both he and daughter Ivanka Trump have multiple trademarks in China.)  

In its editorial, the conservative Wall Street Journal wrote: 

“Somebody should tell Chairman Trump this isn’t the People’s Republic of America.”

The tariff situation became more confusing today when DDT said that he may be second-guessing his tariff attack on China. Five hours later his press secretary Stephanie Grisham wrote he DDT “regrets not raising the tariffs higher.” G7 Summit leaders reported on DDT’s disastrous trade war, but he said, “Nobody’s told me that.”

The volatile stock market leads to fears of a recession although DDT denies the possibility. He said, “Our consumers are rich. I gave a tremendous tax cut and they’re loaded up with money.” Yet 39 percent of people in the nation don’t have enough cash to cover an unexpected $400 expense. DDT sent Larry Kuklow and Peter Navarro to Sunday talk shows with the intent of misrepresenting the current economic situation and railed about how, despite the facts, a possible recession is a conspiracy against him.  

DDT claims he has a strong, “powerful” economy, but he proposed steps for an extremely weak economy. White House officials first considered a cut in payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security to make up for the tax cut for wealthy and big business that DDT will use to eliminate Medicare and Social Security. Other ideas which might also require Congressional approval were a currency transaction tax weakening the dollar (currency manipulation), rotating Federal Reserve governors to check Powell, and lowering the corporate tax rate to 15 percent to spur more investment. DDT also went back to badgering Powell for a one-percent reduction in interest rates, calling him the same kind of enemy as China’s president Xi Jinping. DDT would save millions of dollars in lowered interest rates. He has already benefited from the decrease in July’s Fed Reserve interest change.

After the Labor Department accurately revised job gains from April 2018 to March 2019, DDT lost over 500,000 jobs. Average monthly job growth dropped to 170,000—9,000 less per month in 2017—with the biggest losses in leisure/hospitality, professional/businesses services, and retail. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the probability of a recession within a year is the highest since the last financial crisis.

Other recession indicators are the skyrocketing deficit (higher even than expected), GDP drop to 2.1 percent in the second quarter, dropping tax revenues, and consumer confidence at a seven-month low. Wealthy buyers are pulling out of expensive housing markets, and RV sales are down over 20 percent. Car sales are drastically dropping, bankruptcy filings are steadily increasing, major retailers shut down more stores, tech companies are cutting costs, and U.S. freight shipment volume has fallen during the past 8 months, threatening a negative GDP by the end of the year. Both credit card debt and late payments are on the rise. The U.S. manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell to 49.9 in August from 50.4 in July, the first time it was below 50 since September 2009, and exports sales fell at the fastest pace since August 2009. Falling exports cause reductions in inventories, cuts in productions, and loss of jobs. The problems ripple across the economy because manufacturing affects every part of it—business services, distribution, transportation, etc. The fall in manufacturing output during the first six months of 2019 entered a “technical recession.”

The Dow looks good, but DDT’s percentage of increase at 32.2 percent is below that of Democratic presidents at the same time of their first term—Clinton at 39.3 percent and Obama at 45.2 percent. DDT’s only accomplishment is a low unemployment rate, but it was headed there when he was inaugurated. A look at DDT’s chaotic response to the financial problems he caused, and a comparison of the DDT and the Obama economy in 15 charts. 

DDT thinks that dropping interest rates will get him re-elected, but they will damage savings and be devastating for blocking a recession. Buying a year or two with lower interest rates would create a massive credit bubble like the subprime mortgage crisis over a decade ago. The current risk comes from huge corporate debt, especially high-yield bonds. Dumping these at one time at low prices would culminate in a disaster, especially if lenders bought corporate bonds with low-interest loans, and lenders may be forced into more debt. With the weak expansion, sellers may have no buyers, and companies won’t be able to service debt.

DDT started out with a solid economy, and everything he does is designed to ruin it. He is damaging not only U.S. economy but also that in other countries with conservative leadership. UK’s Brexit vote preceded DDT’s election by a few months, but Boris Johnson is pushing the nation into disaster with half Britain’s farms poised to fail. Brazil’s new DDT-style leader, Jair Bolsonaro, has made no reforms to pension and tax systems that undercut economic growth. Italy’s enormous debt and annual deficit led to the collapse of its government and the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte after his election 14 months ago—the second election in 18 months.

Frank Rich wrote an excellent article on DDT’s panic about the economy and its destruction because of DDT’s policies. Future generations in the U.S. will have nothing, and DDT cares about nothing except getting re-elected. 

February 19, 2017

The Struggle to Regain Free Speech

The biggest shock I received from the news during the past few days did not come from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). It was the ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down a Florida law restricting doctors’ First Amendment free speech rights when talking to patients about guns. In a 10-1 vote, the court overturned laws preventing doctors from asking patients questions about guns in their home, putting any “non-relevant” information about gun ownership in a medical record, and “unnecessarily harassing a patient about firearm ownership during an examination.” The law still prohibits discrimination against patients who don’t answer the doctors’ questions.

The ruling sends a message that government does not have the ability to prevent unpopular speech, a vital decision because government increasingly suppresses language. Although the court covers only two states other than Florida—Alabama and Georgia—it establishes a precedent for other courts and could affect the nation if the case moves to the Supreme Court to a supportive First Amendment ruling.

Throughout history governments have tried to control doctors’ free speech. Chinese doctors were sent to rural areas during the Cultural Revolution to convince patients to use contraception, and the Soviet government ordered physicians during the building of the Siberian railroad in the 1930s to deny medical leave requests and keep the order from patients. Nazi Germany taught doctors that their higher duty was to the “health of the Volk” over their individual patients while many of them performed horrifying surgical experiments on humans. Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s plan to increase the nation’s birth rate stopped doctors’ advising patients about birth control and providing information about prevention of the transmission of AIDS and HIV infections by the use of condoms.

Legislators in 38 of the United States order doctors and women’s clinics what to tell women requesting abortions, some of this information inaccurate and misleading. These doctors must tell women about a non-existent link between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer, suicide, or future infertility. In 28 states, informed consent forms and brochures in clinics must provide legislative-chosen information about alternatives to abortion, the risks associated with abortion, and fetal development stages.

Some states require non-scientific and non-medical language for doctors’ counseling, mandatory brochures, and informed consent forms such as referring to embryos as “unborn children,” insisting that life begins at conception, lying that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks, and stating that abortion at any stage terminates the life of a separate, living being. Twenty-eight states require that women wait between 24 and 72 hours between their visits to doctors and the procedure in reflect on her decision—and an attempt to humiliate her.

Government uses religious values in their lies to prevent abortions. There is no link between abortion and breast cancer according to the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist. There is no “post-abortion syndrome,” according to the American Psychological Association (APA) or the American Psychiatric Association. The APA found that “there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women,” noting most studies that claim otherwise “suffered from serious methodological problems.” There is no link between abortion and infertility. And fetuses cannot feel pain until 24 weeks at the earliest.

This article gives a list of states with their laws as of August 2016. Since then, one more state is mandating that doctors lie to patients about the non-existent link between abortion and the occurrence of breast cancer.

The new president added fuel to the abortion controversy at the last presidential debate when he declared that doctors do abortions in the “ninth month” of pregnancy. In his false bombastic rhetoric, DDT said that “you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day.” This is called a Cesarean  or C-section, and it doesn’t kill the baby.

