Nel's New Day

September 15, 2019

Immigration in the U.S.: The Center of Cruelty

Public opinion—aka outrage—about deporting approximately 1,000 seriously ill migrants, primarily children, by denying them any deferred status drew attention before Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) moved Hurricane Dorian to Alabama. Families who must renew their medical deferred status every two years were notified in August that they would be automatically forced to leave the country within 33 days. After a backlash, DDT said he would reconsider the new policy that sends all these migrants to their certain death because they would lack health care, but he hasn’t provided a resolution.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, failed to appear for an emergency House hearing about the travesty, and Daniel Renaud, the associate director for field operations, said that he just follows orders. USCIS, formerly responsible for processing the deferral requests, handed all non-military requests over to ICE. ICE said it knew nothing about the change, and recipients of the deportation letters were not notified. Now ICE won’t address deferral requests until the subjects have an order of removal. The most recent information comes from American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Those people aren’t the only ones who DDT is killing. Last Thursday, ICE rushed the deportation to Cuba of Yoel Alonso Leal, an asylum-seeker with several serious medical conditions including a lung tumor. Over 100 physicians argued that he stay in the U.S. and warned that he might not even survive the flight. No matter—ICE refused to release him to his U.S. citizen wife and family for more tests and treatment. Leal said that Cuban authorities detained and assaulted him in 2016 and 2018 before he sought asylum. 

DDT already killed a man born in Greece 41 years ago, who legally came to the U.S. at less than a year of age, by deporting him to Iraq where he died without insulin for his diabetes. Jimmy Aldaoud never learned Arabic and was part of Detroit’s Chaldean Catholic community, targeted in Iraq by extremists. He was sent to Iraq because Greece doesn’t recognize birthright citizenship. Other Chaldeans, a conservative group, are also targeted for deportation, one of them for a years-old marijuana conviction that was dropped from his criminal record.

ICE also plans to kill detain immigrants by not vaccinating children for the flu. Despite the claim that detainees are held for only 72 hours, they can remain in detention for over a month. At least three people in government “care” have already died of the flu.

DDT also wants to terminate a program protecting undocumented family members of active-duty troops from deportation. Currently the program allows military family members illegally entering the U.S.—for example, overstaying a visa—who cannot adjust their immigration status to temporarily stay in the U.S. The program avoids distractions coming from worries about a spouse being deported and allows the spouse to apply for a green card. Already ICE doesn’t follow its own policies by deporting former service members and breaking the tradition of giving a path to citizenships for those who serve in the military—almost 130,000 since 2001. Last year, the Pentagon discharged immigrants with special skills recruited under George W. Bush’s program.

A lawsuit against Cuccinelli purports that all his directives are “invalid” because he “lacks the authority to serve as acting director.” Cuccinelli is also unqualified to serve in this position because he describes immigrants as rats although his job is to facilitate legal immigration. His new policies include fast-tracking initial screenings of asylum-seekers from 48 hours to a “full calendar day,” blocking them from preparing for interviews of seeing legal help. Cuccinelli is serving as “acting director” because GOP senators have doubted his appointment.

In another cruel form of current government bureaucracy, 37 asylum seekers accused of illegal entry were all processed at one time and expected to answer questions in unison. Public defendants had under two hours to talk with 41 defendants in one case. Unlike other courts under the judicial branch, immigration courts are under the control of DOJ AG Bill Barr. [Right: “Justice” under the reign of Barr and DDT.]

New tent courts recently established at the southern border will hear thousands of cases for asylum-seekers in closed hearings with no court observers unlike open immigration court proceedings. Attorneys are not allowed to participate although most asylum-seekers can’t get legal representation. Over 42,000 asylum-seekers are forced to wait in Mexico where they have been assaulted, kidnapped, and extorted. Others have let Mexico bus them to the middle of the country or the border of Guatemala. The hearings in the tent court facilities are via video teleconference, a serious problem from faulty equipment with poor video and sound quality that prevent due process. 

Last week, people believing in justice breathed a sigh of relief when a federal judge ruled that DDT cannot require asylum seekers to ask another country for shelter before seeking refuge in the U.S. According to DDT’s coerced agreement with Guatemala, people coming from Central America into Mexico must try and fail to obtain asylum in Guatemala before moving on to go through the same process in Mexico before seeking asylum in the U.S. Mexico had refused DDT’s negotiations, but he still forces the “third-country” asylum rule on that country. A 9th Circuit Court ruling against DDT’s new restriction had been only for the ten states in its jurisdiction, but Jon S. Tigar made that ruling consistent for the entire country to prevent “uneven enforcement.”

The relief ended when DDT’s U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay to that judge’s ruling until the courts settled the cases, a process taking and leaving the Supreme Court as the final decider—or “fixer” for DDT. The lower courts determined that DDT’s policy conflicts with existing immigration statutes, violates the requirements of administrative rulemaking, and completely blocks all asylum for people on the southern border unless they come from Mexico. The decision was not explained.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginzberg submitted a dissent stating that lower court decisions should be respected and a stay overturning a lower court is “extraordinary.” The Supreme Court should not be used for the government to ignore lower court litigation. DDT’s administration has made an “extraordinary” number of requests—20—to bypass normal procedures or lower court actions. In addition to procedural anomalies, the dissent pointed out that the goal of DDT’s asylum policy is acting in bad faith. Facts do not support their arguments and illustrated that the policy puts untold numbers of people in serious danger—which DDT and his co-authors know. The decision overturns a longstanding offer of safe refuge to the persecuted with no input before DDT loses on the case’s merits. The lower court determined that DDT’s new policy broke government rules, violated the law, and lacks justification by being arbitrary and capricious.

One group of immigrants that DDT wants to protect are Venezuelans. He thinks that it might help him win the state of Florida in the 2020 election.

Perhaps the worst part of immigration court is control by the DOJ instead of the judicial branch. DDT’s fixer AG, Bill Barr, promoted the six judges with higher rates of denying immigrants’ asylum to the immigration appeals court that can overturn lower court decisions. Two of them came from courts drawing complaints of unfair proceedings from attorneys and advocates, and a third denies asylum to domestic violence victims. The six comprise over one-fourth of the appellate board, and four are on the DDT-created Board of Immigration Appeals. Barr established a regulation giving himself the ability to make any appellate decision binding. DOJ sent an email to all immigration court employees with a link to an article from the white nationalist website VDare that “directly attacks sitting immigration judges with racial and ethnically tinged slurs.”

The DOJ also filed a petition to decertify the union of immigration judges with the claim that they are “management officials.” The Federal Labor Relations Authority refused this tactic over 20 years ago, but the new FLRA members mostly belong to DDT. Last year, the union fought the new DOJ quota system of completing 700 cases a year and “efficiency” procedures that could damage due process in court. DDT has appointed at least 43 percent of the 440 immigration judges; changing them to “management” would allow him to fire them at his whim.

While DDT torments and kills migrants, the asylum law is now at the center of his immigration battle. The law says: “Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States, whether or not at a designated port of arrival … may apply for asylum.”

Not satisfied with detaining only immigrants, DDT wants to incarcerate the homeless in a federal facility, starting his roundup in California to rile up his base for the 2020 election.

At his speech in Baltimore, DDT used a favorite term, “goddamn,” which the evangelical community hates. Texas megachurch leader and DDT supporter Rev. Robert Jeffress said, “I can take just about everything else, except [taking the Lord’s name in vain.” For evangelicals, cruelty, corruption, killing, abuse, lying, racism all okay, but “goddamn” crosses the line.

July 27, 2018

Kavanaugh, A Disaster for the United States, Part 2

When Brett Kavanaugh accepted the nomination for Supreme Court justice, he gave a lovely speech, full of admiration for women and children and minorities. The wealth of his rulings and dissents show that much of what he said was a farce. Possibly even his wife thought so too, from the look on her face.

Separation of Powers – PHH Corp. v. CFPB (2017): Striking down the single-director structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Kavanaugh opposed the president’s needing a reason to fire the CFPB director. Later, the entire D.C. Circuit Court overrode Kavanaugh’s decision.

