Nel's New Day

September 17, 2018

Court Rulings Mostly Right Wrongs

Election Day is only 50 days away, and the GOP continues its attempts at voter suppression. In an honest move that may cause them to lose the 2018 North Carolina election, progressive groups Common Cause and the League of Women Voters that won the redrawing of gerrymandered districts said that there was not enough time to complete the task in the next two months. The contortions of district lines caused the state to have 10 of 13 seats in the U.S. House with only 53 percent of the vote.

The majority in a panel of three judges from the 9th Circuit, two appointed by George W. Bush, upheld Arizona laws that prevent anyone except a family member, caretaker, or postal worker from turning ballots into elections officials and blocked out-of-precinct voting. The decision is especially onerous for Native Americans who are many miles from both voting precincts and post offices. As usual, the fake reason for the law is to avoid voter fraud, but the rationale comes from white entitlement and lack of understanding about other cultures and living conditions. The decision will be appealed to the full court but stays in effect for the upcoming election.

A Missouri judge made Republicans happy when he removed a redistricting measure for this fall’s ballot.

Yet not all bodes well for Republicans in court decisions.

Federal prosecutors have postponed their demand that North Carolina state and local elections officials give them well over 20 million ballots, poll books, and voter authorization forms going back almost nine years by September 25. Subpoenas also required photo images of voters, and subpoenas to the state DMV required DMV voter registration documents and those completed in a language other than English from both citizens and people not born in the U.S. Almost 2.3 million absentee ballots could be traced back to individual voters which caused privacy concerns. The subpoenas for these records cited ICE and a grand jury in Wilmington as the source for the demand after U.S. Attorney Bobby Higdon announced charges against 19 non-U.S. citizens for illegal voting. A state audit counted 41 non-U.S. citizens acknowledged voting out of 4.8 million ballots. Higdon hopes to get the documents in January 2019.

A court in North Carolina also ruled in favor of expanding Gov. Roy Cooper’s authority to make certain appointments, ruling that the legislators had overstepped their authority and violated the separation of powers’ requirement. When Cooper was elected, the GOP legislature immediately passed several laws to restrict his abilities compared to that of his GOP predecessor.

For the second time in four years, federal judges struck down the GOP Virginia General Assembly boundaries of 11 electoral districts that pack minorities together so that white candidates in adjacent districts can win elections. Little progress has been made before the October 30 deadline. With the GOP failure to more forward, the governor has asked the GOP speaker of the state house to turn the project over to the courts. The districts will be used for state elections in 2019.

A Virginia judge also removed an independent candidate from the ballot in the 2nd District congressional race because of “forgery” and “out and out fraud” on her petition. Staffers working for the GOP candidate had collected many of the signatures to get her onto the ballot to split the progressive vote and ensure a win for their boss. Of the 377 signatures that five of them put on petitions, at least 146 were false, some of them for people who had died.

Florida Republicans thought they could keep Puerto Ricans who had fled their island after Hurricane Maria from voting if they refused them Spanish-language ballots. A district judge disagreed and ruled that 32 counties across the state had violated the Voting Rights Act. He ordered them to provide bilingual voting materials, including ballots and poll worker support, for Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican voters. According to his ruling:

“Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Unique among Americans, they are not educated primarily in English — and do not need to be. But, like all American citizens, they possess the fundamental right to vote.”

The enactment is on an expedited basis to give Florida officials “ample” time to appeal if “they seek to block their fellow citizens, many of whom fled after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, from casting meaningful ballots,” according to the judge. “It is remarkable that it takes a coalition of voting rights organizations and individuals to sue in federal court to seek minimal compliance with the plain language of a venerable 53-year-old law,” he added.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the so-called “charity” Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Foundation, linked to billionaire Charles Koch, must disclose its donors to California officials. The three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court reversed a lower court ruling from last year.

A grand jury will be convened to investigate whether Republican gubernatorial candidate and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach intentionally failed to register voters in 2016.

The court woes of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) continue. He tried to get out of going to court over paying hush-money for a nondisclosure agreement with Stormy Daniels so that he and former attorney Michael Cohen don’t have to give dispositions. By not contesting the suit, DDT thinks that he has escaped, but Daniels still has a defamation suit against DDT.

The fate of DDT’s IRS returns is still in court, this time the Washington, D.C. Circuit. EPIC’s Freedom of Information Act case is arguing that IRS must release his returns to correct misstatements of fact about his financial ties to Russia in his tweets. At least two-thirds of people want DDT to release the returns. The 98-page financial disclosure that DDT is forced to make public shows that his biggest windfalls come from his property that he frequently visits. For example, he made $37 million from Mar-a-Lago, up from $15 million in 2015, and $20 from his nearby golf club.

A federal judge refused to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, ruling that Texas and six other conservative states couldn’t prove irreparable harm from the program. He also stated that he believed the program is unconstitutional, but the time has passed to rescind it.

Cities can’t prosecute people for sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go because it amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment, according to a 9th Circuit Court ruling in Boise (ID). Six homeless people sued the city in 2009. The judge also wrote:

“A city cannot, via the threat of prosecution, coerce an individual to attend religion-based treatment programs consistently with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

A federal judge in Boston ruled that ICE should not remove undocumented people in the process of applying for green cards even if they have final orders of removal. The ruling may not require a penalty from the government or apply outside the New England area. Five couples are suing DHS, ICE, DDT, and law enforcement because spouses were detained by ICE when they went for marriage interviews with U.S.-citizen spouses, a requirement for the application process to prove they have legitimate marriages. Emails show coordination between ICE and Citizenship and Immigration Services to coordinate interviews and arrests. The suit began with a woman who was brought from Guatemala when she was three years old and married U.S. citizen Luis Gordillo. They have two children.

A Canadian court unanimously overturned Ottawa’s approval of a pipeline project because the government failed to consider concerns of some First Nations and did not consider the impact of increased tanker traffic. The pipeline, almost 700 miles long, would take bitumen from Alberta to the western ports to ship to Asia. The ship traffic has already had a devastating affect on southern resident orcas which are almost extinct.

Parents of a Sandy Hook victim may continue its defamation lawsuit against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones after his repeated lies that the 2012 massacre killing 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school was a “fraud.” Six other Sandy Hook families also filed a defamation lawsuit against Jones in May. Jones’ Infowars is also facing a lawsuit for misidentifying a person as the shooter at the Parkland (FL) school who killed 17 people and another defamation suit from the person who recorded the vehicular murder of Heather Heyer at the Charlottesville (VA) rally last year. Jones’ law firm is also representing the co-founder of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist website The Stormer.

An arbitrator has denied the NFL request to throw out Colin Kaepernick’s grievance that owners conspired to keep him out of the league because of his protests for social injustice. The ruling shows that Kaepernick has sufficient evidence of collusion for a lawsuit. Eric Reid’s grievance for joining the protests is still pending. The NFL had to put on hold its policy that would require players to stand if they are on the sideline during the national anthem because of problems that it classified protests as conduct detrimental to the team.

November 8, 2017

A Very Different Kind of Election Day

Just one year ago today, the presidential election created a nation of either depressed or angry—or both—people. Yesterday was another election, and a day of firsts for people of color, LGBTQ people, women, and Democrats.

Virginia is the poster state for the most wins. DDT supporters who ran on the “nationalistic” agenda of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) lost in droves starting with the governor. Democrat Ralph Northam was supposedly even with GOP Ed Gillespie going into the election but came out winning by nine percent.  Democrats Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring beat conservative Republicans for lieutenant governor and attorney general by over five percent and almost seven percent respectively. Fairfax’s opponent sponsored a bill to force women to have vaginal ultrasounds before having abortions, and Herring’s opponent fought his refusal to defend Virginia’s ban on marriage equality.