Religious–or pandering—lawmakers with the goal to prevent all abortions fail to recognize only 1.3 percent of abortions happen at or after 21 weeks and 91 percent of them happen before 13 weeks. The ones that occur late in the pregnancy almost always are required by dead or seriously deformed fetuses. With the religious fervor to keep all fetuses coming out of the uteruses at full term, the House voted last Thursday, 230-188, to overturn an Obama-era rule banning states from denying federal funds to Planned Parenthood and other health care providers that perform abortions. Thirteen states can return to their non-support for Planned Parenthood. A repeal of the Affordable Care Act would remove money from caring for the severely mentally and physically disabled children resulting from the lack of abortions.

Religion was the reason behind DDT’s removal of U.S. funding from any overseas organization that mentions abortion. The money doesn’t go toward abortions: the Mexico City Policy is simply a suppression of free speech. When George W Bush reimposed the global gag rule, he erased shipments of contraceptives to 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The elimination of these shipments cut off condoms for Lesotho Planned Parenthood, the only available place in a country where one in four women were infected with HIV. Like George W., DDT will create more unwanted pregnancies and more cases of HIV.

ddt-signs-mexico-act

The above photograph of DDT signing an act that affects millions of women shows that limiting women’s reproductive rights is largely a “guy thing.”

The worship of DDT is creating threats to democracy. In attempts to avoid protesters, over two-thirds of the congressional Republicans refuse to have town halls during the current recess. DDT’s tweet explains the lies that they are spreading:

“Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

GOP legislatures in at least ten states are introducing bills to stop dissent permitted by the First Amendment, that gives the “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”:

  • Colorado: Greatly increase penalties for environmental protesters up to felonies resulting in prison and fines up to $100,000.
  • Indiana: Publish officials could immediately dispatch “all available law enforcement” to clear a traffic blockade involving at least 10 people “by any means necessary.” People have nicknamed the bill “block traffic and you die.”
  • Iowa: Creates penalty of five years in prison for traffic disruptions.
  • Michigan: Boost anti-picketing penalties, especially for union members who try to boycott a business’s profits.
  • Minnesota: Penalties for blocking traffic.
  • Missouri: Prohibit demonstrators from wearing masks or robes. (Does that count the Ku Klux Klan?)
  • North Carolina: Imprison people who intimidate ex-officials because a group followed former Gov. Pat McCrory (king of the “potty police” law) and chanting “Shame!” His discriminatory law cost the state millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs.
  • North Dakota: Criminalize road protests, restrict wearing apparel, and allow government to sue for enforcement costs. An additional proposal would exempt drivers from liability if they injure or kill a pedestrian obstructing traffic on a public road.
  • Virginia: Imprison people engaged in an “unlawful assembly” after “having been lawfully warned to disperse.”
  • Washington: Classify as “economic terrorism” any permit-less protest that causes harm to the flow of commerce.

DDT has his phone back and is angrily tweeting his “war on the press.” His latest salvo is declaring the media as the “enemy of the people.” Beginning with The New York Times, CNN and NBC News, he quickly added ABC and CBS. That’s a major U.S. newspaper and all three mainstream television channels. DDT is patterning his actions on ancient Rome and later Russia’s communist revolution a century ago which was followed by massive purges ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

DDT rants included a quote from Thomas Jefferson about his hate for the press. The press quoted DDT but failed to show how DDT’s message was out of context.  The Founding Father also said,“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

We can only hope that the 11th Circuit Court took the first step toward reinstating free speech and free press in the United States as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Indifference about the distinction between truth and lies is the precondition of fascism. When truth perishes so does freedom.”—Simon Shama, British historian

February 1, 2017

Trump Keeps Campaign Promises, Alienates Growing Number of Countries

Have I demoted President Donald Trump (PDT) to just Donald Trump (DT) was a question sent me yesterday. The demotion was accurate because I cannot consider DT a president until he starts acting like one. His actions recently, however, provide a new descriptor for him—Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Over a half century ago, Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, describing the dire consequences of the pesticide DDT including cancer and other destructive effects on the planet. In 1972, the U.S. banned the use of DDT for agricultural use in the nation. Donald Trump may be even more toxic for the United States.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. Volkswagen has agreed to nearly $15 billion in a settlement over emissions cheating on its diesel vehicles. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

As a dictator, DDT has decided to ignore the U.S. Constitution. Conservative press claims that Sally Yates should have been fired from the Department of Justice because she was insubordinate—that she should do anything the president wants, including supporting his unconstitutional actions. The office of the president can legally fire the Attorney General, but DDT’s action in this case and his petty language smearing her demonstrates his failure to understand that the DOJ is an independent agency. The Attorney General swears an oath to the U.S. Constitution, not to the U.S. president, yet DDT looks at the AG as his personal lackey.

Independence of the DOJ is especially vital at this time when some of the president’s associates are being investigated for their communication with Russia regarding the election.  Republican lawmakers understood the mission of the Attorney General when they confirmed individuals under a Democratic president. As with all else in the GOP world, however, fealty to the president is now of paramount importance with a Republican in the office.

As satirist Andy Borowitz wrote:

“Donald Trump fired the acting Attorney General, Sally Q. Yates, after learning that she had downloaded a copy of the United States Constitution to her computer, Trump told reporters on Monday night. According to the Trump Administration’s code of ethics, established by Steve Bannon, a counselor to the President, ‘possessing, reading, or referring to the United States Constitution’ is a violation that is punishable by termination.

“Suspecting that Yates was in breach of that rule, Bannon seized Yates’s computer at the Justice Department and discovered that she had secretly downloaded a complete copy of the 1789 document. ‘Sally Yates was hatching a covert plot to require my actions to be in accordance with the Constitution,’ Trump said. ‘We caught her red-handed.’

“Trump said he hoped Yates’s firing would send Justice Department staffers the message that ‘if you are caught flagrantly obeying the Constitution, you will be out of here. The American people deserve an Attorney General who will come to work every day ready to flout the Constitution, and in Jeff Sessions, they will have one,’ he said.”

With DDT and the current GOP crop, satire has come close to fact.

In DDT’s exuberance to capture terrorists coming in the country, his Muslim ban led to handcuffing a five-year-old boy and holding him in custody, separated from his parents for at least five hours, because he may have been “a threat to America,” according to Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) revealed that the child is a U.S. citizen who lives in Maryland and described the incident as “outrageous.” The boy was detained despite authorities having prior knowledge of his arrival. When Van Hollen tried to see if the child had been released, he was refused information by airport authorities.

With his new presidential powers, DDT is carrying out his campaign promises, one of them targeting the families of terror suspects. Although Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated he was not aware of this DDT position, DDT said this on the campaign trail:

“[Y]ou have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”

DDT’s first military raid, carried out last Sunday, killed two U.S. citizens, a member of SEAL Team 6 and the eight-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, an al Qaeda leader born in New Mexico and killed in a U.S. strike five years ago. The purpose of the raid in southern Yemen was to gather intelligence, and an official said about the raid, “Almost everything went wrong.” Several other SEALs were injured, some seriously, and the child’s death has been useful for al Qaeda recruitment. Terrorist groups are circulating photographs of children who have been killed by the United States.

DDT attacked its (former?) ally in a telephone call last Saturday to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in that country’s attempt to confirm that the U.S. would honor its pledge to take 1,250 refugees. Before the call, DDT accused Australia of trying to export the “next Boston bombers.” A senior administration official stated that the call to Turnbull was “hostile and charged,” according to the Washington Post. Turnbull had assured that acceptance of the refugees was contingent on vetting, but DDT Trump said that he didn’t see how the U.S. would gain anything by honoring its promise. Although Turnbull tried to move on to discuss Syria’s conflict and other important foreign issues, DDT abruptly ended the call and said it was the “worst call by far.”