Abortion – Garza v. Hargan (2017): The complete D.C. Circuit Court vacated an order preventing an undocumented pregnant teenager from having an abortion. Kavanaugh dissented with the statement that “the en banc majority … reflects a philosophy that unlawful immigrant minors have a right to immediate abortion on demand, not to be interfered with even by government efforts to help minors navigate what is undeniably a difficult situation by expeditiously transferring them to their sponsors.” The 17-year-old girl had been held prisoner without permission to see a doctor to keep her from having an abortion as the administration tried to postpone any decision until the fetus was too developed for the procedure.

Contraception – Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2016): When the D.C. Circuit Court refused to hear a case about employers opting out of birth control coverage by submitting a form, dissented because of the employers’ “religious privilege.” Filling out the form seemed to burden their exercise of religion. Kavanaugh’s view is that courts must accept, without question, any religious claim because any employer has the right to deny birth control coverage to their employees through insurance.

Healthcare – Seven Sky v. Holder (2011): In dissenting to the ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act, Kavanaugh claimed the Anti-Injunction Act, “which carefully limits the jurisdiction of federal courts over tax-related matters.” He argued that a president is not required to enforce the ACA or any other law if he makes that choice. A pending lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of the ACA could be decided by the Supreme Court.

Voting Restrictions – South Carolina v. United States (2012): Kavanaugh wrote the opinion upholding South Carolina’s voter ID law opposed by the DOJ because of serious racial disparities in photo ID requirements blocking over 60,000 minority registered voters from the polls.

Discrimination – Howard v. Office of the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives (2013): Kavanaugh’s dissent in this case, if successful, would ban workers in congressional offices from suing on the basis of racism, sexual harassment, and retaliation.  He also claimed in Miller v. Clinton (2012) that the State Department is exempt from being sued for age discrimination. In Rattigan v. Holder (2012), Kavanaugh dissented from the majority rule that a black FBI agent could pursue a case of inappropriate retaliation for filing a discrimination claim when the agency began a security investigation against him.

Hostility to Workers’ Rights – SeaWorld of Fla., LLC v. Perez (2014): Kavanaugh opposed a majority ruling upholding a safety citation after a trainer died while working with an orca that had previously killed three other trainers. He said that the government shouldn’t be responsible for protecting these workers. The nominee has a pattern of ruling against workers in other issues such as worker privacy and union disputes. In National Labor Relations Board v. CNN America, Inc. (2017) Judge Kavanaugh dissented from the majority opinion upholding a National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) order that CNN recognize and bargain with a worker’s union. and finding that CNN violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) by discriminating against union members in hiring. Another Kavanaugh dissent in National Federation of Federal Employees v. Vilsack (2012) called for drug testing despite the lack of policy. His majority ruling in American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO v. Gates (2007) could allow the Secretary of Defense to eviscerate collective bargaining.

Immigration – Fogo de Chao Inc. v. Department of Homeland Security (2014): The case agreed that specialized cultural knowledge regarding Brazilian-style cooking was valid for a temporary visa, but Kavanaugh wanted to exclude “any and all knowledge or skills … learned from family or community rather than in-company trainers.”

Gun ownership – Heller v. District of Columbia (2011): The ruling in the D.C. Circuit Court supported a law that prohibited assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and that required certain firearms to be registered. Kavanaugh dissented: “semi-automatic rifles, like semi-automatic handguns, have not traditionally been banned and are in common use by law-abiding citizens for self-defense in the home, hunting, and other lawful uses.” He also stated, “A ban on a class of arms is … equivalent to a ban on a category of speech.” The Supreme Court later overturned Heller.

Net Neutrality – United States Telecom Association v. FCC (2017): After a panel of judges ruled that internet service providers cannot discriminate among content providers, the D.C. Circuit Court refused to rehear the case. Kavanaugh dissented, claiming that the FCC should rely on the 1934 Communications Act which does not allow the FCC to regulate Internet service providers.” The FCC now permits this discrimination.

Environment – EME Homer City Generation, L.P. v. EPA (2012): Kavanaugh wrote the opinion in this decision that the EPA could not require companies to replace refrigerant chemicals of greenhouse gasses with more sustainable alternatives.  In his dissent to White Stallion Energy Ctr. LLC v. EPA (2014), he stated that the EPA should have considered the cost to the power industry before regulating toxic air pollution. The Supreme Court cited his dissent when it reversed the D.C. Circuit Court’s ruling that had upheld the standards. In Howmet Corp. v. EPA (2010) Kavanaugh dissented from a decision to approve an EPA fine of over $300,000 against a company that had improperly shipped a corrosive chemical to be added to fertilizer without properly labelling it and taking other precautions to treat it as a hazardous waste.

Unlimited Campaign Donations – EMILY’s List v. Federal Election Commission (2009): Kavanaugh wrote the opinion that led to the creation of super PACs. In Independence Institute v. Federal Election Commission (2016), he wrote the opinion which Demos and Campaign Legal Center called “a novel theory that would limit disclosure based on a spender’s tax-status, a theory subsequently rejected by a three-judge court and the Supreme Court.”

A civil rights group wrote:

“Judge Kavanaugh’s 12-year record on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as well as his known writings, speeches, and legal career, demonstrate that if he were confirmed to the Supreme Court, he would be the fifth and decisive vote to undermine many of our core rights and legal protections.  In case after case, he has ruled against individuals and the environment in favor of corporations, the wealthy, and the powerful.  He has advanced extreme legal theories to overturn longstanding precedent to diminish the power of federal agencies to help people.  And he has demonstrated an expansive view of presidential power that includes his belief that presidents should not be subject to civil suits or criminal investigations while in office despite what misconduct may have occurred.”

Putting Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court can vastly increase the economic inequality in a nation where it is greater than at any time during almost a century, an equality marked by gender and race. Lack of healthcare in the United States has caused it to have a higher maternal mortality rate than any other developed country. Taking contraception from women keeps many of them from getting and keeping jobs, advancing their careers, furthering their education, and financially supporting themselves. The loss of contraception also produces higher abortion rates.

In the past century, unions have been responsible for decreasing income inequality. As the number of people in unions grew, so did the percentage of people in the middle class. The reverse is also true, especially for women who comprise the majority of public sector workers that Janus v. AFSCME has tried to destroy. The day after the Supreme Court decision allowed workers to have union benefits without charge, it authorized crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to continue to lie to women about their services and the dangers of abortions. Two weeks later, the current administration proposed prevention of home care workers unions.

Brett Kavanaugh is part of the conservative strategy to demolish the structure that attempts to protect the well-being of women and families, the foundation for the United States’ economy and democracy. Gone will be reproductive rights for women, safety and privacy rights for workers, union rights, individual rights, immigration rights, voting rights, religious rights, a clean environment, etc. Big business will be god, and the president will be above the law.

With Kavanaugh as justice—or someone like him—the Supreme Court will be a disaster for the nation.

July 21, 2018

DDT: Week 78 – Walking Back

The meeting at Helsinki with Vladimir Putin was supposed to be a high spot of the first 18 months for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) after he was inaugurated. Instead it was his worst week thus far: he spent four days walking back his statements before escaping to his Bedminster (NJ) resort. After denying his rejection of intelligence information about Putin’s election meddling which may have made the presidential election illegitimate, DDT invited Putin to Washington in the fall, but the GOP head of the Senate said that Putin would not be welcome in Congress. DDT’s actions are increasingly called treasonous.[visual new York cover]

Doug Heye, former communications director for the RNC, said:

“Helsinki was such a disaster that we have lost sight of the disasters that came before that in Brussels and London. Then, from a PR perspective, obviously the back and forth they’ve had this week has also been a disaster—and not how crisis communications is handled, to put it mildly.”

Even Rupert Murdoch’s the Wall Street Journal slammed DDT about Helsinki, questioning his loyalty to the country in a “Trump First Doctrine.” The editorial suggested that the GOP join Democrats to check DDT’s diplomatic powers. “Political isolation concerning a foreign adversary is a weak and dangerous place to be,” according to the editorial.

