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Bernie Sanders Exposes 18 CEOs who took Trillions in Bailouts, Evaded Taxes and Outsourced Jobs

Sen. Bernie Sanders fired back at 80 CEOs who wrote a letter lecturing America about deficit reduction by released a report detailing how 18 of these CEOs have wrecked the economy by evading taxes and outsourcing jobs.   80 CEO’s raised the ire of Sen. Sanders by publishing a letter in the Wall Street Journal urging America to act on the deficit, and reform Medicare and Medicaid.

Sen. Sanders responded to the lecture from America’s CEO’s by releasing a report that detailed how 18 of them have helped blow up the deficit and wreck the economy by outsourcing jobs and evading US taxes.

Sanders said,

There really is no shame. The Wall Street leaders whose recklessness and illegal behavior caused this terrible recession are now lecturing the American people on the need for courage to deal with the nation’s finances and deficit crisis. Before telling us why we should cut Social Security, Medicare and other vitally important programs, these CEOs might want to take a hard look at their responsibility for causing the deficit and this terrible recession.

Our Wall Street friends might also want to show some courage of their own by suggesting that the wealthiest people in this country, like them, start paying their fair share of taxes. They might work to end the outrageous corporate loopholes, tax havens and outsourcing provisions that their lobbyists have littered throughout the tax code – contributing greatly to our deficit.

Many of the CEO’s who signed the deficit-reduction letter run corporations that evaded at least $34.5 billion in taxes by setting up more than 600 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens since 2008. As a result, at least a dozen of the companies avoided paying any federal income taxes in recent years, and even received more than $6.4 billion in tax refunds from the IRS since 2008.

Several of the companies received a total taxpayer bailout of more than $2.5 trillion from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department.

Many of the companies also have outsourced hundreds of thousands of American jobs to China and other low wage countries, forcing their workers to receive unemployment insurance and other federal benefits. In other words, these are some of the same people who have significantly caused the deficit to explode over the last four years.

Here are the 18 CEO’s Sanders labeled job destroyers in his report. (All data from Top Corporate Dodgers report).

1). 1. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2010? Zero. $1.9 billion tax refund.
Taxpayer Bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department?  Over $1.3 trillion.
Amount of federal income taxes Bank of America would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $2.6 billion.

2). Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2008? Zero. $278 million tax refund.
Taxpayer Bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department? $824 billion.
Amount of federal income taxes Goldman Sachs would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $2.7 billion

3). JP Morgan Chase CEO James Dimon
Taxpayer Bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department? $416 billion.
Amount of federal income taxes JP Morgan Chase would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $4.9 billion.

4). General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2010? Zero. $3.3 billion tax refund.
Taxpayer Bailout from the Federal Reserve? $16 billion.
Jobs Shipped Overseas? At least 25,000 since 2001.

5). Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2010? Zero. $705 million tax refund.
American Jobs Cut in 2010? In 2010, Verizon announced 13,000 job cuts, the third highest corporate layoff total that year.

6). Boeing CEO James McNerney, Jr.
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2010? None. $124 million tax refund.
American Jobs Shipped overseas? Over 57,000.
Amount of Corporate Welfare? At least $58 billion.

7). Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
Amount of federal income taxes Microsoft would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $19.4 billion.

8). Honeywell International CEO David Cote
Amount of federal income taxes paid from 2008-2010? Zero. $34 million tax refund.

9). Corning CEO Wendell Weeks
Amount of federal income taxes paid from 2008-2010? Zero. $4 million tax refund.

10). Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2008? Zero. $74 million tax refund.

11). Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2009? Zero. $55 million tax refund.

12). Deere & Company CEO Samuel Allen
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2009? Zero. $1 million tax refund

13). Marsh & McLennan Companies CEO Brian Duperreault
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2010? Zero. $90 million refund.

14). Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs
Amount of federal income taxes Qualcomm would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $4.7 billion.

15). Tenneco CEO Gregg Sherill
Amount of federal income taxes Tenneco would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $269 million.

16). Express Scripts CEO George Paz
Amount of federal income taxes Express Scripts would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $20 million.

17). Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman
Amount of federal income taxes Caesars Entertainment would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $9 million.

18). R.R. Donnelly & Sons CEO Thomas Quinlan III
Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2008? Zero. $49 million tax refund.

Eighteen of the 80 CEOs who signed the call for deficit action are actually some of the biggest outsourcers and tax cheats in America. First, they crashed the economy in 2008. They followed that up by taking billions in taxpayer bailout dollars. Their next step was to outsource jobs and evade taxes. Now they are calling for action on a deficit that they helped create over the past four years.

Bernie Sanders is exposing the hypocrisy of these CEOs, and every American should understand that if Mitt Romney is elected president, these pigs see potential for unlimited feeding from the taxpayer trough. Only by standing together can we tell these CEOs that the bill has come due, and it is time for them to pay.

We can tell these gluttons of our dollars that the all you can eat taxpayer buffet is now closed.

 

Jason Easley, Progressive Democrats of America

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State Passes Law to Legalize Shooting Police

Finally some rational legislation is passed concerning ‘public servants’ unlawfully entering another person’s property.

All too often, we see examples of cops breaking into the wrong house and shooting the family dog, or worse, killing a member of the family.

Well, Indiana has taken action to “recognize the unique character of a citizen’s home and to ensure that a citizen feels secure in his or her own home against unlawful intrusion by another individual or a public servant.”

This special amendment is no revolutionary new thought, only common sense.

Self-defense is a natural right; when laws are in place that protect incompetent police by removing one’s ability to protect one’s self, simply because the aggressor has a badge and a uniform, this is a human rights violation. Indiana is leading the way by recognizing this right and creating legislation to protect it.

Of course cops have already begun to fear monger the passage of this bill, “If I pull over a car and I walk up to it and the guy shoots me, he’s going to say, ‘Well, he was trying to illegally enter my property,’ ” said Joseph Hubbard, 40, president of Jeffersonville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 100. “Somebody is going get away with killing a cop because of this law.”

Instead of looking at the beneficial aspect of this law, which creates the incentive for police to act responsibly and just, Hubbard takes the ‘higher than thou’ attitude and is simply worried about himself.

How about questioning the immoral laws that you are enforcing in the first place? Or how about sympathizing with the innocent people whose pets and family members have been slain, due to police negligence?

 

Who’s to say that a cop pulling you over to extort money from you for the victimless crime of not wearing a seatbelt, isn’t an unlawful act? Or how about breaking down your door in the middle of the night to kidnap you and throw you in a cage for possessing a plant?

Hopefully this legislation will lead to these arbitrary traffic and drug enforcement “laws” in place solely for revenue collection (aka theft), being brought into question.

The law states:

(i) A person is justified in using reasonable force against a public servant if the person reasonably believes the force is necessary to:
(1) protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force;
(2) prevent or terminate the public servant’s unlawful entry of or attack on the person’s dwelling, curtilage, or occupied motor vehicle; or
(3) prevent or terminate the public servant’s unlawful trespass on or criminal interference with property lawfully in the person’s possession, lawfully in possession of a member of the person’s immediate family, or belonging to a person whose property the person has authority to protect.

It is through legislation such as this, which will empower people again and aid in bringing down these tyrants from their pedestals, who are given free rein to murder and pillage without consequence.

Matt Agorist, the Free Thought Project

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Warren: Explosion of contract workers ‘a problem’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wouldn’t say Tuesday night whether she thought that employees for companies like Uber and Lyft that use an army of contractors to meet growing demand should instead be classified as employees, and thus receive greater protections and more benefits.

The topic came up during an on stage appearance at a conference produced by news organization Re/Code, when a BuzzFeed News reporter asked whether “1099” workers, named after the tax form they fill out as contractors, should instead be seen as more traditional workers for the many startups that rely on their labor.

Warren didn’t answer, but she did express concern about the way companies in general are using their contractors.

“I think there is evidence that increasingly employers use independent contractors not in ways that were originally intended but in ways that permit them to treat employment laws differently than they otherwise would be responsible for, and I think that’s a real problem,” she said. “And I think the Department of Labor is looking into this and I think they’re right to do that.”

It was not clear what Department of Labor investigation she was referring to, though the agency does run investigations into whether employers are misclassifying their employees as contractors.

Contractors are not eligible for certain benefits afforded to regular employees, including unemployment. Uber and Lyft drivers in California have sued in order to be recognized as employees, and a Florida agency found this month that an Uber driver seeking unemployment benefits was an employee.

On Tuesday, Warren also seemed to strike some notes that were sympathetic with Silicon Valley.

“Our only chance for survival to innovate our way out of this,” she said, when asked about how Silicon Valley is changing the economy. “We’re not going to stop tech so that lots of people can work. That’s like saying ‘Oh, let’s get rid of heavy equipment and have everybody dig with a spoon, because that way lots of people will be employed.’ No, that’s not going to work.”

She also said that “work is changing in America.”

“The old notion, you work for one employer forever and ever, that’s just gone,” she said. “People are going to piece together a lot of different work, and a lot of different kinds of work, over the arc of a career.”

Many politicians have seized on startups, including sharing economy firms like Uber, as a symbol of Silicon Valley’s place as an economic driver. Earlier this month, two congressmen launchedthe Sharing Economy Caucus to educate people on Capitol Hill about the issues facing the burgeoning industry.

The Republican National Committee has said that sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb are evidence of the kind of innovations they say can be stifled by regulation.