DDT’s call with the Mexican president seems even worse. Relationships between DDT and Enrique Peña Nieto have been strained since DDT told the Mexican president that he didn’t need to come to a meeting with him if Mexico wouldn’t pay for DDT’s wall between the countries. In this call, DDT threatened to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there.” Nieto denied that DDT had made this threat, but the Mexican press reported DDT’s statements:

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn announced that the U.S. has put Iran “on notice” for carrying out a medium-range ballistic missile test and attacks by proxy forces on a Saudi frigate:

“The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity, and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East and place American lives at risk.”

The missile exploded when its reentry vehicle failed. Flynn declared that the launch violated a UN resolution, but Iran maintains that it has the right to missile development for protection from Israeli attack.  The UN has not made a decision about whether the launch violated its resolution.

Alienating countries in three continents, DDT has ignored Russia’s aggressive actions in escalating its illegal war in Ukraine.

Last week, DDT directed his irritation toward Theresa May, the UK prime minister who visited the U.S. During a joint press conference, May permitted a British reporter to ask this question:

“Mr. President, you’ve said before that torture works; you’ve praised Russia; you’ve said you want to ban some Muslims from coming to America; you’ve suggested there should be punishment for abortion. For many people in Britain, those sound like alarming beliefs. What do you say to our viewers at home who are worried about some of your views and worried about you becoming the leader of the free world?”

DDT avoided answering the question and then said to May, “This was your choice of a question? There goes that relationship!” It may become further strained with May’s opposition to DDT’s positions. She warned DDT and the Republicans to “beware” of Vladimir Putin and keep the sanctions, cautioned him that the West should stop trying to “remake the world in our own image,” backed the Iranian nuclear deal that DDT threatened to tear up, argued for all “diplomatic means at our disposal” to defeat ISIS, and strongly supported NAFTA.

In the first 24 hours after DDT announced his Muslim ban, over 1.5 million people in the UK, that has a population of 64.5 million, signed a petition opposing DDT’s state visit to their country. The petition reads:

“Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official state visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”

In addition, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion condemning the “discriminatory, divisive and counterproductive” travel ban. On February 20, Parliament will debate whether to rescind DDT’s visit. DDT seems intent on alienating every country except Russia.

trumps-visit

June 10, 2015

Israel’s Need for Control

West BankA month before ex-law enforcement officer was caught on video assaulting a teenage girl in McKinney (TX) for swimming while black, Israeli security forces were ordering non-Jews from a swimming pool in a West Bank town so that Jewish-Israeli settlers from nearby illegal settlements would have a Muslim-free swim. The Birkat al-Karmil natural pool and park is in the Hebron Hills, a section of the Occupied West Bank (Area A) where Israel agreed to relinquish military and civil control to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestine’s Yatta Municipality renovated the site, creating a park and restoring an ancient natural pool at its center. Yatta maintains the resort for everyone’s enjoyment, and settlers have come to swim with local Palestinians.

On April 7, hundreds of settlers arrived at the pool at about 2:00 pm accompanied by dozens of soldiers, Border Police, and representatives of the Civil Administration (CA). The security forces used guns for force Palestinians out of the pool and go to the edge of the park. Settlers swam and used the rest of the park for over two hours before the Israelis and their security force left the area.

When the mayor of Yatta protested, he was told that the visit had been coordinated with the Palestinian DCO. Representatives denied any coordination and submitted an official complaint to the Israeli DCO. An IDF spokesperson wrote, “It should be noted that there were no unusual occurrences during their visit. Palestinians were present at this event.”

According to international consensus, including the United Nations, the almost 130 West Bank settlements with 350,150 Israelis in the West Bank officially recognized by the Israeli government in 2012 are illegal under international law. Even a large number of the Israeli public oppose these Israeli settlements in the West Bank and support the 2005 settlement relocation. Settlements, however, continue to expand with new ones established. Last September Israel took almost 1,000 acres of private Palestinian land near Bethlehem, supposedly in retribution for the kidnapping and murder of three Israel teenagers but in reality to calm right-wing Israelis after the country’s ceasefire terms with Hamas. It was later revealed that Hamas had nothing do with the teenagers’ deaths. This latest land grab is only a small part of the 250,000 acres that Israelis have taken from Palestinians in only the West Bank since 1979.

Last summer, Israel used the excuse of tunnels from Gaza into Israel as the reason for attacking the vulnerable Gazans last summer, but Israel wants Gaza’s natural gas reserves. In seven weeks, over 2,100 Gazans, at least 69 percent of them civilians, were killed, and another 11,000 were wounded. An additional 500,000 people became refugees. On the Israel side, 66 soldiers, five civilians, and one Thai civilian were killed; 469 IDF soldiers and 261 Israeli civilians were wounded.

Earlier this spring, Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff, said about Israeli’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territory:

“Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end.”

McDonough repeated White House support for a “sovereign and sustainable” Palestinian state based on the 1967 border lines and warned Israel that any further land grabs of Palestinian territory “would be both wrong and illegal” and challenged by the United States.

After Israel hid behind its “Iron Dome,” partially funded by the United States, and decimated Gaza, the United States denounced the bombing of three schools as “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.” The United States replenished the grenades and mortar rounds used for this destruction; about $1 billion of U.S. munitions is stored inside Israel and made available to Israel when the country asks for them. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, getting $3.1 billion every year–one-fourth of Israel’s military budget.

Last month, the U.S. State Department approved almost $1.9 billion in new weapons for Israel, including 14,500 kits to upgrade “dumb” bombs into precision-guided munitions, over 12,000 unguided bombs, and 50 Super Penetrator “bunker buster” bombs, designed to hit targets underground. The approval came a few weeks after the Israeli rights group Breaking the Silence collected reports of possible violations of international law during Israel’s 2014 “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza. U.S. law prohibits providing military assistance to countries that engage in human rights violations, including Israeli attacks on hospitals and health workers. Testimonies also alleged that tanks fired randomly with no regard for civilians and Israeli soldiers looting homes and wantonly destroying their property such as running tanks over cars.

Also being sold to Israel are over 3,000 hellfire missiles, which the U.S. briefly withheld from Israel following last summer’s attack on Gaza. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency stated that “the United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability.” The U.S. also plans to provide Israel with 50 F-35 stealth fighters, missile defense systems, and other unknown military materials to Israel to quell Israel’s opposition to the U.S. agreement with Iran. The deal came a month after the House Armed Services Committee approved $474 million for Israel’s anti-missile systems, like Iron Dome. These sales require congressional approval.

This summer represents the 11th anniversary of Israel’s illegal Separation Wall. Instead of following the 1967 Green Line as ordered by the International Court of Justice, the wall protects illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and turns Palestine property into non-contiguous bits and pieces while adding at least half the West Bank with crucial resources such as the Jordan River and Western Aquifer to Israel. Israel has built the world’s largest open air prison.

The military routinely closes Palestinian roads, orders Palestinians to evacuate their homes so they can conduct military exercises, demolishes whole towns and villages to claim land for new settlements, fails to prosecute Israelis for routinely murdering Palestinians, and brutalizes the Palestinian population who live in terror of nightly raids in which men, women and even children are hauled away for interminable jail sentences and torture without any criminal charges against them.