Republicans worked hard to use Peter Strzok as a tool to get rid of the Mueller investigation, grilling him 21 hours in two days—the second day televised. They pushed the falsehood that he was trying to keep DDT from being elected, something he could have done if he had announced before the election that DDT’s campaign was being investigated for Russian collusion—which he didn’t.

Shortly before DDT left for his weekly vacation, he faced reports about a secretly recorded tape between him and former lawyer Michael Cohen two months before the election about a hush payoff for his affair with Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal.  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/20/us/politics/michael-cohen-trump-tape.html  Earlier DDT denied his almost year-long affair with McDougal that began soon after Melanie Trump gave birth to their son Barron. DDT’s lawyers permitted the tape’s release, and Rudy Giuliani said that it shows no wrongdoing.

Giuliani remains DDT’s legal mouthpiece on television, but he keeps working for foreign clients, including Brazil, Colombia, and a Iranian dissident group listed by the State Department as a terrorist group. Giuliani has not registered with the DOJ, claiming that he doesn’t directly lobby the U.S. government and doesn’t charge DDT for his “services.” An authority said that Giuliani’s speeches to the group require his registration. Since Giuliani became DDT’s lawyer in April, and has given opinions on Iran, North Korea, and other issues outside his position while divulging details about discussions with both DDT and Robert Mueller’s office.

Russia still dominates other disasters for DDT. Documents from the DOJ about a secret FISA warrant to surveil DDT’s foreign policy adviser Carter Page show that he is “an agent of a foreign power” recruited by Russia to “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) had accused the FBI and DOJ of using a dossier by a private British citizen for its surveillance, but information debunked that claim. The 412 pages, obtained by Gizmodo with a Freedom of Information Act request filed 15 months ago, are heavily redacted but damaging to Page, who plans to refute the application’s claims on CNN’s State of the Union tomorrow.

Paul Manafort is still in jail after violating his bail agreement for contacting witnesses. An appeal by his lawyers to delay the trial scheduled for July 25 in Virginia caused his move to a new prison from his old VIP one that provided him two computers, the second one used to read and write emails that his legal team takes from jail to transmit the emails permitting him to continue witness intimidation. Manafort also had a private, self-contained living unit with personal bathroom and shower facilities, a personal telephone, and a workroom available to him between early in the morning until late in the evening. His laptop had an extension cord so that he can use it in his cell after 10:00 pm. The lawyers tried to withdraw their concerns because of “safety” in the new jail, but the judge turned them down. Judge T.S. Ellis, a Reagan appointee, said that the Alexandria facility has experience with inmates such as “foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors.”

Manafort pleaded not guilty to Robert Mueller’s charges that he dramatically understated his income on federal tax returns from 2010 through 2014 and allegations of bank fraud totaling more than $20 million tied to loans he applied for in connection with various homes he owns. The prosecution plans to present over 500 pieces of evidence regarding his wealth. Manafort’s trial in Washington, D.C. for money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent for his work in Ukraine is scheduled for September. So who’s paying for Manafort’s lgal team?

DDT’s obsession with “fake news” may come from his obsession in watching the Fox network. The Fox News morning show Fox & Friends claimed in a tweet that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation “still hasn’t tied anyone from the campaign to the probe.” Several people from the campaign, including campaign chairman Paul Manafort, have been “tied” to the investigation. Direct guilty pleas came from George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn, who briefly became DDT’s national security adviser. The Fox tweet has been removed.

DDT’s most recent pardons are for two Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, convicted for setting fire to federal land when they were trying to cover up illegally poaching seven deer. Firefighters had to be airlifted out of the area to save their lives. The Hammonds had a 28-year history of permit violations and unauthorized fires on 45,000 acres. According to witnesses, Steven Hammond “handed out ‘Strike Anywhere’ matches because they were going to ‘light up the whole country on fire.’” The pardon goes far beyond pandering to white supremacists, however; it leads to privatizing public land for mining and drilling so that private companies can plunder resources without paying royalties. During his first year, DDT concealed the identities of the benefitting firms with these giveaways by obscure online methods. Not even the fabled Grand Canyon is safe.

GOP House members supported DDT in removing sanctions from the Chinese company ZTE guilty of violating sanctions by selling U.S. goods to Iran in violation of sanctions, and senators agreed. DDT was concerned about a possible closure of the company with his tweet, “Too many jobs in China lost.”

Unions received another blow from DDT’s administration after the Supreme Court said that they had to provide services to employees for free. DDT eliminated a regulation requiring employers to report information about the union-busting consultants that companies hire. Although federal law mandates companies to report hires of “persuaders” who talk to workers about not unionizing, they no longer have this mandate if their lawyers and consultants don’t directly talk to employees.

DDT has also shut down guideline.gov, the National Guideline Clearinghouse, which has provided an online database of best health care practices from medical groups and researchers. Doctors used this source to relevant guidelines from what was considered the world’s most comprehensive and reliable repositories. Republicans claimed that the Clearinghouse was too expensive, but its cost was roughly equivalent to HHS Secretary Tom Price’s expenditures on travel during his 240 days.

DDT continues to decimate the Affordable Care Act. Earlier in July, he stopped annual payments to even out costs for insurers when clients need expensive medical services. This permanent risk adjustment was part of the law. With the threat of higher premiums and failure of small insurance companies, DDT may have to reverse his position. He will, however, continue his recent policy of 90 percent cuts in advertising to encourage participation and 40 percent cuts for “navigator” programs that help consumers sign up. Rupert Murdoch’s USA Today opposes DDT’s determination to kill the ACA that has “until now … been a success.”  The editorial concludes:

“Republicans should be held accountable for their handiwork — even if they do it in a bureaucratic dark alley instead of openly in the halls of Congress.”

DDT is even opposed to providing accurate information about breastfeeding. At the World Health Assembly in late May, the U.S. supported infant formula manufacturers and threatened trade wars and cessation of military aid targeting Ecuador if it didn’t drop the resolution to provide scientific information about breastfeeding. Ecuador caved in, followed by at least a dozen African nations, most of them poor, that feared retaliation. The U.S., however, did not threaten Russia when it introduced the breastfeeding measure, and the resolution passed. It cites scientific evidence that infants are healthiest with breastfeeding and tries to block infant formula manufacturers from lying to consumers. A 2016 study found that breast-feeding could prevent 800,000 child deaths a year and save $300 billion because of reduced health care costs and improved economic outcomes for breastfed infants.

The European Union and Japan on Tuesday signed a major trade deal eliminating most tariffs. The United States has lost more of its influence.

June 5, 2018

Supreme Court Winds Up Year, More Court Cases

Mondays in June mean decisions from the Supreme Court. This week the justices gave extremely narrow rulings on two major case, leaving both sides dissatisfied. The first, dealing with whether religious beliefs can be used to discriminate against others, concerned a Colorado baker who would not sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. The ruling came out on the side of the baker but left no decision for the legality of allowing religious beliefs or free speech rights as justification for refusing services to LGBTQ people. The Supreme Court decision, with only Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg dissenting, claimed that the members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed “religious hostility” which “cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s adjudication of Phillips’ case.”

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner for the baker approved of the statement that “government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society,” a ruling that may also be used to assert that hostility from people’s faith likewise has no place in the United States. She refused to answer a question about future rulings if the baker again refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-gender couple. Using state anti-discrimination laws requiring public businesses to equally serve all potential customers, several courts have turned down self-identified artists such as florists, bakers, and photographers who claim violation of their rights if they have to give business to same-gender couples, a claim that this ruling doesn’t decide.

Author of the ruling, Anthony Kennedy, wrote that LGBTQ people “cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth.” He added that future cases “must be resolved … without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.” According to the ruling, the U.S. has a “general rule” that religious and other objections “do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny … equal access to goods and services.”

