Nel's New Day

June 18, 2018

Courts Feature DDT’s Problems

Today’s post is about recent legal decisions and lawsuit filings, but I’ll begin with the separation of children from their families at the Mexico border.

  • A letter to the editor complained about Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) for not doing his job because he tried to visit to incarceration facilities for these children. This is part of his job.
  • NPR, which now gets large donations from far-right contributors such as the Koch brothers, allowed statements that children are better off being separated from their parents with no one explaining the physical and emotional damage of the separations.
  • Yesterday DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” Today she backed down at a White House briefing but supported the lies of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) by blaming Democrats and adding other lies of her own.

People watching nothing but conservative media such as Fox are spared horrific tapes of the cries of abducted children separated from their parents. A six-year-old girl kept repeating her aunt’s telephone number and pleading for someone to call her. When the call was finally made, the aunt in El Salvador could do nothing because she and her daughter cannot get asylum in the U.S. because the DOJ no longer accepts people fleeing from gangs and domestic violence. The six-year-old’s mother will probably be deported without her daughter.

As bad as things are for DDT, the courts are pursuing him. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed a lawsuit against DDT, his three oldest children, and the Donald J. Trump foundation because DDT’s charity allegedly engaged in “illegal conduct” by raising over $2.8 million to influence the presidential election in DDT’s campaign. The suit calls for dissolving the foundation, repaying the $2.8 million along with other penalties, a 10-year ban on DDT serving as director of a New York nonprofit, and a one-year ban on his serving on a nonprofit board for each of his children. Prison could also be a possibility. Underwood also sent referral letters to the IRS and FEC, listing potential law violations for more investigation and legal action.

Summer Zervos’ defamation civil suit for DDT accusation that his sexual assault victims are liars can continue, according to New York’s Supreme Court. Zervos’ lawyer said that they look forward to the “discovery process,” which could reveal information that DDT is hiding.

Rudy Giuliani tried to defame Stormy Daniels because of her profession as an adult film star, saying that she cannot be trusted. In return, Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti tweeted his 500,000+ followers in a search for Giuliani’s porn-watching habits.

An Emoluments Clause lawsuit against DDT for taking gifts from state and foreign governments, a case with no direct precedent, should be decided by the end of July. DDT’s legal team claims that DDT cannot be sued, that his proceeds are not emoluments, and that he has donated his profits to the Treasury. DDT has no evidence for his statement that he made only $151,470. In another emoluments case, 200 congressional Democrats state that DDT has to ask Congress for the right to receive emoluments. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington failed its first round in an emoluments claim for having no standing, but the group is appealing. Any case that manages a requirement of discovery is victorious because DDT has thus far hidden his financial records.

A federal judge in Seattle refused to stay an earlier injunction halting DDT’s transgender military ban while the government is appealing because the government has no new arguments. The judge is one of four issuing preliminary injunctions against Trump’s transgender military ban.

The day after the official end of net neutrality in the United States, an action allowing more profit-making to internet servers, a George W. Bush-appointed judge approved the $85.4 billion merger between AT&T and Time Warner with no conditions. The owners of DirecTV, U-verse, AT&T mobile and broadband, Cricket wireless, etc. will now possess HBO, TNT, CNN, Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers Studios, a stake in Hulu, etc. The judge ruled that the merger did not violate antitrust laws because of the consumer welfare standard that examines only consumer costs. Monopolies are now legal; for example, ultra-conservative Sinclair Publishing can move into almost all the local markets across the nation. Comcast entered a bidding war with Disney for Fox TV and movie assets. T-Mobile, which partners with Netflix, has a deal to buy Sprint. Leon’s ruling also leaves Aetna open to join with CVS, and other health corporations can merge.

In another permit for a huge merger earlier this year, the German pharmaceutical and chemical company Bayer can buy agricultural giant Monsanto, creating the world’s biggest pesticides and seeds monopoly.  After the $66 billion purchase, just three megacorporations–Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont, and Syngenta-ChemChina–will control 61 percent of global seeds and pesticides production, worrying farmers about prices with no competition. Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have trapped farmers into dependence and reliance on chemicals.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will not decide on two gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin and Maryland. The non-decision gave Wisconsin to the Republicans and Maryland to Democrats. For Wisconsin, the high court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, ruled that challenges must come from each district by voters with standing because the court’s role is only for “individual rights.” The case was sent back to a lower court to determine whether plaintiffs existed in all districts. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch wanted to end the Wisconsin case. An unsigned opinion stated that the Maryland case is at a preliminary stage but that the lower court was not wrong in refusing to order the congressional maps redrawn. The next Supreme Court decision about gerrymandering could come from North Carolina where the GOP controls 10 of 13 congressional districts.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly struck down Minnesota’s ban on political apparel in polling places with the 7-2 ruling that the law was too broad. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that a state may prohibit some apparel, but it must have a “reasonable” line. An example is the California law that defines political information.

Last week, a 4-4 split on the Supreme Court after Justice Anthony Kennedy recused himself left in place a lower court decision supporting the salmon rights of 21 Northwest Native American tribes who sued Washington state for the replacement of almost 1,000 culverts. The decision, that the state cannot impede the salmon that tribes have a right to fish, could affect development, construction, and farming practices in the Northwest by engaging tribes in decision-making.  Tribes may also look at other treaty rights outside fishing and hunting, such as the preservation of national parks and opposition to pipelines.

Healthcare specialist Mark Horton’s lawsuit against St. Louis-based Midwest Geriatric Management, now pending in the 8th Circuit Court, comes from the company’s pulling his job offer after it discovered he is gay. Major companies such as Microsoft and Airbnb joined EEOC to support Horton’s case; conservative states oppose it. The 2nd Circuit Court ruled that the Civil Right Act protects LGBTQ workers.

A federal judge in Missouri this week upheld a state law restricting access to medication to induce abortions as the case awaits trial.

A California appeals court reinstated the state’s right-to-die law until a lawsuit goes to court. A lower court had blocked the law on the grounds that the legislature could not pass the law during a special session limited to other issues. Oregon was the first to pass a death-with-dignity law in 1997 before it was joined by Washington, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington D.C.

Kentucky is suing Walgreens for allegedly aggravating the opioid crisis as both distributor and dispenser in filling huge quantities of prescription narcotic pain medication. This is the sixth opioid-related lawsuit filed by Kentucky. Other states are doing the same—Florida, Delaware, and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Massachusetts is also suing Purdue Pharma and 16 of the OxyContin maker’s executives for misleading doctors and patients about the risks of opioids. Alabama filed a suit against the company four months ago.

A federal judge blocked Indiana from immediately purging registered voters with personal records elsewhere on the faulty Crosschecks computer program.

A question about citizenship abruptly added to the 2020 census with no vetting has brought lawsuits from over two dozen states and cities in opposition. The subsequent release of 1,320 internal memos, emails, and other documents sheds light on this decision. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that the cost of the last-minute addition would be insignificant, but John Abowd, the Census Bureau’s chief scientist, conservatively estimates the expense at $27.5 million. The question came from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, known for his work to disenfranchise progressive voter. He objected to undocumented immigrants being used to determine the number of congressional seats, despite the fact that this constitutional practice has been used since the first census in 1790.

Earlier this year, Kobach was fined $1,000 for misleading the court about documents in a folder he took to a meeting with DDT soon after the presidential election. Kobach said he paid the fee “out of his own pocket,” but he used a state credit card issued to Craig McCullah, deputy assistant secretary of state under Kobach, for the payment. McCullah, in Ukraine deployed with the Oklahoma Army National Guard when the payment was made, was not told about it. Kobach was also found to have disobeyed orders to notify thousands of Kansans that they were legally registered to vote in 2016. He is running for governor of Kansas.

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry was suspended from the bench for 32 counts of lying and using his public office for personal gain. Those seem to be actions reserved for the president of the United States.

January 5, 2016

Women Lose As Others Forge Ahead

The year 2015 was really good for people in the U.S. More red states accepted the Affordable Care Act, LGBT people gained more rights, the unemployment went down while the economy went up, the Iran agreement survived treasonous attempts by Republican legislators to destroy it, states started to move away from gerrymandering, a ban on microbeads in products will make eating fish healthier, President Obama decided to declare a war on unfettered gun ownership by felons and people with mental illnesses—the list goes on and on with encouraging actions.