Republicans worked hard to move Ed Gillespie into the position of governor. DDT’s robo calls supporting Ed Gillespie (VA) went out to voters all day before his loss. Sour grapes from the loss, however, caused DDT to tweet that Gillespie “did not embrace me or what I stand for.” Gillespie’s loss was also one for white supremacist and former DDT aide Steve Bannon who had stated before the election:

“I think the big lesson for Tuesday is that, in Gillespie’s case, Trumpism without Trump can show the way forward. If that’s the case, Democrats better be very, very worried.”

While those robo calls were going out to voters in Virginia, DDT’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted to his 2.2 followers that they should vote for Ed Gillespie today, not yesterday on Election Day, and did it twice—once in his initial tweet and the second time in his “correction.”

More impressive than Northam winning the governor’s seat, however, was the turnover in Virginia’s House of Delegates, one of two chambers in the state’s General Assembly. Republicans went into the election with a majority of 66-34. Thus far they have lost at least 15 seats, and another five of them are in play. Of the 15 lost seats by white men, eleven of them have been replaced by women with great diversity and firsts—the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, two Latinas, an openly lesbian, and the first openly transgender person to win a state legislative office in the nation. Danica Roem defeated self-proclaimed “chief homophobe” Bob Marshall who promoted the “potty police” law which would have banned Roem from using the women’s bathroom.

Another of the 15 Democratic winners for Virginia’s House of Delegates is Chris Hurst who ran for the office after his girlfriend was shot and killed on live television two years ago. He ran on a pro-commonsense gun reform campaign against someone with an A+ rating from the NRA.

Next year gives Democrats a chance to pick up more members in the House of Delegates if a court challenge of legislative district maps requires special elections, and all 100 seats are on the ballot again in 2019. All the seats are also up for grabs in 2019 in the Senate where the GOP has a 21-19 majority. Even if Democrats fall short of taking control of the chamber this year, they see a potential for additional pickups next year, if a court challenge of legislative district maps forces special elections, and in 2019 when all 100 seats are on the ballot again.

New Jersey saw another gubernatorial win for Democrats after Philip D. Murphy defeated Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who ran on a platform of cutting property taxes. Guadagno’s boss, Gov. Chris Christie, has an approval rating of 14 percent. Each chamber of the solidly Democratic New Jersey legislature may have added at least one member and perhaps more. New Jersey and Washington now make seven states that have both Democratic governors and legislatures. Maybe Virginia will add the eighth.

Other states benefiting from a Democratic sweep:

  • Washington: Manka Dhingra won a special election which flipped the state Senate to Democrat. With that change, all three states on the west coast—California, Oregon, and Washington—have blue governors and legislatures.
  • Georgia:  Democrats flipped three GOP-held legislative seats which broke the GOP super-majority in the state Senate.
  • New Hampshire:  Erika Connors became the fourth New Hampshire Democrat to flip a Republican seat blue in special elections this year.

Other achievements yesterday:

  • Andrea Jenkins is now the first openly trans woman of color elected any public office in the U.S. after her victory to become a Minneapolis city councilor.
  • Democrat Ashley Bennett won a seat as a freeholder in Atlantic County, New Jersey. She ran because the incumbent joked about whether the Women’s March would be “over in time for them to cook dinner.” 
  • Sheila Oliver has become New Jersey’s first woman black lieutenant governor.
  • Vi Lyles defeated a Republican to be the first woman black mayor of Charlotte (NC).
  • Ravinder Bhalla became the city’s first Sikh mayor in Hoboken (NJ) despite the smear campaign calling him a terrorist.
  • Wilmot Collins is the first black mayor in Montana’s history; he came to Helena 12 years ago as a refugee from Liberia.
  • Tyler Titus’ win for a seat on the Erie School Board makes him the first openly transgender person to be elected in the state of Pennsylvania.
  • Melvin Carter has been elected the first black mayor of St. Paul (MN).
  • Jenny Durkan became the first out lesbian elected mayor of Seattle (WA) as well as the first woman to take that position in 96 years. She takes over on November 28 after the resignation of Ed Murray, a gay man who was accused of sexually abusing younger men. Durkan won by 61 percent.
  • Women took all six appeals court seats in Pennsylvania that were on the ballot.
  • Maine voters chose to expand Medicaid to 70,000 of the state’s residents with a 59-percent majority in the first state to bring the Affordable Care Act to a state with a referendum. (Maine Gov. Paul LePage is threatening to block the vote.)
  • And more!

Satirist Andy Borowitz wrote about how Northam and Murphy were “unfit” for their new offices because of their lack of reality-show experience.

Republicans deny that yesterday’s elections create any problems for GOP elections, but their feeling of desperation is manifested in an increasingly frantic attempt to pass the tax bill that favors the rich and penalizes everyone else. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the blue wave makes passing legislation even more urgent. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said,  “If you don’t get [tax reform] done, you’re guaranteed a bad midterm.” [Photo: AP/Scott Applewhite – Cole above right with Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)] Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) said that the largest number of Democratic votes yesterday came from the suburbs, the same place that will suffer the most from DDT’s tax cuts.

The House has spent three days tweaking the bill and plan to continue tomorrow because the scoring shows a $1.7 trillion deficit. An amendment created a $74 billion hole by reversing a 20-percent excise tax on transactions between subsidiaries of multinational corporations. The Senate also plans to come out with its own bill tomorrow before the House has a chance to vote on a bill that doesn’t yet exist to keep from needing 60 votes to pass the bill.

At least two senators and 18 representatives have declared that they will not be running for re-election next year. All are Republicans. Get ready for November 6, 2018.

October 13, 2014

Voting Restriction Rulings in Just One Week

Marriage equality didn’t stop for last weekend. Alaska, the first state to ban marriage equality in 1998, now legally recognizes same-sex marriage after U.S. District Court Judge Timothy M. Burgess of the U.S. District Court of Alaska issued his ruling. The Republican governor plans to appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court which legalized marriage equality in Nevada and Idaho last week.

Meanwhile, last week saw a rollercoaster of court decisions about voter suppression laws. In passing these laws, the GOP has openly declared that the reason for photo IDs required for voting is to keep Democrats from have their rights at the ballot box. With fewer than 31 fraud cases in over 10 years, the number of legitimate voters kept from voting has vastly increased.  Joy Dunn, 79, is an eligible voter who found out that new laws had disqualified her vote after her absentee ballot in March’s Arkansas special election was rejected. Dunn has been voting in the state since 1954—when she had to pay a $2 poll tax—and was never told that she had to mail a copy of valid ID with her absentee ballot. Arkansas’ new law includes only $300,000 for full implementation, including education, in 75 counties.

Some North Carolina citizens lost voting rights after the Supreme Court overturned a circuit court decision giving voters same-day registration and counting votes cast in the wrong precinct. This temporary ruling covers the November 4 election although the Court has until next year to make a decision about the restricting voting laws. This decision follows the one that upholds limiting votes in Ohio.