In dissension among justices, Gorsuch and Alito asserted that the Supreme Court cannot tell a baker “that a wedding cake is just like any other,” using sacramental bread as an analogy. Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer disagreed, stating that a wedding cake doesn’t change just because “a vendor like Phillips invests its sale to particular customers with ‘religious significance.’ ” Kagan referenced a 1968 decision requiring a barbecue restaurant owner to serve black customers despite his claim that his religion opposes racial equality.

The cake people failed to get a ruling that the Constitution protects discrimination, but it does give states the right to legislate against discrimination, including against LGBTQ people. The ruling against religious animus is an interesting comparison to the religious animus in DDT’s travel ban, another Supreme Court ruling to be released this month.

In a case about the DOJ imprisoning an undocumented migrant girl so that she could not get a legal abortion, the Supreme Court gave a mixed ruling. It declared the lower court’s ruling to be moot and therefore not binding because the girl had already had an abortion but declined to sanction the opposing lawyers to the DOJ for what the DOJ called deception because the procedure was rushed through before the DOJ could appeal to the Supreme Court. The high court has never before been petitioned to sanction lawyers. The decision in this case does not affect an ongoing class-action case about the rights of immigrant teens in government custody to obtain abortions. DOJ is declaring the case a win for them, but the narrow ruling was for only one girl who had already had an abortion.

The Supreme Court is also due to consider whether to review a Washington state Supreme Court decision that a florist could not legally decline to provide flowers to a same-gender wedding. Major decisions in June concern partisan gerrymandering and DDT’s travel ban.

The Supreme Court refused to address an Arkansas law that ends the use of medication abortions in the state and closes two of the state’s three abortion clinics because they perform only medical abortions. Doctors who provide medication abortions must have a contract with a specialist who has hospital admitting privileges, a burdensome, unnecessary mandate because complications are extremely during the use of two pills in the first nine weeks of pregnancy and can easily be dealt with in an emergency room or hospital. A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court had earlier upheld the Arkansas law, but Planned Parenthood will appeal the case to lower courts. U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker temporarily blocked the law, saying that it was “a solution in search of a problem.” Two years ago, the Supreme Court overturned a Texas law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges in a local hospital.

In a more positive ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that police need a warrant to search a person’s property, specifically vehicles parted on a driveway or carport. The 8-1 decision followed a 2013 ruling that police may not bring drug-sniffing dogs to the front porch of a home without a search warrant. Samuel Alito said that a search is reasonable because “the vehicle was parked in plain view in a driveway just a few feet from the street.”

Other rulings outside the Supreme Court:

A Manhattan Supreme Court judge has ruled that Donald Trump must have a seven-hour deposition before January 31, 2019, as part of the defamation lawsuit by Summer Zervos, who accused Trump of groping her in 2016. July 13 is the deadline for both parties to issue demands for documents with September 13 the deadline for responses. The case goes to trial after June 7, 2019.

A Maine judge ordered Gov. Paul LePage to start voter-approved Medicaid expansion after he missed the April 3 deadline to file a plan with the federal HHS. After LePage vetoed the expansion in legislature five times, he argued that he couldn’t implement a law not funded by the legislation although the state has a $140 million surplus.

Felony charges have been dropped against ten people arrested protesting DDT’s inauguration because the government failed to turn over evidence it got from Project Veritas, known for James O’Keefe’s doctored videos. The judge barred the government from bringing back the charges in the future. A D.C. jury is deadlocked regarding three others involved in the protest. Forty-seven people of the original 200 charged are still facing court cases, but no defendant has been convicted.

And new cases:

Ambridge Event Center, which managed an event center owned by the Holy Rosary Church in Portland (OR), is suing the church for almost $2 million because its anti-LGBTQ bias hurt business. The negative press from the company’s inability to rent to a PFLAG chapter lost business from government and businesses that believe in equality. If Ambridge worked for the church, the law violation is employment discrimination; if Ambridge is a renter, the church violated the law with housing discrimination. Oregon’s exemption for religious groups applies only if “the use of facilities is closely connected with or related to the primary purposes of the church.” Ambridge has gone out of business.

Rustem Kazazi, a 64-year-old Cleveland resident, is suing U.S. Customs after customs agents at an airport took the family’s life savings–$58,000—that he was taking to Albania to help his family and buy a vacation home. The agency’s website says that there is no limit to the amount of money brought into or taken out of the U.S., but the agents refused to return Kazazi’s money although the family, all four citizens, was not charged with any crime. Agents also refused him a translator, strip-searched him, and gave him a receipt without the amount of money they took. A month after the money was taken, the agency wrote them, claiming that the money was “involved in a smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering operation.” The letter also reported $770 less than Kazazi had been carrying. The federal government took over $2 billion in assets from people in 2017.

Phoenix is suing the government over the proposed census question on citizenship for fear of losing federal funds and marginalizing residents.

The American Federation of Government Employees, representing 700,000 workers, is suing DDT after he signed an executive order severely restricting the time employees may spend on union activity. The lawsuit claims his order violates the First Amendment and oversteps his constitutional authority. The order restricts “official time” for union leaders to represent workers during work time in grievances about unfair labor practices or disciplinary actions during work time, a guarantee provided by Congress 40 years ago.  The order still allows individuals to work on their grievances while on duty but without union assistance. Administration says that the change could save up to $100 million a year—equivalent to about two-thirds of DDT’s weekend junkets. Other orders instruct agencies to restrict unions in contract negotiations and fire employees more rapidly.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and ISU student Taylor Blair are suing Iowa’s secretary of state over the state’s voter ID law “apparently timed to disrupt the June 5 primary elections.” Facebook advertisements had stated that “Iowa voters will be asked to show a form of valid identification,” omitting the information that voters without ID could sign a form swearing to their identity and then cast a normal ballot. Another part of the lawsuit claims that the secretary of state’s website omitted some ID permitted under the law, such as an Iowa student identification plus proof of address.

Worried about getting DDT’s conservative judicial nominations approved after the midterms, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has reduced the August recess from four weeks to one week. Another theory for the change is that Democrat senators, defending 26 Senate seats this year, will be hobbled by less time to campaign while their Republican opponents have a free field. The GOP has nine incumbents on the ballot, including Nevada’s Dean Heller who is struggling with re-election.

March 29, 2016

Cracks in LGBT Discrimination, SCOTUS Hearings

Two huge events in LGBT rights occurred in the past week—one for and one against. A week ago, North Carolina’s legislators, traumatized by Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance, went into a special session that cost taxpayers $42,000 in order to prevent any city or county from allowing LGBT people rights—especially using the bathrooms that match their gender identities. The justification for this legislation, deemed the “worst anti-LGBT bill in the country,” was that straight men would have the freedom to go into public restrooms and molest women. Shortly after the successful North Carolina legislation, Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a bill that would allow any government entity or private business to discriminate against LGBT people by declaring “religious belief.” The bill was similar to the one in Indiana last year that caused such an uproar that GOP Gov. Mike Pence most likely lost his hopes for a presidential candidacy after he signed the bill.

The uproar this time against Georgia and North Carolina came from the GOP darlings, big business. The Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United  and a later case from Montana  cemented the control of corporate control in both elections and political positions. Corporations know that bigotry keeps them from appealing to a broad customer base. The bigger the business, the more they rely on global acceptance, and the businesses that spoke out against the discriminatory bills are some of the biggest ones in the nation, especially in tech, entertainment, and sports industries. These include Google, Facebook, Paypal, Disney, Sony Pictures, CBS, Netflix, NFL, and NBA.

A great deal of discretionary spending comes from millennials who they are far more accepting than older people. Gen X is even more so. According to a recent study, less than 48 percent of U.S. youth ages 13 to 20 describe themselves as “exclusively heterosexual,” and over 70 percent of these young people “strongly agreed” that public spaces should be required to provide gender neutral bathrooms. About 18 states and 200 towns and cities have added specific LGBT non-discrimination protections.

After Indiana’s law was slightly narrowed, the state lost only about $60 million with its “religious freedom” act, but North Carolina are aggressively marketing themselves as good for business. The nine other states joining the “War on Bathroom Use” may look carefully at the differing success rates between two states who have taken opposite stances on human rights. Missouri is facing both a discrimination bill and rejection from many businesses, including Petco, with its passage.