Women, however, kept losing their fundamental rights. Conservative court actions and calls for defunding Planned Parenthood led to growing denials of inexpensive, easy access to health exams to detect cancer and STIs as well as contraceptives that would keep them from getting pregnant. During 2015, a number of states introduced almost 400 anti-abortion bills, an increase from 335 in 2014. From regulating medication abortions to complete bans on second-trimester abortions, 57 of these bills made it into law.

An overview of the “war on uteruses”:

Medication abortion restrictions: Arkansas requires providers to lie to patients by telling them that the effects of the “abortion pill”—a drug called mifepristone, or RU-486—can be reversed. Another restriction is mandating original FDA-approved dosage, decreasing the drug’s effectiveness and increasing negative side effects. Other inaccurate information forced on patients is the myth about fetal pain during abortion and women’s mental health problems after it. Laws also ban using telemedicine for medication abortion, especially beneficial for poor women living in rural areas. Idaho also bans this safe practice and requires doctors who administer the medication to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. With its concern about the importance of life between conception and birth, Arkansas is the second-worst state for women’s and children’s well-being.

Unprecedented bans against the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions: Kansas, the first state to pass a ban against what it calls “dismemberment abortion,” fails to use medical language in its law, opting for such emotional language as “unborn child” instead of fetus. A Kansas district judge blocked the law, and the case is on appeal. Oklahoma’s law uses even worse language by describing it as “purposely dismember[ing] a living unborn child….” That law is also on hold.

Waiting periods: North Carolina and Oklahoma tripled the time between state-mandated abortion counseling from 24 hours to 72 hours. All 12 Southeast states mandate waiting periods except for Florida where a law for a 24-hour waiting period blocked by a circuit court judge is pending a final ruling.

Reducing abortion access: Tennessee amended the state constitution by refusing any funding for abortions although state and federal money cannot legally be used to fund abortion. Another law requires clinics performing more than 50 surgical procedures a year to meet standards of ambulatory surgery centers similar to hospital standards. A woman who attempted to self-induce a miscarriage in her bathtub after 24 weeks of pregnancy now faces a first-degree attempted murder charge.

Parental consent: Arkansas women under 18 seeking a judge’s permission for an abortion without parental consent must undergo an “evaluation and counseling session with a mental health professional” to ensure that the minor is mature enough for the procedure and that an abortion is in her best interests. With no time limit for the court proceedings, the pregnancy could be so advanced that performing an abortion could become illegal. A minor is also required to file the petition in the county where she lives, violating her privacy.

Ban after 20 weeks: Despite the governor’s veto, West Virginia became the 15th state to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The law offers no exceptions for victims of rape or incest and provides only a highly limited exception for women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancy or for fetal abnormalities. A similar law in Arkansas against abortions after 12 weeks was struck down in the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Two states did move toward preventing abortions. Oregon became the first state to offer contraceptives over the counter for up to a year’s supply, and California allows women to get birth control directly from a pharmacist.

The growing lack of access to abortion and contraception increases unintended pregnancies among poor women while the number of these among well-off women is shrinking. The rate of such pregnancies among women with incomes below the poverty line jumped 56 percent from 1994 to 2008 while falling by 24 percent for higher-income women. In 2008, the unintended-pregnancy rate for poor women was more than five times that of the most well-off.  Without Planned Parenthood, women are more likely to lack contraception. Of 491 counties with PP clinics, 103 counties have no other place giving low-income women access to affordable contraception.

Women who are turned away from terminating pregnancies are three times more likely to fall below the poverty line over the following two years than women who successfully get an abortion. They are also more likely to end up unemployed and to rely on government benefits to get by, then considered “takers” by the Republican legislators.

In the coming year, the U.S. Supreme Court will make pivotal decisions regarding women’s access to abortions and contraception.

Whole Woman’s Health vs. Cole determines whether Texas can enforce two regulations forcing about 75 percent of the state’s women’s clinics to close by requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and mandating clinics to have the same standards as an outpatient surgical center. Although the case is framed as a health issue for women, it is actually about blocking abortions. The decision will determine the standard used in federal courts to review abortion regulations—whether states can enact regulations without proving the effectiveness of safety.

Zubik vs. Burwell addresses the fourth SCOTUS challenge to the Affordable Care Act and the second case about the religious freedom objection to employer mandate for no-cost contraceptive coverage in health insurance policies. The issue of this case is not whether religious groups are exempt but whether they must notify the government of their religious objections. They maintain that the mere signing of a notification will “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” quoting the 1993 federal law on religious liberty. Almost all the appeals courts have rejected this claim; SCOTUS will combine seven of them in this one case.

From 1973 until 1992, the Supreme Court rejected dozens of state efforts to limit access to abortion, enforcing Roe v. Wade’s ruling that until the point of viability, the state could regulate abortion only to protect the health and well-being of women. The only decisions during that time against abortion were Bellotti v. Baird (1979), ruling in favor of parental consent, and Harris v. McRae (1980), excluding payments for medically necessary abortions from Medicaid.

In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld a highly restrictive Pennsylvania law that included mandatory waiting periods, parental consent, and biased information. The Court abandoned the legal principles of Roe v. Wade, allowing laws designed to limit access to abortion at any stage of pregnancy if the law does not place an “undue burden” on a woman’s access to abortion. The decision that spousal consent was an undue burden has not stopped hundreds of restrictions since 1992 that were not perceived as violation of the new standard.

In the more recent Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), the Supreme Court upheld the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, a 2003 law that fails to refer to any medical procedure. It bans an intact dilation and evacuation (D&E) unless the fetus is no longer alive. Since then, state restrictions have forced doctors to choose a less safe procedure if they cannot ensure the fetus is no longer alive even if it is brain dead.

The number of nonhospital providers performing 400 or more abortions per year peaked in the late 1980s at 705 and fell by 2011 to 553. Since 2011, over 200 abortion restrictions have led to massive closure of clinics throughout the nation. Five states—Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming—each have just one, and the number of abortion providers in Texas has gone from 62 across the huge state to a possibility of only ten. Not one clinic is open for 550 miles. Throughout the United States, clinics are closing at the rate of 1.5 every week. Other states have suffered the same losses, for example Ohio losing over half of its clinics.

abortion graphIn clinics still open, Christian terrorists subject workers and clients to a campaign of terror, criminal acts, and violence. The killings by these terrorists aren’t limited to clinics: Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church while attending Sunday services. Most abortions today require endless waits, interminable journeys, humiliation, and money. According to the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling, states cannot regulate abortion if it “places an undue burden on women.” That’s the decision to be made this year about the state laws stopping poor women from obtaining their constitutional rights in reproductive care.

This summary is a beginning description of the “undue burden” of state laws on a simple procedure that can save women’s lives. According to Professor of Law Michael Dorf, the court will have to investigate if the laws mandating hospital standards at a clinic are an unnecessary health regulation—and thus unconstitutional because they are blocking women from their legally fundamental right to have abortions.

February 24, 2014

SCOTUS Refuses Gun Cases; Irresponsible ‘Good Guys’

Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, allowing wealthy people to buy political legislators and judges. Almost a year ago, the court ruled in favor of the LGBT community but against voters’ rights. Today, they rejected two petitions from the NRA about gun rights, showing that they are waiting out the Second Amendment issue—at least for now. The NRA is not happy.

SCOTUS has issued only one ruling on the Second Amendment since its decision almost six years ago that the U.S. Constitution gives individuals the right to have a gun. After the court expanded the Second Amendment beyond federal laws to state and local gun control laws a few years ago, they have stayed silent. That’s what happened today.

Both the petitions that SCOTUS refused had to do with young people from 18 to 20 years old. In one of them, the NRA tried to legalize the sale of handguns to these youth, and the other case challenged Texas laws barring the same people from obtaining license for open carry outside their homes. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals banned members of that age bracket to Second Amendment protections because SCOTUS ruled that only “responsible” people have gun rights.