Israel’s new deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, told the international community this spring that the bible proves that all the land allocated to the Palestinians belongs to the Jewish people. She is currently the country’s top full-time diplomat. In her inaugural speech to Israeli diplomats, Hotovely said Israel has tried too hard to appease the world and must stand up for itself.

This past Monday, U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the U.S. Constitution gives the president total power to identify foreign governments after a U.S. couple sued for the right to list “Jerusalem, Israel” as their son’s birthplace on his U.S. passport. Although Israel claims that all of Jerusalem belongs to that country, the international community believes that West Jerusalem, including the Old City, belongs to the Palestinians.

In 2002, Congress passed an act allowing U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem the option of listing their birthplaces as “Jerusalem, Israel” on passports and birth certificates. George W. Bush signed the law, but the State Department never enforced it. U.S. officials maintain that any sovereignty in that city is determined through diplomatic negotiations. In rejecting the petition for Menachem Zivotofsky’s parents, the Court affirmed that, according to the U.S. Constitution, the president “has sole authority to determine what countries to conduct relations with, which competing government is legitimate, and which territorial claims to accede to.”

The Zivotofskys used a death certificate from 2002 for Myron Friedman stating his place of death was “Jerusalem, Israel.” Three months after they submitted the document, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv sent Friedman’s daughter, Wendy Serlin, a letter correcting an administrative error regarding Friedman’s place of death and new original copies of Friedman’s death certificate leaving the space for “country” blank.

After the Supreme Court argued the case, Zivotofsky v Kerry, last fall, Nina Totenburg wrote:

“Ever since the founding of Israel, the U.S. has taken the position that no country has sovereignty over Jerusalem until its status is negotiated in a Middle East peace deal. Israel’s supporters in Congress, however, have tried to force a different policy, seeking to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and mandating that the U.S. Department of State allow U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their place of birth. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, however, have refused to comply with the passport mandate, contending it infringes on the president’s foreign policy powers.”

In a 6-3 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that Congress has no constitutional role in recognizing other countries or parts of countries. The constitution gives the president that prerogative. Therefore the 2002 law ordering documents include “Israel” with “Jerusalem” is nullified as unconstitutional.

Writing his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts showed that he has no respect for the constitution when he wrote:

“The Court takes the perilous step—for the first time in our history—of allowing the President to defy an Act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs.”

On Monday, the RAND Corporation released a study asserting that if Israelis and Palestinians were to forge a two-state solution and end their decades-old conflict, their economies would enjoy a combined windfall of $173 billion over 10 years. What a waste.

November 30, 2014

Wacky Christian Beliefs

As Christians seem to gain more control over the United States, their beliefs appear to grow closer to the edge of insanity. Here are a few examples:

Fundamentalist Christians are always fond of interpreting a constitution written by men who believed in separation of church and state. This month, American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer wrote that the First Amendment applies only to Christians, giving states the right to persecute other religions. His ire was specifically directed toward the Orange County School District where the Satanic Temple decided to hand out its own religious materials because conservative Christians were distributing Bibles and other Christian materials. The school decided to keep all religious groups from passing out their information. According to Fischer, “the purpose of the First Amendment… was only to protect the free exercise of the Christian faith.”

Christians are convinced that all support of homeless and hungry people should be through religious groups. This is the way that one of them operates. The City Union Mission shelter in Kansas City (MO) refuses to allow same-sex families to stay together and requires transgender people to dress according to their sex at birth rather than their gender identification.

For at least one Houston church, it’s all about the money. Pastor Walter F. Houston refused to provide a funeral for 93-year-old Olivia Blair, whose wish has always been to be buried by A member of the Fourth Missionary Baptist Church for 50 years, Blair failed to tithe during the last two years because she had been in a nursing home or hospital for the past two years. She was in a coma for the past few months.

Moses is white, according to Fox’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ridley Scott’s version of the flight from Egypt. Almost every other main cast member is also very white. Stars include Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton, Arron Paul, John Turturro,  Ben Kingsley, and Sigourney Weaver. The blacks in the film are slaves or servants. Director Scott defended his choice of characters by saying that he couldn’t get funding for the film if he said “that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.” CEO of 21st Century Fox, Rupert Murdoch, didn’t even bother to assume that the casting might have been wrong. He tweeted, “Moses film attacked on Twitter for all white cast. Since when are Egyptians not white? All I know are.”

Pat Robertson has repeated his claim that Ouija boards are dangerous. The televangelist said:

“The spirit is causing that little needle — it goes around to letters and spells out words and so you feel like [it’s] some dead person, but actually it is communicating with demonic spirits. It is a dangerous thing and I strongly urge people not to get involved in it.”

In the past he had referred to chants as “prayers in Sanskrit to various Hindu Gods who are in turn demons, and you are saying something you don’t understand when in essence you are praying to a devil to come to you.”

An Oklahoma man has a solution for anyone involved in witchcraft. Isaiah Marin said that his “strong Christian beliefs” made him stop anyone from practicing “magic”; that’s why he stabbed and almost decapitated 21-year-old Jacob Andrew Crockett with a large black sword. Marin’s brother, Samuel, described Isaiah as a “religious zealot” and “heavy drug user.”

Killing is also on the mind of Donnie Swaggart, evangelical pastor and son of disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. On a program called Frances & Friends, he claimed that LGBT activists are like ISIS because they both want to chop off the heads of Christians. After Right Wing Watch posted the video on YouTube, Swaggart forced them to remove it, but the video is still available here. Two years ago, Rick Santorum accused President Obama of changing the United States into France during the French Revolution, warning that Christians would be sent one by one to the guillotine.

Bryan Fischer, a leader of the American Family Association, does suggest that ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples in the Americas was appropriate because god was punishing them for their sins. He compared it to the “rules of warfare in Deuteronomy when God commanded t he Israelites to kill, enslave, and rape “the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.” According to Fischer, God wanted the Native Americans to be killed “to exercise his sovereign control over this land” because of “the immorality of those nations that were exercising sovereign control at the time.”

Cindy Jacobs has the answer for indigenous people: they should renounce “any animus [sic] … and repent for the generational iniquity” before they can deal with the “Leviathan spirit” that brings division and strife. Evidently all Native Americans need to do to be happy is to reject the past. Jacobs also believes that listening to God will make your shoes last a long time as proof that God provides “supernatural provisions.”

Christian belief is the reason that David Van Vleet of Tacoma (WA) gave for requesting full names and addresses of all the strippers in his area. When he filed for the information under the state’s Public Records Act,” he said, “I would pray for those dancers by name. I’m a Christian. . . . We have a right to pray for people.” Although a federal judge blocked the request, he might still get the information because current law is not clear on this matter.

Halloween is also a Christian holiday, according to former Growing Pains star, Kirk Cameron. He maintains that early Christians dressed up in devil, goblin, and witch costumes to show that Jesus had vanquished these evils. “The costumes poke fun at the fact that the devil and other evils were publicly humiliated by Christ at his resurrection.” Real anthropologists, however, believe the holiday’s pagan origins are connected to harvest festivals.

Robertson also has a distorted view of history. On the 700 Club, he connected  LGBT activists, “radicals and … extremists,” with terrorists and the Spanish Inquisition. “No Christian in his right mind would ever try to enforce somebody against their belief or else suffer jail. They did that during the Inquisition, it was horrible, it was a black mark on our history, but it isn’t being done now.” He also said, “If the gays want to go out and do their gay sex, that’s one thing, but if they want to force you to accept and solemnify it by marriage, that’s another matter….” So Robertson thinks that gay sex is okay?