North Carolina’s Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill in the same 12 hours in which it was introduced and passed in the legislature, but he faces opposition from the state AG Roy Cooper in this fall’s election. Cooper claims that McCrory’s action not only jeopardizes the state’s economy but also allows discrimination against protection of veterans and wages. The new law may revoke a fair housing ordinance in Greensboro and a policy governing municipal contracts in Raleigh.

North Carolina’s law has also frozen the minimum wage everywhere in the state to $7.25. Thus far, New York (both city and state), Washington State, San Francisco, and Portland (OR) have banned state travel by state workers to the state, and 20,000 retail and interior-design companies won’t attend the twice-annual High Point furniture market. The largest economic event in the state, this market generates over 600,000 visitor days to the state with an annual economic impact of $5.38 billion. The Market and the home furnishings industry provide 37,000 jobs in the state. The NFL may pull out the Super Bowl in 2019, an event that brought $800 million to Arizona’s economy last year. ESPN may look elsewhere for its summer X games, and the NBA may change its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.

payton_transgender_ncIf McCrory and his Republicans stick to their guns, they’ll lose a lot more than economic support from big business. States fighting marriage equality lost millions of dollars in lawsuits, and legal action against North Carolina has already started. The ACLU, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina are suing the state, and AG Cooper said he won’t defend the state against the lawsuit. One plaintiff is Payton McGarry (right), a transgender student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is one of the people who McCrory wants to send into the public women’s bathroom.

ACLU lawyer Tara Borelli, said:

“[In 1996], Colorado enacted a law that said there could be no statewide protection whatsoever for lesbian, gay, bisexual people. The law was so clearly aimed at lesbians and gay people that the Supreme Court didn’t have any trouble striking it down as being clearly motivated by animus against them. This law goes further because it says there are no protections for transgender people. Even more than that, the law specifically requires discrimination against them in all schools and all public agencies.”

By violating Title IX in keeping transgender student out of bathrooms, North Carolina could also lose more than $4.5 billion in federal funding for schools.

McCrory is trying to justify the law with a series of false arguments:

 “We are not taking away any rights.” McCrory overturned the rights that Charlotte provided to its residents along with 11 other cities and five counties. The University of North Carolina system can no longer enforce its LGBT nondiscrimination policy on its 17 campuses.

No business has threatened to leave the state. News articles show how laughable this claim is.

“We have the same rights … that Houston, Texas has [after they overturned the Equal Rights Ordinance.]” North Carolina’s law goes much farther by mandating discrimination in all public arenas. Transgender people aren’t banned from accessing the appropriate restrooms in Houston’s public spaces, and other Texas cities and counties aren’t banned from providing protections.

Discrimination is just “common sense.” McCrory complains about too much “political correctness,” a frequent excuse currently used for conservative bad behavior.

Donald Trump came to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) home town of Janesville today; last night the city approved an ordinance to protect LGBT people from discrimination. The Speaker’s home now has broader protections than provided at the state and federal level. In Janesville, transgender people can use a public restroom based on the gender they identify with, rather than the gender on their birth certificate. Ryan has no comment.

Corporations have created the monster of discrimination that they now decry. The Bank of America’s PAC consistently donated large sums to campaigns for McCrory, state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, state House Speaker Tim Moore, and the North Carolina GOP. The PAC’s treasurer is Wendy Jamison, BofA senior vice-president for public policy. North Carolina-based Lowe’s “opposes any measure in any state that would encourage or allow discrimination,” but its PAC treasurer, Lowe’s Assistant Treasurer Cindy Reins, donated heavily to the same politicians. Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, criticized the new state law, but its PAC, run by Managing Director for Government Affairs Edward Ingle, has donated to the same GOP campaigns. The American Airlines PAC gave to Berger and Moore.

 

The best news today! A case about public sector unions got a 4-4 vote in the Supreme Court, meaning that union members must still pay for the benefits that they receive because of the lower court ruling. Unions are required by law to bargain on behalf of all the workers, even if workers don’t join the union. One union benefit is the wage premium of almost 12 percent higher than in non-union shops. In California a wealthy organization trying to break unions found a teacher to challenge this law. A win against the unions would create a class of “takers” who would then starve the union by not paying fees for these benefits. Justice Antonin’s Scalia’s death caused the 4-4 split in the Supreme Court for Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association which kept the mandated fees.

Today’s tie retains a 40-year SCOTUS decision, impacting unions for millions of government workers. The plaintiffs stated that they would ask for another hearing because of the tie, but the justices may be reluctant to provide them with one especially if the number of court justices stays at eight for the next two or three years because of GOP obstructionism.

Today’s judgment may be the shortest ever delivered. It reads: “Per Curium. The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) maintains his refusal to consider any President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, 16 Republican senators now say they will meet with Merrick Garland. That’s more than 25 percent of McConnell’s senators who are defecting.

September 7, 2015

Good News, Bad News from Labor Day, 2015

Republicans love to blame the Democrats for destroying the coal industry, but conservatives are the people who decimated the economy in the South through their eradication of the unions. For a century, union organizers were shot, beaten, and stabbed in their fight to get reasonable pay and safe conditions underground, but now the last union mine in Kentucky has been closed. Younger workers took their wages for granted, and now not one working miner belongs to a union, the only protection that mine workers have had.

Conservatives curse the unions but fail to realize that they are responsible for the rise of the middle class.

union_density_middleclass 2

union_density_inequality 1

High income inequality has correlated with low union membership for over 100 years in the U.S. As union membership shrinks, money and power shift upwards. Data from 2010 show that all workers make more money in a pro-union state.

workers do better

Today is Labor Day, established as a federal holiday 121 years ago to celebrate labor. Oregon declared it a holiday 17 years earlier. If you have today off, thank unions. If you are working today, thank unions for other benefits such as shorter work weeks, weekends off, expanded health care through employer-provided health insurance, and the end of child labor except within religious groups. Unions also brought paid vacation, breaks, sick leave, Social Security, overtime pay, worker’s compensation, and more. If you don’t have these benefits, thank the Republicans.

In some states, union attacks brought “right-to-work” laws, which block collective bargaining for higher wages, better benefits, and protections. The “freedom” created by these laws gives corporations and the wealthy the “right-to-underpay” and “right-to-cheat” employees. In Wisconsin, the latest state to adopt this law, “right-to-work” will cause workers and families to annually lose between $3.89 billion and $4.82 billion. Workers in “right-to-work” states make $1,560 less per year than in states without the law. Women in union jobs earn $212 per week—30.9 percent—more than women in non-union jobs. The gender wage gap is also smaller for women in unions, 88.7 cents for every dollar a man makes compared to 78 cents for all workers. Men in union jobs make $173 more per week than non-union workers.

President Obama celebrated this year’s Labor Day by mandating all 300,000 government contractor employees be granted seven paid sick days per year starting in 2017. That leaves another 44 million workers without paid sick leave because the United States is the only developed nation without a paid sick leave policy. The president’s executive order adds to other orders that move toward higher minimum wage and equal pay for men and women.

Other good news comes from the job market. Republicans swore to bring jobs back when they were elected in masses, but they’ve done nothing to help workers. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he would reduce the unemployment rate to 6 percent by 2016 if he were elected in 2012. Right now, it’s 5.1 percent after 66 consecutive months of private sector job growth—13 million jobs—during President Obama’s six and a half years in office. Many of these jobs came from the health care job growth after Republicans called the ACA the “job killing health care law.”

The bad news comes from the loss of wages for everyone except the top echelon. Oregon is an example of this: in the past 35 years, the bottom income bracket has lost 30 percent of income in the state while the top 1 percent gained 88 percent of the income. Republicans refuse to increase the federal minimum wage, one-third lower when adjusted for inflation than in the 1960s. They also consider the Keystone Pipeline bill a “jobs bill” although it employs only 4,200 people for one year while wiping out other permanent jobs by taking over and destroying land. The GOP’s “Hire More Heroes Act” to employ veterans doesn’t count veterans as employees so that companies with more than 50 employees can avoid the ACA mandate to provide health care. Up to one million workers would lose health insurance with the redefinition of “full-time employment” as 40 hours a week in the GOP’s “Save American Workers Act.”