A third case that SCOTUS refused was against a 1968 law banning all interstate gun sales except by federally-licensed gun dealers. Lane v. Holder tried to get SCOTUS to determine if gun buyers have a legal right to challenge this law. The NRA is still not happy.

 SCOTUS did hear a case last month about the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban which prevents people convicted of DV from owning or possessing a gun. In U.S. v. Castleman, the argument is whether the law applies to Castleman because his conviction does not state whether he used physical force against the victim. Most local jurisdictions resolve misdemeanor domestic violence cases under assault and battery statutes and do not indicate whether physical force was used. The court decision will be issued by early this summer.

In the United States, three women are killed every day by domestic violence. If abusers were re-armed, this number would most likely increase. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other high-income countries, and victims of domestic violence who live in homes with guns have an eight-fold increase in homicide risk.

Facebook is one place where teens are buying guns because of lax background check laws. A 15-year-old student in Kentucky who bought a 9mm automatic pistol from an Ohio man last October took the gun to his homecoming football game because he wanted to be “cool.” Frederick Stiltner was indicted last week for the crime, but Facebook has not stopped advertising gun sales.

Another reason for mandating universal background checks comes from this recent study in Missouri. In 2007, the state repealed the requirement for background checks except for federally-licensed dealers, permitting private sales through unlicensed sellers without any checks. Since that time, an average of 60 more people have been killed by firearms every year. This 23-percent increase occurs at a time when the overall murder rate in the United States is down by 5 percent. Neighboring states didn’t have any spike in murders during these years, but both Illinois and Kansas experienced increases in confiscated guns from criminals who had come from Missouri. Forty percent of Missouri’s guns are recovered in a crime within two years of the original sale.

Starting in 2010, a project called Trace the Guns identified state laws and the rate of illegal guns going in and out of these states. It’s no surprise that states with the fewest gun laws  and states not requiring background checks ranked higher for the number of crime guns originating from those states. At this time, only 15 states require background checks for gun purchases from unlicensed sellers.

These are a sampling of actions by “responsible” gun owners this month:

 

  • In Arkansas, 48-year-old Willie Noble shot and killed a 15-year-old girl who was egging her friend’s car for a prank in retaliation against one done by the man’s teenage son.
  • In Florida, Marcus Leon Thompson, an off duty corrections officer, was responsible for nine injured people in a café, Shooters Waterfront, when his gun accidentally went off as he reached into his pocket for money and a valet ticket.
  • In California, 34-year-old Brent Posada shot himself with a high-powered air rifle and then told police that a black man had shot him.
  • In North Carolina, Justin Carper’s three-year-old son shot and injured his 17-month-old sister with Carper’s 9mm handgun. Carper writes a column on parenting advice for a local newspaper. A study found that handguns are responsible for more hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths than any other type of weapon.
  • In Michigan, a man shot and killed himself when he was teaching his girlfriend gun safety. He had three pistols and put them to his head, one by one. The gun went off with the third gun.

 

In January, 62-year-old Rodney Bruce Black shot and killed his new neighbor and the neighbor’s brother in West Virginia. The afternoon that they were killed, the two men were inspecting property that one of the men had just purchased. Police took a “large amount” of weapons and ammo from Black’s home.

In Indiana, Police Chief David Counceller, 60, shot himself in the leg with his own Glock handgun as he was looking at weapons in a gun store. Previously he had shot himself in the hand while he was on duty. The town mayor tried to justify Counceller’s accident last month by saying, “Apparently the Glocks don’t have the trigger safety that they should have.”

The people above would fit into NRA Wayne Pierre’s definition of a “good guy with a gun,” those people who wants to protect the U.S. citizens. One “good guy” is 37-year-old Marlo Ellis who was armed with a pistol in the Dollar Store in Orville (AL). When another 37-year-old, Kevin McLaughlin, came into the store and used his gun to force Ellis and a cashier towards a break room, Ellis shot and killed McLaughlin. There was no mention of robbery, just an angry argument.

The “good guy” who did the killing is facing charges of rape in the second degree and enticing a child for immoral purposes. According to court documents, Ellis picked up a girl at school and drove her to his home where he had sex with her. The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department said that they were waiting for forensics and that “there had been [past] allegations against Ellis similar to what he was charged with in this case.” Over three years ago, Ellis had been sentenced for another criminal offense. McLaughlin had no criminal record. Some pro-gun websites claimed that McLaughlin was “hunting for people to shoot.”

Alabama law may prevent law enforcement from revoking Ellis’ concealed handgun permit even with his criminal history and recent indictment for rape. Many people in the United States would agree with a statement made in 1934 by then-NRA president Karl T. Frederick: “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns.  I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

The anti-regulation people claim that there are many cases of armed citizens protecting other people. The question is how many of their cases are similar to this one. This is one of the people who Wayne Pierre calls a “good guy.”

February 16, 2014

Schools, Law Push Religion on All

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/week-god-96?cid=eml_mra_20140215  The GOP loves to rant about the “nanny state” with its seat belts, child seats, and other protective laws. Now the same party wants parental notification not only abortions and birth control but also curriculum that includes the teaching of evolution. A new bill in Missouri would require schools to notify parents if “the theory of evolution by natural selection” was being taught at their child’s school and give them the opportunity to opt out of the class. Parents could pull their children out of biology classes if they disapproved.

Thus far, no state has a science parental-notification law. State Rep. Rick Brattin said that modern biology is based “as much faith and, you know, just as much pulled out of the air as, say, any religion.” He calls himself a “science enthusiast” and “a huge science buff.”  His bill would also require schools to “make all curriculum materials used in the district’s or school’s evolution instruction available for public inspection … prior to the use of such materials in actual instruction.”

Three other states—Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Virginia—have also introduced anti-evolution legislation ranging from a “debate” over evolution versus creationism to mandate that intelligent design be included in biology curriculum.

Once religious lawmakers take over biology, they may move on to mathematics:

1175ckCOMIC-bible-math While Christians are trying to protect student from evolution, they don’t mind bullying them. In Lousiana’s Savine Parish, a teacher promoted her personal Christian beliefs by agreeing with students that a Buddhist student is “stupid” for not believing in God and encouraging his classmates to laugh at him. When the child’s stepfather complained, the superintendent pointed out that they were in the “Bible Belt” and that the child could either change his faith or go to another school where “there are more Asians.”The ACLU is suing the school board because of the abusive behavior toward the child.

The religiosity of the public school went beyond the teacher. A large picture of Jesus hangs over the school entrance, a Bible verse is on the electronic marquee, and religious images and messages are displayed throughout the school. Official prayers led by the principal or teachers are routinely in class and school events, and school officials distribute religious materials to students including the New Testament and cartoons that denounce evolution.

These public schools seems to be following the curriculum of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), founded over 40 years ago and claims to have  6,000 schools in 140 countries. These schools are supported by taxpayer funding because of the voucher system. In separate cubicles, students silently complete workbooks (PACEs) complete with cartoons.

Basic ACE premises:

Classrooms are segregated.

segregated

Girls dress modestly—very modestly.

modest

Young women perform only traditionally “feminine” activities.

feminine

Non-Christians are evil.

authority

People must blindly obey.

obey

Religion would also be strengthened in Alabama schools if conservative legislators have their way. A proposed bill would require public schools to use the first 15 minutes of the day to read a prayer presented in Congress. The description of the bill is “study of the formal procedures followed by U.S. Congress” which must include “a reading verbatim of one of the opening prayers” given at the opening of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. Almost all the chaplains of the U.S. House and Senate have been Protestant ministers. Last year one guest chaplain delivered a Muslim invocation. In 2007, a Hindu invocation elicited protests from Christian conservative groups.

 South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee legislators are joining Alabama lawmakers to “put prayer back in schools.”

One of the first bills to move out of the Arizona state Senate committee would permit religious discrimination against LGBT people. Senate Bill 1062, introduced by GOP Sen. Steve Yarbrough of Chandler, would extend the protection of the state’s free exercise of religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.” A corporation could refuse to hire anyone who wasn’t a Christian and block LGBT individuals from almost any business or service.