In contrast, the Supreme Court gave voting rights to Wisconsin, making three different positions this year. A federal trial court halted the mandatory photo ID for the upcoming election, a panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling and made photo IDS mandatory, and then the Supreme Court overturned the circuit court. Three weeks before the general election, 9 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin didn’t have the necessary voter ID. Even Justice Samuel Alito, one of three judges who voted to keep the restrictive Wisconsin law, admitted that courts should not issue orders affected a state’s election law when the election is near. The accusation of fraud, ostensibly the reason behind the Wisconsin law, found no cases that could have been prevented by a voter ID law. The following chart, an official one from the state to help people “understand” the photo ID law, may have persuaded the other judges how impossibly difficult Wisconsin was trying to make voting.

Wisconsin_voter_id_chart-770x1024 (1)

(The chart is fuzzy, but then so is the concept.)

Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the majority opinion in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008) used to validate restrictive voter ID laws, ruled against the Wisconsin law. He wrote that people needed a government-issued photo ID, but different states make far more restrictive mandates. His most recent decision describes new voting laws as “a mere fig leaf for efforts to disenfranchise voters likely to vote for the political party that does not control the state government.” He also pointed out that the ratio of voter fraud is one for every 14.6 million voters and said that his panel of judges supporting the Wisconsin law “is not troubled by the absence of evidence.”

Texas voters also got a break when U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down that state’s mandatory photo ID for voting, calling it an “unconstitutional poll tax” intended to discriminate against Hispanic and African-American citizens that creates “an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.” A panel of judges had previously stopped the law because it posed “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor,” but the striking down of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court a year ago allowed Texas to reinstate the law. As before, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, also a GOP gubernatorial candidate, promised that the state would “immediately appeal.”

People who cheerfully maintain that voter ID makes no difference in voting are now faced with a report from the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ nonpartisan investigative agency.  It found that “states that toughened their voter identification laws saw steeper drops in election turnout than those that did not, with disproportionate falloffs among black and younger voters.” The decline was among eligible and registered voters, not people trying to defraud the government. The greatest affect was on voters 23 and younger, new voters, and blacks. Voters with driver’s licenses or state IDs range from 84 percent of 95 percent, depending on the state; these IDs cost from $14.50 to $58.50. The GAO also found no voter-fraud problem. Despite this information, the Supreme Court is permitting North Carolina’s law to eliminate same-day voter registration and to ban votes cast in the wrong precincts. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.

When the GOP took over states in 2010, the legislatures and governors gerrymandered the districts to put as many of their party into Congress as possible. The ten worst gerrymandered districts in 2013 are here. Federal judges have declared the congressional maps in Virginia to be unconstitutional because they isolate blacks into a single district. The order won’t go into effect this year and the case can be appealed to SCOTUS, but at this time the judges have demanded a new map by April. Republicans need to get the Democratic governor to agree to their redistricting. If Gov. Terry McAuliffe won’t sign their map, the judges may end up redrawing the districts. Virginia’s District 3 shows how contorted that gerrymandering has become.

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Florida emerged victorious in the gerrymandering debate. The GOP is not only permitted to use the existing racially-drawn map this year but also allowed to have only a slightly changed version in 2016.  Earlier this year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about Alabama’s gerrymandering that may have raised the number of blacks in one district to over 70 percent. The Supreme Court is also considering a challenge by Arizona Republicans to the state’s district map after an independent redistricting commission was mandated in 2000 to take politics out of the process. The GOP wants to draw lines for noncompetitive Republican districts. After the upcoming election, gerrymandering may become the next hot-button political topic.

In Ohio, John Husted has figured out a way to put his name front and center inside polling places. After doing everything possible to suppress the vote, Ohio’s Secretary of State put his name in big letters on an “informational” poster that his office requires all polling places to post. One county election official may not to post the name because Husted’s spokesman says that doing so is not a “formal directive.”

Another racial voting issue concerns American Indians. They’ve been able to vote for only 90 years, even a shorter time in states such as Montana that forbid those on reservations from voting because the state didn’t consider them taxpaying citizens. Other states such as Wyoming and Arizona used literacy tests to stop American Indian suffrage. South Dakota directly stopped all American Indians from voting until the 1940s, and Utah Supreme Court ruled in 1956 that Indians could be kept from voting because they were “neither acquainted with the processes of government, nor conversant with activities of the outside world generally.” Even the 1965 Voting Act required an extension ten years later specifying coverage for “language minorities” like American Indians.

Currently, South Dakota suppresses the American Indian vote by failing to put a pre-election satellite voting and registration site in an isolated part of Pine Ridge Reservation despite receiving funding for the facility. Voters have to travel 54 miles roundtrip on poorly-maintained dirt roads in the snow to register and cast ballots.

Another piece of insanity surrounding the election deals with TV commercials. Laws from 1927 and 1934 require that these ads, and those on radio, identify who is paying for the “information. The FCC waived responsibility in this area and now puts the burden of finding this information on the listener/viewer to find out if the entity identified on the ad is not the “true sponsor.” Dark money in Super PACs makes it almost impossible for individuals to discover who is paying for these ads. Even the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, the decision that gave almost unlimited donation amounts to campaigns, stated that disclosure requirements are  “justified based on a governmental interest in ‘provid[ing] the electorate with information’ about the sources of election-related spending” and help to “deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity.” Justices made the same claim in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) and McConnell v. FEC (2003). The FCC needs to note the Court’s claim that robust speech cannot occur “when organizations hide themselves from the scrutiny of the voting public.”

Over half the contributions for general election advertising comes from undisclosed sources that overwhelmingly benefits GOP candidates. Almost 80 percent of this money comes from secret money donated to the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Koch brothers Freedom Partners, and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. Restrictive voter laws will disenfranchise about 5 million low-income and minorities voters. Facing these odds, progressives will be lucky to get any representation in state and federal legislative chambers.

November 5, 2013

Election 2013–Tea Party Loses

I voted last week although today is the official Election Day of 2013. Nothing much important—a city vote about building a new swimming pool and a county one about whether the county commission should be elected on a nonpartisan basis. My state has mandatory mail-in voting, so I vote any time within a couple of weeks before the deadline—unlike the rest of the nation except for Washington.

In Texas, lots of people, including the 90-year-old former House Speaker Jim Wright, were blocked at the polls because of the new voter ID law. Even the gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was challenged when she went to vote. By some coincidence they are both Democrats.

While, the U.S. House of Representatives wallows in ennui and obstructionism, millions of people across the United States are setting trends with today’s election. Some of the results are almost sure before people go to the polls: abrasive Chris Christie got another term as New Jersey governor, and progressive Bill De Blasio became the first Democratic New York mayor in two decades. New Jersey may have wanted to want Christie, but they didn’t want his veto of the minimum wage. Voters overturned this veto to bring the minimum wage to $8.25, still lower than in many other states.

The nail-biter happened in Virginia where a far-right, anti-sodomy, anti-woman, pro-fraud Ken Cuccinelli lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a fundraiser who’s never held elected office. Not since 1977 has a governor in the sitting president’s party won a Virginia governor’s race. Extremist E.W. Jackson, vying for lieutenant governor, was called nothing but a sideshow but still pulled in 45 percent of the vote against Ralph Northam.

The office of attorney general still hasn’t been called with Democrat Mark Herring a few hundred of votes from “Cuccinelli’s clone,” as the conservative Washington Post called Mark Obenshaim. He has been behind not only the loss of jobs in Virginia but also the suppression of voters and establishment of “personhood” legislation to eliminate any abortions. He even attempted to force women to report miscarriages to the police. Another of his bills would allow campus groups to ban LGBT people.