People are entitled to their beliefs, no matter how wacky. The problem with fundamental Christians, however, is that they can destroy the lives of their children with their narrow, inflexible approach to thinking and they try to destroy the lives of everyone else in the country. The far-right Christians will control Congress for the next two years; let’s see how successful they are.

August 10, 2014

Conservatives Claim Moral High Ground But Ignore Bible, Constitution

God—and the U.S. Supreme Court—gave people the right to discriminate, according to Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Mike Kelly (R-PA). That’s why they’re pushing a bill, “The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014,” allowing adoption and foster care centers to discriminate against same-sex couples. Nowhere does the language in the bill use references to LGBT people, and it is so vague that any organization can discriminate against anyone if its “sincerely held religious beliefs” are being infringed. The senators claim that the bill is meant to “ensure children can continue to get care from people of faith,” but the bill is intended to give special rights to religious organizations.

Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who started a range war against the U.S. government, told a gathering last week that his vendetta was between good and evil. Providing him personal inspiration, God told Bundy, “This is your chance to straighten this thing up.” At least that’s what Bundy claims. He added that people rallied around him because they were “spiritually touched.” The “touched” might have been accurate. Bundy’s big concern at the gathering was that only about 100 people attended. He asked:

“Where is all of your college students? Where’s our young and where’s our old? Where’s our black and where’s our brown? Where are you people? Aren’t you interested in freedom and liberty?”

Although Mormon, Bundy is the perfect example of Tea Party believers. They claim that they want religion back into politics, but what they want is just their own religion represented throughout the country. Despite their claims that the movement is secular, it is religious, founded in spiritual revival and zealotry. Their devotional belief system mandates how people should live, how society should function, what is right and wrong, and who should—and shouldn’t—lead the country.

The basis of their system is a refusal to compromise. The Tea Partiers’ moral imperative is that they will shut down the government before bending on any legislation just as Samson pulled down the pillars of the temple. Their bellicose nature keeps them from reasonable disagreements about fiscal or foreign policies. Anyone who opposes their dogma in government, economics, race, and sex are infidels. Heretics are burned at the primaries.

The Antichrist of the Tea Party religion is the illegitimate Barack Obama must be opposed just like the lesser demons of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. Tea Partiers blame them for any problems in the past six years. Washington, D.C. is the seat of corruption in the same way that Rome was before Christ. The solution for Tea Partiers is to undermine the government while pretending to repair it. To do this, Tea Partiers put forward the vision of Paradise from the white, male, Christian country after the Civil War with plantocracy in the South and plutocracy in the North. States rights put blacks in their place, and robber barons fought off the sinful labor laws, unions, and income tax. The cry of “take back America” means a return to the Gilded Age when immigrants, minorities, and women knew their subservient place to the ruling whites.

Without reading the U.S. Constitution, the Tea Partiers have proclaimed this document as its holy text and themselves as solely responsible for its interpretation. If literal readings serve their purpose, they follow the words exactly, cherry-picking text as they do in the Bible. An example is the omission of “a well regulated Militia” in the NRA’s printing of the Second Amendment at its headquarters and the rulings concerning the militia until the past 30 years.

A return to states’ rights got a big boost from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he stated that separation of church and state was never intended in the states. He claims that the only purpose of the Establishment Clause is to protect states from federal interference; it “does not protect any individual right.” His position goes back over 20 years to a SCOTUS case about whether states could have term limits on Congressional representatives. A 5-4 ruling determined that the state could not limit federal terms because the Constitution had no amendment allowing them to do this.

Thomas was on the losing side, and he wasn’t happy. “The ultimate source of the Constitution’s authority is the consent of the people of each individual state, not the consent of the undifferentiated people of the nation as a whole,” he wrote. If there was nothing in the constitution, then states had the power by default. That argument has failed for over 200 years, but Tea Partiers agree with Thomas. They cannot acknowledge that the constitution is an agreement among the citizens of the United States and not among 50 independent republics.

To increase acceptance of the U.S. Constitution among fundamentalist Christians, far-right political figures claim that the document comes from the Christian god. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) explained the process: “Jesus destroyed Satan so that we could be free and that is manifested in what is called the Constitution of the United States. God created this nation and God created the Constitution; it is written on biblical principles.” DeLay gave Texas politics to the GOP by putting Republicans into the Texas House with corporate money so that gerrymandering could keep Democrats out of the legislature.

A big victory for Tea Partiers, at least temporarily, was the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the family that owns Hobby Lobby, and the family is not finished. After starting to push its Christian curriculum into public schools, the Greens plan a Bible museum two blocks south of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the home of history, science, and art museums. Steve Green explained why:

“This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught. There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it. If we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.”

The text of the Tea Partiers’ Bible is actually opposed to all of them who want small government. According to 2 Peter, 2:10-15, false prophets are those who “despise government.” These government-haters are “wells without water” and “clouds that are carried with a tempest”; they are those “to whom the mist of darkness is reserved forever.” Verse 17 provides disgusting descriptions that I won’t include. God’s judgment of these government-haters “lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not” (Verse 3).

To those who condemn LGBT people, the Bible states:

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” – Romans 2:1

About abortion, God commanded women accused of adultery to drink an abortion-producing potion. Under Jewish law, the fetus is the same as “water” during the first 40 days. Abortion is always commanded when the mother’s life is endangered at any time during the pregnancy. The God who handed down Jewish law is the God of Christianity.

The Bible supports charity, loving your enemies, putting down your weapons, not judging others, welcoming the foreigner at the gates, putting others before yourself, not lording yourself over others, and not despising the government.

June 27, 2014

SCOTUS Rewrites Constitution

“The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session–U.S. Constitution, Art. II, sec 2, cl. 3

On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court justices handed down its decision that violent anti-choice protesters can block women from entering women’s clinics, they also ruled—again unanimously—in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the U.S. president’s constitutional rights to make recess appointments should be limited. The case came from President Obama’s recess appointments in 2012 to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after the GOP members of the senate stopped the board from functioning because they didn’t want to accept any of the president’s nominees.

The question of legal appointments arose after a NLRB ruling against Noel Canning because of its unfair labor practices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the NLRB that Noel Canning was wrong but agreed with Noel Canning that the NLRB lacked a quorum because three of the five Board members had been invalidly appointed. Both the court of appeals and the Supreme Court ruled that a three-day recess is not long enough for the president to make appointments.

The ruling may require the NLRB to reconsider as many as 800 cases that were made with appointees that the Supreme Court has now determined to be invalid.

When the president made the appointments to the NLRB, the filibuster of 60 votes for approval of nominees, now eliminated, was still in effect. In addition, the senate has approved two of the three appointments that the president made at that time; the other one no longer sits on the board. The question of the appointments’ appropriateness came when the GOP refused to recess while they were out of town. Despite a 30-day recess, a senator conducted a “pro forma session” every three days by strolling into the chamber, pounding the gavel, and then closing the session within a few minutes. The only purpose was to block presidential appointments: there was no business conducted: presidential messages could not be placed before the senate, the chamber was almost empty, and attendance was not required.

GOP senators never objected to the specific nominees. They just wanted to stop the NLRB from functioning, and it couldn’t function without members. After the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the appointments were illegal, President Obama re-nominated his appointees. The GOP senators filibustered again, and the Democratic senators changed senate rules to require only 50 votes to invoke cloture on executive and judicial nominations. Along with other delayed nominees, the NLRB appointees moved forward.