For many years, student victims of sexual abuse at Bob Jones University were encouraged not to report the crimes that looked bad for Christianity. The administration called victims liars and sinners. Many staff members and former students hoped the policy would be changed after the school hired a Christian consulting group two years ago to consider changes to the school’s policy.

The university has now fired the group with no warning or explanation just as it almost completed its investigation. University president and great-grandson of the school’s founder said that Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) “had begun going beyond the originally outlined intentions.”

GRACE, founded by Billy Graham’s grandson Basyle J. Tchividjian, includes lawyers and psychologists among its leaders and specializes in advising churches and other Christian organizations on addressing abuse. Although unaffiliated with any denomination, Bob Jones University follows a strict fundamentalism that believes Graham, Oral Roberts, and Jerry Falwell are too secular.

The Catholic World is still trying to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, but Notre Dame is having trouble with a three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. During a heated exchange, Judge Richard Posner told one of the school’s lawyers that he couldn’t continue his arguments if he kept interrupting and failing to answer the judge’s questions.

At one point, Posner asked attorney Matthew Kairis whether birth control was “a mortal or venial sin.” Notre Dame is appealing a lower court ruling that ordered the school to contract with third-party providers for contraception as part of health care coverage. Its third-party provider, Meritain Health, emphasized that Notre Dame was not the provider of contraception coverage. Another lawyer, Ayesha Khan, pointed out that Notre Dame didn’t object to the third-party provision until a conservative network of alumni called the Sycamore Trust protested.

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing two cases about for-profit companies claiming religious exemptions from allowing contraception coverage from third-party health care providers. In the cases of Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby Stores, Catholics for Choice joined 29 other faith-based organizations in filing an amicus brief opposing the two companies from imposing their religious beliefs on others.

Jon O’Brien wrote that the groups “show unequivocally that people of faith support contraceptive access and true religious liberty for all.” He added, “The Supreme Court must answer a critical question: will the religious liberty of women workers and female dependents be respected, or will employers be allowed to trample upon the consciences and lives of their employees?”

That answer will determine the direction of the United States in religious freedom for all, not just fundamentalist Christians.

January 17, 2014

Reproductive Rights Subject of SCOTUS, House

This past week, both the federal judicial and legislative systems addressed women’s reproductive rights. The one in Congress was a direct attack while the U.S. Supreme Court just questioned whether women’s reproductive rights should be protected. Last Wednesday, SCOTUS heard oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley about the 35-foot safety buffer zones and Massachusetts law requires about reproductive health clinics. The purpose of these zones is to help patients, doctors, and other healthcare workers enter facilities without harassment, intimidation, and violence.

Twenty years ago, the ruling in Madsen v. Women’s Health Center made a safety buffer zone constitution after SCOTUS heard the Florida case. As Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor  Smeal said, “We know that buffer zones aid law enforcement and reduce violence. Surveys show that buffer zones decrease criminal activity and increase safe access to clinics.” The Massachusetts zone was enacted in 2000 following years of intimidation and violence, including the 1994 murders of two clinic receptionists—Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38—by anti-choice extremist Joh Salvi at two separate Brookline (MA) clinics. Five other people were wounded in the attacks.

After anti-choice demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate people who wanted to enter the clinic, Massachusetts strengthened its law in 2007. The law has survived challenges in lower federal courts as judges found that the law is a content-neutral, narrowly tailored time-place-manner regulation that protects the public without infringing on the First Amendment rights of others. Many acts of violence, including murders, occur as people, including a volunteer clinic escort, enter the clinics. The buffer zone provides a line of defense.

The Massachusetts law doesn’t keep people from talking to the protesters, and the protesters are permitted to say anything they want. The objection from protesters is that they aren’t permitted to get into people’s faces—or perhaps to commit violence. The face of the protesters in the court is a sweet-looking grandmother, Eleanor McCullen, who says, “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.”

Planned Parenthood ‘s amicus brief has a different picture. According to Amanda Marcotte:

“Protesters ‘wore Boston Police Department hats and shirts and stationed themselves, carrying clipboards, at the garage entrance,’ demanding that patients give them personal information. Protesters would attack clinic escorts with umbrellas. While the prior law disallowed directly approaching patients, anti-choicers would follow them around screaming invectives, often through bullhorns. When cops were called, the protesters argued that they were just following, not ‘approaching.’ The police department itself suggested a stronger buffer zone around the front door.”

Michelle Kinsey Bruns, a Virginia-based activist who has volunteered in clinic defense in eight states, said, “Patients know it’s going to be a gauntlet, and they approach it like a combat zone.” Lori Gregory-Garrott, an escort at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, wrote about the daily battle just trying to get patients past a wall of hostile protesters even if the patients are only picking up their birth control prescriptions. Megan, a counselor at an independent Massachusetts clinic, talked about the accusations of murder and “going to hell” that she constantly hears.

The 35-foot zone about clinics where 90 percent of the work is primary care, contraception, cancer screening, and gynecological services is far less than those for funerals, political conventions, and polling places. Catholic University law professor Mark Rienzi, representing the anti-choice demonstrators in SCOTUS, claims, “Public sidewalks are places that people are supposed to be free to exchange information and exchange ideas.” Polling places require 150 feet, and, by federal law, funerals require 300 feet. A 252 X 98 foot plaza in front of the Supreme Court building is used as its buffer zone.

Justice Antonin Scalia was furious in 2000 after six of the nine judges ruled in favor of a buffer zone in Hill v. ColoradoHe furiously announced, “Our longstanding commitment to uninhibited, robust and wide-open debate is miraculously replaced by the power of the state to protect an unheard of right to be let alone on the public streets.” Except, of course, in the case of the plaza that protects him. This time, he objected to a lawyer’s characterization of the people as protesters,” asserting that the petitioners in this case “don’t want to protest . . . they want to talk to women about abortion.”  If this case were only about protesting, he continued, a thirty-five-foot buffer zone “might not be so bad.”

People at clinics without buffers have reported serious problems beyond being pushed out of the way and sprayed by some unknown liquid. In Alabama, volunteer and clinic escort Pamela Watters described both verbal and physical assaults including someone a protester from Virginia who pushed another volunteer, a great-grandmother, into a patient’s moving car.

When protesters blocked a clinic entrance in Chicago, the city passed an ordinance requiring that protesters stay eight feet away from patients if they are within 50 feet of the clinic entrance. Protesters are still harassing patients by wearing orange vests like the clinic escorts, giving baby booties in gift bags to patients, and videotaping patients.

At EMW Women’s Surgical Center of Louisville, one of the only two clinics in state, an average of 40 protesters line the sidewalks every day, a number that can swell to 100 if students from local bible colleges are bused in. They use megaphones, display signs with aborted fetuses pictures, and block open car doors so that patients can’t get out of their vehicles. The police don’t always show up if someone asks for their help. That’s what people call “freedom of speech” in reference to a lawful act of going into a women’s clinic. That’s what the highest justices in the land are discussing in the safety of their court.

The day before the Supreme Court heard the case about buffer zones, they declined to hear a case about the Arizona law preventing abortions after 18 weeks. The law stated 20 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period, but the people who voted in favor of the law are apparently science knowledge-challenged. Conception comes about two weeks after menstruation. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled the law unconstitutional and permanently blocked its enforcement. SCOTUS’s refusal to hear an appeal means that the law has been struck down.

Two other defenses of pro-choice came this year when the justices refused to hear Oklahoma’s defense of two anti-choice measures. One would have prohibited the use of one drug that is used to induce an abortion in the first weeks of a pregnancy, and a second would have required costly ultrasound tests for women seeking an abortion.

While SCOTUS works on clinic buffer zones, the House Judiciary Committee hearing spent last week trying to figure out how to keep middle-class consumers from getting health care subsidies if their plans include abortion coverage in H.R. 7.

H.R. 7 men

The committee takes pride in H.R. 7 as a “pro-jobs” bill. Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said:

“[It is] very, very true that having a growing population and having new children brought into the world is not harmful to job creation. It very much promotes job creation for all the care and services and so on that need to be provided by a lot of people to raise children.”