When Cuccinelli’s ratings started to tank, he tried to have 57,000 voter names purged from the lists and succeeded in 38,000 cases. The state gave lists of purges to local registrars who were told to use their “best judgment” in deciding who to remove with no standards for reviewing the names. Registrars received the lists just a few days before Election Day, and at least two of the officials said they would wait until after today to start the process after finding a large percentage of mistakes. Even the purging wasn’t enough to stop the election of Democratic governor and lieutenant governor.

In mayoral business, financially beleaguered Detroit ended up with the first white mayor in the majority-black city since Roman Gribbs (1970-1974). The city’s finances are still controlled, however by Kevin Orr, the emergency manager who Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed.

With 12 candidates for mayor, Boston elected Marty Walsh, supported by organized labor, after Tom Menino finished his 20-year run as the first non-Irish mayor since 1930. Minneapolis has almost three times that number, 35, on its ballot for mayor. No results planned until tomorrow.

Annise Parker, Houston’s first lesbian mayor, regained her position. Seattle has two Democrats running for mayor. At this time, State Sen. Ed Murray is ahead at 57 percent, but Washington mail-in votes will come in during the next several years. Murray led efforts to legalize gay marriage in the state and, if elected, would be Seattle’s first openly gay mayor.

Most of the 31 ballot measures in six states are fairly ho-hum. New York does have one that, if approved, would permit casinos state-wide and another that would allow a mining company to do its work in a “wild forever” preserve of Adirondack Park if they promise to put the land back when they’re finished. No results for those yet.

The most important initiative in the nation may be Measure 522 in Washington state that requires labeling on genetically-modified foods. A similar measure failed last year in California. The question in this vote is whether the big money will win. Of the $22 million fighting against the labeling, $550 came from Washington state residents. Even a win from the pro-labeling group could lead to a federal court challenge with the food industry’s claim that its rights are violated through “coerced speech.”

Over 90 percent of people in the U.S. want labeling of genetically-engineered foods, and Connecticut having passed a law to require this. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, are also considering similar bills. The industry promises people that these foods are safe but don’t allow the products’ independent test. Seeds are engineered to produce their own insecticide or survive treatment with an herbicide. For example, a farmer can spray their fields with Monsanto’s Roundup to kill the weeds but not the crop. The USDA is currently considering the approval of carcinogenic chemicals.

The 522 opposition claimed that grocery prices would increase because of the labeling which has been shown to be false. Virtually all the money for No on 522 came from the Grocery Manufacturers Association and five chemical and biotechnology corporations: Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, and BASF. These groups used an “Astroturf” strategy in publicizing donors to conceal the source of the donations. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that the sum is “the largest amount of money ever concealed in an election.”

A group called Moms for Labeling sued to find out GMA’s donors. After the suit was thrown out, Washington’s Attorney General filed his own suit. Public health watchdog Michele Simon, wrote that the secret fundraising actually broke the law because the tactic was specifically intended to “better shield individual companies from attack.”

With half the votes counted, the measure is down by about 10 percent. The next few days will show whether the $22 million paid off.

The GOP hopes that an early primary in Alabama sets the tone for those pitting far-right Republicans against Tea Party extremists. Big business funded anti-Tea Party Bradley Bryne who defeated Ted Cruz-loving Dean Young. The Tea Party isn’t giving up: yesterday Tea Party Leadership Fund Treasurer Dan Backer announced the group’s plan to target the 87 GOP congressmen who voted to stop the government shutdown with Tea Party candidates.

Smaller elections may cast larger ripples. For example, SeaTac voters may have approved a $15-an-hour minimum wage and sick days for workers. This would cover workers at Washington’s Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and nearby large hotels. Currently the state has the highest minimum wage at $9.19. And right now, the measure is winning!

Voters in South Portland (ME) failed to ban the flow of tar sands oil from western Canada to the city by 192 votes out of the 8,837 turnout. Businesspeople wanted the the thick, gooey oil; the opposition didn’t want its harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases. Its neighbor, Portland, approved legalized recreational marijuana for residents 21 and older. It is the first East Coast city do to so.

In Colorado, voters in 11 rural counties decided whether they wanted to secede from the state that has legalized LGBT civil unions and marijuana. One of these would like to join Wyoming, which would ruin the nice square look of that state. At this time, four counties rejected the proposal, four approved it, one has incomplete returns, and two others are saying how they voted. Even if the counties request secession, the state and Congress would have to approve a 51st state. Good luck on Congress approving anything these days!

In Whatcom County north of Seattle (WA), voters picked four county council candidates in an election that will determine the future of a proposed coal-export facility, which, if built would be the largest terminal facility like that on the West Coast. Environmentalists need at least four councilors to oppose permits for the facility, and, at this time, the election appears to be providing these opponents to the facility.

A great victory today, too, is the decision of the Illinois legislature to pass marriage equality. Gov. Pat Quinn has promised to sign the bill, making the state the 15th in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

What does today’s election tell the people in the United States? The Democrats have one more state governor, 21, compared to the 29 that the GOP has. The newest one defeated his opponent in spite of his strong belief in gun control. A Southern primary defeated a Tea Party member. Pot and same-sex marriage are becoming more accepted, and the climate issues might be getting closer to a win but not yet there—especially with corporation money pouring into elections.

Chris Christie gave what sounded like the first campaign of his presidential campaign, especially when he said that he might not finish this term as governor of New Jersey. Most ironic was his bragging about the respect he has shown people, when one thinks about his bullying tactics toward anyone who might ask him questions. Either he’s moving forward or hoping that no one watches reruns of those videos.

And it’s 364 days until we do this again in November 2014.

October 15, 2013

Day Fifteen of GOP Government Shutdown: Divisive, Duplicitous Tea Party

During the past several months, I have encouraged people to sign up at Cover Oregon, a model for the 24 states that provide exchanges, or “marketplaces,” that compare insurance rates and give poor people the chance for health insurance subsidies. This morning she told me that her sister told her not to sign up because of dangers in identity theft. After I got my temper under control, I asked her what her sister’s salary is. She responded, “$250,000.”

My friend is a wonderful, generous person who unfortunately tends to be gullible. She also lives with and cares for her aging mother, which gives my friend an over-exposure to the Fox network. Again, I see the influence of the people who will do anything to destroy Democrats and who have no concern for the poor, even if they are relatives.

Because of people like my friend’s sister, the Affordable Care Act will not be able to help two-thirds of  poor, insured blacks and single mothers as well as more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance. The total population of the 26 states refusing Medicaid is about half that in the U.S., but 68 percent of poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers live in those 26 states. About 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor also live in those 26 states.   That’s 8 million people who can’t have medical help because of the states controlled by Republicans that refuse Medicaid. Because each state can set its own income ceiling for the top income of  Medicaid eligibility, it can be as low as $11 per day, about $3,000 in Mississippi and Texas.

Originally, the health insurance exchanges were established to pick up where Medicaid left off. This level, which would have been established by the federal government because it would pay for it, was fairly high—138 percent of the poverty level. The Supreme Court removed the Medicaid mandate for all states, leaving the people below the exchanges but above the horrible Medicaid income ceiling in no 26 states with no health insurance.

Virginia is a classic example of have-nots, especially notable because its Rep. Eric Cantor is the legal gatekeeper who refuses to allow bills to enter the House to close the shutdown. Cantor has also worked tirelessly to close down Obamacare. The state has done almost nothing to help residents to sign up for the exchange, which is federally run because Virginia refused to have anything to do with the Affordable Care Act.