The SCOTUS decision is the first time in the 225 years of the constitution that the Court has considered recess appointments. Its ruling read, “The Recess Appointments Clause empowers the President to fill any existing vacancy during any recess—intra-session or intersession—of sufficient length.” It defines “intra-session” recess as “breaks in the midst of a formal session” and “intersession” as “breaks between formal sessions of the Senate.” The majority of justices determined that the president can make recess appointments if the senate takes a break between sessions or takes time off during a session, but the recess must be at least ten days.

So the president, according to the majority opinion, still holds the power to make recess appointments to vacancies when the Senate is either taking a break between sessions or taking time off during a session–if it’s at least ten days. The president is not prone to making recess appointments. He’s made only 29, far fewer than George W. Bush’s 171 and Ronald Reagan’s 243.

About 1,200 executive-branch positions require senate approval. The chamber could spend all its time on the constitution’s  “advise and consent” mandate. In the 21st century, the process is more a method for senators to vent their ire on a president of the opposing party. Even worse than voting down nominees, the GOP senators during President Obama’s terms have followed a passive-aggressive approach of refusing to vote. Their refusal for not taking a vote for the NLRB was not unique. They were so intent on killing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that they didn’t approve a director for 18 months. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives went without a director for seven years after the position was mandated to have senate approval. Only after the NRA lifted its objections was the president able to get a director for this agency.

By 5-4, a minority of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia failed to overturn the lower court ruling that the president could not make any recess appointments except at the end of each year. They also failed to deny all recess appointments except when the vacancies were created while the senate was in full recess between sessions.

The constitution empowers the senate to “determine the rules of its proceedings, but SCOTUS has removed that right. If the minority position ha succeeded, as Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out, “Justice Scalia would render illegitimate thousands of recess appointments reaching all the way back to the founding era. More than that: Calling the Clause an ‘anachronism,’ he would basically read it out of the Constitution.”

SCOTUS’ ruling in Noel Canning also mandated that recesses of fewer than 10 days between sessions are “presumptively” too short to count in the constitutional reappointment right. Yet the Court stated that it must defer heavily to the Senate’s authority to determine “how and when to conduct its business.” Thus the justices said that they won’t tell the senate what to do, but they decided a minimum of recess of ten days for appointments. They have removed the right of the senate to set rules and rewritten the constitution.

There’s a definite irony here: the four justices who want to totally rewrite the constitution by eliminating any recess appointments are the originalists—meaning that they believe rulings should be based on what the authors actually meant. In many cases, they must be channeling the writers’ thoughts because the document doesn’t deal with much of 21st century life.

At this time, the Democratic senate can bring up a vote for nominees because they are the same party as the president. If the GOP takes over the senate in this year’s election, the Senate will probably refuse to hold any votes for appointments. In the future, a House of Representatives can demand adjournment for the senate if it is the same party as the president. If the two chambers disagree, the president can then exercise constitutional authority to unilaterally adjourn Congress for a recess, as the Supreme Court ruled. Unless other justices decide to re-write the constitution in this issue too. The Vacancies Act allows the president to fill vacancies—except in multimember agencies which the NLRB and other important agencies are.

As in yesterday’s ruling that erased buffer zones around Massachusetts’ women’s clinics, the justices showed themselves ignorant of reality. GOP members have been so intent on politicizing the appointment process that they are willing to destroy the United States. Yet, the ruling stated, “Most appointments are not controversial and do not produce friction between the branches.” That’s what this case was about. The justices showed no awareness of the recent senate obstruction of the confirmation process, so much so that routine appointments have been mired in controversy.

Reforms to the filibuster process were necessary because almost half of all cloture motions even considered on nominations in the history of the country were made after Barack Obama became president. Last month 110 executive branch nominees were pending, compared to 32 at the same point in George W. Bush’s second term.

As one senator blatantly said, his reason for opposing appointments to the NLRB was to make the agency “inoperable.” Without the recess appointments for a quorum, the senate could have stopped the NLRB for 2,885 days since 1988—almost eight years. Forty-four senators signed a letter to the president admitting that they opposed Richard Cordray to head the CFPB because of their opposition to the agency.

This is another roadblock that conservatives put in the way of the president carrying out his duties. The only hope with this ruling is that it puts the blame squarely on the senate for the failure to fill federal positions. That chamber is now responsible for failures in the confirmation process.

March 9, 2014

Are You Persecuted for Your Religious Beliefs?

Religious persecution has been up front and center in the news in the past few weeks because of the bills in over a dozen states, including the one that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed, to protect religious groups from the menace of LGBT rights. Arizona hasn’t stopped its anti-LGBT action, however. The state has another bill allowing judges and other public officials to opt out of marrying same-sex couples. These are the people who are paid by taxes from same-sex couples.

At the same time, my own state, Oregon, could have a ballot measure saying that businesses don’t have to provide services or goods for same-sex weddings. And my own small-town newspaper published an editorial saying that this ballot measure is okay because a little bit of discrimination in the name of religion is okay.

Later this month and almost exactly one year after the oral arguments on marriage equality, the U.S. Supreme Court will deliberate the case brought by private business regarding the Affordable Care Act that requires them to have insurance providing free contraception to women. If SCOTUS decides that these businesses can opt out of providing birth control, then businesses might be able to claim those same religious beliefs to opt out of services for LGBT people. It could be that same-sex couples can be married but at the same time be turned down for anything to do with the wedding ceremony.

When the Founding Fathers wrote and passed a constitution for all people in the United States, they protected religion for everyone in the First Amendment:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” In the past two centuries, religious people have complained about the way that the government tramples on their personal right to practice their faith:

The Right to Persecute Witches: At the end of the 17th century, people were hanged, killed by heavy stones pressed on them, and imprisoned because others believed that they were practicing witchcraft. The U. S. Constitution denied the right of people to further persecute people for the possibility that they are witches, and courts actually protect witches. People can’t even legally shoot them unless they claim that they are acting in self-defense.

The Right to Own Slaves: The Bible promotes slavery, but U.S. law prevents people from owning other people. The book of Christian belief also states that God wants darker people to be in servitude to the lighter people, according to the religious beliefs of many people. The Mormon Church didn’t rule that blacks are not inferior and that dark skin is not a “curse” sent by God until December 2013.

The Right to Take More Than One Wife: Government took away the religious rights of Mormons to have multiple wives and is still persecuting people for this practice. It also persecuted Mormon men by preventing them from marrying girls 13 and younger.

The Right to Deny Children Health Care: Much to their dismay, Christians now face imprisonment if their children die because of the refusal of medical care for their children.

The Right to Kill People Who Work in Clinics Where Abortions Are Performed: Some Christians believe that they should kill anyone who performs an abortion and anyone who works in one of the clinics where abortions might be performed. The killers believe that it is their Christian right to do this.

Almost three years ago, the Rev. Emily C. Heath, an ordained minister, published the following quiz so that people could determine if they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs:

1. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to go to a religious service of my own choosing.
B) Others are allowed to go to religious services of their own choosing.

2. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to marry the person I love legally, even though my religious community blesses my marriage.
B) Some states refuse to enforce my own particular religious beliefs on marriage on those two guys in line down at the courthouse.

3. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am being forced to use birth control.
B) I am unable to force others to not use birth control.

4. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to pray privately.
B) I am not allowed to force others to pray the prayers of my faith publicly.

5. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Being a member of my faith means that I can be bullied without legal recourse.
B) I am no longer allowed to use my faith to bully gay kids with impunity.

6. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to purchase, read or possess religious books or material.
B) Others are allowed to have access books, movies and websites that I do not like.

7. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious group is not allowed equal protection under the establishment clause.
B) My religious group is not allowed to use public funds, buildings and resources as we would like, for whatever purposes we might like.

8. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Another religious group has been declared the official faith of my country.
B) My own religious group is not given status as the official faith of my country.

9. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious community is not allowed to build a house of worship in my community.
B) A religious community I do not like wants to build a house of worship in my community.

10. My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to teach my children the creation stories of our faith at home.
B) Public school science classes are teaching science.

Scoring key: If you answered “A” to any question, then perhaps your religious liberty is indeed at stake..

If you answered “B” to any question, then you might actually be persecuting someone else rather than being persecuted.

Heath wrote:

“Religious liberty is never secured by a campaign of religious superiority. The only way to ensure your own religious liberty remains strong is by advocating for the religious liberty of all, including those with whom you may passionately disagree. Because they deserve the same rights as you. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

February 6, 2014

Climate Change in the Tunisian Constitution

Here on the coast of Oregon, we have had enough snow today to close the schools and keep us in the house—for the second time this year. My partner and I had planned to travel to Portland, but chains are required not only on the state road to the interstate but also on the interstate itself. Global warming deniers would say that the cold is proof that the planet is cooling, not warming. Their grasp of climate, long-term weather conditions, is that it is identical to weather.

Deniers also think that their cold is everyone’s cold. In Alaska, however, an all-time record high for January was 62 degrees. Temperatures across the state were as much as 30 degrees above average during the past month. If these record highs were to continue into the summer, Alaska would see 90+ degree highs. Alaska’s January temperatures come from a ten-month warm air invasion of the Arctic that causes a weakened polar jet stream creating all-time record high temperatures last summer in the state. The anomaly is now called “Arctic Heat Wave.”

One blogger wrote, “The west-east weather train is broken. And a strange south-north train from equator to Arctic is instead set in place.” And the pattern has lasted for almost a whole year. The polar vortex causing extreme cold in January has now split in half by warm air from the south into two separate cold centers. With this pattern, the Arctic and Alaska will continue record high temperatures while the lower 48 states suffer from extreme winter weather.

The Arctic is melting faster than at any time since satellite observations began 35 years ago. A video shows the 2013 meltback. The ice that replaces the melting will melt faster in the future because it’s not as solid, causing a chain reaction of less and less ice. People not at the Arctic might want to shrug off this melting, but they are at risk in the lower 48 states.

Scientist Benjamin Strauss predicts that the warming planet will cause oceans fast to rise at least one foot every decade. A four-foot increase will submerge half the population of 316 cities and towns on the current coastlines, causing about 3.6 million will lose their homes. By the end of the century, an additional 18 million people in 1,400 cities and towns will be affected from a possible rise of 23 feet. Acting now could keep that rise to about 7.5 feet. Check out this interactive map to see the changes.

Deniers  need to know that 97% of the 4,000 papers that analyzed the causes of climate change concluded that humans are causing global climate change. Among 14,000 peer-reviewed studies on climate change, only 24 rejected the phenomenon. In a Scientific American blog, Kyle Hill wrote, “If you put all of the almost 14,000 climate change papers, including the contrary 24, in a bag, the chances that you would pull out 10 studies that reject climate change is 0.000000000000000000000000003%.” He added that people are more likely to be struck by lightning and then hit by an asteroid. Yet 40 percent of people in the United States are convinced that climate scientists disagree about global climate change.

The media is partly to blame for the lack of understanding. For example, radio host Alex Jones has explained how the government has the ability to cause tornadoes—and does it! Jones is right that people are causing tornadoes because human-caused climate change is contributing to the number and intensity just as it contributes to all other extreme weather conditions. When high pressure cold fronts from the north meet low-pressure low temperatures, the result is tornadoes. The more extreme the contrast between cold and warm, the greater the force.

Even Forbes, the magazine that tells people how to invest their money, pushes the idea that climate change is a hoax. An op-ed piece, based on information from Exxon-supported Marshal Institute, claims that scientists study climate change only on a regional basis and that carbon dioxide is just water vapor. It blamed 75 percent of temperature changes on solar activity. According to Forbes, the cost of addressing carbon emissions would be $500 trillion. Beyond the fact that they are wrong, the cost of not addressing carbon dioxide is water shortages, more widespread famine, and war over the planet’s resources.

As the people of the United States complacently ignore looming disaster, Tunisia tackles it head on. I’m guessing that over half the people in this country don’t know where Tunisia is; I wasn’t sure until I got out the globe. This small, northern African country of fewer than 11 million people has a new constitution that addresses climate change, committing the country to contribute to the protection of the climate for future generations. The third country after Ecuador and Dominican Republic to put climate change into its constitution, Tunisia also mandates that  the “state shall provide the necessary means to eliminate environmental pollution.”

Parliament member Dhamir Mannai said that legislators were concerned about the potential impacts that a warming world would have on Tunisia. The country’s government is now obliged to act against global warming and addresses the importance of this issue on an international basis. David Estrin, an environmental lawyer, said it may be possible for one country to sue another on climate change and “eventually allow bodies like the International Court of Justice to act on complaints that one country is causing harm to another by not abating its emissions.”

Tunisia went beyond climate change to ensure gender equality and eliminate Sharia law. The constitution’s second article, which like some others cannot be amended, provides that the country bans discrimination against women by granting them rights and duties equal to those of men. “The state shall the necessary measures to eliminate violence against women,” the constitution also guarantees.

Another article, “freedom of conscience,” allows individuals to profess any religion, even “no religion,” and practice their beliefs without being deemed apostates. The freedom of conscience also covers freedom of political, intellectual, and ideological affiliation, and freedom of opinion away from accusations of apostasy and incitement to violence.

“Health is a right for every person,” the document announces, declaring that Tunisia shall “guarantee preventative health care and treatment for every citizen and provide the means necessary to ensure the safety and good quality of health services.” Another article guarantees workers the right to form unions and the ability to strike, excepting only the army and security services. All citizens, male and female alike, shall “have the right to adequate working conditions and to a fair wage.”

The Tunisian constitution also provides the right to due process and protection from torture, rights that people in the United States have gradually lost.

As a contrast to this constitution, a group of conservatives in the United States is working toward a constitutional convention that would pass amendments to the U.S. Constitution without going through the U.S. Congress. Rep. Ron Johnson (R-WI) believes that Article V would give them this power if 34 states call for a convention.  The popularity of the idea may have come from Mark Levin in his book The Liberty Amendments.

Their goals are a balanced budget amendment, term limits for the Supreme Court, Congressional overriding of Supreme Court decisions by a three-fifths vote, prohibition of international treaties and law to govern U.S. domestic law, limit on taxes, abolishment of the 17th Amendment which allows people to elect U.S. senators, and permission of 34 states to override any federal statute or regulation “exceeding an economic burden of $100 million.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), resigning at the end of the year, plans “to be involved with the Convention of States. I’m going to try to motivate so that happens. I think that’s the only answer. I’m just going to go around and talk about why it’s needed, and try to convince state legislatures to do it.”

The Founding Fathers formed a constitution that limited voting rights, discriminated against women and blacks, and allowed people (if you listen to some people) unlimited rights to own guns and shoot at people. Conservatives even think that the Founding Fathers created a Christian country with Christian laws. Now the United States is working on constitutional amendments that would complete corporate ownership of the country.