This isn’t the only crazy conservative reason to block all abortions. Rick Santorum said during his presidential run that having children makes the Social Security fund solvent. Former GOP-supporter Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA) said in 2007 that he wants women to have babies to “fill our Army.”

The next time that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) claims that the House is enacting “jobs bills,” check to see exactly what these are. As for the buffer zones, Eileen Shim got it right: “If abortion clinic protesters weren’t such bullies, we wouldn’t need buffer zones.”

OWNjYTMyNTdlMCMvN0l5aUFZZ1pubktVR2d6c3U1YmJqOFQzMTZrPS84NDB4NTMwL3MzLmFtYXpvbmF3cy5jb20vcG9saWN5bWljLWltYWdlcy9hOTk0MzlmYjY4Yjc1OGEwOGE5NTQ1YWFhYWIzNGUwYWZiNjEyOTgxNTFkMGIxNzAwM2U1ZDQ3ZjA1ZGQ5MzQ0LmpwZw==

November 19, 2013

Crazy News from Ideologues from the Cheneys to Alabama Judges

Even with the GOP home for one of its frequent long recesses, far-right insanity swirls through the news. Anyone following the media, for example, could hardly have missed the actions of the dysfunctional Cheney family. In brief: Liz Cheney moved to Wyoming to run against incumbent GOP Sen. Mike Enzi. She came out in opposition to marriage equality. Sister Mary is legally married to Heather Poe. Mary’s and Liz’s father Dick, who supported marriage equality in the 2004 election for vice-president, defended Liz and called for “compassion.” Mary and Heather posted on their Facebook page that Liz’s lack of support for their marriage is “offensive to say the least,” suggesting that Liz changed her position to campaign against Enzi.

The sisters’ mother, Lynne Cheney, interfered in the campaign in September when she told former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) at a charity event that he should endorse Liz Cheney. He told her he chose Enzi and accused Cheney’s candidacy as dividing state GOP members. Mother Cheney yelled “just shut up” at him three times but later denied saying it. Simpson called her denial “a damn baldfaced lie.”

Simpson also said, “It isn’t as if Mike Enzi were a left wing commie. … He has the backing of [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz and [Kentucky Sen. Rand] Paul.” It doesn’t go farther right than that—at least at the present time.

Dick Cheney entered the fray after Ezni told website The Daily Beast that he felt “blindsided” by the primary challenge from his old fishing-buddy’s daughter. His “buddy” answered by saying that he and Enzi had not been friends and were certainly not fishing buddies.

Cheney’s four-month campaign has had other problems. She had to pay a $220 fee for falsifying the length of time she had lived in Wyoming while applying for a fishing license. She said a decade; the state said 72 days. Cheney then attacked the Wyoming Star-Tribune for reporting the incident and its editor by name, declaring, “Newspapers are dying, and that’s not a bad thing.”

Another messy GOP situation comes from the University of Texas where the Young Conservatives of Texas planned a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game” on campus. Organizer Lorenzo V. Garcia was an intern for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and reportedly works for Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. The “game”:

“There will be several people walking around the UT campus with the label ‘illegal immigrant’ on their clothing. Any UT student who catches one of these ‘illegal immigrants’ and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card.”

This is the same group that hosted a “bake sale” in September that included “special pricing” for customers based on their race and ethnicity. Photos showed the brownie prices:  whites, $2; Asians, $1.50; Latinos, $1; blacks, $.75 and Native Americans $.25. There was even a $.25 discount for all women. Again, Garcia was a leader in the activity. He explained that it was a protest against affirmative action.

bake sale

Another protest fell flat. Last month, Larry Klayman, founder of Freedom Watch and Judicial Watch, asked millions of Americans to march on Washington, D.C. today with the intent to remove President Obama from office. Right-wing site BizPac reported that 40 groups showed up. The total number of people was approximately 100. At least, the weather was good.

Klayman6

With Thanksgiving nearing, a Walmart in Ohio set up a donation box in the employees’ workroom asking for donations to give “associates” a Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, Walmart made a profit of $15.7 billion, but its employees may not have enough food for Thanksgiving. The huge company has had shrinking profits for the past three quarters, however. Could it be because its employees can’t even afford to shop there because of their low wages?

Walmart

McDonalds has a solution for hunger on its “McResource” website for its workers: break food “into pieces” will keep them full. Other tips include “sing away stress” because it “can lower your blood pressure.” Those who are still stressed should take two vacations a year. Earlier McDonalds told workers to apply for food stamps. Federal minimum wage rate for their workers is $7.25 an hour; McDonalds makes billons annually.

Both Walmart and fast-food workers have been protesting their low pay, with thousands of people coming out in support. A bill, to be introduced in the House this week, would charge for protesting, at least against oil and gas companies. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) has proposed a bill that would mandate a $5,000 fee for protesting oil and gas drilling on public lands. Other provisions of the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act:

  • Automatically approve onshore drilling permits if the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) failed to act on them in 60 days;
  • Direct the DOI to begin commercial leasing for the development of oil shale, prohibited for over 80 years. Oil shale—unlike shale oil—has to be heated to almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to produce crude oil before it is refined. Each barrel of oil requires three to five barrels of water, and the Natural Resources Defense Council calls it “the dirtiest fuel on the planet.”
  • Require the government to offer 10 leases on federal lands in 2014 for oil shale research and demonstration projects.
  • Mandate the government to hold at least 5 commercial lease sales of federal lands for oil shale development, each no less than 25,000 acres, before 2016.

According to the NRDC, oil shale production would emit four times more carbon pollution than producing conventional gasoline.

George Zimmerman, well-known for killing Trayvon Martin almost two years and then being acquitted, is on bail after allegedly attacking his girlfriend twice within the past week. Yesterday, she said he pointed a shotgun at her face, pushed her out of the house, and then barricaded the door. The Florida judicial system likes Zimmerman a lot: his bail is $9,000. 

In Montana a judge gave a rapist only 30 days in prison. Austin Smith Clem of Limestone County (AL) did better than that: the convicted man gets no prison time at all. He only needs to complete a two-year community corrections program designed for nonviolent offenders and serve an additional three years of probation. At least the county district attorney has filed a motion asking for prison time.

Alabama law also allows judges override juries and impose the death penalty instead of life in prison. This week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to this law. Alabama judges have imposed the death penalty 95 times, and 43 of the defendants are still on death row in Alabama. 

One judge, who sentenced to death a defendant with an IQ of 65, said “the sociological literature suggests Gypsies intentionally test low on standard IQ tests.” Another said, “If I had not imposed the death sentence, I would have sentenced three black people to death and no white people.”

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer disagreed with the Court’s decision. One study found that overrides significantly increased in election years. Of the 31 states that allow capital punishment, only three permit a judge to override a jury’s sentencing decision—Alabama, Delaware and Florida.

Thus we see the actions of elected legislators and judges who fail to protect the people of the United States out of personal ideology.

November 6, 2013

Conservatives Go Too Far with Colonoscopy

Deming, New Mexico, is a small town of 14,116 in Luna County on the southwest border of the state. According to Wikipedia, it gained the nickname of “New Chicago” because the railroad usage was supposed to make it grow to the size of its namesake in Illinois. In 1881, the driving of the Silver Spike celebrated the joining of the Southern Pacific with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroads—the second transcontinental railroad in the country.

Deming has ancient Native American sites with pottery artifacts, stone carvings, etc. There’s a museum in Deming that has an antique car collection, a doll collection, and a restored Harvey House restaurant based on those that fed the people when trains briefly stopped there. The Great American Duck Race is in Deming every year on the third weekend of August that has both wet and dry duck race tracks.

Since the second day of 2013, Deming has become better known across the nation because of the following arrest. The following is taken directly from a 4 on Your Side investigation from New Mexico’s KOB television station.

“The incident began January 2, 2013 after David Eckert finished shopping at the Wal-Mart in Deming.  According to a federal lawsuit, Eckert didn’t make a complete stop at a stop sign coming out of the parking lot and was immediately stopped by law enforcement. Eckert’s attorney, Shannon Kennedy, said in an interview with KOB that after law enforcement asked him to step out of the vehicle, he appeared to be clenching his buttocks.  Law enforcement thought that was probable cause to suspect that Eckert was hiding narcotics in his anal cavity.  While officers detained Eckert, they secured a search warrant from a judge that allowed for an anal cavity search.