The federal government is paying all Medicaid charges for states that expanded the program. The health care reform law in those states requires that Medicaid is open to anyone earning up to 133 percent of poverty, about $15,300 for a single person this year. In Virginia, adults without children or who don’t have a disability cannot get Medicaid at all, no matter how poor they are. Coverage for parents cuts off at 30 percent of poverty, or about $5,900 for a family of three. Fourteen percent of people in Virginia, about 1.1 million, have no health insurance.

Making the situation is the GOP to not increase the debt limit. People who think that this cannot affect them should not have credit cards, 401(k)s, adjustable rate mortages (ARMs), or any benefits from government, including Social Security and government contractor payments. The first two will likely go up, the third will vastly shrink, and the fourth may be delayed.

Our current disastrous gridlock comes from the split in the GOP, demonstrated by the debacle at the World War II Monument last Sunday which included a Confederate flag, signs calling for the president’s impeachment, the verbal abuse of police, and the trash left behind by the crowd. Tea Party activist, Larry Klaman of Freedom Watch, said, “I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come up with his hands out [sic].”

The small apolitical Brats for Veterans Advocacy (BVA), disappointed with veterans being used as “political pawns” in the shutdown, posted a “Million Vet March on the Memorials” on its Facebook page. Larry Ward with the grassroots veterans organization Special Operations Speaks (SOS) saw the post and offered SOS’s help in promoting the rally. BVA agreed, and Ward drafted press releases and asked Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) to appear at the event.

BVA objected to publicity such as “tyranny” and “protest.” The group didn’t want politicians at the event and “divisive” language because it was “causing confusion with our cause.” Ward said that they wouldn’t mention BVA in the promotion to SOS members so that he could use “harder anti-Obama messaging.” BVA had envisioned thousands of veterans gathering on the Mall and singing the Star Spangled Banner—“no one storming a barricade.” Ward said that people don’t congregate to sing.

SOS and BVA went their separate ways, as shown by the different websites. On Monday, BVA also issued a disclaimer regarding SOS participation. SOS is part of the Tea Party mentality that will keep the government shut down and the veterans from getting their benefits.

Comedians were worried when President Obama was elected that they might run short on subject matter. No fear—the GOP are here. Andy Borowitz has a classic example with his satiric column entitled “Rand Paul Proposes Reopening Just Enough of Government to Hold New Hearings on Benghazi.” Borowitz ended with this (possibly fictional) statement from Rand: “For the two weeks of this shutdown, the American people have had no new information about Benghazi. It’s time to stop the madness.”

Humor doesn’t need to be fabricated, however. The RNC tweeted its New Jersey constituents, urging them to vote today in the election determining whether candidate Cory Booker or the Republican would go to the U.S. Senate. When Huffington Post pointed out that the election is not until tomorrow, RNC Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski got snippy. Republicans are probably still irritated because Gov. Chris Christie’s fear moved the senatorial election away from his own for fear that he might lose.

Joking aside, another day has passed with no action about the government shutdown. Earlier today the House GOP planned to pass a CR including the delay of the 2.3 percent on medical devices for two years, stricter income verification for Obamacare applicants, and elimination of the health insurance subsidies for members of the Congress, Cabinet, and the president. By the end of the day, they had dropped the first two parts, and some GOP members were so unwilling to give up their subsidies that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) couldn’t get enough support to put the CR up for a vote. The measure would also fund the government only until Dec. 15 and raise the debt ceiling to Feb. 7. The Senate had suspended any talks to allow the House to act.

Yesterday Fitch Ratings announced that it was putting the U.S. on an increased risk of a default and the nation’s AAA rating on a negative watch. Citigroup told analysts that it was trimming its holdings in Treasury debt that were due to mature before the end of the month. The Dow Jones average dropped 133 points.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) blasted the House GOP: “Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle. We would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.” He added that the party’s brutal poll numbers made it clear that the GOP needs to accept a deal and end the shutdown. When asked about his opinion, McCain read from a paper in his hands that “74 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Republicans in Washington are handling the nation’s budget crisis. That’s why!”

Thanks to the GOP Tea Party, the United States is rapidly losing respect in the world. Yesterday, the New York Times reported:

“Chinese leaders called on a ‘befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.’ In a commentary on Sunday, the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua blamed ‘cyclical stagnation in Washington’ for leaving the dollar-based assets of many nations in jeopardy.”

Tomorrow is another day. The Senate plans to return to negotiating, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has met with 15-20 highly conservative GOP representatives in the basement of Capitol Hill’s Tortilla Coast to plan amendments to the Senate plan including dismantling Obamacare.

Meanwhile members of Congress are getting paid, receiving free health insurance, and going to the taxpayer-funded gym.

May 23, 2013

Virginia Sets Tone for GOP Crisis

The Virginia election for governor is over five months away on November 5, and the Democratic primary for their candidate is set for June 11. Yet the race is worth watching not only because of GOP stupidity but also because of the dissention between the conservatives who don’t  hide their anger and bigotry and the ones who know that showing this behavior might lose them elections.

In the case of the Virginia GOP selection for governor and lieutenant governor 2013 candidates, the stupidity comes from the Republicans decision to select these candidates through a convention of GOP activists, sure to pick an extreme-right winter, rather than letting people select candidates in a primary.

And what picks they are. People  shook their heads about Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ken Cuccinelli with his  extreme record for anti women’s and LGBT rights. He even challenged a court decision that ruled Virginia’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional. Until last weekend, he represented the extreme right wing of the party. The selection of E.W. Jackson for  lieutenant governor, however, moves Cuccinelli toward the center.

Scott Keyes wrote:

“If you were to put the dregs of conservative Internet comment sections into a pot, boil them down to their essence, then run the resulting product through a sieve to get it to its rawest, most pure form of vitriol, it would probably look something like E.W. Jackson’s Twitter feed.”

Keyes also picked 20 of Jackson’s 662 tweets to show the man’s nature. One of them said that LGBT people make him feel “ikky.”

Jackson

Jackson is notorious for his off-the-wall—one might say unhinged–statements:

Gays and lesbians: Jackson said that they have “perverted” minds, are “very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally,” and are bigoted against African Americans and Christians. […]”

Homosexuality: “It attempts to poison our children, divide them from their parents and the teaching of the church and basically turn them into pawns for that movement so that they can sexualize them at the earliest possible age.”

Gays and lesbians in the military: The “repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ law is a disaster of historic proportions and it must be reinstated.”

President Obama: He has “Muslim sensibilities” and sees the world “from a Muslim perspective.” Also he “seems to have a lot of sympathy for even radical Islam” and “certainly does have a lot of affection and favor for Islam, that seems to be his priority…Christianity, I don’t really think about that with him, I really don’t, that’s a joke.”

President and Michelle Obama: President Obama and the First Lady “don’t understand our country, I don’t think they even like it,” warning that the Obamas are “the intellectual cousins and heirs of a Communist, collectivist way of thinking which is anathema to what this country is all about.”

Democrats: The party embraces a policy agenda “worthy of the Antichrist.” He’s argued that the “repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ law is a disaster of historic proportions and it must be reinstated.”

Democratic leaders: They are like “slave masters” who make sure that black people who disagree with them are “punished.”

Liberals: Those who support gay rights “have done more to kill black folks” than the “Ku Klux Klan.”

Planned Parenthood: “The Democrat Party has created an unholy alliance between certain so-called civil rights leaders and Planned Parenthood, which has killed unborn black babies by the tens of millions. Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.”

While he was running for Senate in 2011, Jackson called the Constitution’s original clause to count blacks as three-fifths of a person an “anti-slavery amendment.” The purpose of the clause was to increase voting and political power in the South while not giving slaves any rights. Jackson’s statement was directed against President Obama because of a sermon in the church that he attended. Arguing that it was inappropriate for the president to remain in a church where the pastor would bring up slavery, Jackson said, “This is 2011. The issue of slavery was settled 146 years ago.”

During his campaign last year, he said that God would turn the blacks “overwhelmingly” against the president. That’s the election in which President Obama received 95 percent of the black vote.

While a minister and attorney in Boston 25 years ago, he opposed desegregating public housing developments, calling it “social engineering.” After the federal government discovered that the city had prevented blacks from moving into this low-income housing, it ordered Boston to have a plan that would allow them into these developments. In a speech, Jackson said that he believed people should be allowed to live apart from other races and that he, too, didn’t like being told what to do.

When the interviewer asked Jackson if he felt he was being “used” by white politicians, Jackson said, “Well, the scripture says it’s a good thing to be used in a good cause.” With the GOP desperately searching for minorities, Jackson is again useful.

Jackson didn’t get the nod from the GOP conference until the fourth ballot. Last year, he came in fourth in his U.S. Senate campaign and received about 5 percent of the vote.

How do the less extreme Republicans feel about Jackson’s pick? Virginia Lt. Gov Bill Bolling said that the surprise GOP pick to succeed him had made “simply indefensible” comments in the past that would only serve to reinforce negative perceptions about the party.

Asked if Jackson was trouble, another senior Virginia Republican responded, “Oh. My. God. Yes.” The danger, the Republican said, is that Jackson will bring Democrats to the polls who might otherwise stay home. “You just don’t want one candidate to rile up the base of the other side. That’s what you’re trying to avoid.”

Cuccinelli can’t afford to alienate the people who put Jackson into his running-mate position, but he also can’t afford to be so extreme that he loses the more moderate vote. To effectively separate himself from Jackson, Cuccinelli issued this statement:

“We are not going to be defending our running mates’ statements, now or in the future. The people of Virginia need to get comfortable with each candidate individually, and that’s what this process is all about.”

Cuccinelli can afford to separate himself: in Virginia, the two top positions are decided separately so he still has a chance even if Jackson loses. Twenty years ago, Republican George Allen kept his distance from conservative homeschooling Mike Farris and won the governor’s position while Farris lost to a Democrat for lieutenant governor. The same kind of ticket splitting happened in 2005.

When questioned about his extreme views, Jackson said, “I say the things that I say because I’m a Christian, not because I hate anybody, but because I have religious values that matter to me.” He also calls himself “Virginia’s Hermann Cain.”

The Virginia election this fall is the symbol of the GOP crisis—the more common-sense Republicans working toward rebranding while the extremist Tea Partiers just let it all hang out. Virginia GOP spokesman Garren Shipley said, “The race for lieutenant governor will be fought on economic ground as opposed to social policy.” Time will tell.

May 17, 2012

End Homophobia & Transphobia

Because of Louis-Georges Tin, French university lecturer and equal rights campaigner, today is The International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). He chose May 17 for this global day of action to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. The organization began with a concentration on homophobia in 2004 and added transphobia five years later.

The week began with clear examples of homophobia. Despite majority approval from legislators, Virginia blocked a gay judge from confirmation.  One Virginia lawmaker said he voted against the confirmation because a gay judge could not be impartial; the House of Delegates voted 33-31 for confirmation but lacked the 51 majority votes required.

Colorado suppressed a bill to allow same-sex civil unions. The Republicans had filibustered the civil union bill until the legislature finished for the year, but the governor brought the legislature back to consider the bills not addressed in the session. House Speaker Frank McNulty then sent the bill to his “kill” committee, the State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee with five Republicans of the nine members. The bill would probably have passed  if it had escaped the committee.

On the good side, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has come out in favor of marriage equality. “I don’t think we want to wait on courts,” Quinn said. “I think in Illinois, we are able to show the nation that we are a state that believes in respecting everyone. Everyone has dignity and rights.”

Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee declared that the state will recognize any legal marriages from any other state, including same-sex marriages. The situation has been pending for five years since then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch issued an opinion that recognizes out-of-state same-sex marriage. The executive order making same-sex marriage legal has many implications. Same-sex spouses of state employees and anyone covered by an insurance company regulated in Rhode Island can get health and life insurance benefits. Same-sex couples having children can list their names as parents on the birth certificates, and they also receive sales tax exemptions on property transfers.

The Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) is headed back to committee—and the support behind this is bipartisan! Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced a hearing in the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee on June 12. The announcement followed a letter dated May 9 from ENDA co-sponsors Mark Kirk (R-IL), Robert Casey (D-PA), and Susan Collins (R-ME) urging the committee to bring the legislation up for debate. Harkin said, “Every American deserves an equal opportunity to earn a good living, judged by their talent, ability and qualifications free from discrimination. Workplace discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible and has no place in our nation.”

And Ellen DeGeneres is the 15th recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which recognizes individuals who make a difference through satire and social commentary!

Much as some people would prefer to have LGBT people invisible, LGBT people have changed history for the better in all parts of life from art to philosophy to science to politics. Ancient Greece, Rome, China, Japan, the Arab countries, and most early indigenous peoples have known the advantages of these individuals.

The following honors only a few of these people.

  • Writer Oscar Wilde, who changed the world even after he was sentenced to hard labor for his sexuality, said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Many people know him for The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest.”
  • Author Gertrude Stein gave no apology for either her gender or her sexual orientation, leaving not only a literary legacy but also the magic that resulted from networking among the developing artists and authors in her famous salons during the early twentieth century.
  • Inventor, scientist, and great painter Leonardo da Vinci created not only machines not known until centuries later but also  such masterpieces as “The Last Supper” and “The Mona Lisa.”
  • A founder of computer science, Alan Turing was instrumental in solving the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War II, allowing translations of intercepted messages so that Allies could anticipate enemy movements. People in the United States might be speaking German instead of English without Turing. He committed suicide after the English government chemically castrated him.
  • The man behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement, Bayard Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King made his most famous speech and was one of the main people responsible for the Congress on Racial Equality.

People resentful of knowing the important contributions of LGBT people frequently ask that we not push their identity on others. They fail to understand the way that heterosexuality is pushed onto the world—photos on office desks, wedding rings, marriage celebrations, children, small talk, jokes, etc. Their sexual identity is highly visible: we LGBT people deserve the same rights. It is time that all people become “we.”

April 13, 2012

Women Still under Attack–Unlike Caterpillars

Iowa parents (translate mostly women) who receive child support would be forced to have drug tests every six months if state Sen. Mark Chelgren got his way. Democrats openly laughed at him yesterday while Sen. Jack Hatch said that Chelgren’s proposed amendment is anti-woman and can be unfairly used by vindictive spouses. (No mention of unconstitutional.) Chelgren withdrew his proposal, but another Chelgren idea, that of drug-testing welfare recipients, was debated today. That’s the latest Republican salvo in the war on women that Republicans claim doesn’t exist.

David Weigel’s Slate article describes the birth and recent death of the war during the past year, but he’s evidently not following the media. If anything, the war geared up after Hilary Rosen’s statement about Ann Romney that she “had never worked a day in her life.” Despite Rosen’s apology that she meant that Romney had not worked outside her home while she raised five children, everyone from President Obama on down to Rosen herself criticized this statement.

Even the Catholic League got into the fray when its director, Bill Donohue, tweeted, “Lesbian Dem Hilary Rosen tells Ann Romney she never worked a day in her life. Unlike Rosen, who had to adopt kids, Ann raised 5 of her own.” There has been little negative reaction to Donohue about his putdown of adoptions–and lesbians. Meanwhile some Republicans are crowing that they just won the war on women. The idea is so absurd that some Republican pundits are supporting Rosen.

Romney the candidate is obviously so worried about the voting gender gap that he skewed statistics, saying that women have lost 92.3 percent of the jobs since January 1. His position  is so off target that it will take an entire blog to explain. Suffice it to say, he had to use a date 20 days before Obama took office because using his method beginning with Obama’s inauguration would mean that women lost 300% of the jobs, a statistical impossibility. (More about that in the next few days.)

Women know about the war on their freedoms: forced invasive ultrasounds,  inability to achieve equal pay, and other issues. Nancy Carter and Christine Silva wrote a three-part series for the Washington Post to show how the myths about women are bogus. For example, women ask for raises and promotions, but they don’t get as much in return. The gender gap in level and pay got even wider between men and women as their careers progressed. People take a much tougher position against women in negotiations, for example in selling cars, than against men.

Ryan’s budget that passed the House targets women and their families by gutting programs that help children get nutrition and education. The devastating cuts to SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, mostly affects women, children, disabled, and elderly while it boosts the economy. Budget cuts to Medicaid also hits low-income and middle-class women and families supporting the elderly. Ryan and his cronies would leave poor women to fend for themselves.

Issues keep rising to show this war—and not on caterpillars. This past week, Herman Cain, former Republican presidential candidate, explained why President Obama is over 20 points ahead of women in a recent poll: men are more familiar with policy and women know just about Obama’s family. Answer: men are much smarter than women, so Romney is losing between the two genders because women are dumber.

In Virginia, William Howell, past ALEC board chair and current Speaker of the state’s House of Delegates, was asked about the amount of money that Virginia taxpayers spend to send legislators to ALEC conferences, a place where they find conservative bills that they can take back home and force on the state’s residents. When he questioned the accuracy of a report from Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, about the expenditures and the 50 plus bills in the Virginia Legislature, including one that called for shutting down companies that hire illegal immigrants and another that would allow people to use deadly force to protect their homes, he said, “I guess I’m not speaking in little enough words for you to understand.” Howell apologized to Scholl after a video of the exchange went across the Internet and onto The Rachel Maddow Show.

Yesterday Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed a bill prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks. Although this new law sounds like those in several other states, it technically prevents abortions after 18 weeks because it calculates the fetus’s age from the pregnant woman’s last menstrual period. Republican males suffer greatly from an understanding of women’s reproductive functioning; they fail to understand that ovulation (Republicans, that’s when there’s a chance for pregnancy if the sperm hits the egg) occurs two weeks after menstruation. As always with Republicans, Brewer added a statement about protecting the health of women.

The new Arizona law also moves the mandatory ultrasound to 24 hours before the abortion instead of one hour. In addition, both Arizona and Kansas are passing bills that allow doctors to legally lie to pregnant women about any health issues in the fetus or pregnant woman.

Less than two weeks ago, Georgia also passed a 20-week abortion limit. In a classic statement, state Rep. Terry England compared pregnant women carrying stillborn fetuses to the cows and pigs on his farm. According to England, if farmers have to “deliver calves, dead or alive,” then a woman carrying a dead fetus, or one not expected to survive, should have to carry it to term. Illinois agrees that women are cattle. The bill that required asking women if they want to see an image of the fetus went through the House Agriculture Committee.

Last fall Heritage Christian Academy in Texas fired 29-year-old Cathy Samford, a teacher and coach, when she asked for a short leave. She and her fiancé had planned to marry a few weeks earlier, but the wedding was delayed. Samford, with two other young children, lost her health insurance. The headmaster said she was fired because of her “behavior out of wedlock” as well as her “being an unmarried mother.” Samford filed a charge of gender and pregnancy discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is suing the school.

An appeals court in Atlanta is currently hearing the case of fourth-grade teacher Jarretta Hamilton, fired after the principal at her non-denominational Christian school found out that she was pregnant before getting married. Catholic school teacher Christa Dias was fired in 2010 by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati after it learned that she had used artificial insemination to conceive; her case is still in court.

Romney has a record of warring on women. He pledged to repeal funding for Planned Parenthood or repeal title X which provides important health services for poor women. When he was a Bishop in the Mormon Church, he went to a congregant’s hospital room and told a young single mother who had just given birth that she was shaming the church and should give her baby away. When Romney ran Bain Capital, less than 10% of the senior workforce were women. The reason, he said in his 1994 Senate race, was that he had trouble finding qualified women to be executives.

Two days ago, when Sam Stein of the Huffington Post asked a Romney campaign aide if the candidate supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a six-second pause was followed by the answer that he would get back to Stein.   The final answer was that Romney wouldn’t try to repeal it. That’s questionable because Romney’s four favorite Supreme Court judges, models for those he would select, all voted against the case that led to Congress passing the act, the first one that Obama signed. Romney also strongly supports Wisconsin governor Scott Walker who just signed the repeal of that state’s equal pay law.

How did Congressional Republicans feel about the Ledbetter Act? Only three House Republicans and five Senators voted for the act: one, Arlen Specter, changed to the Democratic Party; another, Lisa Murkowski, was teabagged by her own party in 2010; and a third, Olympia Snowe, just quit because of her party’s attack on women.

To put some of the war on women into perspective, Alyssa Rosenbert put together A Pop Culture Guide to Surviving the War on Women, “ten pieces of pop culture that will make you laugh, think, and keep you in the fight for women’s rights at a time when the war on women makes America seem more like The Handmaid’s Tale than a modern country.” She highlights satire and science fiction to show the insanity of what’s happening in the 21st century regarding women’s reproductive rights.

Sometimes black humor helps. I laughed out loud this morning when I read Ruth Marcus’ column about Romney’s attempt to have his wife solve his “women problem.” Here are some excerpts:

“Romney, asked last week about the gender gap, twice said he wished his wife could take the question. ‘My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own and also with me,’ Romney told newspaper editors, ‘and she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy.’ Note to candidate: Women aren’t a foreign country. You don’t need an interpreter to talk to them. Even if you’re not fluent in their language, they might appreciate if you gave it a try.

“On the campaign trail with her husband, Ann often talks about the old days when she would be at home dealing with her rambunctious brood and Mitt would call from the road. ‘His consoling words were always the same: Ann, your job is more important than mine.’ This story is supposed to buttress Mitt’s bona fides as supportive husband, and Ann is, no doubt, a more tolerant spouse than I am. But every time I hear that patronizing line, I imagine responding, ‘Great. If my job is more important, then you come home and do it and I’ll check into the nice room at the Four Seasons.’

Will we women continue to put up with the Republicans’ arrogant, controlling attitude toward us? Maybe we should incorporate our uteruses so that they have the same rights as corporations!

March 10, 2012

Newspapers Censor ‘Doonesbury’

Republicans can force women to do their will, but they can’t talk about it. Neither can the media, at least not on the “funny pages.” After Gary Trudeau used the obscenely ridiculous occurrences within the past few weeks in next week’s comic strip Doonesbury, many newspapers are refusing to run this series because of its “graphic imagery” and “graphic language.” At least some of the newspapers are moving the comic strip series to the opinion pages or posting it on their websites although others are out and out rejecting it.

In Oregon, the Register-Guard (Eugene) plans a link on registerguard.com for readers who want to see the series while The Oregonian (Portland) posted on its website that Gary Trudeau “in our judgment went over the line of good taste and humor in penning a series on abortion using graphic language and images inappropriate for a comics page.” They also plan to post the series with a poll about the decision not to run it in the newspaper at gocomics.com/doonesbury. Of the 44 comments to the decision thus far, only one commended the newspaper. Sample comments to the decision:

This newspaper thinks its readers are morons.

I disagree with your shortsighted decision.

When did the Oregonian become the arbiter of “good taste” for its readers?

You are eroding your trust with the public you serve by this decision.

It is an embarrassment to the state of Oregon that our largest newspapers so freely practices censorship.

Apparently the obscene nature of the matter and its substance can be reported, but mocking the asinine nature of the subject is verboten.

For its premise, the “shocking” series uses the recent spate of state legislation requiring ultrasounds–many of them transvaginal–for women seeking abortions.It shows a woman going to a clinic where she is confronted people who state that she should be ashamed. A doctor reads a script for Gov. Rick Perry (TX) inviting her to a “compulsory transvaginal exam,” and a middle-aged legislator calls her “slut.” In one panel, the mandated procedure is compared to rape with the device described as a “ten-inch shaming wand.”

Complaining about the “language” and “imagery” is ironic because the same information has been on the news where children can see and hear it. Rush Limbaugh’s program is aired at a time that children have ready access to it.

In defense of the Texas law that requires an ultrasound before an abortion, abortion being a legal medical procedure in this country, Perry’s spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said that the governor is proud of his leadership on the sonogram laws. Frazier also said, “The decision to end a life is not funny. There is nothing comic about this tasteless interpretation of legislation we have passed in Texas to ensure that women have all the facts when making a life-ending legislation.”

Frazier is right about ending a life not being funny. People in Texas, more than in any other state, should be knowledgeable about ending lives because of the huge number of people, some of them innocent, executed by that state. This is also the same state that will no longer receive federal monies to help 130,000 low-income women in obtaining contraceptives and breast cancer examinations.

Thus Texas will protect the children and guarantee that more women become pregnant because they are unable to obtain birth control, an action probably leading to more abortions. This is the country where a political party that claims to be for “limited government” can force doctors to perform medical procedures with which they disagree. Women can be forced to hear a description of the image and the fetal heartbeat, but comic strip readers are “protected” from hearing about the horrific law passed by some of the states, with Virginia making the eighth one earlier this past week.

Doonesbury is satire, defined as an attack on or criticism of any stupidity or vice or a critique of dangerous religious, political, moral, or social standards. Stephen Colbert used satire when he employed an ultrasound wand to make Margaritas during his Super Tuesday program. (In my viewing area, Stephen Colbert’s show aired at 6:00 pm and therefore readily available to young people.) Laughter comes from shock, and the states’ mandates to force women to have transvaginal ultrasounds before an abortion is shocking.

The fact that Doonesbury is influential may frighten conservatives. The comic strip has caused social change, for example when it satirized a law in a Florida county that required minorities to have a passcard in the area. The law repealing this act was nicknamed the Doonesbury Act. Conservatives know that the most effective way to defeat opposition is to silence it.

Kudos to the Washington Post and the Cleveland Plain Dealer for running the satiric comic strip where it has always been—on the “funny pages.” Debbie Van Tassel, assistant managing editor of features at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, said that she and other top editors have decided to run the next Doonesbury. “We didn’t deliberate long. This newspaper deals with those issues [abortion and transvaginal ultrasounds] routinely in the news sections and in our health section.” She pointed out that the first page carried a story about the movement by women legislators across the country to curb men’s abilities to get vasectomies and prescriptions for erectile dysfunction. “I haven’t heard of any objections to that story yet,” Van Tassel said.

Fortunately some newspapers don’t want to suppress negative reactions to the conservatives’ attack on women.

February 25, 2012

Protesting Conservatives Takes Odd Turns

In their protests against the men’s refusal to allow women to testify in the House hearing regarding President Obama’s decision to make contraception available to all women, Congresswomen boycotted the session. The ensuing publicity make the Congressmen who prevented women from having a part in their future brought the conservatives’ “war on women” to the forefront in a way that other protests have not been able to do.

An example of the conservative male mentality comes from Washington state Senator Michael Baumgartner, challenging Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) for her re-election, when he denounced her for signing a Senate letter supporting the position that the “morning after” birth control pill be available over the counter at pharmacies.  Baumgartner said that Cantwell was not qualified to talk on the issue because she isn’t married but claims that he is because he has two daughters. He said nothing about Catholic bishops not being married.

The 1,000 activists who kept a silent vigil at the Virginia statehouse to protest the proposed invasive transvaginal ultrasound bill (the probe is eight to ten inches long) was a solemn struggle against the attempt toward eliminating women’s rights, including access to abortion and contraception, while the Republican presidential candidates make hay with their homophobic claims about reversing this nation’s movement toward diversity.

Other methods of protest are a form of black humor, for example the lesbian judge in Texas who refuses to marry people. Straight people, that is. Tonya Parker recently told members of the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas that she would not marry heterosexual couples: “I use it as my opportunity to give them a lesson about marriage inequality in this state because I feel like I have to tell them why I’m turning them away. So I usually will offer them something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry. I don’t perform marriage ceremonies because we are in a state that does not have marriage equality, and until it does, I am not going to partially apply the law to one group of people that doesn’t apply to another group of people.’ And it’s kind of oxymoronic for me to perform ceremonies that can’t be performed for me, so I’m not going to do it.”

Two lawmakers have found even more creative approaches toward the male war on women’s reproductive rights. Constance Johnson, a Democratic state senator in Oklahoma, addressed the “personhood bill” brought forth in the state, which would give zygotes the same rights as adults, by adding a provision that would treat any sperm not intended to fertilize an egg as an “an action against an unborn child.” Her language read: “However, any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.” Sad to say, Johnson later voted to table her amendment, and the personhood bill passed the Senate.

In Virginia, Democratic state Sen. Janet Howell introduced an amendment into the legislature that would have required men to obtain a rectal exam and cardiac stress test before they could receive a prescription for Viagra. Her amendment was in response to the bill mandating medical vaginal penetration before having an abortion even if women did not agree to the procedure. A few Republicans tried to explain that the consent at having sex carried over to the ultrasound penetration. Even if the explanation was at all rational—which it wasn’t—the rapes and incest were certainly not “consensual.”

Howell said, “We need some gender equity here. The Virginia Senate is about to pass a bill that will require a woman to have totally unnecessary medical procedure at their cost and inconvenience. If we’re going to do that to women, why not do that to men?” Fortunately, Virginia abandoned both the transvaginal ultrasound bill and the personhood bill—for now.

Texas has already passed a mandated sonogram law that requires women to have transvaginal ultrasounds because the majority of women get abortions during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, when the fetus is too small to be picked up on in an abdominal ultrasound. This law forcing vaginal penetration without a woman’s permission is in direct conflict to the Texas Penal Code that defines sexual assault as “intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent.”

Watching the insanity in other states, I’m grateful to be from Oregon where the Republican co-chair of the House, with the membership split 50-50 between the parties, said about the three important issues to discuss in the state legislature, “You have health care, you have education, and you have jobs.” What a refreshing change from the Republican-controlled states and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives where the “important” issues are eliminating voters with voter ID laws, making women second-class citizens through personhood and restrictive pre-abortion mandates, and eradicating unions to wipe out the middle class.

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