Through a revolution almost four years ago, Tunisia earned its constitution banning gender discrimination, allowing freedom of religion, fighting against climate change, and union and health rights. Those who believe that the U.S. is “exceptional” should look to Tunisia.

July 3, 2013

Whistleblowers & Privacy

When the Revolutionary War started 237 years ago, the issues had gone far beyond taxation. The British government had decided to rule the colonies through making appointments and then attempted to take over part of Quebec, threatening the Protestant population. In addition, it increased the level of income inequality through financial regulations that moved more wealth to the rich people and corporations of England. The real anger felt by the American colonists was toward Parliament’s corporate bailout and not taxation.

The British East India Company was given preferential treatment in import taxes and given a monopoly for their tea shipped to the colonies, undercutting colonial business. Thus the Revolutionary War had to do with  a protest over government policies that benefited one business entity to the detriment of other businesses and individuals.

Freedoms in the constitution were hard-won. Since then, people called “whistleblowers” have tried to preserve these freedoms that corporations and Congress have worked to abridge. These are some of the people who changed the trajectory of the country through their actions:

Peter Buxtun: This VD investigator exposed the 40-year Tuskegee syphilis experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the progression of untreated syphilis in rural African American men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government. After Buxtun went to the New York Times in the early 1970s, then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) called hearings, and the study was stopped.

Daniel Ellsberg: After serving many years in the military, Ellsberg released the “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times in 1971. This classified document explained how the Johnson Administration lied to the public and Congress about the extent of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam during the previous 15 years. After the revelation of secret bombing missions in Cambodia and Laos, as well as coastal regions of Vietnam, the view of the war shifted into a growing opposition until the last U.S. troops were sent home within a few years.

Karen Silkwood: After telling the Atomic Energy Commission in 1974 about the grave dangers for worker safety at the nuclear power plant where she worked, Silkwood mysteriously died. An  investigation into nuclear power plant safety followed that resulted in plant closures and better procedures for workplace safety. Her experiences were detailed in the 1983 film Silkwood.

Deep Throat: A mysterious government informant revealed the connection between the Watergate break-in and President Nixon’s attempts to put political enemies under surveillance. The 1972 leaks to Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein led to the president’s resignation. The events were chronicled in the 1976 film, All the President’s Men. Thirty-three years later, former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt announced that he had been the mysterious “Deep Throat.”

Linda Peeno: Managed care came under scrutiny after Peeno revealed in a Congressional hearing how “managed care” in the healthcare industry succeeded by depriving patients of necessary treatment. Her testimony in 1996 led to reforms that provided the foundation for Obamacare.

Jeffrey Wigand: The tobacco executive caused CEOs of Big Tabacco to appear before Congress, thanks to his leaks to CBS’s 60 Minutes. The companies were successfully sued, and the government began to regulate tobacco advertising. The events were used for the film The Insider. 

Jennifer Long: The first IRS employers to show the widespread misconduct within the Internal Revenue Service, she first faced the possibility of being fired in 1997 before Congress passed laws giving taxpayers new powers.

Kathryn Bolkovac: In the early 2000s, this police officer worked with the U.N. in Bosnia. While there, she found that members of the peacekeeping forces were involved in sex trafficking, exploiting local women, and often coercing them into prostitution. She risked everything to come forward and reveal the abuses in court, by suing her employer. The 2010 film The Whistleblower tells her story.

Joe Darby:  The U.S. Army Reservist leaked photos and proof of U.S. military abuse at Abu Gharaib Prison during the Iraq war in 2004. He gave that information to Seymour Hersh, a journalist and the CBS News TV show, 60 Minutes II. Darby moved his family to a new town our of fear from retribution.

Coleen Rowley: The FBI agent came forward in 2011 to make public the government’s lack of interest in crucial intel that the Minnesota branch of the FBI had provided about terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. Her testimony before the Senate and 9/11 Commission ultimately led to a drastic reorganization of the FBI’s structure.

Julian Assange and Bradley Manning: Wikileaks founder Assange worked with Army soldier Manning during the past two years to release thousands of classified diplomatic cables, probably the biggest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.

Edward Snowden:  Within the past few weeks, the NSA technologist  showed how millions of innocent citizens of with country are under surveillance by its government. The NSA is mapping their locations, tracking their friendships, and keeping logs of who they called. Snowden is the person who enlightened all of us about how government surveillance functions in this country.

The jury is still out on whether Snowden is a hero or a villain. Some people have erroneously accused him of treason, but his actions don’t fit the constitutional definition of “levying War” or giving enemies “Aid and Comfort.”  He isn’t protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 because people who work for NSA and the CIA are denied these protections. But the most that anyone could prove against him is most likely espionage for revealing classified information—the same thing that Daniel Ellsberg, considered a hero, did.

Because of Snowden’s actions, many people in the United States now have an inkling of how little privacy they have because of the NSA and the country’s fear of losing their mythical safety. Snowden has been criticized for leaving the country after his revelations, but if he had, he would have been in prison with no information about our loss of privacy.

Privacy is no longer a major issue with the majority of people in the United States unless it comes to registering guns. The only reason that gun-owners panic about a potential registration is that they think they might want to attack the U.S. government at some time—and that really is treason. People put everything about themselves, including naked photographs, on Facebook and think that they will be safer if the U.S. government knows every telephone call and email that they communicate.

The U.S. public has a fascination with voyeurism, starting with watching Allen Funt’s Candid Camera in 1948 and moving on to the 12-hour 1973 PBS mini-series An American Family in which a troubled family revealed all their problems on television. MTV’s The Real World in 1992 was followed by Big Brother that followed people into the bathroom. One of the contestants in Big Brother’s second season lost her cousin in the World Trade Center disaster but stayed with her audience rather than returning to her family. More than 300 reality shows are now airing, and YouTube gets millions of hits. People aren’t even making much money most of the time; they just want to be seen.

The NSA and the more naïve of people in the country claim that Snowden’s leaks help the terrorists, but many people before him have leaked information. With 854,000 people, almost one-third of them private contractors, having top-secret clearance, surveillance can’t be kept secret. After 2001, intelligence agencies began building 33 new facilities; the 17-million-square-feet is almost equal to three times that of the Pentagon. Over a year ago, James Bamford published a story telling about a clandestine $2 billion NSA data center being built in Utah designed to store “near-bottomless databases” that covers all forms of communication including Google searches and bookstore purchases.

Before 9/11, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy said, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Why should anyone be surprised that Facebook and NSA’s surveillance program, PRISM, aligned in 2009, and Facebook’s chief security officer, Max Kelly, moved to NSA a year later. As early as 2008, an internal memo at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suggested that their investigations exploit social networks. Even with protests from opposite corners of Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), nobody in leadership positions on either side wants to change the status quo.

Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden have been questioning the NSA for two years, but as Frank Rich wrote,  “They have about as much of a chance of bringing change in 2013 as the former senator Russ Feingold did in his lonely opposition to the Patriot Act in 2001.” Only a leak stating that the NSA is tracking gun ownership might effect any change.

Oh, and the United States Postal Service is spying on you too.

Want privacy? Quit social networks; junk your cell phone; pay for everything in cash but don’t use ATMs; abandon all Google, tweeting, Amazon, Netflix, GPS, and Skype; and encrypt your email and communicate only with others who do. That’s a start. It’s a personality transplant.

So have a good Fourth of July tomorrow and think about your loss of freedom on July 5.

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