“The lawsuit claims that Deming Police tried taking Eckert to an emergency room in Deming, but a doctor there refused to perform the anal cavity search citing it was ‘unethical.’ But physicians at the Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City agreed to perform the procedure and a few hours later, Eckert was admitted.”

Silver City happens to be in Grant County; the cavity search warrant was for Luna County. No matter. This is what was done to Eckert at the Gila Regional Medical Center during the 14 hours that the police held him.

  1. Eckert’s abdominal area was x-rayed; no narcotics were found.
  2. Doctors then performed an exam of Eckert’s anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.
  3. Doctors performed a second exam of Eckert’s anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.
  4. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema.  Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers.  Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool.  No narcotics were found.
  5. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema a second time.  Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers.  Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool.  No narcotics were found.
  6. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema a third time.  Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers.  Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool.  No narcotics were found.
  7. Doctors then x-rayed Eckert again; no narcotics were found.
  8. Doctors prepared Eckert for surgery, sedated him, and then performed a colonoscopy where a scope with a camera was inserted into Eckert’s anus, rectum, colon, and large intestines.  No narcotics were found.

Despite Eckert’s protests and lack of consent, doctors completed these procedures—illegally because there was no search warrant for Grant County. Even if it had been valid in that hospital, the warrant ended at 10:00 pm; prepping for the colonoscopy didn’t start until 1:00 am the next day, three hours after the warrant’s expiration.

When interviewed about what had happened, Deming Police Chief Brandon Gigante said, “We follow the law in every aspect and we follow policies and protocols that we have in place.” He then referred other questions to his attorney.

Eckert is suing The City of Deming and Deming Police Officers Bobby Orosco, Robert Chavez and Officer Hernandez; Hidalgo County Hidalgo County Deputies David Arredondo, Robert Rodriguez and Patrick Green; Deputy District Attorney Daniel Dougherty; and the Gila Regional Medical Center including Robert Wilcox, M.D and Okay Odocha, M.D. I’m betting he has a good case.

The final “insult to injury”? Eckert was sent a bill for the forced procedures. The hospital is threatening to send the bill to a collections agency if he doesn’t pay.

This wasn’t the first time that officers had thought an anal cavity search was necessary. Almost three months before Eckert’s ordeal, Hidalgo County officers pulled over Timothy Young and took him to the same hospital that inspected Eckert. Young missed out on the colonoscopy but had the X-ray and enemas.

Last year two women in Texas were also subjected to cavity searches with no reason. The trooper who performed these didn’t even change latex gloves between the searches of the two women. While a trooper dash-cam captured the horrible episode, Angel Dobbs, 38, and her niece Ashley Dobbs, 24, were forced to endure the searches in view of passing motorists. No drugs were discovered, but Dobbs was forced to perform a field sobriety test which she passed. After they were released, a bottle of prescribed Hydrocodone was missing from their car after Trooper David Farrell searched it.

Last May, Dana Holmes was forcibly, illegally stripped by LaSalle County (IL) deputies and then left nude in a jail cell after a DUI arrest. Evidence indicates she was not the only woman subjected to this by county deputies.

In El Paso, a woman crossing the border was strip-searched, vaginally probed, and then taken to the hospital for more invasive tests, a forced bowel movement, X-rays, and scans. No drugs were found, but she too is being billed by the hospital. Laura Schauer Ives, an attorney with the ACLU, plans to file a lawsuit.

Despite constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure, the U.S. Supreme Court thinks that even unwarranted searches are just fine. The SCOTUS case started with a man wrongly arrested because of a mistaken warrant from a computer error. Although he carried proof that he had paid the court fine as ordered and cleared the warrant, he was taken to jail, strip-searched twice, and then held for six days with no charges. In April 2012, the conservative wing voted 5-4 to allow detention officers to strip-search for any violation no matter how minor, even traffic stops and failing to leash a dog.

At least ten states do not allow strip searches without reasonable suspicion although the conservative SCOTUS could overturn these laws with their ruling. Even the Federal Bureau of Prisons does not subject people arrested for misdemeanor or civil contempt offenses to visual body-cavity searches without their consent or reasonable suspicion that they may be hiding contraband. Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the decision defined “strip search” as just looking closely at the body without touching. That would rule out a colonoscopy, but nowhere is this definition written down.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that the person arrested must pose a danger before subjecting them to a strip search that is “inherently harmful, humiliating, and degrading.” He also wrote:

“And the harm to privacy interests would seem particularly acute where the person searched may well have no expectation of being subject to such a search, say, because she had simply received a traffic ticket for failing to buckle a seatbelt, because he had not previously paid a civil fine, or because she had been arrested for a minor trespass.”

Does that include the impression that the person clenched his buttocks? What will the conservative Supreme Court think about this reason for a colonoscopy?

November 3, 2013

Church v. State

Church v, state is a topic before the conservative U.S. Supreme Court this coming week in a case about Christian clergy calling on God’s guidance for the town board meetings in Greece, a Rochester (NY) suburb. During the last decade, opening prayers were given by only three non-Christians—a Baha’i, a Jew, and a Wiccan priestess. And that was after the lawsuit was filed. The 2nd Circuit Court agreed unanimously that board meetings should be secular, but SCOTUS decided to take the case on appeal.

Last year, a federal appeals court referred to the “steady drumbeat” of Christian invocations  that violates the Constitution’s prohibition of government’s religious endorsement. This year, or probably next June, we’ll see what the ultra-conservative court of six Catholics, two Jews, and one Protestant have to say about separation of church and state, the court that begins with the phrase “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

Thirty years ago, SCOTUS said that these Christian invocations are just fine in March v. Chambers. To decide otherwise, they would have to overturn the precedent, but the conservative majority, led by Chief Justice John Robert, has shown great comfort in doing this. In Marsh, the Nebraska legislature employed a Presbyterian minister to give invocations for 16 years with people as spectators. The clergy in Greece asks the public to participate in the town hall prayers. The U.S. Congress employs a chaplain, perhaps one of the reasons that President Obama is supporting Christianity in the Greece town hall meetings.

Another church v. state lawsuit may erupt now that cadets at the Air Force Academy are no longer forced to recite “So help me God” as part of the school’s Honor Oath. The religious right decided that this change discriminates against Christian cadets. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council claims that this proves Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation “has been trying to drive evangelicals out of the Academy for over a decade.”

In his protest, Perkins used the myth that George Washington initiated the phrase “So help me God.” According to the Library of Congress, James Madison, a strong proponent of separation of church and state, headed a legislative committee that deleted the phrase.  Chester Arthur was the first president to use the phrase. The non-secular phrase wasn’t used at the Air Force Academy until 1984.

In other revisionist history, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) explained the inception of the U.S. Constitution: “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.”

A Texas appellate court overturned Delay’s conviction for allegedly scheming to influence Texas state elections with corporate money. He was at the “C Street House,” the place where many of the extremist religious members of Congress live or go to pray, when he heard the news.

Prosecutors said that Delay’s actions and money helped the GOP win the control of the Texas House and then push through a gerrymandering of districts that now tries to stop many Democrats from voting. The Department of Justice is currently participating in lawsuits against the gerrymandering, claiming it unfairly draws minority communities out of certain districts. While Speaker of the House, Delay earned his nickname, “The Hammer,” for his command of the House GOP.

DeLay also talked last week about his four-hour “conference call with the Lord.” According to Delay, God told him that he is to write a book called Shut It Down about the need for Constitutional revival. God also told Bill O’Reilly to write Killing Jesus, according to O’Reilly. In addition, God told DeLay that He has heard the voice of His people and that “my awakening is beginning,” in which DeLay will play a role.

Possibly even more intent on the government forcing Christianity on the United States, a Massachusetts state representative has sponsored a bill to create a mandatory class in Bible and international religions for “the purposes of teaching morality and brotherhood” to high school students. Objective religious studies are not banned by the U.S. Constitution, but “morality and brotherhood” make this bill questionable. The bill’s sponsor, Christopher Fallon, is a Democrat who endorsed Scott Brown in opposition to Elizabeth Warren for U.S. senate.