David McCabe, The Hill

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On Guard: What made SF Pride change its mind on Facebook’s parade sponsorship?

If you’re a high-profile donor to San Francisco Pride, you might be able to discriminate against the LGBT community and get away with it.

The Facebook real-name debate is raging again. Amid this push for digital civil rights, the San Francisco Pride board considered dropping Facebook’s sponsorship of its parade. But it appears a phone call changed the board’s mind.

Banning the social media giant would have been a bold move that might have put pressure on Facebook to change its stance on its controversial “authentic name” policy.

However, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called Gary Virginia, the board’s president, and perhaps other board members to discuss the issue, according to documents obtained by The San Francisco Examiner.

Insiders said this call may have been key in swaying the vote in favor of Facebook.

Virginia did not return calls for comment.

The board backed Facebook in a 5-4 vote to allow the social media giant to march in the Pride Parade next month.

Last year, Facebook came under fire from local drag queens when its authentic-name policy led to local performer Sister Roma and others being barred from the social network. The policy allows users to report people they believe are using fake names.

Sister Roma and others said LGBT users were disproportionately targeted by bigots. Trans people, drag queens, drag kings and others in the LGBT community often go by something that is not their legal name, but nonetheless honestly reflects their identity.

As the issue heated up, others who rely on pseudonyms on Facebook spoke out. They included domestic violence survivors, people fleeing stalkers, teachers who want private lives away from their students, those transitioning to a different gender and many more.

“We firmly believe in and are committed to our authentic name policy,” Facebook wrote in a statement last week, adding that “we’ve made significant improvements over the last nine months in the way the policy is enforced.”

But Sister Roma, a leader in the #MyNameIs campaign, was in those negotiations with Facebook. She said she feels fooled, as the social media giant barely budged on its policy.

Supporters of #MyNameIs plan to protest at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on June 1. The protest is one thing, but a black eye from San Francisco’s Pride board could have put serious pressure on the social media giant.

So what happened?

The Examiner obtained draft minutes of the contentious meeting.

“Since Gary [Virginia] mentioned it at the Tuesday meeting, advocates know that Mark Zuckerberg has been on the phone with us,” say the minutes recapping testimony from board member Jesse Oliver. “What does it say if all it takes is a 15-minute phone call from Zuckerberg for Pride to sell out our own community?”

Board member Larry Crickenberger, who voted in favor of Facebook, said booting Facebook was the “nuclear option” and “too extreme,” meeting minutes show.

Many worried a vote to ban Facebook would hurt future donations.

Before the board voted to back Facebook, member Jose Cital pleaded for his colleagues to put people’s rights ahead of corporate interests:

“Why am I here? I am supposed to represent youth and I am a person of color, but my view is never listened to on this board. If we aren’t here to take a stand, why are we even doing this?

“I don’t care about raising money for a party. I care about making a difference.”

Take Action: Join the #MyNameIs supporters as they take a caravan of buses to protest at Facebook HQ on June 1, and sign their Change.org petition at http://bit.ly/FBMyNameIs.

, SF Examiner

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Here are 7 things people who say they’re ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal’ don’t understand

“Well, I’m conservative, but I’m not one of those racist, homophobic, dripping-with-hate Tea Party bigots! I’m pro-choice! I’m pro-same-sex-marriage! I’m not a racist! I just want lower taxes, and smaller government, and less government regulation of business. I’m fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.”

How many liberals and progressives have heard this? It’s ridiculously common. Hell, even David Koch of the Koch brothers has said, “I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.”’

And it’s wrong. W-R-O-N-G Wrong.

You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives. Even if the people supporting these policies don’t intend this, the policies are racist, sexist, classist (obviously), ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise socially retrograde. In many ways, they do more harm than so-called “social policies” that are supposedly separate from economic ones. Here are seven reasons that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is nonsense.

1: Poverty, and the cycle of poverty. This is the big one. Poverty is a social issue. The cycle of poverty — the ways that poverty itself makes it harder to get out of poverty, the ways that poverty can be a permanent trap lasting for generations — is a social issue, and a human rights issue.

If you’re poor, there’s about a two in three chance that you’re going to stay poor for at least a year, about a two in three chance that if you do pull out of poverty you’ll be poor again within five years — and about a two in three chance that your children are going to be poor. Among other things: Being poor makes it much harder to get education or job training that would help you get higher-paying work. Even if you can afford job training or it’s available for free — if you have more than one job, or if your work is menial and exhausting, or if both of those are true (often the case if you’re poor), there’s a good chance you won’t have the time or energy to get that training, or to look for higher-paying work. Being poor typically means you can’t afford to lose your job — which means you can’t afford to unionize, or otherwise push back against your wages and working conditions. It means that a temporary crisis — sickness or injury, job loss, death in the family — can destroy your life: you have no cushion, nobody you know has a cushion, a month or two without income and you’re totally screwed. If you do lose your job, or if you’re disabled, the labyrinthine bureaucracy of unemployment and disability benefits is exhausting: if you do manage to navigate it, it can deplete your ability to do much of anything else to improve your life — and if you can’t navigate it, that’s very likely going to tank your life.

Also, ironically, being poor is expensive. You can’t buy high-quality items that last longer and are a bargain in the long run. You can’t buy in bulk. You sure as hell can’t buy a house: depending on where you live, monthly mortgage payments might be lower than the rent you’re paying, but you can’t afford a down payment, and chances are a bank won’t give you a mortgage anyway. You can’t afford the time or money to take care of your health — which means you’re more likely to get sick, which is expensive. If you don’t have a bank account (which many poor people don’t), you have to pay high fees at check-cashing joints. If you run into a temporary cash crisis, you have to borrow from price-gouging payday-advance joints. If your car breaks down and you can’t afford to repair or replace it, it can mean unemployment. If you can’t afford a car at all, you’re severely limited in what jobs you can take in the first place — a limitation that’s even more severe when public transportation is wildly inadequate. If you’re poor, you may have to move a lot — and that’s expensive. These aren’t universally true for all poor people — but way too many of them are true, for way too many people.

Second chances, once considered a hallmark of American culture and identity, have become a luxury. One small mistake — or no mistake at all, simply the mistake of being born poor — can trap you there forever.

Plus, being poor doesn’t just mean you’re likely to stay poor. It means that if you have children, they’re more likely to stay poor. It means you’re less able to give your children the things they need to flourish — both in easily-measurable tangibles like good nutrition, and less-easily-measurable qualities like a sense of stability. The effect of poverty on children — literally on their brains, on their ability to literally function — is not subtle, and it lasts into adulthood. Poverty’s effect on adults is appalling enough. Its effect on children is an outrage.

And in case you hadn’t noticed, poverty — including the cycle of poverty and the effect of poverty on children — disproportionately affects African Americans, Hispanics, other people of color, women, trans people, disabled people, and other marginalized groups.

So what does this have to do with fiscal policy? Well, duh. Poverty is perpetuated or alleviated, worsened or improved, by fiscal policy. That’s not the only thing affecting poverty, but it’s one of the biggest things. To list just a few of the most obvious examples of very direct influence: Tax policy. Minimum wage. Funding of public schools and universities. Unionization rights. Banking and lending laws. Labor laws. Funding of public transportation. Public health care. Unemployment benefits. Disability benefits. Welfare policy. Public assistance that doesn’t penalize people for having savings. Child care. Having a functioning infrastructure, having economic policies that support labor, having a tax system that doesn’t steal from the poor to give to the rich, having a social safety net — a real safety net, not one that just barely keeps people from starving to death but one that actually lets people get on their feet and function — makes a difference. When these systems are working, and are working well, it’s easier for people to get out of poverty. When they’re not, it’s difficult to impossible. And I haven’t even gotten into the fiscal policy of so-called “free” trade, and all the ways it feeds poverty both in the U.S. and around the world. (I’ll get to that in a bit.)

Fiscal policy affects poverty. And in the United States, “fiscally conservative” means supporting fiscal policies that perpetuate poverty. “Fiscally conservative” means slashing support systems that help the poor, lowering taxes for the rich, cutting corners for big business, and screwing labor — policies that both worsen poverty and make it even more of an inescapable trap.

2: Domestic violence, workplace harassment, and other abuse. See above, re: cycle of poverty. If someone is being beaten by their partner, harassed or assaulted at work, abused by their parents — and if they’re poor, and if there’s fuck-all for a social safety net — it’s a hell of a lot harder for them to leave. What’s more, the stress of poverty itself — especially inescapable, entrapped poverty — contributes to violence and abuse.

And you know who gets disproportionately targeted with domestic violence and workplace harassment? Women. Especially women of color. And LGBT folks — especially trans women of color, and LGBT kids and teenagers. Do you care about racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynist violence? Then quit undercutting the social safety net. A solid safety net — a safety net that isn’t made of tissue paper, and that doesn’t require the people in it to constantly scramble just to stay there, much less to climb out — isn’t going to magically eliminate this violence and harassment. But it sure makes it easier for people to escape it.

3: Disenfranchisement. There’s a cycle that in some ways is even uglier than the cycle of poverty — because it blocks people from changing the policies that keep the cycle of poverty going. I’m talking about the cycle of disenfranchisement.