Another piece of bad news is the growing divergence between salary and productivity. During the 25 years prior to 1973, wages and productivity grew together, but between 1973 and 2014, hourly wages went up 8.7, adjusted for inflation, and productivity increased by 72.2 percent. The change is a major reason for the rapidly growing income inequality during the past 40 years as payment for employees went to owners of capital. Workers generate the income but don’t get an increase in hourly pay. The last four years has been worse as worker productivity increased by 21 percent while wages rose only 2 percent.

wages by bracket

Republicans claim to support a “trickle-down” economy but instead push an economy that is “gush-up.” Unregulated free-market capitalism is a “winner-take-all” wealth over the common good, and billionaires buy politicians and design education and health systems to control the bottom 99 percent of people in the United States. The average CEO earns 204 times what average workers earn, and two-thirds of the poor in the United States—68 percent—have jobs.

Hedge fund billionaires are not required to pay their fair share of taxes receive awards yet are praised. For example, John Paulson, noted for “Outstanding Contributions to Society,” got $3.7 billion by conspiring with Goldman Sachs to create risky subprime mortgages. He used other people’s money to bet against his sure-to-fail financial instruments. As U.S. wealth grew from $52 trillion to over $83 trillion between 2007 and 2014, six million more children were forced onto food stamps. Forty percent of households are food-insecure while 40 percent of the food in the United States is wasted.

Despite the decreasing unemployment rate, taxpayers fund the movement of many jobs overseas while technology eliminates others. Kodak once employed 145,000 people to do the same photo processing that Instagram does with 15 workers. Three-fourths of faculty at colleges and universities are now “adjunct” instructors, paid a pittance for part-time work. One-fourth of these teachers, almost 20 percent of college and university faculty, are forced into food stamp or other public assistance programs to survive.

Republicans claim that they want to return to the 1950s, and economically this would benefit almost everyone. In 1956, the GOP platform supported an increase in the minimum wage, an expansion of Social security, adequate coverage for the unemployed, better housing, and health care for all. “Government must have a heart as well as a head” and “America does not prosper unless all Americans prosper” were included in the GOP belief system. According to the GOP platform, “President Eisenhower’s administration brought the highest employment, highest wages, and the highest standard of living ever experience in any country.”

Today’s GOP portrays people on unemployment as leeches, but the GOP of 1956 called for “providing assistance to improve the economic conditions of areas faced with persistent and substantial unemployment.” Republicans in the 1950s also wanted to strengthen “the rights of labor unions” and protect “the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively.”

In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower looked forward to today’s GOP when he wrote:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are…a few…Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

He may have been right.

March 31, 2015

Stop the TPP

Fast Track in Congress means that the legislative branch gives the executive branch the power to make agreements without any debate or filibuster to provide transparency about any of the issues of the agreement. The highly conservative members of Congress, who want to sue President Obama for taking too much authority in perfectly legal executive orders, wants to let him adopt disastrous trade agreements, at this time the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fast Track gave the U.S. the job-killing wage-flattening North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) through offshoring U.S. jobs to low-wage countries. It also takes away the nation’s non-trade policies for safe food, a clean environment, affordable medicines, financial stability and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants the Senate Finance Committee to approve a Fast Track bill “very quickly after we come back” from the Easter recess on April 13. A key player is usually progressive Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who, for reasons unknown, strongly supports passing the Fast Track authority. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants the Fast Track passed before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint session of Congress in late April.

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) met with House Democrats to talk about the damage TPP would do to the people of this country after Wikileaks further revealed the expansion of corporate power to supercede U.S. laws that now protect the environment, consumers, and public health. WikiLeaks explained that TPP lets firms “sue” governments to get taxpayer compensation for loss of “expected future profits.” The New York Times reported that the TPP “giv[es] greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.”

According to Warren, the seemingly benign title Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws—and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. For example, a foreign company that makes a banned toxic chemical added to gasoline could pass by the U.S. courts and move on to an international panel. The ruling could not be challenged in U.S. courts even if the panel demands U.S. taxpayers to pay billions of dollars in damages. Panels would not be required to have independent judges; they can be corporate lawyers. In 2012, one panel ordered Ecuador to pay Occidental Petroleum $2.3 billion for expropriating oil drilling rights.

These courts were set up after World War II when investors worried about putting their money into small developing countries with undependable legal systems. The TPP, however, is with many well-developed countries such as Australia and Japan, whose courts would also be pre-empted. Companies can also purchase political-risk insurance.

History shows the increasing problem of ISDS cases: fewer than 100 claims were made worldwide between 1959 to 2002, but 2012 saw 58 cases in just that year. A French company sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power, and a Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations. With TPP, about 9,000 foreign-owned firms operating in the United States could bring cases against governments, and more than 18,000 companies based in the United States would gain new powers to go after the other 11 countries in the accord.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) wrote in an op-ed, “It’s a bad deal for American workers.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, “Members of Congress and their staff have an easier time accessing national security documents than proposed trade deals, but if I were negotiating this deal I suppose I wouldn’t want people to see it either.”

The TPP also allows corporations to fight limitations and exceptions to intellectual property rights such as copyrights and patents. Included are the provisions that allowed Eli Lilly to sue for $500 million because of Canada’s termination of patent extensions for medicines developed in the 1970s. Beyond that, it states that private companies can challenge “the cancellation or nullification of such [intellectual property] rights,” as well as “exceptions to such rights.”

Although a theory is that workers in all nations will benefit from bigger markets and more trade, a large portion of trade is done by multinational companies that have different interests from national corporations. Multinationals profit even if U.S. workers suffer, which is why these companies report their profits in or ship their jobs to countries with the lowest standards. The corporate movement of jobs overseas drives down wages in the U.S.; workers here will be forced to compete with workers in Vietnam who have no rights to organize in protest of wages that are under 60 cents an hour.

Corporate-defined trade rules have resulted in huge trade deficits, more than $8 trillion since 2000, and trade deficits cost jobs. Low trade tariffs allow current trade treaties to focus less on tariffs and more on “harmonizing regulations” for investors, “an excuse for corporations to institute a race to the bottom” according to Katrina vanden Heuvel. Trade agreements support corporate interests while trampling on the U.S. people. Drug companies are protected from introducing generic drugs, agribusiness is protected for its GMO food, and Wall Street is protected from regulations against secret derivatives.

Another provision among the 29 chapters of the TPP is that the U.S. government must treat bids from any TPP country in the same way as they treat U.S. companies. Tax dollars will no longer support U.S. communities, and taxpayers will be forced to send them money overseas, negating a 1934 law to give preference to U.S. corporations. With TPP, Chinese state-owned enterprise firms in Vietnam would have to be treated the same as a U.S. company and be awarded government contracts. Schools will no longer be allowed to “Buy Local” if a multinational company has a lower bid.

Republican members of Congress have fought everything that President Obama has supported—except the TPP Fast Track. That should raise a huge red flag for anyone who supports the rights of 90 percent of the U.S. people. For the past decade of TPP negotiations, the members of Congress, along with everyone else in the United States, have been refused access to TPP meetings and drafts of the agreement. The only information about TPP comes from leaks such as those revealed by Wikileaks. Yet 566 advisory group members, 480 of them representing industry groups or trade associations, are welcome to see and comment on the proposals. The few other participants are from 20 labor unions, three or four environmental groups, one consumer group, and two family farm groups.

U.S. workers are not the only people suffering from past trade agreements providing the prototype for TPP. Sister Simone Campbell, famous for her “nuns on the bus” movement to reverse income inequality, has written about the havoc wreaked by NAFTA, leading to a 60-percent increase in undocumented migrants from Mexico into the United States. This influx was followed by more undocumented migrants trying to cross the U.S. border from Central America after growing drug violence. In the United States, the 63 percent of workers without a college degree lost 12.2 percent of their wages since NATA took effect. According to the Government Accountability Office, labor provisions like the ones in TPP have failed to stop even the most severe labor abuses.

While appearing to be a great deal for huge corporations that are already taking money from the country in subsidies and unpaid taxes, the benefit for individuals, according to Peterson Institute for International Economics, would be one quarter—that’s $.25—a day. The pro-TPP study projects a 0.13-percent increase to the GDP by 2025, half of what Apple’s iPhone 5 did by itself.

If the TPP is so wonderful for the country, why is everything about it cloaked in secrecy? It’s so secret that people voting to approve it aren’t allowed access to information about it, yet they’re pushing for it sight unseen. The same people who think that the UN will destroy the United States are fighting to have international control by corporations.

My other question is why Wyden supports it. His constituents are so upset about his push to pass the TPP that they are floating the possibility of opposition to the extremely popular senator in the upcoming election. He owes Oregon and the people of the United States an explanation.

Moveon.org has a petition for people who oppose the TPP.

March 30, 2015

Thank a Union

Filed under: Unions — trp2011 @ 8:57 PM
Tags:

People have not magically received the following benefits from gracious employers. People fought and lost jobs to get these advantages for employees. These are benefits that people in the United States are gradually losing because conservatives want to give everything to the wealthy and to the corporations.

Corporations use to work employees 80+ hours a week, offer no breaks, hire children, offer horrid, unsanitary work conditions, paid literally next to nothing, and even murder them with unsafe working conditions.

36 Reasons Why You Should Thank a Union

Weekends

All Breaks at Work, including your Lunch Breaks

Paid Vacation

FMLA

Sick Leave

Social Security

Minimum Wage

Civil Rights Act/Title VII (Prohibits Employer Discrimination)

8-Hour Work Day

Overtime Pay

Child Labor Laws

Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)

40 Hour Work Week

Worker’s Compensation (Worker’s Comp)

Unemployment Insurance

Pensions

Workplace Safety Standards and Regulations

Employer Health Care Insurance

Collective Bargaining Rights for Employees

Wrongful Termination Laws

Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967

Whistleblower Protection Laws

Employee Polygraph Protect Act (Prohibits Employer from using a lie detector test on an employee)

Veteran’s Employment and Training Services (VETS)

Compensation increases and Evaluations (Raises)

Sexual Harassment Laws

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Holiday Pay

Employer Dental, Life, and Vision Insurance

Privacy Rights

Pregnancy and Parental Leave

Military Leave

The Right to Strike

Public Education for Children

Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 (Requires employers pay men and women equally for the same amount of work)

Laws Ending Sweatshops in the United States

Conservatives who believe that union supporters are thugs need to give up all these benefits. Or they can support unions before the middle class sinks farther into the mire.

March 11, 2015

Walker Supports ‘Takers’ in Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker has created a new category of “takers” in his state of Wisconsin. Opposed to people getting something for free, he has signed the misnamed “right to work” law that allows people not to join the unions at their places of employment. To some people, this is “freedom,” but unions are not free to protect and negotiate for only their members. They must do this for all workers in places that unions cover. That means employees who don’t join unions but still benefit from the hard work of the organization are actually taking something free from the people who do pay for these services.

The law makes Wisconsin the 25th “right-to-work state” and the first state since Michigan and Indiana in 2012. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provided wording, also used by Wisconsin, for this bill and those being pushed through legislatures in other states. The takers of Wisconsin are funded by ALEC backers such as the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and Exxon Mobile. This law follows Walker’s stripping collective-bargaining rights from many state workers in Wisconsin.

Although the ALEC-worded RTW bill may succeed in Missouri, it has run into problems in Montana, Colorado, West Virginia, New Mexico, Kentucky, and New Hampshire—at least for now. Michigan has introduced a RTW extension for police, fire, and public safety unions. Kentucky is passing RTW on the local level, and billionaire GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued an executive order for RTW in Illinois public unions. On the federal level, Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a “National Right-to-Work Act,” and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced its companion act in the House.

Walker said, “This [law] sends a powerful message across the country and across the world.” His message is his move to the right as he prepares for a presidential campaign. His email message immediately after he signed the bill is that he wanted money for his campaign when he asked for donations of $10, $100 and $1,000.

Walker consistently reneges on his statements. Until a few weeks ago, he denied that he would make Wisconsin a RTW state and claimed throughout his reelection campaign, “Private-sector unions are my partner in economic development.” Before his 2010 election, he told newspapers that he would negotiate with public sector unions; his anti-collective bargaining bill was introduced immediately after he took office in 2011. Two years ago, he was in favor of giving undocumented workers a chance at citizenship if they obeyed the law. Now he reversed that opinion to join another possible presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The governor’s position on abortion has also reversed. Before last fall’s election, he told voters, “I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options.” He claimed he supported a bill that “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” Now he plans to sign a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks in constitutional violation of Roe v.Wade and removing the decision from a woman and her doctor.

Wooing Iowa, he switched his opposition to mandating ethanol and other renewable fuels. Now he wants to continue the Renewable Fuel Standard. Iowans might want to use caution in believing him. Walker will no doubt flip his promises for any personal gain.

ALEC has been helped by the 60-year-old National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC), led by fundamentalist Christian Greg Mourad, that also receives huge donations from the Koch brothers. The organization was co-founded by right-winger Fred A. Hartley, who co-sponsored the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act restricting unions and also co-founded the John Birch Society. The NRTWC has been behind the skyrocketing income inequality in the United States. CEOs who earned 20 times a worker’s pay 50 years ago, now receive at least 300 times the worker’s pay. Between 1973 and 2014, public-sector union membership dropped by 78 percent. Unionization and minimum wages helped equalize the distribution of wages. That’s why the Koch brothers are determined to get rid of both.

In a comparison of the share of income going to the middle 60 percent of population, the workers in the ten states with the lowest rates of union membership brought home 46.8 percent of total income, and the ten states with the highest rates of union membership brought home 47.4 percent of total income. It may sound like a small percentage, but the difference is equivalent to billions of dollars.

Abdur Chowdhury, professor of economics at Marquette University in Milwaukee, explained why Walker’s legislation could annually cost Wisconsin $4.5 billion in lost income and revenue: “If our income goes down, we spend less money on groceries.” Walker also loses money for his state: less income means less tax revenue, at least $234 million. The state won’t get this back from the wealthy and corporations because of the massive tax cuts that Walker gave them.

Despite claims from ALEC “economists” that RTW laws boost per capita personal income, average wages for all occupations in RTW states were about $4 an hour lower compared to non-RTW states in 2013. In RTW states, workers have $5,971 lower wages and fewer employers offering pension benefits or health care. Employers looking for skilled workers or a well-developed infrastructure will most likely not go to RTW states because these are less likely to have these advantages. That’s a reason that 400 businesses formed a coalition to oppose the law.

Oklahoma, the first state to pass a RTW law in 2001 for 25 years, was also the first state to do so in the post-NAFTA era of globalization. There has been no positive impact on employment in Oklahoma in the last 14 years. In addition, the number of companies relocating to the state and the number of manufacturing jobs both fell by a third in the first decade after the law was enacted.

Walker is not finished with trying to lower wages for workers. He’s trying to restrict the role of administrative law judges in workers comp disputes and take authority for the system away from the state Department of Workforce Development, a move that has been found unconstitutional in Florida. Also, Wisconsin is one of 32 states with a wage law to “prevent lowball bids from depressing wages,” something that Walker wants to repeal. The third reduction of wages would come from prohibiting “project labor agreements” that bars non-union contractors from working on publicly-funded projects.

Unions in Wisconsin are fighting Walker in creating his new category of takers. The Wisconsin state AFL-CIO with chapters from the International Association of Machinists, and United Steelworkers unions have filed a suit on the basis that the law “deprives the unions of their property without just compensation by prohibiting the unions from charging non-members who refuse to pay for representative services which unions continue to be obligated to provide.” In other words, Walker’s permission for employees to free-load off the unions is unconstitutional.

When Walker was elected, he promised a massive increase in jobs in his state. He failed. Since Walker became governor, job growth, GDP, and decline of unemployment have all lagged behind neighboring states and the nation as a whole. He may fail again with his new RTW law. Seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are RTW. After stopping RTW laws in 2012, Minnesota’s average weekly wage is $877.81, almost ten percent higher than its RTW neighbor Michigan that has a 6.3 percent unemployment rate compared to Minnesota’s 3.6 percent. Indiana, another RTW state, has an average weekly wage of $788.70 and a 5.8 percent unemployment state. Minnesota is one of the five fastest-growing states in the nation since 2012.

RTW Michigan also has a huge budget deficit and no industry coming into the state. Gov. Rick Snyder has had to lower the number of jobs that businesses need to create in order to receive massive tax credits. The worst is yet to come because workers are still operating on contracts made before the 2012 law, something that won’t happen in Wisconsin because the law goes into effect immediately.

Quality of life in RTW states is measurably worse with eight of the worst states in the nation having RTW laws, and eight of the best being non-RTW. RTW states have poorer life expectancy and infant mortality, higher homicide rates, worse pollution, lower voter turnout, less broadband access, lower educational levels, and poorer housing. The 24 RTW states have 34 percent higher rate of deaths on the job in the construction industry. During the 20th century, the middle class grew as unions grew; it began to shrink when unions were weakened through the so-called “right-to-work” laws.

Walker’s legacy will be the bodies that he leaves strewn along his path toward the White House.

March 2, 2015

Send in the Clowns to CPAC

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference last week started with speaker Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) saying that the GOP needs to support and elect “principled, positive, and proven” conservative candidates instead of rewarding “the guy who can shout “freedom” the loudest.  In other words, stop sending in the clowns. Nobody took his advice.

Some CPAC messages: waterboarding works, the Muslim Brotherhood controls one-third of all mosques in the U.S., and the nation is currently experiencing Islam’s “third great jihad.”

tomi lahrenSouth Dakota TV host Tomi Lahren, 22, explained that women like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren can be classified as male because they get attention through their words and wisdom. Then she said she wasn’t apologizing for being white and she’s rich because she grew up in South Dakota. She concluded, “Let’s look at the top three Democrats for 2016. You’ve got Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden? Old, rich, white, and if the pantsuit fits, male too?” She also doesn’t want the government near her body, so that would make her pro-choice if she thought about it. This may be a rising GOP star!

Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson said, “Bring your Bible to the Oval Office, and your woman, ’cause the hippies are coming to get you.” No one seems to know what he meant although the rest of the speech concerned the possibility of Republicans getting sexually transmitted diseases.

Heritage Foundation vice-president Jennifer Marshall said that the three legs of the conservative stool are marriage, small government and a stable economy because “the sexual revolution has made relationships between men and women much more challenging.” Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute followed up by saying that poverty can be erased “by having stable, two-parent households.” Poverty might be eradicated by just having “stable” households.

Donald Trump still questions the authenticity of President Obama’s birth certificate, and Rick Santorum gave a birtherism “joke”: “The president’s popularity is so bad around the world today that I heard this report from a source that the Kenyan government is actually developing proof that Barack Obama was born in America.” Both men were greeted with silence.

Trump also said he would be the best commander-in-chief because he has the best skills to negotiate with terrorists. Trying to follow the GOP mantra of non-negotiation, however, he said he would “hit [ISIL] really hard,” maybe with “some boots on the ground for a period of time until you get rid of the cancer.” Then he would put lots of sanctions on Iran despite Iran’s opposition to ISIL. As for the national debt, the man who has personally filed bankruptcy declared:

“I understand debt, I understand business better than anybody that’s ever run, in my opinion, for office. Nobody’s had the success, in a business sense that I’ve had. I know how to get rid of debt… and I would do it quickly.”

Governors don’t know enough about foreign affairs to be president, said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), trying to flaunt his personal knowledge. His strategy to defeat ISIL: defeat them “on the ground by a Sunni military force with air support from the United States.” Although a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he claims that the president doesn’t have a military strategy “because he doesn’t want to upset Iran.” ISIL and Iran are actually enemies, and Iran has already gone after ISIL targets. The president has already launched a military offensive against ISIL targets, as Rubio suggests. Rubio wants “a sustained air campaign,” increased  “efforts to equip and capacitate non-jihadists in Syria,” arming and supporting “forces in Iraq confronting it,” and work with “with nations in the region threatened by the Islamic State to participate in real efforts to defeat it”—everything that President Obama is already doing.

Triangulation in politics: exploiting public disapproval of both major parties by separating from both. Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) approach: GOP congressional leaders have sold out to Democrats on immigration, and people should support him because he’ll be farther right than all those Washington “politicians.” He wants everyone to stand up to the Republicans.

Sarah Palin inadvertently skewered leading GOP candidates for president when she said:

“It’s said that old men declare wars, and then they send the young ones to fight ‘em. So it’s the duty of he who sends them to actually make sure that we can win those wars. And it’s our duty to elect an honorable commander-in-chief who is willing to make the same sacrifices he sends others away to make.”

That lets out those who didn’t serve, some of whom actually dodged the draft: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and perhaps a few others.

The biggest reaction from the media, however, came from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s comparison of Wisconsin protesters and ISIL: “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.” Non-violent Wisconsin protesters didn’t hold hostages, behead people, or burn them alive; they just marched, chanted, held signs, and sang. Walker, however, equates U.S. citizens peacefully exercising their constitutional rights with violent terrorists killing people and blowing up the infrastructure.

joan walker

Walker’s spokesperson tried to cover for him by saying that he wasn’t comparing the protesters to ISIL, but Walker made the situation worse when he said, “That’s the closest thing I have in terms of handling a difficult situation, not that there’s any parallel between the two.” In other words, he admitted he has no experience with terrorism. Even Jim Geraghty wrote in the highly conservative National Review that “Walker doesn’t quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups.”

Walker's protesters These are some of Walker’s ISIL look-alikes in Wisconsin. More images are available here.

tractorISIS

Walker’s CPAC comment followed his claim a week earlier that “the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime” was then-President Ronald Reagan’s move to break up the union for the air traffic controllers by firing about 11,000 of them during a 1981 strike. He explained that this event proved to countries throughout the world that “we weren’t to be messed with.” Walker, 47, missed two wars in Iraq, START treaties, Nixon in China, ending the Vietnam War, the Camp David Accords, negotiation of the Northern Ireland peace process, Osama bin Laden’s death, the Iranian hostage crisis, wars in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iran/Contra, and much more.  Foes around the world also didn’t stop “messing” with the United States after 11,000 people lost their jobs. Walker’s naïve statements show his approach toward foreign affairs.

http://www.alternet.org/world/guess-what-scott-walker-and-isis-have-common   Walker and ISIL militants have something in common: their hatred for unions. Walker may also not know that Reagan supported unions in other parts of the world.

Mark Salter, a top adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign added this comment to an article about Walker on Salter’s Facebook page:

“I want to like him but Scott Walker is kind of a dumb ass.”

Matt Taibbi called Scott Walker, “God’s Gift to the Democratic Party.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) came out the winner of the CPAC with over one-fourth of the votes. Koch-supported Walker got 21.4 percent among the 17 GOP contenders, and Cruz, with 11.5 percent, was third. Fourth and fifth were Ben Carson (11.4 percent) and Jeb Bush (8.3 percent). Some of his votes probably came from the people he bussed in from downtown Washington, D.C. The remainder of the wannabes got under 5 percent. Paul had a position that everyone can agree with: “It’s time for a new president.” That’s because of term limits for U.S. president. Of the 3,007 CPAC voters, 42 percent were students.

A report from Pew Research Center released last week shows that “majorities say the Democratic Party is open and tolerant, cares about the middle class and is not ‘too extreme.’ By contrast, most Americans see the G.O.P. lacking in tolerance and empathy for the middle class, and half view it as too extreme.”

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