Also last week, the Public Religion Research Institute released its annual American Values Survey showing religio-political differences between Libertarians and Tea Party members. Each of the first two groups comprise seven percent of U.S. adults. An additional 15 percent lean toward libertarian views, socially liberal and economically conservative, with another 17 percent learning toward the Tea Party. As the report indicated, the survey was done before the Tea Party endorsed the government shutdown.

Libertarians: 94 percent non-Hispanic white; 68 percent male; average age, 44 (national average, 47) compared to 51 in the Tea Party; 27 percent each Protestants and no religious identity, 11 percent Catholic, 6 percent non-Christian faith, and 4 percent another Christian group; 5 percent Democrats and 45 percent Republicans.

Because a libertarian in a political race is more likely to take votes from the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli is in even more trouble for his gubernatorial run in Virginia than his recent fraudulent actions might predict. Libertarian Party Robert Sarvis is likely to gather votes from young white male voters, giving the advantage to Democratic contender Terry McAuliffe in Tuesday’s election.

The one major exception to libertarians’ socially liberal views: 59 percent of them oppose legalizing marriage equality. Yet only 22 percent of libertarians belong to the religious right while 52 percent of Tea Partiers are part of this movement. The two groups don’t have much crossover: 61 percent of libertarians do not belong to the Tea Party movement, and 75 percent of Tea Partiers are not libertarians. Those in the Tea Party prefer Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for president; libertarians prefer Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

Even more libertarians (96 percent) oppose the Affordable Care Act, compared to 78 percent of Tea Partiers. Raising the minimum wage also ires both groups, libertarians more (65 percent) than Tea Partiers (57 percent). That’s the perspective that Republicans who wish to lean in a more moderate position or even compromise with the opposition face in Congress.

The new pope continues to criticize his flock as he rails against right-wing “ideological Christians”:

“When a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new.”

Pope Francis followed this up with a comparison of the mindless pursuit of money to idolatry:

“Having more, having more, having more… It leads you to idolatry, it destroys your relationship with others. It’s not money, but the attitude, what we call greed. Then too this greed makes you sick, because it makes you think of everything in terms of money. It destroys you, it makes you sick. And in the end – this is the most important thing – greed is an instrument of idolatry because it goes along a way contrary to what God has done for us.”

The problem with “greed,” according to the pope, is the hoarding, like the top 1 percent of the people in the United States. And the people in Congress who are used by money-hoarders like the Koch brothers. The 61 Catholics in the House and nine Catholics in the Senate are a large enough block to keep the others from destroying Social Security, Medicare, and the safety net, including health and food. The pope is speaking directly to them.

Pope Francis was so intent on his message about the evil of greed that he suspended German Bishop Franz Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who some called Bishop Deluxe or the Bishop of Bling. With an estimated cost of $55 million for his official residence, the bishop will not know his destiny until after he submits a detailed report of construction expenses. Although the Vatican exudes opulence, the pope refuses to live in the papal residence and has urged prelates to adopt a more humble lifestyle.

Once the pope dispenses with the bishop, he may get around to telling members of Congress that they are ideological and greedy. I’m hoping!

June 26, 2013

SCOTUS Awards LGBT Rights; Davis Fights for Women’s Rights

Forty years ago, homosexuals were mentally ill. Ten years ago gays and lesbians were criminals. Today LGBT people can legally marry the people they love. Yesterday was the day that my partner and I celebrate as our anniversary because marriage equality is illegal in Oregon. It was our 44th anniversary. Without the same Social Security benefits that legally married people receive, my partner has lost well over $100,000. We don’t know how much we have lost in other benefits because of the discrimination against same-sex couples.

The Stonewall riots, hailed as the dawning of the gay rights movement, started in New York’s Greenwich Village on June 29, 1963, also 44 years ago. But today is a new day because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1996 federal statute defining marriage as between one woman and one man.

Listening to the U.S. Supreme Court as they dribbled out their rulings for the past session was exactly like riding a rollercoaster: yesterday, they destroyed the voting rights of almost half the people in the country, and today they gave federal rights to all married same-sex couples. They also refused to allow standing of those protesting marriage equality in California so that same-sex couples there might have the right to marry. If that is true, one-third of people in the U.S. will live in a jurisdiction that has legalized marriage equality.

In its traditional 5-4 vote, SCOTUS ruled that, for federal purposes, marriage as defined as being between one man and one woman is unconstitutional. This ruling was in response to a case about Edie Windsor, who was charged federal estate taxes after Thea Spyer, her partner of 44 years, died. Yet they let stand Section 2 of DOMA permitting each state its own definition of marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 26-page opinion, and dissenters Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, mostly joined by Clarence Thomas, wrote another 47 pages.

Kennedy wrote that DOMA “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government” and intrudes on the states’ traditional role in defining marriage. His opinion also stated that the law “instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.”

Confusion will undoubtedly reign after the ruling because Kennedy also wrote, “This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages,” possibly just those authorized by the state of New York. Yet he also said, “The federal statute [DOMA] is invalid.” This is a very broad ruling, which is why Scalia, in particular, was apoplectic.

Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas opined that the court should not have taken the case because the House of Representatives had no right to appeal lower court decisions after President Obama stopped defending DOMA. Justice Samuel Alito disagreed, saying Congress did have that power. Whether or not it had any right to appeal, the House spent $2.3 of taxpayers’ money to support DOMA in the courts.

The majority did rule on the lack of standing in the case about California’s Prop. 8, stating that the private proponents of the measure, many of them living outside California, lacked the legal right to defend the proposition in federal courts. Supposedly, this ruling from SCOTUS did not change the district judge’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also declared Prop 8 unconstitutional. Dissenters in SCOTUS on the Prop 8 case were an odd mix: liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito in disagreeing with the majority that included the ultra-conservative Scalia.

Although there may be more litigation regarding Prop 8, the governor told clerks that they would start issuing marriage licenses after the 9th Circuit Court takes care of its paperwork by lifting a year-long order that stopped the ban from going into effect until the Supreme Court reviewed the case. There might be a question about whether District Court Judge Vaughn Walker had the right to overturn Prop 8 for the entire state or for just his jurisdiction. The only definite conclusion is that the two couples in the Prop 8 case before SCOTUS will receive marriage licenses from the Clerks of Alameda and Los Angeles Counties.

How people would vote today in California, no one knows, polls show a movement toward majority acceptance of marriage equality; many people voted in favor of Prop 8 because of the lies from supporters about effects of marriage equality; and the Mormon Church, that paid as much as 70 percent of the campaign funds to support Prop 8, may not be as generous another time around.

With California now considered to accept marriage equality, 13 states and a few other jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C. and Native American reservations, have legalized same-sex marriage. This is one of the best maps describing the different same-sex couple laws across the U.S.

The hope is that same-sex couples may now start having rights in the military and in immigration that were prevented before this ruling. As Kennedy said in his ruling, “Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways…from the mundane to the profound. He mentioned healthcare, tax preparation, Social Security, and other benefits—even a person’s child can legally be kidnapped by an unmarried spouse.

A New York City immigration judge immediately stopped the deportation proceedings of Steven, a Colombian man legally married to Sean Brooks. The Center for American Progress has 14 fact sheets showing federal benefits that legally married same-sex couples will now have.

One expects crackpot responses to SCOTUS, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) may have achieved the strangest one in a performance on the Glenn Beck when the presidential wannabe asked of marriage, “Does it have to be humans?” (I’ll have another batch of crazy comments in my upcoming Sunday “religion” blog.)

The DOMA and Prop 8 rulings overshadowed a mind-blowing event in Texas. State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) filibustered an unbelievable vicious, evil woman-hating anti-abortion in the state’s Senate. The bill stops abortions at 20 weeks as well as closes 37 clinics, leaving only five clinics that provide abortions throughout a state that is 773 miles wide and 790 miles long. Some of the 26 million people would have to drive 600 miles in order to have the opportunity to comply with a federal law.