I’m talking about the myriad ways that the super-rich control the political process — and in controlling the political process, both make themselves richer and give themselves even more control over the political process. Purging voter rolls. Cutting polling place hours. Cutting back on early voting — especially in poor districts. Voter ID laws. Roadblocks to voter registration — noticeably aimed at people likely to vote progressive. Questionable-at-best voter fraud detection software, which — by some wild coincidence — tends to flag names that are common among minorities. Eliminating Election Day registration. Restricting voter registration drives. Gerrymandering — creating voting districts with the purpose of skewing elections in your favor.

Voter suppression is a real thing in the United States. And these policies are set in place by the super-rich — or, to be more precise, by the government officials who are buddies with the super-rich and are beholden to them. These policies are not set in place to reduce voter fraud: voter fraud is extremely rare in the U.S., to the point of being almost non-existent. The policies are set in place to make voting harder for people who would vote conservative plutocrats out of office. If you’re skeptical about whether this is actually that deliberate, whether these policies really are written by plutocratic villains cackling over how they took even more power from the already disempowered — remember Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai, who actually said, in words, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

Remember former Florida Republican chairman Jim Greer, who actually said, in words, “We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us.” Remember the now-former North Carolina Republican official Don Yelton, who actually said, in words, that voter restrictions including voter ID were “going to kick Democrats in the butt.” Remember the Texas Republican attorney general and candidate for governor Greg Abbott, who actually said, in words, that “their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.” Remember Doug Preisse, Republican chair of Franklin County (Ohio’s second-largest county) who actually said (well, wrote), in words, that Ohio Republicans were pushing hard to limit early voting because “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” (And no, the “read African-American” clarification isn’t mine — it’s his.) Remember… oh, you get the idea. Disenfranchisement is not some accidental side effect of Republican-sponsored voting restrictions. Disenfranchisement is the entirely intentional point.

And on top of that, you’ve got campaign finance laws saying that corporations are people, too — “people” with just as much right as you or I to donate millions of dollars to candidates who’ll write laws helping them out. When you’ve got fiscal policies that enrich the already rich — such as regressive tax policies, deregulation of businesses, deregulation of the financial industry — and you combine them with campaign finance laws that have essentially legalized bribery, you get a recipe for a cycle of disenfranchisement. The more that rich people control the political process, the richer they get — and the richer they get, the more they control the political process.

4: Racist policing. There’s a whole lot going on with racist policing in the United States. Obviously. But a non-trivial chunk of it is fiscal policy. Ferguson shone a spotlight on this, but it isn’t just in Ferguson — it’s all over the country. In cities and counties and towns across the United States, the government is funded, in large part, by tickets and fines for municipal violations — and by the meta-system of interest, penalties, surcharges, and fees on those tickets and fines, which commonly turn into a never-ending debt amounting to many, many times the original fine itself.

This is, for all intents and purposes, a tax. It’s a tax on poor people. It’s a tax on poor people for being poor, for not having a hundred dollars in their bank account that they can drop at a moment’s notice on a traffic ticket. And it’s a tax that disproportionately targets black and brown people. When combined with the deeply ingrained culture of racism in many many many police forces — a police culture that hammers black and brown people for the crime of existing — it is a tax on black and brown people, purely for being black or brown. But Loki forbid we raise actual taxes. Remember the fiscal conservative mantra: “Low taxes good! High taxes bad!” High taxes are bad — unless we don’t call them a tax. If we call it a penalty or a fine, that’s just peachy. And if it’s disproportionately levied by a racist police force on poor black people, who have little visibility or power and are being systematically disenfranchised — that’s even better. What are they going to do about it? And who’s going to care? It’s not as if black lives matter. What’s more: You know some of the programs that have been proposed to reduce racist policing? Programs like automatic video monitoring of police encounters? An independent federal agency to investigate and discipline local policing, to supplement or replace ineffective, corrupt, or non-existent self-policing? Those take money. Money that comes from taxes. Money that makes government a little bit bigger. Fiscal conservatism — the reflexive cry of “Lower taxes! Smaller government!” — contributes to racist policing. Even if you, personally, oppose racist policing, supporting fiscal conservatism makes you part of the problem.

5: Drug policy and prison policy. Four words: The new Jim CrowDrug war policies in the United States — including sentencing policies, probation policies, which drugs are criminalized and how severely, laws banning felons convicted on drug charges from voting, and more — have pretty much zero effect on reducing the harm that can be done by drug abuse. They don’t reduce drug use, they don’t reduce drug addiction, they don’t reduce overdoses, they don’t reduce accidents or violence that can be triggered by drug abuse. If anything, these policies make all of this worse.

But they do have one powerful effect: Current drug policies in the United States are very, very good at creating and perpetuating a permanent black and brown underclass. They are very good at creating a permanent class of underpaid, disenfranchised, disempowered servants, sentenced to do shit work at low wages for white people, for the rest of their lives.

This is not a bug. This is a feature.

You don’t have to be a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist to see how current U.S. drug policy benefits the super-rich and super-powerful. It is a perfect example of a “social issue” with powerful ripple effects into the economy. And that’s not even getting into the issue of how the wealthy might benefit from super-cheap prison labor, labor that borders so closely on slavery it’s hard to distinguish it. So people who are well-served by the current economy are strongly motivated to keep drug policy firmly in place.

Plus, two more words: Privatized prisons. Privatized prisons mean prisons run by people who have no interest in reducing the prison population — people who actually benefit from a high crime rate, a high recidivism rate, severe sentencing policies, severe probation policies, and other treats that keep the prison population high. It’s as if we had privatized fire departments, who got paid more the more fires they put out — and thus had every incentive, not to improve fire prevention techniques and policies and education, but to gut them.

Privatization of prisons is a conservative fiscal policy. It’s a policy based on the conservative ideal of low taxes, small government, and the supposedly miraculous power of the free market to make any system more efficient. And it’s a policy with a powerful social effect — the effect of doing tremendous harm.

It’s true that there are some conservatives advocating for criminal justice reform, including drug policy reform, on the grounds that the current system isn’t cost-effective. The problem with this, as Drug Policy Alliance Deputy State Director Laura Thomas points out: When you base policy decisions entirely on whether they’re cost-effective, the bottom line will always take priority. Injustice, racism, corruption, abuse — all of these can stay firmly in place. Human rights, and the human cost of these policies? Meh. Who cares — as long as we can cut government spending?

6: Deregulation. This one is really straightforward. Deregulation of business is a conservative fiscal policy. And it has a devastating effect on marginalized people. Do I need to remind anyone of what happened when the banking and financial industries were deregulated?

Do I need to remind anyone of who was most hurt by those disasters? Overwhelmingly poor people, working-class people, and people of color.

But this isn’t just about banking and finance. Deregulation of environmental standards, workplace safety standards, utilities, transportation, media — all of these have the entirely unsurprising effect of making things better for the people who own the businesses, and worse for the people who patronize them and work for them. Contrary to the fiscal conservative myth, an unregulated free market does not result in exceptional businesses fiercely competing for the best workers and lavishly serving the public. It results in monopoly. It results in businesses with the unofficial slogan, “We Don’t Care — We Don’t Have To.” It results in 500-pound gorillas, sleeping anywhere they want.

7: “Free” trade. This one is really straightforward. So-called “free” trade policies have a horrible effect on human rights, both in the United States and overseas. They let corporationshire labor in countries where labor laws — laws about minimum wage, workplace safety, working hours, child labor — are weak to nonexistent. They let corporations hire labor in countries where they can pay children as young as five years old less than a dollar a day, to work 12 or even 16 hours a day, in grossly unsafe workplaces and grueling working conditions that make Dickensian London look like a socialist Utopia.

And again — this is not a bug. This is a feature. This is the whole damn point of “free” trade: by reducing labor costs to practically nothing, it provides cheap consumer products to American consumers, and it funnels huge profits to already obscenely rich corporations. It also decimates blue-collar employment in the United States — and it feeds human rights abuses around the world. Thank you, fiscal conservatism!

***

This list is far from complete. But I think you get the idea.

Now. There are conservatives who will insist that this isn’t what “fiscally conservative” means. They’re not inherently opposed to government spending, they say. They’re just opposed to ineffective and wasteful government spending.

Bullshit. Do they really think progressives are in favor of wasteful and ineffective government? Do they think we’re saying, “Thumbs up to ineffective government spending! Let’s pour our government’s resources down a rat hole! Let’s spend our tax money giving every citizen a solid-gold tuba and a lifetime subscription to Cigar Aficionado!” This is an idealized, self-serving definition of “fiscally conservative,” defined by conservatives to make their position seem reasonable. It does not describe fiscal conservatism as it actually plays out in the United States. The reality of fiscal conservatism in the United States is not cautious, evidence-based attention to which government programs do and don’t work. If that were ever true in some misty nostalgic past, it hasn’t been true for a long, long time. The reality of fiscal conservatism in the United States means slashing government programs, even when they’ve been shown to work. The reality means decimating government regulations, even when they’ve been shown to improve people’s lives. The reality means cutting the safety net to ribbons, and letting big businesses do pretty much whatever they want.

You can say all you want that modern conservatism in the United States isn’t what you, personally, mean by conservatism. But hanging on to some ideal of “conservatism” as a model of sensible-but-compassionate frugality that’s being betrayed by the Koch Brothers and the Tea Party — it’s like hanging onto some ideal of Republicanism as the party of abolition and Lincoln. And it lends credibility to the idea that conservatism is reasonable, if only people would do it right.

If you care about marginalized people — if you care about the oppression of women, LGBT people, disabled people, African Americans and Hispanics and other people of color — you need to do more than go to same-sex weddings and listen to hip-hop. You need to support economic policies that make marginalized people’s lives better. You need to oppose economic policies that perpetuate human rights abuses and make marginalized people’s lives suck.

And that means not being a fiscal conservative.

Greta Christina, Raw Story

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On Scene With Bill Wilson: Rome

PhotoOne

The Rome Civil Union certificate of William Francis Wilson and Fernando Proietti Orlandi

1. Registered as Domestic Partners San Francisco. 1991

2. Registered as Domestic Partners Washington, D.C.

3. Registered with State of California as DP – no rights.1998

4. Registered with State of California as DP with full rights. 2004

5. Married February 12, 2004 –ruled “null and void” by CA Supreme Court.

6. Married June 18, 2008 – legally recognized by US Supreme Court 6/2014.

7. Entered in Civil Union Registry of Rome, Italy May 21, 2015

This is the paper trail Fernando and I have established over the years. The joke has become, “We’ve been married as many times as Elizabeth Taylor, just to the same person!”

PhotoA

Fernando and Bill on the steps to a civil union in Rome.

Our latest excursion took us to Rome. With four witnesses in tow we gathered at Rome’s Campidoglio, a plaza redesigned by Michelangelo. As we ascended a long and grand staircase, we were besieged by media. Not the first time we’ve dealt with media, just the first time in Italian so Fernando got to respond to the questions.

PhotoB

Sala Protomoteca – the room were the ceremonies took place.

Once they started letting people entered the room where the ceremonies were to take place the room quickly filled up with media and guests of the couples. In Italy the symbol of authority is a tricolor sash. When the Mayor can’t be present the person he designates to act in his stead wears it. On May 21 the person wearing the tricolor sash was Alessandra Cattoi, Assessore alle Pari Opportunita (Assessor of Equal Opportunity for the City of Rome)

PhotoC

Alessandra Cattoi, Rome’s Equal Opportunity Assessor

There was every type of family represented by the couples who registered. There were straight couples, straight couples with children, lesbian couples, lesbian couples with children, gay couples, and gay couples with children. There were probably b and t couples as well, it just wasn’t noted in the press release and I had no way of asking.

PhotoD

Gay couple listens to the person who presides over their civil union.

It took over two hours to get through the 17 couples that were registered because the process is a little different than in the United States. Each couple had a ceremony that was presided over by the equivalent of our City Supervisors. Of course each politician had to speak to the importance of the day. I wish I could relate the eloquence of the speakers but there was no English translation for the remarks (nor should there have been. I should know Italian by now.)

PhotoE

Fernando (in blue pants) and Bill wait for their turn to register their Civil Union.

Once they got to us the process went rather quickly because we already had been married so are ceremony consisted of brief remarks and verification that we were the people listed in the records. Then we went over and paid for our certificate and were done.

PhotoF

The finished paper work.

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Nestle bottled water operations spark protests amid California drought

Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of two Nestle bottling plants in California on Wednesday to deliver petitions demanding the company stop bottling operations in the drought-stricken state.

The petitions – carrying more than 500,000 signatures – were accepted by Nestle staff members at both the Sacramento and Los Angeles bottling plants, protesters said, as residents and activists chanted slogans like “Our water is not for sale” and “Water is a human right, don’t let Nestle win this fight.”

In Sacramento, where around 50 protesters gathered, one eight-foot-long banner read: “Nestle, 515,000 people say leave California’s precious water in the ground,” referring to the total number signatures collected on the delivered petitions.

California has now entered its fourth consecutive year of drought, and residents of the state’s cities have been told to cut their consumption by as much as 36%.

“It is very disturbing and actually quite offensive that a foreign company is taking our water, bottling it and selling it back to us,” said Nick Rodnam, one protester at the Los Angeles plant, who launched one of the petitions on Change.org.

While Starbucks recently pulled its water bottling operations from the state on ethical grounds, Nestle and other companies like Walmart continue to source water for bottling in California, buying at the same rate as residents and selling at one hundred times the profit.

Morgan Goodwin, a 30-year-old city council member in Truckee, California, who took part in the protests at the Sacramento plant, said Nestle was treating California water as a “free-for-all”, while his constituents had been ordered to cut their water consumption by 28% in a state-issued mandate.

At the beginning of last month, California governor Jerry Brown took a historic step by issuing an executive order outlining mandatory water conservation measures, including a 25% average cut in urban areas.

Last week, Nestle CEO Tim Brown declared he had no intentions of pulling his water sourcing operations out of the state. If anything, he said in a radio interview, he would like to increase operations.

“There are over 1 million Californians who are without safe access to clean water in California today,” said Walker Foley of Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based NGO.

In some small, poor California communities facing clean-water crises, residents spend up to 10% of their income on bottled water, the organization says.

“It is a glaring contradiction that water is a human right, but companies like Nestle are allowed to bottle and privatize a public asset at a tremendous markup,” Foley said.

“We feel good about what we’re doing delivering healthy hydration to people throughout the state of California,” Nestle’s Tim Brown said last week.

“As the second-largest bottler in the state, we’re filling a role many others are filling. It’s driven by consumer demand, it’s driven by an on-the-go society that needs to hydrate,” he said.

Rose Hackman, The Guardian

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GOP blocks Warren bill demanding trade deal transparency By Jordain Carney

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) blocked legislation from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Thursday that could have complicated ongoing trade talks by demanding public disclosure of deals before they get “fast-track” status.

Warren and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) pushed a measure that would have let the public see the details of a trade deal before lawmakers decide whether or not to designate it as fast-track, which allows for congressional approval by a simple majority vote and prohibits lawmakers from offering amendments.

But Hatch objected to her request, blocking Warren’s bill from passing. The trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation currently being considered by the Senate would require the president to have to post the details of any trade deal for 60 days before signing it.
Unlike Warren’s bill, though, the current trade legislation automatically grants fast-track status to agreements.

Warren’s bill would likely complicate the ongoing trade talks with 11 Asia-Pacific countries; the administration has insisted that fast-track it is crucial to the deal being finalized.

The Utah Republican said that if senators are concerned about the level of transparency on trade agreements, they should support the current legislation.

“[But] those who oppose TPA and trade agreements outright will likely continue to use the supposed lack of transparency as an excuse to oppose the bill,” Hatch said.

But Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) dismissed Hatch’s argument, saying that concerns over transparency are “not a partisan issue.”

“I respect my president. I’ve talked to him and I know in his heart he’s doing what he thinks is right, but he says this isn’t secret and everyone’s got access to it,” Boxer said. “This is not an open process.”

Warren has been at the center of a intraparty fight over the fast track legislation, and she, as well as Boxer and Manchin, voted against ending debate on the current bill earlier Thursday.

Jordain Carney, The Hill

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Bush blasts ‘arrogance’ of those who believe climate science

In Connecticut yesterday, President Obama delivered a commencement at the Coast Guard Academy, and devoted much of his remarks to one specific topic: the national security implications of climate change.

”I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country,” the president said. “And so we need to act, and we need to act now.”

Just a little further north, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was campaigning in New Hampshire, where he offered a very different perspective on the climate crisis. The Washington Post reported overnight:

“The climate is changing. I don’t think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted,” he told roughly 150 people at a house party here Wednesday night. “And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you. It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it even.”

In response [to Obama’s remarks], Bush said that climate change should be just “part of, a small part of prioritization of our foreign policy.” He suggested that the United States should encourage countries that have higher carbon emissions rates to reduce them.

The Florida Republican went on to argue that President Obama deserves no credit for recent decreases in U.S. carbon emissions. Instead, Bush said fracking and new drilling techniques have helped.

Oh my.

Clearly, some of these claims are very hard to take seriously. President Obama’s policies, for example, have made a positive impact. To see fracking and new drilling techniques as contributing to reduced emission is a stretch.

But the real problem here is Bush’s rejection of the scientific consensus. The GOP candidate thinks the debate is “convoluted.” It’s not. Bush rejects the idea that the science is “decided.” That’s backwards.

The former governor believes it’s “intellectual arrogance” to skip the “conversation” between people who believe reality and climate deniers. That’s ridiculous – the conversation has already ended, and the deniers lost.

What’s actually arrogant is the belief that confused politicians can ignore a scientific consensus on a global crisis.

Oddly enough, during another swing through New Hampshire last month, Jeb Bush told an audience that “we need to work with the rest of the world to negotiate a way to reduce carbon emissions.” His concerns about “arrogance” have apparently emerged in the weeks since.

In the larger context, Bush’s latest nonsense further undermines the reputation he worked so hard to cultivate. The former governor was supposed to be “the smart one” – the one who takes his responsibilities seriously, the one who cares about policy details, the one who describes himself as a “wonk.”

But in recent weeks, Bush seems to have decided to shed that reputation for, well, this new-and-not-improved model. This more recent iteration of the Florida Republican can’t speak coherently about Iraq, thinks his Apple Watch is part of an anti-Obamacare vision, isn’t up to speed on immigration policy, and thinks people who believe in climate science are “arrogant.”

I’m reminded of Gail Collins’ column from last week: “As a presidential hopeful, Bush’s most attractive feature was an aura of competence. Extremely boring competence, perhaps. Still, an apparent ability to get through the day without demonstrating truly scary ineptitude.”

The more he dabbles in climate nonsense, the more that “aura” disappears.

Steve Benin, MSNBC

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57% Of Republicans Say Dismantle Constitution And Make Christianity National Religion

A Public Policy Polling (PPP) national survey conducted between February 20th and February 22nd of Republican voters, found that an astonishing 57 percent of Republicans want to dismantle the Constitution, and establish Christianity as the official national religion. Only 30 percent oppose making Christianity the national religion.

Although the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” GOP voters want to cast aside that provision and impose Christianity as the official American religion.

While a number of red states have passed statutes forbidding the implementation of Islam-based sharia law in their states, Republicans apparently have no misgivings about turning the United States into a Christian theocracy. The poll’s crosstabs reveal that support for making Christianity the official religion is strongest among Mike Huckabee (94 percent), Rick Perry (83 percent), and Ben Carson (78 percent) supporters.

Ben Carson is the preferred presidential candidate of those who want to impose Christianity on the nation with 24 percent support. Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker are tied for 2nd place at 16 percent. Scott Walker (35 percent) and Jeb Bush (22 percent) are the leading candidates among GOP voters who do not want to establish a national religion.

The PPP survey also found that 2/3rds of Republican voters do not believe in global warming, and 49 percent do not believe in the theory of evolution. Not only do they wish to establish a national religion, but it appears that their version of Christianity is one that is at odds with the scientific consensus in climatology and biology.

While a clear majority of Americans self-identify as Christians, most Americans outside the GOP, would be uncomfortable with conservative Dominionist theology. Dominionism calls for imposing a theocracy in America where Christianity is declared the official religion, and the nation is governed by “Biblical law”.

Republican voters seem all too eager to embrace Dominionist theology, even though doing so would violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Freedom of Religion is one of the bedrock principles established in our founding documents. Republican voters are gearing up to elect candidates who will undermine the First Amendment and take away our Freedom of Religion. Independents and Democrats must be prepared to stop any candidate who would dismantle the Establishment Clause, whether it be Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson or one of the other GOP presidential candidates.
From Politicus USA

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Church Warns Congregants Not To Read Rev. Makela Grindr Story, Deactivates FB Page

On Monday, Queerty broke the news that Reverend Matthew Makela, a pastor in Midland, Michigan with a track record of making damaging statements towards the gay and transgender communities had stepped down from his position at St. John’s Lutheran Church after his wife and church officials learned that he’d been cruising Grindr for sex with men.

Today the Senior Pastor of St. John’s, Reverend Daniel Kempin, posted an open letter to congregants on the church’s website.

“It is my grief to inform you that Pastor Makela announced his resignation as a pastor of St. John’s through a letter that was read in worship on Sunday, May 17,” he begins. That’s the day before the story broke here.

To make matters worse,” he continues, “the details of sin that have been kept confidential are being posted online by those who seek to do harm to the Makela family and to St. John’s. This is taking an already difficult situation and making it even more painful… The facebook pages associated with St. John’s have been taken down in an attempt to remove the opportunity for malicious posters to have access to St. John’s members…”

Here’s the typical closed-door religious attitude that we find appalling. If Kempin had it his way, Rev. Makela would have broken ties with St. John’s congregation without ever having the “details of sin” made known to them.

His community would never have known that the man telling them being gay is a condition comparable to alcoholism and that gay marriage is just another blemish on the holy institution was in fact seeking the intimacy of men himself.

And not just a quick fling — he says in Grindr messages he likes to “make out naked,” “massage” and “cuddle.”

But don’t expect a conversation on what’s real to gain much traction at St. John’s.

“I write this to you to warn you that you may be confronted with the details of the sin, and to remind you that sin is never pretty,” writes Kempin. “Don’t panic…Don’t respond…Be patient and trust God. This too shall pass.”

He leaves the reader with one final piece of advice from scripture:

“Be very careful, then, how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.”

From Queerty

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American evangelical Christians have created a terror state for gays in Uganda

There’s been much debate on cable and social media about the moral equivalency of violent acts carried out by Christians in the past as opposed to the current climate of Islamic terrorism.

While I think the debate sometimes becomes a way for both sides to dodge taking ownership of the extremists in their respective camps, a recent episode of VICE reminded me that American mainstream fundamentalist Christians – with ties to Republicans in Washington — are participating in a very real terror campaign against the gay populations of Africa, especially in Uganda.

The mini documentary exposes how Uganda became synonymous with its “Kill The Gays” bill which generated international condemnation. It became law and then was tossed out by the Ugandan Supreme Court, but only on a technicality.
VICE interviewed Ugandan Member of Parliament David Bahati, who authored the bill. Bahati is a member of the secretive Washington, D.C. based organization known as The Family, which has helped to coordinate the war against LGBT people in Uganda.

Bahati refuses to name any one of his American partners, but [GOP Senator James Inhofe] is clearly one. Also among Bahati’s supporters and partners are Scott Lively, Pastor Rick Warren, Sharon Slater, and the World Congress of Families. And Bahati makes clear he and his country support the culture these American Christian extremists have brought to Uganda – one that teaches, falsely, that gay people are all pedophiles, homosexuality is a choice, it is evil, and children must be protected from it at all costs.

VICE reporter Isobel Yeung interviewed a man in Kampala who openly admitted that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill another man he believed to be gay. Women are subject to a different form of treatment.

“If we find a woman with a woman, we pull out one and do it to her. We have sex with her. We cannot allow a woman to have sex with a fellow woman,” the man said.

Sky Palma, Dead State

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Jeb Bush Says Christian Business Owners Can Refuse To Serve Gay Weddings

Likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said that Christian business owners should not have to provide services for gay weddings if it goes against their religious beliefs.

“Yes, absolutely, if it’s based on a religious belief,” he said when asked by the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview Saturday if businesses should be able to decline services to same-sex weddings.

The former Florida governor justified his position by claiming that not providing a service does not count as discrimination if business owners feel that it violates their religious rights.

“A big country, a tolerant country, ought to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating someone because of their sexual orientation and not forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs,” he said. “This should not be that complicated. Gosh, it is right now.”

The blurry distinction has become a controversial topic, as many wedding-related businesses around the country, like florists and bakeries, have turned down gay customers, citing religious freedom. The issue became politically charged in March, when Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, which allows businesses to cite religious rights as a reason for refusing service. Many in the GOP presidential field, including Bush, defended the law. “Once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all,” he said in March.

After widespread backlash, Pence was forced to sign a revised version of the law, which delineated that businesses could not discriminate against customers and clients on the basis of sexual orientation or identity. But gay rights advocates argued that the revised law did little to amend the original one, and that it still leaves much room for interpretation and opens the door for discrimination.

In Saturday’s interview, Bush also reiterated his opposition to marriage equality, saying that gay marriage is not a constitutional right and that “we need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage.” He did say last month that he would attend a gay wedding if asked.
Mariana Fang, Huffington Post

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HYPOCRISY ALERT: Republicans Want The Pope To Stop Inserting Religion Into Politics

Republicans love to pretend that they are the party of Jesus. They work tirelessly at pandering to the Christian-right vote. They believe we should be a nation of laws based upon Christian principles. However, there’s just one thing missing — the Christian principles.

If we, as a nation, were to abide by the teachings of Jesus from the Christian Bible, we would have health care for all, no death penalty, the wealthy would help pay for the poor, and everyone would love their neighbor as themselves. Pretty much everything Republicans adamantly stand against.

So when a Republican like Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina comes out and says:

“It’s interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation, and that’s what the Church is supposed to do.”

This is of course in reference to Pope Francis recently coming out in favor of Palestine becoming its own state. And heaven forbid, anyone, especially the Pope come out in favor of something that may actually work, let alone something that isn’t just pro-Israel all the time. Republicans pretty much consider Israel the 51st state of the Union. The Vatican’s statement wasn’t even anti-Israel, it was pro-peace — you know, another Christian principle, so of course Republicans are against it.

The biggest foes to the teachings of Jesus in the United States are Republicans. They boast his name, but know nothing of his teachings. For them, it’s pretty much just a means to get votes and try to make excuses as to why they are discriminatory bigots.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) said of the Pope’s views:

“He’s a religious figure and he has every right to have his political viewpoint, but someone of that profile should have strong scriptural foundation for whatever positions he takes that are extensively representing the head of the Catholic Church. I think this is probably one he should not have expressed.”

So wait, someone with strong religious principles should keep their opinions to themselves regarding politics? Let me make sure to write that one down for later the next time a Republican tries to say that the United States is a Christian nation. Maybe they should just keep those opinions to themselves — which, might I add, actually is the correct thing to do.

The Pope however, is more than just someone with strong religious principles, he is, in fact, a world leader. One who can promote change where change can seem impossible. So was it correct for the Pontiff to insert himself into this matter? Perhaps so. He could have a direct impact on the region and potentially help broker long-awaited change.

However, Republicans are not wrong in asserting that religious opinions should stay out of politics.

Now, if only they could realize this about themselves.

from Addicting Info

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This Is the Perfect Response to Fox’s Racist Theory About Michelle Obama’s Time at Princeton

Over the weekend, Michelle Obama delivered a passionate, candid commencement speech to the graduating class at Tuskegee University, Alabama, in which she addressed the daily slights of racism she has endured throughout her life. From Saturday’s ceremony:

We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives. The folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety, the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores. The people at formal events who assumed we were the help. And those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country, and I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day.

It was a powerful speech, and naturally, the folks at Fox News were not happy. Fox News contributor Angela McGlowan on Tuesday suggested the speech was yet another example of the White House dividing the country on issues of race, asking, “Why didn’t the first lady share the reason why she got into Princeton was probably because of Affirmative Action?”

“The reason why she became an associate at a law firm was probably because of diversity, they needed a woman—not saying that she wasn’t qualified—but they needed a woman, and a woman of color,” she said.

Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore was not having it. In a segment on the Nightly Show, he fired back: “When a coke-snorting, alcohol-guzzling son of a CIA director DUI’s his way into Yale and ultimately into the Oval Office because his daddy’s was in both places, that’s affirmative action.”

George W., we hope you’re watching.

Mother Jones, Inae Oh|

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Warren, Vitter team up on Fed bills

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has found a new conservative counterpart to help lead her charge against the biggest banks on Wall Street: Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

The unlikely pair have joined forces on two bills in the last week, which would make life tougher for Wall Street, particularly by setting sights on a key institution monitoring them: the Federal Reserve.

On Wednesday, the two unveiled legislation that would dictate how the Fed could react in case of another financial crisis, barring the central bank from doling out massive low-interest loans to a handful of massive institutions to help keep them afloat.
And that measure came just six days after the two proposed legislation that would alter the Fed’s structure, requiring top Fed officials to publicly vote on any large settlements reached with bad-acting banks, and giving each Fed board member his or her own staff.

Those measures are being rolled out as Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is preparing to move his own broad financial regulation package, meaning these bills could be offered as amendments at the committee, of which Warren is a member.

The latest bill takes direct aim at the notion that the during the last crisis, the Fed shelled out huge loans to a small number of huge, and hugely influential financial institutions, at extremely low interest rates. The Fed reportedly loaned out over $1 trillion at the height of the collapse, with individual banks receiving as much as $100 billion in support. Critics on the left and right argue the central bank has done little to curb that broad bailout authority in the subsequent years.

The new bill would allow the Fed to engage in emergency lending only if more than just a few institutions can participate, and would bar the central bank from loaning to any bank that is already insolvent. Furthermore, any emergency loans must come with a hefty interest rate – at least five percent higher than the going rate for U.S. Treasury debt.

The bill would also change existing law to bar Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley from engaging in the actual holding of physical commodities. Banks are typically barred from holding physical commodities like aluminum or copper, but those two were grandfathered past that ban.

While a conservative Republican, Vitter is no stranger to doing battle with the banking industry. He paired with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), now the top Democrat on the Banking Committee, on legislation that would limit the size of the nation’s biggest banks.

And he was the lone GOP voice criticizing the inclusion of provisions rolling back parts of Dodd-Frank as part of a critical funding bill at the end of 2014.

From The Hill, Peter Schroeder

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Republicans thrown by ‘greatest living president’ question

A large group of Republican presidential candidates gathered in South Carolina over the weekend for the “Freedom Summit” event, and a CNN correspondent asked much of the field an interesting question: Who do you think is the greatest living president?

“Obviously the greatest president of my lifetime is Ronald Reagan,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“I’ll leave that to the people to decide,” said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, which is his guaranteed go-to line for questions he doesn’t want to answer. “Certainly the greatest president of recent generations was Ronald Reagan.”

“I was a big fan, a very big fan of Ronald Reagan,” real estate mogul Donald Trump said.

The problem, of course, is the degree to which the answer doesn’t match the question. Reagan can’t be the greatest living president because, as a factual matter, Reagan died in June 2004.

No, Republicans, “alive in our hearts” is not an acceptable answer.

There’s arguably a small flaw in the question itself: we’re dealing with a very small universe of options. There are, after all, only five living presidents.

I imagine if the question were posed to Democrats, Presidents Clinton and Obama would both fare pretty well. President Carter might struggle, but Clinton and Obama are very popular figures in their party.

For Republicans, it’s far trickier. Their choices are limited to George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. The former was an unsuccessful one-term president who raised taxes; the latter was a failed two-term president, generally considered one of the worst in American history.

They also happen to be close relatives of one of the leading GOP candidates this year. What’s a poor Republican presidential candidate to say, exactly?

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) understood the question well enough not to mention Reagan, but he told CNN, “Probably a Bush,” which at least covers the partisan bases.

Stepping back, I’ve long found it interesting that today’s Republican Party really doesn’t much care for most of history’s GOP presidents, which only helps fuel the borderline unhealthy obsession with Reagan. Consider the modern list: H.W. Bush raised taxes; Nixon resigned; Ford pardoned Nixon; Eisenhower was quite moderate by contemporary standards; and Hoover failed miserably.

The original question asked about “living” presidents, but if the inquiry were opened up to include any chief executive ever, I suspect quite a few Republican votes would be divided between Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, the only two GOP presidents the party faithful are proud of.

Steve Benen, MSNBC

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Conservative spurns Obamacare and insurance — but blames Obama now that he’s going broke and blind

A South Carolina conservative who refused to sign up for Obamacare is going broke and blind – and he blames Obama.

Luis Lang learned in late February that he had suffered a series of mini-strokes that left him with bleeding in his eyes and a partially detached retina caused by diabetes, reported the Charlotte Observer.

The 49-year-old Lang, a self-employed handyman and Republican who works with banks and the federal government to maintain foreclosed properties, has never purchased insurance and always prided himself on paying his own medical bills.

That never posed much of a problem when Lang and his wife – who does not work – were healthy, but he has already exhausted his savings paying for medical bills related to his eyes.

His vision has worsened so much that he hasn’t worked since December, which could put the couple’s $300,000 Fort Hill home in jeopardy along with his health.

“He will lose his eyesight if he doesn’t get care — he will go blind,” said Dr. Malcolm Edwards, an ophthalmologist who has given Lang injections at a discounted rate to control the bleeding.

Lang, a smoker who admits he has been inconsistent in controlling his diabetes, said he has sought help from charities but found he was either too young or too old for most agencies.

So he turned to the Affordable Health Care exchange – which he had previously chosen not to do in violation of the law, believing help would be available in an emergency.

“(My husband) should be at the front of the line because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues,” said his wife, Mary Lang. “We call it the Not Fair Health Care Act.”

Lang found he was a month too late to enroll for 2015, and he now earns too little to get a federal subsidy to buy a private policy.

Lang and his wife blame President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats for passing a flawed law – although not even private insurers allow people to forgo payments when they’re healthy and cash in benefits after they’re sick.

Obamacare was designed to cover those whose income falls below the poverty line through Medicaid, but South Carolina is among 21 Republican-led states that declined the federal government’s offer to pay 100 percent of the costs to expand coverage to low-income, able-bodied adults.

Lang has reached out to reporters to help publicize his case, and he has set up an online fundraiser – but he doesn’t have enough money to pay for surgery to save his eyesight.

The doctor said he has offered to provide care at no cost, but he said Lang needs costly treatment beyond his expertise.

“He’s in a very bad situation,” Edwards said, with Lang’s consent. “The longer he waits, the poorer his results will be.”

From TRAVIS GETTYS, The Raw Story

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The New York Times–Facebook Deal Is Here

Tomorrow morning, in what marks a tectonic shift in the publishing industry, the New York Times is expected to officially begin a long-awaited partnership with Facebook to publish articles directly to the social media giant, a source with direct knowledge of the talks told me. According to people familiar with the negotiations, the Times will begin publishing select articles directly into Facebook’s news feed. Buzzfeed, NBC News and NatGeo are said to be also joining the roll out, among others.

The deal raises all sorts of knotty questions for the Times. How many articles will Facebook get to publish per day? What is the revenue sharing breakdown? How does the Times protect the independence of its journalism, say, if the paper runs a hard-hitting investigation on Facebook? And what happens when the Times allows Facebook to insert itself between its journalism and its readers?

Not surprisingly, the prospect of a Facebook partnership is generating palpable anxiety inside the Times newsroom, with some Times journalists casting it as an end-of-the-Times-as-we-know-it inflection point. When rumors of a deal surfaced last October, the Times’ late media columnist David Carr articulated this view, writing “the wholesale transfer of content sends a cold, dark chill down the collective spine of publishers, both traditional and digital insurgents alike.”

Another source of anxiety: the secrecy around the deal. “It’s referred to as the ‘confidential project.’ No one will talk about it,” one senior Times executive told me.

The talks have been dragging out for weeks as Times CEO Mark Thompson has pushed for the most favorable terms. According to one source familiar with the talks, a major sticking point for the Times has been ensuring that any Facebook deal protects its paid digital audience, which is crossing the crucial one-million subscriber mark. “The New York Times’ obsession with this product is their subscribers,” the source said. “They shouldn’t kill their subscriber business and the data around that.” Officials with the Times and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

As much as anything, the Facebook deal is a concession by Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. that the paper’s app strategy failed to produce the turnaround the company hoped for. Now the Times is throwing its fate into Facebook’s hands. “This is really about the crown jewels,” a senior media executive familiar with the deal told me. “The stakes are that high.”

Gabriel Sherman, NYMag.com

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Elizabeth Warren fires back at Obama: Here’s what they’re really fighting about

In an interview with Yahoo News that ran over the weekend, President Obama intensified his push-back against Elizabeth Warren and other critics of the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, flatly declaring that Warren is “absolutely wrong.” That came after a speech Obama delivered at Nike headquarters, in which he continued making an expansive case for the deal as a plus for American workers — and not the massive giveaway to huge international corporations that critics fear.

This week, the Senate will vote on whether to grant Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate the TPP agreement, which involves a dozen countries around the Pacific and could impact 40 percent of U.S. trade.

If the “fast track” framework passes, Congress would hold only an up-or-down vote on the TPP once it is finalized, without amendments. But Congress could also repeal that fast track authority if the TPP is not to its liking, and try to push changes to it, before any final vote.

Warren has previously claimed that the TPP’s controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision, or ISDS, could undermine or chill public interest regulations in the U.S. and other participating countries, and could even undercut Dodd Frank financial reform, one of Obama’s signature achievements. The ISDS is designed to create a neutral international arbitration mechanism that creates a stable legal environment, facilitating investments in countries where investors might fear unfair legal treatment by foreign governments. Obama has strongly rejected Warren’s arguments in the interview with Yahoo and elsewhere.

I spoke to Senator Warren about their disagreements. A lightly edited and condensed transcript follows.

THE PLUM LINE: What’s your response to the latest from President Obama?

SENATOR WARREN: The president said in his Nike speech that he’s confident that when people read the agreement for themselves, that they’ll see it’s a great deal. But the president won’t actually let people read the agreement for themselves. It’s classified.

PLUM LINE: But don’t you get 60 days to review it after the deal is finalized, with the authority to revoke fast track?

WARREN: The president has committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track. At that point it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP. The TPP is basically done. If the president is so confident it’s a good deal, he should declassify the text and let people see it before asking Congress to tie its hands on fixing it.

PLUM LINE: Doesn’t the current framework allow for the revocation of fast track authority?

WARREN: The whole point about fast track is to grease the skids so that 51 votes will get it through…it takes a majority to get rid of [fast track].

PLUM LINE: The push-back from the administration is that the ISDS will be written in such a way that there is no authority to override Congressional [and other countries’] regulations.

WARREN: If the president has changed ISDS to solve the problem, then the text should be released so that legal experts can look at it.

PLUM LINE: Is there a scenario under which ISDS could be written the way he says it is being written?

WARREN: I’ve sat with many legal scholars to talk about this issue, and I have not seen a draft that would do what the president says he has already accomplished….Hillary Clinton in her book raised concerns about precisely this issue. Just last week, some of the top legal and economic minds in this country, including the president’s mentor from Harvard, Laurence Tribe, and Nobel-prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, raised exactly this concern.

PLUM LINE: Is it theoretically possible to write ISDS in a way that precludes it from overriding regulation?

WARREN: It doesn’t directly tell countries to repeal regulations. It imposes a financial penalty, which has caused countries to change their regulations…[ISDS mechanisms] never had the authority to override regulations. What they had was the authority to impose a monetary penalty directly against the government and its taxpayers. That’s the point at which governments have backed up and said, “we can’t afford this, we’ll just change the law.”

PLUM LINE: You can’t envision even in theory a way to structure ISDS that would assuage your concerns?

WARREN: Once a group of independent arbiters, whose decisions cannot be appealed, can issue a money judgment of any size, then the ISDS problem arises….Here’s what you could do. If corporations had to go through the same procedures that anyone else has to go through to get the trade deal enforced, then the problem wouldn’t exist.

Now, if a labor union says, ‘Vietnam promised not to work people for a couple of dollars a day, and to raise working conditions, and then failed to do it,” they have to get the U.S. government, through the trade rules, to go to Vietnam and prosecute the case. If corporations had to do the same thing, then it would be a level playing field…ISDS gives a special break to giant corporations, a break that nobody else gets.

PLUM LINE: What you’re arguing is that six years of fast track, plus ISDS, could ultimately result in the weakening of financial regulations? You’re not saying ISDS itself would do that?

WARREN: Absolutely right…six years means that whatever the Obama administration has committed to won’t bind the next president. If that president wants to negotiate a trade deal that undercuts Dodd Frank, it will be very hard to stop it.

PLUM LINE: Couldn’t a Republican president simply go straight at Dodd Frank? Would this be any easier than that?

WARREN: Absolutely. Because trade will be fast tracked for six years….A direct run at Dodd Frank potentially takes 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. But doing it through trade authority needs to be done with 51 votes.

PLUM LINE: But wouldn’t that require a direct change to U.S. legislation?

WARREN: It’s possible to punch holes in Dodd Frank without directly repealing it. For example, harmonization of the capital standards and leverage ratios could be adjusted to help the big banks without ever directly contradicting Dodd Frank. But the effects of Dodd Frank would be severely undercut.

PLUM LINE: Is there no scenario under which you ultimately support TPP?

WARREN: Trade deals matter…I am worried about key parts of this trade agreement. I would like to see changes. I believe in trade.

I understand that we want to be a nation that trades, that trade creates many benefits for us. But only if done on terms that strengthen the American economy and American worker. I should say the American family, because that’s what this is really about.

*********************************************************

UPDATE: In case it’s not clear enough from our exchange, in a recent speech, Senator Warren went into more detail about why six years of fast track authority could put Dodd Frank at risk under a future Republican president:

“In the next few weeks, Congress will decide whether to give the President Fast Track authority. That authority would prevent Congress from amending trade deals and reduce its ability to block trade deals — not just for the upcoming transpacific trade deal, but for ANY trade deal cut by ANY president over the next six years…

“This is a long-term problem — a six-year problem, if Fast Track passes. A Republican President could easily use a future trade deal to override our domestic financial rules. And this is hardly a hypothetical possibility: We are already deep into negotiations with the European Union on a trade agreement and big banks on both sides of the Atlantic are gearing up to use that agreement to water down financial regulations. A six-year Fast Track bill is the missing link they need to make that happen.”

Greg Sargent, Washington Post

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The exception to Bernie Sanders’ liberalism

On Capitol Hill, there’s literally only one member of Congress who describes himself as a European socialist. I’m referring, of course, to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who launched his Democratic presidential campaign last week, to the delight of many progressive activists.

And why not? Sanders isn’t favored to actually win the Democratic nomination, but the Vermont senator has a bold, progressive vision, and is prepared to take advantage of the national platform a White House campaign offers. For liberal voters who yearn for a standard bearer whom no one has ever considered a “moderate,” Sanders is a welcome breath of unapologetic fresh air.

There is, however, an exception to Sanders’ liberalism. Mark Joseph Stern highlighted it at Slate this week.

[B]efore liberal Democrats flock to Sanders, they should remember that the Vermont senator stands firmly to Clinton’s right on one issue of overwhelming importance to the Democratic base: gun control. During his time in Congress, Sanders opposed several moderate gun control bills. He also supported the most odious NRA–backed law in recent memory – one that may block Sandy Hook families from winning a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the gun used to massacre their children.

Sanders, an economic populist and middle-class pugilist, doesn’t talk much about guns on the campaign trail. But his voting record paints the picture of a legislator who is both skeptical of gun control and invested in the interests of gun owners – and manufacturers. In 1993, voted against the Brady Act, which mandated federal background checks for gun purchasers and restricted felons’ access to firearms. As a senator, Sanders supported bills to allow firearms in checked bags on Amtrak trains and block funding to any foreign aid organization that registered or taxed Americans guns.

In fairness to Sanders, the senator does not always see eye to eye with the far-right gun group, but over the course of his congressional career, the Vermont independent has generally sided with the NRA on most of the major legislative fights regarding gun policy.

Indeed, it’s probably safe to say that Sanders will be to Clinton’s left on most issues in their primary fight, except when it comes to guns.

To understand why, it’s important to realize that Vermont has some of the most lax gun laws in the nation, in large part because gun violence in the Green Mountain State is so low.

Indeed, a wide variety of prominent Vermont Democrats and liberal independents routinely enjoy support from the NRA. Former Gov. Howard Dean, his reputation as a liberal firebrand notwithstanding, was endorsed by the NRA in Vermont more than once – a fact he used to brag about during his 2004 presidential campaign.

It’s easy to forget, but back in November 2003, when it looked like Dean was surging in the race for the Democratic nomination, John Kerry actually used this against the Vermont governor: “We don’t need to be a party that says we need to be the candidacy of the NRA. We stand up against that.”

With this in mind, Sanders is simply in line with his home state’s political norms. His position may not be expected given his reputation in D.C., but in Vermont, it’d be odd if Sanders didn’t oppose many gun reforms.

It’s tough to say whether progressive activists who’ve rallied to the senator are going to care much about this, and it’s a safe bet that Sanders won’t make opposition to gun-safety measures an important part of his 2016 pitch. But as the campaign progresses, it’s an angle worth watching anyway.

Steve Benin, MSNBC

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‘Texas Ranger’ Chuck Norris warns of government plot to take over state

The actor, martial artist, and internet meme Chuck Norris has warned of a federal government plot to take over the state of Texas.

Writing on the right-wing website WND, or WorldNetDaily, Norris discussed the potential for Jade Helm 15, a US military training exercise planned for July and August, to turn into a full-scale occupation of his home state.

Exercises will be held in Texas and six other states during Jade Helm 15, across public and private land. The training has been the focus of rightwing conspiracy theories since a map published for the purpose of the simulation labelled Texas, Utah and Californiaas “hostile”.

“The US government says, ‘It’s just a training exercise’,” wrote Norris, 75. “But I’m not sure the term ‘just’ has any reference to reality when the government uses it.”

Both the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and US senator – and 2016 Republican presidential candidate – Ted Cruz have been accused of pandering to conspiracy theorists with their reactions to Jade Helm 15. Abbott asked the Texas state guard to monitor the training exercise. Cruz said his office had “reached out to the Pentagon” to ask about the exercise.

Norris, who appeared as Texas Ranger JJ McQuade in the 1983 film Lone Wolf McQuade and starred in the long-running TV series Walker, Texas Ranger, praised both men for their refusal to believe official government accounts.

“I’m glad … Ted Cruz is asking the tough questions of the Pentagon,” Norris wrote. “Particularly because its ‘exercises’ come too near to my ranch’s backdoor as well, at least according to the map.

“It’s pretty sad and bad when major military ops are ordered in a large, fiery state like Texas and not even the governor or its senators know the specifics.

In the article Norris, who has been awarded a black belt across numerous martial arts disciplines, quotes “affable antique store owner” Mike Hightower as being among those concerned about the exercises.

“I’m not trusting what we’re being told,” warns Hightower, who lives in Smithville, Texas, where some of the training exercise will take place. “I think there’s something a little more involved than what they’re telling us.”

WND is no stranger to conspiracy theories. It has published articles questioning Barack Obama’s status as an American citizen and among its contributors is the rightwing blogger Pamela Geller, president of the group that hosted the “draw the prophet Muhammad” event at which two gunmen were killed near Dallas on Sunday.

Norris, who is known for his political conservatism, also used his article to file a brief report on a recent gala held by his karate foundation, Kickstart for Kids. Governor Abbott and his wife Cecilia were in attendance, he wrote.

“It was an amazing night and gala!” Norris added.

 

, The Guardian

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Nebraska woman claiming to represent God files federal lawsuit against all ‘homosexuals’

Sylvia Driskell, a 66-year-old woman in Nebraska, has filed a lawsuit against all people who identify as LGBTthe Omaha World-Herald Reports. In a case filed on May 1 with the district court in Omaha, called, “Driskell v. Homosexuals,” Driskell identifed herself as an ambassador for “God, And His, Son, Jesus Christ” as the plaintiff. The defendants? “Homosexuals; Their Given Name Homosexuals; Their, [alias] Gay.”

Driskell is representing herself in the case she wrote out by hand on lined notebook paper. Her challenge: “Petition Your Honor and Court of the United States District Court of Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska. To be heard in the in the matter of homosexuality. Is Homosexuality a sin, or not a sin.”

A few standout quotes from Driskell’s curiously punctuated, grammatically unconventional, Bible verse-intensive lawsuit against gay people:

  • “The Homosexual’s say that its not a sin to be a homosexual; An they have the right to marry; to be parents, And God doesn’t care that their homosexuals; because He loves them.”
  • “Your Honor; I’ve hear the boasting of the Defendant: the Homosexuals on the world news; from the Young, to the Old; to the rich An famous; and to the not so rich An famous; How they were tired of hiding in the closet, and how glad they are coming out of the closet.”
  • “Ambassador: I Sylvia Ann Driskell; Contented that homosexuality is a sin, And that they the homosexuals know it is a sin to live a life of homosexuality. Why else would they have been hiding in a closet.”
  • “Ambassador: I Sylvia Ann Driskell write, As well, we also know that if a child is raised in the home of liers (sic.), An deceivers, And thieves that it is reasonable to believe that child will grow up to be one of the three, are all three.”
  • “Never before has Our great Nation the United States of America And our great State of Nebraska; been besiege by sin; The way to destroy any Nation, or State is to destroy its morals; Look what happen to Sodom and Gomorrah two city because of the same immoral behavior thats present in Our Nation, in Our States, and our Cities; God destroy them.”
  • “If God could have found ten righteous people Among them he would have spared them.”
  • “I’m sixty-six years old, An I never thought, that I would see the day in which our Great Nation or our Great State of Nebraska would become so compliant to the complicity of some peoples lewd behavior.”
  • “Why are judges passing laws, so sinners can break religious, and moral laws. Will all the judges of this Nation, judge God to be a lier (sic.). For God has said, that all unrighteousness is sin, And that homosexuality is abomination.”
  • “I, Sylvia Ann Driskell: I have written this Petition to the United State District Court of Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska, and to You, Your Honor. Because I feel its is imperative to do so. Life as a Nation, as States, and as cities need to start standing up for the moral principles on which our, Great Nation, our, Great States, and our, Great Cities were founded on.”

As of press time, the nation’s gay population had not filed a response to the lawsuit.

 

Joan Shipps, Raw Story

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Race, Class and Neglect

Every time you’re tempted to say that America is moving forward on race — that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be — along comes an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope, that the Freddie Gray affair wasn’t an isolated incident, that it’s unique only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that justice may be done.

And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities that poison the lives of too many Americans.

Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of extreme and rising inequality.

Take, for example, issues of health and mortality. Many people have pointed out that there are a number of black neighborhoods in Baltimore where life expectancy compares unfavorably with impoverished Third World nations. But what’s really striking on a national basis is the way class disparities in death rates have been soaring even among whites.

Most notably, mortality among white women has increased sharply since the 1990s, with the rise surely concentrated among the poor and poorly educated; life expectancy among less educated whites has been falling at rates reminiscent of the collapse of life expectancy in post-Communist Russia.

And yes, these excess deaths are the result of inequality and lack of opportunity, even in those cases where their direct cause lies in self-destructive behavior. Overuse of prescription drugs, smoking, and obesity account for a lot of early deaths, but there’s a reason such behaviors are so widespread, and that reason has to do with an economy that leaves tens of millions behind.

It has been disheartening to see some commentators still writing as if poverty were simply a matter of values, as if the poor just mysteriously make bad choices and all would be well if they adopted middle-class values. Maybe, just maybe, that was a sustainable argument four decades ago, but at this point it should be obvious that middle-class values only flourish in an economy that offers middle-class jobs.

The great sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that widely-decried social changes among blacks, like the decline of traditional families, were actually caused by the disappearance of well-paying jobs in inner cities. His argument contained an implicit prediction: if other racial groups were to face a similar loss of job opportunity, their behavior would change in similar ways.

And so it has proved. Lagging wages — actually declining in real terms for half of working men — and work instability have been followed by sharp declines in marriage, rising births out of wedlock, and more.

As Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution writes: “Blacks have faced, and will continue to face, unique challenges. But when we look for the reasons why less skilled blacks are failing to marry and join the middle class, it is largely for the same reasons that marriage and a middle-class lifestyle is eluding a growing number of whites as well.”

And it’s also disheartening to see commentators still purveying another debunked myth, that we’ve spent vast sums fighting poverty to no avail (because of values, you see.)

In reality, federal spending on means-tested programs other than Medicaid has fluctuated between 1 and 2 percent of G.D.P. for decades, going up in recessions and down in recoveries. That’s not a lot of money — it’s far less than other advanced countries spend — and not all of it goes to families below the poverty line.

Despite this, measures that correct well-known flaws in the statistics show that we have made some real progress against poverty. And we would make a lot more progress if we were even a fraction as generous toward the needy as we imagine ourselves to be.

The point is that there is no excuse for fatalism as we contemplate the evils of poverty in America. Shrugging your shoulders as you attribute it all to values is an act of malign neglect. The poor don’t need lectures on morality, they need more resources — which we can afford to provide — and better economic opportunities, which we can also afford to provide through everything from training and subsidies to higher minimum wages. Baltimore, and America, don’t have to be as unjust as they are.

Paul Krugman, NYT

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Republican clown car gets a little more crowded as Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina enter the race

The vast Republican presidential field is quickly shifting from one composed mostly of likely candidates to one of candidates who are all in. These days that’s a largely technical distinction having more to do with whether a candidate wants to focus on fundraising for a super PAC or an official campaign than with whether they’ve actually decided to run for president, but in any case, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and failed tech executive Carly Fiorina have made the jump into actual-candidate status, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is expected to do so Tuesday. It’s very exciting.

Republican observers are especially enthused by the entrance of Carson, the only African-American in the field, and Fiorina, who’s likely to be the only female GOP candidate, to bring added diversity to a field that already includes two Cuban Americans in Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas).“The diversity is great,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “It shows we’re a much broader party than the caricature some try to put on us.”

No, it shows you’re a party that’s willing to embrace tokens if they sound like every other Republican. We went through this with Sarah Palin in 2008, remember? Where Republicans get all excited about a completely unqualified candidate because said candidate puts an unexpected face on the same damn positions, while the party in no way shifts toward the interests of the groups they’re supposedly trying to appeal to with that candidate?

So what do we have here? Ben Carson was apparently a great neurosurgeon, but the reason Republicans think he’d make a good presidential candidate is that in 2013 he made a speechcriticizing President Obama’s policies at the National Prayer Breakfast with Obama in the room. Carly Fiorina‘s tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard was a notorious failure, and she subsequently lost a Senate race, but boy does she like to criticize Hillary Clinton, specifically doing so as a woman. See a pattern here?

In the giant Republican field, Carson is polling seventh nationally and in New Hampshire and sixth in Iowa, which means the Republican Party has a chance of being able to write its debate eligibility rules to get him on the state. Fiorina, however, is mired so far at the bottom of the pack it may be best to describe it as “below Bobby Jindal” territory.

Laura Clawson, Daily Kos

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