The term “filibuster” has gained a benign connotation because of the U.S. Senate rules that allows one senator to call from his comfortable couch to say “I filibuster” and then return to the sports channel. Filibuster in this case means that Davis stood–with no support, no leaning, no bathroom breaks, no food, no liquid, no nothing—for almost 12 hours and talked about the bill and nothing else. She even got one violation for talking about sonograms although that’s part of the anti-abortion game in Texas.

Davis had to last until midnight to keep the chamber from voting before the deadline of the special session. Her third “violation,” another being when a colleague touched her when fascinating her a back brace, came before midnight, but hundreds of protesters disrupted the vote, shouting “Let her speak,” so that the vote could not be started until after the deadline.

At this time, events become even more bizarre. The vote on the bill wasn’t finished until a few minutes after midnight. In their eagerness to terrorize women, however, Republican senators changed the time stamp to before midnight, thinking that this would pass the bill.

After images of both the before and after images of the stamp change were posted on the Texas Tribune’s live blog showing the accurate time stamp of 12:02 am, the Senate went into a closed-door caucus. At 3:00 am, they said that the bill did not pass because Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst didn’t have time to sign it before midnight. Nothing about changing the time stamp.

In an ironic twist, Davis could be redistricted from her Fort Worth area after SCOTUS ruled yesterday that Texas can do gerrymandering districts. The state failed earlier because of the now-overturned Voting Rights Act.

More than 150,000 people watched the livestreamed session. Even President Obama tweeted his support for Davis. Gov. Rick Perry has declared a 30-day special session starting on July 1 to “address” the anti-abortion bill because the legislature needs to maintain “decency.” Nothing about the “decency” of illegally changing the timestamp for the vote.

It’s the GOP strategy: vote; if it fails, cheat; if that fails, hold another vote. The House has done it 37 times on Obamacare.

June 24, 2013

SCOTUS Decisions, Immigration Reform Amendment, Texas Anti-Abortion Continue

Although the Supreme Court did not deliver its rulings about marriage equality and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 today, they did divulge other decisions. SCOTUS did deliver a non-ruling on affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas. In the question of whether a white student suffered racial discrimination at the University of Texas, SCOTUS rejected a lower court’s approval of the school’s affirmative action plan but said that it will have to evaluate it again.

The constitutionality of race in university admissions, however, survived with the ruling that race may be considered as a factor as long as the policy is “narrowly tailored.” If “‘a nonracial approach . . . could promote the substantial interest about as well and at tolerable administrative expense,’” then the university may not consider race.

When states have banned affirmative action, the number of minority has drastically dropped. Today’s ruling allows universities to continue implementing diversity plans, but it does not preclude these state bans. In its next term, SCOTUS will review a Michigan ban that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down.

In his opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas compared any affirmative action to slavery. He has also said that he would vote to overturn the case next year upholding the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action policy. That means he doesn’t need to listen to arguments next year because he’s already made up his mind.

Courtesy seems to have disappeared in SCOTUS. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented to the racial discrimination ruling, asserting that the lower court ruling should have been upheld. She also read a dissent to the case (below) which makes racial and sexual discrimination easier by raising the level of proof to establish retaliation for complaining about discrimination.

Part of Ginsburg’s dissent was a “hypothetical” (meaning drawn from a real case) when a female worker on a road crew was subjected to humiliations by the “lead worker” and who now has no remedy because of the court ruling. According to Garrett Epps, Justice Samuel Alito pursed his lips, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head “no.” There are no cameras to show the incident, but Epps reported that the audience made audible gasps.

SCOTUS gave sexual and racial harassment a boost up in the workplace through today’s 5-4 ruling in Vance v. Ball State University. Thanks to five Supreme Court justices, a “supervisor” is defined as having the power to make a “significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”

The definition eliminates all the people who still maintain power over employers through reporting their actions to employers—excuse me “supervisors.” One of these “non-supervisors” is a senior truck driver who coerced a female subordinate into having unwanted sex with him. Justice Elena Kagan also described the secretary whose boss “subjects that secretary to living hell, complete hostile work environment on the basis of sex.” That person is not a “supervisor” because it’s the “Head of Secretarial Services” who would fire her.

In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the five conservative justices also allowed employers a greater right to retaliate against victims of discrimination who report that they have suffered discrimination.

The Senate is working hard to discriminate against immigrants through its reform bill. In a desperate attempt to pass the bill, the Senate passed a motion to debate an amendment by 67-27 with 15 GOP “yes” votes that would ostensibly make the bill more palatable to conservatives. It’s a Christmas gift to Halliburton, as  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, because of the requirement for another 700 miles of fencing. Another piece of the amendment was doubling the number of border patrol agents to 40,000—one for each 1,000 feet of the southern border of the United States. The party that wants less government and spending cuts now helps support a bill that would cost an additional $46 billion.

Most of the publicity for the amendment came from the border security, but Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) managed other offensive provisions. One prohibits undocumented workers from counting past wages toward Social Security eligibility, and another prevents the government from providing welfare to immigrants until they become citizens. The provisions also called for an additional five-year ban on federal health subsidies under Obamacare for unauthorized immigrants who get a green card and tried to ensure these immigrants pay back taxes and penalties on any wages they earned while in the country illegally.

There may be more news about what’s buried in the 1,200-page amendment before the vote on Thursday or Friday.

Meanwhile, Texas GOP members are using a special legislative session to push through more restrictive anti-abortion regulations. (What happened to their love for small government?!) The proposed law would criminalize abortions after 20 weeks and shut down health clinics, leaving no place in western Texas—a very large area—to obtain an abortion. Women would have to travel at least 600 miles to get an abortion for any reason.

In a peculiar quirk, the bill’s sponsor, Jody Laubenberg (R) refused to support an exemption for rape because—ready for this?—she thinks that the rape kit, used to collect forensic data on the rapist for a prosecution, causes abortions. She said, “In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out.” Laubenberg has displayed an even greater ignorance then Congressional legislators.

Someone needs to explain to Laubenberg that this is the procedures for use of the rape kit. A victim enters the hospital; staff collect bodily fluid, residue under the victim’s nails, and any relevant blood or hair samples for an investigation. Nobody gets “cleaned out.” States with abstinence-only sex education, such as Texas, have highly uneducated people, even elected legislators.

A survey found that 63 percent of registered voters don’t want any more anti-abortion laws, and 71 percent think that the legislature should worry about the economy and jobs instead of policing women’s reproductive rights. Almost three-fourths think that personal medical decisions about abortions should be made by a woman and her doctor, not by politicians. Also, 57 percent said that they don’t trust the governor or the legislature to make choices about women’s health care. Eighty percent think that anti-abortion should not be legislated in special session. And this opposition is from both parties and the independents.

The Texas Assembly passed the bill at 10:40 am today. Legislative rules require a 24-hour wait until the Senate can bring it up. The Texas legislature has until tomorrow night to get the bill passed.

This last weekend, dozens of people stood in line in Atlanta to buy exclusive LeBron James sneakers. When a man carrying a gun harassed them, a man in line pulled his gun and fatally shot him. The shooter then got back in line to wait for his sneakers. Some of the people thought that he wanted to rob them. A witness said about the dead man, “Sounds like he brought it on himself.”

Nobody said anything the man being dangerous, just that it was okay to kill him. Police have said they will not be charging the shooter because it was “self defense.” No need to wound him or feel any remorse—just kill him. This is the gun culture of the United States. 

Next Page »

the way of improvement leads home

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

© blogfactory

Genuine news

Civil Rights Advocacy

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

AGR Daily News

Transformational News; What Works For Seven Future Generations Without Causing Harm?

JONATHAN TURLEY

Res ipsa loquitur - The thing itself speaks

Jennifer Hofmann

Inspiration for soul-divers, seekers, and activists.

Occupy Democrats

Progressive political commentary/book reviews for youth and adults

V e t P o l i t i c s

politics from a liberal veteran's perspective

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

Rainbow round table news

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

The Extinction Protocol

Geologic and Earthchange News events

Central Oregon Coast NOW

The Central Oregon Coast Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW)

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Over the Rainbow Books

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

The WordPress.com Blog

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

%d bloggers like this: